Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Freeware never looked so good

It was completely by chance that I stumbled across Adventure Game Studio (http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/), a windows application that allows you to create your own adventure game in the old Lucas Arts style.

It's a fantastic tool and, given a few months, anyone with enough imagination and some paint/photoshop skills could create something very playable. Unfortunately I don't have a few months spare at the moment, so I sampled a quadrilogy of games known as the 'Chzo Mythos' series, created using AGS by Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw.

If you like the Monkey Island games, you'll love them. They're filled with humour and an unexpectedly deep story arc that leaves you with a huge sense of satisfaction after playing them in order.

In today's world where all too often games developers rely on the awesome graphical power of the next gen consoles to carry a game, these games act as a stark reminder that playability and an engaging storyline are key.

You can download them for free at the following links:

5 Days A Stranger

7 Days A Skeptic

Trilby's Notes

6 Days A Sacrifice


Red Dead's Special Edition Shoots Blanks

Ok, so in my excitement and anticipation for the upcoming Red Dead Redemption, I recently checked out the special edition, keen to purchase it. I always like getting special editions with games I'm particularly into, that little bit extra, making it a real sense of occasion, a real treat to behold. But when I checked on it, what did I find? A replica revolver? Some kind of Wild West paraphernalia? No, some useless codes for some rubbish horse or another. It's only one step off being the infamous Horse Armour in Oblivion.

In their infinite wisdom, Rockstar have decided that the extras in the limited-edition pack will be downloadables, effectively allowing you to 'cheat'. Well, it's not cheating in the strictest sense of the word, but it does offer you significant advantages . Although I don't have major problem with this, it just doesn't strike me as special. These are shitty download codes, the up,up,left,right,down,select,start of the modern era. They're not worth more money. Do they really add up to calling the game a 'special edition'?

Next to my TV sits a Fallout 3 Vault-Tec Bobblehead, next to my Bioshock Big Daddy Statue. These came with tin boxes, with art books, with loads of shite that no-one needs, but lovingly displayed. My friend bought the GTA4 lockbox, and who can forget the night-vision goggles with Modern Warfare 2?!?! Special editions are exactly that. Special. Lovely pieces of shameful geekery, trinkets and Spartan Cat helmets that are no use to anyone. For a game as big as Red Dead, I kinda hoped Rockstar would of pulled their finger out of their arse. Ah well.

Rockstar, this is how you REALLY do it...

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Retro Monday: Jet Set Radio (Sega Dreamcast)

Ok, so we haven't been posting with as much ferocity as usual. This is due to us all having busy lives, and also being rather lazy. We're also of course playing games. So technically we're doing research. Dr Sanchez is finishing Bioshock 2, whilst I completed Gears of War 2 t'other day. But to make up for this abhorrent laziness, I'm now going to chat about one of my favourite games of all time. One of them top 5 moments, you know? In the upper echelons of my gaming life, this game really did make my soul sing. It's Jet Set Radio...

The more observant of you have noticed this American box art,
in which it's called Jet 'Grind' Radio. Those crazy Americans!

This, to me, is a very mythical game. Around the time it was released, I never owned a Dreamcast. I owned a Nintendo 64. Whilst it was good, It's only recently that I feel a little cheated, that I picked the wrong console, that I wasn't old enough to appreciate the beauty, the grace, the forward-thinking of the swirly Sega dream-machine.

But I was lucky enough to know someone who did. My older cousin. He lived in the Midlands, and we would regularly visit in the summer holidays, so this meant the Dreamcast was a mythical beast. Everday when he'd go to work, I had a limited time with it, to play the games he had, and still I fell in love with the console. That time-pressure, that limited opportunity made it all the more important to me when playing, and made it all the more special. The instant Jet Set Radio burst onto the screen, I was hooked.

The basic premise of this game is futuristic Neo-Tokyo, where graffiti and fun is outlawed, and you set up a gang of rollerblading graffiti bad-asses to spray the town in colour, beating the other gangs and unravelling a nefarious plot by the evil corporation The Rokakku Group. It's hardly Heavy Rain, but the premise was fair enough. To be honest, you have to make very little excuses for a game which involves tagging a city whilst on rollerblades, whilst listening to Japanese Break-Beat.

The game was dripping with style. One of the first games I remember being genuinely 'cool'. Games tend to orbit their own planet of cool, looking interesting and relevant only to those playing games. No-one would come in whilst you're playing Mario 64 and go, 'Ooooh that looks really cool!'. But JSR was. Bright colours, slick graphics and really eye-popping graffiti made this game look absolutely gorgeous. The cel-shaded graphics and art style were so beautiful, it was a game that was just as enjoyable to watch, as to play.

The art style was really, really beautiful. Really interesting looking characters, all with personality. You only have to look at Combo, the MASSIVE black guy with Kangol hat, boombox and huge gold chain with the Yen symbol on it, just to see how cool this game was. I ALWAYS played as Combo. Each level was uniquely different. Not only well designed, but different in style. Every part of the city was interesting to interact with, but also looked good. Whether it was the junk yard, or the rooftops at sunset, this game looked stunning, thanks to some clever touches and decisions at the design level.

And now we come to perhaps my favourite part of this game, and the part of the game which has remained with me for the longest time- the soundtrack. A beautiful concoction of Japanese J-Pop, Hip-Hop and Break-Beat. Basically the funkiest, most bizarre collection of music I've ever heard. Made so unabashedly with disregard for coolness or popularity. Only the Japanese could make something like this. So weird, so uninterested in any kind of criticism or previous music, it was ground-breaking. From the salsa-inspired 'Funky Taxi', to the sounds of Jurrassic-5 and Mixmaster Mike, this was a game with a mix of original tunes and famous artists, all incredibly blended together.

You really have to sit down and think about the time in which this was released as to it's importance in video games and music culture combining. At the time Jet Set Radio was released, very few games were using soundtracks, let alone music by recording artists. Tony Hawks Pro Skater was one of the few, but even then it was a mix of Punk and Hip-Hop, with no real flair or diversity, just tracks the fans would like. This was a game that had a soundtrack that was largely created for the game, and yet were still standalone pop tracks. I'll leave with the menu screen music, the track most people remember from the game, and a track which you'll now continue to hum for around 6 hours or so...

I think it's a testament to the game that the things I remember most and talk about are the visual and audio aspects of it. I can talk about the rhythm-action aspects of the graffiti spraying, or the tenseness of running away from the police, but that's not what this game was about.
This was a game that was heavily, heavily concerned about style, almost at times over substance. But this was the point of Jet Set Radio. It wasn't a game you bought a strategy guide for. It had depth, and collectables, and all that shit, but it wasn't about that. It was about the music pumping, about doing tricks with ease, and spraying your tag all over the city, and feeling genuinely bad-ass.

I never completed Jet Set Radio. Mainly because I ran out of time at my cousin's house, and also because it was damn difficult. But I didn't need to. Never has a game filled me with so much fun, so much genuine feeling of cool, like I was playing a game with it's finger on the pulse of modern society. If any of my words have in anyway affected you, I implore you to try this game. It hasn't aged all that much, and you can pick it up for cheap. If you've never played Dreamcast, now really is the time.

Or, as I've just learned from Kotaku, it's more than likely coming to Xbox Live. So it may not be so retro after all!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Capcom Brings Out It's BIG GUNS

So, after a decade, Capcom has finally announced the sequel to one of the greatest games of all time. I'm not a mega beat-em-up fan, but blimey, this is special...

Marvel vs Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds

Marvel vs Capcom always seemed to me like one of them schoolboy scenarios you'd talk about, a 'wouldn't it be cool if...'. It seemed like an idea to good to be true, like two worlds would never meet, due to the sheer awesomeness if they did. I remember first finding out about the series in an arcade, in New York.

My face was the definition of joy. an 14 year-old, who's in an arcade, and who's just found out there's a fighting game involving Wolverine and Chun-Li. As an avid X-Men fan and a lover of Street Fighter 2, I was instantly in love. I was watching 2 guys duke it out, who were obviously hardened beat-em-up veterans, and it looked FANTASTIC. Frenetic, complicated, and ridiculously over-the-top. Incredible. It took everything it's predecessors had laid down before it, and beefed it up with ludicrous pomposity. And it was FANTASTIC.

So, 10 years after Marvel vs Capcom 2, and Capcom have announced the sequel, due to be released early next year. BRING IT ONNNNNN!

Oh, and if you're asking, my team is Cable, Wolverine and Iron Man/Chun-Li, depending what kind of day I'm having.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Retro Monday: Time Crisis (Arcade)

Okay, let's talk about arcade shenanigans. A massive part of any retro memories for me is that stolen time spent in arcades, on holidays and day trips as a yoot with my family. Managing to scrape a couple of quid off the parents, scurrying away and absolutely losing yourself in the flashing lights and incredible, wondrous dinginess of a really good arcade.

Arcades used to be a glimpse into the future. A world where graphics were unlike anything you'd get at home, and each cabinet was vying for your attention, pulling you in with incredible decals, theme tunes and peripherals. I bet any arcade geek can remember EXACTLY how the Sega Daytona Racing theme tune goes.

And nothing quite embodied all of these unique arcade features quite like Time Crisis.

Released in 1995, this Lightgun Game was all kinds of special. Using my limited brain, I'd like to speculate that this game was the first to use the 'action pedal', a foot pedal you used whilst playing, to initiate a cover system into the game. And Gears of War thought it was pioneering! HA! Take that Cliffy B, you bumbling Steroid fool.

The game was gorgeous. Really crisp, really slick. I even remember the bloody lighting. When the lights went out and the fire started in that warehouse thing on the first level? Remember that? I remember in the tirade of bullets, taking a little moment out just to appreciate the things going on in the game.

And let's not forget the peripheral side of things. Between you and me, we both know why you put that pound in the slot. The gun was an absolute piece of engineering brilliance. The recoiling action of the gun was such an amazing thing, it immersed you in the action, well and truly. Combined with the action pedal, it felt like you were in the game. All the lights and dulcit tones of flashing slot machines melted away, as you really thought your main mission in life was to save Rachel, the Daughter of the President of Sercia. Every shot fired recoiled into your hand, and straight to your heart. If games make you regress, and are designed to make you feel like the ultimate bad-ass, then this absolutely exemplified this. It was exquisite.

Arcades are like going to Burger King. It isn't complex, it doesn't have layers and ultimately it's bad for you. Nowadays arcades are archaic, a forgotten age where now technology at home is just as advanced than in the dingy games halls, if not more so. But back then, when I was 14, and when I was growing up, games like Time Crisis provided me with some of my finest gaming memories. All style, with a little bit of substance, Time Crisis is cooler than an Polar Bear's Toenails.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Retro Monday- Super Mario Bros 3 (NES)

Let me paint a picture for you;, its mid 1991, a small boy of 10 years old with dreams of mashing Goomba's into next week is on the cusp of having a major tantrum hissy fit. I had saved up for MONTHS, I couldn't wait to get my hands on this monster of a game. Now normally I would only recieve a new title or 2 for my beloved NES on my birthday or Christmas, maybe swap games at school or rent them from my local videoshop. (£2 for the weekend.) But this game, this was different, it was years in the making a brand new SUPER MARIO game and it was going to be the best thing on the planet. It would be all this and more IF I could have got my hands on it...

Tell an anxious, excitable 11 year old that he's expecting his 'package' on a brilliant monday morning, now tell him that sunday evening that the catalogue mixed up the order and will have to wait until wednesday...AFTER SCHOOL!! F*$k that...
Talk about livid, i cried, I'm not ashamed to admit that. I was so devastated, gutted, I COULDN'T understand why this travesty had occured. My mum consoled me and guaranteed the drop for wednesday. Flash forward to that faithful afternoon, i tore out of school running home as fast as my legs could carry me. If me and charlie would've had a race to the chocolate factory I'd have blown him into next week (after knocking slugworth into the water.) I was home "MUM", "It's on the table" a reply came from upstairs, OH MY GOD in shiny cellophane in my hands IT WAS HERE !!! And so after months of torture what did i do? Did i crack it open and smell the pages of the brand new instructions, did I carefully place it into my NES pressing the power button to see it load up for the first time. NO, before doing all that other stuff I cried again... Yes i know but this WAS THE GAME, I was overjoyed by it all.

The reason I told you all that wiffling story is for one good reason. Super Mario Bros 3 is the best game of all time. Yep, I said it, no other game in my 29 years on this dustball has or will ever invoke those types of feelings in me again. Sure I've been excited about new games in the past and there are some crackers coming up this year but THAT feeling belongs to one title only. This is Retro Monday, and this is Super Mario Bros 3.

The game centers on the two plumbing brothers Mario and Luigi, and their efforts to cross the 8 colorful worlds of the Mushroom kingdom. The evil King Koopa AKA Bowser returns as the series protaganist, having turned the 7 rulers of the kingdom into helpless animals. The heroes must do battle in order to save them. It was built on the same structure of the previous Mario titles but the gameplay introduced brand new power-ups that augmented the characters abilities, and established new conventions that would carry over to ALL future Mario games.

Now we've all seen world maps on Mario titles, Super Mario World, Mario land RPG, New Super Mario Bros DS and Wii but Mario 3 was the first to introduce this classic interface. It also included mushroom houses (shops) on the map for the first time and the means to store an item in your inventory, for later use if you needed it.

Mario 3 also introduced new world's each themed differently (pipe, sand, water etc) which has followed suit with all the other titles. Now the biggest addition to this game were the 'suits' that one could aquire on the battlefield. Hit an oddly colored wooden block and out pops a brown leaf, BOOM Raccoon Mario. You want to fly err.. sure get that P meter flowing and take to the skies. Ahh I love it, I can still here the high pitch whistling of the meter rising up as you gain speed. Next up was the Frogsuit, an awesome idea that gave you total control under water as well as a better jump distance on land (other variations of this include the Penguin suit from NSMB Wii.) The 'Tanooki' suit which gave Mario or Luigi the chance to turn into an invincible statue and lastly the 'Hammer' suit, with the ability to throw hammers and become immune to fire attacks.
All these elements cemented Mario 3 in leaving a legacy for his subsequent titles. Overworld map, the gift of flight ( Mario 64, Mario Galaxy!) the simple action of sliding down a hill, the creation of the koopalings, the very missed Warp Whistle, the chain-chomp, the pirate ships and the music AAhhh the music. It's all here in this MONSTER of a game.

It's not just my favourite title, it received incredibly high praise and critically acclaimed reviews back in '91. By 1993 it had sold 11 million copies across the globe. In 2008 the Guinness Book Of World Records stated it was the best selling video game on the planet to be sold without a console - a total of 18 Million sold. The Wii's Virtual Console release in late 2007 has sold 1.5 Million to date. Facts and figures to prove IT IS the best.

So please if you haven't played it (really?!) go seek it out, beg, borrow, download or steal. Your life will never be the same, well probably the same but you will definately have enjoyed the experiance. Maybe, just maybe, it'll capture you with it's magic like it did with me nearly 19 years ago.

I love you Shigeru Miyamoto.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Video Games Art. No Wait, Hear Me Out...

I've just stumbled across this guy, Justin Russo, and his artwork, based on a minimal style, on some of our favourite games. He's asking people to vote which ones he gets printed, so go to his website, get voting, and get buying! Incredible!

The website is here, and here are a few of my favourite examples...

Assassin's Creed II


Some Italian Dude

So, so cool.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Farmville: The Obvious Conclusion

Ok, so it's been a long time since I started my Farmville experiment. And to be honest, I gave up.

Today was the first time I've been on in about 3 weeks, and nothing's changed, or pulled me back in. I managed to reach Level 10, which I think should give me enough experience to draw valid conclusions on the game itself.

So what's wrong with it? Well, I just don't want to play it! There's no gameplay there, just point-and-click. But with no reward. I've played WoW before, and the idea of getting stuff and upgrading stuff isn't exactly a new mechanic. But there's little to encourage players to carry on. The item pacing is all wrong.

The start of the game should be festooning you with all kinds of shit, almost overwhelming, showing you stuff that's accessible, and achievable. Farmville doesn't do this. It trickles products at you, with no fun or differing aspects. The animals are exactly the same as crops, and the same goes for trees. With these 3 key aspects of the game being so, so similar, it provides hardly any variation, and no desire to get new stuff, or unlock new stuff. Ironically, it's a case of not even wanting the carrot on the end of the stick, even if you have grown it yourself.

So why are people playing it? Judging by the people playing it on my Facebook, I can only conclude that it's people who don't play games, and are unaware of how rich and exciting can be. Put off by a price tag, they're quite happy for gaming to be an add-on, a little extra dish in the banquet of social networking. And I understand it totally. These people don't want to spend money on buying some ugly anti-social box, locking themselves away in bedrooms and getting high scores. They want it whilst checking pictures from a night out, and telling people how much they love their boyfriend.

Which is what makes it a real shame. What if the game was incredible? What if it was as addictive as Harvest Moon, or had the community feel of Warcraft? What if a game that over 80 million people play was actually good, and actually contained fantastic gameplay? Wouldn't that be something really special? A game that could be enjoyed by both hardcore gamers and the casual crowd?

This doesn't sound like an impossible dream, it sounds like a game that would conquer the world. Hell, look at what Call of Duty has done for making Online Competitive Mainstream FPS. Maybe it's not such a crazy idea.

Retro Mondays: Snake, Rattle & Roll (NES)

Ok, so this is late. Yesterday I was celebrating Egg day. Happy Egg!

Goldeneye. Perfect Dark. Banjo Kazooie. Donky Kong Country. Viva Pinata. Starfox.

Rareware have made a LOT of games. A Lot of good games, and some incredible games. As far as that taste of nostalgia of goes though, nothing comes close to the fond memories coming back like a forgotten gem involving two snakes, and some Wailing Blues music...

What a bizzare game Snake, Rattle & Roll was. It was a simple, boring platform game. It was unforgivingly difficult, with a control system too clumsy and let-down by the lack of sensitivity and control afforded by the system at the time. Yet it was still brilliant. I think the continual theme the games I talk about share isn't great gameplay, or great innovation, more just capturing my imagination. Great moments in my childhood, where these games stood out for being different, and making me smile. What's not to like about two different snakes called Rattle and Roll?

So as you can see, the game basically played on that whole sort-of Marble Madness vibe and view, that sort of 2.5-D blocks which made up a lot of NES games. The game consisted of being a snake, and eating bits to make yourself a bigger snake, so you could ring a bell at the end of the level, to advance up. Quite why completely escapes me, but that didn't matter. Did Mario need a motive to dress like a Frog? I think not. It had loads of fantastic little touches, such as the levels always being well designed, and pretty tough. When you went in the water, a shark approached, complete with Jaws riff to increase the danger. Speaking of sounds, the game was also complete with Rock & Roll soundtrack, with hits like 'Great Balls of Fire' resplendent in all their 8-Bit remixed glory.

Here is the exact reason I started Retro Mondays. Not ONE person I have ever mentioned Snake, Rattle & Roll to have ever played it, nor remember it. Looking at the box art, I can hardly blame them, but to me this game represents a piece of my childhood, a proper little cheeky slice of gaming innocence. It's a nice nostalgic memory, and a perfect example that there are some special games out there, and almost every game means something to somebody.

It's unfair that in these times, Songs and Films get all the credit for evoking strong emotions, where I feel games have even more of an impact. Games are a truly interactive medium, and whilst their content might not be emotionally engaging, the memories and interactions and emotions remembered and evoked whilst playing them are incredibly potent, and the very reason we remember these games so fondly.

This game isn't going to go down in the history of gaming legend. It isn't going to be on 'I remember the 90's' on TV. But it matters to me. I remember playing with my dad, both laughing as we blasted it out co-op style and battle each other to eat the pellets. All from this stupid game. This stupid game with the Monty Python feet stamping down on you, and the checkers pieces chasing you.

Other people would of spent this article extolling Rare's virtues in making the FPS explode onto the console, and how Pierce Brosnan's face looked good square, and how they got the invincibility cheat on the 58th try at the Facility level. But screw them, Goldeneye doesn't quite affect me these two little snakes did, and how I felt when clutching that square control pad.