Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Like Peggle? Try Shatter! Go on, I dare you!

I just picked this little gem off the Steam sale for cheap as chips and was pleasantly surprised, what’s there to argue?

Got a Steam account? Got 2 quid to spare?

Splash it on this Futuristic yet retro Alleyway/Peggle hybrid and you've got something to occupy yourself for 3 minutes or half an hour!It's even got boss battles in it!? Do I need to say more?
Get it done! (If you don't have steam I believe it's up on the PSN aswell!!!)

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Sonic Finally Does Some Good

Sonic, apparently, is currently celebrating his 19th birthday. I've never really cared for the little fella, but Sega have. And to celebrate this year, they're having a sale on some of their Megadrive and Genesis classics, but now in brand-new iPhone and iPod touch flavours. I never knew these games were available previously to this mega deal, but now they've shot up the paid apps chart, and are magnificent, I mean really good.

That's right, they've put Streets of Rage on an iPhone. What an incredible idea! Most of my problems with iPhone games involve the fact that the reactions and accurate button presses that are required simply don't convert to the iPhone. Sega, with their gaming pedigree, have seen to it that this isn't even distinctly a problem. The D-Pad is fantastically responsive, and the button-presses feel fair and real. The only thing I could even possibly suggest is moving to this view, so your fat fingers don't conceal enemies:

It also looks a little crisper. Which isn't a problem in the first place anyway. It's delightful, a faithful remake that looks better than it ever has. Oh, and did I mention Golden Axe? They've got Golden Axe, too. And the price? 59p. FIFTY-NINE PENCE, for Golden Axe. All them early adopters who paid £60 for it 15 years ago are crying into their Amigas now.

I really can't recommend these games enough. After the little-disappointing Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2, these were a welcome addition to my little iPhone, and have suddenly made breaktime at work a whole new experience. I just hope I can stop shouting at the police cars outside to give me backup and fire their RPG.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Retro Monday: The Bedroom (Place)

In four days, I move house. I finally grow-up, and get a real place with my girlfriend. As well as all the exciting business of getting new furniture and putting up comic-book artwork and such, I realised the other day that my gaming habits are about to change, possibly for good. I thought this deserved to be talked about, and reminisced upon, so here we are. This Monday, I'm going to talk about a place, not a game, and why it is so special in my heart.

My set-up, in my old room about a year ago.
Notice the broken COD disc to the left,
on the Daft Punk Picture. I broke my first
copy by playing it too much. Oooh-Rahhh.

Obviously, in my new place we'll have a lounge. And this is where, amongst the comfortable sofas and coffee tables, will my new gameplaying take place. Fallout: New Vegas will be played sat on a sofa. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood will be played whilst sitting upright, and in a respectable fashion. And to be honest, it scares me a little.

If I think about it, it's been about 14 years since I last had my console in a living room. It was my NES, and it was in the front room, so me and my dad could play Super Mario Bros 3 together, and leave it on overnight, to save it. Ever since these heady days of Italian plumbing, my console has been upstairs, safe in my room, and tucked away. From the days of playing Rock n' Roll Racing on my Snes, to hastily ushering GTA 3 up to my bedroom without my parents aware of what it actually was, sitting on my bed, with my controller in hand, has been the way I've played games for almost as long as I can remember, and now all that's about to change.

What we all aspire to.

And I still do it today. In the house I currently share, my lovely TV is in my room, and I play my games like I've always done: horizontally. The mixture of extreme relaxation and gaming is one of life's finer pleasures, and in recent years, the addition of wireless controllers has meant on Winter nights the old problem of 'cold arms out of the covers holding the controller syndrome' has vanished. Truly what the technology was designed for. Countless games have been completed sitting down, and you can tell when a game truly grips you, as you're bolt upright, glaring intently at the screen. Indeed, when the game is so gripping it calls for a late-night session, it's far more acceptable to the missus to be sat in bed playing, completing that final level.

What we can all hope to achieve.

So, as things change, I'm not sure where I'll be without my trusty bedroom gaming. The place where gaming should be. I didn't write this Retro Monday today to be introspective, or self-obsessed, I wrote it because I wanted to share my thoughts on where we play our games. We always talk about amazing graphics and levels, but we seldom speak about how we enjoy them. I reckon I'm not the only bedroom gamer out there.

I'm already saving up for a second telly, to go in our new bedroom. Good job my girlfriend's got another Xbox!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

E3 2010: Three Dee Eee Three

I've recently been on holiday. The beer was good, the scenery was nice and the weather was warm. But as we all know, holidays are a time of cutting off. From home, from stress and from our beloved consoles. So what do we do when we're on holiday? We boot up the handhelds, of course.

After a brief flirtation with the PSP, my DS has time and time again shown just how good the little blighter has become. What was once a platform that was pissed all over by Nintendogs, quality and off-beat releases has ensured that the DS appeals to a wide fanbase, with games for everyone. I was sucked into Pokemon on my holiday, and fell in love with the little critters all over again.

Pokemon. Straight-up science shit.

So, when we were dividing up what to tackle after this years E3, I thought I would chat about my suprising and sudden anticipation for the Nintendo 3DS...

Now, before we start getting the knives out as 'serious' gamers, I know exactly what you're thinking, because I was thinking it too. Surely, this isn't it? They've added an analogue nub, and some shitty gimmick in the form of a '3-D' screen. Surely, this can't be Nintendo's next leap. The same console, but with a few shit add-ons? The next DS XL. Trojan Horse. Nintendo up to it's new old tricks.

But I honestly don't think this is the case. From my feverous Twitter following, all of the games journalists have gone absolute BONKERS for this. Apparently the 3D isn't a gimmick, but an actual, factual revelation of gameplay, offering a staggering 3D display, without any glasses or aids. The console also has a slider on the side, to adjust the level of 3D to your eyes, and also to turn it off entirely if you wish. The fears of this 'gimmick' have been all but quashed.

Kid Icarus. Nintendo Fanboy Wetdream.

And Nintendo have finally starting listening to the hardcore. Resident Evil, Kid Icarus, Starfox, Paper Mario and that Ocarina of Time remake. This is like a gamer's wet dream, and all being announced to be released on the 3DS, all at one E3. Nintendo came with a game plan: to assure and excite the hardcore gamers. And I for one am excited.

So in a year when Microsoft and Sony focused on the families and casual gamers, Nintendo was the platform that emerged to be thrusting it's focus right at the hardcore fans. And I didn't think I'd be saying THAT this time last month.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

E3 2010: 'Silent Hill 8'? Yes please (but only if it’s good)!

This years E3 was awesome and wet my appetite for enough new games to keep me scraping around for many pennies for the next few months and then some. Yet after so many announcements I found myself not so bothered about new franchises and IP’s as normal, but more intrigued to see 2011 as the year of the older franchises comeback. As they reclaim their former glory, charging to the forefront of their genres an showing the new kids on the block how its done, after suffering not so good sequels in their lineage that people tend to forget about on purpose.

The alternate reality prison sequences have the potential to be pant wettingly terrifying

Silent Hill is probably the one franchise that single handedly got me into survival horror games, yet still the latest announcement left me with a feeling of doubt yet hopefulness that it could recrown itself as one of the leading survival horror franchises after suffering a few unworthy treatments (which in my honest opinion is Silent Hill 4 onwards).

Vatra Studios new trailer for Silent Hill 8 (planned to arrive sometime in 2011) looks promising indeed, ditching the dated characters looking for relatives who’ve oddly run off and/or disappeared in Silent Hill based storyline, and instead putting you in the proverbial shoes of a prison escapee Murphy Pendleton, who escapes a prison transport crash only to end up in Silent Hill (gutted much?). Cue all the nasty psychological horror traits of the series where Silent Hill goes all Hellraiser, transforming into a disturbing reflection of the prison Murphy’s just escaped, hopefully cueing some interesting terrors stemmed from the choices he was confronted with serving time behind bars.

SH:8 promises to blend the flash light exploration and crap yourself scares, mind boggling puzzles mixed with the new use of certain everyday objects such as chairs and bookcases into the combat to prolong your imminent death at the jaws of some grotesque abomination.

If all this is done well and scary enough then Vatra might be onto something, finally rekindling the franchise that Silent Hill: Homecoming failed to do next gen justice.

E3 2010: I'm making a note here, HUGE SUCCESS.

So e3 is gone, and after a chat with the other fine chaps here at Gainboy, we're going to do a little series of articles covering our own personal favourites from the conferences and floor shows of the biggest trade show in the US (maybe the world, but Gamescom in Germany gets bigger and better every year).

Gabe Newell suprised just about everyone this year. We all knew we would get some info on Portal 2, but I don't think anyone would have guessed he would walk out to present it as part of Sony's conference. Valve have had a history of saying that they have trouble working with Sony's hardware, due to the programming differences compared to a Windows based system they work with on both PC and Xbox360. A great suprise then, that not only are they planning to get behind the PS3's rise to glory, but they are going to do it by using their own platform, Steam, to deliver content updates and provide access to the steam community through your PS3.

Fancy stuff and unsuprising to see it happen on the PS3 first. You might think this kind of thing would work much easier on the Xbox360, and I would agree. But Microsoft are becoming legendary in their scrooge-like efforts to make everyone subscribe to their premium gold service. If this Steam idea comes to the xbox360, I would expect it to be avilable to gold subscribers only.

So a little less about the platform holders, and a bit more about what this article is about.

Delicious Cake.

The original game, Portal, was part of the Orange Box, Valve's first release on the current generation of consoles. Inside said box, were, count them.. 5 games. At £39.99 that was a bargain. Even if two or three were utter garbage it would be worth it. But Valve put into this box five absolute gems: Half-Life 2 (HL2), HL2: Episiode 1, HL2: Episode 2, Portal and Team Fortress 2. The Half-Life saga is one I have played through a 'few' times, let's say, and it remains to this day as my favourite set of first person games ever made. Team Fortress 2, is a massively popular First Person team based shooter, with a rather unique style and perfectly balanced gameplay. But finally, Portal. Almost overshadowed by the other huge names of Valve's catalogue, on the outside, it looked like a nice little puzzle game to keep you entertained for a while. Upon further inspection, Portal was (and still is) a massively accomplished first person adventure, featuring some mind bending puzzles and a lovely portion of dark humour.

So Portal 2 is coming, but what does it have to offer us? From the interviews and the developer walkthroughs show at e3, Portal 2's story is set up to be twice as long as the original (which is good news, as the first took me about an hour 1/2 to complete first time), but not only that, it has a completely separate co-op story, which is again twice the length of Portal1. So that's four times as much portal goodness. In addition to more length, the Arpeture test facility has developed a few new things to test you with.

The first major ones were are shown are the 'Excursion Funnel', a kind of tractor beam that you can send through portals and use as a lift to carry you across gaps or up to high areas, the 'Faith Plate', which are essentially bounce pads that throw you up in the air, and the 'Thermal Discouragement Beam', a high powered laser that you can direct with new weighted cubes that have mirrors inside them. The really interesting ones however, are the introduction of two new 'gels', "Repulsion Gel", which changes the surface to bounce you off it, allowing you to jump much higher, or even off walls, and "Propulsion Gel", which increases your movement speed as you move across it. The effect these two gels have on the scope of puzzles that can be created is huge, possibly allowing for intricate and massive chambers.

Using Propulsion gel to squeeze through some spiked pneumatic walls.

So all in all, I have to say, Portal 2 is looking like a standout game, with a massively fleshed out single and multiplayer game, new ideas and new characters. Will GLaDOS and Chell really put their differences behind them for science, or will Chell remain a monster and kill her again? Will there be cake? Will there be another song for the credits? Time, and Valve, hold the answers.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Retro Monday: Califonia Games (Various)

Ok, so with Retro Mondays, it's all about nostalgia. Talking about the games and TV shows from the past that we love. And especially with games, the strongest part about any retro games is anecdotal evidence, and talking about them. I know that Streets of Rage is a fantastic brawler, and I only played it once. I know this from the kid who lived near my Grandma, who would lavish tales of the game after school. I never even used Axel's special move, but I know those Police Cars were serious shit.

When I think about mysterious, talked-about games, California Games is right up there...

This little blighter was on EVERY console at the time. I'm pretty sure that some Microwaves came with it installed. That's how widespread this shit was. Multiple iterations, multiple different skins. One simple aim: to be like the Olympics, but cool.

It's basically sunshine in a cartridge. For a kid coming from the North West of England, this game was a slice of America. Just look at the box art, look at that hot pink and blue title text. It looks cool already. At the time, this was the coolest, most foreign-looking thing I'd seen since my Chicago Bulls vest given to me by my American Cousins.

The game consisted of 6 'sports'. I use the term sports loosely, because I'm not sure if many people consider Frisbee a sport. Obviously, nobody liked the BMX, so we don't have to talk about that. Roller Skating was pretty cool but pointless. Any minigame where the excitement comes in seeing the ice cream cone on the floor isn't exactly a winner. There was a satisfying rhythm to achieve with the skating though, which was a reason to give it a shot.

The two sports we really need to look at to get to the meat and gravy of this games are Footbag and Skateboarding. The games in which the mystery was cultivated. Anyone who remembers this game, and had it circulating in their group of friends will remember these events over all others.

You know someone who claimed they did a 900 in Skateboarding on California Games. Back then, I didn't know what a 900 was. I could only just get off the pipe and turn around. A game with no tutorial, in a time of no internet, and a control system and moves list that needed both these things the most. In these spoon-fed times, we should count ourselves extremely lucky. Imagine if Skate never taught you how to Ollie, and you had to figure it out. It seems such a bizarre concept, but one that created such a mystery about the game. When you did a trick, it was a complete journey of discovery.

And the discovery was made even better by the fact this was a party game. I can't remember a time I played California games alone. There was always someone there, fighting for the control pad, chatting about how they could throw that Frisbee much further than your feeble attempt.

And then we get onto the most mythical, pointless, romantically fantastic game to grace any machine, Footbag. The most baffling thing on earth. To know absolutely nothing about what you're even supposed to do is such a rare occurence, this really was a journey of discovery. To get that blasted bag up in the air was difficult enough, but WHEN YOU HIT THE SEAGULL, OH MY LORD. Hitting that winged bitch was up there with completing God of War 3 for me. A game with such depth, and such mystery, that I reckon that in all the time I sunk into it, I only discovered about 25% of the tricks.

This was California Games' strength; The mystery. If this kind of game was released in today's environment, it would be distinctively average. It would be drowned in tutorials, spoilt by YouTube tips videos. It would have had all the suspense and clandestine secrecy removed from it. As a product of it's time, it remains fantastic, a true curio of gaming, and a fantastically off-the-wall take on sports games.

It doesn't matter that my cousin Melissa was able to use the shoulders on Footbag, or that my friend down the street used to swear he could do a Method Grab on Skateboarding but couldn't do it in front of me, what matters is that I still remember these tales today, and that's what I'll remember about California Games; the mystery.

E3 Roundup 2010: Paralyze-eye-view

So it's a week since e3 2010 kicked off, and the dust is pretty much settled on the show that is picking up it's pace again after it's near demise a few short years ago.

I'm going to pick up where the good Doctor left off, as he's slacking, the slacker.

Now I'm sure everyone's seen the new 360, Kinect, Move, 3DS and all the hardware that the big boys waved around, so I'll stray awy from that and cover the real meat:

Firstly, something that took me by suprise, and will make a lot of fanboys start salivating with glee, is the reveal of the Warhammer 40,000 MMO: Dark Millenium Online. Not a lot of info released, but from what you can see in the trailer, players can explore on foot and in vehicles. The info I've dug up says that they are going for a traditional MMO style, with quests and NPC enemies, but multiple playable races and PvP are a certainty.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

E3 2010: so far...

Well, with only 24hrs to go until the electronic entertainment expo closes it's very expensive doors for another year I'm here to give you a 'lil round up of what has captured us so far.
It's been an interesting but not an earth shattering year with 2 new machine unveilings, some suprises (twisted metal and Sony's move) and some real joys (Zelda Skyward and Microsoft's lengthy Kinetic demo.)

Microsoft hit us with the U.K launch date of their new black slim 250gb 360, tasty.
Forza 4 announced WITH Kinetic support,
Fable 3 and Gears 3 got demo'd.
Free ESPN channel for all gold subscribers on live.
Star wars got the Kinetic touch,

Sony got us going with an impressive Move demonstration along with a streetdate and price,
Gran turismo 5 announces 3D support,
Killzone 3 dated for Feb'11,
The fantastic Infamous gets a sequel next year,
The real suprise came when Steam announced it's connection to the PSN, a real suprise considering what Gabe Newell has said about Sony in the past. I see $$$$ !!

Nintendo's 3DS got the show going with it's impressive floor demo, showing off Kid icarus but failing to give a retail date.
GOLDENEYE FOR THE WII !! (I liked the look of it)
Zelda Skyward sword announced for the Wii, along with Motion-controls,
Anyone for a new Mario Sports game - booya thats-a-coming in 2011. Mini games ahoy for the Wii,
A final and solid release date for Metroid Other M in the U.S
New Donkey Kong country rumors were true, Q4 in 2010, nice !!

I'll be back in a couple of days to add some more nuggets of tasty info for you all.
Have a glorious day
The good Dr.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Difficulty: HARD

Thought I’d have to start posting some time or another and with the current difficulty articles from my fellow bloggers I thought I should point out why I always play my games on ‘Hard’ difficulty, just to show I'm not some kind of sadistic gamer who enjoy raging at games on a regular basis.

I’m almost bored of modern games basically handing me the story with very little challenge rather than making me work for it, somehow it doesn’t feel so rewarding. Although in the same breath I don’t appreciate being denied the story because I have to grind almost endlessly, or be superhuman to detect enemies before they appear. Is it possible in the current world of games for developers to do it well without just ramping up the enemies or damage etc?

I’m the kind of guy who plays Call of Duty of Veteran, basically because I’m not too fond of being a sort of ordinary marine in FPS’s who is actually the Terminator in disguise who can almost wipe out a platoon of enemy troops without breaking a sweat and still have time for a cup of tea. Although if it's done wrong it's infuriating, so don’t get me started on the invisible enemies and grenade spammalicoius tendencies of Call of Duty:World at War, that’s another matter yet an good example of difficulty done wrong.

Don’t get me wrong I love my narrative and story, hell that’s what makes half a game but if the other half (whether it be shooting Nazis/aliens, slaying mighty gods, saving the world from ultimate doom etc ) can’t hold it up without at least a bit of a challenge I find myself thinking ‘somethings not right here’.

But I also find there is the satisfaction of learning a section to a degree that makes you try something differently than before but it working out is such a pay off, take Dead Space for example. This is a game that I started on Hard right from the beginning because I knew I wanted to have the crap scared out of me throughout, especially from the variety of disgusting creatures who have the ability to turn you into mince meat if you stumble into them unawares or sod’s law reload your gun at the wrong time.

If only this worked *sigh*

Now I hit one boss a year ago that had me gouging my eyes out, I saw no way of completing this bugger so much so that after a considerable amount of time invested in restraining lobbing my controller through my T.V it was put on the shelf for nearly two years or so! Until now that is. I thought ‘lets have a bash at this bastard once more’, loaded up the section, and bugger me next thing I know I’m trying something different and finishing the sod in no time. So I got that great sense of achievement, aswell as the realisation that the game has been opened up for me once again.

Which brings me to Demon Souls, I’ve been playing this hardcore gamer gem since it’s American release, after reading about it over the internet it sounded like my kind of thing. The main feedback of the game is it being rewarding, but notoriously infuriating. It makes you get better at it or get your ass handed to you in a variety of ways that will make the most masculine of men cry like babies.

Now honestly I have no idea why that premise appealed to me, but be warned if you think this game is your kind of bag, think about it strongly, never has a game had me torn between sitting on the edge of my seat to raging and hurling my controller in frustration in a matter of seconds. If you’re like me you’ll be so literally scared of every movement in the shadows in the common case that something is nearly always waiting to kill you and makes you repeat everything you just did in the last 30 minutes, again.In no way should this put you off, just be prepared for it as it’s going to happen often if you don’t dedicate a lot of time to playing and learning it and most importantly, get better at it.

Get used to this sight In Demon Souls soon followed by you
crying yourself quietly into a corner after you die.

You’d think you’d have to have an almost sadistic nature to enjoy this game, but at the same time never has a game been so compelling for me to have that ‘one last try’ at a gigantic boss or area that I couldn’t overcome because I was too hasty, ignoring the fact my previous death 2 minutes ago nearly brought me to tears. If you buy it you won’t be sorry, it’s an amazing tome to what gaming can be, just be prepared to be retracing your steps a lot and perfecting the art of playing this game without going all Wolverine on your TV.

I enjoy being tested at skill and my ass being handed to me in equal measures if it makes me try something new or really push me as a player to risk something or think outside the box, just not having the game make me give it up and place it in its sadistic claws sprinkled with sugar and a cherry.

And don’t get me started on the world of Trophy/Achievement whoring, that’s another article.

So to quote my fellow blogger BrapScallion:

‘So, in the days of 100+hour games, Fully immersive stories with actual plots and twists worthy of Hollywood, who wants to break the illusion by dying a thousand times just to get through that awkward choke point with the bad guys with grenades?’

I will if it makes the gaming experience feel that little bit more epic and worthwhile when it’s over.

Khronos out.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Retro Monday: Pro Evolution Soccer (PS2)

It's World Cup fever! YES! To be honest, I have little to no interest in football, but when the World Cup comes along, that patriotic, laddish behaviour in me stirs, and I end up getting all involved, and ridiculously shouty at my television.

I haven't played many football games, I'll be honest, but there was one that peaked my interest, and for a large part of teenage years, had me completely hooked. The game was Pro Evolution Soccer, or Winning Eleven if you were from the USA or Japan. Anyways, Let's talk about Pes...

First of all, I know this isn't strictly retro. A good friend of mine once said that to qualify as 'retro', a game or console must be at 2 generations behind, with the current one included. Xbox isn't retro, PS2 isn't retro, but a PS1 is, as is a N64. But seen as though I don't play many football games, you'll have to make do and appreciate me rambling on about this.

I got my PS2 for my birthday. As is the case with most of my consoles, cost me prohibited from a release-day purchase. Instead, I got mine on my birthday. I got the console, PES, GTA 3 and Gitaroo Man, and I was chuffed to bits with such a fantastic variety. Whilst GTA 3 is the one that hooked me initially, and Gitaroo Man wowed me with the tunes and music, it was PES that would provide me with the lasting playability.

Everything about this game was fantastic. In an age where Fifa was a show-off, fiddly game of ridiculous scorelines and flash moves, this game felt real. Every single part of the game was a real test of skill. You talk to anybody who's a PES fanatic, and they'll remember the glory days, and will absolutely rush to show you their replays, of that time when they chipped the keeper, when he came out super early, and was punished by your feather touch.

Freekicks, Penalties, Corners. Every single piece of this game was designed to feel skillful. You had to earn every single goal and tackle. It didn't really feel like a game, it felt like a test of skill. All that button-pressing and pinpoint precision you learnt in other games felt like training for the moment when your mate came round, running his mouth about his skills on the pitch. the true levelling ground, never have heard anyone contest decisions made in the game, rather people complaining about their lack of manipulation and practise. It's a true testament to the game that shows it's level of playability, and it's watertight mechanics.

And let's not forget about the team names. Fifa's stranglehold on the liscensing at the time meant that the game wasn't allowed any of the team liscenses initially, and so had to produce some of the cheekiest references you'll ever see on any video game, as well as the absurd:

Manchester United became Trad Bricks.
Pele became Palm
Portsmouth became the fan's nickname Pompy
Dutch playerWim Suurbier became, quite unfortunately, Slowbear.

This kind of character, this kind of cheek is what made the game great. It felt like a real fans game, a real underdog. And one thing us British enjoy is being the underdog. I played PES until about the 5th or 6th edition, when my interest in football games ended as I left university. One thing that hasn't left me, though, is my deft touch, and my fond memories of that time I curled a free kick in from 30 yards with David Beckham, or whatever the hell Konami's mad scientists named him.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Game Over Man, Game Over

What a time we live in. A time when computer games are finally coming of age, and are making some serious headway in the realms of plot development, and of narrative structure. In the past few years, I've started noticing how more and more games are beginning to concentrate on their endings, in a bid to keep things fresh and interesting. In fact, the boss battle has become such a cliche, that developers and games journalists now use this as an almost negative term, feeling that a giant boss at the end of most modern games is a cop-out, and definitely something to be avoided.

Computer games have therefore had to change. Like all good Pokemon, they've evolved, and in turn have focused on more interesting ways to end the story, one which they've worked so hard on to construct. I never personally thought the boss fight was a problem, but as we find ways to improve and diversify gameplay, I concede that by not doing a boss fight, or approaching it cleverly, it can give the story much more weight and credibility. If a game tries to crowbar a boss in there, then it shouldn't be in there. Simple.

Nowadays, the ending is vitally important, as it ties together the loose endings of a game, and justifies the reason for you playing. Gone are the days when the motive for playing a game was to rescue a princess, or eating ghosts. Plot is VITAL. When we compare games to films, and it becomes clear what I mean.

The boss is the obvious ending in the thriller, and by not providing a boss fight, you provide a plot twist. We are so accustomed to finding ourselves next to a giant creature we've never seen before but have to destroy, that we almost pre-empt it halfway through the game. Just like films, we watch and make assumptions. The greatest movies never show the twist, nor let you guess it. They leave you confused, dumbstruck and in awe of what's just unfolded around you.

Bioshock 2's developers listened directly to their fans.
Unimpressed with the traditional boss battle at the end
of the original, 2K Boston went with something different.

Games are beginning to do this. In the last few generations, games developers have looked at endgame situations in a much more narrative light, and as such have ditched the traditions and conventions, and instead gone for an approach that really makes the game SHINE. Look at Metal Gear Solid 4, the manic button-bashing and cutscenes that followed the immense battles before it may have seen like slowing the pace down to the previous generation of games, but in today's climate this game is allowed to give closure, and spend time wrapping up an epic saga with the cutscenes, whilst still introducing that frenetic pace and sense of drama with Snake crawling to his doom. If we also look at the battle between Vamp and Raiden, that isn't the bit you're controlling. But it's the bit you remember. Here is a game that nails the idea of narrative being just as important as actual gameplay.

So, with games becoming more and more like film, the twist is now the boss fight. The closing act, the conclusion to hours and hours of gameplay. Boss fights are now the way to shock, awe and leave the gamer with that lasting sense of 'wow'. The difficulty has shifted from the gamer, and onto the producer. Our expectations of a good ending are now up their with movies. And rightly so.

In fact, we should demand more from our games. A movie is 2 hours, whilst a game is 20. If you emotionally invest 20 hours of your time into a game, you deserve to be met with the kind of ending that sends shivers down your back. And developers are doing it. Bioshock 2, God of War 3, Assassin's Creed 2, Red Dead Redemption. We are finally getting there.

The end is in sight, and it looks AWESOME.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Retro Monday - Six Feet Under (TV)

Long before I watched Deadwood, I discovered a TV show way back in 2002. Six Feet Under first aired in America on HBO in July 2001 and reached our shores shortly after that, it came to its genuinely heartbreaking and critically acclaimed finale in August 2005. It spanned 5 seasons over 63 episodes. As I type this my wife and I are watching the last 2 episodes of season 5, after re-watching the previous 61 episodes over the last 2 weeks.

The show revolves around the members of the Fisher family who, after the Death of their father must stand together to run their Funeral home in Los Angeles. It also focuses on their friends and lovers. The ensemble cast included members that went on to have acclaimed shows of their own. Peter Krause plays Nate fisher the eldest son of the family, Michael C. Hall his younger brother and business parter, Lauren Ambrose their sister, and Frances Conroy as the long suffering Matriarch. The astounding cast rounded out with Rachel Griffiths as Nate's on-again off-again girlfriend and the excellent Freddy Rodriguez as the Fisher's family friend and mortician.

Each show begins with a death (anything from drowning, faling off cliffs, car wrecks,) which would paint the tone of the show, this is one of many strong themes that the show was known for. It was never afraid to hide from the utter truth of death, the hard facts of life.
The show also had a strong dosage of black humor and surrealism running throughout.
A recurring plot device that ran the length of the show consisted of the main protaganists having imaginary conversations with the deceased. These were parts of the show that I loved the most, dark exchanges between Nate and his late father, or Federico's 'chats' with the recently past-on as they lie on his slab. Awaiting to be embalmed. The idea that these represent the living characters internal monologues exposing them as external conversations. Awesome !!

Now comes the unprofessional gush - I fucking love this show. Always have, always will. The writing and the cast make this show near perfect, it's tone, it's pitch. The 63 episodes cover many years of Fisher and sons funeral home, life, death, grief, joy. It's all here in an amazingly written piece of now legendary Television. The major themes that are scribed here by American Beauty writer Alan Ball (the shows creator) try to capture life as it is, bringing morality into the picture and focusing on those who must deal with it on a daily basis. Just like Deadwood you feel for the family and their subsequent partners, it all leads up to the astounding finale that has gone down in the history books as one of best TV endings ever. I'm not going to lie, I cried. Like a little girl at a Jonas Brothers concert.

You know that feeling you get when you think you discovered something, something special. I didn't know anyone that watched S.F.U when it first aired on Sky. It was unique to me, I didn't have anybody to talk to about it.
2nd time through however things are different, DVD sales and torrents make this accessible for all. I do urge anyone and everyone to buy the boxset off Amazon, book off a weekend and blitz it. You will not be disapointed.
Go seek out excellent TV as opposed to 'Britian's got this..' and 'Pop idol that.' Stupid drone television that seems to consume the masses. I don't watch the idiot box that often but if more shows like this were broadcast i'd guarentee my bum would be glued to the seat.

Peace and love
Dr Sanchez

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Niko Bellend

So I've recently finished Red Dead Redemption, and it was splendid. Well executed, well told and a joy to play. So, with such fond memories of Marston and the Wild West, my faith in Rockstar was restored. So much so, in fact, that I slammed in my copy of Grand Theft Auto IV. I got a fair bit into the story on the first play, but then gave up, disillusioned with a game that I couldn't get on with, and found boring. But did I still feel this way? Had Red Dead reminded me of what was good about Rockstar, and that I was perhaps a little rash and hasty with my original judgements?

Is Grand Theft Auto IV actually any good?

No. No it isn't.

It just isn't good enough. It has all these fantastic ideas, all these cleverly-built features and facets, but they are completely worthless in the absence of good gameplay. It feels like the developers tried to show off, tried so much to display their understanding of 'meta-gaming' that they lost sight of what made a good game, and what made something fun to play.

When I started playing again, I went straight for a mission. Get back in the swing of things, get back into some action, get running and gunning. Now, when I got to the mission's core, after a lot of pointless driving, I was struck at just how frustrating the cover system is. Enemies have a ridiculous amount of health, enemies don't ever pop out from cover, and the target assist is really difficult to get along with, Needless to say, I didn't complete the mission, and got shot in the back.

That's fine. No problems, I could look past that. So, I'm sent back to the hospital, as is the case, and activated the cellphone feature, to replay the mission. It then sends me back to the driving part of the mission. A completely pointless drift across the city, from the place you were originally. Surely, surely if you were trying to encourage decent gameplay, or even base it on some kind of realism, you'd just take me to the mission start point? SURELY? Baffling. It really frustrated me. It seems that Rockstar can't get realism OR gameplay out of this game.

Red Dead Redemption really does shine through when we look at things like this. It takes you back to cleverly-placed checkpoints. If you die, you're taken back to a fair point in the mission, and often a part that's immensely fun to play anyway. Such a simple idea, but one that makes a game a pleasure to play, and not a chore.

And we've not even got to the driving part yet. Perhaps the most disappointing element of the whole game. Grand Theft Auto, it's called Grand Theft AUTO, and the driving physics are frightful. Over-twitchy cars, bad handling and poor camera angles make this a frustrating exercise in patience and Schumacher-reflexes. The only way I could seem to get any success out of the driving was to change to first-person view. Obviously though, you sacrifice seeing things coming, and eventually lose out in another way.

I'm not a GTA hater at all, I want to make that point crystal clear. I've completed all of the modern iterations, bar this one. I've completed Bully and RDR, so it's fair to say I enjoy Rockstar games.

I think my point isn't in slamming GTAIV, really. It would be a bit odd to come out and slam a game released 2 years ago. Not exactly relevant. No, the point I'm trying to make is just how a developer can make fatal errors when looking at the picture close-up, and not taking a step back to see it all. Games should be FUN, a point that 4 seemed to miss completely.

So Rockstar, please, PLEASE look at the San Diego boys, and what they've done, and make us a GTA we can have fun with again. Change time period, change tact, and do something brilliant, like you just have done. GTA in the 1920's? Oh wow. Someone get the Houser brothers on the phone.