Tuesday, 31 August 2010

A Wake Up Call

At GainBoy, we pride ourselves on taking our time. When I started this thing, it was one of the key things I aimed for. I have read too many shitty reviews and haphazard play-throughs to know that rushing only gives you so much perspective on a game. So we take our time. We let things stew, gather our thoughts, and try and do justice to games we think deserve talking about.

I completed Alan Wake a week ago, and it's now I feel I can give some thoughts on what is a landmark in Computer Games.

Landmark is a strong term. It really is. And I don't use it lightly. But this game is. Not because of gameplay, but because of narrative, and maturity.

First of all, the game's strength lies in it's maturity. It's not trying to be too clever, but at the same time it isn't treating you like a 14 year-old boy with a penchant for boobs and pizza. The storyline is cheesey, yet still creepy, and with enough references that make me all kinds of smug in my old TV knowledge. It's Twin Peaks, it's Eerie Indiana. It's the Twilight Zone. This helps the game cement itself in the real world, and by having these cultural touchstones permeating through the game, it means that although the game's plot is at times ridiculous, it's still somehow believable.

I think my point is proved best when trying to explain the game to my girlfriend. Usually, when trying to describe the plot of a game to her, 2 things happen. The first is she usually tuts, and the second is I realise how proposterous the actual storyline of most games are. Have you ever actually tried to explain something like Gears of War? It's cringeworthy. But when I told her about Alan Wake, it was easy. It made sense, it sounded credible and it actually sounded good. By taking a step away from traditional game material, and crossing into the realm of other mediums, they've managed to make something that plays well, and feels like a genuine step forward in gaming.

The final and most important thing I noticed whilst playing was it's core strength, and the current theme running through the best games being released: Narrative. It's narrative which differentiates the good games from the truly special, and althought not perfect, Alan Wake really, really tries. Throughout playing the game, I couldn't help comparing it to Bioshock. If I offered this perspective without any explanation, it would seem that I was chatting about the dark atmosphere and scary elements. Whilst this is true, it's not what I'm talking about here.

It's narrative. Just like Bioshock, the story doesn't feel like a vehicle for some fancy gameplay mechanic, some new type of weapon or some toy to play with. I recently played The Singularity, which felt like the flimsiest story, all wrapped around a new idea for a weapon the games developers liked. No, with Alan Wake, the gameplay is central to the story, and drives the game to a satisfying and eerie conclusion.

The story is genuinely good, and the narrative running through the game is well thought out, clever and tense. After the first hour of gameplay, I was unconvinced, as I felt some of the cutscenes were a bit shaky, and the concept wasn't grabbing me. But I spoke to a friend about it, and he responded with, 'I've got a friend who is constantly returning games if they experience even one bit of framerate drop or dodgy shadowing. What an idiot. It's the reason I stopped talking to him.' Too true. Unclench, play the game, and witness a game that's pushing the medium forward.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Summer Drought: Part 2

Summer is nearly over. We've endured the long, arduous times of barren gaming and shitty release schedules, and we're nearly into the Christmas Bonanza. But there's still a week or two to go, so we thought we'd let some other cool hombres give you their advice on how to survive the last of the Gaming Drought. Enjoy!

GodOnlyKnows. Segway Rider. iPad Gamer

How are you coping with the summer drought in games?

Man, I'm glad of it. My pile of shame is immense. I've made hardly any inroads into Red Dead Redmption, want to finish Mass Effect so I can start ME2 and of course this WoW expansion has only a few months left to run and I still haven't nailed that pesky Lich King!

What are you playing to keep yourself ticking over?

See above. However, it's fair to say I'm being diverted massively by the iPhone and iPad. Nothing really outstanding, but so much of it! I seem to spend entire evenings downloading shitty games and versions of board/card games, etc. There are some real gems out here in the ocean of shit. I recommend Small World for iPad and Pocket Legends for iPhone has me quite intrigued.

What advice do you have to help people survive until October (the pre-christmas releases start then)?

Sports titles! Be a man about it and pick up this year's Tiger or Madden. These games are getting better year on year and make for such awesome evenings with your chums.

Kif. Comic Book Guy. Battlefield Hero.

How are you coping with the summer drought in games?

At the minute I seem to be playing a lot of social games. Just moved into a new place and I'm not online, this has forced me - rather nicely - to play more socially with people. NHL 2010, or UFC, Fight NIght 4, just games on the same screen with mates taking turns and having a laugh. Not done this in years really, just been shooting random faceless people. But it is actually quite cool to get a bit of friendly/insulting banter on the go while you pummel your friend into the middle of next week. Winner stays on!

What are you playing to keep yourself ticking over?

Apart from the above mentioned games, I've been getting stuck into Alan Wake again, trying to do the little missions or finding out a gamer point challenge and seeing if i can crack it. I'm at the moment pondering having another go at Fallout 3 and wondering whether I can commit 80 hours of my life to it again. I guess I'm revisiting stuff and playing competative games with friends.

What advice do you have to help people survive until October (the pre-christmas releases start then)?

I say get stuck into something you love again, some survival horror, or one of the many games you've got lying on a shelf which you havent finished yet. I've got a few like that, havent finished Red Dead yet! I loved it just didn't finish it then moved onto something else.

Man of few Words.

"Multiplayer Sports Games."

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Yellow is the new Red...

Today, I've witnessed the heartbreak I had yet to taste. Numerous friends have been through it, countless others have retold tales of horror and dismay. And today it finally happened to me. My console died. The old girl had been going strong for 2 years strong, and has never given me any problems. But today, the lights flashed, and that was it. I looked at my Xbox, and turned it on and played some Bioshock to forget.

Yep, my Playstation 3 died, whilst my older Xbox still trundles on.

I have to be in a very small percentage who's Playstation has malfunctioned over their Xbox, but it did. The God of War Collection was the final straw for my 40gb model, as it sighed it's last breath, and decided enough was enough. At first I couldn't quite believe it, one of those 'it couldn't happen to me' vibes. But it did, and Sony quite rightly told me it was out of warranty, and would charge to replace it. My beef isn't with that at all, it's the feeling I felt.

A real, bonafide feeling of loss. When it happened, I felt quite disappointed. I can't explain it really, because it scared me a little of how much I'm connected to these little machines. And I bet you're the same. I reckon I'm going to bury this incident deep into my psyche, just like you have. When your Xbox, or your PS3, or your Nintendo Entertainment System broke, I bet you felt JUST the same as me, but have decided to bury that one away.

I could of got it repaired, look at this simple diagram!

It's such a strange feeling, and I'm still experiencing it. I ordered a replacement, and it's coming tomorrow, but that's not the point. The point is, that my Playstation died. Tomorrow, I'll have it to give it to some delivery guy, who'll hand over a strange box, that I have to get used to, and re-download all my saves onto. It arrives, and it's already hassle, unlike my trusty old Playstation that I bought off my cousin, after he won it an arcade.

I don't quite know the point of this post, if I'm honest. It's more a case of therapy I think, some group sharing time. If anyone else has any stories of loss when their little consoles break down, please, share with the group. It helps if we tackle it together...

Friday, 13 August 2010


Normally we don't do this kind of vibe. We wait until games are out, and try not to hang onto rumours and gossip. But every once in a while, something comes along that blows your socks off. And during the dry spell of Summer, we sorely needed this:

Right out of nowhere, They announce Bioshock:Infinite. Completely out of the blue, they released the reveal trailer, and filled up a Wikipedia page. If you haven't seen the trailer yet, then get onto YouTube straight away and check it out, because I'm going to spoil it a bit.

First of all, that reveal. OH MY LORD. When that window smashes, you really do feel like you're falling through yourself. Such bright sunlight, such etheral lighting, 2K have done something really special here. By transposing the location so drastically , they could be setting themselves up for a fall, but I don't think so.

Think about it. The Bioshock gameplay is rock solid. The plasmid system gives it it's Uniqueness, and it's design is a strong suit, but NOT because it's underwater, but because it's beautiful. That Art-Deco style is it's calling card, and why not carry it over? We've learnt that the Sky City is called Columbia, a 'cross between Steampunk ideals and Bespin Cloud City'. As long as they stick to the simple design rules and principles, it will keep all of the Bioshock charm we've come to love.

Bioshock 2 wasn't a bad game, it was just up against impossible odds. When you mention Bioshock to people, I guarantee you the memory that sticks out most to them is the first trip in the bathysphere. That first glance of Rapture, that whale that swims past you, That's what Bioshock was. Something different. And watching that reveal trailer, I felt that same feeling. The same freshness, the same excitement.

It's crazy how assumptions can be made over a 3-minute trailer. The internet is currently going NUTS about it, with stupid theories being formulated about what every second of the trailer means, and what's going to be in the super special edition. All of this is fine, but it's not what's important. What is important is that 2K are doing something different, and by taking these calculated risks they are setting themselves up for not only a commerical success, but a game that brings new life to a franchise that was teetering on the edge of going from original, to played-out.

To infinity, and to a hopefully awesome game.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Summer Drought: Part 1

As we enter into August, we enter a dark time in gaming. The sun is allegedly out, and as such we should be playing outside. Swingball, walking about, all that shit. Well, for some of us, we don't buy into it. After a hard week at work, we don't want to be sat in a park sweating somewhere. We want to be inside, on a comfortable sofa, drinking a beer and shooting some questionable characters in the face. But it's here us gamers strike a problem.

Summer is a DRY time for gamers. You should know, you're the one desperately clambering to play games, looking for something new whilst people are asking you out for a 'kick about'. So what do we do? I'm currently at a loss. My LoveFilm account is delivering some terrible games of late, and I'm struggling to get my gaming fix. I decided that instead of sitting about sulking, I'd tackle it head on, do some research, and share my findings.

I've talked to a few of my friends/colleagues/fellow Gainboyers, and provide my findings below. In fact, I got so many awesome responses, I decided it was only right to give them all, over a few posts. Hopefully our collective knowledge can provide some answers!

Kermit1986, CurrentlyPlaying Blogger,

Street Fighter Obsessive.

How are you coping with the Summer drought of games?

I've bought so many games in sales and such over the past year that I've actually got a lot of unopened games just waiting to be played. I could probably live off what I have yet to play/ finish until next summer with the way it stands!

What are you playing to keep yourself going over Summer?

Mostly Super Street Fighter IV. It's not just my game of the summer, but the year. It's an amazingly balanced fighting game, with a lot of depth that provides me with things to continuously get better at.

I've also been pacing myself through Super Mario Galaxy 2 over the past 6-7 weeks. So many throwbacks to Mario platformers of the past, amazing level design, and a lot to keep me coming back. Nintendo have no rust when it comes to making great platform games, they're always on form.

What advice do you have to help people survive until the new games season starts?

If you're lucky enough to have several consoles you'll no doubt have a lot of choice when it comes to games worth playing. So much so that it's hard to keep up with them all. When I see a game I was tempted to buy only a couple of months ago is now being sold for a very appealing price, I'll hop on the impulse buy, regardless of if I actually have time to play it!

CalibratedMig29, Musician and NHL fanboy

How are you coping with the Summer drought of games?

Not too bad. I've had less XBox time lately as I've found plenty of excuses to get out into the wider world. In any case, I usually use summer to go back over older games and rack up any little achievements I've missed or get in completions on higher skill levels.

What are you playing to keep yourself going over Summer?

I'm currently hammering the career modes on NHL10 (Be a Pro), Madden (Season) and Prizefighter, and trying to complete a few games I've borrowed from mates. I'll be on NHL and Madden pretty much continuously until the new versions come out in about a month, although I doubt I'll be buying Madden. I've been playing NHL for about twelve years so I've pretty much built that into my annual budget now!

What advice do you have to help people survive until the new games season starts?

I'd say people should hit the shops for any sale games that they didn't pick up first time round. Apart from the big-budget games, most games these days are available for dirt cheap after a while, especially the pre-owned ones. August's weather seems to be turning to shit pretty quickly so it looks like we'll all be having a lot of indoor time until about next spring!

DrLucianSanchez, GainBoy Dude and

US TV Expert.

How are you coping with the summer drought in games?

Honestly, i've had a great few months - i got Red Dead Redemption late on, and that's pretty much consumed my gaming quota. I did also enjoy a run of decent XBLA titles.

What are you playing to keep yourself ticking over?

Well, im on 95% completion on Red Dead and I'm a whore for in-game collectables. Ive been playing some older titles, playing Overlord 2 and FightNight Round 4. I got these both very, VERY cheap. Pre-owned is definitely the way to go over Summer.

What advice do you have to help people survive until the new games season starts?

Hmmm, good question sir! I know all the goodies are abound in October and beyond but these next few months are gonna be spent playing old classics. Q4 sees Fable 3, Fallout New Vegas, and loads of others. For now i can finally start Mass Effect. I can't believe I STILL haven't played the first one!

So there you have it! More to follow next week, but some excellent advice to get you started, and let's get this blasted month of August out of the way TOGETHER!

Monday, 9 August 2010

Retro monday : Treasure ( 1992 - present )

In 1992 a small group of former Konami employees came together to form 'Kabushiki-Gaisha Toreja' otherwise know to us as 'Treasure.'
This small privately owned company houses 30-40 staff and is now widely regarded as one of the best independent powerhouses in Japan. Their impressive list of titles include Guardian Heroes (one of my favourites) Gunstar heroes, Dynamite Headdy, Wario World, Sin and Punishment and the now legendary spiritual sequel to Radiant Silver gun, the complex shooter Ikaruga.
Treasure have a close working partnership with some of the worlds biggest software companies including Sega, Nintendo and SquareEnix.
My love of treasure harks way back to when the critically acclaimed Gunstar Heroes was first released on the Megadrive in September 1993, i was a plucky young 13 yr old who had a taste in classic run and gun gaming. This was my ticket to awesome ! Best part of the game - the bonkers level bosses, often made up of multiple sprites allowing a smooth animated look.

Have a look at this classic bit of gaming

This piece of side scrolling lunacy kept me going on and off until treasure unveiled their latest masterpiece in may of 1996. During that time I had upgraded from Sega's 16 bit machine to the 32bit commercial disaster the Saturn. Oohhh i did love that console !!
Guardian Heroes is one of my favourite titles of all time, the 2D style Golden axe side scroller that worked with a 3 tier style environment (think Castlecrashers.) Adding RPG elements along with amazing cell shaded and hand drawn animation this mammoth game's influence is obvious 14 years on.

Click this link to see the game in action

After 18 years Treasure's feet are now completely under the table. Their cult fanbase grows more and more every year as these former Konami employees corner the market with amazing and bonkers Shooters. Their legacy of games continues even now, the bullet hell title Ikaruga (first released on the Gamecube then later on Xbox Marketplace in 2008) was developed by only a 3 man team and has entered the critical hall of fame as IGN's 3rd greatest shooter of all time. Oh, did i mention how f#*%$*g hard it is too; with the games core mechanic involving two polarities. Black enemies and White enemies, each one either having to be fired at to be killed or absorbed. I do recommend you pick this up from anywhere you can. If you have a death wish.

Click here to watch the madness

Lets look to the future, whats in store for this Japanese developer? With the incredible Bangai-o spirits available for the DS and Sin and Punishment 2 their latest release for the Wii, it looks bright. Treasure are also developing an as yet untitled Xbox 360 title. My tastebuds have been well and truly wet!
This indie powerhouse has been running in the background for 19 years, creating some of the most hardcore titles around and receiving critical praise on each release. They aren't a name that most people will know, it brings a kind of "Oh yeah i didn't know they did this" mentality. As with every Retro Monday here at Gainboy, we always talk about the media of yester-year that still holds a place in our hearts.
So Please; if you haven't played a Treasure game go seek one out or even better download a couple of these timeless pieces on the XBLA or Virtual Console. Its a treat for the eyes....

I'm off now to carry on playing Lost Planet 2, i know i know...
Till next time,
the good Dr Sanchez

Monday, 2 August 2010

Retro Monday: The Twilight Zone (TV)

The other day, I was chatting with some humanoids, about what scared us as kids. I was quite smug in that I had no paranoid or irrational fears, until I remembered two things that terrified me. The first was Christopher Lloyd in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, which I still can't watch properly to this day. The other, more scary thing was The Twilight Zone. I watched it yesterday, to refresh my memory. I had to turn it off.

Released in 1959, The Twilight Zone was a television series created by sharply-dressed dude Rod Serling. Basically self-contained sci-fi 'stories', with each episode being completely different, and often containing a twist at the end.

Never mind all the remakes and all that horrible 80's shit, the originals were the real deal. Low-Budget, black-and-white and dripping with atmosphere. There's something about the greyness that adds such depth to the proceedings, such darkness. The episodes are so atmospheric, it really does suck you in. The orchestral score as well ramps up the tension no end. All the string stabs and dramatic riffs are something long-forgotten in modern thriller, and after watching some episodes again, it really stood out to me how important and brilliant it was in building tension.

Rod Serling. The coolest man in a suit. Ever.

This shit was scary. Not because of the effects, but because of the storylines. Maybe the 12 year-old me wasn't as cynical and world-weary as me now, but these stories were genuinely engaging. Yes, there was a little bit of garbage and schmaltz in there. But there was 159 episodes in the first run. 159 seperate stories and sets, every single time. I reckon I'll allow a few to slip by.

I remember getting a book when I was little off my cousin, which listed every episode in great detail. The plot, the first airtime, even the complete cast of each episode. I remember reading that book at night-times and getting scared without even seeing certain episodes. Just from reading a paragraph on the story, I was able to put the pieces together, and terrify myself.

William Shatner faces his gremlins in the now-iconic
'Terror at 20,00 feet' episode.

With most TV shows or films I come to watch retrospectively, I often end up disappointed. Nothing builds up the hype of a show like nostalgia. When I put the iconic 'Terror at 20,000 Feet' episode (The one with Shatner on the plane), I was expecting something of a corny, melancholic experience. But far from it! It was still eery, still weird, still amazing! I'm currently going through more episodes, in an attempt to re-live my childhood, and give me the frights once more.

The great thing is, a lot of these episodes are now on YouTube. And instead of doing more jabbering, I thought I'd put the episode I just mentioned on this very blog, right here. 20 minutes of terror, intrigue, and sci-fi at it's finest. Welcome to...The Twilight Zone.