Wednesday, 8 June 2011

E3 2011, the highlights....

Well well well, It's been...eventful this year, some surprises, some laughs and Kinect. LOTS OF FRIGGIN' KINECT! Microsoft kick started the first press conference of the event by showcasing footage of Modern Warfare 3, complete with the most bombastic sequences that would even put Michael bay in hospital. Hot on the heels of this - new Tomb Raider, looking pretty sharp (i wont be buying, but it looks enough like a 360 uncharted
to maybe entice some.) Peter Moore's EA Kinect onslaught came next, along with his Horrendous English / American hybrid voice. This is what pretty much happened for the next hour - Mass effect featuring Kinect, Molyneux was wheeled out to describe another Fable letdown, Ice-T made a tit of himself on stage playing Gears 3 (snore), HALO 4 (surprise suprise), Ghost Recon showed us a fancy new trailer with...yep, you guessed it Kinect playable options, UFC showcased Live TV interactivity (nothing for Europe, yet.) Youtube and Bing will be available soon on Xbox WITH VOICE CONTROL VIA KINECT, nope I'll just use my smartphone and be on the web before my 360 has a chance to warm up. Jesus, Microsoft what a shower of dribble. I'm not gonna even mention the other Wii sports style titles announced for Microsoft's glorified web-cam. Look for yourself. Waste of time...

To see this in all it's glory click the links below -

Sony's conference up next. Jack Tretton took to the stage, using his opening speech to talk about the 'Elephant in the room!' He talked openly and honestly about the PSN-outage, apologising to customers, vendors, press, 3rd party publishers and anyone who would listen. Ok, onto the meat and veg of the show - GAMES!! First out of the gate was the mightily impressive Uncharted 3 followed by Resistance 3. Playstation Move came snapping on the heels next. 2K brought out Kobe Bryant to show off his 'skills' in NBA 2K12, and some Move bloke played a crappy 1st person Zelda game called Medieval moves. BOOOORING. Jack returned onstage to help things along by demoing new in-game footage of Infamous 2 (released this week) one game i would like to play, along with Uncharted if i owned a PS3! 'Dust 514' from 'CCP' the company behind Eve online showed some space battle goodies, PS3 exclusive that will integrate Move and your home PC for the first time ever. Right; time for the big news eh? The announcement of the 'PsVita' the sequel to the PSP. Fully integrated touch screen, fully 3G compatible, social networking on the go...sounds like a bog standard smartphone so far (cough cough i have an Iphone4 cough.) Admittedly the graphics for the demo'd Uncharted handheld is impressive, but i thought that about Infinity blade a year ago. Is meh? a good enough statement for how i feel about this new tech, maybe, maybe im just not bothered about using any handheld consoles anymore... unless it's my DSlite, i love that!

Click these 'ere links to see the FULL show in action-

I watched the Ubisoft conference with some anticipation, over the past few years Ubisoft have released some pretty good titles (Beyond Good and Evil, No more heroes, Prince of Persia) but the one I'm looking forward to this year is 'Assassin's Creed: Revelations'
Yves Guillemot kicked off proceedings with Rayman Origins, a nifty Super Mario style 2D platformer with charming cartoony graphics. The reveals came thick and fast with Driver San Francisco (not for me) Farcry 3 (again, not for me) Brothers-in-arms Furious 4, Tintin, Ghost Recon Future Soilder, and Rocksmith. A pretty strong line-up for the next 12 months. The last 20 mins of the show was dedicated to the beast i mentioned at the top of this paragraph; Assassin's Creed: Revelations. With a brand new trailer and 6 minutes of in-game footage to show off, Ubisoft defiantly left the best till last. I can't wait to play through this chapter and close the book on this awesome and beautiful trilogy to Ezio's life.

Linky, linky, watchy watchy -

One of the worlds biggest game publishers and distributors kicked off their E3 2011 with a chunky section of Mass Effect 3. Having never really played any of the Mass Effect series, this entire sequence meant nothing to me, it looked nice, but that's it. Need for speed: The Run came next, looking very pretty and showcasing 'for the first time ever that in a NFS title' you'll be able get out of the car and RUN about on foot. More like a collection of QTE's than GTA, even so it's not a game i'll be investing any time in.
The next title i can see getting into, Star Wars Old Republic showcases its snazzy CG intro followed by rapture of geek applause quickly followed by brand new footage of SSX (coming jan 2012.)
Arrgghhhh i can hear the horrible tones of Peter Moore arriving next, I've mentioned how fucking ridiculous his accent is previously so i wont stay on it long, blleerghh cross Atlantic rubbish. He brings a cavalcade of EA Sports gubbins on stage with him including Fifa 12 and Madden 12, so i'll skip over that (not a sports fan.) I'm gonna skip over the gay Sims social Facebook 'thing' as well.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning reared its head to bring us a game not a million miles away from what Fable should have been all along, its shows promise but we'll see when the finished product is finally released. If your an RPG fan this may be worth a look. It's no Dark Souls or Skyrim though.
Into its final stretch the EA train rolled out it's big guns, Overstrike and of course Battlefield 3. The former looking like a team fortress-y run and gun squad based shooter, think Brink with more woman. Now I'll be honest here, I've no intention of ever playing Battlefield 3 BUT as one of the two towers of popular FPS gaming along with COD (re:SHIT), this does look mighty impressive. COD has always looked very OTT and bombastic, there's something about BF that kept it grounded or so I've been told, maybe, what do I know, I'm an RPG fan!

All the press conference, including that Battlefield 3 footage is here -

The granddaddies of E3 kickstarted their conference with a live Orchestra playing various 'Zelda' themes, all part of Nintendo's 25th anniversary celebration of 'The legend of Zelda'. The man himself Myamoto then took to the stage along with a translator to...act out various stances from past Zelda titles accompanied with music. Odd!! "opening a treasure chest - duh duh duh duhhhhhhh"
As it's the 25th anniversary Myamoto announced various re-releases of older zelda franchises, but we know about this already.
Mr Nintendo himself Satoru Iwata took to the stage after another little orchestra fill, to give word on how is company are bringing the world together and to 'serve every player.' He exited after this to let their backdrop do the talking, an impressive digital screen delivering a sharp presentation of future 3DS titles including - New Mario Bros, Luigi's Mansion, Star-fox, Mario Kart and Kid Icarus. Reggie Fils-aime filled the gaps between other 3DS games on the big screen - Mario and Sonic at the Olympics 2012, Resident evil Mercs, Ace Combat 3D, MGS and Driver 3DS.
And so; the biggest announcement of the week, the new and official name for the Wii's successor - Wii U! So far the console hasn't been seen and probably wont be seen by the public till at least next year, just the new touch controller that can be used completely separate from the machine itself. It looks shiny and bright but will it really work as well as they want it to come release date. Only time will tell, I honestly think it looks like all Nintendo releases these days - Gimmicky!
The last 10 minutes of the final press junket Nintendo did what they do best, bringing shiny white toys to the masses, showing off the 'stats' of their new device. Split screen action, bigger and better graphics and total interactivity 'bringing power to the people.' They even managed to bankroll other famous studio heads to praise the new console. Meh?!!

So, the final bit of linkage for you (see what i did there)...

Thats it!! Random highlights from this Year's E3. as ever hope you've enjoyed this, please comment and tell your friends about us on Facebook and Twitter. I have just updated a TONNE of new trailers on our Youtube channel as well - Subscribe and enjoi !!!! xx

Thanks guys, peace and love to you all
Dr Sanchez

Monday, 6 June 2011

Another year, another E3....

So, here we are again; another year and another E3. Over the next couple of days the Los Angeles Convention Centre will open it's doors to draws tens of thousands of professionals to experience the future of interactive entertainment. The most influential people leading the most innovative companies in the business attend E3 Expo to see groundbreaking new technologies and never-before-seen products for consoles, handhelds and the Internet. Over the 6th-9th June LA's gonna be swamped with leading game companies, business partners, media darlings and industry swots from over 80 countries.
Now the introduction's out of the way lets talk about the meat and veg of the show - the Keynote speeches and of course ALL OF THE NEW YUMMY GAMES that are coming the world's way over the next 12 months. As it's the first day of E3, this is more of a run-up to the big event with no real reveals...yet!
From Monday through to Thursday this week i'll pop back on here and give a daily round-up of all the best news, trailers and showstopping moments from this years BIGGEST game expo.
Have a look at this years mental line-up i've grabbed from a close source.

Monday, June 6th
  • Microsoft Press Conference | 9:30am
  • Electronic Arts Press Conference | 12:30pm
  • Ubisoft Press Conference | 2:20pm
  • Sony Press Conference | 5:00pm

Tuesday, June 7th
  • Nintendo Press Conference | 9:00am
  • Mass Effect 3 | 1:00pm
  • Battlefield 3 | 1:30pm
  • Batman: Arkham City | 2:00pm
  • Resistance 3 | 3:00pm
  • Starhawk | 3:20pm
  • Twisted Metal | 3:40pm
  • NGP Demos | 4:00pm
  • Journey | 4:20pm
  • Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception | 4:40pm
  • Gears of War 3 (Campaign) | 5:00pm
  • Forza Motorsports 4 | 5:20pm
  • Super Secret Remake | 5:40pm
  • Ms. 'Splosion Man | 6:00pm
  • Modern Warfare 3 | 6:30pm

Wednesday, June 8th
  • Spider-Man: Edge of Time | 11:00am
  • Dead Island | 11:20am
  • Gears of War 3 (Horde Mode) | 11:40am
  • Rage | Noon
  • Prey 2 | 12:20pm
  • Shinobi | 12:40pm
  • Saints Row III | 1:00pm
  • Lord of the Rings: War in the North | 1:30pm
  • Ninja Gaiden III | 2:00pm
  • The Darkness II | 3:00pm
  • Street Fighter X Tekken | 3:20pm
  • Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City | 3:40pm
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution | 4:00pm
  • Tomb Raider | 4:20pm
  • Super Secret Sequel #1 | 4:40pm
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim | 5:00pm
  • WWE 12 | 5:20pm
  • Super Secret Sequel #2 | 5:40pm
  • Prototype 2 | 6:00pm
  • BioShock Infinite | 6:30pm

Thursday, June 9th
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic | 11:00am
  • Dark Souls | 11:20am
  • Inversion | 11:40am
  • Warhammer 40k: Space Marine | Noon
  • X-Men: Destiny | 12:20pm
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning | 12:40pm
  • Jurassic Park: The Game | 1:00pm
  • Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 | 1:30pm
  • Bastion | 2:20pm
  • Assassin's Creed: Revelations | 3:00pm
  • Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier | 3:20pm
  • Rayman Origins | 3:40pm
  • Sonic Generations | 4:00pm
  • Catherine | 4:20pm
  • Need For Speed: The Run | 4:40pm
  • SSX | 5:00pm
  • Madden 12 | 5:20pm
  • FIFA 12 | 5:40pm
Pretty decent line-up, quite a few goodies on that list. Hope this puts you in good spirit for this years Expo. I'll be back in 24 hrs with more juice from E3

All my love, Dr Sanchez

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Tech Traps and Option Selects

Competitive gaming. It's such a weird term, and one which almost drowns in it's ludicrous nature. The idea of playing a 'game', an almost pointless task in itself, seriously is one which doesn't hold much merit with the modern community. It's like being a professional movie watcher. But it's there. People make money out of it these days. They're pseudo-celebrities, and enjoy respect and admiration from the scene they play in.

Millions of people line up in Korea to play Starcraft against each other. They take the game so seriously, that people are now facing jailtime for match-fixing. In other places, Call of Duty is universally played and considered the peak of online FPS. Just type 'no-scope cod' into YouTube, and watch how people have made thousands upon thousands of videos, just on using sniper rifles in a interesting way. People all over the world have stopped playing games just for fun. There's more riding it on it, and the level of competition and passion found in these circles is undeniable.

Since the dawn of the online age, I've always enjoyed playing against others on a casual level, but now something has took hold, and has started to change the way I look at gaming.

I am completely hooked on fighting games.

It's such an odd little pocket of gaming. It's competition condensed down into a strangely pure form. It's about skill, completely and utterly. In the same regard as fighting sports, it's all down to the player's individual ability, both mentally and physically. I'm not going to pretend that playing Street Fighter is as difficult as boxing or light vigilante work, but it still requires a level of commitment, and a degree of knowledge and understanding about exactly what you're doing. It requires complete concentration, and a level of intelligence to understand your opponent's moveset, and ways to beat exactly what he's doing. There's a well known phrase in the SF community, 'Street Fighter is Checkers, that with time, turns into Chess'.

A couple of months ago, I bought a copy of Super Street Fighter 4, to see what the fuss was about. It was relatively cheap, so I thought I'd take the plunge. At first I hated it. It's slow, and it's not flashy. There's no easy to way to win, and you can't unlock achievements easily. To a modern gamer, it feels broken. But that's when I started to speaking to the guys at Street Fighter Preston, a Facebook group dedicated to playing fighting games and getting better. Think of it as Fight Club, but for geeks. I asked them what's so special about this, and why a group of them felt compelled to set up a group about this game.

And that's where it happened. They were basically crack dealers, and give me a taste of it, and 'plugged me in' to the Street Fighting community. I was introduced to some streams, live videos of American tournaments with top players competing. It was something completely new to me, but I could see what was going on. There were hundreds of people, all crammed into a hotel function room, all jumping up and down whilst looking at a projector that was showing the match taking place at the front of the room. There was commentary. Just like a sporting event, there were two people talking over the match, explaining what's happening, and screaming as someone pulled off an Ultra move at the right time. It was infectious. It's what I had been looking for. People taking gaming seriously, and still having fun. It was hyped up. It was ridiculous. It was competitive. It looked FUN.

I could see, then and there, that this was something special. Here was a genre of games that was closed off from the rest of the world, but only because a degree of patience was required to sit down and try and understand it. Those who did so were rewarded with a community. Groups of people all over the world meet up and brawl, shunning online as a poor substitute to beating an opponent sat right next to you. There's No 10 year-old COD heroes sat in a bedroom, singing down a microphone. These are dudes in a pub, playing in the corner, and genuinely honing a skill that they've learnt.

I realised I had to do something, so I have. I've helped Street Fighter Preston locate a venue. Once a week, I'll be joining them to meet up, have fun, and practise.

There's local venues and tournaments springing up all OVER the North West. There's a rivalry with Blackpool and Lancaster, where people are striving to represent their town, to show just what they're made of. It's infectious, and that feeling of pulling off that combo and finally beating that opponent you never could, it's like crack. Believe me when I say, this is only going to get bigger.

If you've got any questions about any of the garbage I've just burbled out, or want to come and join us and see what all the fuss is about, check out Street Fighter Preston's Facebook page. HADOUKEN!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Retro Monday: Metamorphic Force (Arcade)

I know we haven't done one in a while, but for the last year, Retro Monday has been churning out the nostalgic goodnees on a weekly flex. We're now going to be slowing down a bit. Our brains have quickly dumped all the sweet and cherished game memories, so we'll be releasing Retro Mondays on a more sporadic note. When the games or inspiration hits us, we'll write about it. After all, you can't really plan memories.

But this is one such time, a time when a memory takes hold, and reminds you about how good gaming can be. This is Metamorphic Force, a Konami arcade brawler from 1993:

It's nothing special, if I'm completely honest. A standard 90's-era Konami/Capcom brawler, it's got all the standard features one would expect. The USP of this particular one being that the characters transform into beasts with the help of a power-up.

In fact, I don't expect ANYONE to have heard of this, let alone have played it. It took me about an hour of typing in various game features into Google to track it down properly. But this is one of those games that completely encapsulates everything your childhood represented, and just how gaming can take you back there. I remember this being at a campsite in the Lake District, at the first and last time I saw it. I remember pumping a shitload of money in it the weekend I was there, and I remember vividly the characters and the enemies.

I recall completely obsessing over it, the friend I was with and I running through the woods, actually acting out the game when we weren't playing it, and then begging our parents for some change so we could go and play this bombardment of flashing lights and colours. I only went to this campsite once at a young age, but this was more than enough to firmly seal this game into my sub-conscience.

Playing it today is an absolute joy. The gameplay isn't particularly brilliant, and the graphics are good (although dated), but this obviously isn't why I love this game. It's that feeling of nostalgia, and it always amazes me how much games can affect me like that. Games seem to encapsulate time, perfectly preserving a feeling and place, easily remembered when that start screen lights up.

Games do this to me more than most things. And I think that's one of the reasons I love them so much. This game is from an awesome time in my childhood, a time when I had no worries, and could pretend I was a French Swordsman called Claude, who could also transform into an Arctic Wolf. I still believe that one day that will happen to me, of course, but back then it felt a little more achievable. And by playing it again, I remember all this good stuff, and good times. Games are the closest thing I have to a time machine, and are often much cheaper than forking out for a Flux Capacitor.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

A soundtrack for the Retro generation....

Orchestral soundtracks, 8 Bit jingles, soothing mellow tones. All great games scores have the ability to burn into your brain and stay there; sitting. humming away at the back of your head. We all have fond memories of the first time you heard 'that' track or being moved by a beautiful piece of in-game music.
So, because their are so many superb tracks that spring to mind, the other day (for laughs!) I decided to challenge a colleague and myself into coming up with a tracklist, a 15 strong 'Ultimate Video Game Soundtrack' any game, any system the only rule being NO covers or remixes. I also asked the fellow Gainboy community on facebook to contribute, so thanks one and all for your suggestions. It was really hard to chose so don't be to mad at me if you don't agree on the finished list. Each to his own etc...
Ok, here we go may i present to you, in no particular order (this is an album, not a top 15) Dr Lucian Sanchez's 'Ultimate Video Game Soundtrack' :-

Track 1. Area 5 (fear is a mind killer) by Adam Freeland - Rez.

Amazing track, a great walking song and 'that' sample .... epic!

Track 2. Tour of Venice by Jesper Kyd - Assassins Creed 2

First time i heard this, escaping from a rooftop chase, i found myself on top of a church looking out onto the beautiful Italian vista the song hit its soaring peak at 1:30 (clink the link) Wow, needless to say i had a moment...still one most moving games I've played.

Track 3
. MegaMan 2 title theme by Takashi Tateishi - MegaMan 2

A brilliant little ditty that encapsulates the feeling of pixel perfect jumping and charging headlong into robotic battle. The tune also sounds great as the notoriously hard game's protagonist stands aloft a building, hair blowing in the wind. A classic action-hero pose!

Track 4.
Mass Effect main theme and intro by Sam Hulick and Jack Wall - Mass Effect

As a 'noob' to Mass Effect (having never finished the first game OR even touched the sequel) I'm not well versed in the full spectrum of the score. I do know, however, from the moment the title card fades in, Joker's voice coming through the Comm system and Shepard stepping onto the deck of the Normandy... BOOM! done, quality game moment.

Track 5.
Sewer Surfin' by Masahiro Ikariko - TMNT Hyperstone Heist

Yay childhood, i remember playing this over and over again on the megadrive, messing with the various BGM's on offer in the option screen. It fits the feel of the level so well, in fact when i play it now i can still hear the muffled digitized voices of Michelangelo exclaiming 'Pizza time' whenever i'd run over health.

Track 6.
The Moon by Yoshihiro Sakaguchi - Ducktales

Starting with a few notes that perfectly capture space and the surrounding lenvironment of the level this track (apart from the AWESOME title song) is the standout melody for Ducktales. Hey Capcom you've done it again!

Track 7.
Metropolis Zone by Matsato Nakamura - Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Probably one of hardest choices i had to make when sorting the list, it's well known (if your a geek) that the Sonic series had a tonne of excellent songs. Marble Garden, Greenhill and Chemical Plant all had brilliant bits to them, but i needed something that had it all...
Metropolis HAS. The scratch effect, the 'guitar' sections, mad synth notes and the best drum pattern in any sonic level. Yeah, this had to be on the my album.

Track 8.
Evil Destroyer by Toshiharu Yamanishi, Takeshi Yoshida and Tomomi Ootani.- Thunder Force 4

The Metal runs deep in my soul....Amazingly epic boss fights over 16 bit music was the best recipe for HOURS of level re-try's on TF4. Some great remixes of the originals can be found on Youtube also. J-Rock at it's best.

Track 9.
International Karate theme by Rob Hubbard - IK+

Now hear this, you can keep your street fighter's and your Marvels, the real battles lie in this Commodore 64 fighting gem. There is only one track in the game that loops every 10 mins but wow those 10 minutes get filled with all sorts of Sid player goodness. Trust me, it goes all over the shop.

Track 10.
Downstream by Shira Kammen - Braid

A genuinely moving and brilliantly arranged piece of music that can't help but move me every time i hear it. The combination of the story and the artwork in Braid married with this track, oh it gets me every time. Perfect !

Track 11.
Under Logic by Yuzo Koshiro - Streets of Rage 2

On a list like this you must have a track from S.O.R 2, the greatest side scrolling beat'em up ever. FACT! This song in particular i always thought was a sound-alike to Shamen's 'Move any Mountain' honestly, have a listen = ... see!
A great slice of 16bit heaven.

Track 12.
The Necromancer Theme by John Guy , original title Simple Sight - Castle Crashers

A great game needs great music, look no further than this mental piece. Hyperactive as fuck and unrelentless to boot! I dont think it matches with the boss of the level too well, but it's still a superb piece of tunage. It's that penetrating double drum kick pattern that cements this as one of the best. The soaring synth middlepart deserves an honorable mention also.

Track 13.
Mute City by Taro Bando and Hajime Wakai - F-Zero X

There are several versions of this track, earlier mute city songs on the older F-Zero games were good but i think this one is the best. Heavier sounding with a better arrangement this adrenaline fueled powerhouse really makes me feel like I'm going at 300mph when I'm bombing through Mute City.

Track 14.
Bubble Bobble theme by Tim Follin - Bubble Bobble

A pure classic in every sense, released in 1986 and available then (and now) on 26 systems! Its the tune you hear when you'd walk into an arcade and scramble to get that 20p from your pocket. It's dream like feel and light touch never really intrudes into the game, and its a simple enough tune that you'll be humming it for hours after your last bubble has been popped!

Track 15.
Loops of Fury by The Chemical Brothers - Wipeout XL

Boom, and a banging track to go out on. This somes up everything about Wipeout for me, the moment the extra beats kick in on the 0:42 second mark i can feel the speed of these machines rip through the course. Playing this gives me a similar feel to when i play F-Zero and the song i chose for that. They blend so well, the pace of the track and mood of the race. Great stuff!! Oh, and it's the Chemical Brothers so, yeah its gotta be on the list somewhere !

So there you have it the 15 track Album complete with links for your listening pleasure, no doubt i'll do a Vol.2 at some point so keep commenting and posting on mine and Gainboy's Facebook and our forum on P-Town.
Hope you do enjoy the tunes and i apologise if your 'fav' isn't on the list. It was difficult narrowing down from a list of 30 odd songs.

Until next time boys and gals

Dr Lucian Sanchez

Saturday, 26 February 2011

5 Alive

Recently, we've managed to set up a GainBoy Forum. Cool, right! On there, basically we discuss everything game related, as you'd expect, and have a jolly time. Local fighting game tournaments, tech help from experts and general nonsense chatter all go on in there, and it's growing. We're loving it, and it's where I got the idea for my latest post you're hopefully about to read.

The bodacious Hopkin Green Frog started THIS THREAD, in which numerous folk have been talking about their favourite games of all time. Naturally, this kind of thread is awesome, and so it's flourishing. I posted a list, and was told that I should of written some kind of story. Always up for a self-indulgent ramble, I thought I'd post mine...

Super Mario Bros 3 (NES)

This, right here, is the greatest game of all time. I don't think some people will agree, but most admit that it's up there in the list for everyone, and for gaming. It is completely perfect, in every sense. It invented the idea of the overworld system in gaming, perfecting the jumping mechanic Mario set up, and all kinds of shit we see in pretty much every game you've ever played.

Plus, it's just fucking brilliant. It's so vibrant, and genuinely thrilling. I remember that beautiful yellow box glistening in the Toys R Us plastic cases in Warrington, the first time I saw it. I remember playing it with my dad, and I remember him leaving it on overnight, because he worked nights and you could only save the world, and not completing specific levels. I remember seeing the little red light of the NES glistening as I was about to set off for school, and the entire school day I spent thinking about it.

Mario 3 is perfect, and it is the greatest game ever made.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 (PS1/Dreamcast)

I never owned a PS1. But when this game came out, my cousin did, and I was in love. This is another game which is near perfect, expanding and crafting an experience set out by a predecessor into something that is magnificent. Everything about the game works. The physics are spot on. The level design is so good, that the replay factor of the levels is almost infinite. In a game where the 'line' the skater takes is vitally important, every single point and piece of terrain has been designed with inch-perfect precision. The game flows like no game before or since.

The amount of time I've spent on this is scandalous. I remember being round my cousin's house, playing Ventura skatepark and losing entire afternoon's on one level. Also, the soundtrack is the greatest gaming soundtrack of all time. Hip-Hop and Punk, done to a turn.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (PS2/Xbox)

When I was at a school friends house at the tender age of 14 or 15, I first saw Grand Theft Auto 3. I'd played the first one, but it was nothing of note, apart from running over monks, which at about 11 was HILARIOUS. But when 3 came out, I couldn't mentally grasp what was in front of me. Where do I go? What level is this? How do I get game over? All these questions had instantly become irrelevant, leaving me with one: What do you want to do next?

But yet again, it's the process of the sequel taking what the designers have learnt, and going that extra mile. I think it's the process of developing the idea, mechanics and general basics to get the game off the ground that eats up the original game's budget. A sequel allows them to take all this good stuff for granted, and concentrate on making the game good. And the usually have more money to do it.

Vice City was astonishing. I remember getting in a lowrider, and driving into the Haitian district, and thinking this was one of the greatest atmosphere in any game I've encountered. The soundtrack, the neon lighting, and the hazy filters applied. It was a bold move for Rockstar to do something like this, and it paid off dividends. Who remembers that ridiculous 12-cd soundtrack box set? LOVE FIST.

Bioshock (Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

I don't really have to say anything here. This game is a triumph. On every single, Art Deco level. I think this is one the first games I played that I felt was truly for adults. It's not about the guns or violence in a game, but the themes. This game doesn't treat you like a child, and well and truly fucks with you.

All the postmodern commentary about gaming decision and falsity of choice are absolutely superb, and are still kicking off whilst the discussion of the ideas of communism, and dictatorship versus state control. AND ANOTHER LAYER, where the debate rages throughout on the corruptibility of man and how much power is too much. This game is so densely layered, and so full of story and narrative, it breathes. It is alive in every sense.

You don't have to talk about the fantastic set design or gunplay, because everyone knows about it. Such a complex, beautifully constructed game, and one I feel really signifies the places videogames can go.

Fallout 3 (Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

Very similar to Bioshock, in that this is an adult game that I've played in the 'adult' section of my gaming life. As I've grown up, I'm part of a generation that has always had video games. Some of us are a bit more obsessed than others, but adults are now a major buying force for these 'toys', these pieces of entertainment once designed solely for children. And Fallout 3 knows this. And it knows exactly what it can get away with because of this.

Full of twisted, darker-than-dark humour, this game is a masterpiece in Black Comedy. When you pickpocket a person in the Washington Wastelands, the suggestion is placed that you can put things back in their pockets. Live grenades is the example it gives. You can choose an in-game bonus that makes everything twice as bloody, with limbs falling off at 'an increased rate'. You're asked to blow up entire towns, help a talking tree commit euthanasia, and everything inbetween. A game that should take itself seriously, but revels in it's cheek.

I've never played a game I've felt so involved in the world with. Oblivion came close, but I felt IN Fallout. From feeling weary and anxious in the confusing subways, to the feeling of safety and comfort from reaching a settlement, this game feels like nothing I've ever played before.

For some reason I decided to do a top 5. I imagine if I did 10, I would spend the rest of the night arguing with myself over which would go in. Honourable mentions do go to the following though:

Jet Set Radio (Dreamcast)
Mario Kart: Double Dash (Gamecube)
Zelda: Ocarina of Time (N64)
Gitaroo Man (PS2)
Pro Evolution Soccer (PS2)
Tetris (Gameboy)
Assassin's Creed 2 (Xbox 360)

And loads more, but these are those 'special' games that would definitely be fighting for a top 10 spot.

If you wanna join in the debate, and what you think the greatest games ever are, then come and join the forum, and get talking!

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Fighting Games!! - Round 2

Firstly, a quick apology on taking so long to follow up my previous article.

(If you haven't done so already, it would be better off reading that first)

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In the last article I touched on how I was of the belief that 'Fighting Games' as a genre just didn't have what it takes in terms of depth and staying power, in comparison to other games I owned. I also know for a fact some people reading this will probably have nodded there head along with that statement in agreement, because it really takes something special to motivate you into playing Fighting Games for you to uncover the beauty within them.

Now. Even though I had yet to uncover the depth and endless replay value a good fighting game can provide...I was still arbitrarily buying them, in fact let me go over some of the ones off the top of my head I've bought over the years;
Street Fighter Alpha (series) [PS1], Tekken 1, 2, and 3 [PS1], Soul Blade [PS1], Street Fighter ex plus a [PS1], Clayfighter 63 1/3 [N64], Super Smash Bros [N64], Fighters Destiny [N64], Tekken 4 [PS2], Super Street Fighter II Turbo [GBA], Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks [PS2], Mortal Kombat Armageddon [Wii], Primal Rage [SNES], Bloody Roar [PS1], Virtua Fighter 3tb [Dreamcast], Hyper Street Fighter II [PS2], Smash Bros Melee [GameCube], Soul Calibur 2 [GameCube], Capcom vs SNK 2eo [GameCube] Dead or Alive 3 [XBOX], Smash Bros Brawl [Wii], (plus re-purchasing of some classic Snes fighting games on the virtual console), SSFIIT HD Remix [XBLA] Garou: Mark of the Wolves [XBLA], not to mention Street Fighter III as well as plenty of other great Capcom, and SNK fighting games on the Dreamcast...

When I heard of Street Fighter IV coming out, I was definitely excited to see what it would be like. For the most part Street Fighter IV was expected to mainly just be a visual improvement over the previous Street Fighter games, although personally I was excited to see an actual new entry in the Street Fighter series after a number of years of not having anything original released. Now, this time I hadn't really uncovered any of the true depth within fighting games, it just happened to be a big franchise that hadn't been fresh in a long time, and the nostalgia of the series led me to pre-order the limited edition, which I received a day earlier than it’s release date (internet shopping ftw).

When I finally popped it in, I was immediately loving it on a visual level. Straight away I dove into arcade mode with “Ken”, scraped through on “easy” by mashing out the special moves I knew from previous Street Fighter games, and was loving that it had a familiarfeel to it of the great Street Fighter games of the past in terms of controls.

I played about with other characters and used the internet to get move lists handy, so that I would at least know how to do each characters special attacks. Played some VS mode when I had friends round, partly to show them that the new Street Fighter game was cool, and partly to show off anything I had learnt from my time playing it.

ImageShack, share photos, pictures, free image hosting, free video hosting, image hosting, video hosting, photo image hosting site, video hosting site’s where my eyes on fighting games slowly started to become much more open. I occasionally dabbled in the online mode on Street Fighter IV, most of the time getting my ass handed to me by people that would just overwhelm me... similar to how the computer would do on one of the harder difficulties. For a while I just sat with the thought “they’re well good” and just leave it at that.

Eventually though (through more playing), I started to grow more aware. It started with some really close matches online against people on a similar skill level to me. I’d have some narrow defeats where I would actually ask myself...”what do I need to do to beat [insert character name]/ [insert specific move I was always getting hit by]?”, and through playing more and more, I would learn little tactics that seemed to have a high percentage of working for me, as well as getting an idea of what other people would do with different characters, a.k.a. getting match up experience!

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I primarily stuck with the character “Ken” for a while, although this was beneficial as through doing so I got fairly good with him. I was no longer simply mashing out move inputs hoping for the move to come out, I knew what I was doing with each button press. I was fully in control of my own actions. Fighting online meant I got to fight a variety of different people using different characters, and not only that but I’d see how different people I played online actually usedcharacters differently. For instance you could get “rush down” type players who will be in your face and be all out offensive, or you could get “turtles”, which are people who sit back, and look for opportunities to punish unsafe moves etc that you have thrown out, there are more types of player than that, but those are just 2 common examples.

Anyway, no longer was I mashing buttons, and hoping for the best.Each match was becoming a mind game. If I won, I felt great for it. If I lost, I would try to recap what I was doing that was getting punished. Clutch matches (when it’s really close) became on par with one of the most intense ‘edge of your seat’ moments I’d ever experienced as a gamer (and on a much more common basis than say...narrowly beating the final boss on Sonic 2 with no rings left).

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It was around this point, whilst I was getting more and more interested in getting better at Street Fighter IV that I came across “I Got Next”. It’s basically a documentary on the fighting game community of Street Fighter IV (as well as giving you an insight to the Fighting Game scene as a whole).

I Got Next is free to download via a legal torrent distributed on the official site, a longer and more updated DVD version of the film will be available in late 2011. >>Click here to go to the official site<<

This was a massive eye opener for me on just how intense and how serious fighting games where, and it made me even more hungry to get better and learn more. It was somewhere around this time that I dragged one of my local friends into Street Fighter IV too. I showed him “I Got Next” and it really pushed him into appreciating the depth to Fighting Games, and the drive to become a great player. This was somewhat a blessing to me too, as thanks to this I had someone local I could play on a regular basis, and if I improved, he improved, and vice versa.

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I’ve come a long way with fighting games over the past 24 months... To a point where Fighting Games have become like a sport to me. Thanks to a rise in internet streams over the past 2 years, I get access to watching some of the worlds greatest fighting game players going against each other in tournaments with money and respect as the motivation to win. I’ve found myself staying up late into the early hours (due to time zone difference) watching some of these streams as the intensity and hype is equal to that of a major sporting event. Plus at the same time...I can learn things from seeing how high level players use or abuse specific characters.

The infamous Street Fighter III Daigo vs Justin Wong "Parry Video"
From "EVO" 2004

Personally, my main game right now is Super Street Fighter IV. I have sunk more hours into SSFIV in the past year than I have any other game (and I'm an avid gamer, I've put 180 hours+ in Pokémon Heart Gold [released March 2010] and SSFIV easily beats that on time played). I've grown much more fond of a lot of the older fighting games I never really understood growing up either, through playing a game for a few hours as well as reading up on them, you can really see what makes a truly great fighting game (as well as what makes a truly awful one).

I also would really love to go to Las Vegas to attend "EVO" one year too. Evo is basically a big 3 day fighting game tournament held annually, where a lot of the worlds best players all meet to battle it out through a double-eliminator tournament bracket to prove there skills at a game.

Last year Daigo Umehara from Japan took 1st place in Super Street Fighter IV, along with roughly $20,000 in prize money for doing so.

Amazing EVO 2010 montage.

EVO 2010 on Vimeo.

If/ when I go, I’m not expecting to go over there and be a threat to the big name players I admire, I will definitely train hard building up to it when I do go though, and do my very best. Although just being at Evo itself will be an amazing experience, meeting some great people, getting some great photo’s as well as doing some Vegas holiday/ tourism stuff once the tournament is over, naturally.

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It’s safe to say that I will never look at fighting games as simple shallow time killers any more. Even the fighting games I suck at, I know that if I invested the time into them, I would see a return for it.

To try and break it down simply. You should try and think of fighting games in a similar way to how the mainstream FPS games are these days... In which although these FPS's have solo modes chucked in, the real meat is generally in the multi-player!

It's awesome that online gaming is so commonplace these days, and that all the new fighting games include online modes in them, meaning you can always find real opponents to play with, as well as the internet speeds and netcode to keep up with fighting games online.
Although local offline multi-player is truly where it's at if you have the chance to experience that (hence the reason I've tried to round up local fighting game players where I live).

Seriously though, with fighting games...if you play people on a similar level to you, if you enjoy the game you're playing, and if you enjoy levelling up your skills at it, then you'll find yourself wrapped up in one of the most rewarding video game experiences you'll ever find.

Vanilla? I prefer mint choc chip.

So, it's been a while, huh? I haven't posted for some time, maybe it's because I've been busy, maybe it's just me being lazy, I'll leave you to guess.


I haven't even started and I digress. Let's outline what I'm about to talk about, the subject of modification. Before you get all "Microsoft ban you for that shiz", I'm referring to PC games primarily, and the ability to modify, improve upon and add content to games.

So, why did I decide to descend this article on you guys now? Because it interests me, and through my interest, I think perhaps I might inspire some others to try it out, and explore the vast world of content that other fans have created.

Let's start off with a fairly obvious example, Counter-Strike (CS). What started out as a team of a few guys making a mod for the Half-Life engine, with modern weapons and some nifty game modes, turned into a phenomenom, which in turn led to some of those guys getting paid some big bucks from Valve, who bought out the idea and have been working on it, refining it and making it their own ever since. Funny to think such a polished product, with achievements, worldwide leagues and tournaments started out with a couple guys in their spare time huh? Alright, CS is a bit of an exception, but it's a great success story for the modding community.

So what is there these days? Well, sticking with Valve products, there's a whole wealth of mods for the source engine, from cyberpunk team shooter, Dystopia (below), complete with it's tron-esque data hacking sections, to everyone's favourite sandbox playtime game, Garry's Mod, a single-player or co-op "tool" that alows you to go crazy with the source engine's various functions, building combine soldier catapults or ridiculous rube goldberg machines.

Dystopia, a world of cyberpunk badassery in the source engine.

Mods such as these are usually large projects, with separate communities of their own, dedicated websites and teams of people working on them, for a first step into modification, mods like this are a great way to get going, being easy to get hold of and install and with the dedicated community, it's easy to find help if something's going wrong.

So, what if you feel like going deeper? Good question, and one I'm happy to go into more detail about. The humble RPG (most prominently western RPGs) generally has a large community behind it, wether the game is online based or not. Mods come from the community, and by and large, the community continues long after the credits roll because of it. One major example is Bethesda's TES4:Oblivion, by no means a game lacking in content to begin with, but with the passion, dedication and tlc of it's community, it transforms into a world with next to no limits. When Bethesda released the Construction Set in the months after release, the community went mod crazy, and still is today. Anything ranging from custom weapons and armour, to entire gameplay and graphical overhauls, with new lands, quests and dungeons somewhere inbetween. After a few minutes browsing one of the most popular sites dedicated to modding TESNexus, it's apparent that there's something for anyone to improve their Oblivion experience in some way.

My Oblivion, with dual wielded swords, improved
graphical effects, custom armour and a custom character race.

Oblivion's mods are more focused on implementing functionality to the standard (or vanilla) game, which means installing and using these gets a little more complicated than hitting an install button. For the Bethesda games (Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas), the community has mod managers, and these exist for other games too (Dragon Age: Origins being one that instantly springs to mind). The mod manager is a way of organising your mods and keeping the process as user friendly as possible, but not all mods use it, and require direct installation, adding files to the game directory manually. An important note when manually installing mods, is to KEEP BACKUPS of any original files that may be overwritten. Not every mod might be to your taste, and you don't want to spend the rest of the day reinstalling the game to make it work again. So, from this view, we can see that this is a little more in depth, but by no means needs a degree in computer science. Thankfully, the support individual modders provide with their work is again, usually great, taking feedback, updating and patching their work and helping people getting them to work, so if you do run into trouble, there's always someone you can ask.

The last example of modification I want to give is though a little program called TexMod, which is a handy tool for replacing texture files in games, it allows you to boot up the game and browse through currently rendered textures, then save them as editable files. After you've edited them, you can then package them up with TexMod and fire up the game with what you've done. There's a wealth of games it's compatible with, including Mass Effect and popular online RPG Guild Wars.

A quick before & after shot of one of my characters in Guild Wars,
using TexMod to edit the texture file.

Existing mods that use TexMod are limited, sadly, at least with the games I've used it for, so it falls to you to do it yourself, for the most part. This kind of modding is a first step into making your own mods, albeit quite simple, limited to changing textures in game. Nevertheless, it's rewarding seeing the results in game, the efforts of your work, as part of the game you're playing.

So what does it all mean, really?
For some, it's a way to extend the life of a beloved game, by creating extra content. For others, it's a way to get experience in working with different forms of game development, which, to a degree, it is. The best part of it all, is that by and large, people choose to share their work with others, for free.

As an afterthought, if all this interests you, one good place to start is the Mod Database, which is something of a library of mods both released and in development, take a look around, there's a lot.

Over to you, then. Maybe I've quirked someone's interest, maybe not. Talking about stuff we're passionate about is the Gainboy way, and this is certainly something that's eating up my time these days. If you've got some recommendations, let us know, I for one would love to check out your recommendations, so long as I don't have to spend any money, of course ;)