Thursday, 19 February 2009

Look who comes crawling back for more

I generally thought I'd finished with this blog. I mean, the last post was 9 months ago. But I might have reason to kick this thing back into gear sooner or later. I began university last September studying Film & TV Production, and it's been a blast, but come this September I'll also be doing a short course in 'The Emergence of Games Culture', which means it may be useful for me to write critically about games and things.

So I'm going to try and get back into the habit of reading those blogs there on the right. I guess I've missed a lot of awesome writing. I'm sorry. But hopefully I'll be able to contribute something of my own soon. At least when Left 4 Dead has released its firm grip of my balls. I'm still not good at writing well, my vocabulary has probably only degraded since I last wrote an article, and I'm still going to fuss more over the colour scheme of this blog than the posts, but it might at least be beneficial to me, even if not at all for you. So see you soon, and remember, all the noobs will be playing as Ken, so for god's sake pick someone else.

The image has no relation to the contents of this post.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Hiatus - Curtains will be temporarily closed

Not that I've exactly been on fire for the last...two months. Well, in case anyone was expecting a new post in the comings weeks, you can now expect differently. It's nothing personal. GTA IV has been dominating my game playing, and I think there's enough people talking about that already, plus I've been doing lots of work and focusing on films, my perhaps slightly bigger (or at least more presently active) passion. I mostly won't be posting in the next few weeks though due to the start of the 2008 Festival de Cannes, (like GDC, but for films, and two weeks long) and so my game blog reading is kind of getting shunned by my film blog reading instead.

So seeya in a few weeks. Don't touch my stuff, please.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Two for the price of two!

Got an email today from Amazon explaining how by Special Edition GTA IV will not be delivered till sometime late May. I couldn't cancel the order of course, as I'd be sure to miss my chance on bagging the limited extras. 'A pity', I thought to myself as I handed over my cash for a second copy of the game in the local supermarket. So it totals up to over £100 when you combine the two, but that's still gonna work out as around 50p per hour in the long term, which is damned good value for the entertainment I'm getting!

First hour's impressions? I won't be buying another game for quite some time...

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Reading into the Future

As a child, videogames were always a significant part of my life, and sat next to reading novels as my favorite pastimes. I was never too much a fan of action and shooting games as a kid, even though they practically dominate my diet now. Instead I was more attracted to adventure games and platformers. Classics like ‘Broken Sword’ and ‘Rayman 2: The Great Escape’ captivated me, devouring many hours of my childhood and satisfying my lust for adventure. They complimented the books I read, works like ‘The Faraway Tree’ and ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. My head was always buzzing with imagination, with strange worlds, impossible characters and a compulsion with exploring the unknown, something I like to think has stayed with me ever since.

Coincidentally, both the adventure and platformer genres are significantly weaker now than they were in the 90’s, deemed no longer financially viable in a medium more addicted to explosive thrills and blood spills. At the same time, videogames have grown increasingly popular since my introduction to them, while the act of reading has dropped substantially in return. And so it concerns me when I read figures of how over a third of children in the UK spend over three hours playing videogames, and that casual reading has reduced to a matter of minutes. This is a pattern immerging in most territories where videogames have a strong market. I shouldn’t need to be concerned, as my parents surely weren’t either when looking at the content of what I used to play, but these days where games like ‘Halo’ or ‘Burnout’ are always sure to provide a more attractive choice than a book, I begin to feel unsure with whether they can provide a suitable replacement.

Classic children’s literature can provide creative experience to children, and can teach them about the world in ways that modern videogames just refuse to match. If games are to become such an integral part of a child’s upbringing, then they have a responsibility to fill the shoes of literature. Children’s games should therefore be an important market, not to be engulfed by the latest Pixar or Disney movie tie-ins, but to provide opportunities for children to truly explore and create, and learn about the world, to make up for the lost tales of the greatest children’s novels. Games like ‘Okami’ and ‘Ico’ are existing proof that such works can be made possible. They just need to reach the audience. Stories like ‘Peter Pan’ and ‘Treasure Island’ could make brilliant game conversions without loosing their underlying messages, as long as they are approached with good talent and appropriate production values. As the young playbase continues to expand, helped by the ever increasing successes of Nintendo, I hope the industry chooses not to exploit the young minds that now sit in their hands, but feed them with images, stories and ideas that will help develop them, and hopefully stay with them for many years to come.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

And just when you thought it was over...

As any readership I have may have noticed, there hasn’t been much to actually read in the past few weeks. There’s not really any major reason why, just lots of little reasons that have added up. First, as a film student and aspiring film director (though I’ll settle for whatever I can get, to be honest), I’ve been spending more time watching films, reading films and making short films than I have been playing and thinking about games. I’ve also been very busy with work, as it’s getting to that point of the year where every week sees another deadline I don’t stand a chance of making. I’ve also been contemplating leaving my job, but can’t decide whether I should just hand in my resignation or keep pushing acceptable limits of laziness until I get fired.

I’ve still been playing a bit though. As the 360 is officially off limits until the release of GTA IV, the PS3’s been getting a showing, particularly Hot Shots (best online playbase I’ve ever encountered), MotorStorm (or the step-by-step guide to creating the perfect racing experience), and recently a little Unreal Tournament III (or the step-by-step guide to making a gamer cry. It’s tricky online…)

But most of my playing time has been devoted to free online browser game
Ikariam. I read about it here, and then here, and then decided to check it out myself. It’s meant to be a game you just ‘check on’ every few hours for five minutes or so, adjust a few bars and click on a few pretty buildings, but I’ve found it so compulsive it’s gotten to the points where I kill time in between actions by mapping out everything I need to do in the next two days worth of playtime. It’s really, really hooked me. I think I even dreamt about it last night.

But another reason I haven’t been posting so much recently is because I keep getting ideas for a new kind of videogame blog, a unique and potentially hilarious bunch of concepts. I can’t really explain it. Think
MST3K, wrestling, reality TV and The Trap Door combined, with crazy characters and different rooms and in-jokes. All expressed through text. Yeah, it sounds shit, but it could cover up my writing weaknesses at the very least. Anyway, I’ll build on it and see how it goes.

As for the near future, I’m sure GTA IV will give me plenty to talk about.

Friday, 4 April 2008

IndieLog One: Knytt

I’m often found rambling about indie games, about how they’re entering a golden age and how everyone should send their creators lots and lots of money. Though for some reason I never properly talk about individual releases, which is silly because there’s a lot to talk about. I have the ‘Pixel Diaries’, which proberbly makes up 80% of my posts and doesn’t really do anything other than repeat what IGN said months earlier (I just like writing them, okay?), but indie games are less discussed, less known about, and far more chatter worthy. They’re also typically free and quick to play through, which means if something sounds interesting you can just download it and get stuck in. So here it is, the ‘IndieLog’ (see how the capital ‘L’ and lack of a space makes it look all alternative and bitching? That’s street language, that is), essentially another online diary where I ‘critique’ what I’ve come across. Enough mindless gum flapping. Today’s feature: ‘Knytt’.

‘Knytt’ was created by Nicklas Nygren, better known as Nifflas, and released as freeware in 2006. Like a lot of his games, it’s a simple to play two dimensional platform adventure with an emphasis on atmosphere. You play a little creature that gets abducted by aliens who go on to crash land in the middle of nowhere after getting hit by an asteroid. Your task is to explore the surrounding area to find the scattered parts for the alien craft so you can get back home. It’s a short game, not much longer than half an hour or so, and does away with any form of combat leaving you merely with the abilities to jump and climb. Movement is fast, and save points are everywhere in case you touch one of the enemies or fall into water.

The first thing that hits you is the visuals. They’re strikingly simple, yet hugely effective. Texture detail is ignored in favour of unique colour palettes and unusually shaped landscapes and plants. Similarly stripped down is its music, not in quality, but in occurrence. A short dreamy tune will fade in and out whenever you enter a new form of environment, and it really sets the tone and stands out more than if the music were to be continuously active. Landscapes vary widely, from the darkest and mistiest of caves, complete with huge spiders and little ghosts, to lush forests and snow peaked mountains. You’ll be hoping over lava as much as you’ll be hoping from cloud to cloud, which makes the short adventure unpredictable and completely dreamlike. You’re not alone either. Throughout your travels you’ll encounter many harmless creatures and even people, all with a story to tell but no way to tell it. A woman sits at the edge of a cliff looking out to sea, but you’ll never know who she’s waiting for. You’ll stumble upon little round houses hanging from the mountains, but never do you learn who lives within them. The world is lonely, you’re character is speechless and isolated, and nobody is concerned with your arrival. You feel like you don’t belong here, which only makes the search for a way out more engrossing.

There are many things in ‘Knytt’ that mainstream titles could do well to acknowledge. Not forcing the player to redo lengthy sections of a level if they make a mistake would eliminate situations of frustration. Environments stay interesting if they’re changed regularly, a downfall of a game like ‘F.E.A.R’. A sparingly used soundtrack can be dramatically more memorable, with the silence in between acting just as effectively as a full blown score, as demonstrated perfectly by ‘Ico’. And leaving things unexplained for the player’s imagination to interpret can be a lot more interesting than tagging a few lines of dialogue to every occurrence you’ll encounter. ‘Knytt’ is one of the more well known of the independent scene, and its accessibility is proberbly the reason why. So give it a download, and then play Nifflas’ other games, (they’re all high quality), and don’t forget to keep an ear out for his upcoming ‘Night Game’ which will proberbly hit later this year. ‘Knytt’ is a good starting place for those new to indie games, and for how little it asks you to put in, it gives you a whole damn lot in return.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Bad News Day

As a videogame fan, I proudly despise my country.

Reason 1

Reason 2

The Pixel Diaries - Gran Turismo 5 Prologue Edition

I’ve already stated my thoughts on the issues surrounding the direction of the Gran Turismo series in a previous post, so I’ll focus mainly on my actual play experience here. I’m not quite finished with it yet, but have a good 80% of the races complete. I’ve found my hours with the game enjoyable, if a little lacking in something.

For my first hour of playtime it was pretty easy to figure out what wasn’t there. Any form of actual gameplay. I had to work through a twenty odd minute install, followed by an equally lengthy system update which was required to access any of the online modes. Even then I had to download an update in-game to get everything working, which failed on the first three attempts but eventually followed through to completion. I miss the old days where I could just insert a disk and play. It’s this kind of thing that puts me of PC gaming.

Anyway, the graphics, perhaps the biggest advancement in this franchise update, are of course pretty damn impressive. The in-car view is essential for a truly immersive experience, and I’m going to struggle without the option in other racing games. There are plenty of jaggies mind, much more than any screenshots would have you believe, but they’re widely ignorable, especially if viewing in higher resolutions (I’m personally playing in 1080i).

The racing is very smooth, and even with full simulation settings it’s easily controllable and accessible (I told you it wasn’t a simulator…) However, I felt things get a little dull after a while, which is strange when it’s frankly very addictive. I can’t put my finger on why I feel this way. Maybe things are a little slow. Maybe the presentation is just too clinical after playing something like Burnout Paradise. Perhaps it ties in with my previous statement of it not being arcade enough to be as fun as PGR, or realistic enough to trump Forza. Or maybe it’s just down to the fact that it’s a teaser, and simply lacks the options I’m used to.

Other things to note are the great car selection, with all the latest wave of Japanese imports available, from the award winning Nissan GTR to the refined Mitsubishi Evo X, and of course the series first ever Ferraris. I also have to mention how useless the AI is at times. There’s typically a few cars at the front of the 16 strong pack that pose a serious challenge, but I’ve encountered situations where at least half a dozen opponents have misjudged the same corner and resulted in dust flying in so many directions it feels like a sandstorm. It’s like playing online.

Despite the craziness, I’m glad I purchased it and it’s nice to see what modern technology can do with a classic franchise. I’ve yet to take it online proper, so expect a final update to appear below this text soonish.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

The Pixel Diaries - Resistance: Fall of Man Edition

Another PlayStation 3 game finished; another unspectacular 12 hour campaign to be forgotten about. I’m seriously a little tired of putting in so much time for so little reward in the long term. Well, what can I say? ‘Resistance’ is a good game. It doesn’t crash, it doesn’t play badly, it looks quite impressive in places, it mixes things up with vehicle sections and has a fair good amount of enemy types to keep you on your toes. Would I recommend fighting through it to experience all of these features? Not really. It’s just another passable shooter, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but if the aftershocks of any of last years FPS titans are still buzzing round in you’re head you’re only going to notice what isn’t there.

I felt no atmosphere. This could be blamed on the repetitive environments, or maybe the generic appearance of the aliens, or the terribly dull soundtrack, or the dry story, or the lack of any particular stand out missions. It lacks the humour, the spine chilling score and the random moments of hilarious havoc of 'Halo'. It lacks the creativity, suspense, mood and exceptional level design of 'BioShock'. It shows no signs of the vastness, believability and sheer immersion of 'Half-Life 2'. It’s a shooter as generic as they come. Is there any reason to play it at all? I guess some of the weapons are interesting, like a rifle that shoots through walls forcing you to constantly dodge bullets, even when in another room from the action. There’s also a moment when a giant mechanical mole machine blasts through one wall and into the next right in front of your nose. That was pretty cool I guess, but it’s almost halfway through the game and proberbly isn't worth the effort.

So a generally disappointing title, but my lack of enjoyment stems from interesting reasons. I think I may replay all of those mentioned modern-classic shooters, pick a particular ten minute highlight from each, and map out why they work so well. It would be interesting to see if there are any reoccurring factors that provide a key to shooter success. In the meantime 'GTA IV' is going to supply a much needed booster injection to my gamer veins and hopefully get me all happy and excited about picking up the controller again.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Game Consoles, the Third Parent

Here’s a thought. Children grow up playing games from a very young age these days, and proberbly spend more time playing than they do listening to their parents. Due to the existence of different consoles, and the common limitation amongst children of only having the choice of owning one for a five year-odd period, is it possible that the console may effect their upbringing like a third parent?

I have a friend who primarily grew up with Nintendo consoles. Nowadays he wants to become a graphics designer, wears brightly coloured clothes, has an overwhelmingly positive personality, still watches cartoons and seems essentially allergic to cursing. Meanwhile I grew up with the PlayStation brand, and as such often display a more bleak perception on life, wearing black shirts and grey jeans, possessing an obsession with Scorsese pictures, swearing quite fucking often to be honest, and seeing the idea of getting shot at a young age as a pretty damn cool way to go. Essentially, when he thinks Italian, he thinks Mario. When I think Italian, I think Tommy DeVitto.

My mother proberbly wouldn’t approve.