Thursday, 31 January 2008

A Change of Disguise



I have decided to rename the blog. Around halfway through the process I discovered that settling on a decent name would be impossible. I wanted a name we could all agree on, and as the "Burning Curtain" I think we can all agree is shite, I count the idea a success. The previous name (Manic Incorporated) was simply based on my Live Gamertag, which is kind of like naming a child after your job title. That's all there is to say on the matter, so farewell.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Down the Robot Hole, February 2008



In this obscurely titled monthly blog feature, I will simply be detailing what I will, or at least intend to play in the looming month ahead, and what I most certainly will not be playing, just for negatives sake. Note this not only includes new releases, but games in general.

Devil May Cry 4

I touched the original DMC a few years back and didn’t so much burn myself as have hell blasted down a funnel aimed at my face. I found it challenging and frustrating to say the least (a problem I’ve had with most of Capcom’s output funnily enough). But this one they say has a toned down difficulty for mere mortals like myself, giving me the incentive to master the combat before shifting up the ruthlessness once I’ve found my ground. It’s pre-ordered, so I’m finally back into the sweaty shoes of Dante (and Nero).

The Club

I always remained sceptical on this one, though I never doubted that Bizarre Creations would ever make a bad game outright. My mix of emotions turned out right according to the reviews. I’ll be renting it, and hopefully enjoying it. This also reminds me that a rental copy of PGR4 is still sitting on my desk from around its original release, practically unplayed…Thank the heavens for no late fees.

Lost Odyssey

I still refuse to believe a game this big could remain so generally quiet when only a few weeks from release, but apparently it comes out this month over here, and I guess I’ll be picking it up. I heard lots of text is involved, but the writing is enjoyable to journey through. Maybe this’ll count as my monthly read instead.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Warhawk

February marks the month of my birthday, and this rounds birthday marks the day I’ll be receiving a PlayStation 3. The price has come down to acceptable boundaries, (read, reachable boundaries), and the catalogue at last has something in it which is not only out now, but is something I’d like to play. That game is…Everyday Shooter by Jonathan Mak, but Uncharted is not that far behind. I’ll be catching up in the coming months before the PS3 exclusives start to build up their pace. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m finally prepared for the onslaught.

Zone of the Enders

I bought it for a fiver second hand in local game store. I like Hideo Kojima. I don’t mind robots too much either. It was cheap, so it’s in the archive. I’ll never play it for more than ten minutes, but it’s the comfort I get from its presence on the shelf that really counts.

Barkley Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden

Part of my new years resolution to explore the indie scene, from what I can tell this was based on a similarly titled SNES game, but when that one was a basketball game, this new indie take is an RPG. Set in the post-cyberapocalyptic world of 2053, you play Charles Barkley as you deal with being a basketballer when the sport has been outlawed in the Great B-Ball purge of 2041. Apparently Barkley did/was capable of doing a ‘chaos dunk’ that can wipe out millions of people. So far I’m loving the hysterically crazy plot being taken so seriously by the characters, and the Space Jam references. Check it out, it’s free.

And I will not be playing…

...the outrageous swamp of unnecessary and doomed from the start first-person shooters coming out to unsurprisingly average reviews. No originality, no quality, just why did the devs behind any of them even think that they might hit on a success. These guys time would be better spent elsewhere. I’m talking to you Turok, Conflict: Denied Ops, Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, Frontlines: Fuel of War, and to a lesser extent, Medal of Honor: Heroes 2.

*EDIT: Will proberbly not continue this feature in the future. Not much point to it, really.*

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

The Pixel Diaries - Burnout Paradise Edition



This’ll be a new mini-feature for the blog. I’ve already mentioned why I’ll avoid normal reviews, mainly down to how I myself have only a few select sources which I trust when deciding whether to make a purchase. Instead, I’ll post simple impressions of the game as I work my way through it, stating the things I’ve come across, good and bad, and basically giving a small narration of my experiences. In a perfect world the readers would comment and a discussion would be born, but I won’t expect anything like that to happen so soon in this blogs development.

So I’ll start with something that a lot of people will be playing around the time of writing, the newly released (and rebirth) of the great Burnout franchise.

Some history: I’ve bought or rented every Burnout console instalment since Point of Impact, and often have felt the same mix of excitement and frustration. It’s definitely been a love/hate relationship. The Burnout 2 theme song filled me with nostalgia when I heard it pop up on the Paradise soundtrack, reminding me of the sunsets, the brightly coloured Japanese tuner cars, the Hot Pursuit mode and multiplayer Crash sessions. Burnout 3 reminds me, of course, of the takedowns, of squeezing in a ten minute Road Rage event before breaking away for school. For Revenge, I’m unfortunately left with only the frustration that met me in aiming for Gold medals in every event, and the easiness of blasting through traffic. Paradise is bravely different this time around, and after a few hours of play (around the 20% mark) I’m still deciding whether it’s for better or for worse.

The free roaming world, the biggest change, has met me with a divide. On one hand, I love being able to mess around with Burnouts perfected driving mechanics to my hearts content in an open playground. I love the absence of menus, the sense of scale, and it looks fantastic. My problems? Burnout is a fast game, and trying to navigate at speed has come to be an issue. I’m in a race; I’m at the head of the pack, ahead of me the road splits out to multiple routs. I’m in mid-boost and my eyes flicker to the mini map for a split second so I can prepare myself for the sharp left I need to take. But by the time my eyes are back on the road I’m already their. I powerslide to the left, but I miss it completely. At best I crash into the divide barrier. At worst I head down the wrong rout. Driving too fast to pull a u-turn now I can only hope I can find my way to the finish. This has happened many times for me, quite often by naively taking a short-cut which consequentially throws me onto a highway or rail track I have no chance of escaping from in a hurry. Multiple routs to the finish sounds great on paper, but not when only one will get you there quickly, the others extending your drive distance by miles. If u-turns weren’t so hard to do in a hurry it may not be all bad, but I find myself often pulling 3-point turns instead. In the meantime I bring up the city map every minute to plan ahead. It works, but it kills the pace and urgency of a street race.

The rest of my time has been pretty great. Once learning the city centre I can tend to avoid hitting into barriers and buildings which were originally too hard to figure out on the horizon at speed. I felt a little cheated (read, psychologically tortured) when after a particularly hard, frantic, near ever-lasting Marked Man event I spun out, one life remaining, meters from the finish line. No problem, I’ll just shift this beast into reverse and skid along the line backwards before the bad guys catch up with me, I though. Instead reversing apparently cancels the event you’re in. Why? No idea, but it pissed me off having to go through it again. Whatever, this is just nit picking, but it’s what stands out. I typically play the game for a very enjoyable and progressive hour, before turning it off in rage after something annoying happens, usually not my personal fault, but it’ll pass I’m sure.

Overall, so far so frantic, but not so perfect. Expect an update with my first online experiences (at least since the demo) and thoughts on Showtime’s replacement of the beloved Crash mode.

Update, 31st January 2008

Last time I was pretty much complaining about the frustration the game brought me, and although that hasn't completely disappeared in recent sessions, it's certainly not as predominant as it first was. I believe this is mostly down to me learning the map, laying off of the boost more often, and driving different, more controllable cars (with more spare crash lives).

The things that stand out this time are the little things that only an open world game can achieve. Two given examples of this are when I stumbled upon an abandoned stock car racing track, complete with banked corners, completely cut off from the streets and buildings. I imagine that when online (still haven't pressed that D-pad button yet...) I'll be able to create races around it. The second thing I stumbled upon was what appeared to be small airplane runway filled with ramps. What was cool was the giant concrete tubes hanging from cranes 50ft high in the air for corkscrewing through after boosting off a superjump ramp. It reminds me of similar things in GTA and (gulp) Driv3r, where the world can seem like a playground of car flying destruction. Other than that, I've taken to streaming off an all-star grunge soundtrack from the iPod after Alice in Chains sounded so great on the game's original soundtrack.

What I think the game needs to do is push more in the 'playground feel', and give the overall world of Paradise a bit more beauty and character. A day-night cycle would be out of the question for disk space (at least on 360 - as was the case with PGR4), but sometimes I long to cruse over a hill to be met with a warm orange glowing sunset. It's those moments where you just lay back and smile about how great the game is making you feel. Drifting down GTA: Vice City's neon strip at night while listening to Jan Hammer on EmotionFM gave the world a real sense of being and beauty, the kind of thing that gamers look back on with nostalgia. I know Burnout Paradise could have so easily achieved this, but I think it's a missed chance.

Nonetheless, the game has really picked up for me. I'll proberbly post once more in the coming days about my online experiences and Showtime playthrough, two things I just haven't got round to exploring yet.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Unforeseen Thrills for 2008


Thought I'd start this thing off with a broad, shallow minded post before I attempt the deeper subjects (no doubt reluctantly including the 'Are Games Art?' and Manhunt 2 debates...) So, 2007, great year right? But looks what's coming for us. Quite a lot indeed is what. Well, I'm sure you're aware that GTAIV, MGS4 and SMBB are reasonably big titles on the horizon, so I'll push those, along with their friends, to the side and express my anticipated button tapping for the slightly more overlooked games. You may find something new, it'll make me feel more sophisticated, so why not?

Braid



Braid is for Xbox Live Arcade and is entirely created by Jonathon Blow, a man of many interesting gaming philosophies, many of which I agree with. His wide criticism for modern videogames (avid Halo fan he is not) leave me confident that a game created independently by himself will not disappoint in quality. Its time shifting focused gameplay in a luscious 2D platformer/puzzle world not only looks great, but managed to win "Best Innovation in Game Design" at IGF '06. You can count that its time playing will be far more complex and interesting that what's found in Prince of Persia.

Brutal Legend



Looking at the screens it may not look like much is happening here. A quirky hack n' slasher with that 'not quite as funny as he used to be' Jack Black doing the voice over for the lead character? On first glance it looks like someone was making a Dynasty' clone before realizing that 'Guitar Hero ain't selling half bad', - cue a quick change of theme and setting and voilĂ ! That's what I'd be saying at least if Tim Schafer wasn't behind the thing. He's proberbly the only game developer who has a 100% perfect record - he's literally never made a game that didn't go down in the history books, from Monkey Island to Psychonauts. As such, I believe this shall be fantastic.

Mirror's Edge



Mirror’s Edge can be simply summed up as 'the most first-person of first-person shooters'. It's amazing that even in the latest and graphically advanced shooters, a quick glance at the floor will reveal you have no legs or feet. This game has the lot, knees, elbows, forearms - all moving realistically as you leap and lunge parkour-style around the spotless metropolis this game takes place in. Finally, running down a corridor from a stream of chasing bullets will be as frightening as it should be, with the camera (your head) shaking violently with every stride, your arms flailing rapidly within eye shot. Keep an eye on this one. I wouldn't be surprised if it influenced many future shooters in the coming years.

Heavy Rain



Can't say much about this one, because other than a short teaser video showing off some pretty realistic tears back at E3 '06, there's been nothing to speak of. But the guys behind it at Quantic Dream last showed what they were capable of with the overlooked Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophesy in the US). It wasn't perfect, but I generally found it refreshing. Not many action games have gameplay that draws similarities with both The Sims and Dance Dance Revolution. Maybe their next effort will accomplish the same effect with a better level of polish. Consider me intrigued to say the least.

The Crossing



Innovation can come in many ways. In this instance, it comes in complete confusion. Basically, Arkane Studios want to deliver an FPS where the singleplayer and multiplayer intertwine. To give quick examples how, if playing singleplayer the enemies around may sometimes be real life players. Or when playing an objective 2-team multiplayer game, a singleplayer guy could walk right into the middle of it tasked with aiding one side. It gets stranger than that, but whether it's easy to understand or not, it's certainly an interesting concept. Set in a distorted Paris which is still under the rule of the Templar’s, and powered by the Source engine, it has artistic quality too. If Arkane can get their ideas to work it could be a great game.

Hydrophobia



A slippery little survival-horror from Blade Interactive set in a giant ship under terrorist attack. You play an aqua phobic woman trying to fight them off. Seeing as the ship is filling with water, her phobia won't do much to help. Using the HydroEngine, water should appear and act with greater realism than ever before. I thought BioShock's water looked pretty nice, but apparently it didn't. Still, I like survival-horror games, and switching blood-eyed Japanese girls for the simple panic of a flooding room could create some moments of great desperation and suspense.

No More Heroes



Already out in Japan (and proberbly out everywhere else by the time you're reading this), but I needed a Wii game here and this is the only one I wanted to write about. Goichi Suda, or Suda 51, is behind this with his Grasshopper team who brought you the stylistically similar Killer7. To be honest I didn't play much of Killer7, partly because what I did play was 60% loading screens. Nonetheless, there's something cool and amusing about this game, and it looks great despite the Wii hardware. Unfortunately it may also be the final straw between Suda and Nintendo - the game sold terribly in Japan and Goichi has expressed much desire to work on 360 for western audiences who may appreciate his hardcore styled games more. Either way, you should definitely pick this up... Or not, if you'd rather see a sequel in HD.

Rez HD



I missed this one when it first came out years ago, and was never willing to buy it off ebay once prices were often higher than its original RRP, so imagine my amazement when I hear an even slicker version is coming to Live Arcade. It's a rail-shooter trance music synesthesia wonderment by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who also brought you Lumines and Every Extend Extra. The game is an exact port of the PlayStation 2 version, but with zero jaggies and 5.1 surround sound, the way Mizuguchi wanted it to be all along. I generally can't wait to see what I've been missing, and I think Live Arcade is a great way to distribute this game. It wouldn't surprise me if it sold okay.

EchoChrome



I really like this idea, building a game around optical illusions. This is a platform/puzzle game where your environments are impossible objects, leading you to have to shift the perspective of the object to create a working path for your ever-walking mannequin to safely travel through. It's not just the idea, but also the styling that really makes this stand out. The lack of any colour, the classical music, the echoing footsteps of the lonely mannequin protagonist. This'll be a great addition to PlayStation Network and PSP when it arrives.

Saboteur



Finally a World War II game with a difference, two in fact. Firstly you play as a French ex-racing driver fighting the Germans in his occupied home of Paris, and secondly the use of colour. In areas with a large German presence, or a low 'Will to Fight', the area will be predominantly in black and white, with only the Nazi flags beaming in red. Once you have weakened their presence through means of sabotage, colour will begin to seep back into the region you've saved. It's a nice idea that did wonders in Okami, and it'll hopefully work beautifully here too. Here's perhaps the only WWII game that can get away with being 'another WWII game'.

Friday, 18 January 2008

A Synopsis



Okay, if this blog does become of something, and there's no reason it should, but if it does, I decided it will mainly focus on the world of videogames, purely because I know much about it, or at least more than my other interests. Alright then, you say, another gaming blog. But why should I, you continue, add yet another gaming blog to my overflowing favorites list? Well, maybe there's something here that isn't found elsewhere so easily. What that quite is, I haven't yet decided, but here's a few ideas off the top of my gulliver to get things rolling:

  • Gaming personalities - a short but detailed biography on designers, known and not so known.
  • Genre evolution - comments on what needs to be done to evolve a particular genre of videogame for it to stay fresh in the future.
  • Game ideas - I'll admit, maybe I don't have the skills required to break into the industry, but I have ideas nonetheless. It won't do any harm to share a few of them.
  • Comments on recent news - I keep very up to date with the latest videogame happenings, but other sites can do that better than me, so instead I'll pick out little interesting stories and discuss them in greater detail.
  • Reviews - No, IGN this is not, and nor is should try to be, but what about the games that never got the attention they deserved? Or the games that got far too much? Maybe a few paragraphs on particular releases, old and new, could prove insightful to some.
  • General ramblings - This is a blog, after all. Don't expect to go too long before I start verbally drooling over the things in the back of my mind.
  • Points of interest - If I come across something that I believe is worth checking out, maybe a site, a newly announced game, whatever it may be, I'll spread the word.

That's a starter. I'm still not sure if those ideas are truly original enough, nor me talented enough, to keep you checking back here, but we'll see I guess. Please suggest any ideas yourself in the comments section if you will, though judging by how my readership is proberbly around 2 including myself, I won't expect much to find its way there.

Oh, and the fancy graphics around the site? Kinda stolen from various "Art of Games" magazines and books. Don't tell anyone though. At least it's tasteful. Guess the games they're from?

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Forward



This blog has been created before the author could think up a reason to have one, but if anything ever does become of it, there's a good chance it will proberbly concern the likes of videogames, art house cinema, beat-gen literature, Japanese street racing, the Sicilian Mafia, Gonzo journalism and the Rolling Stones. I have a peculiar mind, stuck in a world between Day of the Tentacle and the Science of Sleep. If I can translate its inner atmosphere into text then it might make for an interesting read. It might also make for a Jim Morrison level confusing one.

Alas, some words of your pretentious narrator. I'm young, on the verge of true manlyhood. I have ever growing interests in the subjects above. I live in a horribly normal place which I can neither complain nor be proud about. I'd like to be a film director, before dipping my toes in videogame design, making an album, and then settling in either Italian or Japanese mountains where lay my own personal race track and car collection, or that's the current basic plan. I'm also very naive - if the previous sentence doesn't resemble my future existence I have absolutely no backup plan for what to do instead. Indeed, quite typical for my age I guess, but of course I'd never admit that.

The following may help you understand my inner workings.

In film, A Waking Life, the Science of Sleep, Slacker, ... Donnie Darko
In music, Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop, the Stones' Exile on Main St., the Pixie's Doolittle, the Stooge's Funhouse
In game, anything by Tim Schafer or Michel Ancel
In art, Ralph Steadman

I find this funny, this hilarious, this not funny at all, this very useful, this cool, this very cool, this rather sexy, this very depressing, this hugely interesting, this life changing, this desirable and this rather odd. That'll do for now. I'll come back if I have anything to say.