Brading's Ramblings - Ramble On
Boredom is Always Counter-Revolutionary: Believe in the Perpetual Revolution.
Always feels like its been a while since my last blog. That's usually because it has been. So, a gaming round-up then I suppose? Well, where else can we start but with BioShock Infinite. In plain terms, if you liked BioShock, you will like BioShock Infinite. It's an outstanding achievement in game narrative and finally breaks the curse and delivers an ending which is genuinely intriguing and unexpected. It doesn't have the same denouement twist in the second act, but that's because Infinite doesn't really follow a 3 act structure, which in itself is an achievement. The game is not without fault: The last third of the game is the least interesting with some rather bland environments and no down time to simply explore the world of Columbia, and there are various logical and character moments which will require you to suspend disbelief more than absolutely necessary, but overall Infinite is a triumph. I'd also call it the BioShock game with the best gameplay, which at first glance reminded me a lot of RAGE because there's a speed and fluidity to your movements and a hectic pace to the combat. The decision to limit you to 2 active guns and 2 active Vigours at a time is interesting, and whilst I think the Vigour switching works really well I did kind of slip into a rut with using the same guns I had got used to throughout most of the game. The most incredible bit of Infinite has to be its mesmerising first hour where you arrive in the floating city of Columbia and simply explore for a little while, soaking in the atmosphere and marvelling at how gorgeous everything looks. The song Will The Circle Be Unbroken will be going round in your head long after you've stopped playing. It's also good to know that the character of Elizabeth, who accompanies you throughout the game, never feels like a burden. She's an interesting and developed personality who is useful in combat by often throwing ammunition and other items in your direction. These interactions are quite "gamey" as is her chucking coins at your head every five minutes, but I must admit I really liked her scrounging for money and picking up everything that wasn't bolted down, because it was exactly what I was doing. Also, I enjoyed Booker DeWitt talking. Didn't think I'd like it before, but when I actually started playing it really helped to give Booker a proper backstory and personality.
In other games, XCOM. My god, XCOM! Prior to playing Enemy Unknown, I'd never particularly seen the appeal of turn-based strategies. I'd lived with it in Total War because if Total War wasn't turn based it would be incredibly complicated and difficult to understand (yes, I'm looking at you Crusader Kings II). The tension and drama that arises as a result of the turn-based aspect of XCOM is incredibly thrilling and difficult to replicate. More than many other games I've played, it truly feels strategic, that I am making decisions which will either make or break my team of soldiers. Occasionally XCOM does feel unfair; for example I dislike the free movement turn the aliens get after you discover them, plus some enemies seem to have uncannily accurate shots. However, the stakes always feel very high, especially when panic is rampaging out of control. For example in my game, panic in Russia is at its highest level and I'm scared that Russia might abandon the XCOM Project. I can launch a satellite over them, but the satellite takes 20 days to build which might not be enough time. There is always a shortage of resources and a scarcity of funds which makes every decision feel critical. I kind of wish you could sell off unneeded equipment on the Grey Market as you can do with alien parts, because some of the older armour I never use anymore. The story is pretty thin but really the joy of the game is inventing the stories of the soldiers in your team. I like my international band of soldiers and feel devastated every time we lose someone.
Anyway, thats video games. Work continues to be busy, the weather continues to be dreadful, and I continue to continue.
Max Payne 3 is a contradictory game which doesnt immediately ingratiate itself with the player. It's about an alcoholic ex-cop who moves to Sao Paulo and proceeds to massacre half the criminal underworld because of his deluded sense of justice. Yet playing Max Payne 3 is actually pretty satisfying, once you get used to how incredibly fragile Max has become in his old age. He can't take more than one or three shots before keeling over, so staying in cover is actually pretty important. On the one hand, a large part of me is disappointed that Rockstar Games turned my beloved Max Payne into a game which plays just like every other proficient 3rd-person shooter out there, but on the other the bullet time still looks and feels really cool, and even with the weight of 2 previous games heavy on his shoulders Max is still able to look svelte and agile. On the PC the game is downright gorgeous but I'm still flummoxed why it needed a blistering 30GB of hard disk space, because none of the textures look that good or that high rez. I can only assume it was due to poor optimization, but from a gameplay perspective there is no stuttering or lagging. Rather just some pretty obtrusive screen-tearing in several spots. The kind that when you notice it makes you go Argh! Still, I enjoyed Max Payne 3 while it lasted. Don't really want to play it again, and don't really want to play the multiplayer either, so there you are.
In other news my daily job has become such a frenzy since December I often find myself mentally exhausted by the end of the day, and thus my tolerance for frustrating or sub-standard games is wearing thin. My example of this is Test Drive Unlimited 2, which I picked up for a song in a recent Steam sale. Test Drive suffers from what I have dubbed the FUEL Dilemma: Its got a massive, sprawling endless world and very little interesting content with which to populate it. I still fail to see why the game should be semi-multiplayer all the time, since you hardly interact with other players unless you specifically seek them out. The game has 2 islands, Ibiza and Hawaii, which are gigantic and have a variety of roads which try to mimic real-life, but since the AI traffic is so light and the islands are devoid of pedestrians, everywhere feels like a ghost town. All of the social interactive nonsense just feels like window dressing, but the main reason I disliked my time with Test Drive was simply how badly the cars handled. I never felt like I got to grips with a vehicle, and often I'd find myself spinning out on a corner, stopping, and then not being able to get going again in a straight line. The punishing level of difficulty in the Driving Schools is counter-balanced by the laughable AI in the races. Like FUEL, Test Drive has a lot of potential but its missing an awful lot of basic functionality.
Quick roundup of other things Ive been playing, including Skyrim (downloaded Dawnguard, pretty good), L.A. Noire (went back because damn, I love L.A. Noire) and yesterday started up some XCOM: Enemy Unknown. When youre winning XCOM feels awesome but when youre losing good soldiers left, right and centre XCOM feels like its kicking you in the teeth and spitting on your grave. Oh yes, and it was my birthday last week. 24 feels damn similar to 23.
Oh and final, final thing: SYSTEM SHOCK 2 IS OUT ON gog.com. So you know, buy it.
Disclaimer: My yearly awards include all games I actually played this year and not necessarily just games which were released this year.
gbrading's Game of the Year
Dishonored: If you had asked me in January what Dishonored was, I wouldn't have known. Before E3 this year, I'd never heard of the game before. Then E3 came along and it had an impressive showing. Finally, I read Giant Bomb's review which drew similarities to Deus Ex, and I knew that I had to experience it for myself. Dishonored is beautiful, daring and primarily an absolute blast to play. Its the first game where I feel that playing as a stealthy character is actually easier than playing as a gung-ho, all guns blazing one. The game rewards patience and stealth by allowing you to perform silent non-lethal takedowns on guards, or possess a fish and infiltrate the castle through a drain grating. The Blink power is also the most robust, allowing you to teleport short range up buildings or behind enemies. Add into this mix the fascinating setting of the decaying Neo-Victorian city of Dunwall, Dishonored is a marvellous game to both see and play.
Most Disappointing Game
Biggest Mixed Reaction
Mass Effect 3: We all knew going into Mass Effect 3 that it probably wasn't going to live up to the inevitably huge expectations which the previous games in the series had built up. What we didn't expect was that the ending of this spectacular series would be so thoroughly rushed, leaving gaping plot holes and a deus ex machina resolution which pleased nobody, because its appearance was never foreshadowed. This is not to say that Mass Effect 3 was a bad game: Indeed it actually plays very well and 90% of it is what you would hope to get from Shepard's third adventure. In fact, ME3 probably contains my favourite moment in the series, which the culmination of Shepard and Garrus Vakarian's friendship. But in the end, the way the finale lets the side down is difficult to look past, and so ME3 has to be this years biggest disappointment. Our trust in the series was heavily squandered.
Best Puzzle Game
Splice: Splice is the epitome of style. Not a pixel is out of place in this downright gorgeous game, with an elegant piano soundtrack and some brilliantly interesting puzzles. Splice takes its name from gene splicing, and the whole game appears as though youre looking through a microscope at individual strands of DNA, or are operating some super-advanced computer conducting genome research. The puzzles involve moving and altering splices so that they fit the corresponding shape. Its a simple goal which is more difficult than it first appears, but because it has been designed so intuitively it is easy to rollback any action and start again if necessary. In a year of great game soundtracks it was difficult to pick one, but Splice wins it for its haunting use of piano. Sword & Sworcery is a close second.
Game I Wish I Could Stop Playing
Most Addictive Game
Star Trek Online: I really wish that the parts of Star Trek Online I like were worse, because then I could turn the game off. Sadly, Star Trek Online still has enough hooks in me that I continually go back to it, hoping that it will improve. Although the move to free-to-play earlier this year has made Star Trek Online a lot easier to get in to initially, the end game content is still very grindy. More grind inducing protocols have been introduced recently in the form of reputation systems with the Romulans, and the whole planet of New Romulus is just one big fetch quest. Its all basic operant conditioning, Skinner box stuff. What I like about the game and makes me keep playing is that the core space combat has always been pretty good, but almost everything that surrounds it just feels like window dressing. It might be called Star Trek Online, but the most Star Trek-esque content you can find is in the Foundry missions which are player-created.
Thomas Was Alone: The amount of personality that seeps from every second of Thomas Was Alone is quite remarkable. For a game where every character is represented by plainly coloured rectangles, it has a deeply emotional story where every character has a unique personality, which merges into their special power. Thomas can jump, but cant jump as high as John. Claire is a square and can float in water. Chris... can't do much. Naturally, Chris is persistently grumpy because of this. These characters are ably brought to life through the charmingly whimsical narration of comedian Danny Wallace, who imbues these pixel rectangles with a sense of community spirit and friendship. Thomas Was Alone is a Romance of Many Quadrilaterals. Oh, and the puzzle-platforming is pretty good too.
Most Experimental Game
Dear Esther: Dear Esther can also be added as a runner-up to the Best Atmosphere category. It has no "gameplay" per se, in that all you do is walk through a series of 4 interconnected levels. While you walk, a narrator speaks of a terrible car crash, the history of the island and the early explorers who visited. The sense of place on this desolate Scottish island is palpable and no other game have I ever just stood still and stared at the scenery. Dear Esther is a beautiful game and is unlike anything else. Not everyone is going to enjoy this kind of experience, but for those who want something a little more abstract, its fascinating.
Most Pop Culture References
Best Retro-inspired Art Style
Retro City Rampage: Retro City Rampage is the gaming equivalent of the film Airplane! It's got so many jokes, pop culture reference and homages to other games crammed in its very difficult to keep up with the flow or even notice them when they arrive. Nonetheless, the dedication to source material is admirable and from a gameplay point of view it is a perfect emulation of the original Grand Theft Auto. Retro City Rampage however has ten times the personality of GTA 1, and any game which you can play with a filter that makes everything look like its running on MS-DOS or the GameBoy is alright in my book.
Best Adventure Game
The Walking Dead: The Walking Dead does things which no other game has ever done. More than that, it makes the player do things. Nasty, downright horrible things at times. It never cuts away, it never lets up, and it never pulls its punches. It tugs your heartstrings in all the right places. The Walking Dead is certainly the best game Telltale has ever done, and really exemplifies the very best episodic gaming can achieve. Add this to the fact that the characters and storyline are the best and most hard-hitting youll ever find and The Walking Dead is something very special. Lead character Lee Everett also wins my (Un)unofficial Character of the Year award.
Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City: Although I bought Episodes from Liberty City as a standalone game, I'm still treating it as DLC for Grand Theft Auto IV since thats what it was originally. The Episodes are certainly the longest and most in-depth DLC for any game, creating 2 new storylines which run concurrently to the main plot of GTA IV. Indeed, Niko even shows up at select points in both episodes. The better of the two is certainly The Ballad of Gay Tony, partly for the fact that Luis Lopez is a more interesting person than Johnny Klebitz, but also because the gameplay is better-rounded.
Most Emotional Game
Most Surprising Game
To The Moon: My expectations were totally subverted by To The Moon. When I saw it, I expected it to be a turn-based JRPG: The Japanese art style immediately putting me in a certain mindset. Indeed, the game even makes fun of this preconception at one point. To The Moon isnt an RPG at all but is much more of an interactive story, with light puzzle elements thrown in. The plot itself is quite simple but it is your investment in the characters, their shared lifetimes and their love for each other which really drives the game. To The Moon is the first game Ive ever played that made me cry. I can offer it no higher praise.
Most Adorable Game
Botanicula: The previous game Amanita Design completed, Machinarium, was a masterclass in how to make a modern Point-and-Click. Botanicula is less Point-and-Click and more interactive storybook, but don't let this fool you into thinking this game is just for kids. True, I would think that children would find all the weird bugs and insects which scramble, leap and lurch around Botanicula's levels endearing, but what the game does best is instilling a sense of teamwork into every action. Your ragtag band of insects is on a mission to save the tree from the evil, life-sucking spider-things, and the journey is one of psychedelic sights and sounds not to be missed.
Black Mesa: Black Mesa was released. Black Mesa lived up to expectations. Black Mesa is awesome. For a long time I had joined the crowd who believed that Black Mesa would never be completed, consigning it to the dustbin of history. Im pleased to say I was evidently mistaken. Black Mesa is still the original Half-Life, but it has a huge amount of new secrets, dialogue and features to enjoy. As of writing the game still isnt really finished since the levels in the alien world Xen havent been completed, but since this was the weakest part of the game anyway, I think its fine to wait just a little bit longer before we see the final result.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP: Sword & Sworcery really is an Extended Play, and is neatly broken up into individual play sessions where the game encourages you to take a break. Indeed, if you play the game without cheating it will take you a whole lunar month to finish. Ably assisted by a glorious soundtrack, Sword & Sworcery has you playing The Scythian, who must complete a woeful errand. The writing is rather bizarre, featuring a mixture of sombre fantasy and modern Twitter lingo, which is either going to irritate you or make you laugh. With a lovely pixelated art style and some interesting gameplay, Sword & Sworcery is genuinely an old-school point-and-click masquerading as something brand new.
Best Licensed Game
Best Action-Adventure Game
Batman: Arkham City: Arkham Asylum is still an all-round better game than Arkham City, but City has a much better sense of scale. The freeflow fighting system has also been very finely tuned to make using Batmans plethora of gadgets and gizmos even easier, so that even in very challenging situations you always feel like you have another trick up your sleeve. The plot of Arkham City features a rogues gallery of most every Batman villain from the series, whilst the side missions fill in even more of the backstory. Playing as Catwoman is interesting and fun for a while, but it isn't the main draw. Once again, the highlight are those situations where youre trapped in a room full of armed enemies, and get to silently take the down one by one.
Worst Texture Pop-in
RAGE: RAGE is also a pretty big mixed reaction. It features a lot of really engaging and hard-hitting shooting, with some superior animation where characters move and express themselves in a very involving way. Because the shooting is satisfying and graphically the game is gorgeous, it is pretty easy to overlook the more challenging aspects of the game, such as the dull buggy racing and the lack of a tangible storyline or characters. RAGE's worst crime though is its coma-inducing texture pop-in, which bleeds into and out of focus every time you twist around. Its much improved on when the game originally launched, but its still downright terrible.
Best Independently Developed Game
Thirty Flights of Loving: Thirty Flights of Loving lasts at most, 10 minutes. After youve played it, there is little need to experience it again. And yet, Thirty Flights tells a better story in 10 minutes than many games tell in 10 hours. The game isn't the prettiest and nor is it the most fun, but as a self-contained little bit of narrative theres really nothing else like it. Id like to see more ultra-short games in future, but I think pricing needs to be sub-99p in the same way Apps are.
Saints Row: The Third: Saints Row 2 was a bit of a mixed bag: It had reasonably fun gameplay but a very poor storyline and an apocalyptically bad PC version (it won my Worst PC Port award in 2009). Saints Row: The Third suffers none of these problems and is the most accessible and downright fun Saints Row game to date. Whats more, with the third game Saints Row has finally thrown off the oppressive GTA clone moniker and becomes a series in its own right. Some parts of Saints Row: The Third is so downright ludicrous and hilarious you'll stare in disbelief. Although the characters are still very 2D, everything has been thrown into overdrive to such a degree that somehow they all, even The Boss, come across as likeable.
Most Unexpected PC Release
Alan Wake: For a game which was so long in coming to the PC, I was incredibly surprised when Remedy announced a PC version was finally arriving, financed off their own backs without any assistance from Microsoft (who had initially touted it as a 360/PC release and then quietly dropped the PC version so it could be advertised as an Xbox exclusive). There is a lot to like in Alan Wake, but there is also a fair bit to dislike, mainly about the repetitive gameplay and how weak Alan is at taking any damage. The non-resolution of the storyline was also rather disappointing for me. Nonetheless Alan Wake creates a palpable atmosphere akin to a Stephen King horror story, with believable characters and a great setting in the form of Bright Falls, which is almost an alter-ego of Twin Peaks.
Most Forgettable Game
Q.U.B.E.: Q.U.B.E. has a lot of great ideas, and certainly looks pretty cool whilst youre playing it. All the levels have a very Portal-esque appearance to them, and the puzzle solving mainly involves getting and changing the colours of various balls into their respective receptacles. The problem is there is absolutely no plot and no characters in the game whatsoever. It's like trying to play Portal without GLaDOS or Cave Johnson hurling insults at you: Most of the fun is drained out of it. Q.U.B.E. is a perfect example of why you should always conceive some justification for your gameplay, otherwise it feels unwarranted.
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? The light of being alive. I have just had the honour and privilege to play To The Moon, a Canadian/Japanese-esque adventure RPG. When I first saw To The Moon in screenshots, I was immediately put off. I personally dont have much nostalgia for Japanese RPGs from the 1990s ala Chrono Trigger, so when I saw that To The Moon was emulating the style of those games I braced myself for turn-based combat and all the associated grinding that comes with it. To The Moon subverts these expectations rather cleverly, and it must be admitted the game has zero combat and indeed relatively little in the way of typical gameplay. To The Moon is a story-driven game which is almost entirely reliant on your involvement with the characters. Considering this game has zero voice acting, it is a master class in writing and presentation alone. I would call the story both a love story and a life story, where some questions are left purposefully unanswered or vague until much later on, whilst others are never answered altogether. The plot is kind of a reimagining of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where a dying elderly man (Johnny Wyles) is offered the chance by a pair of doctors from the Sigmund Corporation to fulfil his lifelong wish of going to the Moon. In order to do so, the doctors enter Johnnys mind and revisit memories throughout his life, to implant in his psyche the conscious will to go to the Moon, and thus within his mind, have lived a life where he accomplished this goal. However, the exploration of why Johnny wants to go to the Moon is intricately linked to his relationship with his deceased wife, River, along with other recurring themes such as lighthouses and origami rabbits. All this may sound rather pretentious, but I can assure you it is anything but. At the end of To The Moon, I literally burst into tears. The last time a piece of entertainment made me do that was the introduction to the Disney/Pixar film Up. Its the very first time its happened with a video game.
Anyway, away from the Moon, Ive also been playing a lot of other things, Dishonored primarily among them. Goodness, Dishonored is excellent. Its definitely a game which came out of left-field, and there was literally no buzz about it before E3 this year. Even at E3 after seeing the trailers, I wasnt sure what to expect. Was this going to be a first-person Assassins Creed? In the end, Dishonored is more of a Deus Ex style game merged with the atmosphere of BioShock. The industrial Victoriana city of Dunwall is a believable and interesting location, certainly the most fully-fleshed out place Ive visited in a game since Rapture. Although the plot itself is just so-so and comes to a rather anti-climactic finish, the gameplay is really what holds the experience together. As Corvo Attano, disgraced former bodyguard to the Empress framed for her murder, you can either sneak your way across the city or go in all guns blazing. Both ways are perfectly valid, but actually I found it easier to sneak through silently taking guys out. Id like to try doing an all-out assault playthrough, but Ive now got sneaking around down to a tee and its really fun to freeze time, take out a couple of guards and then have the remaining few wonder what happen to their compatriots. Anyway, outside of video games I must admit I havent been active on GameSpot in recent weeks. Work has been exceedingly busy and currently shows no signs of slowing down, so most evenings I come back, play a bit of Dishonored or watch an episode of Homeland (which is great by the way, watch it), then fall asleep. I hope it will quieten down a bit soon, because most of the time I feel exhausted and I dont think thats particularly healthy. On a final note, go read my review of Black Mesa over at Entertainium, a website run by our very own edubuccaneer and DouglasBuffone. Then you should immediately go play Black Mesa, because its awesome.
Feels like a long while since I've blogged, and indeed it is: Almost 2 months. In that time we've had a Steam sale and now the Olympic Games. I don't follow sport at all, but I have really loved the Olympic Games this year, partly/mainly because of the resounding success of my namesake Team GB. We've had the best Games since 1908. For a country of 60 million people, to be 3rd in the medal table with only China (1 billion people) and the United States (500 million people) above us is quite an achievement for a small island nation. As a result of this I have been watching more television than normal, and been playing less video games. Couple that with work being extremely busy (it won't mean anything to you, but it's Impact Factor season in the Academic Journals world and this is when everyone in Journals goes crazy, even those who don't write Schizophrenia Bulletin). Therefore my time for video game-playing and being on GameSpot as of late has been rather limited, much to my chagrin. Still, I have been playing some things when I have been afforded the time. First was Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City. I had 100% completed GTA IV back in 2010 I think it was, and bought the EFLC in a Steam Sale, probably last Christmas. It was nice to dive back into Liberty City, and instantly know where everything was. Episodes from Liberty City is the two DLC packs from GTA IV rolled into one, with some additional unique radio stations thrown in for good measure. So far I've finished The Lost and Damned and played approximately 2/3rds of The Ballad of Gay Tony. The Lost and Damned was good, but I never understood the motivation for Johnny. Nonetheless, interesting characters and the gameplay is just as strong as ever. The Ballad of Gay Tony I think it even stronger, with a better cast and quite a few more interesting side missions to do, such as base-jumping, drug racketeering and club management. Once again though, I fail to understand why Luis would be happy to devolve to a life of crime when he seems to have a very respectable and well-paid job running nightclubs. Still, the game plays excellently on my newer computer and with the widescreen monitor Liberty City has never looked so gorgeous.
On from that, the title of the blog is a nod to the Olympics and a nod to the inexorable rise of Steam in PC gaming. I look back to 2005 when I joined Steam, and the service I see now is unrecognisable. In 2005, Steam was a patching service for Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike: It did nothing else. It was lambasted as another form of DRM being put on the shoulders of PC gamers. But as the years have rolled by and its given us a gigantic library of games at reasonable prices (many of which, often sadly, seem never to actually get played), the benefits of Steam have outweighed whatever problems it has. I think the console manufacturers underestimate the power Steam and Valve currently hold. Today it has never been easier to be a PC gamer, and it has never been easier to play games for either very little, or no price at all. The rise of free-to-play means that even if a kid hasn't got much pocket money and only a second-hand laptop, they can still enjoy a plethora of games with untold hours of content for zero cost unless they choose it. The price barrier to entry on consoles is still remarkably high, whilst most homes have at least one PC in them which is used for work, but can also be used for play. Now I'm not going to go out and say that the PC is going to come back to the dominance it had back in the 1990s, but I do think that it isnt going away any time soon. Anyway, tangent back into the games: Just Cause 2 multiplayer is insane. Oh yes, there is multiplayer, after a fashion. A crazy mod team has managed to make the absolutely enormous playground of the Republic of Panau a virtual sandbox for apparently around 1000 players at the same time. I think the way the stop the server from failing is to only show you players who are within 500 metres of you, but even so having to track where everyone is on the enormous map must be a nightmare. At the moment the game has no objectives aside from messing around and trying to kill players, but its nonetheless a lot of fun to just drive around watching the carnage. As development continues I think it would be interesting to do a kind of Cops and Robbers style objective where half the players are the Revolutionaries tasked with destroying things and the other half are the Panauan Military. Anyway, must stop now because my eye is twitching, which I think means I need to go to sleep.
Feels like a while since I've written a blog, indeed almost 2 months ago. In that time I've played a few games and also been on holiday to Washington D.C. I had a great time there, going to almost every conceivable museum Washington has, riding the Metro, getting into the US Capitol Building, and indeed managed to go and see the Smithsonian's exhibit on The Art of Video Games at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibit was alright, but what I felt it was missing was what it should have been all about: Art. The "video games as art" debate is a long one, but for me a beautiful game does not immediately make it art. What makes it art is the emotional connection to it, the feeling it gives you. Therefore, whilst you could walk around the exhibit and listen to how Ocarina of Time was a seminal game (still need to get my In Search of Zelda quest on!) and play a giant version of Pac-Man on a wall, there was very little aesthetic analysis of the games on display. The whole thing felt much more like a history than an art exhibition, to show how the evolution of games design has created more complex games. So for me, the playable demo they had of Monkey Island felt a whole lot more like art than the lady explaining how the Intellivision game Utopia works (despite the fact that Utopia is probably way more important than Monkey Island because it's probably the first real-time strategy game). Still, the exhibit was definitely a step in the right direction considering the Smithsonian agreed to put it on display in the first place. I also recommend Washington D.C. wholeheartedly. It's a great city to visit with lots to see and do, plus quite a few nice places to eat. Now I'm home I have this urge to play Fallout 3 again and look for all the similarities (or glaring dissimilarities) I can spot. As a testament to this, observe the picture below of myself wearing my snazzy hat on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial: Nary a Project Purity in site.
In video-game-playing news it's a tale of the big-budget vs. the indie. I've been continuing my exhaustive quest to play Skyrim to what I deem to be 'completion', but I think that's the kind of game which you can't ever actually complete. I started a new character to try and mop up some of the remaining achievements I hadn't gathered on my main character. I also got into The Binding of Isaac quite a bit. I still don't like the politics or message of that game (basically it's a pastiche of the biblical story of Isaac and Abraham: I'm agnostic but it's kind of sacrilegious), but it plays and looks like the original Legend of Zelda (so I'm told). There are a lot of random dungeons, random enemies and random power-ups, so sometimes a playthrough can be punishingly difficult and at others very easy. So it's Zelda-esque and Roguelike, plus it plays reasonable well. I've liked playing through a couple of times because you encounter a good variety of enemies and almost always get an interesting power-up you've never received before. Next we turn to Eufloria. Straight off this is a beautiful game, with a very soothing soundtrack which makes it a very good experience to spend a lazy half hour with. I suppose you'd call it a real-time strategy, but the strategy is limited to creating a larger group of insects than your opponent. It's difficult to explain what the game is about without actually showing it, but save to say you control a group of flower-like beings who move from asteroid to asteroid around the Galaxy, killing foes and planting new seeds on conquered asteroids. Like I said, you've really got to play it to experience how this works in practice. Finally I finished the single-player of Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Man, that was dull. I'll play the game again for the multiplayer which was excellent, but the single-player is straight-up boring.
Work proceeds at a work-like level where it is constantly busy each week and there are never enough hours in the day to finish everything, but we are getting two new people in my team who will hopefully help to offset that somewhat, although I bet a load of new work will turn up which will keep us all equally busy. And since I haven't mentioned it so far this blog, I will say that E3 this year was a resounding disappointment for me personally. This was because of 1. Sony, Microsoft & Nintendo didn't seem to have anything fascinating to show off (hell, my Game of Show is Watch Dogs and I categorically hate Ubisoft for their lousy DRM!) and 2. GameSpot got rid of their Chat Room in favour of the new streaming comments system. Trouble is, the comment system is impossible to follow and indeed can slow down your computer if you kept the automatic feed on. So there was no-one to chat with and not many great games to see. Don't get me wrong: There were still plenty of great games, but it felt like to truly enjoy E3 this year you actually had to be there. So next year we must mount an impassioned defence of the GameSpot Chat! Maybe then we can bring it back. That's your lot for now: Hope you're all doing well out there/in here and we will speak again very soon.
It's May! How did that happen? Last I noticed it was half-way through April and it was raining all the time. Now it's May and it's still raining. Britain is still in drought but there is flooding across the country. So far 2012 is shaping up to be a year of some extremes. Is this all a prelude to the end on 21st December? Pfft, of course not. Work has become increasingly busy as of late because we're down a member of staff and we're currently hiring several more people who will do the same job I do (if you're interested in working with me, head over to the OUP jobs website and apply! Closing date is 6th May). For the time being I'm doing double the amount I previously did and that isn't thrilling me to be honest. To counter-point this I have been playing a lot of games to relax me each evening. I recently S-Ranked L.A. Noire and managed to put in nearly 80 hours into that game. I cannot recommend it enough. For me it has almost eclipsed Skyrim as the best game of last year, because the plot, characters and setting as just so amazing and emotionally deep. I also played Double Fine's Stacking to completion: It's a great experience while it lasts but the puzzle solving isn't particularly challenging. Ending today is also the Humble Botanicula Bundle: The newest game from Amanita Design, the creators of the magnificent point-and-click Machinarium. Botanicula is less point-and-click puzzle solving, more interactive story book. I don't mean this as a slight against the game because actually, it worked better because there aren't any really complicated puzzles to solve. In it you play a group of insects who journey around a tree to rescue a seed from the evil, virus-like spider-things. If that sounds bizarre, it's because it is. The game is totally insane and is accompanied by a great indie soundtrack, plus all of the insect noises are provided by the game designers themselves which is both hilarious and incredibly cute. Those two words really sum up Botanicula very well: It's funny but it's also very cute. It's a game that makes you smile without realising, and for that I adore it.
It was an adventure month evidently, for I have also been playing Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, which recently got a PC release after previously just being an iOS game. Sword & Sworcery EP is a very strange amalgamation of things: It's an adventure game, an 'interactive album' and an interesting commentary on Twitter. You play the Scythian, a lady who has a woeful errand of some kind. All of the game writing is delivered in a mixture of epic classical fantasy interspersed with modern internet jargon ('We could tell he wasn't super jazzed about this'). This presents a strange disconnect which often purposefully breaks the fourth wall. A lot of people hate the writing in the game because it appears to be trying too hard to be funny, but I don't mind it. It has a style and it's sticking to it. The gameplay is pretty standard and the touch controls have been adapted to mouse and keyboard relatively well, but the major point is that the game has a beautiful pixel art aesthetic and sounds just phenomenal. The soundtrack is by musician James Guthrie and is part of the reason the game is called EP: It's an extended play. Buying the PC version you get the entire soundtrack included which is a great bonus. It's a short game, but if you play it the game wants you to play it, you may need to wait a week or two before you can finish it. Or you can cheat, and the game will notice that as well.
Finally, I've just finished Alan Wake. At this precise moment, I have a lot of mixed feelings about Alan Wake. I really like a lot of things about it: The setting, the characters (Wake's agent, Barry Wheeler is definitely the star of the show), the graphics and the atmosphere. The problem is that the major aspect of the gameplay, i.e. fighting the Taken (citizens of Bright Falls who have been taken over by the Dark Presence) just isn't particularly satisfying. In Remedy Entertainment's previous games of Max Payne 1 & 2, the shooting and fighting was one of the strongest bits of the game, but here it just feels somewhat forced, plus the fact that it gets repetitive towards the finale because there is too much of it and not enough exposition. This isn't helped by the fact that the storyline gets very, very confusing near the end and then comes to a screeching and unresolved halt just when you thought you might get some answers. There are also some jumps in logic which I didn't follow at all (for example, nobody talks at all about the character Thomas Zane for the first two thirds of the game and then his name is dropped into the middle of a cutscene like we are supposed to know who he is). I still need to finish the DLC Specials which might add a bit more closure, but I think the storyline is supposed to be purposefully ambiguous and I'm not sure what to make of that.
Anyway, that's your lot from me, but before I forget, I wanted to say that I'm excited to be going on holiday to Washington D.C. at the end of May for a week. I've visited the city once before but that was almost a decade ago now. It's the week before E3, so I will return just as E3 starts. Booked that week off too though of course, so I can keep up with all the E3 gossip and stay up late and watch the Press Conferences. P.S. Also, I'm Mod of the Month for April! First time I've ever been Mod of the Month!
And so Mass Effect 3 ended. And it was… poor. Very poor. Whilst the rest of the game manages to hit many of the high notes which ME1 & 2 did so well, the final five minutes of the game really show how not to end a popular sci-fi series. I will avoid spoilers here as much as possible, save to say it's riddled with plot holes, open questions and weird quasi-logic which are introduced at the very last moment. Not to mention the game can effectively trick you into making the wrong "right" decision if you let it (which I did). Nonetheless, I still think ME3 is a great game, with many moments with are downright incredible. Specifically, I think it takes a number of great strides towards crafting the most likeable and nuanced characters in video games. Specifically for me, I am talking about Garrus Vakarian. We have now had 3 games with Garrus backing Shepard up (unless your Garrus met a tragic end during the ME2 finale), with he and Tali as the only characters to be a squadmate in all three games, and over that time his character arc has been a gradual change. At first, I wasn't sure about Garrus. He seemed nice enough but he seemed a bit of a loose cannon; too willing to fight and ask questions later. Afterall, Garrus is Turian and humanity had only recently stopped fighting the Turian Hierarchy at the end of the First Contact War, so it was natural for Ashley Williams to be mistrustful of him. Indeed, if so desired you can actually reject Garrus as a squadmate entirely in the first game, meaning that the first time you encounter him could be on Omega in ME2. But slowly he's earned my respect until now I feel very happy in placing him alongside Alyx Vance as one of the best characters of all-time. Neither my male nor female Shepard has been romantically involved with Garrus, but he's still my favourite character. The culmination of the relationship between Garrus and Shepard happens in ME3, and it is glorious to behold.
Aside from all of the ME3 shenanigans, I've also been playing RAGE. RAGE is definitely one of the most beautiful games I've ever played, but it's also a weird amalgamation of genres. It's got the id Software staple of shooting, but then it's also got racing and assorted mini-games. It runs reasonably well on my computer although is not the silky smooth 60fps it is on consoles, but the thing which has been marring my enjoyment is the cataclysmic texture pop-in. Every time I throw the camera around to look behind me, the world has to pause and bleed back into view again. This isn't so noticeable in smaller environments, but in the larger ones with massive skyboxes (such as the Dead City), it becomes jarringly apparent. Naturally I understand that a game as big as RAGE (requiring 3 discs and a wopping 25gb of hard disk space) is going to need to load in textures, but there really must be a better way to make the game look this good without sacrificing the ability to, say, turn around. Still, it is atmospheric and the character animations are second to none. Even if characters aren't saying anything particularly interesting, they still animate and express themselves in an almost Pixar-esque fashion. RAGE may take a lot of leaves from the books of Fallout 3 and Borderlands, but it still feels unique. I'm interested to see how it develops. On top of RAGE I've also played a bit of Double Fine's Stacking which got a PC release recently, and it's a pretty clever, fun and amusing little game. Got a really nice art styIe and I like how every cutscene is delivered like a silent movie. Anyway, that's about it for now: Work is still work and there still aren't enough hours in the day to play all these games. I'm looking forward to the Easter break: 4 day weekends are awesome.
I realised today I've been 23 for a week since last Friday and I hadn't written my usual self-congratulatory blog. My apologies, but I think I have now reached the stage where birthdays aren't to be celebrated, but commiserated. Sorry to sound so grumpy, but 23 sounds damn old (no offense older people). I was perfectly happy being 22 thank you very much. I think it's a combination of being older and being ill (I've had this cold, sore throat, virus thing for about 2 weeks) which hasn't lifted my spirits. However, in terms of video gaming there is much to celebrate over. First, I reached Vice-Admiral in Star Trek Online, the highest rank in the game. Ostensibly this means the game is over and I can stop playing. Sadly though there are still a variety of things I'd like (nicer impulse engines, to become a Federation Ambassador, etc.) so I think I'll continue to pop back to it from time to time. Plus I encountered some really good missions further on, as well as community-authored missions which can often be far more interesting than the developer-created missions. Next I want to mention that Alan Wake for PC was released this week. I know, I can't believe it either. The announcement totally snuck up on me, because the last I heard was that it had been cancelled and there were no plans to resurrect it. The tale of Alan Wake PC has been a long and confusing one, with it initially being touted advertising Windows Vista and DirectX 10, before Microsoft made Remedy Entertainment cancel the PC version to make it an Xbox 360 exclusive which they could shout about in their E3 press conference. Remedy hadn't forgotten their PC roots though, and they have gone and self-published Alan Wake on Steam this week, 2 years after the Xbox 360 release. Alongside this there is also a retail version which comes packed with quite a few nice looking extras. I've wanted to play Alan Wake since it was initially announced, and I haven't forgotten going through all the crushing disappointment and resentment towards Microsoft (which I still hold). Although the Steam version is £6 cheaper, I think I'm going to hold out for the retail release on 2nd March due to the additional goodies. Either way it's a Steamworks game so I'll get the same result: I just want the physical product.
In terms of games played, Arkham City has been on ice for a while, in that I simply haven't had a desire to start up the game again. I'm sure I will, but I think I just need to give it a bit more time. On Tuesday (don't mention the "V" word), Dear Esther was released. Originally a Half-Life 2 mod released in 2008 by a lecturer at the University of Portsmouth (which my sister attends, by chance), Dear Esther is an experiment pushing the boundaries of video gaming. It's very difficult to describe Dear Esther as a "game", since it contains almost no gameplay: It is more of an interactive narrative experience. In it, you are a nameless protagonist walking around a desolate Hebridean island, whilst a narrator recounts to you his thoughts on life, a terrible car crash and the history of the island. There is no jump, no action key, nothing to interact with. The only thing which could be construed as a mechanic is that a torch comes on automatically when you go inside buildings. The plot is left deliberately ambiguous because of the way the voice-over works: In each playthrough you will get randomised segments of the letters the narrator writes to Esther along with snippets which are always the same, each one helping to fill in some of the story. Dear Esther is that most fleeting of things: A game which makes you think. Also it cannot be understated how utterly gorgeous the game is. The Caves level is the definite high-point of the game, with the haunting music playing as you clamber past the stalagmites and stalactites, creating an atmosphere of wonder and intrigue. Its major flaws are 1. The ending isn't very good (I always wanted some kind of definite event to round off the experience) and 2. The game is very short, approximately 2 hours with 4 interconnected levels (same length as the original mod). Multiple playthroughs are still rewarding because of the randomised narration, especially considering I've noticed the game tricks you sometimes by mixing up the placement of objects (e.g. an abandoned car seat may be on the beach in one playthrough but not in the next). Priced at £6.99 this may be too steep for some people, but if you're interested I highly recommend you to give it a chance. There's really nothing else like it.
As you should all hopefully know by now, 3 x 7 is 21, and that equates to just under a third of my life I have now been a member of the little-known website, GameSpot.com. Seven years and counting! Thanks all for sticking around and reading my ill-thought out, poorly written ramblings. Aside from 2012 beginning and the end of the world drawing inexorably closer (I've marked it in my calendar with a note to take all my holiday entitlement before 21st December, considering I'll never be able to have any holiday afterwards), I've been playing some electronic diversions, sure. Played quite a bit of Saints Row 3 (if you like crazy games, you're going to love the last 3rd of this one), started Batman: Arkham City and am still continuing on with Skyrim (definitely not finished with that), but since last weekend I have only been playing one thing. It's a game I last played 2 years ago and found to be grindy, repetitive and boring yet stupidly addictive. I talk of course of Star Trek Online, which has gone free-to-play one week ago. Star Trek Online is and never has been a particularly great game. The core action is mostly standard MMO fare, although the space combat can get very engaging in the right scenarios. But I think what has drawn me back is several things. Firstly, it is the sight of my five minutes of Internet fame by getting to feature in a video on Giant Bomb when I played in the beta, and secondly you have to factor in that I do like Star Trek quite a lot. Since 2010 the game has definitely gotten better in a number of ways and the level of Star Trek-ness has increased slightly, but it continues to be repetitive. I am pleased to report that it is quite a bit less grindy than before though, because you now get bigger XP boosts for completely storyline missions.
It is also important to note that relatively speaking, Cryptic haven't gone out of their way to monetize the game. Being free-to-play you might expect huge adverts everywhere or things which are off-limits from non-paying players, but in terms of gameplay content all missions are available to all players, so long as you invest the time. You can pay for premium content such as nicer starships, uniforms and other business, but it is actually possible to earn these within the game by trading your refined Dilithium (accrued via missions) for Cryptic Points. An interesting thing about this process is that the prices are set purely by players betting their points for Dilithium or vice versa, so it's like a mini-stock exchange. You can also earn Gold-Pressed Latinum by playing a gambling mini-game, but I don't think you get anything worthwhile from the Latinum apart from novelty items. They have also introduced an interesting Assassin's Creed Brotherhood-esque crew system where you can send crewmembers out on missions such as "Research anomalies for Symposium" or other assorted tasks, from which you gain small rewards. In any case, my reasons for playing have been motivated partly by a desire to attain Captain rank and get a Galaxy-cIass starship, so I think I will continue to play the game for a while yet. If you're interested I'd recommend giving it a try: You'll quickly be able to tell if you're into the way the game feels. It was never a game you would want to pay for, but as a free experience it continues to be very beguiling. Good word, beguiling.
And you and I climb crossing the shapes of the morning.
And you and I reach over the sun for the river.
And you and I climb clearer towards the movement.
And you and I called over valleys of endless seas.
Usual disclaimer: These awards contain only the games I have actually played this year, not necessarily released this year.
Most Important Game
Best Independent Game
Best Use of User-Generated Content
Minecraft: What is there to say about Minecraft which hasn't been said already a hundred times before? This is a game so freeform it doesn't have a proper ending if you don't want it, and it doesn't have any expressed objectives at all aside from simply building stuff. It is a game with three pillars of design: Creativity, open-endedness and simplicity. In the end, Minecraft is just a really simple game where you can build whatever you want in a cute, pixelated world whilst occasionally fighting off hordes of skeletons and creepers who want to blow your creations to smithereens. It wins the Most Important Game award because in the space of a year, it effectively created its own genre out of nowhere. Plus, I feel that user-driven created content is going to form the backbone of many games in the future.
Best Racing Game
Most Homicidal Police Force
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit: In the Need for Speed things are always rather ridiculous, but Hot Pursuit takes this to another level by giving everyone involved an unlimited budget. The illegal street racers speeding through the mountains and canyons are driving $100,000 cars, and the police force is likewise incredibly well-financed and easily able to equal the horsepower of the racers, if not outdo it. The Seacrest County Police Department think nothing of barrelling into a car at over 100mph, spinning him off the road, over the crash barrier and off the side of a sheer cliff. With a super-smooth framerate and crisp graphics, Hot Pursuit brings the thrill of the chase to life very well.
Best Zombie Game
Dead Rising 2: Off the Record: I have played over 12 hours of Off the Record, and as of now I still haven't played a single second of the actual storyline. That's because unlike every Dead Rising game before it, Off the Record comes with a sandbox mode where there is no time limit or overall objective other than to go nuts and roam around Fortune City killing a load of zombies. There are challenges scattered around the place to pepper the experience, but they are entirely optional. Whilst the joy of slaying literally thousands of zombies does wear thin after a while, the journey getting to that point is gruesomely amusing, which is why Dead Rising 2: Off the Record wins this category for its sheer ridiculousness.
Battlefield: Bad Company 2: The Battlefield series to me has meant one thing: 5 minutes of running to wherever the action is, and then immediately getting sniped by someone I can't see sitting in a building 500 metres away. I'm pleased to say that Bad Company 2 can still give me this joy, but it does give newcomers a few more ways to get into the action quickly. There are still vehicles including helicopters and tanks, but unlike Battlefield 2 a lot of the cover on the field is destructible, meaning that you could think you're safe sitting in a building before it is destroyed by incoming mortars. Bad Company 2: Vietnam is also an interesting diversion which is similar to the main game, but has more Creedence Clearwater Revival which can only be a good thing.
Borderlands: Borderlands is a shooter with loot. Maybe it's a Looter? A lot was said about how this game has an infinite number of guns, and while that is technically true most of them are variations on a theme. Nonetheless, almost every gun feels great in its own unique way; so that when you get a really great weapon it's a simple joy to just pull the trigger. The game has almost no plot at all and no characters to speak of (aside from maybe General Knoxx, who I saw as a William Shatner type guy), but despite this failing it's still a very enjoyable game to play. In a similar way to the likes of Oblivion or Skyrim it has the feel of a single player MMO because you are constantly improving your character and gaining better loot. The final boss is a disappointment though because you expect to receive some awesome gun from beating it, but you don't really get anything.
Best Puzzle Game
Best Lighting (Technical)
Portal 2: Creating a follow-up to Portal was always going to be tough, not least when Portal is now seen as almost a perfect diamond in the rough, with not an ounce of padding or weak content in it. Thankfully Valve didn't disappoint, and Portal 2 is a larger, more epic story than the first game, but still feels true to the series roots. There are more characters, more environment s and set pieces and the story veers into utter ridiculousness at the end, but the experience throughout is excellent. The puzzles are more complex but mainly very intuitive, and because the game is much longer there are three "acts" which break up the flow and segment the action. Also, Portal 2 has the best lighting I have ever seen in a video game. This is a game where the shadows look real, and that is frankly incredible. Minor point overall, but it really stood out for me.
Best Use of Gravity
Best Retro-inspired StyIe (Artistic)
VVVVVV: I got VVVVVV in 2010 and played it in early January 2011, but the game has stuck with me through the year. It is a singular game with a singular styIe perfectly emulating the Commodore 64 with its beautiful blocky, retro-graphical art styIe For a small indie game it has an art styIe which is completely second to none. Captain Viridian who's the main character you play cannot jump but instead inverses his personal gravity by falling upwards to the ceiling and downwards to the floor whenever he wants. The puzzles are very punishing throughout but for the cowardly such as me there is a built-in God Mode which can be activated so you can dance through the levels just enjoying the incredible music.
Best Use of Time Manipulation
Braid: Braid is a puzzle game where you must manipulate the flow of time. This one facet forms the basis for what makes this game feel special. The time-manipulation devices change from level to level as to how time might alter, so that even if you mess up and die you can actually rewind time to prevent your death. Couple this with an incredibly haunting soundtrack and a very neat finale plot twist you definitely don't see coming, Braid will continue to stick in your mind long after you've finished playing it.
Best Use of a Cyberpunk Setting
Deus Ex: Human Revolution: I felt very nervous about Human Revolution before it came out, but upon actually playing it most of my fears were allayed. Although there were the egregious boss fights, the vast majority of the game feels very true to the source material of Deus Ex. Adam Jensen fits into the cyberpunk world of 2027 very smoothly and he has a nice variety of weapons and melee moves which he can break out when in a tight corner. But along with this there are many characters to converse with and dozens of computers to hack. The Deus Ex series means a lot to me so it is nice to know that we will hopefully be seeing even more grand conspiracy theories in the future.
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse: I wish I had seen the light with Sam & Max earlier. I remember that a few years ago I looked at the Sam & Max series and thought "Why is this supposed to be funny?" How wrong I was. Sam & Max are hilarious and The Devil's Playhouse, which is their third series from Telltale Games, is the pinnacle of the story arc. Sam & Max may be the best double act in video gaming. Sam is normally the straight man but that doesn't mean he doesn't get plenty of his own laughs, whilst Max is totally crazy and off-the-wall and is the perfect foil for Sam's more grounded, sensible reasoning. As a point-and-click Sam & Max was previously by the numbers, but the Devil's Playhouse shakes things up a little by giving Max a variety of psychic powers which allow him to do a number of even more crazy things.
Best Adventure Game
Best Acting/Voice Acting
L.A. Noire: The Complete Edition: Put aside the troubles of Team Bondi, the bad working conditions and controversy of the end credits and the fact that they went into administration shortly after this game came out. If you are able to look at just the game itself, then what you see is something extraordinary: Something which has never been done before. This is essentially, a big-budget adventure game. Yes, there is occasional shooting and driving as well as on foot chases, but these are not the backbone of the action and if you fail them enough times you can actually skip past them. In L.A. Noire the story is right at the forefront driving the action and your methodical police investigation and interrogation is the crux of the game. If you care about video game stories, you have to play this game.
gbrading's Game of the Year
Most Addictive Game
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dear Dragonborn, you don't know what you're missing if you haven't played Skyrim. Did you think Oblivion was huge? Did you think Fallout 3 was good? Wait 'till you see what Skyrim has got in store. Skyrim is a gigantic game. In fact, gigantic doesn't really cover it: Skyrim is epic. I have invested now over 70 hours in that game and there are still entire quadrants of the map I have never visited festooned with Dwarven ruins and quaint little sawmills. The backstory to the Elder Scrolls series has gotten even more complicated and there are still hundreds of in-game books to read, people to talk to, quests to complete, houses to buy, dungeons to delve and enemies to slay. Skyrim doesn't do a whole lot different to what Oblivion did, but it adds an extra level of polish and finesse to everything which makes even a minor quest feel special. Few game worlds have felt as alive and dynamic as this. I now can't wait to imagine what Fallout 4 might be like because if it is anything like this it's going to be a hell of a game.
Most Generic Experience (Single player)
Battlefield: Bad Company 2: The single player of Bad Company 2 is the epitome of a dull experience. There are some generic 2-dimension characters thrown in to try and make it meaningful and there is something to do with a super weapon the Japanese developed during the Second World War, but never does anything meaningful happen at all. Perfect example is that at one point you and your team decide to defy official orders to rescue their helicopter pilot. This should be a moment which feels emotionally significant, but in the game it feels like the most clichéd piece of stupidity ever. It doesn't help matters that the helicopter pilot is a stereotypical 60's hippie anyway.
Biggest Mixed Reaction
Back to the Future: The Game: The things which Back to the Future: The Game does right do outweigh the things it does poorly, but only by a narrow margin. The voice acting is very good throughout and the general plot of the game is pretty good, but the actual part of playing the game isn't really fun at all. The problem is that Telltale's kind of Point-and-Click has become a bit stale in recent years because it has been done ad-infinitum in Tales of Monkey Island, Sam & Max, etc. The puzzles are mainly easy and the rest are just boring, and the hint system, although designed to make the gameplay more intuitive just actually makes it feel unchallenging. I'm glad that Back to the Future didn't get the butchering that Jurassic Park got a few months later, but Telltale have got to get more inventive if they make more of this kind of game.
Worst Voice Acting
Just Cause 2: Just Cause 2 has an absolutely mind-bogglingly big country to explore, zip around and sooner or later blow up, but its population is completely comprised of second-rate British actors pretending to sound like they're from Malaysia or Singapore. There are many, many examples of this "so bad it's good" voice acting in Just Cause 2, but occasionally it gets so bad it's actually kind of offensive. I recommend going to YouTube and having a watch of some of the videos of the ridiculousness, but who can forget "My name is Bolo Santosi" and "I want you to help me transport this very sensitive cargo!" Just Cause 2 is a very fun game to play, but that's certainly no thanks to its voice acting.
Worst Save System
Magicka: The first 40 minutes of Magicka are great. You get to try out a great deal of spells and experiment with what the different mixtures can do, whilst walking around a fantasy world where everyone talks a weird blend of Simlish and Swedish. I got to what I thought was a natural break: I'd gotten out of the starting castle and had helped defend a farm from goblins. This seemed like a good place to take a break so I looked for a Save Game button in the menu but there was none. I pressed Quit, and the game warned me that "All progress in this level will be lost!" Well that's ok, I said to myself: I'll just have to fight off the goblins at the farm again, because the last fade to black was south of the farm. But no: When Magicka says all progress in the level will be lost, it means all progress in the chapter, i.e. from the beginning of the game. I had played easily 40 minutes of the game and although I had been through half a dozen fade to black transitions and also encountered a checkpoint, these are only usable if you die while you're playing. If you quit, you are dumped back to the beginning of the last chapter you completed. This is moronic. It gives the player zero control over how much of the game they want to play. I have no way of knowing if I am close to the end of a level and whether I will have the time to finish it. In my opinion the save system of Magicka is utterly broken, and that ruins the game for me.
Most Actively Evil Game
BIT.TRIP RUNNER: Until the last month Super Meat Boy was the most Actively Evil Game of 2011 due to its soul-crushing difficulty, but BIT.TRIP pipped it to the post at the last hurdle. BIT.TRIP RUNNER isn't just an infuriating game: It's a goddamn nightmare. Each level you must complete without any mistakes whatsoever. A single toe out of line and you are thrown back to the beginning and made to do the whole thing again. Because Commander Video runs at a constant speed you can't pause to reflect on anything like you occasionally could do in Super Meat Boy: Here everything is done on instinct. Trouble is that instinct in this game often leads to failure, which leads to frustration which leads to self-hatred which leads to me wanting to put a foot through my computer monitor. So well done BIT.TRIP RUNNER for doing what Super Meat Boy had been trying to do for so long: For being such an evil game I don't want to play it anymore.
Worst Flow-Breaking Moment
Crysis: There is this moment about two thirds of the way through Crysis where things have gone from bad to worse on the island where the game is set and the temperature has plummeted to dangerously cold. You regroup with a member of your squad, but his nanosuit isn't working correctly which means he isn't properly shielded from the bitter cold. It's your task to protect him and keep him close to sources of heat, so his blood vessels won't freeze solid. I have tried to protect this guy easily over 20 times, sticking close by him, protecting him from attacking enemies and trying to make him walk towards sources of heat. Each and every time, he has died. Main issue is the AI isn't smart about protecting itself, which means that when he is close to death he won't try and make a bee-line for a fire: He'll just stand around until you lead him over to one. I found the entire situation ridiculous and it prevented me from continuing with the story, so I will now probably never finish Crysis.
Borderlands: Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot: Underdome Riot is the definition of a pointless DLC. For a start, it's an arena-based, round-based, wave-based deathmatch, which is already a hard sell. The second stupid thing about it is that you don't earn any XP for killing enemies in it, which goes against everything Borderlands is about. Finally, it is utterly repetitive in the extreme. I played almost all of one challenge in one arena, but close to the end when there was a low gravity round, a Skag somehow managed to jump out of the playable area into the skybox, meaning it was unkillable and I was forced to quit the whole thing, losing all of my progress. Save to say I felt zero desire to ever touch Underdome Riot again.
So my plan to play Ocarina of Time has kind of got thrown out of the window for the timebeing, after a certain game called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim came into my life and now I find it difficult to play anything else. That was until L.A. Noire came totally out of left field and astounded me as well. On top of that Batman: Arkham City was delivered last Friday and I haven't taken it out of its shrink-wrapping yet. So starting at the beginning: Skyrim. I've been a fan of Bethesda's style of massively single player games since I played Fallout 3, followed by Oblivion, rounded off by New Vegas. Oblivion was a huge game which deposited you in a Tolkien-esque world of Men and Elves, and left you to forge your own destiny out of it. There were dozens and dozens of quests to complete, places to explore, characters to talk to and monsters to vanquish. Skyrim does all of this and then some, somehow managing to up the ante yet again. The game now has so much content, I might actually be hesitant to criticise it for having too much! I have reached a point now, after 40+ hours with it where I am in the middle of several major questlines, the main quest is half finished and about a third of the map is explored, where it has truly hit me how huge this game is. I really don't think I will be finished for at least another 60 hours, and even then I bet there will be something else to do. The incredibly thing is that almost all of this is worthwhile, and that there are very few repetitious, 'fetch me X number of bear pelts' type quests (although if you want to do these to, you are more than able to do so). I think this is certainly Bethesda's best game I've played, and from what people are saying it even betters Morrowind, which the purists hold up as the best Elder Scrolls. The formula is still exactly the same, but the execution is so expertly done its fine to dive back in to the familiar mould again. For that I must applaud Bethesda, and also for managing to make this game one of the least buggy they've released yet.
At almost the other end of the spectrum, L.A. Noire is one of the strangest games that have ever been released, and it is also an absolute puzzle how it got to be made in the first place. I think Rockstar Games wouldn't have published the game if they knew what this game was going to be. However, it is fantastic that it was. If you look at the cover of the box, you would think that this was Grand Theft Auto 1947, set in Los Angeles, but you play the part of a police officer. In actual fact, L.A. Noire is an adventure game for the 21st Century. The game is incredibly linear, and any side stuff you might want to do is entirely optional and left to your discretion. This is pure police procedural, where you as LAPD Detective Cole Phelps investigate a series of crimes which occur during the late 1940's. You move in the ranks of the LAPD from foot Patrol to Traffic investigations up to Homicide and onwards, visiting crime scenes, looking at evidence, interviewing witnesses and interrogating suspects. When you finish one case, it's right onto the next one, complete with an opening title card announcing each one. The thing which makes this so brilliant is due to several reasons. Firstly, the acting is fantastic. There are a huge cast of characters and thanks to the second-to-none face animations; it feels like you are looking at a person, or a physical actor, rather than a group of polygons. Second, the episode-based progressions makes it feel like you are taking centre stage in your own television detective series, and the plots are excellently self-contained but also link into an overarching narrative as well. There are so many things I could say about L.A. Noire: How detailed the digital 1947 Los Angeles is (whole buildings you may never visit are accurately portrayed as they would have looked at the time), how the story references many real-life people and events, how the criminal cases develop and how the driving feels good. I think one thing can best sum up L.A. Noire. The default movement speed is walk, and this is a game to be experienced at walking pace.
It's interesting to see how L.A. Noire is such a tightly controlled game which gives a great experience, whilst Skyrim tries to give almost as much freedom as possible, but is equally great. Just goes to show that if a game is designed correctly, you can build almost any game around it.
The Guardian newspaper (on the front cover of the Guide pull-out no less) told me this weekend that The Legend of Zelda is now 25 years old. The original Legend of Zelda was released in February 1986 to the Famicom Disk System and the ball hasn't stopped rolling since then. Indeed, in under a month the latest iteration, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, will be released as the Wii's swan song. Considering I have been alive for almost 23 of those 25 years, I thought it was now about time that I actually sat down and played a Zelda game, having never done so before. I confess immediately that when it comes to all things Zelda, I am at a loss. Here's what I know: There's this guy called Link who looks a bit like Robin Hood and is consistently dressed in green, who needs to rescue a princess for some reason: The aforementioned Zelda after whom the series is named. Most of Link's adventures take him across the mythical land of Hyrule, slaying monsters, helping folks and generally being an all-round hero and nice guy. Also, something about a Water Temple. That's it. I know almost nothing else. Zilch. Nada. This is something I hope to rectify shortly by what I am dubbing here as my newest series of blogs: In Search of Zelda. My plan is simple: To play through a Zelda game from start to finish and to write about my experiences as I encounter them. It will be a long and perilous journey, but I hope an entertaining one for both you the reader and for me, experiencing Zelda for the first time. I had also considered recording myself talking about Zelda and that may still happen, but not right out of the gate. Unfortunately I'm unable to record me playing it first-hand due to not having complicated and expensive TV capture technology. First though, I had a very important decision to make: Which Zelda game should I play?
In the first instance I presumed it would be logical to start right at the beginning with the original Legend of Zelda, but I dismissed this idea pretty quickly. Although the original game was very popular and was the first NES title to sell over 1 million copies, today it is not given the same attention as other games in the series. It doesn't reflect as well what is seen to be the core Zelda action-adventure gameplay. One game in particular in the series has tended to stand out above the others, and it very recently received a 3D remake for the Nintendo 3DS. I am of course referring to Ocarina of Time, first released for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. The game has since then garnered tremendous popular acclaim and is widely held to be one, if not the greatest game ever made. Truly, this is high praise to live up to. This for me seems like a sensible place to start adventuring and learning about Zelda. If I catch the Zelda bug, I am then easily placed to try out both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, along with delving into other instalments in the series. For the purposes of my playthrough since I don't own a Nintendo 64, I will be playing the Wii Virtual Console version, which I hear is near enough identical to the original. I have also made it a rule that I will not look at online wikis or sites to help me through the game, unless I get truly stuck at some point (something tells me the Water Temple might be that point). My Wii Points have been bought and my cIassic controller is being delivered this week, so I am more or less all set to jump into Hyrule. So welcome one and all, and I hope you enjoy my recollections of a legend in-the-making: In Search of Zelda.
In my exhaustive list of 1001 Games to Play Before You Die, the original Deus Ex would definitely place near the top of that chart. It takes several elements I value most in video game design (a complex story and player choice) and with them creates an experience which is unlike any other. Even today, booting up the game again and replaying the iconic Liberty Island introductory level, I remember how utterly revolutionary it was and continues to be to this day. Invisible War, the first sequel to Deus Ex, did not meet the inevitably high expectations which had been placed upon it, and was therefore rather a disappointment in many people's eyes. I think it is safe to say though that the same cannot be said for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a prequel to the first game and one which altogether sticks closer to the ethos which made the original so great. There are almost always multiple ways to approach a situation or takedown the bad guys. This even includes one such option to just sneak your way past without alerting anyone, even if this does detract from the enjoyment slightly. The game plays with a number of interesting political and philosophical ideas, including the old debate of whether it is moral or ethical to be more than human: To allow human augmentations to better humanity, or to destroy what makes us human? Adam Jensen has about as much personality as J.C. Denton (i.e. not much), but the characters who surround him are pretty interesting (the best are Hugh Darrow, father of augmentation technology and William Taggart, a well-spoken anti-augmentation activist). The shooting is merely averagely proficient, but the sneaking is very satisfying, with a context-sensitive cover system and a series of brutal-looking takedowns which Adam can deploy at a moment's notice, each of which always feels great. It is sad, if not unexpected that the game isn't without fault, namely the flow-breaking boss battles (which were apparently outsourced to a company who knew nothing about Deus Ex), the somewhat stupid AI and the nagging feeling that a whole third act of the game is missing. This isn't meant to say that the game is short, but the plotline comes to a faster conclusion that I would have expected, and doesn't do as much globe-hopping as I would have liked (there are only two main city areas). Nonetheless, Human Revolution is a strong reboot to the Deus Ex series, and I certainly hope to see a lot more in the future.
In between Deus Ex, I took advantage of yet another wallet-killing Steam sale and bought Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Back in the day, Hot Pursuit 2 was one of the few games for the PS2 which I played a lot of (I never owned a PS2 or the game, but a friend of mine had one with it and I would revel in going round to unlock new cars or race tracks). Hot Pursuit scratches the same itch which Burnout Paradise did so well, but in a different way. You still get to drive expensive cars really fast and crash spectacularly, but you also get to either hunt down speeding racers as the well-funded police, or be the racer trying to outrun the cops. A strength is that both being racer and cop is most enjoyable, although perhaps my personal preference is to be a member of the Seacrest County Police Department. The SCPD is both the best financed and most homicidal police force that has ever existed. They can afford ultra, top-of-the-line cars of every fashion, fit them with spike stripes and EMP devices which can be deployed whilst travelling at well over 100mph, and will do absolutely everything it takes to apprehend those who flout the speed limit on their watch. Some of the crashes the cars get into when you takedown racers often involve the car barrelling over like James Bond's Aston Martin in Casino Royale, or being thrown off the side of sheer cliff. The game isn't anywhere near as open or freeform as Burnout Paradise was (all races are accessed from a menu), plus the extras such as Road Rules and Crash Time are nowhere to be seen (which is a shame). Nonetheless, the actual races are normally excellent fun, with the Hot Pursuit events being the crème de la crème. Plus, the game is utterly gorgeous from start to finish, with a stable framerate throughout which makes travelling at ridiculous speed really amazing. Finally, the much trumpeted Autolog feature is all well and good, but on PC, where it must tie to your EA account (sic. Origin account these days), it's bordering on pointless. If it synced into Steam it would be much more sensible, but given the current hostility between EA and Valve, I don't see that happening soon.
Outside of games, work is progressing fine, and because of it I haven't had as much time as I used to like to get on the site and just chat, read blogs and post some comments. However, I try to get on as much as I can in the evenings, so don't worry that I'm fading away or anything. Can't get rid of me that easily!
In the past few weeks I have really only been playing one game in particular: Borderlands. I had got my new computer about a month ago and I was looking for something to test out its capabilities, and I had recently bought Borderlands in one of Steam's many, many sales and so thought that was a good place to start. The game is very simply a whole lot of fun. There's no real meaningful plot to speak of, and no characters with any genuine personalities, but in terms of shooting, the guns and the aesthetic, the game is brilliant. For a shooter, it is immensely satisfying, especially considering the metric tonne of guns which are thrown at you. For stats-hungry players, being able to endlessly compare which guns might be better than others is both infuriating and addictive, because you want to know that you have the absolute best weaponry available. Often it is luck of the draw as to what you might find in a weapons chest, and too often I have felt disappointed when I've opened one to discover it contains a boring shotgun worth only $5,000, which doesn't make it worth hauling to a vending machine in order to sell off for cash. There is a very wide variety of enemies and the progression is delivered in such a way that you will always meet challenging foes, but hopefully not undefeatable ones. Since I got the Game of the Year Edition I also have all of the DLC thrown in as standard, so I have played a little bit of Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, the Secret Armory of General Knoxx and, regrettably, I tried to play some of Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot. It is very tedious, but the worst part was that I had made it to the beginning of the fifth and final wave on the first arena, and one of the round options was low gravity. This meant that I could jump really high, but so could the enemies. Let me just say that a Skag somehow managed to jump off the visible map, which meant that my round could not be completed and I was forced to quit. I lost all my progress. Incredibly frustrating. Also, you don't gain XP for killing arena enemies so there is almost zero reason to bother playing Underdome Riot.
In other gaming news I played and finished Limbo. Nifty little game which I think is quite thematically similar to Braid. It's unfortunate that the ending of Limbo is very disappointing and doesn't adequately close the "plot" if you want to call it that, although the final levels are amongst some of the best in the game. Still, the game is gorgeous and handles pretty well, although I will admit I played it with an Xbox 360 controller (it's a slippery slope once you get one of these things!). It's also very forgiving in terms of check-pointing, so if you are dying over and over again at least you won't have far to replay in order to try again. I also have installed both Left 4 Dead's and have been starting to play through the first game on single player, because I know that if I go multiplayer all of my teammates will want to hurry through the level as fast as possible, whilst I like stopping to read messages or just explore the map. I don't think I really "get" Left 4 Dead. Sure, it's chaotic and tense, and as a multiplayer-focussed game I'm sure it's very entertaining. But I like my games mainly story heavy, atmosphere heavy and it just seems like Left 4 Dead is zombie-killing heavy and light on pretty much everything else. It suffers from the same issue I have with Dead Space, in that there is very little downtime (inside the safe rooms is just about it). This isn't to say I dislike the game, but it isn't one I feel drawn to go back to in a hurry. Rounding out this post I feel it is worth mentioning that you should go and play The Stanley Parable if you haven't already. It's a pretty basic Half-Life 2 mod in itself, but what makes it extraordinary is the excellent voice-acting from the Narrator, and the questions it poses for games design in general. It mirrors a lot of the points I brought up in my previous blog, So You Think You're Free? In real life news my first month at Oxford University Press has gone well, and this last week we've just celebrated the centenary of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (get your 12th Edition today! ). There's a lot to learn and many different aspects to cover, but hopefully I'll get the hang of it soon enough.
People of America: It's time to Re-Elect the President. I'm not talking about the current pretender to the Presidency: I'm talking about your one true and everlasting leader, President Max. Your day of reckoning is at hand, and only Max can bring about a return to more prosperous times. A time when giant thunder-lizards marched over the Midwest praying on the upstart mammals, a time when the United States was free. This 4th of July, Max has a dream. A dream that one day, he will be in an all-nude production of "Death of a Salesman" on ice. He believes in a chicken in every pot, and vice versa. I can forsee an America under one rule: An utterly iron-fisted rule. One rabbit, one law! Let your neighbours know that dissent will not be tolerated! Remember, we have nothing to fear except fear itself… And the Chupacabra! Madre de Dios, he'll kill us all! Max has again appointed former Vice President and ghostly evil goldfish Mr. Spatula to be his running mate, with his best friend and partner in crime-fighting Sam acting Chief of Staff. This is a team you can believe in, who have not only saved the world countless times, but also managed to halve the national debt by selling the United States to Canada to make it Lower Saskatchewan. So Re-Elect Max! Afterall, he did manage to defeat one of America's greatest Presidents: The giant animated statue of Abraham Lincoln from the Lincoln Memorial.
So Sam & Max are amazing, in case you had been wondering. Prior to my computer spontaneously combusting it was all I had really been playing. Alas, my computer is now dearly deceased. The hard drive itself is still fine, but the chipset fan and chipset itself seem to have worn out and ceased to function, and my guess is that this means information is not being pushed from the Northbridge to the Southbridge and vice versa (I don't really know what that means: I just said it to sound more tech-savvy than I really am ). So I bit the bullet and have now bought a new computer, which I expect to arrive (hopefully) next week. In the meantime I've been trying to play a bit more of the Wii to make it feel more loved, because most of the time it is very under-utilised. I still don't want to pay nearly £30 for Super Mario Galaxy, when it came out in 2007. In other news the dreaded and much-anticipated Steam Summer Sale is upon us and we shall quake in terror at the great deals which are going to be thrust upon us, begging to be bought. Normally I have pretty good restraint when it comes to needless spending, but the Steam sales are so ingeniously designed so that it feels like you need to buy, rather than just want to. Already I have succumbed to Dreamfall, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Magicka. Finally, in other, other news I will be starting a new job from 18th July. I've managed to get a permanent position at Oxford University Press (the largest and dare I say most prestigious university publisher in the world) as a web marketing assistant, so I am super-excited to be working in that field considering I've been interested in publishing and the media for a good many years.
Wishing you all a Happy Independence Day!
So You Think You're Free?
Disclaimer: This posting contains science, maths and philosophy, some (or all) of which I may have misinterpreted, miscalculated or misconstrued in various ways. I profess that I am a poor philosopher and an even worse scientist and mathematician. Feel free to pick apart my argument or examine holes in my logic. But if Philosophy of Science has taught me anything it is that it is better to say what you think and look stupid than to simply keep quiet.
Video games are only just beginning to experiment with the idea of player choice. In the past, the vast majority of games followed a single pre-determined path: You played the game, beat the final boss and that was it: Job done, roll credits, put the game back in the box and onto the next one. But we are currently in the midst of a slow but gradual revolution in games design, where the ending is not absolute and your choices will influence the course of the game's events. Gameplay is beginning to introduce a number of limited aspects of player choice into our gaming experiences, and more detailed, intuitive and realistic choices are only just around the corner. However, at the moment the nature of the choices and the way they have been implemented into games is creating an unnatural, false sense of reality, where all choices are made along a defined probability axis (otherwise known as Black vs. White, Renegade vs. Paragon, etc.). This determined, strictly controlled reality is a dangerous trap to fall into, because it will very soon limit the degree to which the player can ever truly interact with a gaming environment, or influence the plot. Now is the time to fight to preserve genuine player choice, and prevent our freedom from slipping away. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that "man is condemned to be free". Let us stop being condemned to be determined within our games. This is why I believe that we must bring new principles into games design and this is how I intend to make video game history: By positing the creation of video games which are completely random. How can we achieve this? The answer to that is quite interesting.
Before we can understand how current iterations of player choice can constrict gaming freedom, we must first recognise why a gaming environment has always been a determined one. As GLaDOS once said, let's look at a real world example. When you walk down the street, random events of which you have no prior knowledge are likely to happen. A man could for example run out of a shop saying that his wife had just hit him with her handbag and you would have no prior indication that that event was going to happen. As far as we are aware (assuming the world itself isn't determined) it was a random event. Now we can look at video games. If you walk down a street in a game, and a character runs out of a shop saying his wife has just hit him with her handbag, the chances of that event happening are never going to be random: They have been determined from the beginning. Either the event is definitely going to happen (often called scripted events) or the event has a definite chance of happening, but might not ('random' events, although this is a very bad misnomer). An example of a series of scripted events could be the beginning of Half-Life 2: Dr. Freeman starts off on the train, walks through the station and out into the plaza. No matter how many times you play the game, all of the characters will remain in the same locations and will always deliver the same lines, and moreover, Freeman must proceed along a strictly linear path. Chance, or so-called random events are best characterised by encounters in RPGs. Whilst wondering through the Mojave Wasteland in Fallout: New Vegas, you might meet a group of bandits who want to acquaint you with the finer points of their baseball bats, but equally you might happen upon a Bloatfly, or a Radscorpion. The chance of meeting an enemy is determined according to a probability equation, taking into account your location, enemies you've met previously, and player level. In this fashion, it is unlikely the player will ever be confronted with something which is impossible to defeat. The world is scaled to meet your expectations. Clearly, this isn't anything like real life.
So, games currently make use of both certainty and probability in their design, and a combination of scripted events and chance encounters inevitably make up much of the gameplay experience today. Depending upon the game in question, the percentages will alter upon whether you are playing a predominantly scripted or more a randomised game. But is it possible to have a game where the player is truly free? Where nothing has been planned by the games designer, aside from setting the stage for the game to play out from? I believe that this will, at some point in the future be possible thanks to one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the 20th Century: Quantum mechanics. At the moment, computers can use pseudo-random number generators (and hardware random number generators) to approximate a "random" choice, but neither of these is fully random. If you know the algorithm and the conditions in which it was set in motion, you can predict the results. Something truly random cannot be predicted. Our universe at the quantum level is truly random and chaotic: Things happen at such a speed and complexity that we still understand very little of it. Is it possible to take the principles of quantum mechanics, the power of this randomised, chaotic universe and use them in computing? The answer is yes and research is already well underway to build and run functioning quantum computers. For example only last month the Lockheed Martin Corporation entered a contract to buy the world's first commercial quantum computer. These computers use qubits rather than bits to process information. Please don't ask me how they work because I haven't the foggiest, but if you're interested Wikipedia goes into some detail about them. So in the end my dream is quite simple: To have the world's first quantum computer game, playing on a quantum computer. I expect it will take decades or maybe centuries before quantum computing becomes commonplace, but I believe that it will happen eventually. And maybe, just maybe, then we will really be free.
If you're interested in further reading, here are some interesting articles:
Quantum Minesweeper: Scientific journal article in which Michal and Goren Gordon examine how a game of Minesweeper would work using quantum computing.
Will the QC Kill the PC?: Article in The Daily Telegraph which discusses various aspects of quantum computing, including application in video games.
Quantum Superposition in Video Games: Two great videos which demonstrate excellently the endless possibilities which quantum computing could bring to gaming.
A Brief History of Quantum Computing: Very readable history courtesy of Simon Bone and Matias Castro at Imperial College London: http://www.doc.ic.ac.uk/~nd/surprise_97/journal/vol4/spb3/
In the last week I have been playing a bit of Crysis, a game known for its astoundingly high graphical fidelity and mammoth processing requirements. In fact, I was rather surprised that my computer could run it, since back in 2007 when it first came out the system requirements seemed so outlandish that it was as if there were no computers currently available on the market which could run the game at the highest settings. Although the frame rate is prone to bog down in some places (especially when there is a lot happening on screen), my system can still run the game on high settings although I have not tested it on ultra high, for fear I might kill my PC. This is preferable to medium settings, because with the graphics turn down everything becomes chunky is undefined. Still, the game still looks gorgeous and is very fun to play with some great special abilities which the nanosuit gives you. For example, the cloaking ability is essential if you want to remain undetected by the North Korean military. It's very exhilarating to stealthily sneak into an enemy base, taking out soldiers one by one with a silenced pistol. Inevitably you will soon be discovered however, and from then on it becomes a game of hunter verses the hunted and the Korean People's Army would like to think that they were the ones doing the hunting. However, in reality it is often the other way round. It's also good fun to punch through the wall of a house and bring the entire building down around you, although that's a sure-fire way of attracting unwanted attention. I can feel the plot starting to go somewhere, but at the moment it's simply been "infiltrate the enemy base and there's something weird going on with aliens but never mind that now! You've got a war to fight soldier!" All in all I like where the game is going, the way it plays and the way it looks. I know that Crysis 2 got a bad wrap from many PC gamers, but when you look what the original was like you can kind of understand when they said it was a step backwards.
In other news, I'm looking forward to the next Fallout: New Vegas DLC which is released tomorrow, titled Honest Hearts. Hears hoping that it's more open-world than Dead Money was and that the gameplay is also improved since that was the biggest criticism raised with the previous pack. I absolutely loved the characters and plot of Dead Money though, so I really hope that it keeps those strengths. Next, PC Gamer magazine recently shared their thoughts on Deus Ex: Human Revolution in a special podcast, and the many good things they had to say about the game and how it lived up to the original have put me in a really positive mood, so I'm excitedly looking forward to that come August. Played some more of Portal 2 and have now collected every single player achievement, and just need to play some more of the co-op to mop up some of the rest. The co-op definitely seems to have the more challenging puzzles, since it was only once or twice in the single player campaign where I felt bamboozled, whereas in co-op this feeling occurs frequently. There are a lot of ideas floating around out there about what actually happens during the ending of Portal 2, and I have my own theories. My feeling though is that Aperture Science isn't gone yet, and that they'll be there in either Half-Life 3 or Portal 3 (or both please Valve!?) Also, can you believe the Electronic Entertainment Expo is only three weeks away? It's crazy how fast it has snuck up on us all. Alas, I currently have work for the entire week of E3, so I doubt I will be able to engage in the shenanigans to the degree I might have wanted to. Still, I will make the effort to watch the press conferences that are only at reasonable times and to blog about what was shown. There are already so many things to look forward this and next year, what with Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 and BioShock Infinite among others, but I'm sure E3 has many more surprises waiting for us. What are you looking forward to at E3?
Hello, and again welcome to another standardised blog post, tailored to suit the various needs and requirements of the readers as authorised at this juncture. This past week heralded the return of the Aperture Science Enrichment Center and the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, with the release of Portal 2. And may I say, it's good to be back to testing again. For science, not for the fun! Alright, it is quite fun as well. As a matter of fact, Portal 2 is a blast to play. Let me say here that I will refrain from any major spoilers, but I may include minor ones from early in the game, so anyone who hasn't played Portal 2 would be advised to stop reading at this point. Although I would hesitate from deeming Portal 2 to be in all regards better than the original Portal, this is a much grander and all the more complex experience. There are more characters, more varied locations and altogether a more refined style of presentation which ties into other Valve games like Half-Life 2 and Left4Dead. There are also some relatively fiendish puzzles, which can take a little bit of time to get your head around. There are one or two minor issues which, for me, hold Portal 2 back from perfection. The first is the fact that the game finishes with a cutscene, which is normally a big no-no in Valve games. Cutscenes remove the player directly from the action, and I felt that everything which happens could easily have been done in-game. The second is the fact that the one thing I felt missing from Portal 2 was a tangible sense of mystery. There were many elements of mystery (the whole second act which takes place in the bowels of the Enrichment Center was my favourite part of the game), but because you are already familiar with GLaDOS and the questionable ethical standards of Aperture Science, a part of what made the original game so entertaining was absent for me. Nonetheless, please do not let my comments indicate that I don't still love Portal 2. It's a great sequel, and it's a great game.
Some of its many strengths include some great new characters (Wheatley slowly grew on me as the game progressed, and Aperture CEO Cave Johnson quickly became hilarious), and a much more emotive plotline, which goes in some interesting directions towards the end. Furthermore, graphically this game is a tour de force, with what I deem to be the finest lighting and shadows I have ever seen. The lighting just looks right, and the way the shadows are cast is astounding. Indeed, they are so good that occasionally I had to remind myself that they were computer generated. There are also some very good particle effects with things breaking apart or collapsing, which do so in an entirely realistic way. The confined test chambers give way to much more spacious and epic locales, which still feel right within the Aperture Science ethos. Also worth noting that the Co-op campaign is certainly great fun when playing with friends, although I haven't played very much of it yet. It's often the simpler actions, such as handing over a Weighted Storage Cube to your companion which feel the most rewarding and being able to emote by hi-fiving and hugging is really sweet. GLaDOS also has some good lines of dialogue tucked in here, which if you're just running by solving puzzles you might miss. It was disappointing that Valve thought it appropriate to include a Team Fortress 2-esque store from which you can purchase hats, skins and other items of superficial value, but most of it can be unlocked by just playing the game. Anyway, I must fly. GLaDOS has asked me to go to the wing of the Enrichment Center that was made entirely out of glass and pick up fifteen acres of broken glass… by myself. It's OK: I'm in it for the science! 8)
If there is any game setting I know for a fact that I would definitely not want to visit in real life, I think I can safely say that the USG Ishimura would be one such location. Give me Rapture, mad splicers and all, over the Ishimura and its former crewmembers. At least splicers are still vaguely human, whereas the creatures that inhabit the Ishimura are normally only tenuously still humanoid, if you're lucky. Every deck is metallic, grey, dark and blood-splattered, with flickering lighting and ominous noises. No where is safe, and around every corner lurks yet another vent from which a necromorph can jump out of. So far I have completed the first three chapters of Dead Space at a snail's pace, and have just reached the Bridge where a bad situation is quickly getting a whole lot worse. It's very tense, and very atmospheric. The kind of horror Dead Space goes in for is mainly jump scares, which are appropriately orchestrated by ramping up the high-tensioned string orchestral soundtrack, ala Hitchcock's Psycho. Whilst you can normally guess exactly when a monster is going to lunge out of the shadows at you howling in a grotesque fashion, it doesn't make it any less unpleasant when they do jump out and startle you. Every time my reaction is the same: "Ah! A monster! Die inhuman monstrosity! Keep away from me! I've got a Plasma Cutter and I'm not afraid to use it!" and proceed to shoot wildly at the thing until finally, it keels over. And then I stamp on it for good measure: Partly because it feels quite satisfying, and also because corpses tend to drop ammo or credits.
I've also noticed that this game likes blood… lots of it. From the grisly remains of the Ishimura personnel scattered over the ship, to the death throws of the Necromorphs, to the numerous horrific ways in which protagonist Isaac Clarke can be decapitated, dismembered and disembowelled, there is no skirting around the gore here. If anything, the game seems to relish it. While I personally do not particularly enjoy bloodthirsty games, I so far have been enjoying Dead Space. It's got a solid plot starting, and it has a very engaging and dramatic atmosphere that never lets you go. Furthermore, it is also a technical success, with some excellent graphics and the very interesting decision to make most UI and menu interfaces interactive within the game itself. The one thing I perhaps would say against it is that it lacks proper pacing. So far, everything has felt like a sprint. It is relentless in the constant barrage of monsters it throws at you as you wonder over the ship, and you'll only get a moment to yourself if you backtrack to locations you've previously cleared out. What it really needs is some down time where Isaac (and the player) can relax a bit, because I can't play for more than an hour without wanting to stop for a break due to the fact that I'm frightened I'll have a heart attack if I continue. But then again, perhaps this is all part of what Dead Space is aiming for. If a spaceship had actually been overrun by an alien necrotic infection, then it's very probable there wouldn't be a chance where you could rest up and take stock of the situation.
So, whilst Dead Space might not be as psychologically frightening as, say, STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, it is definitely a game which raises your pulse. I'm not sure what Dead Space 2 is like, but if it's half as tense as the original, I think it will take me a while to recover the courage needed in order to play it.