Posted July 19, 2014 by Paul S
Categories: Games

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the past was RUBBISH

Writing, eh? All that writing people do. About games and stuff. And news, sometimes. Mostly about the one trick discovered by a mom, I suppose, but still – awful lot of writing going on. It’s the games stuff I’m interested in though. I’ve got very little to add on the subject of the thing that this US marine did next that will really surprise you! Sorry if that’s a disappointment.

Which is all a terribly roundabout way of saying “Hallo again, internet!” I’ve not seriously pointed a keyboard at you for quite some time, but suddenly I feel the compulsion. So here goes.

First sentence of that last paragraph looked weird, though. What’s going on there? Should there be another full stop? That would look right strange. I’m leaving it as it is, but I don’t mind telling you – it’s going to play on my mind.

ANYWAY! What was I here for again?

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Games Of Future Past

Posted November 12, 2010 by Paul S
Categories: Games

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Just a quick one.

EuroGamer have a piece up where games developers talk about the game that influenced them the most. Is that useful? Is it a helpful concept? Probably not, but it does make for interesting reading. Molyneux is predictable – but he remains, generally speaking, on the right lines. Ru Weeeasuriya, however, marks himself out as The Enemy. He is talking absolute nonsense, and perpetuating the myth that films are best and games should be like them. Actually, I think I have an answer to that claim. Blimey. I’ll sit on that for a bit, however – keep you coming back. What a tease I am.

Anyway, go read.


Can’t Buy Me Love

Posted November 10, 2010 by Paul S
Categories: Games, THE NEWS

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CoD: Black Ops is the entertainment event of the year, y’all! Hundreds of millions of dollars are almost guaranteed to be spent on shooting foreigners in the face by all and sundry this christmas season. Game retailers are saying prayers of thanks to their greedy materialist gods.

To demonstrate how culturally important it was, Black Ops had a glamorous launch event at Battersea Power Station. The chap off Big Brother’s Little Brother was there and everything. So was (and this is a blast from the Jurassic Age) Sophie Ellis-Bextor* and also some chap from boyband Blue. Excellent. Games have made it, brothers and sisters. We’re in. We’re recognised. Testify! CODMODWAR2 made, according to the Guardian, $1bn worldwide, and that’s the kind of money that makes even James Cameron raise a jewel-encrusted eyelid. The fact that the Guardian wrote up the piece which I am plagiarising so gloriously here is evidence – games make money, and now people care.

The numbers bear examination, though (by someone other than me, ideally, but I’m the one with the keyboard and the chip on my shoulder). $1bn is a lot of cash. Avatar itself made twice that, admittedly, but most films don’t come close. Games are making someone an awful lot of money, and that has been equated to Going Mainstream – market penetration is what I mean here (I think). But money doesn’t necessarily equal acceptance. $1bn is the sort of money to make someone pull up short, twang their red braces and suck air in through their teeth, but making a lot of money isn’t the same as playing to a large audience. Avatar made twice as much money as CODMODWAR, and it did this at around $10 a pop. COD was selling at around $60, I believe. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to guess, then, that Avatar attracted an audience roughly ten times as large as COD. We’re not in. We just feel like we are.

We’re going the wrong way. Games have lept from ghetto pastime to money spinning Super Big Business without anything in between. Games are celebrating, and being celebrated for, profit. The industry’s ambitions rarely go further than baths full of money, and in doing that, by focusing on the genres and franchises that fill the baths the quickest, we are boiling away and reducing much of the artistry and experimentation that games grew up with. Activision wants to produce at least one title from each of it’s main franchises each year. SEGA have put the brakes on new games and new ideas, instead concentrating on sequels to their proven IP – so more Sonic, Football Manager and Total War, less originality. The publishers have found an audience happy to pay again and again for a certain type of game, and so the game keeps coming. The audience isn’t expanding, and rather than growing, maturing and broadening as it ages, gaming is narrowing, and becoming One Thing Only.

This is bad news for us, EDRites. Imagine a world in which the only games produced and sold are sequels, the same game tweaked just enough to justify the next £40, but not enough to actually be any different. Endless stultifying repetition. Sequel after sequel after remake after cover version. This launch event is, in some ways, a sign of that. It is a sign of the gaming world’s long-standing desire to be cinema, but a cinema without the arthouses. A cinema populated entirely by Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal films.

Money is fine, and money is important. But it can’t be everything.


*Gilbo’s dad likes her.

Reach for the stars

Posted October 18, 2010 by electricdeathray
Categories: Games

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Reach, like Band of Brothers for the overstimulated generation.

Conceptually, Halo has grown immeasurably in the last decade. Ostensibly about shooting cartoon aliens in the face with cartoon guns on a cartoon planet, Halo has evolved into some sort of crazy sci-fi tour-de-force with the fate of humankind in the hands of one man. One seven foot tall man with hands of guns of fire, obviously – the Master Chief, an ugly robot man with little or no appeal.

But Halo Reach isn’t about the Chief; it’s about his best mates, Noble Squad. This brave collection of seven-foot tall GM troopers is the last bastion of hope against the Covenant, who happen to be hanging around Reach looking shifty and spoiling for a huge fight. Luckily, Noble Squad likes nothing better than beating up blue aliens.

Reach is a prequel to the whole Halo thing and sets the scene for the main trilogy by depicting the last, desperate stand of a few good men on the doomed planet. By the end of the game, when all is lost, you’re helping the Master Chief escape Reach to … dum, dum duummmmmm… discover Halo itself. It’s a tale drowning in pathos and respect for the Chief, its setting and all the other associated characters. Clearly, Bungie wants you to burst into tears at the end of Reach.

This is so sad. Poor robot.

And that’s all fine, except that Halo is still about shooting cartoon aliens in the face with cartoon guns on a cartoon plant. This whole plot thing just doesn’t feel right, and while the aliens are smart cannon fodder, they are also inescapably bright blue. At times it feels like fighting it out in a Mario level against King Koopa and his cronies. It’s stupid at best and utterly unfathomable at worst. I had no idea what was going on for the most part, and it’s not helped by pretty but poorly directed and acted cut scenes.

Putting all that nonsense aside though and you’re faced with an enjoyably stupid rollercoaster ride. Unlike Infinity Ward, Bungie understands how a good shooter should work and mixes clever pacing and scripting with unpredictable battlegrounds where the outcome is rarely as straightforward as you’d think. This is a good thing and it allows you plan ahead more clearly. If one approach doesn’t work, try something else. CODMODWAR doesn’t get this.

Bungie has also got smarter with the art direction in Halo: Reach so you’re not always fighting it out across the Mushroom Kingdom. The cities are stunning, as are the military bases and some outdoor areas are larger and more dramatic than in previous Halo titles. It all looks higher resolution too, making the whole cartoon thing more palatable for an audience with CODMODWAR on the brain. There’s even a pretty decent attempt at a space battle that, although short, sounds and looks brilliant. I’d like some more of that please Bungie.

The multiplayer is OK too, especially firefight (survive as long as you can against increasingly tough waves of enemies) but none of it is particularly original. There are also loads of fat teenagers playing it, so I’d probably stick to the single player if I were you.

Thankfully given that this is Bungie’s Halo swansong, this is by far the best Halo game. For those of us that abandoned the series way back in 2004, it’s probably time to come back to it. As long as you ignore the terrible cut scenes and just get down to some cartoon blasting, it’s a purchase well worth making and easily one of the best console shooters out there at the moment.

Don’t believe the hype?

Posted October 17, 2010 by electricdeathray
Categories: Games

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You’ll hate me for it, but I’ve owned an iPhone since summer 2009. Originally, I wanted to use it purely for looking cool – which worked, I can’t go anywhere without people commenting on how awesome I look – but in recent months I’ve been using it to play games on.

That’s a bit weird, not only do I look cool – but I look cool playing games. When was the last time anyone said that about a Wii? And it works too. In recent days I’ve played on Worms, Sonic 1, 2 and 4 and a brilliant – if short adaptation – of Mirror’s Edge. These are AAA games made by AAA developers, and all on a phone, a freaking phone. Ten years ago you’d have laughed at me and then mocked my Nokia.

But does this make it a genuine competitor – and a genuine innovator – in a market already filled with noise?

The easy answer is yes, the iPhone (and the iPad and iPod Touch) is no less a ‘console’ than the Xbox, Playstation and portable companions the DSi and PSP. Surely if it plays games, then it must be considered a gaming device?

It even has a successful (perhaps worryingly so) distribution system that can be accessed almost anywhere: iTunes and the AppStore. These tools allow users to plug in, pay and play any game on the AppStore whenever they can be arsed.

The games aren’t bad either. Albeit a bit on the short side, Mirror’s Edge is a smart, pretty and slick piece of gaming that’s addictive and entertaining, everything a good game should be. Using the iPhone’s multi-touch screen as an input device, you have a range of control options available to guide Faith across the six or so levels. It feels oddly immersive for such a simple system, like games used to…

It’s the same story with the spiky blue hedgehog who feels more at home here than he has done for the last decade and a half. Sonic 1, 2 and 4 all control well and look good here, and – thanks in part (again) to the control system – feel fresh and new.

Of course, it’s not all good news. The iPhone and iPod are still multi-purpose gadgets, not wholesale gaming devices, meaning that no-one really wants to part with more than £3-4 for a game. And rightly so, content wise, the games above have limitations. Sonic, for example, is ancient in gaming terms and despite being rather good, it’s hard not to see it as anything other than a retro blast. The same is true of Worms, Doom, Sim City and a whole host of other games. These are pre-millennium titles. To pay more than £3 for any of those seems a bit ridiculous.

Consequently, there’s a booming trade in 59p games. Doodle Jump, Angry Birds, Motocross X, all 59p and range between addictive and crap. Admittedly, 59p isn’t much for a couple of hours of gaming, but it underlines the restrictive nature of Apple’s toys.

So should you buy an iPod, Phone or Pad to game with? Well… no. It’s hard not to be wooed by these fancy pieces of kit, but they’re not for us types. Not if you want to game properly. There might be some gems – Mirror’s Edge and Plants Vs Zombies for example, but these are available (and better) elsewhere.

So the next time you see someone squinting at their fancy iPhone while trying to play Farmville, snort in derision, they’re not real gamers.

Getting Hugs Is Cool: Sonic the Hedgehog 4

Posted October 15, 2010 by Paul S
Categories: Games

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I love a console war.

Happens every generation, of course. PS3 / Xbox 360, PS2/ Xbox / GameCube, PSOne / N64 / that Sega thing I can’t remember the name of – all of them important conflicts, but they pale into significance next to the big boy, the Great Console War. It spanned two generations, but it was at its bloodiest in the late eighties and early nineties. The vast edifice of the NES locked in conflict with the curvaceous Master System, giving way to the clash between the SNES and the Mega Drive*.

But the fight wasn’t about hardware. It was only partially about the games. The fight was personal. Two cultural icons decking it out in every playground and classroom all over the developed world. Were you for Mario? Or were you for Sonic?




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The Elder Scrolls Chronicles Part One: My Life in Games

Posted October 11, 2010 by Paul S
Categories: My Life In Games

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Being a gaming memoir, of sorts, in four parts. Do come in.

I have an admission for you, internet. I am afraid to say that I am something of a geek.

In fact, I’m being disingenuous (in more ways than one, over elaborate introduction fans) – I’m a terrible, terrible old geek. I have long hair. I wear tee-shirts with pictures of Jedi Knights and comic book insignias on them. The only reason I don’t have a thick and luxuriant beard is that my face grows hair with the enthusiasm of a thirteen year old (a thirteen year old girl, natch). My geekery started young and it persists eternally, as the plastic griffon on my desk will testify. For a long time though, my geek tendencies didn’t really apply to videogames. I remember very clearly the moment when they suddenly, aggressively did.

The Young Me was a geek in many ways, I suppose, videogames being a part of that, but it was one facet of my personality that defined my geekdom.

I loved swords.

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