What I've Been Playing

Quite quiet in the way of gaming again.

World of Warcraft
I had a go at World of Warcraft. It was enjoyable questing fun but didn't really draw me to a monthly subscription model way of thinking. I didn't really get into much of it though. I didn't try the instance dungeons or really group quest with anyone so maybe I was missing out on much of the fun. It's my first experience of massively multiplayer games in a long time and... it hasn't changed all that much really.
Dungeon Seige II (Demo)
Thought I'd give the demo of this game a go. We played the first one in Multiplayer mode for quite a while so I was looking forward to this one. I have to say they seem to have changed the weapon switching and spell system for the worse which isn't good at all given I felt the first game had done poorly there. I found so much of the gameplay similar to Diablo II it almost felt like I should have just been playing Diablo II instead. They have Skill Trees and Item Sets for example. Anyway one of the big wins that I'm hoping for is the ability to persist the server state for a multiplayer session which the first one lacked.
The Sims 2
My love/hate relationship with The Sims continue. I set up a couple of new families and tried to make them do their thing. I expect hearing tales about what someone's sims are up to must be more dull than hearing about what someone's pet has been up to so I'll refrain.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
Still love this game and it's style but I got board looking for peices of the Master Sword so I put this game down again not long after I picked it up.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
So after getting bored of sailing around in The Wind Waker I loaded up Ocarina of Time to remember the good old days of Zelda. The control system is a little poor in this one; perhaps it was because I had just finished playing some of the newer one. Anyway I got a bit of the way through it but it failed to really hook me so I expect it will sit on the shelf a bit longer.


So The Situation Escalates

So it continues; after the court decided that the game (GTA; what else) was not a factor in the shooting of two police officers there is still a civil case going on to take any company (pretty much involved in any stage of the game) involved in the game getting into the shooter's hands. I find it interesting that:

The makers, distributors, and retailers of that murder simulator equipped Moore to kill as surely as if they had handed him the gun to do it.

Lawyer vows to prove link between video games and murder, The Register

If that is the case then why not take anyone involved in the production and distribution of the firearm used to court. Furthermore I'd argue that if you handed someone a gun and they then went on a killing spree then they have made an active choice to do that rather than to, as most people would, put the gun down. The game was not a tool; the person was mentally unstable to begin with. If you want to find a tool why not question the accessibly of a firearms to the population?

I also find it strange that they aren't just going after Take Two Interactive but also the entire distribution chain. I was disappointed to see that the trucking company that distributed the game from the warehouse to the shops wasn't included on the list. I'm also confused as to how you can sue Walmart and Gamestop for the game's distribution unless it was a Gamestop located within Walmart; I guess.

I'm not sure what is going to come out of this; I'm very interested to see.


Grand Theft Auto San Andreas: Part 2

Well it looks like the GTA has been blown out of all proportion. I see that the kids that are being protected from this polygon sex are the seventeen year olds as (quoting Penny Arcade):

The ESRB is suggesting that they may change the rating of the game to Adults Only, a category that by their own definition should see a great deal more use in a retail environment. This is great. Look at the descriptions for these.

MATURE Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong language.

Or, as the rest of our culture calls it, "Rated R." Check out AO.

ADULTS ONLY Titles rated AO (Adults Only) have content that should only be played by persons 18 years and older. Titles in this category may include prolonged scenes of intense violence and/or graphic sexual content and nudity.

Penny Arcade

Interesting so I year separates the suitability of the game being vastly inappropriate to just fine to play. Of course it isn't just about that; the game is withdrawn as policy in many shops on account of this. It is very much a political thing.

It was interesting to see the reaction to all this. Even blogs of people who rarely ever move out of their own disciple have taken to talking about it.

The action has not stopped with Rockstar though. I was reading on Extra Life about articles mentioning Sims 2 content worse than Hot Coffee (the actual article). I'm not sure how you can define the extent of which someone has to mod a game before you should no longer consider that in any way part of the original game. In my mind it has to be one of the craziest rants that has ever had a press release but the media being what it is this might also take a life of it is own. VGCats had a interesting comic on the subject.


Retro Fortnight (Recently Played Games)

I thought I'd make my what I've been playing list a regular thing.

It's an old game from the disbanded Black Isle Studio who did do a range of really good games. I didn't feel this was one of them though. Lionheart failed to capture me much. The story seemed ok, a descendent of Lionheart in the world but where evil spirits had been released, but the actual character interaction and quests lead much to be desired pretty much just turning it into a click 'n slash game. I quick-saved where I was meant to quick-load and then just gave up.
Neverwinter Nights
A few friends and I tried playing Hordes of the Underdark (a single player expansion pack) online anyway. We had a few glitches but things seem to be going ok. There were a lot of complaints at Bioware that they released a single player only expansion pack. In all honesty I have single player roleplaying games that I can play; Neverwinter Nights is more enjoyable as a group and I felt it was a shame that the second expansion didn't accommodate that.
Burnout 3: Takedown
I've played the Party Crash mode of this a few times recently. It's a fun game. It's not quite as freeform as the second installment though and that's a pitty.
Dance Dance Revolution: Euromix
In an attempt to get a better rhythm sense and get a little healthier I've been playing this. With dance mats; of course.
Legend of Zelda: Four Swords
I've had this game for a while but I was waiting for four of us to get together with some GBAs for some Four Sword action. It was really good fun to play and I liked the simple graphics. They took me back to wanting to play some of the other Zelda series so you might see those on recently played later. There were a couple of issues though. We did the first stage then messed up saving. We figured we'd redo it and the second time my GBA's battery was running low so I paused and turned it of. The game sensed a player had disconnected and so ended the game! We couldn't be bothered starting it again so we played the Shadow Battle mode (PVP action) and then called it a night.


Grand Theft Auto San Andreas

The whole Sex Scenes in GTA: San Andreas has been predominant enough to make it into mainstream media. Effectively people are criticizing the ESRB system as a mod for the game allows a player to unlock some sex subgame. The current rating is (in the USA), I believe, an R and basically they want it set to some Adult Only rating which, as far as I can see is for the same age range as an R but lots of shops don't stock it or something.

The argument revolves around the fact that Rockstar North already had the code in there. Of course they may have had it in as they planed, but later dropped, the subgame. It's not officially part of the game, someone has to alter the code (even if only slightly) to access the mini-game so I fail to see how the ESRB can be criticized for failing to rate the game correctly as they can only rate the actually content they get to see.

I suppose the main point that I find worrying about is when I read things like this:

Once again, ESRB has failed our parents. This particular game has been known to include extremely heinous acts of violence, and now it has been uncovered that the game also includes explicit sexual scenes that are inappropriate for our children.

Leland Yee (Reported in the Scotsman)

That's the point isn't it? Why are you letting your young children play the game in the first place? I also find it sad that we deem extreme violence as better than showing some form of sexual act. That controlling some rendered models having sex is somehow worse than controlling those same models to beat a random street full of other models into a pulp.

I actually firmly believe that the GTA series should not be played by children I'm quite happy with games like it and Doom III actually falling under the BBFC jurisdiction.


What I've Been Playing

I think a little update to the current games that have been taking up my time is in order.

Forza Motorsports
A fine driving simulation game. The lack of GT4 license and a fairly good difficulty curve keeps this game enjoyable and I haven't even had the pleasure of playing it on Live! yet. Graphically it isn't quite as strong as GT4 but that is presumably, in part, caused by the fact that you can customize the look of your car a lot more. The addition of a damage model is a big plus over GT4. I'm still terrible at driving games but this has been one that I've managed to get into.
Onimusha 2
I've had this for a long time but haven't really had time to play it. I'm not so sure about the merchants and the whole giving gifts to characters at all. I feel it detracts from what should really be a horror game. Plus the whole gift giving, I mean, is it really necessary? Anyway random demon hacking action.
Racing down a slope, or trying to do a few tricks, on a snowboard. It's straight up good fun; tricks are much easier to pull than in the first one and though that takes away a bit of the skill it does make the learning curve a bit easier and all that really results is for the criteria for winning to be generally tougher.

That's really it for the last week and a bit. I'm not really sure I can even call myself a gamer anymore. With the exception of a bit of Halo 2 I probably haven't even been online that much either.


Square Enix and The Curse of the Title

Some people say that Squaresoft (now known as Square Enix ever since that merger) really should have had a better title than Final Fantasy when making a game that ended up having lots of sequels*. However I just read a press release stating, SQUARE ENIX SHIPS FULLMETAL ALCHEMIST™ 2: CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ELIXIR. Fullmetal Alchemist 2: Curse of the Crimson Elixir; seriously... April the 1st was a long time ago you know. Maybe they should just stick with Final Fantasy XXIX.

* Final Fantasy was released just as Squaresoft were running out of money; they assumed it was going to be their last title.


XBox 360 and Playstation 3 Articles

The Internet is full of articles about the XBox 360 and the PS3. Some that stood out, as a detailed look at the hardware, was the articles on Ars Technica namely:

They can get a little technical, and are quite lengthy, but are certainly worth the read.



Ever come to the conclusion about something while not really thinking about it? I did just yesterday. I realized that my current PC might well be the last PC I ever buy. Sure I might still upgrade it a couple of times but what do I need more power for in my PC? Games. Now given the next generation of consoles all do some fine resolutions with some astounding graphics and, hopefully with wireless, support some keyboards and mice why do I want to continue playing games on my PC. Currently strategy, RPGs and FPS are all that I really play on my PC. Now FPS are already ported to consoles and the line-up for the next generation consoles suggests this practice will continue. I'm quite certain that with a resolution capable of showing text clearly and the falling price of persistence storage to write save games it will be well within the interests of people who develop strategy games to produce for the console market, even including those hard-core games that wouldn't normally appeal to the console audience.

Of course game development is a moving target and though the next generation consoles seem impressive now, they probably won't compare to a PC when we are looking at the next console cycle. However I'm becoming less and less impressed with incremental graphics updates and I'm not sure that the possibility of doubling the resolution on my PC monitor would appeal to me when I could put that money into a HDTV instead.

So if I remove games from my PC, and I'm not saying with the ever improving market that this will hold true, that pretty much leaves game development as the only thing that keeps me on an upgrade cycle. If there is one thing that requires more power than games it is generally the tools that are required to build for that game. Whether or not I'll find my current PC good for this purpose or not remains to be seen. I suppose maybe I'll get into video editing one day and realize that I'll have to bump up my machine for that. For checking email, listening to music or writing a document though there is going to have to be a hard sell as to why it is worth my time to upgrade.



Like most gamers I follow many of the announcements of E3. Also, like most gamers, I'm not actually there. This leads me to rely on those shaky-cam videos that you see splattered over FileRush. I noticed that Nintendo actually released their videos rather than them being taped. This is a good thing. The way I see it the fans want to see what the future might hold and will download these videos. If the videos are of poor quality then I find that I'm left with a not overall great impression.

I think, as we approch a much higher resolution image in games, that the thumbnail videos that you used to get aren't really worth squat in our broadband world. I'm sure most of the game companies are reaching this conclusion as well but I felt it was worth mentioning. Vision Gran Turismo looked great, more importantly it didn't just look like a revision of the graphics; if you look at how many cars are on track: that's a good use of technology.

What else? I watched the second Final Fantasy: Advent Children trailer and it made my mouth drop. Sure it is non-interactive, but it looks like everything Spirits Within should have been.

I'm sure, like all the other people who have game related blogs, will talk about the big 3 consoles at some stage.


Time to bring out the PHP scripters

I noticed that the XBox 360 games preview screens on 1up.com all looked odd, until I clicked for a larger version. Namely because the are all 16:9 and the site has obviously been designed with the assumption of 4:3 pictures. I expect this is the case with many game sites who are currently getting their designers back in to rework the code. Well it humored me a little.

Since I'm on the topic of next generation consoles (well one of them anyway) I was reading in GamesIndustry.biz about the expected increase in costs to develop games for the next generation platforms (I've lost the link now though) is probably going to jump from about $2-3 million to about $10 million. This, of course, will have a great deal of impact in investor willingness to commit to a somewhat risky project. I find it worrying to think the future of gaming will (even more so than now) be just sequels to successful games and the latest year's sporting update. I think the increased cost of development along with a more mainstream market may lead to the more creative peripheries being forgotten about. Still saying all this the upcoming XBox 360 releases do look very interesting so maybe I'm very mainstream or that isn't going to happen.


Sky Captain and the High Definition World of Tomorrow

I read The Hookup on High Definition TVs altering the scales in consoles of the future. It argues with the consoles of the future offering high definition, widescreen, games then those people with the technology will get an advantage. The principle being that the higher resolution will mean those with the technology will be able to see objects with greater clarity and widescreen will provide a better field of vision.

Now I'm ok with that. I would prefer to think that people who have invested in their TV get the most out of it (my TV is neither widescreen or a HDTV), if that gives them an advantage in a game then so be it. I don't think games companies should worry about trying to put balances and checks in to try and even the playing field.

I'm a big fan of the way that consoles don't force you to upgrade constantly to even stand a chance of playing a game well. I have to say after upgrading my graphics card on my PC I found the Waterways in Half Life 2 much, much easier to complete with a more responsive framerate (not to mention that it looked better to boot). Even still I know that a few months down the line I'll be looking at a game and wondering if it will run in an acceptable manor on my PC; or whether the game will look anything like the screenshots that I've seen.

On the other hand people who develop for consoles know the system they are developing for. I know there is, unfortunately, a tendency in modern console games to actually have framerate drops and such seen as acceptable. I'm hoping that this practice, along with the increasing acceptability of bugs, is dropped. I fully understand the pressures facing the company and there are bound to be technical compromises made when you are developing a game cross-platform. My current fear is this will all change in the PS3. I'm not sure how much developers will use the scaliblity of the cell processor but I worry that we'll see, Recommended Specs: PS3, 4 free cell processors, 512Mb of off-PS3 RAM. Though I'm pretty sure that Sony will insure that a game runs on just the PS3 they will almost certainly try and promote developers to use scaling; especially if that scaling means that they can say, Runs in 780p or 1080i if you have a Sony Vega HDTV with inbuilt Cell. I want to not see the upgrading I need to do on my PC also apply to consoles.



Well in follow-up to the video about the PSP attempting to take over the world. The Register report that Sony have confirmed a European release date for the PSP of the 1st of September. It's so long away, I don't know if I can wait that long.



Final Fantasy: PSP

I saw this funny (in a super-game-geek way) evil PSP Final Fantasy VI flash movie. It was on Penny Arcade which I imagine must be drawing a lot more traffic to it than I could ever dream of. Anyway if you are a game geek then I think you'll derive some enjoyment out of it. I certainly did.


Progress in NWN

I've decided to have another go at modding in NWN. I'm trying to build a Cthulhu: Dark Ages mod. My first step is to remove the Races except Human and have a go at restricting the classes and maybe making some new ones. From there the sanity system. Hopefully by then I'll have a couple of people who are interested in having a go at creating more Lovecraft like models for the game.

Anyway I've started by trying to get up to speed with the development tools. If anyone is intersted in such a development drop a comment.


So Many Games, So Little Time

I'm amazed at the quality of games currently coming out and the line up of games coming out in the near future. There's Jade Empire which I'm very much looking forward to; though I was a bit annoyed that we have to pay about £5 more for the Limited Edition which is free with pre-orders in America. I've also just recently heard about the Half-Life 2 expansion pack.

One day soon I'll actually talk about the developments that I'm involved with rather than just what I'm playing and what is coming out.


Resident Evil 4

I finished Resident Evil 4 yesterday. It's a very good game and hats off to Capcom for taking a new direction for the series. Capcom seem to have a strong product line with the likes of Resident Evil and Devil May Cry. I found that RE4 had a good difficulty level, being just tough enough to make you struggle to keep your character alive while not becoming so frustrating to make you just give up. Devil May Cry 3 is apparently nails, though I haven't had the pleasure of playing it yet.

Given how much of a zombie fan I am I find it a pleasant surprise that I liked the move away from zombies to cultists in RE4. The ammo supplies and such kept it action packed (rather than evasion packed) while still rewarding evading big groups of enemies.

All in all I found it a great move for the series and have really enjoyed playing it.


Marketting and the Blurring of Nations

This isn't a technical discussion nor that about a specific game; rather it is about something that has been brought up at least a few times about games before. I don't read previews; I entirely ignore most of the stuff about the development of a particular game; even a game I am fanatically interested in. As a person who has a desire to become a developer maybe I should take more of an active interest in all these previews but I feel the constant attention to the product dilutes my interest. When I read about great game I think fab, I want to play that when I realise it isn't hitting the market for another year I pretty much forget about it. Perhaps by the time that release finally hit's the shelf I won't have the slightest interest in it.

To this degree I subscribe to Steve Jobs', if you advertise the product on the Tuesday, sell it on the Wednesday, I don't care about first reviews; I care about the reviews I can read about a game on the day of release or a few days before. Of course, I am a little bias here, since I read reviews and news about games on international sites and, living in Europe, tend to have the last release of any game. Therefore you hear about a game, decide you want it, and then realise you have to wait another few months before they localize it for a European market.

So do you think there is a place for the countless previews and developer chats that occur months, possibly years, before a game release or do you feel that the marketing cycle for a game should be much shorter?


It's the Small Things

I've always found install screens to be of little importance in a game. I was very impressed with The Sims II install, which included a trivia game. However upon installing the Obscure demo I was presented with a screen that I have been with a few other games as well. It asks you your name and company. I don't mind putting my name in, like you would if you install Word but the fact that you cannot proceed with the install if you don't enter a company just pisses me off. It is unlikely that I represent a company playing the game; I know it is just a standard install screen but surely it doesn't take that much coding to remove company as a required field.


Are you l33t?

One of my friends just pointed out the Microsoft guide to computer slang. I know I'm not a parent, and therefore it wasn't aimed at me, but I found the document very amusing.



After using TeamSpeak for a while I highly recommend it for anyone looking for voice comms in their games. It's really easy to set up and I was running a server for others earlier today while getting on with other things and everything worked just fine.


Dawn of War

I completed Dawn of War last night. Maybe Warcraft III gave me too high an expectation but I suppose I was hoping to have a go with all the races in the campaign mode rather than just the Space Marines. I mean there is still skirmish and multiplayer and I really look forward to them, but they tend to have very different play style from campaign missions. Campaign missions will generally progressively unlock the tech tree and have small isolated groups of enemies who rarely upgrade their base whereas skirmish will generally have quickly developing enemies with all the tree available straight away, hence the learning curve is a lot steeper.

It was, after saying that, very enjoyable. I love the animation sequences and attention to unit detail in the game. I'm still not sure about the mid combat reinforcement of units, but it is a new way of doing units and I understand why the choice was made.


Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

I find myself pretty much trying to play through the games that I got for Christmas. One of the fine games I received was Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Now Penny Arcade expressed that they had removed much that was fun out of Sands of Time so I was a little concerned, thankfully the combat doesn't really seem like that much of the game, though I often had to replay the combat scenes against bosses since they often kicked my ass.

I was enjoying the good old jumping around levels doing the acrobatic stuff. One stage I was happily jumping around, but really couldn't figure out where to go. I did notice the Prince looking strange, and thought there might have been some reason for it that was yet to be explained to me. Well after half an hour of exploring I thought Damn, the developers have outsmarted me with their fiendish puzzles I went to GameFAQs admitting defeat, I looked up multiple FAQs all of which referred to a cut scene and jumping through a hole an uberboss made. I don't remember the cut scene, and I certainly couldn't find the hole. Turns out I'm not the only one and it looks like there is a bug in the game. So looks like I'm rolling back to an old save and hoping for the best.

It worries me that bugs like this appear in console games, yes I have an XBox version and Live so I might be able to download a patch, if they make one, but those with other consoles or without Live won't be able to patch the game. The lack of testing on games now worries me, I think it bodes ill for the console gaming scene (traditionally who could mock the PC gaming scene as they could just play a game rather than install it, fight with hardware configuration, and then have it crash every 20 seconds). I know that this will probably mean that I put Prince aside for a while, and it might well be shelved before I've really had a chance to play it. This seems a shame, because despite my initial reservations it seemed to be shaping up quite well.