Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Public Service anouncement

I would apologise for plugging another site here, but no one reads this blog, and you can not read apologies if your eyes do not exist. So Fuck you, imaginary readers, with your blank, mocking eyes, fuck you all!

Here is a call out for anyone who has ever been exaseperated by some of the nonsense we come up against in that stalwart of irrelevence and pretense, university.

www.shakebeforereading.com - (a site well known for duping nuns and employing gay chloroform) read the article called 'A response to my critics, part 1'

True dat.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

God of War II: The revenge of media hysterics

I am not really writing this blog. You see, I'm spending my time revising for my exams. I am certainly not wasting my time writing about a media scuffle that everyone has already commented on.

And I certainly have not been wasting precious revision time playing God of War II. Definitely not. So with all the fuss over the dead goat, I got round to reading the Daily Mail's review of the game (printed on the same page as the superlative fuss over the launch party with its disgusting pagan meat soup and scantly clad models).

So now you want the game, right? "No sword-blow or swing of your hero Kratos's hooks goes unrewarded with a geyser of blood." Brilliant! Sony should count themselves lucky for receiving this piece of advertising, brilliantly disguised as aghast moralising. It is exactly this kind of free advertising that a wise company would incur with carefully orchestrated launch parties, which offer newspapers subject matter for cheap, shouty copy in exchange for shining reviews like this. But Sony is not a canny company with an incredibly aggressive marketing approach, just a collection of ke-razy godless bastards who make edgy and excitingly dangerous products.

Perhaps it was some pretty cheap shock tactics that got God of War II onto people's lips, but this is a shame, because I would like to talk about the game anyway. Yes, it is pretty violent. But unlike GTA and its innumerate spawn, the violence is strictly rooted in a not very controversial Xena-esque, demon dispatching fantasy world.

As for the game's plot, the Mail on Sunday review claims that 'although it is nominally based on Greek myths, students of the Classics would be appalled by how the game reduces the tales of the ancients to a sequence of cartoonishly grotesque fights', yet I feel that the characters and stories lifted from the classics fit the game's violent outlook perfectly. A jealous Zeus ties Prometheus to a rock where he is eaten by birds, and heals every night, for the simple crime of giving fire to humans (Greek myth), then Kratos kills him to free him from pain, and kills a bunch of demons. (God of war) The fates warn Chronos that one of his children will kill him, Chronos eats his children. Zeus survives, kills Chronos, rules Olympus. (Greek myth) Zeus becomes as protective of his power as his dead father (see the Prometheus myth) and attempts to kill Kratos, who he thinks poses a threat. Kratos fights his way out of hades, killing a bunch of demons (God of war).

Now I studied classics at school. I don't know if that qualifies me as a 'student of the classics' or not, ( I think the most studied things in that classroom were Miss Rose's tights) but I certainly was not appalled by the direction the game takes. One of the most compelling things about the game is how comfortably Kratos fits into the brutal, petty and vengeful world of the Gods of Greek mythology. And it was a brutal world. If the game makers had tried to shoe-horn Kratos and his big swords into an old romantic comedy, the results might have been easier to criticise for disingenuous twisting of historical texts. (But what a game it would have been - imagine Kratos opening a historically inaccurate can of whupass all over Shakespeare's As you like it - fucking classic. 'Wilt though lay hands on me villain?' 'I am no villain; I am the GOD OF WAR!' - bloody chaos ensues.)

"Go on, tell me about the Wii one more fucking time"

No, the Greek Mythical backdrop is an exception to the normal rule, in that the ultraviolence and camp prominence of butch young men is actually excusable. Safe in the knowledge that it is not wrong, you can therefore get on with the mountains of enticingly stupid combat. Hours of it.

And here, the Mail on Sunday and I have another difference of opinion. Their 'Games and gadgets' editor tells us 'What is worse is that God of war II is clearly an intelligently designed game' (I do not think he means that this is worse than the violence, but rather that they ruined an otherwise good game by putting monsters and blood in it, as opposed to bunnies and a nice cup of tea) 'and one with broad appeal to the young. The game's cryptic, Indiana Jones-style puzzles are among the cleverest seen in video games'. What the Fuck? In this game, there is a puzzle where you drag statues around, so that their shields reflect laser beams. Has this author ever played a computer game? In this game there are typically two ways you can 'interact' with game objects (and yes, the game hints do describe it as 'interacting') you can grab something and mash the circle button in order to upend it, or you can hit it with your sword until it disintegrates. This game is the very definition of stupid. Half of the puzzles are there just to add a boost to the gameplay time. Seriously, without the glorious and visceral combat, this game would be like a dyslexic Tombraider. And no one wants that. (I am dyslexic, so I can say that and it is funny.)

What does make God of War II special, is that it knows what it is, and goes about being it with a profesianal zeal and a refresing lack of pretention. So the technique where you beat an openent up a bit, and when he is weakened you can perform a special finishing move is nothing new. The point is, it is so well done, you will not care. Having knocked down and stabbed a boss, you will be preparing for the next section of the game when Kratos, as an afterthought, sticks the defeated boss's head in a doorway, and you are encouraged to mash the circle button for a chance to smack the door onto the character's head. Repeatedly. That sums up God of War II; it is doing nothing new, and nothing clever, but it does it with such charm and acute control over the way the game plays, that it is special in its own right.

"See me kick you. You fall down"

The controls are intiuative, the fights are explosive, the bosses are frequent and spectacular (This is a game in which the first level sees you fighting against the stutue of the Colossus) and the backdrops and graphics are stunning. It is great to see this as part of my muche-loved playstation 2's swansong. It also serves as a good reminder that games get technally better as consoles age. If the Wii can eventually provide games looking like this, then that is power enough for me. The only worry is, with all the movement towards games with broader appeal (which I thouroughly approve of) will it still be profitable for developers to scratch that hardcore itch, for those of us who still feel it? (and oh, how we still feel it.)

Saturday, 12 May 2007

The eternal joys of heaven pt. 2

When the DS first materialised, I was sceptical. Perhaps it is only a stunted imagination, but I could not picture how a stylus and touch-screen might sustain a games platform for its entire lifetime. I had a similarly unconvinced moment when the details of the Wii were first released.

It was the actuality of the Wii that convinced me to give the DS a try. The Wii controller still stuns me. It is robust enough to be flung about with force for Wii tennis, yet sensitive enough to detect small movements, like zooming in with a sighted weapon in Red Steel. Completely unable to guess at the science, I am convinced that if you were to open a Wii controller, it would be empty. Do not question it, just believe.

So I was made proselyte by Nintendo’s crazy science. However, as I hope to go to Japan next year, it does not make sense to buy a television based console. Despite this, the idea of being left behind by current gen consoles makes me feel ashamed and afraid. The portable, region-free DS seemed like a perfect compromise. And should that dirty little old-school twitch arise, I still have a copy of Doom 2 on GBA port. Boom! Head shot!

First, a quick look at the machine. Mine is a DS lite, the sleek little black number. I was warned that the black version is particularly susceptible to smudges and finger marks, but frankly, I could not care less. The stylus is a little bit of a worry; I have already lost one as I fell asleep during a Phoenix Wright marathon. But, hey, that was kind of my fault. Yes, GBA cartridges do jut out of the machine, but that just goes to show how much bigger and clunkier the original DS was all the time. The button layout is that of a Super NES controller, and is therefore as warm and comforting as the foetal position. The buttons are pretty close, but serious cramps are only incurred with control systems that combine extensive stylus/button combinations.

People moan that the DS’ power does not match up to the Sony PSP. To be honest, with two processors (each comparable to the one in the SNES) providing 2D graphics for each screen, and a third, (comparable to that of the N64) handling 3D graphics and sound, I would argue that there is quite a bit of oomph for developers to play with. It has just been organised in a different way to the macho ‘as many polygons as possible, on a tiny screen’ outlook of the PSP.

And that, for me, seems to explain Nintendo’s approach for both the Wii and the DS. The boobs in Dead or Alive on the Xbox 360 seem like a good indicator of the current state of gaming. When I was sixteen, I loved boobs. I still do, god help me, and there is a pasty sixteen-year-old in me that is overjoyed to see how the world has moved on from Chun-li’s pixelated mammaries to glorious 3D monsters that respond to gravity with unreal bouncing hyperactive joy. It is because of this part of me that developers target the sixteen-year-old misanthrope in all of us, and the graphics get nicer, the engines get tweaked, but the bigger our hypothetical girl’s boobs get, the more she looks like a cheap stripper.
Graphics as boobs - cunning metaphor or lame excuse to show this?

At the grand old age of twenty, it has already occurred to me that as much as I like boobs, they are probably not the be all and end all. (Or perhaps I have just learnt to admit that I will never find a pair of porn-star tits that are attached to a girl that will have me, but that is an argument for another day.) I would rather compromise on a kind, clever girl whose boobs are merely nice, with a good personality. And the DS has a good personality.

Those of you who want nothing more than to see once fun, now boring games like GTA and Halo get bigger and better are fated to remain forever sixteen, playing Dead or Alive and wanking. Metaphorically and literally. Stand aside, because some of us are ready to take Nintendo by the hand, and grow up with them.

The games industry has been talking about the need to expand their reach to a wider market for years. And when Nintendo is the first company to bite the bullet and admit this might alienate hardcore gamers, all the pussies who did not make the move (and the money) first start bitching about the specs.

Yes, I do worry that I might have trouble reconciling that corner of me that is hardcore with Nintendo’s new simplicity ethic. Yet to be brutally honest, I have not completed a game in some time. The last game I managed to get all the way through was We Love Katamari, and I could hardly imagine that the pwner is shaking in his pro-gaming boots. I could, like everyone else who has out-grown their games, lie, and say it is because my time is limited. Bullshit. When I was a kid, school took up nearly all my time, and my N64 was at my dad’s, who I only visited on weekends. I spent all week thinking about the Ocarina of Time and Goldeneye, and on the weekends I would play instead of sleep, and feel sick on Monday. I made time.

No, the real reason that Katamari is the last game I mastered is because it was genuinely different, the simple mechanic did not require constant practice, and it had a genuinely amusing post-modern sense of humour.

We love Katamari -nothing to do with boobs. Literally.

The DS and Wii are aimed at people who are not satisfied with playing the same fps, with better graphics, over and over. The cool thing is that by buying one of these less ‘powerful’, unorthodox consoles, you are implicating a willingness to explore other aspects of games. This is the message sent to the developers, who must be taking note of Nintendo’s all conquering sales figures. Therefore, developers working on these consoles feel free to get experimental with their games – the market has already shown that it is willing to consume products that are not simple Halo remakes when everyone bought a DS. (Forty million DS sales world-wide.)

When I first got the DS, those hardcore instincts kicked in, and my first game purchase was Metroid Prime Hunters. Despite the fact that I had bought the console in anticipation of the weird and wonderful I felt the need to ‘try the system out’ with a fps. To be honest, the game is pretty technically impressive. Also, the stylus operates like a mouse would for a PC based fps, in what is probably the best console-based fps control system I have ever seen. However, the game is a little lacking in character. The multiplayer is a really important aspect, and is initially very impressive, playing along the lines of a stripped-down Unreal Tournament. However, it lacks the gloriously tactile weaponry of UT, as the weapons are basically all variations on a laser beam. Compare the joy of the physics and timing of the UT rocket launcher with the lacklustre missiles that Samus utilises. The alien power-suit setup is also unimpressive. Where is the joy that UT afforded when you turned your opponent into a mush of bouncing, blood spurting chunks of cat food? Most of the multiplayer gaming sessions I have been part of quickly moved on to Bomberman and Mario Kart.

Metroid - Underwhelming

Which, by the way, are amazing multiplayer games. The way the DS works like a LAN match, only requiring one game for multiplayer is incredible. Remember how many of the defining gaming moments were social ones? Four people sharing SNES controllers to play Micro Machines. Genuine fights over accusations of ‘screen watching’ in Goldeneye (solved by the LAN-esque setup of the DS). Trust me, five people scuttling around the dual-screens of Bomberman is quite an experience. On the subject, there has been a lot of animosity regarding the necessity of friend codes to play online. Admittedly, this is probably largely because Nintendo are worried about unsavouries and paedos online (or more pointedly, they are worried about what cash haemorrhaging parents are worried about) but I do not find the idea of friend codes such a big problem. It is much more fun to play against your friends then against some random American geek who knows all the spawn spots, and therefore wipes the floor with you, exclaiming ‘lol! Noob! Fag!’ all the while. I think we should be encouraged to view games as part of our real social lives, instead of raping strangers in Second Life, and making up for a lack of social skills by forming guilds in WOW. (‘Basically, WOW is, like, the gay.’) I like the idea that I will be able to destroy my friends at Mario kart from any where on earth, and know exactly who it is that is crying at the other end of the world. Max.

When I lightened up and began to buy games about Doctors and Lawyers, I really began to realise that the DS is the future. More on the marvels I have found later.

(Thanks for the proof-read go to Max and Giorgio from shakebeforereading.com)

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Taking Time to Waste Time.

I'm one of those people that takes about a week to write a thousand words, but ends up writing them all in an hour before the hand-in date. It's not that I can't do it sooner, I just don't. Instead I check MySpace every five minutes, I do the same with Facebook, and then there are things like this little addictive web-comic: Sinfest, which is sort of like an odd twist on Calvin and Hobbes, but with the Devil somewhere in the mix. Oh and of course Naruto, although perhaps that last one is a bit too geeky... I'm also ashamed to say I spend a lot of time browsing YouTube:

Of course my main pursuit of time-wasting, (Other than being a gorgeous love machine with an ass that won't quit), Is my beautiful Xbox 360. Why is it better than anything Nintendo could create? The answer is one game: Gears of War, which is pretty much just excessively violent and incredibly, incredibly fun. You need this game. And if you're like Bara you also need an Xbox.

If you're in any doubt about how fun this game could be, just know that you play as these guys, you kill these guys, and one gun has a chainsaw on the front:

Or, if like me you crave to slake your thirst for buying sets of armour and collecting weapon upgrades, two upcoming titles that look especially geek-tastic are: Too Human and Mass Effect.

And so Bara, unless you're not completely sick to death of jumping on the heads of green turtle things and mushrooms with angry faces, I think for today at least, Microsoft wins.


Come, all ye Faithfull!

When I read one of those passages in Edge magazine about 'indie gaming' I tend to nod my head sagely and say, 'Yes surely that is the future of the games industry', and then I go home and play final fantasy untill I develop autisim and catch myself accidentally 'min-max'ing my onions in Tescos. And so I had completely ignored the brilliant Adult Swim, untill now. The controls for Bible Fight may not be perfect (the buttons have to be depressed seperately to pull off moves - fucking up years of Tekken 5 motor memory training, and since when was block ever down?) but it is literally impossible to dislike a game in which Jessus returns from dying to attone for Adam and Eve's original sin, to knee Eve in the groin. Mmm... Sacralicious.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

And now a short introduction...

I find that my life can be divided into three things: My friends, my career and my girlfriend. Usually when one is going well, the others are in an abysmal mess. Now, you might think this is to do with the fact that in order to focus on one, I must be neglecting the others. not true. The real reason is because something or someone somewhere hates people like you and me and is ruining it for everyone. On purpose.

For example, my girlfriend is currently traveling around Australia, and so SightSpeed, MSN and Skype have all decided that they no longer want to function as they should, or indeed, at all, and quite frankly no matter how many times I read 'I miss you' in an email, or how many times she professes her heartfelt need to 'squish', 'squidge' or 'squoosh' my face, it doesn't seem to get rid of my desire to just see her topless over web cam again. But no joy, every single web cam app ever created by man has failed me.

I will also say as a side note that typing the words 'I love you' into G-Mail four times a day, when you really mean 'why did you think you could go away for months and I wouldn't be annoyed?' does start to grate. Not that I'm bitter about any of it.

Oh and now, this very second, Googlemail's built in chat has also died. wonderful. This is most likely her fault, as watching her try to 'make a computer work' is similar to watching a five-year-old 'bake a cake' by mixing every ingredient it can possibly reach into one, big, hopeless mess.

But enough of my cynicism! You see the reason this has all happened is because my course is actually going quite well. My pitch for a short documentary has just been accepted, and will be shot on 8mm celluloid. We may also be getting a live jazz band to compose original music for it. Mmmm.. Nice.

In any case when it's done I'll be sure to put it up here, along with another short which I'm very excited about. I won't ruin the surprise, but it's heavily inspired by this video (which does get better about half way through):

Also! my Xbox 360 is not 'a big, ugly pc with cut back functionality', and I will be explaining why... right after I get it back from the Microsoft repairs department...

Here comes a new challenger!

My very good old school friend, Ikkakujuu has joined the team. In honour of him, I have posted a video I found on Japanator. The nerd girls here are arguing over the nationality of Black Jack; it reminds me of what used to happen when Ikkakujuu attempted to convince me that the Xbox was anything other than a big, ugly pc with cut-back functionality and a big, ugly controller, the fool. Welcome to the team, Ikkakujuu!