Saturday, 26 December 2009

Good To See You, Holmes: 211b Baker Street

Finally a half-decent Sherlock Holmes game has been released. After a parade of simply embarrassing Z-rate point-and-clicks we are gifted with 221B (as in Baker Street, the residence of the great detective). 221B is a web-based flash game tied in with the new movie that appeared in cinemas today.

221B has a great range of mini-games and professional shine (it should do considering how much Warner Bros. must have spent on it) with everything from video chapter introductions and photoshop-ed 'documents' to top-down chase scenes and crime-scene Photosynths through real-English witness questioning.

The game appears to be (not having seen the film) a fully fledged prequel story to the events of the film, with the brilliant duo investigating the growing numbers of deaths of London socialite girls and the strange and mysterious events which are connected with them. It is fairly standard stuff but well told through a multitude of lettes, telegrams, newspapers and specially recorded videos.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

I Remember: In Memoriam Retrospective

Several years ago there were reports of a couple of French documentary journalists who disappeared in mysterious circumstances, you might remember it. Jack Lorski and Karen Gijman, star reports for the SKL Network, had been travelling all over Europe and across the Middle East when they dropped out of contact with their friends and head office. A few weeks after that, the network received a package which included a video and a CD from someone calling themselves Phoenix.

The CD contained a complex encrypted series of puzzles and excerpts from Lorski and Gijman's latest investigation documentary. The French police and Interpol didn't have the time or available expertise to solve the kidnapper's puzzles so they opened it up to the general public. People across the world were soon working together to solve word puzzles, tricks of language, problems of esoteric philosophy and gnosticism in a race to find the kidnapped reporters and Phoenix him (or her) self.

What Are You Playing for Xmas?

So it's Christmas, should you have not noticed. A time where people find they (hopefully) have little work to do and too much free time on their hands, exacerbated by a sudden and desperate need for a reason to avoid the glut of distant family members.

So many of us as gamers take advantage of (or possibly refuge in) the opportunity to spend some real quality time playing games. What I would like to know is what kind of games we are playing and why.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Flesh: Horror Mod For HL2

Not that kind of flesh!

A rare and beautiful thing has occured: the release of another no-combat mod for Half-Life 2. Flesh is stripped of combat, jumping, crouching, inventory... everything but movement, use world item and a sneaking mode. Everything else is atmosphere which Flesh has plenty of.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Jordan Thomas: "I Hire Badasses"

Not the best quote I might have chosen but it leaps out at you.

Jordan Thomas is my favourite developer. Even beyond anyone at Valve, the lads at Introversion or any of the Old Guard. As a student games designer, I live by the pull-out quote from his interview with Kieron Gillen: "I want my scares to leave scars." He made my two most favourite games levels ever: Thief 3's Shalebridge Cradle and BioShock's Fort Frolic. And now he's heading up development of BioShock 2 at 2k Marine. Who knows what he'll do next.

So I am getting great pleasure out of reading Alec Meer's interview with Jordan Thomas on EuroGamer. I should get right back to it, not quite finished it, and you should check it out yourself.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Batman Returns (Again): Akham Asylum 2 Announced

As if we didn't see it coming.

Batman: Arkham Asylum is almost certainly my Game of the Year and given the mountains of praise heaped upon it and the buckets of money it made (presumably, I have no details on that matter) it's no surprise that a sequel has been announced.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Black Mesa Source Delayed

For the past six years, almost immediately after Half-Life 2 was released, a dedicated team of modders have been working to reproduce the reproduce and update the 1998 original in the source engine. Better visuals, more architecturally complex levels than maintain the flow and feel of the originals but essentially the world-shattering game as it would appear had it been made with more recent technology.

That mod, named Black Mesa (previously known as 'Half-Life: Source' and 'Black Mesa: Source), is perhaps the most awaited mod of gaming history and has already been in development for longer than Half-Life 2 itself. It has now come to light that its 'committed' release date of before the end of 2009 has been delayed.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Team Fortress 2 - WAAAARRRR!!!

Hey, waddya know, it DOES mean war!

Further to the teasing hints released previously, Valve have announced the release of a special double-class update featuring the Soldier and the Demoman.

The War Update, as it is known, will give both class a three new weapons and one class with get a special, as yet unknown fourth weapon. The question is which one? That depends on who kills the most of the opposing class in the next three days. For example, should more Soldiers kill Demomen than visa versa, they will be given the fourth weapon and visa versa.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Say Hello To My TF2 Friend!

Or: You Do Of Course Realise This Means War?

Mymymymy, what have we here? Cruella DeVille watching over nine sets of lethally opposed twins divided by what colour clothes their mummy's made them wear? Well, perhaps, but it is definitely also our first official look at the omnipresent MC 2Fort, the Administrator (previously known as the Announcer).

Stargate Resistance - Like a Giant Super Conductor?

Troubled developers Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment, creators of the up-coming MMO Stargate Worlds, have announced a new over-the-shoulder class-based deathmatch game set in the Stargate universe (small 'u').

Stargate Resistance (SGR) promises to let players play as the airmen and marines of the SGC fighting against a resurgent Goa'uld force (the Big Bads that got royally kicked in the final seasons and made-for-TV movies of Stargate SG-1). There are six classes, presumably three side, and a range of weapons familiar to anyone who's seen the series.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

I'm The (Stephen) King of the Castle! - Discordia

To my great shame and regret I have never read Stephen King's The Dark Tower series. There they sat on the rotating display of short horror and sci-fi books in my secondary school's library and for all those years I never once picked them up. (The same thing happened with Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and other staples of modern graphic novel culture).

I'm A Bad Man (An Apology)

It's true, I'm awful. Unprofessional, undependable, un...  uh, unbelievable and unhygienic.

So yes, I've not posted since *cough* 27th October (my, has it been that long?) and I never did deliver that The Void review I promised, nor written reviews for the games I've played since then such as Dragon Age and Batman: Arkham Asylum, nor have I even so much as posted links to interesting articles written by much wiser and older men and women than I.

Yet, to my eternal disbelief, StatCounter kindly informs me that some of you have actually been checking this site even up to today. For that I say "Thank you, thank you for your faith and interest good Sirs and Madams" and add "Why?!"

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Live (Action) By The Creed: Assassin's Creed 2 Webseries

The PR machine for Assassin's Creed 2 ramped up its efforts today with the release of the first part in an on-going, live action webseries detailing the cloak-and-dagger exploits of the father, Giovanni, of the game's main character, Ezio Auditore.

It looks really very interesting just by itself, using a blend of live-action, green-screen backgrounds (a technique pioneered online by the web-then-TV-series Sanctuary) and fully CG footage from the game's other trailers. This episode is 14 minutes long and we can expect at least two more before they complete telling the story.

You can catch the short trailer for Legacy below the jump, and see the first episode HERE.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Going Underground (Again, And In Moscow)

Take an ounce of vault-dwelling hero thrust into the greater world from Fallout, a kilogram of subterranean network of subway train tunnels from Hellgate: London and all the grit, bleak horror and vodka you can extract from a serving of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., mix it all together and you might come out with something that strongly resembles Metro 2033, THQ's newly announced post-apocalyptic shooter from their Ukranian developers, 4A Games.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

World of Goo for £X.XX

Late to the party as always, I can reveal to you that 2D Boy's wonderful, delightful physics and hilarity game World of Goo is now available for... well, whatever you want/can afford! This is in celebration of WoG's first birthday - has it really been that long? My, how it's grown.

Get over to its site immediately - just be sure to offer at least 50p, else my understand is that 2D boy will lose money because of the transaction fee charged by PayPal. And we don't want that!


Thursday, 8 October 2009

Korsakovia (So You've Decided To Become a Lunatic)

Late to the party it seems. I had meant to play Korsakovia immediately upon its release on 20th Sept but what with starting uni it got pushed back and then forgotten until now. So I am fresh to this but the world is not - perhaps most of you too are unfamiliar with it. The rest of you, take the day off.

(Korsakovia concept art by Ben Andrews)

Korsakovia is the new mod for Half-Life 2 from games research group thechineseroom. Like their previous work, Korsakovia is intended as an experiment in games design, this time specifically in 'madness, reality and the end of the world' and 'in seeing just how far you can push things'.

Monday, 5 October 2009

FATALE - Released, Pseudo-Review

Very last on Monday night, FATALE (creators' capitalisation) was released to a small but expectant audience. It is the third commercial release from Belgian developers Tale of Tales who you might remember for delivering Red Riding Hood tale The Path. It is an 'interactive vignette' based around the Biblical tale of the young dancing girl who called for the head of John the Baptist and jumping off from Oscar Wilde's interpration, the play Salome.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Why Do You Play What You Play?

Through the wonders of the Twitter I have been directed to an interesting little personality test of sorts for gamers. BrainHex is intended to help 'study the reasons why players enjoy different gaming experiences'. You just answer a couple of pages of short questions and they tell you what kind of gamer you are (Daredevil, Seeker, Mastermind etc).

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Clan Mentality - Thrill of the Kill in UT2k4

New Scientist magazine has published a poorly titled article describing what most of us already knew though we may not have consciously examined it before. It describes how gamers, when playing popular multiplayer action game Unreal Tournament 2004 again first an opposing team of strangers and then against their own friends, display markedly raised testosterone levels after a victory in the first condition but lower levels in the second. Simply put - defeating faceless enemies is more physically exciting than defeating your companions.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Let's Go Fly a House!

Up through the atmosphere, up where the air is clear! Oh, let's go... fly a house!

Higher! is one of the those games that you'll just start playing to see what it's like and when you next look up your clock appears to have jumped an hour or two.

Friday, 18 September 2009

My Influence is Spreading

Shockingly, several days ago I received a pleasant email from Ben Barone-Nugent, editor of the games criticism site Touché Bitches. He invited me to write an article for the site and this is the result: a wall of text on the complexity/simplicity dichotomy of modern games and where the medium is heading in the future.

I invite you all to go give it a read, and while you're at it check out the rest of Touché Bitches. It may be relatively quiet at the moment but I have a sneaking suspicion it will quickly pick up steam.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Alice is Dead (Long Live the Red Queen)

Especially if she's being played by Helena Bonham Carter.

What is it with creatives - games designers, graphic novel artists, film makers - and reinventing the drug fuelled nightmares of one Charles Lutwidge Dodgson? Wikipedia lists a simply ludicrous amount of works adapted from or inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass and it shows no sign of stopping now.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Kotaku: Race and Games Discussion

No, not the 100 metres at the London Olympics.

Kotaku yesterday (on Monday) posted an intelligent and thoroughly well prepared article on the 'Non-White Gamer's Experience', or more specifically on the lack of non-white protagonists. Author Owen Wood has interviewed a variety of games commentators who feel less then well catered for and come to some well reasoned, if controversial, conclusions on the matter. Best that you go read the article in its entirety. The comments at the bottom are particularly revealing about the attitudes of the wider gaming populace - largely that it doesn't matter ...

And , as I started to read the article, I felt the same way. Race for me has always been something of a non-issue. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't in the past noticed a character or person's race, but after they open their mouth their personality is a far greater factor in my understand and opinion of them. The nearest thing to race that has a major influence from my perspective is culture or possibly sub-culture and, besides, few games characters have felt particularly 'white', whatever that means. (Mostly they're stereotypes of other sorts: the Dennis Nedry-like obese computer genius from FEAR, the insecure man-child obsessed with comic book merchandise from Max Payne 2).

As I read on through the article, however, I came to realise that characters' race does matter but only as part of a greater issue - a need for a wider variety of compelling characters that aren't stereotypes (and not stereotypes of white western males either). Two, maybe three* examples of well written black males in the history of video games and maybe only twice as many women of any race is a pretty awful track record.

But how would I, as a white middle class western male, begin to fairly and believably write and portray in computer graphics anyone from any significantly different background without falling back on stereotypes and cliché? I can only hope to do them justice by carefully studying people around me but it has got to be better when a development team is formed from a wide range of people with different backgrounds, cultural heritages and experiences of people.

This isn't about about implicit prejudice. It isn't even about race or lack of representation. It's about sheer lack of variety and adequate attention to design.

* By my reckoning: Charlie (The Longest Journey and Dreamfall), CJ (GTA: San Andreas) and that guy from Farhrenheit/Indigo Prophecy

Thursday, 10 September 2009

It's Good To Be Bad

But I wanted to be the Big Bad!

Lately - by which I mean over the past several months - I have been increasingly ludologically indulging my more villainous personality traits. I started with Overlord but oppressing a land of gamboling 'sheepies' and peasants who demanded I pop down to the shops for them quickly grew tiresome no matter how awesome the tower the job came with. I considered seeking out a true castle with Neverwinter Nights 2 but I couldn't stand playing through all that again. Mass Effect came and went - when the 'evil' choice equates to 'be a dick' there is little fun to be had.

Finally the penny dropped. What better game to choose but one who's very title is only spitting distance from Anti-Christ: The Game and just a quick jog around the corner from My Year With a Sucubbus.

If you're not familiar with the plot of Dark Messiah the basics are this: you are an orphan born in mysterious circumstances (probably) tasked my your Master to assist in delivering a powerful crystal to a wizard in a distant city. To aide you in your task a spirit - showing rather too much cleavage to be believed - is bound to you, to speak as a voice in your head. It soon becomes clear however that things are a little more complicated than that - you are the Dark Messiah, the son of a great and poweful demon and prophesied to herald the end of the world as we know it. Naturally the spirit is more than exactly what she appears to be and is a sucubbus.

(That's not the sucubbus)

Anyhoo, there is... essentially no oppertunity to make a moral decision either way until the very end at which point I became exceedingly confused. Besides a terrible bit of game design where I had to consult a walkthrough just to realise the simplest way through a knot is with a sharp blade (or a few fireballs I had neglected to learn until that point) it was the ending choices and cinematics themselves that left be scrabbling for an explanation amongst the internet.

You see, once you reach the end and defeat the final boss you have a choice to either free your demon sire or keep him locked in his magical prison. Yet I could have sworn blind, and still would if not for evidence to the contrary, that the first time I had completed Dark Messiah I had left my 'father' to rot within his prison or destroyed him outright and taken his place as the great arch demon in charge of the legions of hell itself and, soon, the entire world!

My own early-early-early-onset senility not with standing, this does not seem like how a game should end. If you choose the 'good' ending it makes the potential rise of the Dark Messiah a damp squib. If you choose the 'evil' ending, all the glory is taken by Daddy. Excuse me but when I have just finished a 10-hour slog through legions of the zombies, hordes of goblinoids and taken out half a dozen monstrous beasts including cylocpss and dragons both alive and undead I want to feel on top of the world! I want to feel as if I am the greatest, most powerful and most influential being in the story world. Instead I am forced to stand in the shadow of the one whom it had been heavily hinted I would have the oppertunity to overthrow? NO!

On a more general note, games are missing a trick if they do not explore the experience of being the bad guy or dangerously morally grey. This should not be limited to having evil options in roleplaying games, or campy wallpapering of old ideas like Dungeon Keeper or Overlord - as great as they were. Imagine playing Silence of the Lambs from Lecter's perspective; playing word games with an investigator while dropping enough hints to give them a chance. Imagine playing an action-packed super-budget shooter where you are subtly given more and more extreme and more uncomfortable targets - perhaps you are asked to use a rocket launcher to take out a minaret above a mosque where people may be praying or taking refuge. Your commanding officer doesn't mention it, you have to think for yourself. How far would you go? Would you want to play a game dealing with problems like this?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Run to the (pix)hiiiiills! Run for high sco-or-ores!

Or: An Ode to Running Games

There is a growing sub-genre of game. Is it is a sub-genre of the first-person shooter or of platformers? I guess that depends upon the specific example but in general we can call them runners. A few examples? Most well known would by Mirror's Edge by DICE which was the first - and so far only - mainstream game to be based almost entirely around running (or more accurately motion). In the land of free indie developments there are the much-loved Fancy Pants Adventures by Brad Borne (who EA tapped to produce Mirror's Edge 2D) and AdamAtomic's recently released Canabalt.

Any game involves movement from A to B but in most cases this is just a transition between two moments of action. Where these games excel is the impetus - demanded or implied - to just keep moving. The physicality and the sheer velocity are intoxicating. In the case of Canabalt or Dino Run's forced movement, the action is especially nail biting - if only you had time to lift your fingers from the keyboard to bite them. Or maybe you just bite one hand... whatever.

Can we expect to see more of these games? I certainly hope so - Mirror's Edge in particular brought a whole new set of toys to a genre that has been growing tired and stale. If developers and publishers have any sense, they will be working on implementing free-running into their own products.

The variety allowed by the third dimension, greater level design and extended game experiences means mainstream games could be the place where running, jumping, sliding and all that really makes an impact. With flash games perhaps it is just a limited imagination but I can only see people retreading the same exact mechanics with different coats of paint. Please someone prove me wrong.

Are there any other motion-centric games you thing I should have included? Is there anything you have particular enjoyed?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Tag: Paint-'em-up Platformer

Huzzah, I have returned (for now at least). Something new and fresh has hauled me out of my listlessness and back into the world of semi-trained quasi-professional games journalism.

Tag: The Power of Paint is a smart little first person platformer which uses colour to adjust the physical properties of surfaces - green to bounce, red to run fast, blue to stick to walls. It is a little confusing at first but, like any new feature, it quickly becomes second nature. The available game itself is short, maybe a leisurely 20 minutes or so, but this is clearly a proof-of-concept more than a fully fledged experience.

Developed by seven games students for DigiPen, Tag has already found critical acclaim with the award for Best Student Game at this year's Independant Games Festival. This puts it in good company with, among a great many other far less famous games, Narbacular Drop - the little DigiPen game that caught the eye of Valve and eventually became Portal.

Comparisons with the gaming world's cake-obsessed idol are invitable. Perhaps sadly, like portal-based platforming, Tag's core gameplay has a severely limited range of uses. If we are lucky, some developer will incorporate elements of it into a quirky or particularly moving and novel free-running game. Alternatively, it could be be forgotten. At least we still have this little rough gem to play with.

We will just have to wait and see.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Homework Assignment

There's been no new articles for a while and they may not be for another week because this is the end of my college year and I'm hurrying to get work finished before that another 36 weeks completely wasted. I may just get to university this year.

So while I'm working my keyboard into a fine oily dust, I have a homework assignment for you. You are to read Kieron Gillen's famous manifesto (not his word, but it applies) The New Games Journalism. It is the origin of the term New Games Journalism and a statement of intent for five years of personal, subjective articles from games enthusiasts and commentators. Required reading for anyone even tangentally interested in writing about games or people who write about games.

Responses on my desk by next week's lesson. (Just kidding, unless I decide to do a regular column highlighting key writings... we'll see)

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

PEGI Chosen Over BBFC

I never would have believed it...

The popular Pan-European Game Industry has been declared the sole legal ratings authority for video games in the United Kingdom after a long run battle against the British Board of Film Classificiation.

This is held as Good News by games enthusiasts. PEGI is well respected across the industry, known for understanding the nuances of interactive entertainment. If you've looked on the back of a games box in the past five years or so, you'll recognise their grey and white age rating graphics (though now I look at their site, they appear to have added some colour) and pictographic ones indicating elements such as discrimination, drug use, horror and violence.

This comes as something of a shock after the Byron Report last year strongly recommended to the government that the BBFC take a greater role in games ratings. Previously they were only regularly involved with games that PEGI had already rated as suitably only for people aged 18 and up, at which point the BBFC was merely confirming what was already self-evident.

Now there is consensus on who is responisble for rating games in the UK, bringing it in line with much of Europe, the average consumer can be confident of being clear and confident on what they will find in the games they buy.

[Via Gamasutra]

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Hand In The Collecting Plate: Religion in Thief Analysed

The Escapist has a collection of articles addressing religion in games this week. One in particular caught my eye: Robbing Gods, in which Will Hindmarch examines the role of religion (churches, faith, dogma etc) and Religion (as a theme) in the Thief games.

It's an interesting - if regretably short - read that covers how Looking Glass use the little details of the series' factions (Hammerites, Pagans and Keepers) to suggest a wider world and involve the player emotionally and intellectually in it.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Seal Clubbing For Evillness - Overlord 2 Demo Released

The sequal to Codemasters' 2007 evil adventure game, Overlord, is soon to be released and in unusually punctual timing, a demo has been released.

It appears to be the tutorial level from the full game and its lack of the good stuff makes my soul die a little. It features only the most rudimentary elements of the game with a sprinkling of the flavour you can expect - madcap minions and pathetic Greenpeace-like elves - while missing out the stuff that's actually good about the Overlord series: the Overlord's tower, the multi-minion puzzles, the sense of power. Particularly lacking is any of the new Domination/Destruction choices, where you define you personal type of evil through actions.

Bah, I'll be buying it anyway. It's just depressing that they release just a pathetic demo. And I'll probably be buying the spin-offs Overlord: Dark Legend (Wii) and Overlord: Minions (DS) too, just cause I find the games' brand of slapstick British humour and the oppertunities for evil very entertaining.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Wheels on the Bot Go Whhiirrrrr

A pleasent little adventure story has appeared in my field of view. Little Wheel, by One Click Dog, is short but sweet. Simple but expressive art and fun little jazz music tops of an enjoyable experience. Just don't go looking for any 'game' challenge.

The Path Gets a Prologue

It's not a demo, it's a prologue apparently.

If you're any kind of friend of mine you'll probably have got bored of me twittering on about Tale of Tales' delightful but horrific little independant game The Path. This interactive experience tells an intentionally obscure and confusing story in the Red Riding Hood fashion - six Little Red-like sisters are each sent in turn off to Grandmother's house and told to stay off the path. When they inevitably don't... well, I'll leave you to find out for yourself.

And now Tale of Tales have given up a prologue to The Path. It's simple, it's short and there's nothing really to do but it gives you a taste of the full games' style. Download it if you're unsure of it working on your computer - shouldn't be a problem for most people - but I recommend just going ahead and buying the full thing right away.

Download the prologue (PC or Mac) or just take the plunge and buy it ($10/£7.25/€7.90).

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Talking About 'Talking About These'

You might have seen some of Daniel Floyd's games design videos on his YouTube channel. This animation student has earned himself quite a following and a reputation for intelligent and entertaining video-lectures. They're all suitable for non-gamers, too, without being at all dumbed down which is quite a feat.

Anyway, Floyds has himself a new Blogspot blog, Talking About These. He's already got a couple of thought pieces up there. I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes a favourite blog of many - keep your eye on it.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Art Imitating Life - Rendition: Guantanamo Closed

It seems insensitively advertised current events game Rendition: Guantanamo has been cancelled due to a media back-lash

Sure it looks like it's going to be awful and is has terrible presentation but its existance shouldn't be denied because of what equates to Angry Internet Men with a public face talking out of their asses. These commentators are speaking their assumptions as if they were fact and in some cases plain lying. It's incredible that anyone is listening to this without doing their own research.

Most gauling is the phrase 'The game is obviously political,' as if games are not allowed to contain political elements. Regardless of whether or not it is true, it is a worrying attitude.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Professional of Venice: Assassin's Creed 2 Trailer

More E3 shennanigans, and here we have the new trailer for Ubisoft Montreal's Assassin's Creed 2. It will most likely also be the game's intro video.

It's our first look of the new protagonist in action - Ezio Auditore di Firenze, a 15th century Venetian assassin noble-man and another of Desmond's ancestors. The action shows off a few of his new tricks such as disarming opponants and using their weapons against them and Ezio's special gear.

[Thanks IGN]

EDIT: And here we have a gameplay video, showing off some new tricks and new enemy behaviour. 

Via Kotaku.

Alan, Wake Up

Yeah, I fail at titles. [And Blogspot fails at posting - this is the second time I'm writing this :( ]

So it is that time of the year again: E3 2009 is on. Games journos and enthusiasts descend upon LA to pervert developer's carefully scripted conversations, see new trailers and attend lots of parties (the dirty stop-outs).

The first bit of news to catch my attention, being stuck half a world away as I am, is the demonstration of Remedy's Alan Wake on the Microsoft stage.

So we get to see some of the interesting torch-based combat and the pretty lighting effects on show. What we're not getting much of is the story: Stephen-King-a-like Alan Wake moves to a quiet little town where his writings become reality. A little corny, sure, but it'll be interesting to see how it turns out.

[Thanks GameTrailers!]

Frozen Monkey Balls! New Old Monkey Island

Is it my birthday? It must me birthday, because I just got the greatest news. Lucasarts is returning to point-and-click adventures with a remake of the seminal Secret of Monkey Island, the game that made me a games player. Fancy graphics in the same style as the original, all new voice acting with the original cast, re-jiggered music and sound effects but all with the same actual game? Yes please!

More than that, they're chummying up with Telltale Games - the guys who reinvented Sam & Max and Wallace & Grommit - to bring us five new Guybrush Threepwood adventures, the Tales of Monkey Island. Not so excited about this as Telltale's work has always seemed very bland but who's to argue with more Monkey?!

And for your musical entertainment and auditory pleasure, I bring you the gentleman known as w3sp playing his interpretation of the Monkey Island 1 & 2 tunes. Lovely stuff.

[Via RPS]

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Valve 'Would Love TF2 Movie'

You've got to love the Meet the Team videos. Seriously, it's like a law or something. Valve have been lovingly crafting them since Team Fortress 2 came out in Oct 2007 and each has been a blast and a technical improvement upon the last. Each player has their favourite: personally mine is Meet the Sniper simply for its last line, though Meet the Spy is clearly the most detailed work.

Anyway, the point is Kotaku have a few quotes from Valve's writer Erik Wolpow and desinger on TF2 Robin Walker that you should read. Among them are some insights on the origins of Meet the Team, statement of desire for a TF2 movie or short and a reitteration of plans for a TF2 comic (which seemed to pass me by the first time).

With Meet the Spy, Valve have shown what they can do with three minutes twenty seconds. To be honest, I believe even a relatively short film at 90 minutes would be pushing their creative ability and I know they don't have the time for it. To make it viable, Valve would either have to hand it over to someone like Pixar, who have plenty of experience and resources to make full length digital animation, or create a whole new branch of their company to handle the project.

So a full length movie of Team Fortress 2 is pretty much out of the question. But a ten minute short is absolutely plausible. Even better for Valve, it could be a source of revenue. Just sell it on Steam and iTunes, maybe to specialist short film TV channels. Wouldn't even have to charge people much for it, given the huge fan base Valve have. Yeah, so keep your fingers crossed for hot RED on BLU action.

Of Journalism and Bitmob

RPS's regular Sunday Papers article (collecting interesting bits of news and writings from the previous week that haven't warrented a post of their own) pointed me in the direction of this article by Mike Suszek about how young games journalists (like me, I guess) are not getting the best help in developing the skills and getting into journalism.

What was more interesting, though, was the site this article was hosted on. "Bitmob? What's this?" I asked myself. Checking the About page I see it is a place for games enthusiasts and wanna-be journos to publish whatever smart or creative thoughts they have for public view. 
'We want Bitmob to be the best place for great content creators to build a reputation and get noticed -- by their peers, by our staff, and by the big world outside of Bitmob.'
Which all seems rather intriguing. And I wonder, should I give it a shot posting there? Perhaps just an article or two, showing the best pieces from this blog? Or maybe write things specifically for Bitmob, then link to them from here?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

BioShock 2 Has Bees (And Other Facts)

Gamasutra has an interview with two of the people working on BioShock 2 at 2K Marin - Executive Producer Alyssa Finley who worked on the previous game and newcomer, but Lead Designer, Zak McClendon.

It is interesting, expansive and above all long. The discuss building the team, player's choice, variety of plasmids and tactics, the quantity of bees we can expect and that dredded 'I'-word... immersion.

Anyhoooo... go read.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Assassin's Creed Retrospective

Well, I say retrospective only because *checks - oh good grief* something like 19 months after the release is a little late for a review. So what if I only just got around to playing it.

So, Assassin's Creed is a stabby-stabby, runny-runny game that fits snugly into the spot on a Ven diagram between Prince of Persia, Thief, Mirror's Edge and surprisingly Deus Ex. It tells the story of Crusades-era Hashshashin Altair (Alt-eye-ear) as remembered by his modern day descendant, Desmond.

Coming to this game I knew to expect some measure of combat, hiding in plain sight and free running and Assassin's Creed delivered. Combat feels brutal and fluid, blades clanging off one another and sweeping around into flesh in graceful arcs and claret impalements without feeling excessive. While it is easy to hold Altair in a defensive stance and counter each attack, it is more fun to mix up the moves - attack, parry, grab and throw into a market stall or off a 30 foot high roof, whatever takes your fancy.

The hiding mechanic was completely new to gaming in 2007 and I don't believe it's been used since. When overwhelmed or if you simply have better things to do than slaughter the city guard, you take off through the city streets and over the roofs. When you're out of sight of your dogged pursuers, you can dive into a stack of hay, hide yourself amongst a group of wandering scholars or just take a breather on a municipal bench until they give you up as lost.

And the fleeing is the best bit of all that. Altair crosses the city skyline in leaps and bounds, scrambling over shingle, bouncing from beam to beam or if all else fails careening through the milling crowds. It's every bit as exhilarating as it should be and by the end is only limited by the extent of the city walls. Parkour becomes absolutely necessary when you explore new areas of each of the three major cities - in order to extend your handy map every few streets you have to climb to high view points - church towers, minarets - and even on minimal settings the view is often breathtaking. Of course, when you're all that way up it's a bugger to get down again so Assassin's Creed generously provides you with carts of hay in which to swan dive.

In the Director's Cut edition, prior to each of the game's nine assassinations you have to complete at least 2 of 6 intelligence-gathering tasks. These, in addition to many optional fights and view-point objectives, are why some players have called it repetitive. True enough but I found that the completionist urge in me and the desire to see the next hit and continue the story was more than enough for me to complete every objective (except the obnoxiously difficult find-all-the-flags tasks).

I'd already heard about the complaints of repetative gameplay. What no one had told me was just how fascinating the story is, or how wonderfully morally grey every action and event is. Each execution is book-ended by conversation with the soon-to-dead and the dying where each one of them justifies their actions. They all believe that whatever actions they take ultimately serve to better mankind and ensure peace. This is not the Us vs. Them blandness I have come to expect from AAA games - both Altair and myself became uncertain about our actions and the whole sorry mess of things across the Holy Land. There came a point when I asked myself 'Am I the baddie here?' and even after the end I'm not entirely sure I know either way.

As mentioned, the whole Altair story is wrapped up in Desmond's memory. An ex-assassin, now an average Joe bartender, he is kidnapped by a cutting-edge corporation and his memories used for their own means. Desmond it seems is much slower on the uptake than most players must be and spends much of the time clueless to the big twist seen coming a mile off. Still his times in the real world with the single-minded evil genius and the sympathetic assistant are interesting enough. Generally I'd prefer some choice over my dialogue but I can see that's not the kind of game the devs were trying to make.

Overall I can definitely recommend giving Assassin's Creed a shot, preferably on rental on consoles or like me you can pick it up on Steam for about £20. It's a solid action game with plenty of acrobatics, a strong and intriguing story but poor replay potential. I'd love to tell you about the graphics but I can't - I had to turn everything most of the way down. And as for sound... that's probably lovely, too, but it stuttered something awful for me - probably due to my lack of multiple processor cores.

Assassin's Creed should be getting a sequel by the end of the year. I haven't dared look for screenshots or minimum specs yet, for fear of making my computer curl up and die of shame but fingers crossed.

NOTE - Assassin's Creed has just come on sale on Steam at £10 so now's the perfect time to give it a try. Lucky for you, hey? I still paid double that -.-

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Guantanamo: The Game!

Oh God no... I'm... I'm sorry, world. These guys aren't with us.

Some people with apparently no taste and/or sense are making some kind of game based upon the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Rendition: Guantanamo. See the video below for barely moving images of a guy sitting down and possibly the worst plot outline I have ever read.

Clarification: I'm not against games covering touchy or controversial subjects - in fact, I'm all for it, more please - but this looks so unmitigatidly bad and, well, tacky. It's not even attempting to present itself as being anything but a trashy Z-rate cash-in.

[Via RPS]

Michael Samyn: 'Let Games Be Games'

Always a startling and provocative read, Michael Samyn of Tale of Tales (they of Graveyard and The Path) has published a railing opinion piece against, as I understand, what he percieves as the self-constraint and looming stagnation of 'interactive experiences'. 

"... we obsess about making ever more intricate little puzzles, with ever more clever little mechanics to make people feel ever so smart when all they did was follow rules and obey commands. It’s decadent! It’s wasteful! It’s negligent! It’s a shame!"
While I don't share his pessimism, I do understand his concerns. However, s0 long as people like Tale of Tales and Jason Rohrer keep making the experiences they have been making, and other artists join them, there will always be the avante garde and the truly creative in interactive experiences. They may be relegated to the metaphorical art-house theatres and back street art galleries of the internet, but they will exist.

More cinema goers watch Transformers than watch Amelie. More music listeners hear Lily Allen than... any given local band. But that does not mean those are all that exist.

Demos: You're Doing It Wrong

Shamus Young has a new article up at The Escapist on what developers are doing wrong with their demos. I'm not familiar with the Resident Evil 5 demo myself but its apparent failings and Young's thoughts on how demos should work apply to any platform.

It makes for interesting reading (hence why I'm mentioning it here)  and the comments are filled with peoples memories of the best and worst examples of game demos. My personal favourites were Half-Life: Uplink, which gave players a whole new handful of levels to play with, and FEAR which rejugged the first level into something different and fresh.

Your Demo Sucks - Read away.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Dear Esther, Come Back

The unique semi-interactive story-mod Dear Esther is getting a redesign.

Dear Esther is a beautiful 'interactive ghost story' from British games research team thechineseroom, built as a mod for Half-Life 2. Released back in June 08, it drew a mixed response from gamers. Either people adored it for its ingenuity, par less story-telling and powerful mix of the macabre and the curiously mundane or they loathed it for its slow pace, complete absence of action or puzzles and unpolished world design.

As you explore a cold, wind-swepped island in the Outer Hebrides, you listen to the rambling and half-insane memories of some meloncholical visitor to the island. It is never explained who he is, or was, whether you are the narrator or not. The game's (I use the term usely but in the nicest possible manner - the meaning of the word game is a debate I will not go in to here) most imaginative feature is that the pieces of narration you can hear at each point along your travels are each randomly selected from three very different possibilities. The idea is that every player will have a subtly different experience of Dear Esther and perhaps come away with different understandings of the story being told.

The excellent news is that this fascinating piece of experimental gaming is being redesigned from the ground up by professional 3D artist Robert Briscoe, who has previously worked on Mirror's Edge and They Hunger: Lost Souls, the commercial version of the popular Half-Life mod.

Concept art for the project is being provided by talented artist, Ben Andrews, who is apparently new to gaming concept art but what he's done so far has certainly got me very excited.

Check out Ben Andrew's DeviantART gallery here for plenty of pretty pictures. And you'd do well to keep up with Robert Briscoe's devblog here. No info as to when the remake may come out but do yourself a favour and check out the original - if there's a shred of humanity left in you, you won't regret it.


This blogging lark is easy! Let's see just how long I manage to keep it up...

So from a random idea I had not one hour ago, I have already set up a blog. Go me. Why, what's it about and why should you read it?

* Because I want to see if I can and I think it would be good practice and experience at making regular updates.

* PC games , both indie and mainstream. I'll also be talking about videogame culture and hopefully doing some actual pontification and semi-intelligent musings about all sorts of digital interactive entertainment-like ideas.

* The most difficult question to answer. All I can say is because maybe, just maybe, you'll find something I have to say or point you at the tiniest bit interesting. Who knows, I guess we'll find out together.

For that matter, I guess some of you are wondering who the bally heck I am! If you haven't looked to the right yet, let me inform you I am Chris Fox (Kast or Kastanok to the digital world) and I'm a bright little creative spark in the blinding galaxy of creative sparks that is the video games industry and the journalistic universe surrounding it. I hope to eventually become a games designer or games writer but for now games thinker will have to surfice. 

OK, let's get this show on the road!