Thursday, 23 October 2008

Can technology hurt games?

Hypothetically, if you were to take an existing car, stick a bigger engine in it, give it a shinier, sleeker chassis and put a George Foreman grill in the glove box, it would be better, right? Adding stuff to an already great product has got to make it better surely! Just look at Michael Jackson (oh wait…)

A lot of game franchises get butchered these days when the sequel to the original arrives like the ugly child in a pretty family. It does not turn into a beautiful swan and have a fairy tale life, but instead is instead forced to live in the sewers, facing a gauntlet of hate and un-pleasantries.

One thing to blame for these things that should never have been has actually been the advances in technology. The transition from 2D to 3D was too much of a shock to some fantastic game series, and the result caused the later titles to release their bowls and let it seep into the gameplay.

Earthworm Jim was once a mighty character, loved by all for his random adventures, fighting evil goldfish and memorable foes such as Professor Monkey for a head and Queen-Pulsating-Bloated-Festering-Sweaty-Pus-Filled-Malformed-Slug-For-A-Butt. His 2D charms had many glued to their Nintendo systems, loving every minute.

Then Earthworm Jim 3D happened. It was not too much of an abomination for a platform game, but there were horrific camera problems and not much new content that came with the advanced direction. If it had stayed true its roots and was another 2D outing, so much more could have been achieved from it.

On the other hand, a certain portly plumber has done very well through the years, appearing on every Nintendo system to date. To successfully move a character on with advancing technology, it needs to be done with care as a rush job will stick out in history like a saw thumb at a foot convention.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Full Spectrum Bargain

To quote a really bad prostitute, "Just a quick one today" (legal note - said prostitute is imaginary, and I did not stalk the streets of Cheltenham last night looking for that insight).

I thought that people might be interested in knowing that the 2004 hit strategy game Full Spectrum Warrior from Pandemic Studios is now absolutely free. It is available from here and definitely worth a try.

The game sees you in the control of eight soldiers split between two squads. It appears to be a third person shooter, but it is actually a real time strategy game played from this perspective. The player has no direct control over the squads, but instead can order them to move, duck behind cover or shoot in the direction of the bad men. It's like you are in control of a soldier's nagging wife, as they often take a while to respond to your orders. There should be an audible 'yes dear' with every mouse click the amount of time they take sometimes.

The fact that there are two squads also makes for some interesting game play tactics, such as drawing the fire with one batch of men, whilst sneaking the others round the back route. It is a fantastic game and there is no other series out there that quite does it like this one.

The game maybe free, but it will definitely make you decide if you want a coke, or if you want to blow up the coca-cola headquarters, as it insists in cramming a thirty second advert for it down your throat at every turn. If you take too many bullets to the face and want to get back in the action, the last thing you want is to have a fizzy drink advert pressed into your eyes.

It is still techinically a free game though, so you can't really lose.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Spore - Flowery hats edition

Electronic Arts are playing their favourite game again, ‘flog the dead horse’, only this time, the marketing people are pummelling a pony fresh from the womb. Recently released create ‘em up, Spore, from developer Maxis is already receiving an expansion pack in November titled ‘cute and creepy parts pack’. The alliteration in the name already makes for a catchy title, but is EA about to repeat the Sims marketing strategy on the gaming public?

Whilst I intended to make a bit of a snipe at Spore with the title of this blog, it has occurred to me that flowery hats could in fact be a new addition to the ‘cute’ side of the game. Of course, being EA, they will probably go on to churn out as many products as they can related to Spore until a true sequel comes out, at which point they will rinse and repeat.

The Sims for example, had a series of seven expansion packs after the original was released which included the titles ‘The Sims: Hot Date’ and ‘The Sims: Unleashed’. These let your Sims go out on dates and also adopt pets (thankfully, not allowing a hybrid of the two ideas) amongst other things.

The Sims 2 then came out, and over a period of three years or so, brought another eight expansions with it. Your virtual people could now go to university and experience different states of weather. To go with this immense money churning machine was the arrival of ‘stuff packs’. There are currently nine of these, with the tenth arriving in November. Rather curiously, the ninth edition was the ‘IKEA Home Stuff’ collection that let you cover your dream house in affordable Swedish flat pack furniture. Why anyone would want to do this in a dream situation is a bit odd, as those of us who own IKEA products often bought them as the bitter grief of real life forced us to compromise somewhere.

Maybe Spore will have a different fate, only having a few expansions that are all meaningful and don’t just mean that your creatures can now order pizza and experience online dating. With the same people at the helm who made the Sims however, it does not look like it will deviate from this big money spinning route.

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Wii games, a graphical compromise?

With Nintendo’s small white box currently in a bit of a dry spell for games which appeal to the majority of people who consider themselves gamers, looking back there have been some real gems. The latest of these Nintendo classics that saw a UK release was probably Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which rather interestingly, did not take advantage of the one trick pony’s main gimmick, motion controls.

The unique way of controlling the majority of the games was probably the biggest selling point, along with an appealing low initial price tag. Now that the console war is in full swing though, the mighty Playstation 3 powerhouse is getting graphics that are clearer than a nun’s conscience, whilst the Wii has to make do with a lesser sense of prettiness. Two major games, one just released and another on the horizon highlight this point excellently.

Star Wars: The force Unleashed is on multiple platforms and sees the player control Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, hacking up everything with his lightsaber. Since the first thing I thought would be cool when reading about a motion controller was swinging around an imaginary deadly beam of light, I was rather excited at the idea. Unfortunately, the Wii graphics make each character look like a wire frame model coloured in with a paintball gun. When compared to the PS3’s, real life challenging, graphics of beauty (unsurprisingly used in every advertisement for the game), it makes you wonder if replacing a button press with a wrist waggle was really worth it.

It is a similar story to Call of Duty: World at War coming out on November 15. The trade off here however is a little easier to swallow. Instead of being forced to aim with a control pad nub, you simply point at the screen with the Wii remote just as if it were a really weapon. Of course it is obvious that the bright white, light weight, TV remote look a like could never be anything like holding a gun, but pointing something where you want to shoot just feels more natural than flicking a little analogue stick.

Unfortunately for the Wii, the motion controls are best suited to certain games, but due to the way the video game market works, there are a lot of games where they are no more than a novelty. The Wii is designed to be fun for everyone, but a lot of us still feel a bit shunned by the universal audience approach. You can never please everyone.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Nintendo trying to win friends?

My on going adventure into learning the internet has expanded a bit more as I have just purchased the domain name This means that it is a much more snazzy, more memorable address for those who want to access this piece of educated rambling. On the flipside of this, should the blog suddenly implode and be inaccessible temporarily, I have pressed the wrong button, and am frantically beavering away to rectify the unintended state of purgatory.

Speaking of the internet has made me think, how great is it really? Information at your finger tips sure is handy, but handy does not always mean good. Hearing about a bleak world ten times quicker than you would have done a decade ago, just means that people can get unhappier faster. A rather pessimistic approach perhaps, but it seems to be the way Nintendo has been playing for the past six months. After a disappointing E3 line up, that actually made the concept of playing catch with the Wii seem more enjoyable than playing the newly announced games, Nintendo needed a big hook to pull us back.

Well, they sort of have. As was posted the morning it was announced, Nintendo are bringing out a few surprises that will please more die hard fans, than the current waves of 'casual gamers'. A new Pikmin has been announced, possibly for the Wii, that should please the wide audience it found back in 2001. Along with this another DS has crawled out of the shadows to join the current two models in the form of the DSi. Larger screens, a slimmer profile, camera and SD card reader make this new edition stand out from it's older and slightly overweight siblings. It may just be a way for Nintendo to squeeze even more money out of the successful console, but it is not a bad thing if more people are thinking of joining the craze. It may be worth holding off buying a DS Lite until this comes out to take advantage of the added shininess.

The last piece of news delivered just after it happened was the slightly more disappointing 'Enjoy With Wii' collection. Basically the classics of yesteryear mangled and regurgitated with Wii controls and a new box. This digital recycling jobby is rather a let down for the self crowned 'hardcore' audience, who are demanding new and exciting titles. It almost seems as if Nintendo is stalling for time. Hopefully the future holds a more promising outlook, but for now we'll have to make do.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A change of direction

First of all, apologies for another late blog. Hopefully the technical problems I have been facing are now cleared up, and I have a healthy computer again. As you may or may not know, this blog, as well as being a place for me to hammer out ideas about the gaming world, is also part of my print journalism course. This post will be the marker from where I will be assessed I believe, so just to mark the occasion, I have put a nice image of my mug, proper column like. It is also black and white so that I look professional/arty/like an unoriginal arse who thinks that it is being different.

The regular Wednesday posting slot will be dropped in favour of more entries throughout the week, keeping you more up to date with gaming news and features.

The world of games journalism is an interesting one to say the least. The girls, the money, the power, the free time and all of the other things that do not come with the job are traded off for the opportunity to sit at a desk for nine hours a day, basking in the glow of a monitor. As any career in the journalistic field will show, the perks come out of the blue in the guise of fun stories and opportunities. It is a very unpredictable, but usually satisfying job that can take you anywhere.

Take PC Zone for example. I had the pleasure of meeting the team on a work experience placement, but just the other day, three of them tendered their notices. One of the guys got a job offer in New York and the other two have now gone freelance. All will still contribute, but in a different, less hands on kind of way. Is this a good thing? New blood might be refreshing, but everyone was comfortable with the old style.

Is it a case that the working conditions after a budget cut felt like a little bit too much? Or is it just a natural career progression? Only the individuals will know these answers for sure, but it has shaken my perspective a bit. Is in house the way to go, settling in and trying to carve a niche in an established piece of work. Perhaps freelancing, being your own boss and sticking your fingers in as many different pies as possible is the way to go about it. It certainly works well for many people such as Terry Pratchett’s daughter, Rhianna, a former journalist turned games writer, who occasionally does freelance games journalism.

Whatever route a games journalist goes down, they all eventually cross over at some point, like the London Underground, only with a friendlier atmosphere, like anything above the inner circle of hell. Journalists meet up, trade stories, talk to the same people and develop a network of useful contacts and generally nice people. It is a job about pursuing what you love, and going above and beyond the call of duty to get it. Also playing games.