29 Oct 2008

Small Child of Persia

Here's an interesting look at what started off the whole motion-capture scene in gaming and, more importantly, the fantastically original (original) Prince of Persia games. Taped by the older brother, Jordan Mechner, you can have the pleasure of watching a genius at work and... a little boy running around in his pajamas.



1up recently posted this and it's too good a piece of late eighties gaming nostalgia to miss. Just to know what came of it all and how we are where we are now. If you're interested in what the hell is going on, Metchner made these videos so that he could render the pixels in the game as an entirely lifelike and groundbreakingly fluid game character. It was a technical marvel at the time and if you haven't previously been aware of it's existence or are just after a nostalgia kick in the nuts then check out this fancy browser-based remake.

The new Prince of Persia game is to be released soonish and if it's anywhere near as entertaining as watching this footage then it will be a great game. Oh, I know... it'll probably just be okay...

23 Oct 2008

Too busy to post anything other than a post to say I'm too busy to post...

Just a quick post to disclose what's on the blogging agenda for next week as I'm entirely bogged down with playing these games. I know, life is awful...

You can grab both of the demos via the links below:



MULTIWINIA

There's going to be a lot more reviewing over the coming weeks due to the massive influx of games at the moment, but I'll try and keep up with the occasional news snippet. Stay tuned for fun with percentages...

22 Oct 2008

What could have been... Fallout 3

So as the day on which Bethesda unleashes Fallout 3 into our lives inches closer, I figured it's time to reflect on what our PC gaming brothers and sisters of the netherworld might be anticipating at around this point in their own time-line. You know, them over there in their fancy-schmance alternate universe where they'll probably have computer monitors implanted into their eyeballs by now or something. Oh and Fallout 3 would have been developed by Black Isle Studios, the creator of all those credible and incredible RPGs. Still, I'm not here to have a dig at Fallout 3 (or the parallel plains of existence), because from this point on I will not pass judgement until I have played the thing. Plus, PC Gamer magazine did reward it with 90% in this month's edition, citing it as 'worthy of the name' so there must be something there. I have faith. I will endeavour to look positively upon this game.

Anyway, right back on the point. Thinking about all this reminded me of the tech demo created way back when, prior to the Black Isle project being cancelled. It was released about a year or so ago onto the interweb as a playable version. The project was called Van Buren and, at the time of cancellation, the developers had completed 95% of the engine, 75% of the dialogue and at least 50% of the maps. The engine used to create the demo was one originally designed by Black Isle for the creation of Baldur's Gate 3. Of course, this never transpired either due to the development team being disbanded. It's a depressing thought that so much work can go into such a worthwhile project to just have it cease and be dispelled into the ether.

Well, if nothing else it is an interesting nugget of gaming history and, having never played it before, I'm going in, hard and fast. Prepare the interspatial-molecularnisational warp-gate, captain!...



...Ouch. Well, that was a painful and fairly nostalgic experience. No... it didn't go particularly well. I was going to create a character properly, but then I discovered that if you make a female player character she's all naked. So I made her fat, gave her a white afro and called her Derek Balls. She proceeded to die after my first encounter with a ruffian and then glided around the map on her stomach. I think I'll hand this over to someone smarter. Thanks to No Mutants Allowed for this wonderful montage:

21 Oct 2008

More Alan Wake teasering!

Every time a trailer is released for Alan Wake I have even less of an idea of what this game is all about, or how it will play. Still, it's very cinematic and Remedy can surely be trusted not to release a bad game what ten, twenty years after announcing it?

Still, dead wife, secluded town, main character's an author. It's all so Stephen King. No, it actually is almost identical to the synopsis of his book, Bag of Bones. I remember reading it when I was about fifteen. Here's the plot introduction on Wikipedia:
"After the sudden death of his wife Jo, author Mike Noonan is plagued by writer's block, with his dreams haunted by the summer house he shared with her, he reluctantly decides to return to the isolated lakeside retreat."
Copyright infringement or not, this pre-release teasing has gone on for far too long for me to be truly excited about this game. Still, may as well check it out anyway...

It's good to [force your own amazingly insightful opinions upon others]

Regardless of what some people may think, The Dead Pixel Post wishes to encourage peace, love and understanding just as much as it does cynicism and loathing. In fact, it wishes to encourage it so much that it's sprouted an extra, wholly unobtrusive tool in the sidebar there. Indeed, you can now see the most recent comments displayed by your kind selves to the right of the page. Isn't it breathtaking in all it's glory?

The intention of this spontaneous new limb is to get people talking. So, if you hold any sort of opinion on any post made on the site then you now have the power to hang it up for all to see. Alternatively, if you see an already made comment you disagree with, take the time to formulate a dashingly witty retort. Agree with something? Go ahead and pummel that keyboard with your unrestrained man-love. Not a man? Let us know.

The Dead Pixel likes healthy debate. And girls.

20 Oct 2008

Unreal Tournament 3 Expansion on the Cards

According to IGN PC, Epic Games have announced a "major expansion" for Unreal Tournament 3. I assume this move is to protect the flagging sales of the latest addition to the series due to the game being overlooked in place of more forward thinking multiplayer experiences (namely Team Fortress 2 and CoD 4).

A little defensively it seems, Epic's Vice President Mark Rein told Eurogamer that they were working "on a major expansion to Unreal Tournament 3 that we expect will excite and grow our UT3 customer base which, incidentally, now numbers over a million units sold-through world-wide." Methinks the [developer] doth protest too much...

The mention of UT3 has actually reminded me of my bafflement at the way they shoe-horned a single-player campaign into the game. It made no sense at the time and it still make no sense to me now. I can only hope that this expansion they're planning will include a full league-based singleplayer deathmatch campaign with teams transfers, injuries and tournament matches. Everything they should have included in UT3 in place of that nonsense about a war and field lettuce generators.

My, those Attractors are mighty Strange... Er... Two

Just spotted this one up for sale on the Greenhouse Penny Arcade Shop Thingy Website.

Strange Attractors 2 is a pretty young thing and mesmeric enough to lull you into a highly meditative state if you aren't careful.

The object of the game is to move a small chromatic ball around each level by the use of large, electro-magnetic circular things. As far as I can make out anyway. The goal of each level is to collect all the crystals on the screen and make your way through the exit doorway. This, however, is easier said than done.

The game is, fantastically, controlled only by the two mouse buttons. Left-click to attract yourself to all the spherical objects onscreen and right-click to shoot yourself away from them. It's a little awkward at first, but you eventually learn to embrace it, drifting serenely in and out of orbit whilst you try your best to feel your way out of the level.

The first few challenges featured in the demo provide a very tranquil experience. No enemies, no timers, just some pleasant graphics and a wonderful sense of inertia. Judging by the video on the store site it gets a little bit hectic from then on. The full game is $14.95 and, although the demo doesn't offer a great deal of play-time, I'd say it would be worth the punt.

Angry Internet Men Strike Back at DRM... Again

I was initially going to do a run-down of the significant games being released this weekend, but having checked Amazon to see what they actually were I was struck by a familiar sight.

It seems the people are biting back again. Following on from the Spore fiasco, two of this week's major releases have been tarnished by DRM-bashing reviews. Both Far Cry 2 and Dead Space are sporting their stars of shame, 2 for the former and 1 for the latter and equally unhappy 'reviews'. They're worth a read, not for the quality of their argument, but because a lot of them are very funny. Let's take this debate down to the people on the frontlines:

'Lol,' argues one man armed only with the ability to say stuff. 'They all thought Piracy was going to kill the PC games industry, but in the final analysis it will be securom.' 1 STAR

'If all this is true about the lockout,' says one impressionable software pirate. 'Then DO NOT BUY this game wait and it will be cracked soon' 1 STAR

'The video looks very brown,' says an idiot. 'much browner than Far Cry which was IIRC a more relaxing blue and lush green. I am not persuaded that gamers particularly like brown.' 1 STAR

'In 2 days I finish School and I am going to Venice,' cries one child excitedly. 'It should be fun, I can't wait. I like Italian Food. Do you?' 5 STARS

'STOP moaning and get on with your lives!' screams someone clearly disturbed by the quality of writing present.

So, we can safely say that the topic has been argued and resolved in part. DRM is clearly bad news for morons. The question is, how does this translate for the rest of us?

19 Oct 2008

REVIEW - Spectraball

As is common with the indie gaming scene, most of the projects that emerge are produced by startingly minimal development teams. This one, Spectraball, is no different. Just the two guys that make up Flashcube Studios created this and it's undoubtedly an accomplished piece of nostalgia-inducing fun.

Anyone who's played Marble Madness will be familiar with the basic concept. You, the gamer, are in control of a lone ball and using your wits and precision control must traverse perilous terrain to reach the final objective in each of the fifteen levels. There's also a time limit determined by the difficulty setting to spice things up.

On your travels you'll encounter pipes, steps, jumps and moving platforms across a range of environments -Tropical, Space, Snow, Air and Inferno- and all will conspire to make you look like an uncoordinated buffoon.

To begin with, I'll admit the game is a tad frustrating. It wasn't long before I was wondering what spherical objects I had wronged during my lifetime that warranted such punishing treatment, but it's important not to be put off by the initially steep learning curve. The more you play Spectraball, the better you will understand the subtleties of the game and the best ways in which to approach certain challenges.

It's worth playing through the tutorial levels at first to gain an understanding of how to control the ball. I was initially surprised that no gamepad support was offered, but once you start playing the game it turns out to be a sensible move. The mouse is pivotal in controlling the camera and also the direction in which the ball will roll. Using any other device would make this system fiddly and unresponsive. As it is, movement is extremely intuitive and eleviates the camera issues that commonly occur in games of this ilk.

You'll also learn from the tutorials about the ball's special abilities. These can be activated on command but subsequently require time to charge back up. The only one available initially is the power to stop the ball rolling at any point and as such is particularly effective when bombing down straights to stop dead before certain doom. The ability to jump is thrown in for free and is important for ascending steps or passing across gaps between platforms.

The special abilities are a wonderous inclusion to the game and can be purchased via the in-game store where you're able to spend the cash earned from completing levels and gaining achievements. Different ball types are on sale as well as a couple of throwaway minigames and two new abilities that soon become available to you. Time-slowing capabilities and the power to teleport the ball back to a previously visited area are both essential when finding ways to shave seconds from your best times and really open the game up on a strategic level. Through this, Spectraball achieves the rare trait of becoming more fun the further you progress into the game. Utilize the unlockable goodies and your own knowledge of the levels and you'll eventually be zipping about with an incredible amount of speed and there's a great sense of progression when you realise how awful and fumbling you were at first. You'll gain confidence and begin to experiment, finding shortcuts in the levels and bypassing time-consuming sections.

This is where Spectraball comes into its own. It's unnaturally addictive because each time you complete a level your rank will be shown on its leaderboard, connected via Steam to all the other players of the game. Ultimately it provides you with achievable targets and makes you think harder about how the person just above you managed a completion time thirty seconds less than yours. So you'll go back and pull some tricks to try to better it.

To top things off, Spectraball is very easy on the eye. The varied environments are complimented by almost minimalistic level design which means there's very little confusion as to where you need to go to reach the goal. In terms of audio, the music tracks are sure to induce insanity if you're exposed to them for any great length of time, but they can be turned off in the menu. The sound effects are minimal but effective and it's not as if a game about rolling a ball around really requires many bells or whistles in that area.

Priced at ten bucks on Steam, I must recommend this game for those with a thirst for competition. It's great value for money and a finer product than most new budget releases. The one thing I will say is that the game actually left me wanting more levels and a wider variety of challenges. The final level provides you with a ludricous ski-slope of a jump that catapults you into the air at a ferocious speed and I wanted more of this kind of insanity coupled with some advanced styles of play in which to employ my newly acquired pro-skills. But I'm nit-picking. It's a good game and a fantastic effort from a first time development team.

SCORE: 81%

Spectraball is released on the 20th October via Steam.

EDIT: Jonathon Davis of Flashcube Studios has actually contacted me since posting this to say that new content, such as levels, environs, abilities and achievements will be available for free download in the future, following release. Not only that, but the final build will have support for game controllers. I therefore stand corrected... and amazed.

18 Oct 2008

Overhanging on the cliff of booze... Syndicate, Spectraball and Sickness

Right now I feel too sick to move, having consumed my weight in cocktails last night. It seems I've fallen prey to that 'binge-drinking' bug that's going around the British press at the moment. Hopefully it'll pass and I'll emerge a beautiful butterfly. Better still, I might actually be able to focus on the monitor in front of me. Ugh...

Anyway, I couldn't not post about this story as soon as I read it on CVG. The news: Syndicate is to get a remake!

According to the site, 'EA is set to reveal a brand new entry in Bullfrog's cult classic Syndicate series' and that's about it. There are very few details confirmed at the moment, but that's enough of a sentence to get internet forums a-thrumming with loose-lipped speculation. The one question it really does beg, however, is whether the gaming industry is swaying towards the regurgitation tactics that we so often observe movie-land exploiting. Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a fine example of what developers are willing to scrounge from tried and tested IPs. Syndicate may be over ten years old and much less well known amongst today's gaming youth, but I guess EA have seen enough of a place in the market to remake it. And no one can argue that bringing back decade-old games hasn't worked out well for Bethesda...

As sceptical as I'd like to be about this project, it turns out that the developers currently working on the new game are those of Chronicles of Riddick fame, Starbreeze Studios. Knocking a developer who managed to bring out the only (extremely) decent movie-game conversion I can ever recall playing would be a rash move. Judgement therefore is officially reserved.

In other news, Flashcube Studios have been kind enough to pass on a preview copy of their new game, Spectraball, set to be released on Steam on the October 20th, so expect a full review later this evening.

Now, please excuse me whilst I vomit...

16 Oct 2008

I love the internet

No, I'm lying, I hate the internet. And I hate the people that inhabit it. Well, some of them.

A little while ago I posted a clip of myself blowing up some trees in Crysis. I thought it was quite funny. I thought I was quite funny (not true). I posted it on You Tube so I could embed it here. I got this response from a child:

'lag much? noob pc' - drummalord123

No, he didn't hurt my feelings. I took it in my stride, but it did remind me how much I hated the internet, stupid people and You Tube. I'd rant some, but honestly I couldn't sum it up any better than this strip from xkcd does:

Bioshock: The Sea of Dreams teaser!

Holy mother of a Big Daddy! Reportedly, the PS3 version of Bioshock reveals a teaser trailer for the sequel on completion! Now, calm down, I know what you're thinking. Are they really starting to hype the new game already? Is the development close to completion? Will this trailer mean anything a few years down the line when they've changed all their ideas about where they want to take the series and little girls no longer have the ability to telekinetically build sand castles? 'The Sea of Dreams'? Really? Isn't that title just a little shit?

Well, here's a little fact to consider whilst you don't bother with any of the above: Did you know that Bioshock was originally planned to be set inside a disused Nazi science station, converted to occupy genetics research? That's right and the monsters' behaviour was supposed to 'be determined by their primal urges and a food chain' according PCG two years ago. Well, now you know...

15 Oct 2008

Molyneux hypes like he's never hyped before*

1up have provided this wonderful story, from the man who is the master of his own PR.

Yup, Peter Molyneux - two weeks prior to the release of Fable 2 - can barely contain his own excitement. No, not for the aforementioned project, but for his next game, which remains a top unnamed secret. With the eagerness of a child who's found out he's getting a robot for Christmas, only to have his friends stamp on it the first time he brings it school, the man seems as desperate as ever to spill the beans.

The next game, he says, will be "really, politically contentious".

OMG

"Everyone at Microsoft who's seen it is super excited about it," he spurts.

OMFG

"There's nothing else remotely like it ever before," he proclaims.

ZOMFTWTFGZZZZ!!!!!

You've got to hand it to him, there are no backhanded publicising efforts from him and his crew. He goes directly to the people and talks shit at them in person. And I actually love him for it. He's like some weird manchild, geekily forcing his love of games upon us, before being dutifully ignored by the masses shortly after each release. His enthusiasm is adorable, his games consistently disappointing. But he believes in what he's saying and that's enough for me...

The real story, here.

*if you ignore all the premature, overzealous self-promotion of all those other games he's done.

9 Oct 2008

REVIEW - World Of Goo

WARNING: World of Goo makes me use words that aren't normally part of my general vocabulary. Words like 'splendid', 'enchanting' and 'delightful' may crop up in the following text.

To begin with I'll provide the simplest of facts:

WORLD OF GOO IS A PHENOMENAL GAME

Now, I don't openly encourage the writing of words that begin with 'Ph', which is partly why I failed my Physics exams so badly at school. But there we are, that is what this game is.

I pre-ordered my copy off the 2dboy site some time last week and yesterday there was a delightfully-titled bit of mail just sitting there in my Hotmail inbox. It read: 'World of Goo for you'. I praised the gaming gods and downloaded it instantly. One week prior to official release, a copy was in my hands (albeit virtual hands).

It's also worth noting that they provided me with a link with no stringent security protocol between me and the game at all. Just a link. 'We are trying an experiment,' they explained. 'World of Goo has absolutely no copy protection or DRM at all, since we want to give you (and everyone) the best experience we can. Thanks for not distributing this, and helping us make this possible!'

Game of the year or not, they're already in my good books and trust me when I say I will guard that file with my life.

THE GAME

To play World of Goo you don't need to be part of the gaming elite. To appreciate it fully you don't even need to consider that tiresome argument as to whether games can or can't be art. To fall in love with Goo (for fear of writing the questionable abbreviation) you need only a pair of eyes (though one will do), a single mouse-clicking digit and something resembling a soul.

And so I come to a barrier placed firmly between my experience and your curiousity. It's something that makes this review particularly hard to write. To give you evidence to support my love of this game would be to spaff on your birthday cake. It would be like ruining that movie, Sixth Sense, not by giving away the awful twist, but my shouting 'F**k you, M Night Shyamalan, you hack' very loudly, over and over again whilst you watch it. To describe the puzzles to you and explain why Chapter 4 is so unbelievably fantastic would destroy your first-time experience of the game and that would be unforgivable.

Let me go onto the basics instead...

Goo is essentially a 2D puzzle game. To progress through each level you must lead a specified number of over-excited, character-full 'Goo Balls' from the starting position to a pipe that will suck them all up. The way to do this is by forming rigid bonds between the little globules to build structures across which they can crawl to the end destination. This is how things begin.

The true beauty of Goo is that, every so often, you'll be offered a new type of Goo Ball with different properties. Some dangle, others float and many do things that I really can't tell you about for previously mentioned reasons. The variety of play brings an insane amount of depth to the game and you'll be begging for more from the off.

Each chapter is laid out like a Super Mario World map and brings a truly retro feel to the game. It was like I was re-discovering my childhood whilst playing through, remembering the excitement that simply arranged coloured pixels used to bring me. Every time a new feature was implemented I couldn't help but smile or shake my head at the genius of the level design. There's an undeniably Worms-esque feel to the play at times and Lemmings surely can't go unmentioned as an influence. And the graphics follow suit: colourful, cartoony and absolutely enchanting. The goo balls bounce around insanely, chattering amongst themselves, whilst the promise of an all-swearing add-on to the audio on release is something I can't wait for.

I've read elsewhere about comparisons to Tim Burton's work and they definitely aren't unfounded. The intro music is typically dark and circus-like. The world you explore is dismal at times, centering around the huge and filthy World of Goo Corporation that are committed to spewing out vile pollutants across the lands. The comedy is implemented in bucket-loads, parodying the power of cynical marketing and the corrupt exploits of major corporations... and at this point I struggle to find a way to put into words how a puzzle game can explore so many themes. It's just incredible.

Whichever way you choose to go about a puzzle you'll feel as if you've re-invented the wheel each time you find the solution. Many times whilst playing you'll wonder 'is this what I'm supposed to be doing?' and then you'll realise that it simply doesn't matter. Like many of the best games you need to drop your pretences about how they should be played. Discard the linear thought processes and just enjoy the creativity of your own play-style.

So here is where I end this nonsense because I can't actually write coherently on the subject of World of Goo and it's almost pointless to recommend it because it costs about a tenner so you have absolutely no reason not to try it out. It's far from being a short game and certainly offers enough challenge and joy for me to re-visit regularly. Yes, it has some problems, but mentioning them would be akin to pointing out a misplaced brushstroke on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel... and there I go, bringing art into it. Tsk, tsk.

SCORE: 96%

7 Oct 2008

FYI, I am a Sci-Fi Horror game...

Dead Space is a real uncertainty to me. The awful title doesn't do it any favours, but then some of the game footage that I've seen does show real promise in terms of sci-fi, shit-your-trousers horror. The developers have clearly tried to implement a sense of immersion aboard the obligatory creepy space vessel that your character resides. In fact, it's so hideously terrifying that even the HUD has scarpered, leaving you with nothing but a few blinking lights, an array of special powers and weapons to aid your pursuit in rescuing your predictably lost love.

The one thing that does worry me about this game has something to do with what PC Gamer editor, Ross Atherton, wrote in the mag a few months back:


"Derek Chan, Global Project Manager of EA's Redwood Shores Studios, described it as EA's first survival horrer game. 'What about the System Shock series?' was our response. Derek hadn't played it, but instead saw BioShock as Dead Space's direct antecedent."


Now, this is important because the obvious question is how do you progress the genre or medium at all without learning from what has occurred previously? As Atherton later points out:

"You simply wouldn't believe that the director or producer of a new monster-horror film wouldn't have seen John Carpenter's The Thing, be aware of its style and know how to avoid blundering across its legacy. Even with its far longer history, creators in the film industry are expected to possess encyclopaedic knowledge of other films. Game makers aren't."


It's a decent point and one worth taking the time to pontificate on. Still, no such time exists when the developers have released such a ludicrous, self-titled 'Grindhouse' preview video. That's right, blood, screaming, death, beasties and a stupid, stupid voice.

4 Oct 2008

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW - Deus Ex HDTP mod

If you've played Deus Ex recently you'll have noticed that it's as ugly as sin these days. In fact, you might remember it always being that way. But, for those of you who think HD is just a couple of letters cynical marketers use to sell TVs then.... well, you'd be right. Regardless, the team over at Emmersive Studios have been slogging away for five years (no, really) at a Deus Ex modification that reworks and redefines all models and textures in the game. The aptly titled HDTP is an enormous task to be sure, especially for a team that have needed to dedicate so much of their spare time that it's a miracle they're still together. I managed to steal some of that precious time the other day when I sat down for a little chat about their various exploits in modding and snagged three exclusive pictures:

DPP: How did HDTP come about?

Bann (Metche) - Project Lead: A precursor to this mod - one of several before HDTP I may add! - began many years ago in the original Deus Ex Eidos forum, before they shut the board down and archived it into history. I can't recall if there was even a name for the mod at that point. The idea of re-texturing the original Deus Ex game was not my idea at all. It came about through a forum thread where someone suggested that maybe we as a community should tackle such a project collectively. It fell apart pretty quickly. I think the problem was that it was chaotic and highly disorganised. There were no processes for team members to follow and no one wanted to lead the project which was a bit mad. As you can imagine the whole outfit sadly fell apart. I mean it's a huge undertaking. I don't think people get just how enormous a re-texture/re-model original assets mod is! Five years later we're still at it...

Next came the DX Retex mod. This was instigated by me stepping in to lead the old project because no one wanted the responsibility. If only I realised then what I was letting myself in for! Anyway, it was a little better organised than that of the forum run one but it still wasn't solid in terms of having a proper structure and plan and it failed.

It was only several months later after dropping DX Retex that my eyes were opened. I'd done some reading up onto how mods could be run effectively. Note that this is the first experience of modding I had ever had (technically still is!). I don't know why, but I couldn't just walk away from something that I'd picked the reigns up off all those prior months ago. Thus, HDTP was born - maybe out of sheer stubbornness, but I was so determined to be part of a successful mod no matter how long it took to complete.

Contrary to popular belief - we are almost done.

DPP: What are the main aims of the mod?

Bann (Metche): The main aims of the mod are pretty simple. Lovingly recreate the original object models and textures, giving them a fresh and high-definition feel without losing the original artists direction/vision. So basically - be sympathetic to the originals. It's been tough and sometimes I've had to make unpopular decisions. But you can't please all of the people all of the time and I hope the final product will make the community happy.



DPP: The Unreal 1 engine is undeniably ageing. What problems have you encountered so far?

Darren (Akerfeldt) - Coder: Well, the 8 textures per character limit has finally bitten us in the ass... with the Maggie Chow model. It still looks pretty good though.

Ben - 3D Artist: I really don't think the original designers thought the engine would go this far either.

Darren (Akerfeldt): We wanted to do some special texturing with her hair, but it was going to require more texture maps than the engine would accommodate. The left out textures may be included in DXR... if I ever get around to it. And ya, 8 textures was plenty for the time.

John (DDL) - Lead Coder: ... given that the original only had, like, 14 models for everyone.

Bann (Metche): It's kinda funny because even though Deus Ex is an old game, it's always had a huge community following - even now! Eight years - almost nine years down the road! And in that time, we've had fan-made modifications for the unreal engine and the openGL renderer which make the engine look better and allow for more high-definition textures. So, as our mod has grown so have our capabilities to remake graphics. At the beginning our maximum texture sizes were 512, but we upped this to 1024 a couple of years back after we had access to the new technology.

The hardest thing is probably how the engine does lighting and shadows. I know we had to be very careful with how we built our character models because we'd get this weird effect where their bodies would look too shadowed out.

It's also a fact that no one wants to mod for old games/engines no more - which is a shame. I know it's not chic to model low poly stylee with not a normal map in sight - but this is Deus Ex were talking about.

DPP: I'm surprised you've made it go this far. Is there anything you couldn't get done because of it?

John (DDL): Ha ha, do you mean "is there anything in life we couldn't do because of HDTP" or "is there anything in HDTP we couldn't do because of [Unreal Engine 1]"?

Darren (Akerfeldt): I can't think of any other examples right away. Except the riot prod, but that's a can of worms that hasn't popped open yet.

DPP: Why the riot prod?

Darren (Akerfeldt): It has an animated texture on it. And I'm not sure how that's going to work yet. So we'll see if that becomes a problem. I don't really want to re-use the one that Deus Ex uses since I'm sure it can be improved. But if I have to write yet another miracle program for that I'm going to blow up my computer... and become a dancer.

John (DDL): Animated textures don't get much better if you make 'em bigger, to be honest.

Darren (Akerfeldt): I think Unreal Engine 1 was created just shortly after the time when your programmers did everything in making a game. So getting assets into a game kind of shows that.

DPP: Over the long period of time that the mod's been in development with the huge graphical advances in gaming since then, do you feel a need to constantly re-evaluate the level of detail you are aiming for or has there been a certain level that you have set out to reach from the start?

Darren (Akerfeldt): I think for the whole of development, the artists have been striving to pack as much detail as they could into the constraints given to them by the limits of the engine. Trying to pull off graphics comparable to games like CoD 4 or Crysis, are simply not possible in UE1 so I don't think anyone is going to feel let down if HDTP doesn't look better than those games.

Craig (Wokky) - 3D Artist: One of the main areas in which graphical advances have been made is that of shader usage - Unreal 1 being as old as it is restricts us to generally just using diffuse and environment maps. Increasing texture resolution even further doesn't really compensate for a lack of shaders.

Darren (Akerfeldt): Exactly.

DPP: Yeah, I guess it's really down to the huge difference between the mod and the main game. That's the 'wow' factor. So, what part of the mod are you most proud of so far?

Bann (Metche): Personally, still being able to still see light at the end of this very long development tunnel! Aside from that I'm very proud of my team - especially the guys who have been with me from the very start. I'm just proud of everything we've done as a mod team - the guys have been so amazing and during the five years we've been working this gig, they've just kept amazing me with the quality of work they've produced. I honestly could not have asked to have worked with a nicer bunch of guys. I think they pretty much want to kill me and bury me in their back yard by now, but hey...

Darren (Akerfeldt): I'm going to self-pimp and say the characters, since I put so much work into them.

Craig (Wokky): I think some of the characters do stand out as being rather special.

John (DDL): When you see them actually moving it really is a "WOW" moment.

Ben: Yeah, the characters add so much to the game, as the old ones were the main thing which you always notice as [lacking detail].

Craig (Wokky): Mitten hands!

DPP: Yeah, I got that on a recent play through. The cut-scene close-ups were quite jarring and, yeah, the mitten-hands! The lip-syncing was also really noticeable. Is there anything you've been able to do with that?

John (DDL): Not really. The number of animations dedicated to mouth movements are fairly limited, but still surprisingly sophisticated for the tech at the time. It actually parses audio into whichever mouth phoneme it thinks is most appropriate.

Bann (Metche): characters were very touch and go at one point - without Darren and of course John I can assure you we wouldn't have a character pack to download.

Darren (Akerfeldt): The one really big drawback is that the engine doesn't blend the mouth animations from one syllable to the next so it looks really old-school. The increased resolution in the faces though has at least made the facial animations look more realistic.

Bann (Metche): Also, we've alleviated the mittens effect. They all have fully posable fingers!

DPP: Well, that was the main thing! I know In terms of getting the whole completely updated Deus Ex end-product, there are a couple of other 'graphical enhancement' mods currently in development. Are you trying to work alongside them?

Bann (Metche): Yes, absolutely - we are like a symphony because there is HDTP which deals with game models and their textures, then there is New Vision which remakes all the environment textures and finally [Deus Ex Reborn] that will port HDTP and New Vision's work into a UT 2004 Deus Ex port!

Darren (Akerfeldt): That's kind of a funny topic because, over time, the members of all the mods ended up working on HDTP. So, though they are separate mods, the development teams are, in a small way, the same people.

John (DDL): There are, after all, only so many texture artists and modellers out there who like Deus Ex.

DPP: So was that by chance? The different mods updating separate parts of the game, I mean, and they're compatible?

Bann (Metche): Yes! Which is nice.

John: Well, Deus Ex Reborn is compatible only with itself, since [it's a] different engine, but it can use all the other stuff. And HDTP and New Vision are mutually compatible. They're doing the feet, we're doing the hands, so to speak.

Bann (Metche): It's funny, but HDTP started and everything and then I think the rest of the community wanted to expand on our efforts and it goes to show what a fabulous community we have here!

Craig (Wokky): I believe HDTP originally planned on updating world textures as well as items, but after a while it was decided that focusing solely on items would make it far more manageable - it was probably inevitable that somebody else would decide to do the world textures.

DPP: It is amazing that it's still going strong eight years on. Why is that?

John (DDL): It's still an incredibly playable game, to be honest.

Bann (Metche): Because the game is a technical masterpiece - the way the story unfolds and the characters develop and even though in many aspects, yes, it is a linear game, it didn't make you feel like it was when you were playing it. It was so wonderfully designed that you always felt like you have a million different pathways open to you even when there really wasn't.

Craig (Wokky): While perhaps the storyline wasn't very open-ended, you had a lot of freedom in how you actually played the game, that contributed massively in terms of replay value - I can still start another play through, and play the game in a way I haven't previously!

Bann (Metche): I think once you've tasted Deus Ex you'll always be left wanting more and unfortunately very few games live up to that standard. I think development time/cost is a major factor there.

Ben: Yeah, I think it's the depth of the game that keeps people playing it even now. That added with the face it's not impossible (though not easy by any means) to mod makes people keep going with it.

DPP: Deus Ex is a fantastic example of how a game doesn't need superior graphics to create an immersive enjoyable experience. Judging by the purpose of your mod do you disagree, or are they both as important?

Bann (Metche): for the first play through I'd actually recommend people play Deus Ex vanilla - like without using HDTP. It's important they take Deus Ex in as it were, so to speak, and appreciate it. and then download and install HDTP and enjoy a better graphical experience.

Craig (Wokky): Obviously we're going to be slightly biased, but I think that visuals are always very important when it comes to matters of immersion.

Bann (Metche): Mods like ours also help to keep the community alive I think - or at least I like to believe we've helped maintain interest in Deus Ex over the years in our own little way!

Craig (Wokky): Serious games such as Deus Ex are as much about evoking an emotional response from the player as they are about matters of gameplay mechanics.

Ben: For it's time, Deus Ex was still commented on as having bad visuals, but made up for it with awesome gameplay and I think that whatever happens a good game is always good even if it isn't as shiny as Crysis.

DPP: Were you guys happy with the response you got from the beta?

Bann (Metche): I think [the response] was mixed. Good in some aspects - people have been asking us to release the next lot for so long - which is encouraging - but mixed in the sense that the demo was so tiny and people were disappointed that there wasn't more to see. I think people will be shocked when they realise how much is in the final build.

John (DDL): Given that it's far more likely for someone to complain about what doesn't work than commend what does, I think we did pretty well.

Bann (Metche): Seconded. We didn't know how people were going to receive it - and the demo was soooo tiny.

John (DDL): It's surprising that when you first play HDTP you don't really get much of a WOW factor (characters excepted). but when you try vanilla Deus Ex again, you realise how BAD everything actually was originally. The match between old and new is really well handled.

Bann (Metche): Personally I think that's key - HDTP is not about changing the graphics beyond recognition - it's about a sympathetic remake.

Ben: Yeah, you gradually notice the little things looking a bit better, control panels etc.

John (DDL): Plus WEAPON MODS.

Bann (Metche): Oh, aye. I think the visible weapon mods will be hot in-game - people will go nuts over those - we've already had peeps drooling over the new weapons.

Ben: I think with the remodelling side they've been very true to the originals, taking what was there and fleshing out all the little bits that make it look truly unique.

Bann (Metche): I'm hoping our final release will be received well though, obviously - so much work by the team has been lovingly infused into this mod - so it's my job to make sure everything's ship shape before release.

DPP: So have you been conscious not to give out estimated release dates?

Bann (Metche): YES. I learned it was a bad idea to do so ... very early on. It's not fair on the community and it puts unnecessary pressure on the team. We've been at it this long - a little while longer to ensure optimal polish via play testing won't hurt.

DPP: I guess you get people so excited about the project they feel you owe them something?

Bann (Metche): Yes - weird feeling - it's hard judging your own mod and gauge its popularity, but if people keep asking for more you must have been doing something right!

Craig (Wokky): I think a lot of people don't entirely appreciate the difficulty of working to a schedule when you're working in your free time.

Bann (Metche): But... I should know better - the guys have been awesome - hands down - I owe each of them so much (quite a few beers I'm guessing!) - they've always delivered!

Craig (Wokky): And hell, if companies like Valve can't manage to stick to a release date, we haven't got a whelk's chance in a supernova!

DPP: So, I guess I don't get an exclusive release date story then?

Bann (Metche): 'Fraid not, Sir.

John (DDL): When it's done?

Craig (Wokky): I can exclusively confirm that it's going to be released before the end of the universe... maybe.

Bann (Metche): For my own and my team members' sanity - I hope we get done in the next few months - but this last 10% was always going to be the hardest. I'm preparing for an internal alpha build of the final for testing. I'd then like a controlled beta which will involve a select number of peeps from the Deus Ex community. Once that's done it'll be released into the wild and I'll have a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

1 Oct 2008

QUICK CAP REVIEW - Crysis Warhead

It's short, but it's cheap. It's competently designed and yet... not. It's fun, but not as much fun as it should be. Crysis was always lacking something and I feel it has a lot to do with the fact that a game that has you running around dressed as a human tank should feel somewhat cooler than this.

Crytek have now produced this standalone four-hour piece of the Crysis pie. They've attempted to correct mistakes that were made with the previous game. Korean troops no longer take a full clip to go down, the action is better paced, but if there's anything that will keep me from truly indulging in a high-octane, FPS spaff-athon it'll be those bloody aliens. You know the ones. Yeah, they look like the metal squid in the Matrix. They're the ones that'll zip about in groups, shooting you and generally being complete fun-sapping, tedium-spurting dicks. You know the type, the type that feature in 90 F**KING PERCENT OF THIS GAME.

So, to clarify, Crytek have re-jigged everything apart from the fact you still have deal with these sub-par alien nuisances in large quantities. The over-use of over-lengthy cutscenes is also something worth pointing out as they're shit and they make a short game even shorter. Although well-paced, the battles are nowhere near as open and inviting as those in the first game and to top it all off -despite what the gaming media may have led you to believe- the game still has persistent, immersion-buggering framerate issues.

If you loved the previous game then you'll like this, but if Crysis was a disappointment for you then this instalment will only serve to further your Crytek-based woes.

SCORE: 68%

30 Sep 2008

Goo-d things come to those who wait...

For a game that came from nowhere -by which I mean from first-time indie developer, 2D Boy, by which I mean a three man team- soon to be released World of Goo is about to hit big. It already went gold a few months back and prior to release there's a huge buzz going around the community that this could be the next significant example of what the gaming medium can produce both artistically and emotionally, a la Braid. If you have no idea what I'm talking about then I highly recommend checking out the predecessor on which the game's mechanics are roughly based.

Tower of Goo was originally released as a flash game and required the player to construct the highest possible tower they could with a help of a few hundred blobs, or 'Goo Balls'. It's addictive physics-based fun and a little difficult to explain. Basically Goos can be used to form rigid struts to make your tower stronger and higher. From then on it's building on your wobbly foundations to create the highest structure you can. Well, you probably need to play it to know what the hell I'm talking about so do so here.

There's a wonderfully adoration-laden review over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun of World of Goo that will give you a better idea of what to expect and what's more, if you pre-order the game you'll get a sneaky play of the first chapter in the game. This is definitely one to watch.

Heads up...

It's all a bit quiet on the Pixel front at the moment. Partly this is down to me spending too much time getting my arse handed to me in TF2 (see left), a general lack of interesting news and the preparation I'm doing for a whole week dedicated to Deus Ex that starts with the Weekend Waster on Friday. On Saturday I'll be posting the exclusive interview I had with the HDTP mod team and from then on I'll be exploring the series in full...

Coming up also are reviews of Spore, The Witcher and Crysis Warhead (hint: one of them is good). Not only that, but I'm soon to acquire a rather obscure ten-year-old game that I hold very dear to my heart and will be replaying it for a full length feature. I'll give you a clue as to what it is by telling you to blow it out of your ass. You didn't guess it did you? Oh, alright then...

More news coming up...

26 Sep 2008

WEEKEND WASTER - SWAT 4

Weekend Waster is back! And this week I present you with... SWAT 4. Coincidently another masterpiece penned by Ken Levine (no, not the underwater one). This is as common as muck on budget right now and you can get it off Amazon here for a measly 6.480000 English pounds.

THE GAME

Fear is discovering that you forgot to reload your taser when you’re only inches away from an armed terrorist’s face. Fear is also finding the graves of small children in the basement of a deranged religious cult with a penchant for assault weapons. But mostly fear is when, after taking a round in the leg and chest and losing three of your men, you are required to clear the last room of a building. Knowing you don’t have any grenades and knowing that you shouldn’t have a chance in hell, but ordering your last man to open the door regardless and limping inside. Not only that, but as the perps within raise their rifles and take aim, still having to consider: is there a chance I could make them surrender? Could I take them alive?

Gameplay in SWAT 4 comprises of continual split-second decision making. It doesn’t let up. If you’re not quick enough then you’re dead. If you don’t cover your back then you will be shot in the back. And each decision you make has to be perfect because there are no savegames or second chances within the scenarios. Yes, it is possibly the most intense game ever created, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but because the thought is always in the back of your mind: People actually do this for a living?

SWAT 4 is a masterpiece of design and a game that I never expected to get much value from initially, but it sucks you in and the scenarios are fascinating snapshots of American suburban living gone hellishly wrong. In short, it's brilliant. In long, it's jaw-droppingly f**king amazingly brilliant. Buy it now.

25 Sep 2008

Metaboli takes GameTap...

This one courtesy of 1up.

It transpired today that Metaboli will be transferring the excellent -but US only- GameTap distribution service to it's own ranks in early 2009. This is good news, although as a previous member of Metaboli I can say that the service offered left a lot to be desired in terms of game updates, quality of the writing and general user-friendliness of the site. Hopefully though they'll adopt GameTap's front-end and of course anything that brings the service to a European market is a good thing. Ancient arcade relics that actually work and value for money are some of GT's best features.

19 Sep 2008

Busey = Mental

For reasons I'm not entirely willing to look into, Gary Busey has been hired to provide some insightful commentaries on forthcoming GTA-em-up, Saints Row 2. I wouldn't have posted this as I have no desire to cover the game, but for some strange reason I can't help going back to watch these videos. So they've done their job.

Honestly, I can't tell whether they're scripted or not, but what I do know is the man is f**king crackers.

The Witcher: Enhanced Edition released

It's already on sale on the high street as the full package, but CD Projekt has just released onto the interweb the patch to upgrade original copies of The Witcher to version 1.4. What does this mean for dedicated fans of the game? Well, there's a new adventure, upgraded graphics, more animations, a better inventory system, decreased loading times and completely reworked dialogue. If all of this sounds like it's worth playing through again for then make sure to dust off your deck of porny trading cards and dive right in.

I'm currently jumping through all kinds of registratory (sure, it's a word) hoops to get my copy patched. Hopefully it'll be a struggle worth enduring and I'll report back with some thoughts on it soon.

The patch can be downloaded in full right here. Just be prepared for some thumb-twiddling because it weighs in at a monumental 2GB.

Dude, that's new school!

If you haven't had a look already, I highly recommend browsing the Bootleg Demakes over at The Independent Gaming Source. The competition is now finished and 68 wonderful entries are up on show. In their own words:
'The theme of this competition was Bootleg Demakes, which roughly translates to "unofficial remakes of games made to look as if they were created on older hardware. So each of the entries is ostensibly based on a real game, only from the past!"'
The brilliantly named Gang Garrison II is particularly fantastic, transforming Team Fortress 2 into a side-scrolling shooter with the connectivity, classes and music all there in retro form.

The rest of the games posted on the site also do a cracking job of displaying the innovation and variety the indie gaming scene has to offer.

18 Sep 2008

REVIEW - Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

The next in a long line of equatorial-environment-em-ups, Mercs 2 brings the explosions and bigger explosions from the consoles to the PC... rather poorly.

The game takes place in Venezuela and seems to pride itself on being something of a multicultural gangbang, with much of gaming's most potent stereotypes present. You've got the wiley Chinese, the laid back Jamaicans, the gung-ho Yanks and the stiff-upper-lip of the Brits. What little there is of a story centres around revenge on an evil dictator that shot you once. Of course, it's neither engaging nor well written and due to the game's main focus on making things go ker-boom, everything that isn't a large explosion gets in the way of all the things that are large explosions. The strange part is that you'll spend most of the game attacking groups of people that don't even have any ties to said evil dictator with no other motive than to make money and unlock the next part of the main storyline. Your actions are supposed to affect relations with these factions, but the result of a faction turning on you is so easily rectified through bribes that it's a pointless inclusion. It all seems a little... empty headed.

Hey, Pandemic, here's an idea for the inevitable Mercs 3: Get rid of the pointless factions and keep the dictatorship. Give the player control of their own army and make it the main objective to capture strategic outposts so they can sustain rebel troops. Let them manage garrisons and organise the weaponry that's distributed between the occupied areas. Make it so that there's some feeling of need and accomplishment to the copy-and-paste missions. Then, at least there will be a greater reason behind the continued fighting. A power-struggle, balancing defences and building up your forces. How much more exciting does that sound? Answer: loads. And I came up with that in a minute.

As it stands the game revolves around completing missions to make money to buy weapons to blow things up to repeat... and this isn't even one of the major issues I have with the game.

For a start, the game is bugged to hell. There are common bugs that you'll need to find workarounds for and not-so-common ones that you'll need to pull your hair out for. Sometimes the bugs can be Boiling Point funny, like distant, somersaulting helicopters or the time I requested extraction, only to watch in bemusement as the helicopter set down on a sandy slope, slid serenely into a nearby lake and exploded. Such things I can just laugh at and try again, but sometimes the bugs can be fun-destroying. There's a particularly annoying one that refuses to reset enemy positions when retrying failed missions. This means you can be on the fifth retry of a mission and instantly, three enemy gunships will be surrounding you with any allies you may have previously had already wiped out from your previous attempt.

The next complaint is that the game looks bad, five-years-old bad. It looks a lot like Just Cause, but without the awe-inspiring vistas. Blurry textures make your surroundings look like an idiot's watercolour painting and to add insult to injury, the anti-aliasing on offer doesn't even work to smooth things over. The explosions can be spectacular though and this remains one of your incentives to blow stuff up, just so the game isn't so eye-bleedingly ugly. It's clear the PC's hardware capabilities have been overlooked for the sake of easy development.

The third complaint is in reference to the Holy-Mother-of-God-that's-annoying audio. If you aren't hatefully mimicking your irritating partner's pitchy Aussie twang within half an hour then you either have the patience of a saint or have already sliced your ears off in desperation. Dialogue is repeated ad infinitum for no very good reason. I think for the most part it's supposed to give an indication as to a person's stance towards you, but it's clearly broken. A friendly faction's goons will repeatedly shout "enemy sighted" when you arrive or an enemy faction may yell " hold fire! It's the merc!" until you unplug your speakers or murder them all. Honestly, I would have been happier without any the voice audio, because it is wholly awful.

I'll rush on through some of the rest: The interface is unresponsive, the physics engine is dodgy, you are at the mercy of irregular checkpoint saves with no quicksave, the AI is awful and the whole thing smacks of lazy console-porting.

Right, now that the muck has been cleared from view, you might be able to make out the score below. Not too bad is it? So, the question is... why am I giving a clearly broken game quite a generous score? Well, it's mainly to do with the fact that when the game wasn't being a complete dick to me, it actually treated me rather well. Yes, it's true that I may be delirous from the meagre PC offerings of the moment or I'm just happy I've completed a game for the first time in ages. Well, it could be those things and more, but at times Mercs 2 has made me smile and that's what's important for a slice of big, dumb, action entertainment.

The comparisons to Just Cause and Boiling Point are meant to be favourable as well, tedious (the former) and broken (the latter) as they were. Ultimately, it's not a terrible game (you can put that quote on the box). Mercs 2 often conjures moments of majesty and awe. It gives the player a box of matches and a crate of TNT and says 'go figure', leaving you to decide the most effective way to utilize the support at your disposal. If you have enough mental stamina to bypass the game's annoyances then you can actually have a lot of fun planning your attack and delighting in your own cleverness when it succeeds. Whether it's lifting off from an oil tanker seconds after you've called an artillery strike on it, or obliterating an entire oil rig in order to kill a single man, there's something to be said for the sense of style that the game occasionally emits, even if it is the gaming equivalent of Quasimodo in a tuxedo.

SCORE: 73%

Peggle Nights released!

I forgot to post this yesterday, but it turns out that everyone's favourite hardcore pachinko sim is back and this time it's slightly darker.

The guff behind Peggle Nights is that you're exploring all of the Peggle Masters' seperate dreamstates to discover what it is that they truly wish they were doing if they weren't so busy pissing about with ball bearings. The new game promises new challenges, new trophies, one new character and more Ode to Joy.

I tried the demo out yesterday and it seems like much more of the same gleeful, coma-inducing, sugar-rush gameplay that we've all come to love or despise with every inch of our being over the past couple of years. Personally, I'm on the fence. No really, I actually am sitting on a fence right now playing Peggle on my iPod.

17 Sep 2008

Valve on verge of Google takeover?

If you think it's been rather cold recently, then it may have something to do with Satan's underground fire-hole freezing over... or it could just be the effects of another wonderful British Summer™.

Spurious claims are all but abounding over at The Inquirer that Google are looking to buy Valve, citing:

'WELL PLACED SOURCES tell us that Google is going to be buying Valve any second now.'

If so, then what would this mean for Valve? What would the future hold for Steam? Browser-based, ad-supported content? Who are these 'well placed sources'? And what on Earth is this 'any second now' nonsense? Had the informant popped to the lavvy to phone in mid-deal?

All these questions and many more remain dubiously unanswered here.

Thanks to RPS for the story.

EDIT: Since yesterday morning Valve's Doug Lombardi has responded by saying this rumour is a "complete fabrication". Well, who'd have thunk it? Bad, Inquirer. Bad.

Back in Bidness!

Huzzah! The DPP is back online and now I spam the site with all kind of news and reviews and crap. It's been a long time coming...

5 Sep 2008

My Beloved Monster

It was a bloody battle waged between extortionate retail pricing and my own financial inadequacy. The outcome: Victory! Crysis, Silent Hunter and Paper Mario were but a few of the casualties lost in the good fight to obtain a copy of Spore, but in the end there was no question as to who would win. To the victor the spoils. To the store staff, an extra fiver and a thank you.

Spore was purchased.

I installed it on my lunch break, which in itself was a trial. The irony of the installer crashing every time it attempted to copy over the support files was not lost on me. I got angry and then copied all the files onto my hard drive manually. Installing it from there went far more smoothly.

Another well-deserved win!

Next came the horror of the message that advised the game needed online verification. No, I'm still not connected to the internet and yes, I am still seething about it. What ensued over the next half an hour involved a lot of sweat and swearing. By the end I was a wreck, both emotionally and physically, but the war was over. The title screen was in sight. Spore had arrived.

2 Sep 2008

British Bastard Telecom

According to BT, the engineer appointed (two weeks ago) to turn up yesterday and set up the new phone line either did or didn't. According to BT, the phoneline is either faulty or it hasn't been tested. According to BT, their staff are either liars or they're just mistaken. According to BT, complaining to the management won't help.

As I can only snatch the odd five minutes at work to post, I may as well turn this into the Blog of Indescribable Hate for the BT Customer Service Team.

Yesterday we were told their systems were down. we were told the engineer would let us know when he had arrived or completed his work from outside the building. We heard nothing. Yesterday afternoon my girlfriend was told that the line had been set up and it would be on after 8pm. It wasn't. This morning it was still dead. I called their office at lunch time, only to be told there were faulty items on the line.

'What are faulty items?' I enquired.

'I can't tell you that, Sir.'

'Is this a common problem that is easily fixable?'

'I can't tell you that, Sir.'

I was told by this helpful gentleman that he had passed the problem onto the Openreach team who would resolve it in 24-48 hours (this timeframe changed numerous times during the conversation). I was asked to call back tomorrow at the same time to check on their progress.

Unconvinced, my girlfriend called up an hour or so later to verify this story. She instead was told that no engineer had turned up yesterday due to an error in booking the appointment. The gentleman who had spoken to me was mistaken. She would make another appointment for next Tuesday.

An hour later and another verification, the above story appears to be correct. A complaint has been logged. Still though...

NOT. F**KING. GOOD. ENOUGH.

I just want to know how it is that they can be so imcompetent regarding what most be one of their most common service issues. Every time you speak to this company is another wasted hour of your time, on hold or being transferred and there's no one else you can go to because only BT can set up phone lines. The lack of competition means that they don't have to provide decent support and for the privilege of your deteriorating will to live you're still charged over a hundred quid.

And so we play the waiting game, although I entirely expect no one to turn up come Tuesday...

1 Sep 2008

Diagnosis: Disconnected

You might have noticed that there was no Weekend Waster last Friday. Well, unfortunately The Dead Pixel is even deader at the moment due to me moving house and currently having no phone line. I'll still try to keep the blog updated with news, but features and reviews are likely to be put on hold for the time being.

As for when the good people at Sky will find the time to push the button that makes it all run smoothly again, well, we'll have to see. I've been told tomorrow at the earliest and two weeks at the latest...

Still, it's not all doom and gloom. When business returns to normal I'll post all the things that have been missed over the down-time and pin up the bunting in preparation for a Deus Ex celebration week, in which there'll be a special Weekend Waster, a feature on its not-quite-so-celebrated sequel and a look at where the series might be going. Not only that, but I'll have an interview with the team that are putting together the much-anticipated HDTP mod. Think of it as the icing on the cake. Except it's cybernetically modified icing... that wears a trenchoat... and carries guns.

29 Aug 2008

Will Wright on Spore: 'it’s too much hype'

Courtesy of Game Informer. In a recent interview the site had with him, Wright spoke of the unease he feels concerning the amount of positive press that Spore has received.

From the horse's mouth:

"I think it’s too much hype. About a year ago, we were realizing how much hype we were getting and we decided we should start to say that it’s going to suck just to de-hype it. That is a certain amount of pressure. When people don’t know much about something, they tend to fill in the blanks the way you want them to be filled in. That’s true of almost anything. Then, when the actual thing comes out some people will be disappointed that it’s not 'hardcore enough' or it’s not 'easy enough' or that we didn’t do this or that. We’ve gotten to that point any additional hype isn’t serving us well. It’s a concern."

To be worried about something as beneficial to sales as hype shows true dedication to the game that Maxis are making and the experience of the end-user. It's reassuringly honest coming from a man so high up in the developmental food-chain.

Check out the full interview here for more info on the upcoming release.

28 Aug 2008

UPCOMING 2008 - Fallout 3

Over the last few months this game has been lauded with such a large degree of manic over-congratulation that I am instantly suspicious of what it will contain when it eventually reaches the shelves on October 28th.

Yeah. Tell it like it is, Flava Flav. Do your demented chicken dance and let the people know...

I believe there's an old adage that explains how there's no excessive media back-slapping bullshit without a bile-spewing, shit-churning hype-machine with which to hold it all together. Or something.

Now, I'm a huge fan of the previous Fallout games and I honestly don't want to appear like one of those psychotic fanboys - who are themselves as unlikely to emerge into the outside world as the vault dwellers that consume their every thought - but I'm worried.

I will happily admit that it isn't the mid-nineties and game developers can't really get away with producing two-dimensional turn-based RPGs anymore. Or at least, they can't if they want to make any money from it. But, after scouting the net for as many slices of gameplay footage as I could possibly find, it transpires that Bethesda are still showing off the same map and the same five minutes of play as they were a year ago with as much gusto as a small child on a sugar rush.

Speaking of which, the only interview truly worth watching is the one in which Executive Producer, Todd Howard, bizarrely sticks a boiled sweet the size of his fist into his mouth mid-interview and works his way through it whilst blagging his way out of explaining why Fallout 3 will absolutely, hand-on-heart, definitely not, probably, maybe, might make the same mistakes as Oblivion. I can only assume that the humbug's greyish chewy-juicy centre provided sufficient secretions of bullshit to allow him to finish whatever it was he was saying. Still, I was honestly amazed at how he managed to avoid choking.

Regardless of this rather unorthodox method of creating excitement and tension in interviews, the repeated demo footage is nothing if not a vehicle to show how repetitive it is to watch an enemy exploding into an extravagent crimson mess every time a bogey is flicked at them. In some ways this is fine, of course. Previous Fallouts were no strangers to ultra-violence. The bloody mess perk is good, simple fun and I often used it for kicks, but is it really something to endlessly brag about in promotion of the game? Where is the detailed commentary on the roleplaying elements, or the true explanation of ridding the game of solid turn-based tactics and replacing it with the 'V.A.T.S.' system, which has only ever looked like a flashy gimmick.

I need answers, dammit, and part of my fear is down to the fact that, after buying the game - and I will buy this game, for better or worse - I'll install it and load it up and the answer to my biggest question will be there, metaphorically scrawled across every piece of irradiated debris that fills the screen.

"Is this Fallout?" I will ask nervously.

"No, you fucking idiot, this is not Fallout," comes the response.

Naturally (or unnaturally I suppose), I'll eat my own scrotum if it turns out that even half the fans of the series truly find satisfaction and solace in this game.

Obligatory exploding-head screenshot ahoy:

27 Aug 2008

WoW FEATURE - Lather, rinse, repeat...

Shampoo is great for people. It makes their hair smell nice and keeps it shiny and clean. Dwarfhead, however, dislikes shampoo for precisely those reasons. It breaks down his dwarfish musk and general air of unkemptness and... I'm sure this analogy was going somewhere... Oh yes: when shampoo gets in your eyes it stings to buggery. No, that wasn't it...

Right.

Imagine yourself moving into a house constructed entirely of Pink Panther wafers. Well, just like that house, World of Warcraft is appealing to live in at first, but the pleasure that you receive from making it your home (and snacking on the walls) is blown when the whole thing collapses under its own weight after a week of miserably persistent rainfall. And all you're left with is a pile of pink sludge.

The point I'm so appallingly trying to make here is that taking part in World of Warcraft has been a consistently dreary existence. I feel like I've wasted my time and, although I do waste many hours playing games, most of them are entertaining enough for me not to realise this in such sharp relief.

I've been doing the same quest for ten days. I've been in the same environment for ten days. I've been having no fun for ten days.

I have several major issues with WoW, the first of which is the emptiness of the game. And I'm not talking about the lack of people. It's an MMO. There are loads of people bustling about, being friendly and being complete dicks, the same as any online game. It's the soulessness of the whole experience that gets to me, the feeling that surrounded by the cute and colourful shapes is something so ultimately repulsive that its not worth your time having a bash at it. Like a pinata filled with blood.

After a stint in WoW you never find yourself thinking back on what you've achieved or experienced, because the only thought in your mind is trudging through the next quest or winning the next piece of loot. The focus is entirely on what your next fix will be and I despise that feeling.

Most depressingly, I don't seem to have advanced anywhere. I've been at this game for hours and I'm still indiscriminately murdering wild animals for coppers. If a game can't grab me within the first ten hours of play then there is something fundamentally wrong with the way it's been constructed.

And I know I'm making these points as a single player in a massively multiplayer world that is best played as a co-op experience, but I really can't see how it can make the game much more rewarding. It's like roping in a friend to help you clean up some cat sick; it's far better than doing it all by yourself and a lot easier to get done, but at the end of the day you're still picking up bits of vomit.

Okay, that's about enough lazy analogies for one day and that's certainly more than enough Warcraft for one lifetime. This isn't quite how I intended to finish the feature, but when a game perturbs me this much, I need to wipe it entirely from my memory as quickly as possible.

My previous instincts were proven to be correct. World of Warcraft is not the game for me and I am still none the wiser as to how it's so popular with such a large audience. The addiction element is there, but I'm baffled as to how people get over the ever-increasing annoyance of playing it. There's just no give in the cyclical mechanic of leveling up to kill things to level up to kill things.

Oh well, mission failed. Dwarfhead was rubbish anyway. I've almost stopped caring, but there is one positive I can draw from this: at least the game is boosting PC sales.