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...


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.

25 Aug 2008

Star-destroying space opera...

If you haven't purchased or aren't usually a reader of PC Gamer magazine (UK) then I would advise you to go out and grab a copy of it this month. Writer Tom Francis aka 'Pentadact' has published a short book which is included free with mag, entitled 'Plan B'. It's a detailed account of a skirmish within the game Galactic Civilizations II. It's a thoroughly entertaining read, covering his quest for peace and an inability to follow through on his intended moral stance. It's a wonderful example of how games can tell stories through the people that play them.

If this doesn't convince you to try out the demo then nothing will. Personally, I'm going to go back and give it a good go.

If you are too skint to buy the mag, the first two chapters have already been posted on the PCG website so take a look to see if you're interest is piqued.

22 Aug 2008

WoW FEATURE - Enter Dwarfhead

Who's got a Scottish accent, a large axe and a low boredom threshold?

Dwarfhead of course!

On August 18th 2008 a big bundle of beard and gruffness sprang into existence on the WoW realm of Alonsus and I've been nurturing him for a good ten hours since. After deciding to take the plunge, I quickly set up my character on a surprisingly basic creation screen and set to work immersing myself. Nice and easy.

There followed a cutscene that I didn't really pay attention to, mainly because it mentioned something about a war and the word 'lands' a lot in a rather wizened, old voice.

So far, so fantasy.

When I did break free from the generic intro, I found myself in a dark, snowy forest, next to some dwarves gathered around an open fire.

Dwarfhead had arrived! I quietly rejoiced.

I set to work finding my first quest, entirely expecting it to be something along the lines of meat-fetching and, to my un-surprise, it was. Not to be deterred though and not wanting to let Dwarfhead down on his first day, I headed into the woods to bag me some flesh, making for the first wolf I saw and not knowing anything of the combat mechanics. At that moment I wasn't even sure I had the skillset to fight off anything larger than a squirrel. Fortunately, I discovered that combat in WoW simply consists of right-clicking on an enemy once and waiting until either you or they are dead. There are other special attacks to use intermittently, but nevertheless, the most important skill to have here is patience. I endeavored to be patient.

It was a few minutes after embarking on my first kill-the-thing quest that I encountered a young something-or-other that began fighting alongside me. We chatted briefly over a wolf's warm corpse and he told me he was from Slovenia.

"Cool," I said. "I'm from England".

There was a pause as it typed something.

"How do you know about Slovenia?" he asked.

Now, I'm not an ignorant person, but anyone who knows me well enough will tell you that my grasp of geography is beyond terrible. This response was not what I had expected.

"How do you know about Slovenia?" it repeated and there followed an uncomfortable silence in which I wondered what kind of answer it was fishing for. Was I not supposed to know about Slovenia? Was it some sort of code word in this game? How do you satisfactorily explain the knowledge of something that just happens to be laying about somewhere inside your brain?

"I don't know. I just do." I eventually replied. There was another uncomfortable silence before the the thing turned and ran off. Whatever answer he was after was not the one I gave.

I sighed in relief and was struck by the realisation that I had learned my first MMO lesson: that my own social awkardness transcends video games.

WEEKEND WASTER - The Longest Journey

The game this week that will kindly relieve you of your Saturday and Sunday (and possibly the rest of the month) is The Longest Journey.

It was released eight years ago, but you should still be able to find it in your local game shop. I picked it up recently, re-packaged in the Dreamfall Limited Edition release, but it's also sold alone on budget for just under a fiver, so that's your best bet and a cracking deal to boot.

I know the original release had some problems with XP, but the one on Amazon looks like it's compatible. Alternatively, if you already own a copy that's been gathering dust for too long then the official site has a few suggestions on how to make things all better.


April Ryan is, perhaps, my favourite video game character ever. She's not too pretty, not too confident and not too well-endowed. In fact, she's just... average. I appreciate the subtlety in her moods and expressions and her position is something many people will instantly relate to, that of a student struggling to pay the bills and wondering whether she is really on the right track in life. I adore her cynicism and uncertainty and it's a joy to watch the character evolve as the game progresses.

The story is set in a techno-hip future Earth. It's a world built around science and industry. Venice, where you begin the game, is a sprawling mass of rusted metal and dingy back alleys. It's a threatening, dystopian environment, filled with corrupt corporations and flying cars.

All this sounds very typical of a sci-fi setting, but alongside this genre standard is a great deal of personality and depth. There is much that the player will recognise: a student life filled with nights out and lazy mornings, meeting friends at a local haunt and struggling with coursework... It's beautiful and fascinating and predicting the next direction the story will take at any given time is pointless.

If you watch the trailer on the left, you'll get a feel for what the game is all about. Without giving too much away, there is obviously more to this vision of the future than meets the eye and, as you begin to explore April's life and her circumstances, you will also come to understand more about the world and the true nature of its existence.

If there is one problem with The Longest Journey, it's the insane difficulty level. In true adventuring style, the game is packed with baffling puzzles and inventory-combining tosh and being a bit of a dim-wit, I've never entirely enjoyed that sort of thing. If this turns you off then I urge you to play the game hand-in-hand with an internet walkthrough in case you get stuck, because its too easy to desert the game out of sheer frustration.

Trust me, it's worth it. PC Gamer magazine weren't kidding when they called it the "pinnacle of classic, point-and-click adventure gaming". In terms of game mechanics there's nothing new here, but if you are hungering after a rich, involving and often amusing storyline with characters that you can deeply care for, this is the game to play.

20 Aug 2008

Drugs, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and why the industry should grow up...

I'm aware that this is old news, but a few people may have missed it, as did I at the time and it's worth going over for the sake of the new blog. Basically, in November last year designer of the recently released game, Braid, Jonathan Blow did a lecture at the Montreal International Games Summit. During the course of the talk he covered many aspects of development which he felt were incorrect when going about building a computer game, from the initial stages of development to the supposed selling-point of a product. It was a controversial outlook to say the least and his damning comments regarding World of Warcraft and Bioshock in particular caused quite a stir amongst the community.

As it is, the argument Blow is making is quite a complex one and because we aren't yet anywhere near the constistent standard of design he is driving for, some of the targets are particularly blurred regarding how games can be created that are more beneficial for developers and the consumers as a whole. His argument wasn't that people didn't enjoy the games they played, but that they enjoyed them for the wrong reasons, likening them to bad drugs. His opinion was that in making games in a fresh and less cynical way, designers would actually improve the experiences and the lives of the people who played them, whilst making more money and advancing the industry in the process.

Now, having listened to his lecture thoroughly, I'd like to put forward my own views...


Not wanting to put words into his mouth, but along the same lines, a major issue I have with the industry is that games should work for you instead of having you work for them, as is commonly the case. Too many games require you to learn and abide by their rules to become a successful player. These rules often act as constraints on freedom, personal expression or experience within a game and this is usually just down to lazy or sadistic game design. This is the kind of discontent that I have been feeling for a long time with gaming, but could never really put my finger on.

I've always referred to particularly momentous game experiences as 'gaming moments' and most gamers will be familiar with that concept. To me, a gaming moment is something that occurs during play that fascinates you and produces a true emotion. When Jonathan Blow mentions in his lecture a comment he read regarding Portal in which the person describes being 'completely dumbfounded one moment to feeling a genius the next' I think that is essentially what a gaming moment boils down to. In its simplest terms, the player will be rewarded by their own emotional response as a result of what they have just experienced or achieved in a game.

In my opinion, this emotional response doesn't always have to be a good one. Take this as an example:


I have been playing through S.T.A.L.K.E.R. recently and been quite astounded by it. The original setting is a major part of the incredible atmosphere created within that game, but beneath that superficiality are circumstances within the game where you can't help but think: 'I wasn't expecting that'. It breaks some common rules at times and questions your expectations of a computer game. S.T.A.L.K.E.R., despite its many faults, also does a reasonable job of making the player feel insignificant and that, I think, is actually something pretty special. The A-Life AI system pushes the concept that as you survive in this game, there are many others like you, trying to get by and this is an ideal set-up for an involving experience. There are so many aspects of this game that I could wax lyrical about, but I'll only mention one specific example:

On the advice of another stalker I had arrived at a particularly unfriendly camp where I was led to believe I could buy an expensive gun for a small amount of money. After agreeing to pay the amount to one of the men there he took the money off me, walked back to the building where they resided and told me to get lost. I'd been conned. I made to leave with my tail between my legs, my pockets considerably lighter.

As I exited the camp, I spotted the body of a man on ground. On searching his corpse I found to my surprise that I recognised his name. It so happened that I had
rescued him from imprisonment at a bandit camp that morning. This shocked me because I realised that if I hadn't helped him escape, in all probability, he would still be alive. Still captive, but alive nonetheless. I was left with an uncomfortable feeling. Finding him dead filled me with guilt. If I had truly wanted to rescue him then I would have at least escorted him to safety or given him a weapon with which to protect himself and not simply concentrated on completing an objective.

It didn't take me long to turn my attention to the camp behind me. The thieves had become murderers in my mind. I didn't need another excuse to turn back and throw all the grenades I had into the building where they resided and, following a short battle, they were all dead. Vengeance was served, but the guilt I felt before was still there, because
I was partially responsible for the man's death. Not only that, but later I began to wonder whether I had been correct in acted out my retribution...

What is strange about this event is that games don't usually make you question your decisions in terms of true morality. They might make you wonder that if you had acted differently you may have gained more loot or further increased your stats, but to be unsure as to whether you have acted like a decent human being is something that simply can't be scripted. It's also something far more important in terms of game satisfaction than what Jonathan Blow calls an 'artificial reward'. In that one moment, the game threw up more moral quandaries than Bioshock did throughout the entire experience. It was a completely random event that happened to form a tragic moment and, although governed by the parameters set up by the game, my emotional response came from decisions that I alone had made. No other gamer would have experienced exactly this and no other gamer would have reacted in exactly the way that I did. I was exploring emotional depth through my actions in a video game and I can't remember the last time I did that.


This is fundamentally why I felt Bioshock and Crysis were duds in a minefield of overhyped games last year. There was nothing truly involving about their existence or what they achieved. You can argue all you like about the philosophy behind Bioshock, but was it actually a part of the game?

Absolutely not. It was essentially a corridor shooter.

The scarcity of gaming moments is what defines them as moments and I think that has overshadowed my own recent experiences. Such 'natural rewards' should in fact be what define computer gaming. Games should be created on the basis that they will provide these sorts of experiences consistently.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has given me a taste of something that I hadn't experienced for a while. It's the gaming food that Jonathan Blow refers to and not the bad drugs. It's the sustainance we need to keep gaming alive and it is absolutely the future.

19 Aug 2008

Self-help, Far Cry 2 style...

Ubisoft Montreal have just released a video of their wysiwyg map editor that appears to feature an incredibly user-friendly interface. Not only that, but the narrator's soft Irish accent is absolutely mesmerising. If he ever releases a self-help tape, I may be inclined to purchase.

Breathe in... and out again. That's right, relax and let the calming sounds of burning trees and gun-fire wash over you...

18 Aug 2008

WoW FEATURE - The Diary of a MMORPG Virgin

For a game that, in it's fourth year, shifted almost a million copies in the US, there has to be something very special about World of Warcraft. I have done incredibly well to avoid playing it considering its overwhelming popularity worldwide, but the truth is, it failed to grab my interest on release and I've neglected it ever since. I never felt the need to see what all the fuss was about, cursing whenever the gaming press forced some over-excited news of subsequent expansions or praise of its brilliance upon me. Dont get me wrong, I love RPGs, but I do find the Tolkien-inspired fantasy world to be wearing a little thin these days and the frequent mention of grinding and addiction was enough to keep me away.

Now, on the back of all the success Blizzard have had with the franchise, I'm finally willing to take the big dive and immerse myself for ten days of free trial play.

To be honest, I'm slightly unsure as to what I'll find here. Any other game genre and I'd know what sort of thing to expect, but I'm new to the MMO scene and there's something almost sinister about World of Warcraft. Like a puppy dog with a pound of TNT sewn into its stomach, it seems that hidden beneath it's cute exterior is something not entirely pleasant.

Aside from the Grand Theft Auto series, it is probably the game that gets most coverage in the news. Media vultures have been quick to latch onto several deaths in the community that occurred after long stints of playing the game. Gold-farming is also a common activity in MMOs, ID theft another... not particularly wholesome associations. I'm sure you could say that it's a veritable minefield of deceit, death and dependence if you weren't willing to lift the cover on the game and give it a go yourself.

As such I go, with an open mind and thirst for fun.

Logically, WoW's sales figures must speak for themselves. There must be a reason as to why people love to play this game and that's exactly what I intend to find out. How far will I be able to get in ten days? I don't know. Is it really a player-murdering, identity-stealing bitch of a game, or do I just need to remember to eat regularly and avoid any player characters whose eyebrows are too close together? I also don't know, but it's a worthy experiment in the name of geek science.

More to come in the next few days...

Gordon's alive!

Gordon Freeman that is! Oh, lolz...

Here's a particularly fantastic example of how completely bonkers we all are. For anyone who doesn't know, Coast to Coast AM is a late night radio show with a focus on the paranormal and theories that aliens do indeed live in our fridges, ghosts are just attention-seeking bedsheets and George Bush is actually an EVIL LIZARD-MAN. Well, they're half right.

Kudos to George Noory for lapping up any old tripe.


17 Aug 2008


Timeshift is a tricky one. Playing it leaves me feeling uneasy. The controls are fiddly, the puzzles contrived, the graphical quality constantly shifts between good and bad and despite all the time-meddling it strikes me as a very old-school shooter. Something about the blinkered level design and predictable enemy AI awakens ancient feelings of discontent spawned from those shooters that I used to play before Half-Life arrived. To top it all off, the difficulty level is through the roof.

So here's the gist:
Baffling plot lays way to standard FPS gameplay with one delicious gimmick - the amazing ability to bend time and space! I can almost hear Uri Gellar throwing down his spoons in envy...

With this special power comes added combat strategy, a silly suit and some very befuddling controls. I'd like an explanation as to why, when Crysis managed multiple settings bound to one mouse button, this crucial feature requires three seperate SHIFT+KEY combinations to get it to work... Not only that, but the developers have also included a key bind that automatically chooses the best time-fuck™ setting for any given situation and that really shouldn't need to exist.

That said, when you do stumble across the right keys, there comes a childish sort of glee from freezing time, stealing an enemy's weapon and blowing them away with it. It also creates a multitude of options in deciding the best way to dispatch a room full of punks.

I can bitch about it all I want, but somehow Timeshift just about won me over during the course of the game. It's linear as hell and all the FPS cliches are present, but it's different enough to remain interesting.

If you love gore and guns and hate Uri Gellar then it's probably worth a go.

SCORE: 74%

15 Aug 2008

WEEKEND WASTER - System Shock 2

Each Friday I'll be recommending a game that will provide you with a weekend of solid, life-destroying fun. There's no dipping in and out here. When you start playing these suckers, you're in it for the long haul. You'll wake up on Monday morning, still in the pants you were wearing on Friday, wondering how the hell you'll manage to go cold-turkey at work. It's like crack, only messier.

On offer today is System Shock 2, one of the all-time greats in terms of both the survival-horror and RPG genres.

To be honest, I don't think you'll be able to pick this one up on the high street any more and checking Amazon.co.uk reveals some ludicrous secondhand pricing, but it's worth trawling through bargain bins and eBay for a copy. Alternatively, Home of the Underdogs will provide you with all you need to scare yourself stupid. If you have any problems running the game in XP, Windows 2000 compatibility mode should knock it into shape.


Right off the bat, System Shock 2 draws you in. The initial setup for the game is innovative and refreshing, starting in the army recruitment offices with a choice of careers between the navy, marines or psi-ops. As a general rule, navy hack computers, marines shoot things using their guns and psi-ops shoot things using their minds. After this you'll be sent on a career path in which you will choose three years of past experiences. It's a great way of sculpting your character history and adding attributes without destroying the immersion of the game.

Before you know it, you're on the good (space)ship Von Braun and everything goes horribly wrong. This is where it's up to you to figure out what's going on and how to stop it, utilizing the help of a surviving crew member, Dr Polito.

In terms of gameplay it's almost second to none. When it comes to problem-solving, the options available to you are numerous and thinking on your feet is crucial. Due to ammo and supplies being particularly thin on the ground, you'll find yourself running away and avoiding confrontations just to stay alive and this works to heighten the tension without becoming annoying.

SS2 is no looker, that's for sure. It was built using Thief's Dark Engine which, even in it's day, was the runt of the pack. Considering this, I find it incredible that the atmosphere and horror of the game still hold up despite wooden animations and ugly character models. Regardless, the tortured moans of the hybrids are perfectly clear, the hum of the ship is still as haunting as it ever was and Xerxes' monotone is exactly as I remember it.

If you haven't played System Shock 2 before then you have no excuse not to now. Even if you played it years ago, it's worth a revisit, if only to remind yourself how games should be made.

QUICK CAP REVIEW - Medal of Honor: Airborne

Medal of Honor: Airborne is a game made for adrenaline junkies and can only truly be enjoyed when played as a speed run. For maximum fun you should play it as if the good Sergeant’s buddies spiked his coffee with laxatives before the jump and the entire Axis forces are hell-bent on guarding the last porcelain throne on Earth. In fact, I don’t doubt that downing three pints of water beforehand will provide you with the sort of jittery desperation needed to improve your performance and gaming experience. Soon you’ll be hurdling five-foot high walls and catapulting the enemy into the sky with the butt of your rifle. You’ll be jumping from rooftops and unleashing, mid-air, an explosion of machinegun fire upon a group of enemies in the street below. MoH: A requires you to take drastic action and rewards idiot tactics with survival and weapon upgrades. In fact, if you don’t play it like a lunatic with ADHD, you will simply not be making the most of the experience.

Take this as an example:
I am John "Dullard" Tactics and my objective is to assault an enemy bunker. WHAT WOULD I DO? Well, I would wait for back-up before taking any action and when my men arrive, I would send a grenade through the doorway. I would then wait for the enemy to run screaming from the bunker and tag one of them as they try to flee.

This is all well and good, but playing it like Sgt. Tactics is actually more likely to get you killed and/or bored. Take my advice and play it like Evel Knievel on crack. You see, if I had stopped to think before lobbing five grenades into that bunker full of Nazis and then running through it to see if I could dodge them all, I would probably be telling a different story.

Don’t play it like a soldier, whatever you do. War is hell, but all games should be this fun.

SCORE: 84%

14 Aug 2008

Deforestation rules!

After completing Crysis the other day and finding it a wee bit on the short side, not to mention offering very little (read: nothing) in terms of conclusion, I decided to create my own fantastic ending in order to extend the game's life. What, I thought, would our heroic semi-mute, Nomad, do after all that tiresome alien-bashing? The answer was simple of course: He'd find a nice spot on the island, build a house and settle down to work on his communications skills. The only difficulties came in knowing where construction could start with all those pesky trees in the way and how on earth would he come by all the wood required to build this beachside palace?

Two birds + several very explosive stones = Little bits of bird.

UPCOMING 2008 - Spore

To begin with, Spore interested me very little. As someone who's never been particularly fond of Maxis franchises, I could have been mistaken in assuming that this would be another Sims. However, as time has gone on and along with the release of the fantastic Creature Creator, I can now see the potential that this game clearly has to offer. Despite the gaming press swarming all over the project for some years now, it's still a little hazy to me as to how the game will actually function. The five stages, from the point at which your creature crashes onto a planet encased in a meteorite to the final stage of space exploration, seem to embrace a variety of different genres, including arcade-action, strategy and simulation. It's an intriguing prospect and right now IGN are running a series of explanatory videos to show the game in more depth. Worth keeping an eye on.

Of course, anyone who is half-interested in the game will at least have tried out the Creature Creator Demo which was released in June. It's hard not to love a tool that let me create a donkey with large bollocks and a spiky cock. His name is Ned.

As well as being simple to get the hang of, the program provides a lot of hidden depth to the creation of animals as hideous or as beautiful as your imagination will allow. The animation is spot on for whatever freak you wish to bring into the world and it's hard not to feel something for the little scamp as he moves about the screen.

In related donkey cock news, PC Gamer US magazine editor Kristen Salvatore was given a hearty slap by EA recently when her creature, Boobalicious was pulled up for being the first to breach the terms and conditions of the online Sporepedia. Check out this link for the full story.


I love my space bar. Ol' Spacey has been with me through some good times. He gave me joy when I first discovered the art of bunny-hopping in Quake 3. He made me giggle that one time when I paused iTunes so I could have a shit. He helped me through my first English essay by ensuring thatIdidn'twritelikethis. But no, trusty space bar! All this time I thought you were a tool of utter brilliance and yet you fall to pieces whilst playing a brainless game like Gears of War.

Playing this game is like trading Ol' Spacey in for a clumsier, stupider model. He is drunk with responsibility. He is an unresponsive, lumbering wretch. He has the power to make me roll around, duck for cover, run and clamber over small walls, but it's all too much. He gets confused and pulls me close to walls that I want to run straight past. Instead of diving daringly from one bit of cover and behind the next, he wants me to leap over the very bit of fallen masonry that was helping to keep my brain bits in place. He is poor confused Spacey and I hate him. He makes a mediocre shooter frustrating and this is as tedious a shooter as I have ever bashed my head against a keyboard trying to play. Yes, I could remap the controls but why alienate myself from any more of my beloved keys?

Clumsy, repetitive and badly ported, it's spark of genius is forever hidden beneath a palette of dark-brown, grey and dark grey-brown textures...

... and in case you're wondering, for the purpose of writing this review I traded Ol' Spacey in for a newer, sexier model. One that is far less partial to anthropomorphic observation.

SCORE: 71%

2007 in review. A gaming retrospective.

It seems like only yesterday that we were all hotly anticipating a year of outstanding, next-generation gaming. In fact, it was yesterday and we are again today, but I'd like to take you back to this time last year when the wait for Crysis was dragging on and people were still pulling their hair out over the Vista and DirectX 10 fiasco. Bioshock was within spitting distance and the Orange Box and Call of Duty 4 were the talk of the town. All the while I was a mess, mainly because I was stuck with a Pentium 4 processor that bottlenecked the crap out of my 8800GTS.

How times have changed. Crysis and Bioshock both failed to realise the hype that the publishers had stuffed up their respective arseholes whilst Valve ran away with a very well-earned "If I could compare myself to any character from the Bible, it would probably be Jesus" award. Portal was saintly, Half Life: Episode 2 was what fans of the series deserved and Team Fortress 2 was... well, it was something else. Not only that, but they all arrived packaged together for the price of a single game. Valve, I salute you, as should we all. Oh and I learned all about the inner-workings of a PC and how to make none of it go together correctly.

Here's a brief run-down of the biggest names of 2007:

Bioshock, Horror!

Not many people know this, but Bioshock was actually the product of a bet I once made with Ken Levine that he couldn't crowbar an identical plot twist into each game he made. Well, Ken, you've done it again. Go on, take the money, it's all yours. You've earned it. Inexplicably though, the bet did not include clauses requiring him to dumb down gameplay and discard the relatively freeform style of System Shock 2, so he's left me completely in the dark regarding that.

Crysis Crisis

Crysis came and conquered, pulverising many puny PCs with its poorly optimised nano-fists. Only since I upgraded my computer have I been able to run the game adequately, but it's still far from perfect in terms of performance and gameplay. It's another fine example of a developer admitting their previous mistakes, reporting to have learned from them and then making them all over again out of apparent loathing for their consumer base. Crytek naturally thought that when we said we hated the mutants in the second half of Far Cry, we were pulling their leg. Either that or I missed the customer survey that indicated flying fucking aliens were right up our street.

CoD - Far from Extinction

Unexpectedly, the game I invested the most time in last year was Call of Duty 4. The single player campaign was less than impressive. Yes, a lot of people felt that it was Hollywood in a game and it was for sure, but a lot of shit comes out of Hollywood. Aside from the laughable politically correct vagueries of the setting, there was a disconcerting feeling that every time the game came close to becoming a harrowing portait of modern warfare, the developers were actually concentrating on how cool it looked to be kicking the crap out of Middle East-istan. Still, the multiplayer portion is incredible and I am entirely convinced that perks should become a staple in future first-person shooters, providing that they are implemented this well.

That's it for now. Tomorrow I look to the future with a simple consumer's perspective on Fallout 3, Spore and others...

13 Aug 2008

And so it begins...

Hello and welcome to the first post of my non-awaited, fairly piss-poor blog entitled The Dead Pixel Post.

Let's get started by avoiding all the faff of explaining who I am and what I've done with the meagre twenty-four years of my life because that's always fairly tedious and hateful and you're more likely to get a better idea of that as you read through the blog anyway. I will, however, tell you that the blog is mainly going to focus around the subject of PC gaming and will include reviews, articles and opinions on that subject. Also, due to the fact that there's quite a lot of other stuff going on in the world besides PC gaming -or so I've heard- I will at times digress into rambles regarding other matters of varying degrees of importance. Apparently this is an extremely suitable platform for that sort of thing, so I'll stick with it.

August is an ideal month to start a gaming blog as it's the time of year when the industry is rapidly turning the volume up on their bile-spewing, shit-swilling hype-machines and we can all gaze into their eyes, entranced, before release dates come round, fingers are clicked and all our dreams lie broken before we even realise we had any in the first place.

Over the course of the next few months I'll be posting my concerns and excitement regarding the various states of upcoming games. What looks great and what games are making it hard to hold faith in the platform. PC gaming will of course prosper, but the question is - will I make it through another year of blunt disappointment?

To find out, read on...

Long live the Dead Pixel!