Monday, December 31

Crimson Shroud Review (3DS): Roll for directions

The release of Crimson Shroud caught me somewhat off guard. By that I mean, I was reading that Yasumi Matsuno -- the mastermind behind one of my all-time favouites, Vagrant Story -- had a new game in the works and then subsequently read another article to find that it had just been released. Before I knew what was what, the game was downloading to my portable, and I was pontificating about how long I'd be playing this new game given the enduring nature of Ashley Riot's adventure on the original PlayStation.

Expectation, or rather the weight of it, can be a terrible thing. Given the height of the pedestal on which I've placed Vagrant Story, I was expecting Crimson Shroud to sweep me off my feet almost immediately. Despite art direction that looks like a direct lift from his previous effort, this is a completely different animal. 

For starters, while both are RPGs, Crimson Shroud harks back to the genre's origins where you'll find that the success of certain combat actions will be determined by the roll of the dice. Further to that, every scenario is perfectly punctuated by the the lofty prose of the Dungeon Master. This is probably the closest I'll get to playing a tabletop RPG.


There's also the switch from solo, arguably turn-based action to party combat with an explicit turn order to differentiate the old from the new. Battling goblins, minotaurs and other devious creatures here isn't that different to any other party-based affair except for the aforementioned use of dice for specific attacks and abilities. There are certain situations -- like an "Ambush" for example -- that inflict turn or damage penalties that prove an annoyance early on, and just plain deadly for a New Game Plus playthrough. It's also worth noting that characters don't level up, rather any increase in stats is determined by the items you equip. This isn't your mother's (or older brother/sister's) Matsuno dungeon crawl.

Some truly terrible level design mars what was -- at least initially -- a palatable take on tabletop action. There are several times where players are required to backtrack to happen across switches, key items and even battles, to progress the story. This wouldn't be a problem if the Dungeon Master (or anyone, for that matter) would intervene to tell you where it is you needed to go, or what it was would you should be looking for. Instead, three hours of a six hour playthrough were spent farming for a key item. Half of the time (!) that it took me to complete the game was spent repeating the same battle; something I only thought to do after consulting Google in desperation.

To make matters worse, this abominable design choice takes place within what should be your first hour of play. Most will understandably not make it past this ridiculous hurdle. I even consoled veteran writer, Brad Gallaway (of GameCritics) as he encountered this seemingly-futile scenario.

Again, in terms of presentation, Crimson Shroud feels like an extension of Vagrant Story. There is a key difference, however: battles and (most) story sequences are presented using figurines. Charming, cute as all hell, tabletop game pieces that I would pay a boatload of money for. Nothing matches the satisfaction of seeing a large, boss piece toppled. The near-static presentation method was a little off-putting at first, but it ended up being one of the key reasons I persisted with my quest.

It's far from perfect, but Crimson Shroud is well worth the paltry cost of admission. It calls upon the RPG's grandest, though oft-forgotten traditions to deliver a charming tabletop romp. You may need to search (for hours) for direction, but once you get your bearings, it proves a welcome lesson in RPG conventions.

Sunday, December 23

Dys4ia Review (PC): A personal Journey


Last night, Australian games writer, Daniel Golding tweeted that: 
"Jane Austen was great, but she doesn't really write literature, you know" "Dys4ia is good, but it's not really a game."
Upon taking the ten minutes required to actually play through Anna Anthropy's autobiographical Flash game, I replied that I felt it was more a picture book than a game. I didn't mean to sound dismissive or elitist with that observation, I was just trying to make sense of my experience with Dys4ia more than anything else. 

When reviewing thatgamecompany's moving masterpiece, Journey this year, I floated the notion that at times I felt like I wasn't playing a game; at least not in the conventional sense. There was no HUD and very little to worry about in terms of control and mechanics: to me, it was more an interactive story than a game. Dys4ia also drifts into the grey area between game and interactive story. It is, however, affecting and well worth experiencing. 

Let's have a look at a definition of "game" to better qualify my observation (source: dictionary.com):
"A competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators."
This is most definitely Anna's take on her experiences with gender dysphoria and Hormone Replacement Therapy being imparted to me, the player; so there's your two persons. As for competition, skill, chance, endurance, or rules, Dys4ia is lacking there. Even if you don't clear certain obstacles -- including a stealth sequence in a women's restroom, and a side-scrolling flight section -- the game will most often carry on regardless. Most situations do require a specific input and don't have any apparent conditions for failure: the narrative progresses when you're ready to "turn the page," to serve the purpose of my metaphor. 

Game or not though, there's no denying that this is a powerful ten minute ride. Given the wealth of experiences that Anthropy presents throughout the narrative, it's hard not to feel something; particularly with Liz Ryerson's oppressive soundtrack accompanying proceedings. As a cis white male, I've never really had to deal with any real crisis of gender identity. Dys4ia very effectively illustrates that trans people can expect a wealth of obstacles in their quest to feel comfortable with themselves and their gender. 

When the #1ReasonWhy hashtag took Twitter by storm a few weeks ago, one of the messages that stuck with me was from Mattie Brice who shared the following:
“I had to make my own game in order to see someone like me as a main character.”
I think the probability of seeing a trans protagonist in a AAA blockbuster release is near non-existent, however, stories like Dys4ia can go a way to illustrating issues with gender identity; and I hope to see more games like it emerge in future.

You can play Dys4ia on Newgrounds using the following link

Tuesday, December 11

Anniversary 2: The Sequel

Can you believe that this is only our second Wedding Anniversary, Carly?

I can't. I feel like -- in the best possible way -- we've been together for the longest time (cue Billy Joel). I can't imagine doing most anything (except maybe going to work, even then it's a stretch) if it's without you.  

Yes, we're diving head-first into an ocean of cliches now. You've been warned. You can stop here with the takeaway being that "I love you and I'm happy growing old with you," if you wish. Things get sickly sweet below this photo.


It's hard trying to describe how our relationship works, but it does and effortlessly so. There's no drama, no clashing, no stress. You're my respite. You protect me from the craziness of the outside world with your adorable range of mannerisms and always-open arms. I don't just feel comfortable in your presence though:
I feel accomplished, I feel challenged. Hey, I did it!

This year has gone so fast, and you've been the only constant I could hope to depend on. Loved ones have gone to live their own lives, and more and more I find myself looking to you as my sole support. I'm not going to say something like "You're my rock," because rocks don't giggle, aren't scared (to the point of hysteria) of spiders, and can't actively listen to me while I'm pouring my heart out. What I will say is that I trust you and love you more than any person or rock mass on this planet: be it igneous, sedimentary or metamorphic.

2012 has been interesting. We've both enjoyed continued success and, while the amount of time we get to spend with each other has tightened, we're getting what we want from life. We've even expanded our ranks, recruiting a comic foil for our golden boy, Boss. Loki's been a little slow to pick up the basics -- the front room has developed its own unique musk -- but it's hard to imagine life around the house without his contagious smile. We may not have been able to follow through with all of our dreams, but we'll save up and try again soon. We'll migrate south one of these days... I know it!


I'll leave you with a request: Can we please not watch the Wedding video this year? I've been through job interviews, experienced various other triumphs and tragedies this year, and nothing has managed to make me feel as anxious as watching our nuptials for the first time.

It's amazing how sharp those memories still are, and the sensations that came with watching that footage. Whether it was the awkward jokes I made when greeting guests, remembering (and re-experiencing) the tightness in my chest as I awaited your arrival, or the tears I held back during my speech at the reception: it's all still so clear in my mind. I can even remember breaking my toenail the night before when playing Mega Chess with Sam Phillips. It's not that I want my recollection to fade, it's just that I still look back at the day as the most important day in my life. All the expectation, nervous energy and emotion that I felt on that day is still very much alive in me. I can't expect that it would dissipate for any great passage of time either.

Thank you for your continued love and support, and I can't adequately express how much you mean to me. Happy Anniversary, Carls.

All my love, words and feels,

Trittles

Monday, December 10

Far Cry 3 and its absurd economy have links to Dark Tourism


Note: This post contains spoilers for Far Cry 3.

A good wallet is hard to come by these days.

In my early twenties, I used a Transformers-branded wallet made of synthetic material, complete with Velcro straps, for around three years. It had everything I needed: separate zip-able sections for both notes and coins, a respectable amount of card pouches, and a transparent sleeve for my photo ID. Oh, did I mention it had the Autobot logo on it? That was probably its greatest feature.

It served me well, until one day when the zipper on the note section jammed. It was hard to let go of this humble money-carrying device, but its primary function had been compromised. After much searching, my In-Laws ended my tireless quest upon returning home from their trip to Italy, when they gifted me with a genuine leather wallet.

It did all the things I needed it to do, but it was lacking some important features: zips for the note sections, the Autobot logo, and a coin section. For just over two years now, most everytime I wash my clothes is Treasure Time.

So about that wallet
Given that most weapons can be unlocked without purchase and that crafting items can't be purchased, money in Far Cry 3 should only really be used on ammo and weapon attachments. It's absurd really: pick up a fallen enemy's gun and it'll be issued to you by any vendor without charge, fix enough radio towers and there's not even need for the dead body scavenger hunt. It's almost like you're borrowing guns from a tourist resort. Cash is ostensibly useless.

You can't even use money to buy pedestrian items, like a new wallet to carry greater amounts of money. No. A pig, a shark and some cassowarys will need to be skinned for that purpose. Even if, say the game forced an encounter with a crocodile, you couldn't use their leathery hide (a material that was, once upon a time, used in the crafting of such accessories) to fashion a larger billfold. The player is forced to hunt a range of otherwise endangered animals to make the items required to carry more gear and loot. 


Poaching rare creatures to afford poorly composed adventure wear strikes me as problematic. Seriously, if an organization such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have thought it right to take issue with Pokémon, why has Far Cry 3 -- a game that literally allows you to dispatch Sumatran Tigers with C4 explosives -- failed to register a ping on their ethical radar? There are only four hundred of these magnificent beasts alive in the wild, yet here I would've encountered (and in most cases, subsequently killed) a tally greater than that of goats and pigs. The wildlife of the Rook Islands are walking raw materials to be slaughtered, harvested and fashioned. 

Without even considering the "Path of the Hunter" quest line, Far Cry 3 can be difficult to stomach for anyone with a love of animals. Especially when you consider that their value is reduced to that of a component for a haggard-looking rucksack. 

Death was here
There were several times throughout my adventure with Jason Brody where I felt I was treading on sacred ground. There were the more obvious encounters with Citra and the Rakyat, but the Buck missions -- which have you fighting amongst and through Ancient Chinese ruins -- had me feeling a little uncomfortable. How much money would you have to pay to see a sight as rare as Lin Cong's tomb? How much more to tear it apart? This portion of the story also includes a mission set in an abandoned Japanese base, and a firefight on a boat amidst a collection of Old World treasures. There's the obvious colonial reading of this sequence -- which, as Rowan Kaiser shows, can also be applied to the entire game -- and then there's the realisation that narrative starts with our hero and his friends on tropical holiday. 


Before long, Far Cry 3 is an apparent and living exercise in dark tourism. 

Whether you're photographing dead bodies to rally the locals, mass-grave spelunking, or getting some more ink done, the game tries to steer the player and thus the protagonist towards morality by experiencing -- or at the very least, witnessing -- immorality. The ultimate test of the game's lesson is rendered in the final minutes, but I've no doubt it'll be lost in a stockpile of bear skins and poorly-crafted pouches. 

Have you been enjoying Far Cry 3? Do you have any issue with dispatching video game animals?

Saturday, December 8

Street Fighter X Tekken Review (PSV): I touch myself

You may remember that I've previously reviewed Street Fighter X Tekken for both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I even got myself a spot on Metacritic for my trouble.
With that in mind, I'll try not to cover too much old ground. The idea here will be to give you an idea of what Capcom was able to achieve, and what it had to sacrifice with this portable port on the PlayStation Vita.

Firstly, I was blown away with how well the game manages to scrub up on Sony's handheld. Some characters may look a little washed out at first blush, but given some time to readjust, this ranks as one of the best looking games on the system. Animated backgrounds, a broad and bright colour palette, and peerless animation characterise what awaits you and your AMOLED screen.

There are some new features in the portable version which won't revolutionise how you play, but are appreciated regardless. First is the addition of quick select slots to the character select screen, that allows for you to pick from your most-recently used teams if you wish. Burst Kumite mode is your run-of-the-mill survival mode with an unlockable Pandora variant. I had a lot of fun with this mode, which is an ideal fit for gaming on the go. The Pandora variant gifts you with a rechargeable Cross Gauge and feels a little simple as a result; worse still, the off-putting sound that accompanies every fight in which you're in this state meant that I shelved it pretty quickly. There's also some pointless Augmented Reality and Near antics available to those with time to burn.

Whatchu talkin' bout Juri?

I should probably mention that the Vita version comes with twelve extra characters including Blanka, whose omission from the home console versions was the cause of some distress. The Street Fighter characters (save for maybe Elena) are all well-suited to the crossover's brand of combo and juggle-heavy action but, as is the case for the roster at large, the Tekken fighters have a hard time competing. All things considered, my extra time with the game has come with two glaring observations:

  • The Namco side of the roster tends to get pinned down due to a wholesale lack of projectile attacks
  • The general mechanics, which focus on common combos and quick hits, don't prove to be as enduring as recent entries from either franchise (or either publisher for that matter).  
Concerns over longevity aside, my copy also came with redeemable codes for the additional fighters for my PS3 version, as well as alternate costumes for most of the starting cast. Considering these goodies would set you back more than twenty bucks, the Vita versions represents an undeniable value. 


Controls are responsive, and the front and rear touch screen offer some more ways to bust out Quick Combos as well as your favourite moves when in a pinch. The rear touch inputs are placed a little too close to the shoulders for my liking, so I found myself performing throws with gay abandon. After a while, I decided to disable the rear touchpad as the unintentional grappling attempts often put me at great peril. The analogue sticks, d-pad, face buttons and front pad all work well though, and save for some trouble performing Super Arts and Cross Rushes, the game handles on par with its console brethren.


Touch controls are shoehorned into a lot of the menus, and this causes frustration given the small size of most tiles and items. Customising gem sets is still a laborious task, as the Vita version also lacks the ability to customise blanket configurations for all characters; it's one at a time, or nothing.

I should mention that I couldn't find a single match online. Now this may have something to do with the Vita not liking my home network setup or a paltry player community. Either way, fighting games usually live and die by their competitive scene, so this is a pretty big mark against the game. Poor (and I mean worse than woeful) sales figures in Japan lead me to believe that this is more an issue of numbers than logistics, truth be told. Regardless, I haven't been able to trial any of the network features, save for the aforementioned Near functionality.

The lack of live opponents wouldn't be such a big issue if the AI could hold its own. Unfortunately, even on its hardest difficulty level, Street Fighter X Tekken can be mastered with almost any combination of Capcom fighters. Hell, even some of the Tekken cast can bruise the best the AI can throw at you.

With a huge cast, system leading visuals and solid controls, the PlayStation Vita version of Street Fighter X Tekken is a worthy addition to any fighting game lover's library. It may lack the depth and balance of the tag team efforts from each respective franchise and/or publisher, but it packs a lot of value: especially for those who also own the PlayStation 3 version. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 1

Spec Ops: The Line Review (PC - Single player): We don't have a choice


Note: This post contains vague plot spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line. 

There are very few games I've played this year -- let alone in my lifetime -- that have forced me to reflect on what it is that I'm actually doing when I'm playing games. Most often, I'm killing something: shooting someone, aiming for the head, bringing death. Most games frame their violence in such a way that its implication for and impact on a protagonist are swept under the rug in favour of the big picture story. Be it winning a futuristic war, repelling an alien invasion, or avenging the loss of a loved one: the ends often justify the means.

Worse still, most of the games I've played have allowed me to trust my hero. To believe the path they've taken -- that's often linear -- is righteous. There's no time or reason for me to question cleaving a Locust Drone in twain, or dispatching some zombie, vampire or other nightmare-fuelled creature because they are so effectively "othered" that my actions warrant no further consideration. Everything fits the usually bulky, macho man's vision. They kill so that the Nazi advance is stopped, so the North Koreans fail to take the American Mid West, and so that evil is vanquished from many a land. There's no grey area. I'm good, we're good, the baddies die. Game over.


What if I don't know my enemy? But what if I am the bad guy? What I do then?

Those are the questions that Spec Ops: The Line asks, but in so cheap a fashion that the impact is potentially lost.

Before I get to the heavier aspects of this title, know that Yager's effort plays like just about every other third person cover shooter on the market. You hunker down, you scrounge for ammo, you pop from cover when the time is right. There's the odd turret section and on-rails level to break up the monotony, and you gain access to a respectable arsenal over the course of the adventure. It all seems very familiar, and that's part of what makes The Line so effective. You've done this a thousand times before, as a thousand different "cold, hard, handsome killers."

The game lulls you into this false sense of security and then confronts you with some of the most harrowing imagery and themes that you'll find while cast in the role of an American soldier. The game's protagonist, Captain Martin Walker is voiced by the almost literal video game everyman, Nolan North. With such a familiar lead, Spec Ops tries to show players the real impact that killing around a thousand men would have on the average person's psyche. It's really affecting to see someone that looks and sounds mighty similar to Drake (of the Uncharted series) fall apart under the weight of their own actions and body count. For someone who's always had a bit of a problem with how someone like Drake is thought to be so utterly endearing, in spite of the fact that he's murdered more than the population of Australia and New Zealand combined -- for TREASURE, no less -- it's refreshing... and horrifying to see the consequence of all those spent clips and grenades.

There are some truly gruesome and haunting scenes to behold across your (approximately) six hours in Dubai, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that the overall experience has left me hesitant to play any game that involves death on any scale after reaching two of several possible conclusions. I finished Spec Ops on Monday, and I haven't had the heart to return to Black Ops II for the purpose of reviewing the multiplayer component, or thought of playing anything else that involved firearms. This may not be the thinking man's shooter -- squad tactics play no great part; be patient, choose your shots, and you should get through without much fuss -- but it'll keep you up at night.


This all sounds great right? So how does the Shooter Parable lose sight of its message?

Spec Ops: The Line telegraphs the two biggest punches in its repertoire, and the experience suffers as a result. Forcing players into a particular telling of events means that the illusion of choice built up earlier in the game goes up in smoke.

Still, there were sequences where I was audibly saying "No, no, FUCK NO!!!" because I was unnerved and genuinely appalled at what I was capable of (even given that there was no real alternative). It's cheap storytelling when you clobber your audience with unavoidable consequence and horror, but there's no arguing that it's not effective in this case.

Sandstorm-ravaged Dubai is literally dripping with symbolism -- as evidenced by Brendan Keogh's fifty thousand word anecdote, Killing is Harmless -- and it doesn't hurt to stop and take in your surroundings. Even on what is now a low-mid range laptop, the visuals impressed in terms of both art direction and technical proficiency. Some of the set pieces are nothing short of jaw-dropping. Spec Ops may be a sleeper hit, but it'll wow you if given half a chance.

For mine, Spec Ops: The Line and Hotline Miami are two of the year's most important games, as they've forced me to reflect on the how, the who and the why of video game violence. While Hotline Miami's message is somewhat more abstract (and most likely imagined on my part), Spec Ops bludgeons you with its commentary. It's ugly, it's horrifying, it's an ordeal, and it's absolutely worth experiencing. Something else packaged in something utterly familiar.

Wednesday, November 28

Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line - Book Review

This post contains spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line.

This marks a first for me: a book review. I've undertaken quite a few critical readings of modern fiction texts over the course of my university studies, but never have I actually thought to write a conventional review. The principal reason for this is because it usually takes me weeks -- if not months -- to read a book and I'm not in a position to effectively criticize most of the books I've read because the finer details are usually lost on me by the time I reach the farthest page to the right.

The best thing I can say about Killing is Harmless: A Critical Reading of Spec Ops: The Line is that it's written in accessible language, and provided that you have some experience with shooters and video games in general, you should breeze through it. Keogh's a gifted writer, and this is an easy read which confirms a lot of what I thought, points to some finer details that I missed on my admittedly fast playthrough, and gives me some reasons to consider revisiting what was an ugly, though engrossing tale. Killing is Harmless is pretty much the only reason I picked up the game that’s the subject of this reading, and the foreword has to be one of the best advertisements for a video game mine eyes have seen.


The greatest criticism I can level at Killing is Harmless is that it's not -- at least in my opinion -- a critical reading of a game. It's long-form "new games writing" that relates the author's experience with the game to what I presume to be a lifetime spent playing games. There's a lack of real criticism levelled at the game itself, and a lot of the observations made in the text felt natural to me: a man who's received a quality education and has some knowledge of the Vietnam War, protest music, semiotics, US imperialism/interventionism and who had -- perhaps most importantly -- completed the game solely as preparation to read this text. I went in looking for stuff to read (puns!).

There’s no perspective adhered to for the length of the text either, giving further weight to this being more of a meditation than a critical reading; though there are some recurring themes. Keogh spends a lot of time focussing on an observation from the game’s lead writer, and this influences a great deal of his character analysis. Interpreting the podcast utterances of a creative doesn't equate to a reading here, and it won't register as profound to anyone's who has witnessed the gradual degradation of Captain Walker and Co. in Spec Ops: The Line. Another constant in Keogh's deliberations is focussing on the meaning of the protagonist's name. I agree that it may have some significance in terms of critiquing games in general, as linear progression is a common video game trope (read: it's not exclusive to shooters). However, his repeated attempts to squeeze meaning out of Walker's name start to wring hollow.

I think it's hard to read too deep into Spec Ops if you focus on the concept of "advancing = complicity" because the game itself forces the player to engage in two major atrocities. The argument Keogh presents is that the player could stop playing (even though the game wants you to realise that you won’t stop playing) if they don’t want to participate in or otherwise witness war crimes, but this is a copout. Wanting to stop play isn't normally a cause for in-depth investigation in games journalism, it's a reason to lower a score (if you’re reading a publication that tends to assign one). Having the player abandon the game to either trade it in or get a refund is NOT a design choice. Any person who willingly creates a game with even a whiff of intent for the player to give up only to subsequently dispose of it probably shouldn’t be involved in games design. If Keogh’s theory runs true and the developers did indeed want for players to consider abandoning their trek through Dubai, then Spec Ops’ disappointing sales could be proof of my assertions.


One thing I thoroughly enjoyed about Keogh’s comprehensive recollection of The Line was realising that I’d missed a lot of symbols in my quick playthrough. In fact, seeing what I had missed opens up some possibilities for… well… actual readings of Spec Ops. Like how about the unrequited love story between Walker and Konrad, for instance? That shit would get some copies moving off the shelves. Granted, you couldn’t get fifty thousand words out of that one (though my wife, the product of a similar education argues otherwise); but I think there’s something there.

For what it’s worth, Keogh has written something important and – ultimately -- readable. This may not be the first long form critical reading of a game (it’s still coming), but it is a lengthy and entertaining read. There may be some obvious calls and some drawing of long bows, but it’s nice to know someone saw and felt something similar to you when playing through this ordeal (believe me when I say that calling Spec Ops an ordeal is no overstatement). Killing is Harmless, much like Spec Ops: The Line, is important: it’s fresh ground, and I hope there’s room for more long form games writing in the market – much like I hope that Yager again tries its hand at the thoughtful shooter and finds commercial success. We need to think about what we do when we play games and shooters specifically, and we need more people prepared to write about the experience of playing and questioning at length.  

Keogh is Walker is Konrad is the player is the reader.  

You can purchase Killing is Harmless: A critical reading of Spec Ops: The Line from stolenprojects.com for the introductory price of $2.99 (valid until 21 December, 2012). 

Saturday, November 17

Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review (PS3 - Single player): Terms of Enrampagement


Note 1: I've decided to review the single and multiplayer component of the game separately, as this is a pretty meaty package. I'm not even going to bother looking at Zombies in detail because I've never really seen the appeal of this mode, and what I did play was fairly uninspiring anyway. 

Note 2: This review contains minor spoilers because real talk.

I've been watching a lot of Archer recently. For those of you not familiar with the show, it's an animated super spy comedy that airs on ABC2 in Australia, and just happens to be one of the greatest shows currently on television (Disclaimer: I don't watch much TV, so make of this endorsement what you will). Normally dealing with the more sexy and violent aspects of the secret agent lifestyle, the character of Sterling Archer is delightfully self-obsessed and carries the excess baggage you'd assume would come with a globe-hopping, partner-swapping, murderous lifestyle. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops II (henceforth referred to as BLOPS 2) is Archer without the sense of irony. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as Treyarch's itinerary for Team Live Badass is so dripping with bombast that it often out-CoDs the average CoD instalment.

In Soviet-invaded Afghanistan, horse shoots you!

Seriously, I don't want to spoil anything, but at one point where I stopped to note a sequence where I took out a tank on horseback, I destroyed a helicopter from the saddle on my loyal steed literally seconds later. Shit gets that ridonkulous; and just when you think, "No way they can top that last bit," sure enough, you'll be flying through a valley in a futuristic wingsuit. While it would've been easy enough for the developers to rest on their laurels - with record-breaking sales for each new instalment almost being a given - it's apparent that they wanted to get players out of the corridor grind I've come to associate with the series. It works, believe me. 

While the series has escaped from the sterile hallways of many a military facility, be prepared for some truly gruesome scripted sequences. There wasn't anything that I thought was unbecoming in terms of the series gore portfolio, but is it too much to ask for the violence to be dialed back from the fabled 11? Throat slitting, immolation and good old fashioned stabbing is all par for the course, and I'd forgive the squeamish for opting out of the more violent sequences. I guess I should note that to Treyarch's credit, you have the option to disable graphic content; but there are times where the level of violence enters Farce City. 

Like I said at the outset, however, the game seems intent on taking itself a wee bit too seriously. There's one level in particular, where you play an enraged character who doesn't seem able to die. He's that pissed that he can tear through throngs of militia when his atomic structure is comprised almost entirely of lead. So angry is he, that at times he simply refuses to use his guns; he'd rather butcher his enemies with a machete. Interspersed between these displays of violence, brought to you by the colour red, the player character screams a loved one's name in time with a track more becoming of a Zumba workout than a gun fight. I actually laughed out loud during this particular level, as I wasn't quite sure how to take it.

While we're on the soundtrack, I should probably mention that it's fantastic. I know, right? Brilliant music in a Call of Duty game that isn't a series of predictable, if not competently-performed, pieces of lofty orchestral music or cliched guitar riffs. Crazy! Trent Reznor's theme is the clear stand out: it has the prerequisite futuristic, espionage-y tones, and is rich in understated brilliance. Other highlights include a Skrillex number that's played in a crowded club, and a twist on the multiplayer theme that scores a plane ride (funnily enough, both pieces of music are in the same level). The dubstep set piece is another one of those instances that just reeks of dudebro, but in a tolerable fashion. I wouldn't normally listen to the wub wub on the commute or while engaging in physical activity, yet here it's presented in a way that seems authentic and inoffensive to my ear holes. Apart from a truly awful track from Avenged Sevenfold that serves as a "reward" for completing the game, your ears are in for a treat.  

The story is as ridiculous as the action; which is to say that it's crazy but somewhat plausible, given the futuristic setting. Central to the plot is Alex Mason - the protagonist from the original BLOPS - and his son, David. As Alex and co, you'll explore some Cold War era scenarios that are, for the most part, interesting, well-paced, and surprisingly fun to play through. David, otherwise know by his codename, Section, is privy to the lion's share of balls-out craziness. The story is broken up by a busted, though commendable attempt at fusing RTS with Assault (a la Unreal Tournament) dubbed "Strike Force". These mercifully-short experiments would be fun if not for the fact that support AI is completely broken. Still, it's nice to have the intensity in Ten City that is the character-driven story missions mixed up with something that doesn't feel as significant. 

While the central characters are shown a great deal of care with respect to the lifelike way in which they're rendered and animated, the generation-old Modern Warfare engine is starting to show its age. Wide shots of large structures can look very fuzzy, and a lot of textures look very muddy and washed out. To be fair though, everything moves at such a cracking pace that I very rarely had time to stop and smell the proverbial polygonal roses. That, and most of the weapon effects and the omnipresent explosions do more than enough to make the mundane seem spectacular.

They say it's much safer than driving to work

The last thing I wanted to touch on was the "choices" players make throughout the campaign, or at least the illusion of choice in certain situations. When I'd hit the halfway point of the campaign, I wanted to see if other games writers were as enthusiastic as I was for BLOPS 2's brand of "Oh no, he did not," action shenanigans. Some were, but most were making a huge deal over the choices that players could make. One reviewer even commented that "[the story is] so full of choices big and small that you might not even be aware that you're making them." If not sure you're making a choice, I don't believe that it's a choice in the case of BLOPS 2: it's a coincidence. It was a coincidence that I didn't notice guards torching a pile of documents that could have been useful. It was a coincidence that I swerved to avoid the obstacle that I believed potentially fatal to both my passenger and my player character. These choices do become more explicit as the story progresses, but earlier on you're not prompted or otherwise informed that there are choices to make!

The single player component of BLOPS 2 is the best I've seen in a Call of Duty instalment since the original Modern Warfare. Almost every scenario that players are confronted with is ridiculous, and entirely worth experiencing.  You may think it hard to pilot a fighter jet with a throbbing erection (Archer reference), but Treyarch strap you into the aircraft and ask you to give it your best shot regardless.  If you have any love of first person shooters, you'll put your name on the sign-up sheet for Team Live Badass.  

Wednesday, November 14

Of clocks and cakes

Veteran  Australian games writer, David Wildgoose has told staff writers under his tutelage that games are not clocks. Presumably because:

a) Not all games employ the same systems and work the same way
b) "There's more to games than just how well they operate" (Henderson, 2011; p36)
c) When reviewing games, you shouldn't be checking features against a checklist 

Brendan Keogh - another prolific writer of Australian stock - recently tweeted the analogy that games are not like cakes. He said (and I am paraphrasing somewhat) he's more interested in how the cake makes you feel (how it tastes), as opposed to the quality of the ingredients.

Hybrid Theory

I agree with both theories to an extent, but my recent experience with Assassin's Creed: Liberation would have me ask Ubisoft Sofia and Montreal where they source some of their ingredients. Don't get me wrong, I like the game, but there are two elements of it that are driving me to madness. 

Firstly there's the control scheme, which needlessly shoehorns in some loathsome, Vita-specific input (read: touch controls) that have marred a game that I'd otherwise recommend without question. Firstly, there's pick-pocketing: an action that's effortlessly performed in the home console iterations by holding the X/A button around the citizenry of Renaissance Italy. In Liberation, you need to hold down the left shoulder and swipe down the rear touchpad. Doesn't sound like it involves too much effort, but when you've been playing a game a certain way for a matter of years, the change is unwelcome. Worse still, the implementation of gyroscopic controls for a specific puzzle sequence nearly had me hurling the expensive portable against the wall. Both these scenarios comprise a small part of the Liberation experience, but they've done enough to taint my opinion of it thus far. 


The visuals and soundtrack combine to make one dreary looking layer of sponge cake: like someone added blue and green food colouring to the mix to make grey batter. It's not that the game doesn't look good, rather the omnipresent brown of the ground and structures in New Orleans (where you'll spend the majority of your time) combined with a Creole spin on the Nolan Batman score had me wallowing in the pits of despair. Regardless of whether Aveline adopts her vibrant lady persona, assassin garb, or slave costume, you're treated to the same rotation of tracks that evoke little but dread and thoughts of violence. I'm not so naive or insensitive to think a rousing, light-hearted track would be appropriate fodder for our hero to sneak through a plantation, but surely high society has more pleasant notes to offer? 

In any case, Assassin's Creed: Liberation is shaping up to be one of the better games on the fledgling handheld; at the very least, it's proving more enjoyable than Revelations. I can only hope that there's less improvised motion and touch controls thrown into what's left of the game. 

References:
Wildgoose, D (Editor), 2011. Hyper, Special Japan Issue, p65. 

Sunday, November 11

Home away from home

Please forgive my protracted absence from this space. I was trying to give games writing the good old college try, but then life happened.

I'm proud of the small body of work that I produced at Games Are Evil, but my wife and I are in the midst of  a huge life decision. One that is so incredibly exciting and terrifying at the same time. For all of my life I've lived in Queensland; and by Queensland, I mean two parts of it where life can become pretty bloody comfortable. Now it may be time to move on: we'd still be in Australia, but in a different state. All of those people and places that make up our security blanket will have to be put into storage. We want to move to Melbourne.

"Why Melbourne?" you might ask. My knee-jerk response is that Melbourne -- in my limited experience with it -- feels alive. Every aspect of it: the places, the people, the weather; there seems to be a genuine exuberance that I've seen there that isn't tangible where I live now. Look, on a sunny day, the Gold Coast is a beautiful place; but this is a fucking hard place to make friends. I know I could just jump on the train to Brisbane to be with loved ones, but that's hard to accommodate in the working week when you're a couple of hours away. Plus life has happened to a lot of them too. My beautiful niece turned one recently, my brother flew in from Thailand for a week (with the odd stop-off), and I've been writing (or at least contemplating) a good dozen positions interstate.


Life is happening, friends!... and it scares the shit out of me.

Dutch note: Oh right, what this means for here is that I don't have a specific brief to write to anymore. So you'll see more updates.

Friday, November 2

First Impressions of NBA 2K13 (Xbox 360): Art Imitates Life

In a nutshell, I'm a pretty dodgy basketballer, both in the real world and the virtual. One would think with the assistance of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade I could successfully pull off a layup - even a spectacular backboard breaking dunk - but alas, no. 

Thanks for nothing, LeBron
In the hope of inspiring confidence in my abilities, I recently downloaded the demo of NBA 2K13, the latest basketball release from 2K Sports and the gaming world's most popular basketball series. While my sessions were brief, I liked what I saw.

In the real world I am well aware my significant lack of sporting confidence and spacial awareness are part of the reason for poor on-court performance, however this is not the reason why I suck at 2K13.

It has nothing to do with poor controls or a steep learning curve; NBA 2K13 is actually easier to pick up than its predecessor. This iteration has a new feature that utilizes the right stick to initiate advanced dribbling and, in conjunction with the left trigger, can be used for fine tuning your shot.

Previously the right stick was only used for adjusting your shot, however, in my opinion, this change has helped the controls become easier to grasp. To be honest there were times when I found it to be an inconvenience when shooting and often resorted to mashing buttons but I found myself drawn back to using the new style, even if it was just to play.

As with the real world, my inability to sink baskets comes down to me having no clue. Sports games are not my forte (just ask anyone who's played FIFA with me) and for me to get my head back in the genre, I'll need to bank a few hours of game time.

I actually find the whole concept confusing - marking players, initiating plays; as a button masher I lack the finesse, maybe even cognitive capacity, to make the most of my team. Once I know what makes my player run, I'll just hold that button down the entire time and wonder why the team is tired by the end of the first quarter. Then other questions arise such as why am I pivoting when I want to shoot? Oh because I'm also holding down some other button with my gorilla sized hand while simultaneously hitting the wrong button.

Despite this lack of experience holding back my high score, I did enjoy what I saw of the game and am keen to explore it further in the full release. Produced by Jay Z, NBA 2K13 has a fresh slickness to it, boasting an eclectic soundtrack and an enjoyable NBA experience.

The full version includes all 30 teams along with the 1992 USA Dream Team (with Scottie Pippen) and the 2012 US Mens National team to settle the vigorously debated question of which generation is the better baller. My money's on the Dream Team...unless I'm holding the controller...

Have you played 2K13? What are your thoughts and would you prefer EA's NBA Live series over the 2K offer?

Wednesday, September 26

That's no Humble Bundle, it's a space station!

Holy crap, guys. This new Humble Indie Bundle is off the chain. It is straight up rigoddamndonkulous. Torchlight, Space Pirates & Zombies (SPAZ), Shatter, Vessel and Rochard for a dollar (USD) is crazy, but manage just over six (the average price everyone pays, which can rise) and you also get Dustforce, BIT.TRIP RUNNER, Gratuitous Space Battles, Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony and Wizorb PLUS original soundtracks for nine of the included games. That shit cray.

I will never get tired of using this image. NEVER!

Jamestown was one of the best games released in 2011, and easily the best shmup I've ever played. Torchlight is a solid, if not repetitive alternative to Diablo et al. I know I should do more than advertise deals that I otherwise would've avoided thanks to that whole Gamefast thing, but this is just amazing. Even beats a sub-thirty dollar copy of Borderlands 2 in my opinion.

You can take advantage of the silly deal by clicking here.

Tuesday, September 25

Grey Market Goodness

I probably should've told you guys earlier -- especially Borderlands 2 has since sold out -- but Turkey's greatest grey market website, CDKEYSHERE is dripping with value. On Saturday I picked up the aforementioned sequel to one of 2009's most overrated games in addition to the sleeper hit, Sleeping Dogs for under fifty bucks! No use of VPNs are required to redeem these codes either: just pop them into Steam and you're good.

It's my understanding that you shouldn't run into trouble if you use the region free codes. Having to use VPNs to bypass region restrictions -- which is a requirement for some of the codes that this site sells -- can potentially get your Steam account banned, so please exercise caution.

How did you get Sleeping Dogs for less than twenty bucks!?!

I haven't purchased any Origin keys at this point, and considering their product mix, I'm not likely to anytime soon. Maybe Medal of Honor: Warfighter will stir me to action? Are there any grey market sites that you can recommend?

Monday, September 24

Remember when games used to be about fun(doshi)?

I got a little bit excited last night in my attempt to defend Dead or Alive 5 at the expense of Tekken Tag Tournament 2. I assumed (incorrectly) that the packed-in code that redeems over a hundred bikins was to add to the wardrobes of women characters only. Upon watching my wife dress up characters of each gender, I discovered that most of the men now have access to the traditional Japanese undergarment, the fundoshi.


At first I thought this may have been means to level the playing field; for the men to be to be objectified. But then I noticed my wife's reaction. When she loaded up her arch-nemesis Dragunov with his freshly-downloaded, skimpy attire, I could hear the horror in her voice. He may have given Pumping Iron Arnie a run for his money in the muscle stakes, but the sex appeal wasn't there. The fundoshi, in this case, is an emphatic symbol of masculine dominance and power. 

A quick Wikipedia search informs me that men aren't normally embarrassed to don the fundoshi. It's worn on special occasions, it's a symbol of masculinity, to wear it often would be considered distasteful. The men are empowered by their swimsuits, can the same be said for the women?

Interestingly enough, the answer is: maybe. I was informed that playing as strong women dressed in outfits that my wife wouldn't normally think to wear can sometimes be empowering in its own right. This could potentially lend weight to some of the counter-arguments I saw for my piece on the Hitman: Absolution trailer that got promoted on Bitmob. Then again, Carls was quick to note that this revelation comes with two important caveats: it's only empowering if the player is a woman as well, and her opponent must be someone she is comfortable with. For a man to slap a revealing swimsuit on every woman in the expasnive cast, or dress them in some of the other (perhaps even more revealing) costume is tantamount to that same ogle I've decried and questioned on occasion. 


What do you think? Is it only objectification if we're using the male gaze? Maybe soon I'll get around to telling you how the game actually plays? Remember when games were just about the fun?

Sunday, September 23

Beware the delicate touch of the Sexy Octopus

Sometimes I think the Dead or Alive series gets a bad rap. Yes, it objectifies women in unrealistic and objectionable ways, but sometimes I feel as though the crimes of its fighting game brethren go unnoticed.

Case in point would be the recently released, Tekken Tag Tournament 2. The "ANZ Edition" comes packed with a  code to unlock one hundred and fifty bikins in which to decorate the women cast (Edit - There code unlocks swimsuits for most fighters: men and women). When taunting their opponents at the start of a fight, women supports will recline against the wall or usually pose in other suggestive ways. Then, of course, there's this costume for series' veteran, Anna Williams:

Now, for the knowledge of the court, tell us where did the Sexy Octopus touch you?

Don't get me wrong, there are some modest costumes available; but most of the ladies look as though they've picked up some of the more elaborate lingerie costumes from Victoria's Secret. The guys all seem to be wearing the typical, masculine attire that they've worn in each of the previous instalments. You could argue that there are some exceptions: Jin's faux fur-sleeved leather midriff jacket from Tekken 6 and the sports bra that Eddy Gordo's been trying to pull off since his first appearance in Tekken 3; but I think it's fair to say that the men are dressed for the purpose of power fantasy as opposed to objectification.

Maybe I'm trying to make myself feel better about still wanting to pick up Dead or Alive 5, or maybe the problem extends past the handiwork of Team Ninja? Either way, women are objectified even without the use of patented "breast physics" in the fighting game genre. The only question is: is this a deal-breaker for you?

Tuesday, September 18

Gamefast's inevitable outcome

Failure. It happened. We all knew it would. Thankfully, it came slightly later than I had expected.

It turns out that I lasted eight weeks and one day, beating my previous record (3 days) by a respectable margin. Just in case you were wondering what brought this endurance test to its end, know that the prospect of missing out on a premium, black Wii U provded too painful. I put my money down yesterday, so I won't be missing out.

I don't intend to go back to the affluent days of yore. Don't get me wrong, all bets are off now: the only thing to keep me in line is my own sense of fiscal responsibility and knowing that owning all of these games means squat if I don't have the time to play them.

I'm going to give this another go. Not anytime soon; probably at the beginning of next year. Can't imagine that I'd last all of 2013, but maybe we can beat eight weeks and one day next time!

Failure makes me a sad panda

Sunday, September 9

Gamefast update: 7 weeks down

For those of you who missed it, just shy of seven weeks ago I advised of my intent to not buy any game content until the next Steam sale. As of 9:52am this morning, I've officially lasted seven weeks without buying a single game or item of downloadable content.

There have been obstacles. As of four weeks ago, I started writing a weekly feature for Games are Evil (GrE) dubbed, The Vault where I explore under appreciated, underrated and otherwise forgotten games from previous generations of hardware. I'm making do with the classics in my collection for the moment, but the compulsion to spend up big on eBay is still there.

 I'll take EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM!!!

They (and by they, I mean the internet) say it takes between three to four weeks to break a habit, and I'd say that's about right. I still visit my old haunts -- the likes of Play Asia, ozgameshop, JB Hi-Fi, even EBGames if I'm desperate -- and I'm managing to walk away without too much trouble. That doesn't necessarily mean that I don't want to pick up any new releases, rather now they're not the only thing I think about.

I'd love to say that I'm proud of myself, but the last seven weeks have revealed that buying (lots of) games is a coping mechanism for me. Not being able to rely on that crutch and being unable to source another one has left me pretty stressed out. On the bright side, I've found myself reading more and -- perhaps more pertinently -- actually playing the games that I've accumulated over the last few years.

I've also been helped along by my wife's generosity. She thankfully and mercifully surprised me with a $50 PlayStation Network card a few weeks ago so that I could pick up the PlayStation classic, Alundra along with a throng of other games that haven't aged as gracefully. Tomb Raider for one would have to rank as one of the ugliest and most awkward games after being fondled by Father Time for more than fifteen years.

 KILL EVERYTHING WITH FIRE!!!

I only need to survive for another three months and then it's mission accomplished. The first real test lands next week in the form of Tekken Tag Tournament 2, and it doesn't get much easier in the following weeks with Assassin's Creed III and Halo 4 also surfacing this year.

Wish me luck.

Dutch note: Call it shameless advertising, but I urge you all to head over to GrE to read The Vault at the very least. For a quick taste, here's what I've covered so far:
  • Vagrant Story: "While playing it again has been a pleasure, it’s almost jarring just how well Vagrant Story holds up in terms of art direction, technical prowess and combat mechanics. This is a game that not only deserves its place in The Vault, but pretty much demands you take action to acquire a copy, digital or otherwise. It may have been a critical success, but unfortunately, its innovative approach to combat and enemy encounters have failed to endure. If you’re getting tired of the grind and would rather see how the JRPG could’ve evolved into something more bearable, it’s time for you to discover (or revisit) Leá Monde."
  • Crusader: No Remorse: "Crusader: No Remorse would seem to have all the ingredients for an enduringly popular videogame, though sadly it seems to have successfully evaded the spotlight since release.  This has just as much violence and scores more weapons than your average brown and grey shooter, but the unusual perspective and divisive scripted sequences may have proved too much for the peanut gallery. If you like bombs, lasers, dance music and utter carnage, do yourself a favour and download this classic today."
  • Maximo Vs Army of Zin: "It may not be for everyone, but the charming visuals, frantic, combo-heavy combat and heart-in-mouth platforming sequences have helped Maximo Vs Army of Zin stand the test of time. It was never held in as high regard as some of Capcom’s other third person action games, but I’d argue that it’s just as enjoyable as the Devil May Crys and Viewtiful Joes that graced the previous generation of consoles. For those up to the challenge, I’d thoroughly recommend teaming up with Death to take on the mechanical hordes of Hawkmoor."
  • Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap: "Even after more than twenty years, the storybook charm of Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap can’t be underestimated. With a constantly-evolving protagonist and a cast of colorful enemies, it’s entirely possible that you’ll forget you’re grinding for gold when an enchanted forest or deep sea adventure serves as the backdrop for such a draining genre trope. It’s difficult, and repetition is key to experiencing all that’s on offer, but you simply must take up the quest to claim the Salamander Cross and restore Hu-Man’s luminous, green hair."

Sunday, September 2

Training Tales: The Lovers

I felt sick. I'd only been working in this new role for a few weeks and so much was already expected of me. This wasn't my first experience in middle management, but it was the first time since entering the workforce that I had felt legitimately challenged. Every role before now had followed a similar theme: overpaid, underworked and bored out of my brain. This was so different, I just wanted to tune out, but I was already thinking of tomorrow.

Now for the trip home. Two hours of maybe reading, more than likely playing games and battling motion sickness. "At least I get to work closer to home tomorrow," I thought to comfort myself. I exploded out of the office early, only to see my bus speed away over ten minutes before it should have. If I wanted to get home before dark, I'd need to improvise. With a little luck and a fair bit of backtracking, I was on my way home on the usual service, only two stops earlier.

My mind was racing far too quickly for me to engage with any text: videogame or otherwise. I would need to seek stimulus from my fellow passengers.

Like I said, I was feeling sick. Motion sick, sick with worry, all kinds of ill. My stomach lurched back and forth with the train, and it audibly gurgled throughout my journey. It was the usual afternoon mix: a lot of the same faces that were on the morning train mixed with young students yet to be relegated to a life of processing, data entry and broken dreams.

What I saw next would not help with my stomach's discontent, though it was oddly touching.

A couple, not apparent at first as they sat with one seat between them. They were both obese, with the woman having greater girth than the young man. Their faces were covered in pimples, and their skin grimy with a day's worth of city air. They wore bright colours and glanced at each other often.

Was I about to see love blossom between strangers, or had they run out of things to say to each other? It happens: spend enough time with someone and the language you share with them need not be explicit. My wife and I engage in thumb wars when we've run out of anecdotes or energy. What proceeded was no mere twiddling of appendages, it was an expression of affection that was (what I hope to be, at least) unique to this couple.

The young man, not happy to merely look at his supposed love, turned his head and burped towards her. She returned fire almost immediately. A volley of gastric mating calls errupted in the carriage. My fellow commuters looked just as stunned as I did, one even moving to cover the eyes of her young daughter. More problematic was the fact that the barrage seemed endless. I'm sure it only lasted a few minutes, but to me, on that day -- with my stomach lurching in time with the swaying train carriage -- it felt like I'd been watching this odd ritual for an eternity.

As the train pulled in to the lovers' stop, they rose in time and turned their heads to face each other and they smiled. The woman grabbed her partner's hand and they lumbered off the carriage. Those left in the lovers' wake shared knowing glares and collected themselves: there was still a while to travel.

Finally, it was my time to disembark. I raced up the stairs to meet my wife. I smiled at her and we shared a brief kiss. My stomach gave way to one last belch following the afternoon's distress, and I almost expected my partner to burp back.

"I've got to find another way home from work," I thought.

Wednesday, August 22

Game Masters: The n00bs Perspective


Back in July, Dutch had the good fortune to visit the Game Masters expo at Melbourne's ACMI. Unfortunately he walked away disappointed however since I don't own around 60% of the games on display like he does, and I play about 99% less games than him I thought I might come away a little more content.

Nope.

I too walked away feeling somewhat empty; wanting more from what I had envisioned to be a great exhibit. For one it was quite small. If not for a friends quick words I almost inadvertently went to the toilet searching for the next gaming station.

Secondly, it was lacking. While this may be a generic, sweeping statement, the inability to take photos was disappointing especially when there is so much cool stuff on display - models, sketches, a wall of peripherals, a see-through Rock Band controller! I'd feel better about it if the catalogue showcased it all but it didn't.

The main problem was the number of games missing, including historic icons Tetris and Space Invaders. The curator may not have been able to track down a working original version or something but it was a thought shared vocally by a number of visitors during my time there.

But enough about the negatives and on with the positives. Walking into the exhibit to be welcomed by both Pacman and Donkey Kong arcade machines (among others) was amazing. I sucked hard at both but playing them in their original form gave me a new appreciation for them.

I also garnered a new appreciation for the Metal Gear series. When it was released on the Playstation back in 1998(ish) I was hooked. I spent way too many hours playing it. However when MGS 2 came out I wasn't won over at all. After seeing all the games together (including the blocky, green original) I've been inspired to give Metal Gear another chance - here's hoping for a success story.

While the 3D effects on Sonic: Generations molested my retinas, seeing a collection of work by Tim Schafer including original art and models made me feel better. His visual and comedic themes have always enthralled me. From Monkey Island to Day of the Tentacle and even Brutal Legend, his style is both infectious and unique.

A few steps to my left and the constant influx of school kids in my vicinity is usually an annoyance however this time it proved most entertaining as two (teenage) boys battled, quite uncoordinatedly, in a round of some Kinect dance game. It was like a train wreck - I couldn't look away no matter how horrible! Hats off to their public humiliation though. I would never have done that in front if my school class.

The way out featured more recent touch-based games on mobile and tv platforms, pointing the way to the future as we finish moving through the past.

Game Masters may not have met my expectations but I'm definitely glad to have gone. The playable history is like nothing I've ever experienced and being Friday it was only $10 entry (usually $15). Open until October 28, if you've got a spare hour or so and you're in town I suggest checking it out. If not, maybe hire out a retro collection or whip out Mario and live in the past once more.

Be warned though - the seagulls in Fed Square are vicious...

Images courtesy of Impulse Gamer and abc.com.au

Sunday, August 12

Training Tales: The Warlock

I was more tired than usual after the 5 o'clock wake up. Fumbling into one of my usual outfits, I kept thinking there had to be more to life than this. More than long commutes, more than miserable faces on the train, more than living for the weekend.

I walked past the large man. A tower of humanity, with beautiful, light brown skin and a stature more befitting of a professional wrestler than someone who was into this 9-5 setup. We exchanged smiles before he took another bite from his meat pie. Seriously, it's at least six fucking hours before the consumption of such food is considered commonplace; should I suggest he consider a more traditional breakfast? Anyway, his smile. It was white, toothy and shone almost as brightly as his perfectly shaven head in the train station lights.

It was roughly six degrees on the platform, probably a few colder with the breeze blowing through every two or three minutes. I could feel it through my pants: cheap Carters that I'd picked up for the new job. It'd been years since I'd worn anything other than jeans to work. Like I said I was tired. Tired enough to not know whether I was just tired or desperately unhappy as well.

 As the train rocked violently towards the city, I attempted to get some extra sleep. There was little chance of success. Despite the fact it was unreasonably early, some people didn't smell as fresh as they should have. Pungent odors aside, there were also brights lights, the buzz of pre-shift conversation and the constant threat that my pint-sized bladder could strike at any given time. I closed my eyes and waited for sleep's calming embrace. It never came, so I scanned the carriage for anything that could potentially hold my attention.

I could not believe that I had not seen him sooner.

A short, old man in ominous black robes stood holding a sceptre of what appeared to be solid silver. Atop the bright, metallic rod sat a cross with the Christian Lord crucified and staring at the carriage floor. There was not a hair on his head, but his beard hung past his waist: wild, white and unkempt. What held my gaze more than any part of his ensemble though, was his necklace. A cross larger than that on the man's sceptre lay obscured by his wild facial hair. It was larger than my palm and once again, it appeared to be solid, sterling silver.

He whispered olde language under his breath. He stared unfalteringly through the carriage window; I couldn't remember him blinking. Despite the fierce shaking of the train car, the Warlock stood unmoved. Was this some kind of spell, or was I that fucking tired? I know it's rude to stare, but how could everyone here not be put under his dark magic?

There was one man who sat next to him on an Esky. He was in high-visibility clothing and he was wide awake. His eyes darted to meet anyone who was seeing what he was seeing: the white wizard in the dark cloak. At last our eyes met, and his glower told of great fears and yet untold evil. Did he know what the Warlock had in store for these pawns in their suits and ties? Was he merely trying to say "Dude, check out the fucking wizard!" with his eyes? I wish I could have asked him, but terror had rendered me silent.

Artist's impression
 
The announcer chimed in over the loudspeaker: "Platform's on the right." My stop was the first, and that was all the push I needed. If the Warlock was to commit great evil, I would not be there to see it.

Wednesday, August 8

The "Videogames made me feel some real shit" Mixtape - Volume 1

When my wife and I started dating, I started wearing the same cologne I wear today. It's to the point now where I can't even smell it anymore, I -- apparently -- smell like apples and selected spices all the time. Either that, or my olfactory senses are shot to hell.

My sense of hearing -- while dulled by decades worth of music turned up to eleven -- isn't quite as indifferent. I've shared at least one tale of sound driving me through the depths of emotion, but be rest-assured that music doesn't always drive me to tears. It often sparks a sense of nostalgia tied to games and places from the past, some of which I'd like to share with you.

A Perfect Circle - Mer Der Noms VS Vagrant Story
When I was in my mid teens, I was an awkward beast. The closest I'd come to a romantic relationship were text-based conversations with Aeris Gainsborough, and most of you would know how that turned out *sniff*. I was, however, listening to music written by people who appeared to have the same predilection for the melodramatic that I had developed in my near isolation.

A Perfect Circle's debut album, Mer Der Noms was the perfect accompaniment for the years I spent with Vagrant Story. The brooding arrangements, lyrics loaded with sexual and spiritual undertones, even the album artwork were great matches for the darkened cellars, revealing costumes, evil magic and intrigue that made Lea Monde such a memorable locale. The swaying rhythm of songs like "The Rose" seemed to perfectly match the game's combat system, which required precise inputs in time with the swing of Ashley Riot's blade. The instrumental piece, "Renholder" mirrored the beauty and mystery of the maze-like Snowfly Forest.


Both Mer Der Noms and Vagrant Story hold up pretty well today. Sure, the former may be linked to feelings of loneliness and desperation to which I can no longer fully relate, and the latter's technical brilliance may have been eclipsed (more on a hardware front than anything else); but I still indulge in the combination today. A few weeks ago I tweeted that everytime I hear Maynard James Keenan and co., I have the burning desire to relive my days as a blacksmithing Riskbreaker.; to my surprise and delight, a complete stranger replied that they enjoyed the same association.

Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life VS Blur
In the lead-up to what was a relatively stress-free wedding, I was given the opportunity to work in a senior role for a few weeks to gain some valuable experience and some extra cash. It was a pretty brutal month in an area that offered some truly eye-opening experiences, and with every weekend there came a nervous energy that I needed to expel.

Unfortunately for me, the Grand Final for the National Rugby League's Telstra Premiership fell on the penultimate weekend of my secondment. My fiance was watching that game and the day's worth of fanfare whether I needed to escape or not. It also meant the television was claimed to watch the action; it'd be hard to even get my game on. I was getting desperate, so I plunged into the abyss that was our spare room and found an old, tiny TV. Fucked Up on my iPod, Blur on my PlayStation 3: I was going to ram my way out of this feeling of helplessness.

 Fucking carnage

As the raw, throbbing rage of "Magic Word" pulsed through my head, I collided with expensive cars and felt my anger rub off on my opponents along with a great deal of paint. Challenge me and be trashed: I raced ahead of everyone, everything... I was getting the wins I needed. In somewhat of a contradition, "No Epiphany" was on repeat for the better part of the day; I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.


Beck - Guero VS Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
Despite an abundance of violence and destruction, Mercenaries turned out to be a reasonably light-hearted affair. The absence of colour and the epic soundtrack may have had one believing that this was yet another generic sandbox action game; but when Mattias Nilsson mutters about his love for M67 frag grenades and threatens that the Korean DMZ will be even more dangerous upon his arrival, you know there'll be some laughs to be had.

After a few hours of hunting war criminals to a score of lofty orchestral pieces, I decided that Guero would be a  more appropriate aural supplement for my adventures. I can remember "Missing" playing as I searched aimlessly for a "card" hidden in a treachorous North Korean valley. "Rental Car" blared through my speakers as I bundled over hillsides in an Allied Nations humvee. "Hell Yes" was a fitting match to some of my more beligerent helicopter flights which saw firey death rain on whomever pulled the short straw with regards to my mixed political interests.


Flushing out the odd warlord with a bunker buster sounds heavy enough, but with the help of Beck and some the best vehicle controls I've enjoyed in an action game, fun was always on the agenda. 

Are there any albums you associate with some of your favourite games? Has anyone else tried mashing these combinations together with the same level of success?