Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Afterfall: InSanity is an indie shooter horror post-apocalyptic (it actually started as a Fallout mod) thing developed by Intoxicate Studios. It's set to be released on the 25th of November. Here, have a trailer!

Looks decent. Nice production values, particularly graphics, especially for an indie game, and the enemy design has certainly piqued my interest. That's not the most interesting thing about this. What is intriguing about  this game is the way it is being marketed, and sold.

Right now it's being sold at (as opposed to the 'real' price, which falls just short of 35 bucks) $1. That's not a typo - one dollar is the price. And some of it is going to charity. A single dollar for a game that looks to be somewhat entertaining at the very least. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, it is. There's a fairly major catch here. The developers are aiming for 10 million preorders, 10% of which will go to charity (every additional sale from then will be split 50/50 between developer and charity)., and the $1 preorders are fine and valid. However, if they don't meet that target, all the money goes to charity and the game is then released for a one dollar discount (between thirty three and thirty four dollars). And those preorders you made? Gone. Perhaps this video, from the developer, can explain it a bit better:

It's an ambitious goal. Mainstream titles across multiple consoles rarely breach the 10 million copies sold mark, never mind preorders (read: not sales) of an obscure indie horror title limited to the PC. If they somehow make this mark, it will be the 5th best selling PC game in the history of gaming - falling just behind the first two Sims games, World of Warcraft and Starcraft - and will be up there as one of the best-selling games of all time. Let's put things into perspective a little more, shall we? Minecraft, undoubtedly one of the most popular indie titles out there, reached the 3.5 million copies mark recently. Yes, InSanity is only a dollar, but is that enough to balance out its obscurity, genre (horror games tend to either be extremely popular or complete unknowns, with little in-between), and the fact that this desired 10 million is in preorders?

But what if the developers aren't just being optimistic - what if they have a more cynical reason for this. Imagine, if you will, they hit their target. That's nine million dollars for them, another one million for a thus-far unannounced charity and a massive playerbase for whatever sequels (though not DLC, which they claim will be free) the devs produce. And if they don't reach it? Well, that's a bunch of money thrown to charity and the game being sold for a substantially more profitable amount. And the playerbase will still be there. Not all those who preordered it will fork over 30 dollars or so, and there will be some outcry but with the publicity this will, presumably, generate, and the act of giving a lot of money to charity hardly counts as negative publicity. So, it's a win/win for the devs.

So, what do you think? Is this pushing the envelope? Baseless optimism? Or cynical publicity generation?

Monday, 10 October 2011


I must apologize about not doing anything blog-related over the weekend - I've been kept busy from both family and university. Regardless, I picked up Opeth's Heritage (HMV finally got around to stocking it), and have given it a listen. It's... interesting.

It's not a particularly good start, to be honest. I've read a lot about how Opeth have moved toward a more prog-oriented sound, abandoning traditional death metal influences in the process, and it's intriguing to see how it all plays out. Interestingly, despite the album being, in many ways, a throwback to the 70's prog bands which have influenced the band (hence, presumably, the title of the album), the songs are generally shorter than on previous releases. Trying to pack so much content into smaller time frames has not necessarily improved each song's quality - the first two 'proper' tracks, after the piano opener, have a somewhat disquieting shift in the middle, which sounds less like the songs are flowing, changing, living creatures and more two shorter creatures stapled onto one another.

The album grows on you, however. Definitely. The aforementioned tracks are the exception rather than the rule - the band definitely prove that they can craft wondrous songs without dipping into the extreme metal pool, with tracks like 'Nepenthe,' 'Häxprocess,' and the eight minute epics 'Famine' and 'Folklore' being joys in particular. Opeth fans looking for more of their older, heavier stuff should definitely approach with caution, but, the end result of this evolution is a solid album.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Steve Jobs

So, Steve Jobs is dead. I can't really think of a grimmer way to open a post, but, regardless, he reports started flooding in about his death six hours ago, give or take. It was fairly common knowledge that he was ill - cancer - and it was often speculated that this was behind his recent resigning as CEO of Apple. Despite this, however, this still came as a shock.

I don't necessarily agree with all the business practices, or attitudes of either him or his company, but that's irrelevant (although, not, apparently, to the scum of the earth, the WBC) at this point. He has been largely responsible for much of the evolution of technology, from early PCs to the popularity of Mp3 players, and so much more in between. He was, to many, a great man.


Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Feel the Rage

With Rage's release, there's been some amount of controversy. I've yet to play the game and, if reports are anything to go by, I doubt I'll get it at any point in the future, so this is all second hand. As is a lot of my more serious, non-review stuff.

By all accounts, is a functional enough shooter, if a tad boring at times. The problem seems to be, at least for the PC version, that it's a wee bit... broken. Lots of words have been thrown about, including things like 'shitty' and 'console' and 'port,' among other things, but let's examine the exact problems for now. Some of these could be put down as individual problems, but, given the vast quantity of reports coming in about this stuff, there's a lot of reasons to doubt that.

Firstly, and this one if kind of minor, the mouse sensitivity is apparently fucked up. The menu speed is, apparently (I'll be using that word and various synonyms a lot, for insurance) a lot faster than the actual game speed, to the point that people either have to play with low mouse sensitivity to be able to handle the various menus with ease, or precisely the opposite. The game also has a tendency to crash alot. Um, apparently.

There are also, seemingly, a lot of graphical problems. Like the lack of any detailed graphics options. And, by detailed, I don't just mean 'adjust your resolution using sliders,' there is literally nothing beyond gamma, resolution and anti-aliasing. That's a disturbing lack, and, in all honesty, I'm starting to see some validity to the consoleitis comments. Something like this would struggle to slide for a tiny indie title, never mind what is a triple-A title by a fairly major studio. If I remember correctly, one of the major players in id has, in the recent past, made some statements about how Rage would be a revolution in gaming, which makes this lack of attention particularly egregious. There is a texture streaming thing that apparently makes up for this shittiness, but it, apparently, works rather badly, with delays and textures taking too long to pop in.

Apparently the game has so many bugs and glitches that it can be nigh-unplayable. Framerate issues, random crashes, broken audio, bugged character models,the Russian roulette involved in loading a game - the list goes on for a depressingly long time. The developers have released a bunch of (*coughdayonecough*) patches to try and fix the issue. That's another one to check off my list, then, and without any money lost. Huzzah!

Monday, 3 October 2011


You know how I mentioned I'd work on something substantial over the weekend?

Yeah... about that...

You see, there's been something that's been eating up my time. It's called the Binding of Isaac and it is bloody awesome (with some emphasis on the bloody). For those who don't know, this is a vaguely roguelike-shooter-hybrid-thingy made by Team Meat (or one member of it, at least). It has a few... unique and interesting features.

On each level, for instance, there are various items that give you various buffs and debuffs. Damage boosts, speed boosts, additional bombs, so on and so forth. Standard stuff. Except, interestingly, when items are picked up and equipped, they cause a visible change to occur in the eponymous protagonist. This is where the horror sets in. Your skin cracks and bubbles, poison flowing where blood should be, horns tearing open the skin of your crown, a coat hanger rammed through your vaguely foetal head. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

This is one of the most surreal, nightmarish games I've seen recently. The enemies - from skinless freaks with demented eyes to crying children whose heads have become hives for overgrown flies - are a truly horrid gallery of monsters. There are a number (at least 50), with various different behaviours and tactics. The bosses are just as varied, interesting, and ungodly - examples include the likes of a huge mountain of flesh and muscle which causes pustules to grow around the boss room, and conjoined twins, one of whom chases you around the room while the other floats behind firing balls of blood at you. A lovely bunch of folks.

The mechanics feel good, the aesthetic style is wonderful and, even better, the game is insanely addicting. I've been playing it for several hours and have yet to reach, never mind beat, the endgame boss. And I'm not frustrated. If anything, I'm even more incensed to continue, to find new items to use, new combos to fight with, new monstrosities to destroy. There are some problems, sure - the reliance on luck might annoy some, and there is a strange amount of lag for a flash game - but you will get so many hours of joy out of this it is well worth the price. It's on sale on Steam until Wednesday - give it a look.

Friday, 30 September 2011


Sorry for the lack of posts over the past few days, uni's kept me busy. This'll just be another trailer, but I'll work on something more substantial over the weekend. Probably.

The trailer's for Syndicate, apparently. I've never heard of the series before, but it appears to have been some kind of vaguely strategy-styled games developed by Bullfrog in the 90s - forgive my ignorance if I'm wrong here, I genuinely only heard about this series a few days ago. The trailer for the new game makes it fairly clear that the series has made a change to first person shooters. It looks to be a step beyond the generic sci-fi shooter, with some interesting features.

And also dubstep. Hm.

I'll certainly be keeping an eye on this, but I don't think it counts as a 'must buy' at this point.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Hunt Is On

This post is going to be short, and there's a good reason for that.

That reason is The Hunter. Mastodon's newest is great, with a catchier edge to the proggier Mastodon. It's a showcase of so many types of songs, a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and yet it stays coherent. This is a genuinely fascinating album.

Seriously, listen to this album. The band have removed it from Youtube since the album's release (aaaaw), but trust me on this - it's amazing.

In fact, I'm going to go listen to it again. Fuck yeah!

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Darkness 2

Another trailer time. This time for the Darkness 2.

For those who aren't aware, the Darkness was a shooter a few years back based on one of the old 'classic antihero' comics. It was fantastically dark, with brilliant combat and an incredible sense of atmosphere. Unfortunately, it faded somewhat into obscurity, so consider it a hidden gem of sorts. The sequel's been announced, and this trailer comes with a Woody Allen narration interspersed with comicbook style art and some of the gruesome combat the game will, hopefully, feature.

Word of Warning: There are some serious spoilers here for the original game. Don't watch this if you intend to play it.

So, colour me excited, I guess. I really enjoyed the first game (one of the first games I got on a current gen console, actually), so I'm really looking forward to this. If you're looking for something a bit more visceral and dark than your standard shooter fare, well - you might have found it.

In other, unrelated news, I picked up a copy of Mastodon's The Hunter (while looking for Opeth's Heritage, but oh well), so I'll probably write up a post on that sometime soon.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Not So Dramatic?

A look at Dream Theater's 'A Dramatic Turn of Events.'

An apt title, though the reason why it is apt is apparently not why it was chosen. Dream Theater’s newest album came out recently, and I picked it up (there’s a lot of good albums coming out around now, with Opeth and Mastodon’s latest opuses being on my wanted list as well). I managed to get the collector’s edition, because, once again, my local HMV refused to stock anything else. So I get an extra 60 minute discography (remember the whole ‘search for a new drummer’ thing they posted on Youtube?) and, I think, instrumentals of the tracks. Truth be told, I haven’t spent much time with the second disc, so I’m still not sure as to its contents, but that isn’t what matters now.

I’ll avoid discussing the whole almost-eponymous situation regarding the departure of Mike Portnoy and the introduction of new drummer Mike Mangini. There’s been plenty of coverage of that, and anything I say would just be a rehashing. Simply put, this post will focus on the music itself.

The album definitely opens on a strong note, in particular 'On The Backs Of Angels, which is a very good song. It’s classic Dream Theater, taking all that’s good with previous songs and extending it. It’s the same with every song – classic Dream Theater. And can it really be a bad thing if a brilliant band continue to do what makes them so good?

Well… yes. There’s little to make this album stand out. Their best albums had Dream Theater making changes to their sound both subtle and overt, and, when it worked, it made them stand out – it was these little flairs which made these albums so great. ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’ lacks this uniqueness. This is, perhaps, the sound of a band who has found a comfortable place and begun to grow complacent, a band who has grown afraid of risk-taking. This is a bad thing in pretty much any situation, but it is an atrocity in progressive music which is focused on doing something new, on change, on progressing – it’s there in the fucking title!

In truth, I expected this. The band chose the safe route with Mangini – he’s a good drummer, yes, but my fear is, and has always been that his style is too close to Portnoy’s. It’s hard to blame them, really – if they’d changed, fans would have been furious, claiming the new drummer has ruined the band or other such inane statements. So, in the end, they played it safe.

Don’t get me wrong. I like this album – it’s a good listen. Genuinely, it’s fun. But, apart from ‘…Angels’ and ‘Lost Not Forgotten’ (a delightful song), there is nothing that stands out. It’s good, but nothing outstanding, and, for that, it pales in comparison to previous albums. And that’s damning for a band that is the pioneer of a genre that, at a base level at least, frowns on complacency. Dream Theater have become what so many other ‘Prog’ bands have become – competent, indeed, excellent, musicians, who copy the genre leaders. In this case, they’re copying their own formula, and avoiding innovation in the process. I’m definitely going to listen to this album some more, but I don’t see it lasting as long as other albums. It lacks that little… spark of genius that makes a classic.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Return, and D&D

This'll be the third introduction post I've made. Fun Fact #1 - These make up more than a quarter of my posts! Fun Fact #2 - I'm shit at blogging!

This time I'm gonna be more realistic. I'm gonna aim for a post every two days, a lengthier post every week. Maybe. We'll see. I need to work it round my new university schedule. I've got a few ideas kicking about so, at the very least, this should stay afloat for a bit longer than last time, which was a dismal failure.

Onto more topical news - Dungeons and Dragons! Or rather, not the pen and paper game itself, but the various videogames based on it. Good Old Games is having a sale on 9 of the 'classic' D&D games. These stretch from the classics (Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale series, Neverwinter Nights Platinum), to the cult classics (Planescape, The Temple of Elemental Evil). There's also a few relative unknowns that never quite reached the lofty heights of cult classic-dom - Dragonshard and Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, which, to the best of my memory, doesn't actually feature demons.

I cannot personally attest to the quality of Temple of Elemental Evil or Dragonshard, but the others are all fantastic RPGs (or hack-and-slash games in the case of Demon Stone). Some of the games on sale here are generally considered among the most prestigious RPGs out there, and the others are all high quality. Of course, the best are, undoubtedly the Baldur's Gate series and the fantastically unique Planescape, but the others are definitely worth a look, and are just as capable of eating up countless hours.

Be aware, though, these games are dated. The graphics are very simplistic nowadays, and the isometric viewpoint can be rather disorienting to those more accustomed to modern, 3D graphics. The gameplay can be rather slow at times, and the story-focus can drag compared to modern games. Trust me, these are fantastic games, but they are old and a world away from modern games. The sale itself is interesting, with the more you buy the more you save, which has some potential. Find the sale here, it's on until the end of Monday.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The Quest For Delicious Cake

Just a short post today.

It's a Minecraft Let's Play of sorts, on a quest for... well, it pretty much explains itself. It's a wee bit lengthy, over an hour, but I found it entertaining.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Shades of Gray

Representing morality is an increasingly popular trend in gaming. More and more games, in particular RPGs, have taken to giving players and their actions karma. There are two main ways of doing this, it seems – an arbitrary assignment of morality to actions, or keeping the morals behind decisions gray. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to each, and neither can really be considered objectively superior.

The first method is the most common. It comes with an obvious advantage to both the designer and the player – it is easier to both implement and understand. Since it paints all actions as either good or evil (or occasionally neutral), all actions are reduced to one of a small number of outcomes. This can make it much easier to determine consequences for certain types of behavior – instead of, for instance, determining how scene X plays out by tracking previous actions, this can be determined by keeping track of a single core moral statistic that is affected by various events throughout the game. While this is by far the most straightforward method of representing morality, it is not without its disadvantages.

It is generally unrealistic, for instance. In reality, most decisions boil down to something more complex than simply ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ and, indeed, such concepts are not concrete as they are often shown to be in fiction. As such, creating definite good and evil sides can come across as, at best, strange, and, at worst immersion breaking and unrealistic. In fact, this is one of the most common criticisms relating to this method of morality-representation. It also opens the doors to a lot of unfortunate implications, such as certain actions that are not necessarily that evil being frowned on, or vice versa. Take, for example, Fallout 3, which is perhaps the best (or… worst?) example of this, with things such as killing evil characters who have yet to show any evidence of being malicious (i.e. Sister, who, as the player can discover, is a slaver)  rewards the player with good karma, which can be seen as rather… extreme. More clarification is perhaps necessary – it is possible for the player to kill Sister without learning of his evil nature (he just comes off as a bit of an ass) and be rewarded for what is, for all intents and purposes, a random murder.

Additionally, it tends to struggle to comprehend morally gray areas. Choosing between two warring factions who are both equally gray on any moral scale cannot equally be represented by a simple karma meter. This can lead to confusion and, at worst, more unfortunate implications. Fallout 3 provides another example, (it really is a showcase for poor morality systems) this case in terms of the Pitt DLC, which centers around a very morally ambiguous struggle between a harsh slaver who is genuinely working towards a greater good and a slave who wants to be free, but who will (Spoiler alert), assuming he wins, cause there to be no viable cure to the horrible disease sweeping the Pitt. This could make for a very good, interesting conflict, were it not for the fact that siding with the Slave is shown as definitely good, and siding with the Slaver is definitely bad. This may seem as obvious at first, but below the surface it is the fight between a well-intentioned person who seeks to truly cure his charges, and uses drastic measures, and a man who is just as selfish as any slaver (wanting to use the cure for profit) and far less competent than the former. A potentially interesting philosophical conflict ruined by game limitations, then.

This is not to say such methods of recording karma have never been successfully implemented, though. Bethesda have actually done it quite well in previous games, with the Elder Scrolls series portraying unprovoked murder as effectively always evil, though they had their own problems (the ability to cause civilians to attack you in Morrowind, for instance, allowing for ‘unprovoked’ murder regardless of the actual situation). Bioware seemed fond of this as well, up until Dragon Age, with everything from Mass Effect to the D&D games using a moral system – fairly obviously, in the case of the latter, given that it gave rise to the entire phenomena of moral systems. Indeed, many of the problems present in videogames, and more, in fact, are present in D&D’s morality, but that’s a topic for another time. Other games have successfully harnessed a moral meter system – the Rollercoaster Tycoon series has a variant in it’s park rating system, which measures how guest-friendly your park is, taking into account things like mess, safety, seating, and entertainment and facilities provided. It works quite well, except for the fact that it can be exploited (by forcing unhappy guests to leave your park, either by moving them to the exit, or by less… ethical means), though, to be fair, this is more of a cheat than a legitimate tactic.

So, that’s black and white morality covered. Now, onto the gray area, and less concrete definitions of morality. This is where, rather than assigning choices arbitrary statistics, choices all have their own consequences based on the user’s actions. This is, obviously, harder to implement, as, rather than a central system for defining morality, each decision has to be considered independently. It can often cause some confusion with players as well, and often, despite the increased potential, reverts back to a black and white system. Unfortunate implications are just as common as the other system, and it can often be immersion breaking – in the Baldur’s Gate series, one must, at various points, choose between two factions who are just as gray, which makes it hard to roleplay a paladin or other lawful or good character.

However, it does indeed provide developers with a greater potential for morality. It also makes it easier to create continuity between sequels (e.g. Mass Effect, King’s Quest, etc.). Additionally, it can come across as less condescending than the more straightforward method, coming across more as the developers saying “You did this, here are the consequences” as opposed to “You did this, have an extra number on a statistics screen.” When it is implemented, it tends to be done rather well. Interestingly, the best example I can think of comes from a game with an otherwise black and white morality system, which is Neverwinter Nights. I am referring to Charwood, in which there are four possible outcomes, and, while there is a fairly obvious good one, choosing it has the worst consequences. This does not come across as punishing the player, as they are provided with this information, so they can use it to make the decision. It comes across as a nice contrast to the rest of the game, and allows for an interesting situation.

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that there are only two systems of representing morality. That would be incredibly hypocritical on my part, having just criticized the same two horse race in terms of morality. There are various different points along the scale between these two extremes, as well as systems entirely removed from these two. You have things like Dragon Age, in which each decision is taken individually, but can also affect a variety of karma meters in the form of your companion’s attitudes towards you, or Sims 2, in which your Sims aspiration meter and lifetime aspirations act as something of a gauge for how well the player has treated them. In truth, there is a myriad of different ways of portraying morals and ethics, and no single blog post can hope to do much more than scratch the surface. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing how developers explore human morality and other aspects of philosophy in the future.

Hello World... Again

It has been so long since I updated this blog. I could make excuses - I could blame exams, personal problems, whatever - but those would be lies. To put it bluntly, it's due to sheer laziness. But I have been meaning to get back into it for a while.... so. Here I am.


Um, to make this more likely to succeed and less likely to be one of those revivals that lasts for about a week, I've put together a bit of a schedule. This won'r be definite, but it provides a bit of a guide for me, and a way of keeping me going in a timely manner.

Monday - Serious post
Tuesday - Short post
Wednesday - Serious post
Thursday - Short post
Friday - Serious post
Saturday - Short post
Sunday - Short post

...as well as a review or two, probably at the weekend. For the sake of clarification, a 'Serious post' will be one of the larger ones focussing on something I've been playing around with in my head, whereas a 'Short post' could be anything from an observation, to comments on a video, or such. In the spirit of this I'll be updating the blog in a few hours or so with a larger post, which means, yes, more overly verbose ramblings.

Thanks to anyone who still cares.

Monday, 21 February 2011


I need to apologise. I originally set a schedule for this blog for one post every two days, which is easily achievable. However, I've kind of struggled to really meet that goal, or update this blog with any semblance of regularity.

I have an excuse, however. For the past week, I've been studying for exams (which had been postponed due to the terrible weather over winter), and passing has been my main priority. As of Thursday, though, they're over for a good few months, so hopefully then I'll be able to get this blog back on track.

I'll probably work on something more substantial over the next few days, then start posting regularly.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Mmm... Brains

A few days ago, for the few of you who don't already know, Dead Island, which was first announced in 2007, and has since faded from the limelight, has risen again (fittingly) into the public awareness. It's a zombie game, because it's not as if we have enough of them, but I'll be honest:

It looks fantastic.

Apparently, and pretty much all my information is drawn from the hype, it's an open world survival horror game with emphasis on the survival. Your goal seems to be to not be eaten or become one of the shambling masses, and, if it pulls it off well, it could be a really, really tense experience. There's also, apparently, a focus on melee combat, and a feature that lets environmental objects be used as weaponry, like a (terrifying) cousin of Dead Rising. This game seems to be far more grim than many of its contemporaries (Dead Rising's comedy elements, and Left 4 Dead's lack of real horror elements). There's also a focus on story, which could be interesting if implemented properly.

It's also in first person, which can only add to the immersion and underwear-soiling-terror, and there's drop-in, drop-out co-op that seems to be just as popular as the walking dead in gaming nowadays. This will likely lead to hilarity, or terror, depending entirely on who you play with.

It all sounds rather generic, though, doesn't it? But that doesn't worry me, because any concept, no matter how generic, can be great if carried out well, and there are just enough hints in what's being said to indicate that it is, in fact, being carried out well.

Still not convinced? Then have a look at the trailer - it's delightfully horrible, bleak, and arty, in a good way, and, I hope, a good indication of the atmosphere of the game overall.

In short, it's like Oblivion mixed with Dead Rising, mixed with hell. And I'm really looking forward to its release (no specifics, but later this year, hopefully), because one can never have enough brown underwear.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Do Graphics Make The Game?

With next month heralding the release of Crysis 2, a game that will quickly bend my computer over and reduce it to tears, and the fact that I'm kind of stuck for ideas, I guess I may as well talk about graphics in videogames.

Graphics are one of the most common complaints I hear about games. Things like "It looks terrible," "It's too cartoony, it can't be for adults," and "Are you sure it wasn't made for the PS2?" and other such criticisms get thrown around quite a lot when a game has anything other than stellar graphics. People seem, sometimes, more concerned with the aesthetic aspects of a game than the game itself. For example, a friend of mine once claimed he finds it impossible to play a game more than four years old, regardless of whether the game is any good or not. When I brought up the fact that by following this philosophy he was cutting off his access to a number of 'classic' games, he simply snorted in derision and muttered something about the graphics being shit. The media are at it as well - games such as Darksiders, Prototype and Dragon Age were mocked for having relatively poor graphics in some reviews, and games are often chastised for something that, in all honesty, has very little impact on how fun it is overall for most people.

It's not just the consumer and the reviewers who are to blame for the newfound focus on visual quality, though. Developers themselves are adding more fuel to the fire, some more than others. While a number of developers are obviously not too worried about sacrificing aesthetically pleasing aspects for the sake of gameplay (Bioware, and Harmonix for instance), many seem to follow the Bible of Graphics. Square Enix is probably the most infamous, in that Final Fantasy 13 has been commonly derided as little more than a movie that has you pressing buttons occasionally (a criticism which is not entirely unfounded). Indie developers seem to work on a fairly level playing field - for every platformer with different graphics, there is almost always a deep, original game.

It's impossible to deny the fact that graphics can enhance gameplay, though. They can have an effect on the ways in which people feel while playing the game - for example, the grey and brown wastelands of both the Fallout series and Stalker series can improve the potential for immersion in the deliberate bleakness of the settings. Valve use graphics in an interesting way, as well, especially lighting. An old interview (which I can no longer find, but can remember fairly well) with an employee of Valve discussed how lighting could be used to show the player where their goal lay without being overt. The same interview, and a few others, touched on the fact that people tend to associate certain things with visual stimulus, so graphics can help in tapping into the player's psychology to maximise the game's playability, and, thus, the enjoyment of the player.

In the end, though, the importance of graphics comes down to a personal level. Each individual experiences things in their own way, and each individual measures enjoyment using their own system. One person could put extra importance on graphics, another the emotional response (comedy, humour, etc.) another playability, and so on. To use an analogy, my aforementioned friend obviously placed great importance on the visual aspects of games, while I have another friend, an experience musician, fittingly enough, who finds a good soundtrack can improve his enjoyment of a game. Personally, I prefer a good storyline, character development, and opportunities for roleplaying over graphics and sound, and, in some cases, even playability (pretty much any Infinity Engine game). Graphics aren't the thing that makes games fun for me, but that's obviously an opinion others would disagree with.

So, what about you? How important are graphics to you? What is actually important to you in a game?

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Cash Cows

So, apparently Activision have announced that the next Call of Duty game is to be released this year. Yeah, yeah, I'm a bit late to the party.

I have to admit, I'm not surprised - this seems to be how they operate now. Surely they would have learned their lesson, though, especially considering this information comes to light so soon after they cancelled Guitar Hero. It's particularly annoying when you consider that Guitar Hero was cancelled due to an over-saturated "rythm-action" market, which was primarily caused by Activision releasing a new game every few months! Their business strategy that's allowing them to bathe in profits - release a new game at least once a year, with as few technical changes as possible to cut down on costs, and then charge too much for pointless DLC - is the same reason they are both so reviled by gamers, and so likely to face major backlash some time in the near future.

They do it with practically every series they are involved with. Rather than take time to create a polished product, they rush it out in a year, with nice new graphics and fuck-all in the way of actual gameplay improvements or (whisper it) innovation. Then, once a series is well past its peak, you can sense them grasping at straws - Warriors of Rock's 'back to basics' approach, or Tony Hawk's failed experiments in skateboard peripherals, for instance. I don't think Kotick, or his cronies, understand that mediocrity and complacency do not breed long term success.

So, back to the original topic, a new COD game. Personally, I don't care. I played Modern Warfare and enjoyed it a bit, Modern Warfare 2 was sort of meh and I didn't care much for the other games in the series. The series definitely doesn't deserve to be the biggest videogame series in existence. The storylines are generally B-movie schlock, the gameplay never changes and is completely bereft of anything unique, the community consists mainly of idiots who are more prone to swear than to breathe, and the company who oversees its creation are tyrannical, greedy, pricks.

I really don't like Activision (though I have a soft spot for stating the obvious). The people who run the company are helping to damage the public opinion of videogames, making it seem, through their pointless tirades of hype and the nonsensical action found in the games themselves, that they are simply toys, without any potential for artistic merit or emotional involvement. They keep franchises alive, slowly destroying them (I am totally not bitter over the destruction of the Tony Hawk series, nope, not at all), then discarding the barren corpses once the cash cow runs dry. Even their approach to downloadable content is infuriating - they had the audacity to admit that they plan on removing content from the next game to sell as DLC. What. Surely that is reason alone to demand their heads on pikes?

I... I guess this rant was less about Call of Duty, and more about by undying hate for Activision. I had originally planned to be less... spiteful towards the company, and focus on the series instead, but we can all see how well that turned out. I don't know how to feel about that, frankly.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Stratiovarius - Elysium

So, I was thinking of kicking this blog off with a review of an album I bought recently, Stratovarius' "Elysium." It was a spur of the moment purchase - I had never listened to the band before, though I had heard of them, so I had no idea what they sounded like, except comparisons to bands like Kamelot and Blind Guardian.

I have to say, I was quite pleased by my impulse buy. I generally am, for some reason - whenever I buy an album for whatever reason other than having heard a lot of their songs before it usually turns out to be a good decision. Thrice's "The Alchemy Index", Paradise Lost's "Faith Devides Us, Death Unites Us" Periphery's self-titles debut, and a few others were all bought for no real reason beyond "Hmm, that album cover looks cool," or "Hey, there's a band I read about before!", and I found them to be surprisingly good. If anything, the successes of random purchases has led to me being more open minded in regards to music - I'm more likely to listen to a band I have no prior knowledge of now than a few years ago.

Anyway, I bought the Limited Edition version album from HMV because I had a spare £20, and because the cover was shiny. Very shiny. For clarification purposes, here's the standard album cover:

To let you understand just how shiny the Limited Edition is, I didn't know that was the cover image. That's not because the art isn't on my version, it's because it's obscured by shininess! It's difficult to read the song names on the back in anything other than pitch black! It took me about ten minutes for my eyes to adjust and let me see what album I had just purchased! Hell, there were a few minutes when I was worried that I had just bought an exceptionally bright box.

Ignoring the eye-rending colour-choice, then, and onto the actual album. I didn't buy the Limited Edition, incidentally, because I always do that - it was literally all HMV had. I always thought that special versions of albums were something fans of the band would pay an extra fiver for, for meager bonuses, or for gloating purposes - alternatives to the standard version. But no, apparently HMV opted for the more costly one, probably for the potential for profit. Not that I'm that surprised, they tend to have little in the way of anything decent in stock.

Anyway, in terms of extra features, there's quite a decent selection. There's these little cards, one for each band member, on which there are messages from the band which pretty much boil down to "Thanks for buying our music, come see us live!". Somewhat sweet, but not worth forking out extra money over. The real meat, though, is in the form of a second CD, which consists of demo versions of all the songs on the album. While you could look at it as being pointless (after all, you've already got the finished version), I personally like it, some of them are quite decent despite being unpolished.

As for the music itself? Yeah, it's good. For the most part it's standard, catchy power metal played by skilled musicians and a singer who is undeniably talented, but a bit of an acquired taste. I'm not saying he's bad, it's just that it takes a few listens to get used to his voice. There are no poor songs, and the ones that really stand out are those with progressive touches - such as "Infernal Maze" and the colossal, 18-minute long title track - and the softer, slower paced songs - "Fairness Justified" and "Move the Mountains". All in all, it turned out to be a great purchase - an album with songs more brilliant than the box they come in.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Welcome to my Reality

It took me forever to finally get off my ass and start this blog. It took me longer to do that than to think of a name for it, which took me about two days of walking around, staring at things with a vaguely puzzled look on my face, as the creative part of my soul shot itself in the head. Ah well, if there's one thing I lack, it's motivation to do anything that requires effort, and, apparently, a blog requires effort. So, anyway welcome my in(s)ane ranting! I hope my terrible attempts at humour don't scare you away.

This blog will essentially be my views on things. Let's get one thing straight from the start - I'm a nerd. I love gaming, and by gaming, I don't mean Call of Duty, I mean things like RPGs (both pen and paper, and videogames), MMOs and strategy games. I love literature, with particular soft spots for fantasy and horror. I enjoy listening to power metal and prog. I have just alienated the vast majority of any potential readers with four simple sentences (okay, half were simple, half were complex, but shut up). I'm no social pariah, but I'm hardly Mr. Popular. So if you found this looking for a blog on football, firstly, congratulations! You managed to break Google. Also, this blog is not for you.

I also have a tendency to ramble, as if you hadn't noticed by now. Don't worry, it's not going to get any better.

This blog doesn't exist to spread any message. I don't plan on becoming an internet celebrity (have you seen the? Most of them terrify me!), and I didn't start this for the sole purpose of making money, as I have seen others do. It's an outlet, for my feelings or thoughts on certain issues, be it a review of something (an album, a game, an unappreciated band, a... I don't know, a loofah?), or my opinions on a current event. I could post this shit on a forum, I could rant to my friends, but a blog gives me more freedom.

Another thing. I am terrible at getting ideas for stuff like this (probably due to the aforementioned lack of motivation) so, if you have anything you want covered, either add it as a comment, or send it to me via email. I eagerly await the two sincere suggestions in a flood of ads for penis enlargement and sex adds.

So, yeah. That probably came out worse than expected, and it most likely sounds like some 14-year-olds inane prattle on LiveJournal, but it'll have to do. I plan on updating the blog at least once every two days, a schedule which will probably slip due to the my terrible (all together now!) mo-ti-vay-she-un.