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.