Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Sport Sorrows

It may surprise you to hear, that as a self confessed geek I really hate sport. I never got the big deal about it. Back in school why did playing football (or ‘soccer’ if you’re from America where football refers to the sport in which you don’t actually use your feet, go figure) make you cool whereas playing a video game didn’t? Both involve enjoying yourself for the sake of enjoying yourself with no real benefit to the world or those around you, sure football gets you healthy but so I’d sooner die ten years earlier than having my nipples freeze off for the sake of passing a few hours a day.

Truth be told I was never any good at sport, whether I hated it because I wasn’t good or I wasn’t good because I hated it I’m not quite sure but every PE lesson would usually be the same story. The PE teacher (using the term teacher lightly because Physical Education is seriously lacking the education department) would fob us off and tell us to play football or hockey while he sat on his arse doing significantly less than naff-all. He’d choose 5 people to pick teams, I’d be one of the very last to be picked and get told to go in the net because it was no secret I was about as adept at football as Wayne Rooney is at making anything close to a coherent sentence. “I’m crap in the net” I’d try to reason, but of course, you can’t reason with an idiot.

I don’t know if it was just me, but I was always under the impression that football was a team sport yet it seems like a free-for-all to score the most goals with the complete lack of any form of tactics, last time I checked we didn’t win the ’66 world cup by having all the team in the forward position. A typical five-a-side game would consist of 2 people in their respective nets and the other eight all desperately trying to get the ball like it’s the last thanksgiving turkey at Wal-Mart. Eventually one person would slip past and with the absence of any form of defence they had a clear run to the net, normally by this point I’d be staring off into a world of my own or wishing I wasn’t surrounded be utter philistines. I’d end up reacting at the last possible second and sloppily trying to save only to let it go in and be told no more than five minutes after I said it myself I was “crap in the net”, and what did I learn from this endeavour the school tried to pass off as a lesson? I really hate sport.

Then there’s watching sport which eludes me even more, the World Cup I do enjoy, I’m not very patriotic but people representing their country in an international competition can be enjoyable. But, then there’s the football league which just bottles down to which club has the most money and thus can afford the best players. What’s the point in actually playing? Just have each club owner show the other their bank statements and be done with this pointless charade.

Then there are the fights between football hooligans which are the real life equivalent of an online flame war between Zelda and Final Fantasy, except alcohol fuelled and people who threaten to stab you actually will. People will shout and scream abuse at each other because the other person’s team won them at a game (Winners and losers, in a game? Whodathunk it?) Also why do people always have to come up with an excuse? They lost because the referee denied them a penalty or sent a player off that shouldn’t have been sent off, are you sure the other team just didn’t play better than you? Maybe you should consider your team isn’t as good as the one that happened to score more goals than you, that is the very nature of the game after all. Man up, accept defeat and put your time and effort into something more worthwhile like head butting concrete or biting fire.

“[...]at the end of the day.” ~ Every footballer EVER.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The Facebook Gaming Fad

I resisted the Facebook fad for a long time. I point blank refused to set up an account, because I really couldn’t care less about it. “If I want to talk to someone”, I reasoned, “then I’ll do it in real life, or even over the phone. I don’t need some internet site to tell me that my ‘friend’ who I haven’t seen/spoken to/thought about in over 4 years has decided to have toast for breakfast instead of cereal”. Also, I was pretty much forced into setting up a Bebo account back in 2006 by my then girlfriend. The concept appealed to me at first, but within about a week I was bored with it, so when I first heard about Facebook I didn’t really pay much attention to it, and later avoided it like the plague because I didn’t want to get sucked into the social networking craze again.

I finally gave up in late 2009, when Sneeze and I started our placement year and founded our company Tyrant Computers, and set up a Facebook account for the advertising potential. I didn’t spend much time on the site myself, but Sneeze started investigating and discovered Mafia Wars. He introduced it to me at work the following day, and I liked the look of it. I played Mafia Wars for a couple of months before getting bored of it, and in this time Sneeze also found Farmville and pretty much forced me into playing that one too. I got bored of Farmville much faster than Mafia Wars mind.

Since I stopped playing Facebook games, the Facebook Gaming Fad as I like to call it seems to have skyrocketed. Even my parents are playing some of them now. The biggest offenders in this area as far as I’m concerned are Zynga. They seem to be largely responsible for the sheer proliferation of games on Facebook. The games by them that I can think of off the top of my head are Mafia Wars, Farmville, Fishville, YoVille, Zynga Poker, Café World and Petville. Then you have the ones by others like Social City and Wild Ones. I have one major problem with all these games: they’re all so similar! What’s the difference between playing Farmville and Fishville? I’ve played Farmville myself and I see my mum playing Fishville almost every night, and the only difference seems to be that instead of shoving plants into a field and waiting for them to grow so you can sell them, you’re throwing fish into a tank and waiting for them to grow so you can sell them. The two games even have an almost identical interface, with a slightly different style for the love of God! And another thing, why are ALL these games in beta? Can Zynga not finish one game before starting to create another? Do they all have ADHD or something?

I think the main thing that irritates me about all these games is their sheer popularity. I’ll go onto Facebook, and I’ll find 20 or so requests for games that I don’t even play, then have sit there clicking “No”, “No”, “No”, “I said no”, “For the love of God NO!”, “Are you DEAF? I SAID NO!!!” And yet, people don’t seem to get the hint. I don’t want to play these games and yet they keep sending me requests even though I refuse them every time. Sneeze told me the other day that he received 45 requests from 6 friends over the course of a day for one of these games. That’s almost 8 requests a person in ONE DAY! Do people really have nothing better to do with their day than sit on Facebook and wait for a timer to tick slowly away?
Well I think I’ll wrap this up now, since I could go on all day about the things that annoy me about Facebook, but they’ll get increasingly petty and I’m pretty sure you’re already getting bored of listening to me, so I’ll shut up now. Thanks for reading!

My Quarrel with JRPG's

I look around the internet and I see articles and forum posts comparing JRPG’s to WRPG’S, (one in particular has pitted Final Fantasy 13 and Mass Effect 2 up against each other, even though they’re nothing alike.) The fact is, the two are completely different and have their own standards, to the point where I feel they should no longer be considered in the same genre.

As you might have guessed (being a Bioware fan) I have a strong preference for the WRPG. I’ve never really been that fussed on JRPG’s after my initial Final Fantasy experience. My sister and I, due to the popularity of the game, had been pretty keen to try one out to see what all the fuss was about. We got our hands on a demo of Final Fantasy 8, and needless to say, we were both left bitterly disappointed and never looked back to the series again for a long time.

Then I met John, self-confessed Final Fantasy fan-boy, who lent me Final Fantasy 7 and after waiting over a year for me to play it by myself, has given up and decided to come round and force me to play it instead. I still need a little convincing, but the whole experience has gotten a lot better since we got out of Midgar, a place I found too dark and boring to be encouraged to start it without that little persuasion (not a brilliant first impression of the game.)

I’m finding that Final Fantasy is one of those things that you either love or you hate. I’m not the only person out there who rolls their eyes when seeing the hype a new game hitting the shelves causes. There are many things I don’t like about the games and I’ll name a few; the battle system, the characters, themes and visual styles. I decided that maybe trying Lost Odyssey from the same creator of Final Fantasy (Hironobu Sakaguchi) would be a good way to warm myself up to it, for the game contains similar game-play but has a more western feel to it and characters that I actually like. Unfortunately I never managed to finish it. The story was interesting, but the battle system was still stopping me from feeling enthused, and those loooooong stories that keep popping up started winding me up (I’ve never seen so much text in a game before.) I know I could skip them, but something makes me feel guilty if I don’t try to read them, like I could be missing something integral to the story.

I later heard about the games Star Ocean and Infinite Undiscovery (both published by Square Enix but developed by Tri-Ace for Xbox 360 – amazingly I own more Japanese games for this console than I do on my other ones.) They piqued my interest because of the fact that they still had that Japanese touch to them, but have a completely different battle system. I haven’t played them for very long yet, but so far I’m enjoying them. The battle systems are pretty fun, although they still contain some of the annoyances I also found with Lost Odyssey and Final Fantasy. The main problem they have is the fact that the characters in each of the games I play all seem quite similar (I’ve lost count of how many girlish blonde haired dudes with big swords there are out there, and the women tend to be squeaky and hyperactive.) I just find I can’t relate to these characters like I can to the ones from Dragon Age, for example. I’ve also noticed that all of these games force you to play a character, rather than letting you create one like in most WRPG’s. The level-up systems don’t seem to let you place attributes or skills after level up either, which gives you more control over the development of a character and feels like your reward after grinding them. It doesn’t feel like I’m role-playing much when such systems aren’t in place.

Now, I’m not the sort of gamer to give up (For example, I originally had an absolute hatred for the MMORPG EVE Online, yet now I’ve racked up a fair few hours and I own a copy of the art book and novel) - gamers who are too fussy and won’t try something for long enough to get a feel for it tend to irritate me slightly. So I haven’t stopped yet in my search to find the perfect JRPG for me. I ended up going back to Final Fantasy again after seeing Final Fantasy 12 in a bargain bin for £4.99. I had been interested because John had told me that they had completely changed the battle system in this one, and despite being one of the least liked in the series I thought there could be some hope here.

Well once again I was left initially disappointed. The start of the game makes you go solo for quite a while, and despite having a strong interest in A.I. I just didn’t get the point in setting it for everybody, as then the battles involve no clicking at all. When I got further into it however, my opinion started to change. I realised there was actually some skill involved and having more party members makes it feel faster and more exciting – waiting for the gauge to fill so you could attack was pretty frustrating. I guess I also like it because of the feel of it; I happen to like Final Fantasy Tactics which is set in the same universe. Admittedly a majority of the characters are annoying, but I did discover Balthier who is witty and likeable. Unfortunately a big let-down in this game is the story, which is kind of boring and hard to follow.

So, have I been converted? Not quite. I’ve realised that I can persevere with them and even enjoy them to a certain extent, but they’ll still never compare to the Western equivalent. There are just so many similarities between each game, and so for that reason they tend to share the same flaws too. Also, I don’t know if it’s just me, but certain concepts in these games just feel a bit dated and old fashioned to me, while WRPG’s are pushing the boat out and being a bit more varied. (For example, Dungeon Siege and Mass Effect are completely different.) I don’t like seeing myself as a Western gamer, and I do like Japanese titles such as Metal Gear Solid, ICO and Okami, but there is just something about JRPG’s that I don’t quite get. (Maybe somebody could suggest some to me that I might enjoy.) I am actually quite looking forward to being able to afford White Knight Chronicles however, which has a similar battle system to 12 I hear, and lets you create your own characters at the start.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Legend of Zelda: A Retrospective

John’s mentioned Final Fantasy once or twice so I reckon it’s only fair I do the same for Zelda. It’s a long standing debate in the gaming community which is better of the two, personally I prefer Zelda sure the story telling might not be as strong but I just prefer the gameplay, and since the release of XIII Zelda has one thing I really enjoy, and that’s the lack of Leona Lewis. Though, in all honesty there are plenty of games I’d sooner play over Zelda, but out of the two I prefer it.

My first Zelda game was either Links Awakening DX or Oracle of Ages, I forget which. Both are GBC games so are in turn very similar. More akin to the original or link to the past than the more recent additions to the series. I never owned any Nintendo console before the GB/GBC so they where my first opportunity to try out the series. I enjoyed them both fully, they made you think, the combat was simple but at the same time fun and the minigames, for the most part were enjoyable (let’s just not talk about the dancing one, ever).

Then I got the Gamecube, my first home Nintendo console, with which came Wind Waker. I was a little unsure about it at first, after having seen parts of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask the ‘cartoony’ graphics kind of put me off but eventually, after playing a bit of it at a friend’s I caved; and I’m glad I did. This may cause alot of debate, flames or possible even death threats but Wind Waker, in my opinion, is the best Zelda. Maybe it’s because it’s the first 3D one I played and I just feel more connected to it, or maybe it’s because of its charm. For the first time, Link had something close to what represented a personality, every other game he’s incredibly hollow this time round with his exaggerated expressions and funny eyebrows I just felt more of a connection and as a result more immersed. A lot of people complain about the sailing and treasure hunting but I enjoyed these just as much, if not more than the actual plotline.

Then I tried Ocarina of Time that came with the bonus disk with Wind Waker and in all honestly, I found it really, really boring. I can’t explain why, I just couldn’t bring myself to play it; I got a few hours and just lost what little interest I had. I probably should force myself to play all the way through it but I just can’t bring myself to.

Later, I borrowed the Collector’s Edition disc from a friend which had both OoT and Majora’s Mask on it. Now Majora’s Mask I loved, it had a much darker tone than other Zelda games, the moon approaching the earth slowly with a timer constantly at the bottom of the screen says impending doom a lot more than a fairy telling you “Oh Gannondorf is doing evil things somewhere, just trust me ok”, plus the final boss fight was pretty damn epic (why they didn’t make Fierce Deity Link Link’s Final Smash in Brawl is beyond me).

Then there’s Twilight Princess which is... ok. I played it, completed it and for the most part enjoyed it. Some of the bosses and items where creative but nothing makes me want to go back to it, not like Wind Waker that I have completed about 5 times including a 100% run and a Three-Heart Quest (Well, nearly). The Wolf Link parts were kinda fun but I felt they could have done alot more with them (saying that why wasn’t Wolf Link in Brawl... Did they design Link on the Monday morning after the Bosses birthday do?).

Then we come to Phantom Hourglass, a direct sequel to Wind Waker (and I mean direct, it takes place like literally 5 minutes after WW ends). Which was a good idea gone bad, the Temple of the Ocean King was nothing short of torture, the controls where fiddly and the tacked on Multiplayer was, well all in all pretty pointless. I finished it but I can’t actually remember that much of it at all which just shows how mediocre it was. Recently I got Spirit Tracks which unfortunately is the same story and I’m struggling to force myself to play it, it just feels... meh. Some of the areas have been improved on and I gotta say I do like the new boomerang it’s kinda gimmicky but fun nonetheless but the train riding is a chore and it just feels like it’s been created using a “How to Make an RPG for Dummies” approach. They’ve pulled off good handheld Zelda games before so why the decline now?

I’ve played a few other Zelda games like the original and LttP but none of them so far have kept me as entertained as WW did. Strange how the game that people commonly disregard as the worst Zelda is my favourite, given that maybe I should try Final Fantasy XII...

Probably should point out that the majority of his Final Fantasy experiences come from Crystal Chronicles.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Hacking key items in Pokémon

Now I just want to get out from the start that I’m not a fan of hacking. I don’t like hacking or cheating in any sense, especially on online multiplayer games, since it’s not fair to other people. I didn’t used to mind so much, I used to own an Action Reply/Xploder etc. cartridge for just about every console I had, and used to use them on a regular basis. I guess I grew out of this as I got older. But there is one area my opinion on this wavers sometimes.

In Pokémon there are several items that let you unlock new areas of the games to catch rare and unique Pokémon. For example, in the 4th generation Oak’s Letter lets you unlock a new route to reach Shaymin, the Member Pass lets you enter a building in Canalave City to catch Darkrai, and the Azure Flute lets you unlock a secret area at Spear Pillar to catch the God Pokémon Arceus. The thing is these items are mainly given out in Nintendo Events. This isn’t so much of a problem these days with the addition of Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to the 4th generation, allowing you to obtain these items over the internet, but in the previous generations it was a big problem. In those days events never even seemed to happen outside of Japan, and being a UK resident, getting a Mew in those days was rather problematic. However, even with the events that have been going on recently in the UK (I’ve been to two, an Arceus one and a Darkrai one) you still don’t seem to get the items. Instead, they send you the Pokémon in question directly, meaning that the in-game areas still stay off limits. The only key item I have ever managed to get hold of is Oak’s Letter when it was distributed over Wi-Fi for Platinum.

Now this presents a major dilemma: if Nintendo are never going to release these items to the public, is it really so wrong to hack them using a cheat cartridge? I personally wouldn’t like to do it, since I like all my Pokémon to be completely legitimate, but it seems to be a perfectly reasonable way to get the item if, say, you missed the Wi-Fi event because you were out of the country or something. It’d be just like you got them the legitimate way, so long as it affected nothing else in your game. Admittedly you wouldn’t get the Wonder Card, but since you can delete them anyway that hardly matters. This argument stood up far more firmly in the days of Red and Blue when there was absolutely no chance of getting a Mew for someone who lived in the UK. I’ll leave you to decide on this one.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Dragon Age: Origins Awakening (Expansion Pack)

Well I went out on Friday and I bought myself Dragon Age’s new expansion pack, Awakening. It ended up being more expensive than I thought it would be, but I couldn’t resist getting it there and then on the spot despite knowing I could save money getting it elsewhere. I have to say, however, that it was well worth the price I paid.

Awakening is like a separate game in its own right. After installing it, in the menu on starting a new game you will be asked which one you want to play. Selecting Awakening allows you to either start a new character from scratch (they’ll come in at level 18), or to import one who’ll have all of the skills and spells they earned from before. You can select any save file you like from that character, importing them at any point in their development. Despite a few nagging logic issues with the story, I decided to start the game on my Mage, as my rogue hasn’t yet gotten to the end of the game – I don’t fancy skipping her forward in time.

The start of the expansion has you walking into Vigil Keep where you will be attacked by an onslaught of Darkspawn. These are different however, as they are more intelligent; plotting, planning and even talking. After clearing out the keep it is then your responsibility as Commander of the Grey Wardens to deal with the threat and to recruit new members. You are given the ability to put any of your new party members through the joining, although I'm not sure if there's a risk here, such as the possibility of them dying. I think it’s quite cool that the game places you in this position, as the first one makes you feel more like the pupil under Duncan’s wing, and then in this one you’re the one who’s in charge actually foreseeing the joinings – Ah, brings back the memories. People seem to treat you with respect (well mostly) and you’re given some responsibility over where the armies go to defend and who deserves punishment for various reasons. The plot is really interesting and keeps you wanting to play more.

The game-play is also fun. Everything seems to work at a faster rate, gaining experience and levelling up faster (I guess this is to balance it with the games length.) This allows you to get new skills and spells to try out quickly, which I guess is a good thing if you feel like trying a build out quickly or feel like a small dose of Dragon Age but don’t want to go in for the long haul. There are also new abilities and some of them are pretty good. Each class has new abilities/spells, and two new specialities. There are also three new skills; Runecrafting, Vitality and Clarity. The latter two are pretty simple in that they simply improve HP and MP, but Runecrafting, well does exactly what it sounds like, lets you craft your own runes. I haven’t yet used this feature, but it looks pretty interesting. There are a fair few new runes to choose from, and you can now enchant armour – something I had actually questioned the lack of while playing the main game. I’ve now gone for an arcane Warrior/Blood/Battle mage – quite a mouthful I know – and she uses Arcane Shield with Fade Shield, Rock Armour, Death Syphon, Fade Shroud and Draining Aura, so she’s pretty glowy to say the least. I’ve only got to the second skill on Battle Mage so far (Hand of Winter), which I’m liking very much. The only problem I’m having so far is that there are way too many spells to be able to fit them comfortably on my bar anymore and I most certainly don’t have enough A.I. slots to get her to use everything I want successfully.

Another special ability you also have in your arsenal goes by the name of Ser Pounce-a-lot, a random ginger kitty I found roaming around outside Vigil Keep. If you give the cat to Anders he names it and it gets added to your inventory with the new title. You can place this into your skill bar and use it when team members die. Somehow – don’t ask me how – this cat possesses the magical abilities of being able to revive dead party members. When using it you’ll also get some amusing quotes such as:

‘You know, mages created mabari hounds. Maybe I could make you just as smart as those stupid dogs.’ – Anders
‘Meow.’ – Ser Pounce-a-lot

Overall, I’d say this is a must buy for any fan of the original game. It still contains the same fun game-play, great story and witty dialogue. The new characters are interesting and the abilities awesome to use. The only real downside I can think of is that the original game doesn’t seem to have been updated with the new skills and specialities, but this is liveable I guess. It also seems to have a lot of content and things to do. I’m not really sure just how long it is yet, but looking around I’m finding a lot of additional quests to do on the side of the main storyline so I’d make a guess at saying it’s long enough for the price you're paying.

“All I want is a pretty girl, a decent meal, and the right to shoot lightning at fools.” - Anders

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Dragon Age: Origins Review


Well I went to bed early last night, finally started to get a good night’s sleep which doesn’t happen often with my over-active mind. Began to enter some weird dream that I really wanted to find the conclusion of, only to find myself startled awake by a series of shrill beeps; my rather imprudent alarm clock had decided to set itself “accidently” to wake me at five in the morning. Needless to say I am now very tired and I never did find out what the point of that weird dream was. Anyway, as I went back to bed I found myself thinking about Dragon Age and its new and upcoming expansion pack Awakening (out tomorrow,) and how I should review Origins before it comes out. So on that note I’ll stop trying to get sympathy and move onto what the title of this post promises, (I’m also doing it in a similar format to Sneeze who’s done a very good job of writing reviews so far.)


The gameplay has received a fair bit of complaint. I got this game for PC which gets a pause option (I’ve heard this isn’t available on console versions,) and I’m glad it’s there. The main problem with the game is the fact that it’s difficult and unbalanced. Mages are by no doubt the most powerful and easy to use. I’ve also had the problem that when you play another class you then only have two mage characters to choose from, Morrigan who is slightly dark and Wynne who is too up-righteous. I used an evil rogue on my second play through and spent a while getting Wynne haste so that I could attack faster with my dual wielded swords, just to have her abandon me based on one of my decisions. I tried to find a way around it but even a high friendship value didn’t seem to make a difference. (There’s also a tactic where two mages use cone of cold to keep a target permanently frozen, but I can no longer do that either.)

The battle system feels like it's in real time, however it's actually turn-based and works like Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic, in that it uses a dice to determine when you are successful. You may like this if you’re a fan of the other games, but I also know some people (Sneeze), who aren’t too keen due to the randomness and certain reliance on luck. You also have the option to set A.I which is a good feature, but it’s hard to get right and you’ll often find you don’t have enough slots to set states.

Despite some of the annoyances, I still managed to enjoy the game-play a lot. Some of the spells were fun to use; causing chaotic explosions and setting things on fire. Dual wielding is also an exciting feature. I like how the system works, with the right skills, allowing you to mix and match items in both hands. There are also options for Alchemy, Poison making, enchanting and trap construction, so as far as an RPG goes you won’t be feeling like it lacks on options. I also like how you can pick special classes alongside your main one to give you extra skills and abilities. These classes must be found to be unlocked so you have to have a good look around for them – Arcane warrior with the sword Spell Weaver is particularly cool.

The choice system is also one of the best I’ve seen. You can’t see a meter for good/evil so there’s nothing there to influence you, and characters have differing opinions on the actions you take. Most things are usually followed on as well. For example, there are six different starts to the game which have their own mini stories and characters. Later on in the game however, they do seem to get mentioned despite being slightly different on different play-throughs. I was also amazed to find that in certain places I was able to ignore a quest resulting in consequences. On other games I have often found while taking the evil route you're not really given the choice to refuse quests for help, and then looking like a complete moron you end up having to go back to accept the quest in order to continue the game(the illusion of choice at work here.) Yet in Dragon Age I refused to help Redcliffe and left; on returning it had been destroyed.

There are a fair few hours of game-play. You can find yourself easily racking up to one-hundred hours and still feel like you haven’t seen everything. The main story is of decent length and there are a tonne of side quests to get through. You do have to have patience to play it however, as this game contains a lot of dialogue. You may also want to try it on easy mode if you’re mostly interested in getting the story as the battle system does take some time to pick up.

The story

Dragon Age is about the rising of a threat called the Darkspawn, led by a fierce dragon like creature known as the Archdemon (the last time this happened was around 400 years ago.) The Grey Wardens are a force built to deal with this blight and recruit new members by forcing them to drink the blood of the Darkspawn; a ceremony called the Joining that could possibly kill. By drinking the blood the person becomes immune to the taint that they spread and is also capable of achieving another purpose (a spoiler I shall not mention.) The lucky player is dragged off from where they live to undergo this ceremony to join the Grey Wardens; luckily the player does survive to be given the chance to live out the rest of the story. A battle follows, which later goes wrong, resulting in a close shave for the player and another Grey Warden called Alistair, and the deaths of a lot of men. Alistair and the player are saved by a powerful witch called Flemith, who insists that her daughter Morrigan goes to aid them. Realising that there isn’t a force powerful enough to deal with the blight they decide to go and attempt to recruit an army; which involves going to the Elves, Dwarves, mages and Arl Eamen of Redcliffe. Doing this allows them to be selected in the finale of the game, providing you with extra backup.

The story is really good, although not my favourite as far as Bioware games are concerned (I personally place Mass Effect slightly higher on this one.) However, it keeps you very interested all the way through and some of the choices and consequences this game present are the best I’ve ever seen. I absolutely love the final choice presented to the player, which is incredibly deep and emotional. Before the end credits you also get presented with snippets of text that explain what happens next as a result of your choices, and it doesn’t seem to leave anything out. I would however, like to see a second game that carries it on in the same way Mass Effect 2 carries on from Mass Effect 1. The end of the game does leave you wanting a little bit more. I’ve heard, however, that the expansion pack will clarify a little bit on some of the story elements, like allowing you to rebuild up the Grey Wardens at Vigil Keep.


Bioware games have never really been known for being on the cutting edge as far as graphics are concerned, and this is certainly no exception. A few people are also bound to be feeling slightly alienated after they released that wonderfully lush looking TV trailer. It still has some pretty visuals however and even if you are a graphics whore I’d say they’re good enough not to affect enjoyment of the game. I particularly like the visual style which is quite dark and gritty; it’s nice to see a fantasy game that actually has some blood and gore in it when you stab people.


I was very impressed with the quality of the sound in Dragon Age. The music is brilliant and reminds me of what you’d find a Lord of the Rings film - it’s very emotional and atmospheric. I bought the soundtrack for myself after playing the game, my favourite track being Leliana’s song, which you can only hear if you have her in your party upon completing the 'Nature of the Beast' quest in The Brecilian Forest. ‘30 Seconds To Mars’ also wrote a song specially for the game called ‘This is War,’ which isn’t normally my thing but sounds epic upon hearing it on the end credits. It really fits the game well.

The voice acting is also pretty good. A fair few voice actors have been used (at least over 100), meaning that it’ll take a while before you start hearing repeats. I was especially surprised to find Claudia Black doing a voice-over for Morrigan, who also happens to be in one of my favourite TV programs of all time Stargate SG1. (She’s also worked on game titles Mass Effect 2, Uncharted 2 and Crysis.) Other actors include Tim Curry, Steve Valentine and Kate Mulgrew.


I was left quite impressed by Dragon Age. Bioware have done it again and produced a game with a really good choice system. It’s not perfect and contains a number of flaws, but they seem to be forgivable because on the whole is a pretty solid game, (I also liked it enough to go straight through onto a second character straight after completing the first.) I guess a lot of people must be in agreement with this in consideration to the fact that upon its release in November 2009 it has managed to earn itself a fair few positive reviews and has won many numerous awards including best PC game. I realise I could have probably said a lot more about it, but I’m pretty tired and it’s getting incredibly hot here at the moment. I think I need to go play a game to take my mind off the heat...

+Great Story
+One of the best choice systems so far
+Lots of game-play (20GB in size) – good value for money
-Difficult/unbalanced battle system
-Not enough varied party members to choose from
-Graphics not as crisp as they appear in the trailer

"Now, let us crush something soft and watch it fountain blood. That is a girlish thing to want to do, yes?" - Shale

Why is Pokémon considered to be just for kids?

Now I know a lot of people may laugh when they see this article. But seriously, why? I’ve just spent the best part of dinner today considering the base stats of different Pokémon, weighing up whether or not I could use them to kick Jo and Sneeze’s asses in battle. I’ll start with a brief (or maybe not quite so brief as past articles have shown), history of my experience with Pokémon as usual.

Like most 90’s kids I got into Pokémon around 98/99 when the Anime was first aired in Britain. I loved the show straight away, and of course I got the game for Christmas that year (in fact I got both Red and Blue, but I only ever played Blue, never got round to Red). Obviously I also collected the trading cards, even though I didn’t know how to play the TCG at the time. My fascination with Pokémon lasted until about 2001, when I was 12 and around the time of the 2nd generation games and episodes. I played Silver, Gold and Crystal, but I started to fall out with the anime at around this time, partially because I didn’t like the new Pokémon and partially because I had just started attending secondary school recently, and felt that I needed to ‘grow up’. Yeah, that seems remarkably stupid to me these days. I still liked the damn show, but I felt like people would look down on me if they knew I was into such a ‘childish’ programme. The games also fell prey to this ‘growing up’ soon after, and subsequently I ignored the release of the 3rd generation of games (Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald).

Along came 2007 and my friend decided that we should both import a copy of the new 4th generation games. With the full (and maybe questionable) wisdom of my 18 years I agreed. He got Diamond and I got Pearl (I wanted Diamond but he got there before me...) Anyway I figured by this point in my life that I really shouldn’t care what people thought about me, and if anyone had a problem with the games I enjoyed playing then they probably weren’t worth knowing anyway. I ended up really enjoying playing Pearl, but I didn’t get particularly far (I seem to remember I halted just before going to the town with the 8th gym, Sunyshore) and left it for a few months. I got back into it around Christmas 2007, when I’d started attending university and had met my current group of friends (including Jo and Sneeze). There were 5 of us to begin with, 3 who already owned the game, and 2 who got it for Christmas that year in order to join in. There are only 4 of us now, since one of the guys left the course, but since then me, Jo and Sneeze have been heavily into the deeper sides of Pokémon, like training them up for competitive battling taking Individual Values, Effort Values and Natures into account and trying to get the rarer ones that require a great deal of effort to obtain. In fact we have been to 2 events in Chesterfield and Sheffield together to obtain the legendaries Darkrai and Arceus (we went to the Arceus one just 4 days ago in fact). I personally love the fact that I can play Pokémon properly, as it’s meant to be played, with other people these days. I never got that chance when I was younger, and I don’t think there can be any argument that the Nintendo DS’s wireless capability makes things a hell of a lot easier (no more fiddling about with link cables, or even having to bring link cables with you!)

Now this is my major problem with the commonly held view of Pokémon: the system is incredibly deep. I’ll give an overview here:
Each Pokémon has 6 stats: HP, Attack, Special Attack, Defence, Special Defence and Speed. They gain Experience Points (EXP) as they battle and level up, increasing these stats. However these stat gains are influenced by various factors, one of which is Individual Values (IVs). This is a hidden number attached to each Pokémon, between 0 and 31 inclusive that determines what sort of stat gains the Pokémon will get in that stat. The higher the number the higher a Pokémon will advance in that stat. IVs can be calculated using online calculators and passed down through breeding. So, by working out a Pokémon’s IVs from its stats, you can use selective breeding (since two of the IVs are passed down off each parent) to breed the perfect Pokémon.

Next you have Effort Values (EVs). These are gained by fighting enemy Pokémon. Each Pokémon gives EVs for 1 of the 6 stats (the same species of Pokémon will always give the same type of EV), and the number is determined by their level of evolution (1, 2 or 3 depending on how many times the Pokémon has evolved). There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as legendaries which generally give 3 EVs, but since legendaries are normally one-off encounters, it’s not really feasible to EV train using legendaries. Each Pokémon can have a maximum of 510 EVs, and no more than 255 EVs in any one stat. For every 4 EVs in a particular stat, the Pokémon gains an extra point in that stat. So, a Pokémon can gain a maximum boost of 63 in any stat by being EV trained in that stat. Technically, it is better to give 252 EVs in 2 stats, and 6 in another, so that the last 3 (EV 253, 254 and 255) in each stat aren’t wasted, since these last 3 wouldn’t add up to another stat gain anyway as the number of EVs is rounded down. There are items that a Pokémon can hold in the game to boost the number of EVs they get from an encounter. These 6 ‘Power’ items give the Pokémon holding them a boost of 4 EVs of the stat to which they relate after battle, regardless of what EV type is given by the Pokémon being fought. There is also a very rare disease that Pokémon can catch, called Pokérus. This can be contracted by a Pokémon after any battle at a very small random chance. When afflicted with Pokérus, the afflicted Pokémon can pass on the disease to all other members of your active team as you fight. The important thing about Pokérus, however, is that it doubles EV gain after battle, including the 4 EVs given by the Power items. Consequently, a Pokémon fighting another Pokémon that gives attack EVs, equipped with the Power Bracer (which gives attack EVs), and inflicted with Pokérus will gain 10, 12 or 14 EVs after battle, depending on the level of evolution of Pokémon they fought, instead of the regular 1, 2 or 3, making EV training much faster. Pokérus fades from a Pokémon after a while, and after this point they can no longer pass on the disease, but they still receive the double EV gain after battles.

Pokémon also have base stat values. These are a set of numbers that give an overview of what that particular Pokémon is good at. For instance, a Pokémon with a high Attack base stat and low Defence base stat would reach a much higher value in Attack than in Defence. This must all be taken into account when choosing what to train a Pokémon in. Do you play to the Pokémon’s strengths, and try to increase those strengths, or do you compensate for the Pokémon’s weaknesses to try and make it a better all rounder?

Finally there are natures. There are 25 natures in total, such as Adamant, Modest, Hasty, Serious etc. These natures raise one stat’s final value by 10%, while lowering another by 10%. No natures affect HP, so there are 5 that raise each stat, while lowering one of the other stats. The 5 natures that both raise and lower the same stat have no effect on the stats overall. So, by manipulating this it is possible to give a Pokémon an even further boost to their stats. For example if you want a Pokémon that has a good Attack stat, but don’t care about its Special Attack stat, you would want a Pokémon with the Adamant nature, since this raises Attack while lowering Special Attack.

That’s it for Pokémon stat development (I bet you just breathed a huge sigh of relief didn’t you?), so now on to types and moves!

As of the 4th generation, moves are divided into three types: Physical, Special and Support. Support moves usually do no damage and cause some sort of effect (Poison, Paralysis, altering a stat up or down etc.) Physical moves are based on the Attack stat of the Pokémon and are defended against using Defence. Special moves are based on the Special Attack stat of the Pokémon and are defended against using Special Defence. As a side note, HP is the amount of ‘life’ a Pokémon has, when this is expended by taking damage from attacks it faints, and Speed determines which Pokémon goes first in a battle, usually the one with the higher speed, although this can be altered by certain moves. Both Physical and Special moves have Power, which determines how much damage they do, Accuracy, which determines how likely they are to hit and a type.

As I’m sure most people know, Pokémon can be of one or two of the seventeen types: Fire, Water, Grass, Flying, Electric, Rock, Ground, Poison, Normal, Fighting, Psychic, Bug, Ghost, Dragon, Ice, Steel or Dark. This has an effect on the Power of moves used by that Pokémon. If a Pokémon uses a move of its type, it gains Same Type Attack Bonus (STAB). STAB increases the power of a move to 1.5x its regular value. The type of a Pokémon determines how effective certain moves are against it. This can be 0x, 0.25x, 0.5x, 1x, 2x or 4x regular damage. 0x is when a Pokémon is immune to a type of move due to its type. For example, Ground Pokémon are immune to Electric moves. 0.25x is when a Pokémon has two types, and both are resistant to the type of move being used such as a Water move being used on a Water/Grass Pokémon. 0.5x is the same as above, but when only one type is resistant. 1x is regular damage, either when the type matchup is regular, such as Electric vs. Fire, or when a Pokémon has two types and one is resistant while one is weak, such as a Fire move being used on a Water/Grass Pokémon. 2x is like 0.5x, but when the Pokémon is weak instead of resistant, and the same goes for 4x compared to 0.25x. So taking STAB into account, a move can technically increase to 6x its regular power. For example, if the move Thunder, an Electric move is used on a Water/Flying Pokémon, both of which are weak to Electric, by an Electric Pokémon, the base power would increase from an already respectable 120 to a massive 720 (120 x 2 = 240 for the Water weakness, 240 x 2 = 480 for the Flying weakness, 480 x 1.5 =720 for the STAB). Yeah, nothing would survive that I’d like to bet.

Just as another side note, I’d like to direct you to this picture at Bulbapedia, the Pokémon Wiki if you will:
That picture shows the formula, when using the Pokéradar, of obtaining a Shiny Pokémon (a Pokémon with a different colour to usual). A shiny can be found at any time when you enter an encounter with a wild Pokémon. The usual chance of this happening however is 1 in 8192. Don’t you just love base 2? According to this formula, if you plug all the numbers in, once you reach a chain of 40 Pokémon using the Pokéradar, your chances of getting a shiny increase to approximately 1 in 200, a massive increase. The chain number that can be used in that formula caps at forty, so there is no way to increase the chance further than this.

Taking all of these things into account, you can produce Pokémon that stand a good chance in competitive battling. But now, wrestling this article back onto topic, I’d just like to point out that I have now given a fairly detailed look into the inner mechanisms of the 4th generation Pokémon games. These are systems that allow you to get the most out of the game, but I can’t really imagine many ten year old kids grasping the finer details of how these mechanisms work, such as the shiny formula I just explained. These are really complex and sophisticated systems at work, which can be manipulated with the right knowledge, and this seems to suggest to me that the games are developed as much for adults as they are for children. Sure, the look and feel of the game can be quite childish at times, but that’s because it’s aimed at children. Strip that away and you have a really deep, complex system that is incredibly fun to play. Take films such as Ice Age for instance. These films are aimed at children, but there is a lot of humour in there that can only be understood by adults. It is the same sort of thing, except that in Pokémon it is the depth of the system in place that adults can really appreciate. Besides, if you’re like me in that you’ve really stopped caring what the world at large thinks about you because since they’re by and large a bunch of boring old farts trying to grow up too fast anyway, and you grew up with Pokémon, you can still appreciate even the more childish side of the games for the nostalgia they bring.

Well I’d better wrap this up now, since I’m once again on the 4th page of the Word document I’m writing this in (I tend to do that a lot when I’m writing about games). So congratulations once again for getting to the end of one of my incredibly tedious articles (I don’t know, maybe if you’re a Pokémon fan like me you might have enjoyed it) and have a picture of a Pikachu as a reward:

Single Player = Unsocial? Hang on a sec...

A lot of people would probably accuse me of being an unsocial gamer because the majority of games I play are single player, but is this really the case? I have an active social life and I play the odd multiplayer game when I’m in the mood for it (TF2 beta comes to mind, 4+ hours a day for about a month) so what is it about playing titles such as Mass Effect 2 that suddenly brand me, and is it me or is “social” gaming not quite as social as people like to make out?

Let’s start with a little exercise, think of five solely single player games with brilliant storylines, easy right? Now, do the same for heavily multiplayer games... A bit more difficult isn’t it? Sometimes I’m in the mood for playing a game that has an engaging story and multiplayer games seldom, if ever achieve that. If I want to play a game with a good story how does that make me any less social than if I were to watch a film or read a book?

As of late it seems like there’s been a torrent of multiplayer games, with releases like Left 4 Dead and its sequel, Borderlands and MAG and they seem to be having a strong influence on previously solely single player titles such as Resident Evil 5 (which was almost compulsory to use given the abysmal AI), Bioshock 2 and the upcoming Dead Space 2.

Dead Space was one of my favourite games of this generation and never once during the three times I played through it (more if you include the several attempts at the rather accurately named impossible mode) did I ever think “wow this game would be really great if it had multiplayer”. Not every game needs to have a multiplayer option; it just adds more development time or takes time away from what could be spent on the main article which in most cases is what I’m buying the game for. Also, after playing a single player game I discuss it with people, its good points, its bad points, its story, et cetera; did I not get the memo announcing talking to people is no longer a social activity?

It seems that single player games are often frowned upon by reviewers and the gaming community alike; presumably, to these people no gaming experience is complete without having some 12 year old calling you a n00b, rather ironically, because you are beating him.

Furthermore, on the odd occasion where I do play a multiplayer game and join a random game sever no-one ever talks unless it’s to accuse someone of hacking or having a small penis. What pray tell is the point in “social” gaming if no-one is going to be social about it, or even to go as far as being anti-social? Somehow, through some rather twisted logic, because I don’t verbally abuse people over the internet I’m the unsocial one. I would have an almost identical experience fighting against bots and that would be sans the maltreatment of both myself and the English language.

Then what really annoys me is a lot of games seem to be removing same-console multiplayer, do gamers not have real life friends anymore? I bought Quantum of Solace hoping it would be a similar experience to the multiplayer in Nightfire which was immensely enjoyable; only to find out the only multiplayer option is taking it online.

Let’s for a second assume that you invite a few of friends round for drinks, pizza and games, one of you suggests a game of Quantum of Solace. Now, in order to play this your friends would need to go home, boot up their consoles and meet you back online. Doesn’t sound quite so social when you have to kick people out of you house to do it now does it? There’s always the Wii, but the Wii is fun when drunk, not whilst getting drunk. Are we supposed to just sit round and talk about the weather until we’re drunk enough to find the masturbatory motions hilarious again?

Don’t get me wrong, I like multiplayer games but I feel they have a time and a place, that place should be your living room with your friends. Not in a darkened cellar with your console hooked up to a CAT5e and a pile of empty cans of Red Bull. Granted this doesn’t work for PC games unless you have a LAN Party but as for console games there is really no excuse to exclude same console multiplayer. I’m not an unsocial gamer or an unsocial person, it’s just my idea of a good time isn’t having complete strangers threatening to cut me because they can’t tell the difference between camping and tactical positioning.

To clarify I do not have a small penis nor am I a "camper n00b", I have however been threatened to be cut. This was several years back, I'm still knife free.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Heavy Rain - Review


Heavy Rain is the spiritual successor to Quantic Dream’s Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy if you’re from across the pond). I haven’t played Fahrenheit yet myself (thought I recently purchased it after having enjoyed Heavy Rain so much but haven’t got round to playing it yet) but if you have expect more of the same thing. If you haven’t Heavy Rain is an “Interactive Drama” think of it to be a bit like one of them create-your-own-adventure books you’d read as a kid, or like the extra that came with the Final Destination 3 DVD except actually worth the physical space it occupies.

The gameplay itself is fairly minimal, similar in some ways to the Dreamcast title, Shenmue. You have free sections where you walk around looking for evidence, clues or items and having conversations, and then you have the dreaded quick time events that seem to have been all the rage since Resident Evil 4 resurrected them although Heavy Rain actually does them pretty well (or at least as good as QTEs can get anyway). But playing Heavy Rain for the gameplay would be like eating Chinese food for the chopsticks, you play it for the story like you would watch a movie or read a book.

The story behind follows four separate characters all with their fates entwined by a serial killer dubbed the origami killer who kidnaps boys aged between 9 and 13 and drowns them in rain water then leaves their bodies on waste land with a orchid on their chest and a origami figure in their hand.

-Spoilers for the first hour or so of play-

The first and main character is Ethan Mars, a happily married and a successful architect, for the prologue at least. During a visit to the mall his older (and frankly stupider) child is run over a killed. The game then jumps to two years later after the accident where he is divorced, suffering from depression and black outs and is trying to reconnect with his other son, Shaun. Shaun is then kidnapped by the origami killer during one of Ethan’s blackouts, eventually leading Ethan (and the police force) to believe he is the origami killer whilst he is simultaneously trying to save his son.

The second character is an FBI agent from Washington called Norman Jayden who has been called to assist the police force with the capture of the killer. Norman comes equipped with a pair of sunglasses called ARI (Advanced Reality Interface) which help him identify and analyse evidence and aid him in capturing the killer. Unfortunately at the same time he is also suffering from drug problems which he has to fight in the process.

The third character is a Scott Shelby, a private investigator hired by the families of the victims of the origami killer and suffers from asthma (wow no-one in this game is actually well are they?).

The fourth character is Madison Paige, a photographer who is a picture of perfect health – ok that was a lie, she has chronic insomnia. Not much is known about her at first but suffice to say she ends up getting heavily involved in the case.

-End Spoilers-

One of the main aspects of Heavy Rain is that even the smallest choice can have a huge impact on the rest of the story, with multiple endings (18 epilogues with 4 for each playthrough) there’s plenty of incentive to replay. If a character dies, they die for good, what one character does can later on effect another there is no direct right and wrong choice and it just overall feels far less artificial than most other choice systems.

Another good thing about Heavy Rain is that it can appeal to a casual audience without slitting the throat of the gaming nation and drinking its still warm blood, á la the Wii. Several times while playing this I had my Mum of all people sat next to me just as absorbed into the story as I was (granted it made the sex scene a little awkward but that’s beside the point). This is a great game to play with other people just as you would a movie and makes it even more enjoyable.


As mentioned, the gameplay is minimal so there’s not much I can say here. Everything in the game is achieved by button prompts, be it in a free environment or a QTE, buttons will appear on screen and you will have to press, mash or slowly guide the stick/button to match the prompt to do whatever needs doing. Some require you to press multiple buttons at once but overall it’s really very simple.

Some of the QTEs and button prompt are genuinely challenging if played on the hardest difficulty (which I recommend if you are a regular gamer) and are akin to playing a game of twister with your fingers (one I had to resort to pressing a button with my tongue, no joke) but other than that there’s not really much to be said.


Well seen as this game sells on the promise of a good story it’s a good job it delivers. It’s incredibly compelling, deeply emotional and one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. There’s a few discrepancies in the plot and not quite all loose ends are tied up but that just leaves it open for debate which in my opinion makes it more enjoyable. It doesn’t feel the need to hold your hand and slowly explain every single aspect in detail and leaves some of it to your imagination. That said, a couple of the “plot holes” could have done with a bit more explanation but overall it’s done pretty well and is arguably as deep as any movie or book.


Graphically this game is one of the best the PS3 has to offer. The environments are grim, dark and gloomy but that was the intention, this isn’t a happy pretty lets all ride unicorns across rainbows to the treacle fountain of ecstasy type game. They set the mood perfectly, the characters emotions are portrayed brilliantly and it’s just an overall brilliant presentation.


Without exaggerating this is probably my favourite game of all time, I come from a background of Zelda, Sonic and more recently Metroid, all are pretty renowned for their scores but none of these in my opinion set the mood quite as well as the soundtrack here. I’m sure a lot of you would like to play the Final Fantasy card here (John included) but I’ve never really played a FF game to compare but I would be pretty impressed if it surpassed this.

The voice acting is a bit hit and miss, but it’s not awful. Most of the characters are pretty believable, the odd line will sound a bit robotic but the only characters to really falter are the children and one of them does die in the first half hour so it’s forgiveable. The only other character to really suffer is Norman who can’t seem to pronounce his own name and apparently no-one in the entire cast can pronounce origami correctly. Other than that it’s passable, not the best ever but far from the worst.


I can imagine Heavy Rain being a marmite, I personally love it but if you’re the kind of gamer that can’t go long without cracking a few skulls then maybe it’s not for you. If you want a deep emotional experience then maybe it is.

+ Incredible Story
+ Brilliant Soundtrack
+ Incentive to replay
+ Good “social” game
- Voice acting can be a bit shoddy at times
- Some of the story could have done with a bit more explanation

"Agent NAHMAN Jayden, FBI" ~ Norman Jayden

Tedious Tutorials

I guess you could say I’m not the most patient person when it comes to game tutorials. When I’ve gotten a new game I’m pretty excited and I just want to dig straight into it; so my frustrations tend to foster when I’m greeted by a long monotonous explanation of how to play it. I wouldn’t mind so much if I was just led through the elements that stood the game out from the others; system intricacies and all that, but how many times must I be told how to walk and move the camera.

I had decided to start playing Final Fantasy 12 last week, where I had to bear witness to a guy being told how to look around and move his feet using the analogue sticks. Imagine that in real life, if a person came up to you and said, “now try to move over and pick up your lunch by moving each leg and using your hands.” – See, it’s unrealistic, makes no sense and you’d probably tell them to stop insulting your intelligence. How is it any different in a game when these are the standards you’ve learnt to grow up with in the same way that you’ll never forget how to walk and talk? I doubt even if you hadn’t ever played a game before, it would take you that long to figure it out; it could either be the analogue sticks or the D-Pad; anything else and the game probably deserves to be destroyed.

There are different types of tutorials you will come across. Some are cut off from the main part of the game like Croft Manor in old Tomb Raider games, or the rather lengthy battle lecture in Star Ocean. These are good in that you can choose to ignore them, but first time through you’ll feel the need to take a look and there tends to be a lot of stuff to sift through. (Croft Manor was always fun though, and getting pistols at the end for which you could shoot the butler with were an enjoyable reward for all the effort. I’m sure most of us have all tried to trap him in the fridge as well.)

The other type of tutorial (my personal preference) is built into the game itself, so you can get straight into the story-line and game-play, like Final Fantasy 12. Sometimes they merely come up as small text hints either in loading screens or during game-play and are fairly unobtrusive, but when done badly they will keep repeating and continuing on for the entirety of the game - which is pretty annoying. Others require you to talk to certain characters for the information or you may be presented with – irritatingly unskippable – videos like in Final Fantasy 7. The more obtrusive method actually forces you to perform certain actions for characters within the opening sections of the game. A downside to this kind of tutorial is that some aren’t possible to skip, which means you have to see them every time you want to re-play the game. It also frustrates me when you’re told, for example, to look around, and it will refuse to continue outright until you’ve twiddled the stick violently several times just to prove you won’t forget it.

I’ve always thought it’s a design feature worth thinking about, as in almost every game the tutorial will be the very first thing you see, (which also happens to be where your first impressions are made.) I don’t have so much of a problem with the unobtrusive methods, or if something more intricate must be explained; but I often find that I’m being told about all the simple stuff and then the more complicated things are being left for me to figure out by myself. There are just some things that should either be left in the manual or be left to the player to work out; either by using that brain thingy and the powers of deduction, or if all else fails there’s always the button mashing approach.

X-Men - Canon confusion

While sitting and trying to think of a subject for this article I was browsing the X-Men wiki due to a conversation me and Sneeze had just been having about how Sabretooth and Wolverine are supposed to be brothers, but there was no mention of this in the first film, and I ended up completely confused as to what is canon in X-Men. Just a quick word of warning, this article may contain spoilers regarding the X-Men movies. You have been warned.

Now just let me state from the outset that I have never been a big X-Men fan. I was a 90s/00s child, so I was never big into the X-Men thing. I never read the comics or anything, or watched that many of the cartoons, and my first introduction to the whole concept was really when the first film came out in 2000. Before this I had little to no interest in the whole X-Men thing. I loved the film though and that got me into the concept, although I still never bothered reading any of the comics or anything.

I’ve seen all 4 of the film releases (X-Men, X-2, The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine) and I enjoyed all of them (even though X-2 was one of the most confusing storylines I’ve ever seen, and I’m a JRPG fan!) I was particularly interested in Wolverine’s backstory, since in my opinion he’s the most kickass of all the X-Men, and thought the story portrayed in Origins was excellent, if a little contrived. That’s what led me to browse the X-Men wiki today while eating my lunch. In particular I was looking at the story between Wolverine and Sabretooth, and it left me completely confused. There seem to be about seven different canons for X-Men (slight exaggeration there, but that’s what we do at Gabbling Geeks) and I’m even less clear on the story now than I was when I started.

According to Origins, James (Wolverine) and Victor (Sabretooth) are brothers with similar powers of healing and retractable claws. Okay I added this sentence later, after I’d written the article, but it turns out that Wolverine and Sabretooth are step-brothers, which begs the question: why do they both have similar powers? Anyway back to the article... Wolverine kills some dude who he thinks is the groundskeeper, but is actually his father, after the groundskeeper/real father dude kills the person who Wolverine thinks is his dad. The groundskeeper/real father reveals this information to Wolverine as he dies. Confused? Yeah, me too. Wolverine then flees with Victor (who later becomes Sabretooth) and we see various events of his life...blah blah blah... Throughout the film Wolverine and Sabretooth fight over Wolverine’s dead wife...or some such, until the end when they team up to fight Weapon XI, after which Sabretooth disappears.

In the first X-Men film, Sabretooth is a mutant serving Magneto with feline-like grace and superhuman strength. His character is never explained and he apparently dies near the end of the film after being stabbed in the chest by Wolverine and knocked off the Statue of Liberty into a boat or something, although you never actually see his body (if I remember correctly). Now this is where I’m confused. Is this the same guy? I seem to recall reading something on the wiki about Sabretooth descending into some kind of feral rage so he doesn’t remember who he is, but I don’t recall his claws being retractable in the first film. Admittedly that would be an interesting plot development, Wolverine and Sabretooth meet up years later, neither remembering the other, but who knows? Besides Stan Lee I mean.

The sections that I read on the wiki about Wolverine ( and Sabretooth ( seem to be derived from the comic books, and mention absolutely nothing about them being brothers, or even them knowing each other during Wolverine’s childhood. The groundskeeper dude Wolverine kills is apparently just that: a groundskeeper, with nothing being mentioned about his being Wolverine’s real father or anything. Also, according to the wiki, Sabretooth is Wolverine’s “deadliest enemy” who he meets during the time he lives in the Canadian Rockies with the aforementioned dead wife, who it turns out isn’t really dead at all, even though she was apparently killed by Sabretooth, and has nothing to do with him before this point.

In summary I’m going to wrap this up here before my head implodes or something. I know there are probably about 20 errors with this article, probably as a consequence of me not remembering the films properly or not reading the articles properly (don’t forget I was eating at the time), so if anyone wants to leave a comment explaining the “real” canon to me feel free. It’d be interesting to know. Anyway, thanks for reading this mash of text that can loosely be called an article, albeit a confusing one, and congratulations once again if you managed to get to the end of one of my articles without flying into a homicidal rage or something.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Arceus Pokemon Event

Well, it finally happened. I got myself an Arceus, and not just any one, I found myself lucky enough to get one with a modest nature – unfortunately it also came at level 100 so I can’t EV train it. Arceus is a pretty important pokemon to have, as it’s the creator of the lake guardians and dragon trio, and currently the final pokemon in the national pokedex. It is also believed to be the god of all Pokemon, which John then thought would be funny to send out onto a poor unsuspecting Bidoof, (only he forgot he hadn’t yet earned the final badge in Platinum and Arceus ended up taking a nap instead. I'm sure the Bidoof was pretty relieved about that.)

For a long time I had given up hope of ever procuring one, after all, this is the UK, and events are slim on the ground. (The only other event I have been to was a Darkrai one.) My other legendary, Shaymin, was gained over the internet, which in some ways is better as they hold them for longer and it gives everybody a chance to get one, but on the other hand Pokemon is suppose to be a social game and events give people the chance to meet up, trade and battle. At least I got Shaymin the right way, having to capture it. I would have liked to have to have gotten Arceus and Darkrai in this way using the Membership Pass and Azure Flute, for it unlocks new areas and makes the game feel more complete. I don’t know why they just give you them straight out in these events, which isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Me, John, Sneeze and a fourth friend all went to the event today, where a fair few people showed up; some were dressed up or wearing pokemon memorabilia; stood around in groups with DS’ open inspecting the new Arceus addition. There was a woman there who seemed to radiate the Pokemon, for my DS only seemed picked up the signal when she came over – pretty cool and I’m slightly jealous I don’t give off the signal myself, (but then again I guess that would result in a following trail of obsessive pokemon fans behind me.) I’d bought my EV trained team of level 100’s along with me, thinking that maybe I would meet a few people and battle them. To my disappointment, nobody wanted to; they were either unprepared or for some reason afraid of facing us. I didn’t really understand why because it wouldn’t hurt you to have a go, even if you did lose. Well, needless to say, we left and decided to battle each other instead over some tasty takeaways – the problem is we know each other’s teams and tactics, so the fun evaporates from it eventually. (At least I got to try out my Crobat in battle for the first time, and I’m proud to say it caused Sneeze and John some big headaches :P.)

On another note I’d also like to announce that I got my very first shiny pokemon on Wednesday. I had wanted one for a long time, as John had been lucky enough to get one, yet I hadn’t despite having played more hours. I had finally decided to try and force it, learning how to chain them up properly. If you get a chain of forty Pokemon you reach your max chance of getting a shiny which is about 1 in 200 - a huge improvement. I use to find chaining frustrating to do as it wouldn’t work for me, but I found this website,, which gave some useful hints, allowing me to chain a grand total of one-hundred and eighteen Shinx before noticing that wonderful shaking patch of grass with that extra sparkle.


Thursday, 11 March 2010

Final Fantasy XIII: First Impressions

Well I bought XIII on its release, as can be expected from a fanboy like me. I didn’t get much chance to play it that night though since I was busy. I took a quick look however, and I have to say the graphics impressed me. Maybe I’m looking at the game through rose coloured glasses, since it’s the latest instalment on one of my favourite series of games ever, but oh well, I need my little pleasures in life. Anyway I started the game properly on Wednesday evening (yesterday as of the time of writing) and have currently only racked up around two hours of play time. So far, however, I have to say I’m mightily impressed. The story seems to have much more going for it than XII did (I found the story of XII to be a fairly big disappointment), and I actually quite like the new battle system (a done-up version of the old Active Time Battle system, that really reminds me of the system used in X-2). I imagine a lot of people may have something to complain about by the introduction of the new Auto Battle system, which inputs the best commands for the current situation using AI, but I find it quite useful. Then again, a lot of people (including Jo and Sneeze by the way) complain that the gameplay of the traditional Final Fantasy battle system is boring, whereas I’ve never found that much of a problem with it personally, which is probably why I have more tolerance for the Auto Battle system. I’m looking forward to getting back to it tonight and you can expect a detailed review of the game to appear here once I’ve finished it. Much shorter than usual this time, but I thought I’d just share my first impressions of a new, big release anyway.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 8 March 2010

When did right and wrong become so black and white?

In my Mass Effect 2 review I mentioned how most games that implement a moral choice system seem to be incredibly black and white about it without so much as a single shade of gray. Do you save the drowning puppy or throw it into an even deeper pond, or just walk on by for the “neutral” option, I’m not quite sure how letting an innocent puppy die can in any way be considered neutral, assuming you’re not a character from an early GTA game and have the means the save him.

A prime example is inFamous, as much as I love this game, the choice system seemed tacked on and wasn’t even really needed, all it did was change how your powers upgraded and this would often make several of the powers useless whilst the other half remained viable in combat and if you played the opposite side they magically seemed to swap round and the previously shoddy powers where now pretty useful.

The problem is with inFamous is that the choices often don’t really pose that much of a choice and you would just choose the one you want depending on whether you are doing a good or evil playthrough, not what you would choose if presented with that situation in real life. Do you start a small riot and let innocents die just to save yourself the trouble of knocking out a few cops, or just go straight for the cops? The answer should be pretty obvious, really.

Bioware are known for the choice systems in their games and often they get it right but sometimes its feels more like a choice between humane and being well, a bit of a prick. Greet the new party member with open arms and a pat on the back, or accuse them of being a dirty alien in a xenophobic manner, even though in the previous scene you’re the one who convinced them to tag along, I’m sometimes not sure if my character is supposed to be a “renegade” or just someone with deeply rooted psychological issues. Additionally, no matter how paragon I’m trying to make my character appear if presented with the option to defenestrate someone, I will, though perhaps that’s saying more about me as a person and less about the game.

GTAIV kind of glossed over the choice systems, and this is a series it could really work in my opinion, do you kill everyone mercilessly in cold blood or just kill those that deserve to die? Sadly in the entire 20+ hours of GTAIV there are about 4 choices and all they seem to do is determine whether a character comes back in a short bonus mission that honestly isn’t really worth the trouble because by the time they do come back you’ll have enough money to buy a small island.

Another example for choice in games is the recently released Heavy Rain (expect the review in the near future), who ever said choice has to be good or evil? You make a choice completely unaware of the repercussions that will follow later in the game, there’s no right or wrong answer but it will often have a dramatic effect towards the end and this is how it should be; no clear correct way to go and you just choose what you personally would do in that situation, not which one nets you the points for your desired route, which at the end of the day seems to be what these moral choice systems are all about.

“The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” ~ Albert Einstein

Movie Adaptations of Video Games

It’s a well known fact that movies based on games have a tendency to suck; leaving gamers with a very bitter taste in their mouths. It’s often an exciting thought, wanting to see your favourite stories and designs on the big screen. It’s also a chance to show others who don’t play games a little bit of what they’re missing out on, but, unfortunately, it happens all too often that the idea is taken, butchered, slaughtered and torn apart. It leaves us pleading them to leave our medium alone, so why do they keep releasing them and how come they always seem to have difficulties translating games to the big screen? I happen to have a small collection of these films: Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark, Final Fantasy, Doom and Hitman; most of which suffer from the same mistakes.

I excitedly ran out and bought the Doom movie after completing the game – I was for a short time, quite a big fan of the game, so I had to see more. Unfortunately, I’ve only watched it twice since its purchase; it is that bad! It did offer a little bit more insight into the story of Doom, for those (like me), who couldn’t be bothered to read the PDA constantly throughout the game, but that’s the only good thing I can say about it. It contains nothing but cheap action practically all the way through and most of it is that dark, it’s just one big fumble where you struggle to see what’s going on. Then it cuts off into the (badly animated) first person scene, which had been placed in there randomly for the fans; It feels incredibly out of place and contains more aliens than the rest of the film put together. Admittedly, the game never did really contain that much story and probably for that reason, wasn’t a very good choice for a film adaptation, however the main point of it was to be gruesome and frightening. The film on the other hand, is not scary one bit; not even trying to make you jump or catch you off guard. It’s not like most horror films have particularly great stories, but the edge of your seat thrill is the redeeming factor that makes them enjoyable to watch (for some of us at least.) Despite trying to appeal to the fans, it contains none of the essence for what made the game interesting in the first place.

Alone in the Dark is even worse than Doom in my opinion (then again it was directed by Uwe Boll who is quite well known for making bad adaptations.) It too suffers from a weakly told story caused by trying to cram as much action in as possible – oh and it wasn’t scary; I haven’t played that much of the game, but what I have seen was quite slow paced and suspenseful, which suggests to me that the film has failed to capture what it should have. If I had to say something good about this film, it would be to praise the end credit song (Nightwish – I Wish I had an Angel) that greets you when the experience is finally over.

Fortunately, some decent examples of adaptations do actually exist. I personally didn’t think they did a bad job on Tomb Raider, which at least tried to be appealing not just to a gaming audience; making a good attempt to tell an interesting story, (although giving Lara Croft bad taste in music.) The action was kept in moderation, to keep it exciting but not too much to the point where it would become boring again. I was also left impressed by Silent Hill. It too, actually tried to tell the story well, slowly providing clues towards the climax of the plot; keeping you wanting to watch more. It was also pretty well paced yet still stayed fairly true to the game, containing classic figures such as Pyramid head to entertain the fans. (Also contained Sean Bean, just thought I’d throw that in there :P.) The major two downsides to the film were the ambiguous ending which a lot of people wouldn’t understand and it also wasn’t scary (but unlike Doom it has enough positive points for this to not be a ruining factor.) I’ve been left eagerly waiting for Silent Hill 2 for a while now.

Recently I have been seeing trailers for the Tekken(straight to DVD release 2010) and Prince of Persia(Cinema release 28th May 2010) film, along with rumours of Mass Effect being a consideration – I can only hope that if it does happen they don’t massacre it. I think the major issue that adaptations suffer from is the fact that they are trying to make the films too much like the games they are based on, rather than sticking to what the medium can actually do. They are not built to support heavy action in the same way, and placing clips of the game in or random first person scenes just feels out of place. On the other hand, the film must also stay true to the game and provide the same feel and atmosphere intended for that particular brand. There are a number of games that I would actually like to see come to the cinema that I feel would translate well. For example, Eve, which has a really good back story –the book is well worth a read. I reckon with the right special effects it could look amazing, but only if they learn from their mistakes; otherwise, I think most of us would rather they would just keep their grubby fingers off our medium.

Related Link
List of films based on games

Final Fantasy: A Retrospective

With the imminent UK release of Final Fantasy XIII looming just around the corner, I thought I’d share my opinions on the Final Fantasy series as a whole (well, from VII onwards anyway. I haven’t finished V or VI yet, though I own both, and I can’t remember much of II III and IV. I may do another article on the first six games some other time, once I’ve had chance to complete them all again). Just a friendly warning before we get started. As I hear often from Jo and Sneeze, I can probably be called a fanboy of the Final Fantasy series. Due to this, this article will probably be a few pages of me heaping praise upon Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Nobuo Uematsu and everything else Final Fantasy related. If you don’t agree with my views, then, well, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to that (I probably have similar views of games you’re fond of *cough*Mario*cough*). Anyway, now that you’ve been fairly warned, on with the show.

My Final Fantasy experience started in the late ‘90s, probably in ’97 or ’98, when I bought an edition of PowerStation magazine and received a small handheld Final Fantasy VII guidebook. I liked the look of the game (I seem to remember being enthralled by the concept of a World Map you could travel around freely) and decided to get a copy for myself. This was in the days when Final Fantasy VII was the latest big PlayStation release, hadn’t gone Platinum, and you couldn’t find copies floating around on eBay for over £50. Typically, I’ve just checked eBay now, to ensure my facts are correct, and the highest price I’ve seen for VII or VIII is around £30 on a Buy It Now, probably just to spite me or something, or as Sneeze just pointed out due to the recent PSN releases, but I swear I’ve seen eBay lists before where the lowest price I’ve found is £50. Anyway I got the game and started playing, and I fell in love with the experience within about the first hour of gameplay. This was the very first RPG I’d ever played (the PlayStation was my first serious gaming console, since I’m a child of the ‘90s. I did have an Amiga 3000, but I wasn’t such an avid gamer back then, being as I was about 3-4 years old), and there were so many new systems I’d never seen before, such as experience and levelling up, buying new items and equipment from shops and stat-based combat systems. I absolutely loved it. I must have played it through at least 4-5 times before VIII came out.

VIII was released in 1999 and I rushed out to get it instantly. My first reaction was utter shock and disappointment. Where were Cloud and co.? Where was the Highwind and Midgar? Don’t forget, my introduction to Final Fantasy had come with Final Fantasy VII, and at this point I had absolutely no idea about the non-sequential nature of the series. In hindsight, maybe it might have seemed a bit odd to me that I was thrown in at the beginning of a story in the seventh instalment of the series, but I was about 9 years old, and as we all know hindsight offers 20/20 vision. Being a child who didn’t acclimatise to change very well, I wasn’t too keen in the systems in VIII either, since it was so shockingly different from VII. I dutifully played the game through, even though I was a little disappointed, and found the experience significantly harder than I did with VII. Nevertheless I finished it and relegated it to my shelf before putting VII back in the disc drive and grinning like a loon.

2001 brought with it Final Fantasy IX. This time I was a little more prepared for the experience, since I had learnt a great deal from VIII. It took me a little longer to get into IX, probably about 5-6 hours of gameplay, but once I got to know the characters and the story I was feeling that familiar Final Fantasy thrill. Admittedly Tetra Master left me a little disappointed, as in my honest opinion Tetra Master does not compare in the slightest to Triple Triad, but I enjoyed the game nevertheless and was very proud that I could now truly call myself a Final Fantasy fan, since I owned and had completed all 3 PlayStation games.

In 2002, the release of Final Fantasy X completely snuck up and blindsided me. I had just returned from a holiday (in Rhodes, Greece I seem to recall) and went down to Meadowhall shopping centre with my parents to change my leftover cash back into pound sterling. While walking past GAME, I noticed a large sign in the window, proudly declaring the recent release of Final Fantasy X. I was gobsmacked, I hadn’t even realised Final Fantasy X was in the works. Luckily it was my birthday earlier that month, and I managed to appeal to my parents’ better natures and convinced them to buy me a PS2 (I had kind of ignored the big black monolith of a new console, as it appeared to me at that point, up until then. Imagine if I could have seen the PS3 at that point...I dread to think what the PS4 is gonna look like.) I immediately obtained a copy of Final Fantasy X and started playing it immediately. It was like playing VII all over again. I was hooked within the first hour of gameplay, and played it all the way through to the end. Admittedly I got kinda stuck near the end of the game, since I had neglected to grind and had to spend a good 10 hours doing so in order to progress. Final Fantasy X immediately became my newest favourite of the series, not in the least because of Blitzball (once I figured out how to play it that is, on my second playthrough when I actually managed to obtain the Jecht Shot early in the game).

When the news reached me that there was an actual sequel to Final Fantasy X planned, I nearly fainted from excitement. This was what I’d been hoping for since about ‘97/’98 when I first played VII, a continuation of one of the brilliant storylines. I immediately pre-ordered a copy online (being well versed in the use of the internet by this point) and received the game a day before its UK release (no, not from, from I got into it immediately and loved it, especially the new dressphere system, since I’m a big fan of job systems in games (Final Fantasy Tactics Advance anyone?) The game received somewhat negative publicity I seem to recall, but I thoroughly enjoyed it nonetheless, and thought the story was an excellent continuation of the story of X.

I’ve never played Final Fantasy XI, since, as anyone who has read my article about EVE Online will know, I’ve had plenty of other MMOs to be getting on with. I do own a boxed copy of the game for PC though, which I saw in GAME for £5, and since I had £2.50 on my reward card at the time, I couldn’t resist the opportunity of owning every numbered Final Fantasy game. Maybe Jo and Sneeze are right...

In 2007, with the release of Final Fantasy XII coming closer, I pre-ordered a collector’s edition copy of the game at GAME (or rather my mum did for me). I collected it and brought it home, but that’s where my OCD side kicked in a little. I’ve always had an ambition to play all the main number series of Final Fantasy games back to back in order one day (I consider X-2 to be part of the main sequence, since it continues directly from X, and except XI from the sequence since its online), and I decided that XII was the perfect time to try this. Unfortunately I never got further than IV... The result of this was I never got around to playing XII until recently. I started it once, and got through some of the start of the game, the tutorial part, but then gave in and went back to Final Fantasy, submitting to my OCD side. My most recent attempt to play them all in order ended in disaster this February. I played Final Fantasy through, and started playing Final Fantasy II. I’m a big grinder these days, and I spent about 25 game hours building up my characters’ stats, spells and skills, since the system in II allows this right from the start of the game. I then proceeded to play the game. Unfortunately, I then found that the Final Fantasy Origins version of II that I have has compatibility issues with the PS3, on which I now play PSX and PS2 games, that stops you progressing through the main story. So that was ~30 hours down the toilet. Heed my warning. Always check compatibility issues of old games with the PS3 before you start grinding. It will save you many headaches.

Anyway, after that fiasco, and with the release of Final Fantasy XIII only about a month away, I decided it was at last time to firmly sit on my little OCD demon to stop him complaining and play XII. I finished it this Saturday, the 6th of March, with all 6 characters at level 99 and most of the side quests done. I’d have liked to have finished all the side quests, but I wanted to finish XII before I play XIII (more OCD demons) and I want to play XIII tomorrow when I get it (the first time I will have actually played a Final Fantasy game on its release date), so I decided to finish the game early, then go back later to 100% it. I thoroughly enjoyed XII, even though it seems to be regarded as the weakest of the series. I even quite like the new combat system, even though I am a fan of both the ATB system in VII, VIII, IX and X-2 and the turn based system in X, which seems to be the point of the game that most people complain about. I especially found the connections between the characters to be the best yet. For instance Vaan speaks to Fran, Penelo speaks to Basch, Ashe speaks to Balthier, Fran speaks to Penelo, Basch speaks to Balthier and so on. They all seem to have conversations, which in my opinion develops the characters well and makes you feel more attached to them (but maybe that’s just me), whereas most of the conversations in other Final Fantasy games are between the main character and the other characters (like in VII, most of the characters speak mainly to Cloud, and in X the conversations are usually between Tidus or Yuna and one of the other characters. Obviously there are exceptions, but it just seems to happen more often in XII).

So, which is my favourite Final Fantasy game overall? I said earlier that I relegated VIII to the shelf after playing it the first time, but after playing it a few more times when I was older (and perhaps wiser) than the first time through, I’d have to say that VIII is probably my join favourite along with X (I know that’s cheating, giving two answers, but I really can’t pick between these two, for many reasons such as the development system, typical experience and levels with the junction system, and the sphere grid, the main mini-games, Triple Triad and Blitzball, and the overall stories, which I won’t spoil here). I know VII is widely considered the best Final Fantasy, but I would probably put XII as my second, then VII , then X-2, then IX. In case you didn’t catch that, here they are again in a more logical fashion:
1. VIII and X
2. XII
3. VII
4. X-2
5. IX
All 6 of those games probably rank in my top 20 games ever mind, but that’s probably the order I’d put them in by themselves.

Anyway, once again this article has gone on far longer than I anticipated (I’m on my fourth page in Microsoft Word here) so I think it’s about time I wrapped this up. There have been a lot of relatively bad reviews of Final Fantasy XIII so far, but I’m fairly sure I’ll still enjoy the game, as will many of the other fans out there (even if Square Enix did make the god-awful decision of changing the original song to a Leona Lewis song that makes my ears bleed every time I hear it). Expect my first impressions of the game in a few days’ time. Once again thanks for reading (no kitty picture this time), and I look forward to sharing more fanboyism with you in the future.