Header

Monthly Archives: August 2007

Halopalooza

When you type define: halopalooza into Google you are met with the disparaging suggestion that you may have mistyped something. What you should be met with is this:

Definitions of halopalooza on the Web:

·         a mass gathering to celebrate Bungie’s masterpiece
·         a twelve hour marathon of all things Halo
·         somewhere where those that sit next to BIGsheep will learn new words

Once every few months my brother, and I do love him for this, invites me down to his neck of the woods for his version of a LAN party. They don’t do things by half in Cheltenham, though, as this game-fest takes place on array of projectors and HDTVs, backed up by a table full of sugary goodness and pizzas in a bid to get us through the night.

From 5pm ‘til 5am we played Halo, only stopping for refreshment breaks and a quick award ceremony to mark the last ever Halo 2 based Halopalooza. In one month’s time Halo 3 will be with us and from all we’ve heard we can’t wait for The Forge: a place where all your custom game dreams will come true.

Mapoo and his friends have come up with some crazy game types that involve zombie survival, JFK recreations and storming the “Tower of Power”, but Forge just opens up a whole new set of possibilities as you can literally edit down items whilst other people carry on playing.You can change the entire scenery, placing down new vehicles, blockades and structures either on the fly or for a considered set-piece battle. You’ll be able to change spawn points, change entire weapon sets and tailor each map to your own specific needs.

True, this isn’t a level editor per-say but it is an incredibly powerful tool that’s true potential will show itself over time because it is the different game modes that could come out that is truly exciting. With several million people playing this game there are bound to be some corking homebrew.

A couple of examples I’ve heard of already revolve around the classic attack-and-defend principles. Imagine building a barricade around a base and arming the defenders with shotguns and they have to see off the zombie horde attempting to break their way in… Or, what if you were attempting to escape the clutches of a zombie horde with a partner but only one of you could shoot and the other could only drive… Or, what if zombies were trying to storm a tower and all you had was a single gun emplacement and a series of trip mines…

Or what if you played a game without zombies…? Nah.

Rare v Lionhead

In bringing Lionhead back to our own patch we were confident about how things would go. We thought that pulling them out to the sticks and putting them on a pitch that could hardly be described as flat might swing the advantage in our favour, but things don’t always go to plan.

In fact, it was pretty much an exact copy of the last outing. Once again, we had two teams and they had two teams and from the four matches that ensued our results looked a bit like this: P4 W1 D1 L2. Identical to the last meeting between the studios, just with a few more goals to each side.

Up until the last game, though, it was all going well. For my team, at least.

I watched as our B-team lost 3-1 to their A-team in the first match. However, despite the scoreline our Bs were unlucky and if they had converted any of the numerous chances they squandered or hit the woodwork with it may have been a different story.

After that we were facing their B-team and as per usual we started badly. Bad even by our standards as we were 2-0 down within three minutes. To say we were shell-shocked was an understatement as they nipped in between us both times to score. Luckily we pulled one back before half-time and a spectacular, looping, Matty Taylor-effortfrom our centre-back sealed a draw.

No rest for the wicked, though, and we were straight back on to face their A-team. This time we took an early lead before being pinned back to go into the break 1-1. Then, in the second half, George took matters into his own hands and completed a hat-trick with some lovely finishing and some very nice pass-and-move play from the team which saw us through 4-1 winners.

So after three games it was a win and a draw each. Here it began to slide very rapidly down hill.

At half-time in the final game our B-team were trailing 1-0 to theirs, but our goalkeeper had taken a knock to his hand and was doubtful for the final half. In hindsight, I somewhat foolishly agreed to take over and what followed was a defensive shambles that left me livid.

It may be ok to push on to try and get an equaliser but when I am left to deal with one-on-one after one-on-one it can try the patience of even the most saintly keeper. I may not have had the best of games last night but I don’t think the the final, embarassing 5-1 scoreline can be laid at my feet considering the circumstances.

With this in mind, one of the big positives to come from last night was the fact that this time Lionhead didn’t bring their film crew with them so we can’t be edited to look even worse than we were. Although I don’t think that would have been possible with the last game.

To leave on a high note, there is talk of trying to put together a Microsoft wide football tournament for us to show our “skills” off at. The best thing about it, though, is the location where it might be… it may be under a large arch somewhere.

Rematch

Oh, it’s on! Lionhead are currently heading up the M1 in our general direction for a rematch. More later.

Pheonix Seed’s Bear Go Home

Whilst Climbatic was my “personal favourite”, Bear Go Home is so beautiful to see in action that you have to be a complete bastard not to want it to succeed.

Created by Chinese entrants, Bear Go Home has a very distinctive look that can only be compared to Locoroco. A charming 2D world can be seen over undulating landscapes complete with swirling floral and crisply defined characters. Through this world walks Bear, a rather rotund 3D inhabitant, in search of his home.

Not content with looking quite different from most other things available today, it also handles very differently as you control Bear by pointing and prodding him directly. If you want him to jump you squish him and then release to make him bounce back and up. You can speed him up by snapping his tail to urge him on and combining both will make him fly for a short distance. Bonus fruit can also be collected through the levels but to do so you must hold open Bear’s jaw for him and stretch it out in front.

Bear will carry on regardless once set in motion and so it is up to you to prevent harm coming to him. Basic enemies can be dispatched by clicking on them or jumping over them but there can be trickier opponents. To help you, you have access to a selection of bonus items including an umbrella and magic wand. The umbrella will shield him from harm as you flourish it about the screen and the wand can transform Bear into an invulnerable form, represented by him turning into a Panda for a short while.

The boss fights that were included saw you fight a spidery creature as you happened upon his lair and a demon creature barring your exit from said lair. In the first you were asked to place an association game, linking icons that the boss thought of to a selection of your own thoughts. The second was far more action orientated as you had to protect Bear against a horde of bats whilst at the same time attempting to dispatch the demon through hasty clicks.

The mechanics as a whole are not too dissimilar from Kirby’s Magic Paint Brush on the DS where you could merely help the pink blob along rather than control him directly. As with that game, I can see Bear Go Home being the perfect fit for Nintendo’s handheld and the tactile interface would do wonders for the game.

Initially hard to pick up, it won me over with its simple concept that is executed supremely well. As with Airborne, though, I worry for its commercial clout; if this could find a home on the DS the world would love it but if it were sent out on anything else it could be ignored, or even worse, scare casual gamers off due to its quirky style.

Carebox’s Climbatic

My personal favourite of the show was Carebox’s Climbatic, a co-op based game saw two willing mountaineers attempt to scale a vividly cell-shaded peak, all in the name of team building.The two characters at the centre of the game are your archetypal gaming souls: one big and strong, the other small and nimble. The former has the ability to scale cliff faces and throw objects, the latter can leap great distances, plus has a spool of rope at his disposal. All of these skills must come together if they ever expect to reach the top of the mountain in one piece.

Controls are limited in an effort to keep things simple and to allow you to focus on the task in hand. Everyone can jump but each has their own specialist button and basic movement controls. As you move around the camera pans out to keep you both in shot; this can reveal some dramatic shots of the mountainside should you find yourself spread far apart.

Nothing special so far, it seems, but the whole world is based around physics and everything has a weight and everything can be gripped, grappled or thrown, assuming if your character is up to the task. There are also no sections of the wall marked up to signal that the player can climb them, instead everyone can be scaled at the right angle and it’s just a case of whether it leads anywhere as to whether it’s fruitful or not. Given these simple rules the game then unfolds.

At its basic level, one player can reach the top of a section by simply completing a small platforming section whilst the other scales the rock face. Of course that’s not the only way things could unfold; the smaller player can lash himself to the larger who can then in turn do the same climb but with his buddy swinging behind him. Alternately, the smaller player could jump up and then drop down a rope for the other to climb. Hell, the larger player could even chuck his diddy mate up and then scramble after him!Nothing is unsolvable and everything has numerous ways to get around it. You could pile rocks and picnic chairs in a pile and simply walk up the resulting pile; why not lash yourself to a rock and get the larger of the two to throw you across a ravine?; how about climbing up an overhang and dropping onto a hastily arranged see-saw to catapult your chum skywards? Of course there are easier ways around but just not as much fun.

This is the kind of thing you expected to emerge from physics driven gameplay all those years ago when Half Life 2 showed you how to drop logs on head-crabs in seventeen different ways. Few games have actually produced solid game-play off of such simple mechanics since, Crackdown being a good, recent example, but the boys from Carebox seem to have something.

I think what summed up the whole thing for me was a puzzle at the end that saw me playing as the larger of the two climbers. My friend had lashed himself to me and I had decided to try and pickup a boulder several times my own height. Instead of lifting the rock, for obviously it was too big, it began to sway with my weight and I managed to divert it towards a slope. As the rock built up speed down the slope my friend trailed out behind like a streamer and when we reached a sudden upslope at the bottom we were propelled into the air with the momentum of the boulder. The smaller chap was swung round and round in the air and as we smashed down on the other side of the gorge his speed dragged me along for some distance until the gritty floor’s friction stopped us…

Set pieces. You’ve got to love them.


Super E.G.O.’s Airborne

Voodoo Boogy weren’t the only team to use specialist controllers; Super E.G.O.’s stand was drawing a fair amount of attention thanks to the flailing arms that are now familiar with Wii gamers everywhere. The team were using custom written drivers to utilize Nintendo’s “new gen” control scheme, which was providing an impressive level of interactivity in their flying game Airborne.

Ignoring the control scheme, the thing that initially struck you about Airborne was its wonderful setting. Based in the Victorian era that game took you into a world of well to do gentlemen with perfectly groomed facial hair, tall hats and an obsession with flying machines. Being pre-Wright brothers these machines have a classic look of being held together by string and being made of wood and cloth and powered by peddle or steam.

Tally bally ho!

To complete the look, the world around which you fly is that of London hidden beneath a blanket of fog. Chimneys, bridges and building tops peek out from underneath this blanket as the townsfolk have realised that to escape the fog’s claustrophobic clutches they must build yet further upwards. Set to a sepia filter you have to admire the imaginative setting Super E.G.O. has dreamt up.

The game itself can be seen to pay more than a nod of tribute to the likes of Crimson Skies and Pilot Wings. Given your flying machine you meander around London town, stopping off and collecting missions from iconic, red phone boxes as you go. At this early stage missions include target shooting and checkpoint races (of the two I tried) but you can see there is scope for more. There is even a hint of GTA thrown in as stunts can be performed should you be able to squeeze your flying boat through certain gaps.

As with many Wii specific games, the controls can be where a game lives and dies; Airborne, not wanting to miss out on a good pun opportunity, positively soars, in my opinion. There is nothing revolutionary here, with the Wii-mote used for the orientation of the plane, but they fell natural and not as though they have been shoehorned in for the sake of a gimmick.

The nunchuk is used for movement and with every shake of your right-hand your character onscreen peddles your craft onwards. Customisation options allows you to create ships of varying weights but the heavier you go, the more you need to shake to get your plane to respond and climb.

Everything seemed very intuitive and flying through the Victorian skies was both quite beautiful and, with the potential of the level design already shown, an adventure. My only niggle is how well the product would perform on the market as it would either take a lot of people to take their Wii controllers to the PC or the Wii owners embracing flight games, neither of which is unfortunately, really going to happen.

Dare to be Digital/Voodoo Boogy’s Ragnarawk

In exchange for being allowed to attend the Edinburgh Interactive Festival, work asked me this one favour: to be their representative at Dare to be Digital. Hardly the worst deal in the world as Dare is a competition run between Scottish, English and Irish universities to bring on the next generation of video game developers… where I get to play lots of games.

The scheme originated in Scotland as an IT initiative to help setup fledging businesses but has since evolved to solely focus on the games sector. Participating teams are asked to pitch an idea to a panel with a lucky twelve moving on to the finals where they are given ten weeks to produce a finished product to show off at the Fringe.

Each team is made up of at most six people and can be any combination of artists and programmers. Some members are under-grads looking for experience, others are post-grads signing on for one last hurrah before joining the job market.

Rare have been involved for several years, now, along with other developers, including EA and Real Time Worlds. Those sent along from the studios act as mentors, offering advice to the teams and trying to brace them for the microcosm of games development that their two-and-a-half months will represent; for what we go through during two years, they have crammed into less time than a series of Big Brother.

Our Dynamic Earth

I had no idea what to expect from the dozen demos housed at Our Dynamic Earth early on Sunday morning, however, knowing exactly how much work gets done at our place during the same period I can’t say I was exactly overly positive. Despite being assured that considering the time frame things had come along nicely I was still slightly skeptical about the quality that would greet me.

Over the next few days I’ll run you through a few of the entries that really caught my eye, starting with…

Voodoo Boogy’s Ragnarawk

Each team were given four PCs to show off their wares and upon entering the hall set aside for Dare, rather than people battling with WASD keys, I was confronted with a quartet of rockers, enthusiastically strumming and brandishing their Guitar Hero guitars with exuberance.

Ragnarawk is an RPG set in a musically obsessed universe where you battle your foes using the oldest and most traditional of weapons, the guitar. The demo level was a small, stylised town set at the dead of night with undead roaming its streets and each time you wandered too near too one of the lost souls you engage them in battle using your guitar. They, being musically talented too, would dispatch a riff in your direction and you would have counter it following the traditional Guitar Hero notation on screen to return it and in turn deal them damage. Think of it like the old dueling banjos of the Wild West but slightly more supernatural.

With each returned riff your enemy’s energy levels would be sapped and eventually he would be defeated giving you a hearty dose of XP and allowing you to move on to your next confrontation.

Ragnarawk... yes, this is the best I could do until they send me some screenshots.

Special moves and parries are available to you, too, with chords and raising the guitar vertically (ala Star Power) activating them respectively. The powers can be a sudden bolt of destructive energy sent to your opponent to put them off or a healing spell, depending on which way you have decided to shape your character. The parrying, mind you, does the opposite and protects you from the spells flying your way. If you do get hit, the effects can be interesting as the notes start dancing across the fret board making it surprisingly hard to hit the required note.

One thing was for sure, my expectations were completely rewritten with this very first game I played as I can’t deny I broke out into a beaming smile as I dueled my first zombie. Countering riffs had the same feeling you get when playing multiplayer in Guitar Hero, that sensation you get when you know you’ve just bettered your mate’s stadium rock solo, and this time you get to fight the undead at the same time!

After talking to the team behind Ragnarawk, it seems that the idea for the game has been around even since the pre-Guitar Hero days. However, it was quite a different game back then as dance mats were going to be used instead of guitars.

Variety shouldn’t be a problem in this game, either. As explained to me, rather than having the traditional ice/fire/water levels, they would be based around styles of music with your character travelling through realms of electronica, classical and rock (or rawk), to name but a few, before reaching the end boss. Each world would have a completely different soundtrack adapted to that style and considering how polished and professional even the existing audio is, that is an exciting prospect.

With boss battles, power-ups, leveling system and parries all making interesting additions to the standard guitar based game play and I can genuinely see this being a solid commercial idea. After all, if Puzzle Quest can take the Bejeweled crowd into the realm of RPGs, imagine how Oblivion crossed with Rock Band is going to do.

Trains, planes and automobiles… plus some football

Pre-match buildup

It was all a bit manic on Saturday; I had the task of getting from the capital of Scotland down to the middle of the Warwickshire countryside in roughly seven hours. Taking into account we had to swing by Ali’s parents to pick up our car, it was a mere 350 miles that we needed to cover. Easy.

The reason why I was attempting this madcap dash was all down to the fact that I was determined to make it back from the Edinburgh festival in time for the final of Rare’s annual football tournament, taking place at our summer fete. Whilst I was away the Viva Pinata team had successfully beaten Maintenance 3-2 (stylishly coming back from 2-0 down) to book our place in the final against Rare Rovers (mainly old PDZ members) and I had promised them I’d be there.

Things didn’t start out too well as our initial train was cancelled. Pre-breakfast time that’s not good news and we had to wait another hour before boarding one heading for the Midlands. Throw in a few delays around Derby and we were able to add on another unwanted half-hour to our schedule.

By the time I arrived in Birmingham at 2.15, a mere hour-and-a-quarter before kick-off, I was oh-so slightly stressed and being verbally abused by a local tramp as I hunted down a taxi didn’t help, either.

The plan had been to get another train back to the car but with time against me I decided that paying for a taxi to get us back on schedule would be worth it. Of course, I didn’t bargain on the taxi driver having to break the journey up for a petrol stop half-way: at this point, as the rain beat down outside the cab’s windows, I melodramatically thought the whole world was set against me.

Finally, reunited with my trusty Fiesta, destiny was now more in my hands as I drove up the motorway. The heavy rain was slowing the traffic down but as Spurs scored three times in fifteen minutes on the radio I knew things were looking good. As if to prove this, we rolled up the drive to work with a full six minutes to spare.

Match of the Day

After such a crazy and drawn-out adventure I was running slightly high on adrenalin and needed to calm down to focus on the game in hand. Focus was needed, too, as Rovers kept both me and my defence busy for most of the first half. We were lucky to keep a clean sheet and during a period of respite we pushed up the left, El Robinho’s blocked shot span out to the right and DP’s composed finish into the opposite corner gave us a narrow advantage going into the break.

Rua goes on a run.

The second half began with a mass scramble where we almost made it 2-0 but they survived and began pressing forward with menace. Again we held out due to our combined efforts but as more Rovers were committed forward we finally cracked as a square ball across the box left us exposed at the far post and tucked in the equaliser.

I’m told, by those who watched on, the rest of the match wasn’t the most scintillating of affairs; normal time finished 1-1, as did extra time, with chances falling to both teams but with no-one able to find the back of the net. So once more we were to decide the trophy on a penalty shoot-out.

Saved to the left.

Penalty shoot-outs are not great when described in meandering text so I’ll cut it short: I saved one low down to my left and another was blazed over the bar to give us a 4-2 victory. Eikzilla, who could never be described as a regularly player, slotted our winning penalty home with such aplomb that you’d have thought he’d been playing all his life – it my exuberant taxi fare completely worth it.

By this point, shaking hands in commiseration with the opposition and posing for team photos, I was absolutely drained and felt it was almost midnight despite being only half-four in the afternoon. We celebrated with beer in a marquee away from the rain and, after my roller-coaster day, it hit the spot perfectly.

Champions!

It was worth it

Well it’s been an exciting weekend…

Train ticket from Edinburgh to Birmingham: £25

Taxi ride from Birmingham to home: £33.50

Petrol burnt dashing to Twycross in time for kick-off: £7.50

Winning the Rare Summer Fete Football Tournament: Priceless

More to follow later.

Beware the praise

“Spectacular… brilliant humour”, declared the poster for Comedy Cocktail. Unfortunately the dot-dot-dot seems to have stood for “lack of”.