Header

Monthly Archives: April 2008

The wait is over

I think the Postie was finally catching on to the evil thoughts I was having towards him as not an hour after my last post GTA is now in my possession. Yes, I’m impatient and it was only actually released yesterday but that’s not the point.

Now the wait is over and I’m going to monopolise the TV tonight to play catchup.

Grand Theft Waiting

Ok, not the greatest title for a post, but I am getting a little too shirty to care; another lunchtime has gone and still I do not have my copy of GTA IV

I thought I wouldn’t care, I thought I could wait, but seeing everyone else playing and waxing lyrical about Rockstar’s new release means that the longer the postman delays the more uppity I get. I’ve been trying to play down the hype and quality and it’s done me no good

Pat has until 5 to get me my copy otherwise I might be tempted to swing by Sainsbury’s on my way home to grab a copy.

Anyone there?

Or are you all playing GTA IV?

Mine’s still in the post but I know we’ve got at least two people having today off to take full advantage of this mid-week launch.

If you’ve got it, what do you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you most looking forward to?

Wii Fit

Whilst most of Cheltenham appeared to playing GTA IV this weekend, Ali twisted my arm and persuaded me to bring a Wii Fit into the house. If it hadn’t been for her interest in Nintendo’s take on the Reebok Step I probably wouldn’t have bought one and our living room would be one large lump of plastic lighter. As it is, my initial cynicism for the product has given way to a begrudging respect.

Don't cross Wii Fit. I knows when you're lying to it.

The main theme of Wii Fit is to improve your posture and flexibility whilst also keeping an eye on your waistline. Each time you turn it on, an animated Wii Fit board encourages you to take a couple of minutes out of your day to be weighed and to attempt a pair of balance tests, from which he will produce your Wii Fit Age. Those of you who have played Brain Training may see the similarities and overtime the aim is to keep this age as low as possible.

To aid you on your way there are four blocks of activities to sample: muscle training, yogo, exercise and mini-games. The first two are the serious side of the game, where the sensitive board measures your body undertaking a variety of stretching and toning movements. Technically, all the board does is have a series of pressure sensors embedded within it monitoring your weight and its distribution, but it allows for some very unnervingly accurate records of what you have (or haven’t) been doing, scoring you appropriately.

As funny as watching someone turn themselves into a tree yoga-stylee in the middle of your living room can be, the fun is to be had in the other two sections. With options to hula-hoop, head footballs, ski, jog and a host of unlockables, you start to see how the potential of the board; for hours at a time over the weekend, four of us took it in turns to throw ourselves down a slalom and play their variation of Monkey Ball.

Current household favourite is the ski jump, where you must keep you must crouch and lean forward to get speed down the slope, before standing quickly causing your Mii to jump high into the alpine air. With a leaderboard after every couple of jumps, trying to gain more speed and more height for more reach with each jump is an addictive affair.

The engineer in me kept simplifying everything down – all it is is a giant analogue joystick, where you are the stick and your centre of gravity its position – but as with most things Nintendo, they’ve taken that something simple and executed it wonderfully.

You’re going to look silly with this thing, you really are. No matter what mode you choose from the menu, jiggling, stretching and contorted positions are inevitable, but it does have a draw both for potential games and the possibility of being an interactive fitness regime. What else comes for the board is still up in the air, but you can’t really fault the first effort.

I shouldn’t have said that

MonkeyThumbz pointed me in the direction of an interesting article on 1UP discussing the influence of online forums with regards to games makers. Whist the piece as a whole is worth a read, this snippet from Civ Lead Designer Soren Johnson caught my attention:

“I definitely can’t keep myself from wading into a thread about Civ, especially when it appears on a non-Civ forum, as the opinions tend to be more varied in the wider world. I will post from time to time to answer questions. However, it’s hard to know what to say, as I don’t believe developers should ever post opinions about their own games. One should never defend a game in public. It’s OK to post facts, but it is too hard to be objective when discussing attitudes, opinions, and feelings about games, especially your own.”

This basically sums up one of the larger battles that’s been raging in my own head over my last couple of years of VP forum duty: to try and go out and defend my games to the hilt or just go “que sara” and accept that everyone has their own opinion.

I think at first it was definitely the former but as time has gone by Johnson’s views are spot on. In the opinion heavy world of the internet, asserting your own over other people’s is not going to lead to anything other than pain and flame. It may be tempting to bellow “you’re wrong” from the battlements but not much is gained from such actions.

There have been countless times on the Xbox.com forums especially where posters declare “why the hell should I play this?” The best you can do is cite others’ thoughts, give them an overview and do your best to quell the fan’s cries of “unbeliever!”.

With my limited experience, however, there are some rules I now try and live by:

  1. Never promise anything – you’re only going to get into trouble with someone
  2. Never give numbers – they can be quoted back to you
  3. Always guard your thoughts – see 1

Forums are fun.

Goooooooooooooooooool!

Here’s just a quick example of what I mentioned yesterday. It’s a goal we scored as Spain in EA’s Euro 2008 converted and uploaded into a nifty little Flash file.

Pretty sweet finish, eh?

Many thanks for Manny who not only supplied me the gubbins to get that working but also the through ball that was so clincially tucked away.

Credit to Jeroen Wijering for the Flash Player. Information on installation can be found here.

UEFA 2008

For most of my life I’ve been a Pro Evo man. Compared to the FIFA series, it offered a greater level of realism and really made you work for everything that you did, which I found very rewarding. The gap over recent years, however, has been narrowing, with the recent outings for the behemoth EA steadily improving, leaving the more arcadey feel of previous titles behind.

The latest release, UEFA 2008, adds another string to its bow with the Captain Your Country mode, where you take choose a single player and then take control of him throughout the entire qualification campaign. Starting in the B-Internationals, you must work your way up through the ranks to first earn a squad place and then the captain’s armband.

Playing as a single position for the entire season may not sound inspiring but it brings a refreshing new dimension to the game as it allows you to think about how the game is played in a completely different fashion.

Man on!

Taking the role of a striker, you’ll no long have to rely on the computer starting to make runs for you, taking control only when you’ve slipped yourself a through ball from the midfielder you just sent on a scything run. Instead, you’ll be constantly watching the line, calling for the ball and doing your best to make space whilst the AI does the mundane defensive duties.

The added feature is that you are actually rated for everything you do and poor play will see your Man of the Match score slowly tick down. It definitely encourages you to keep your passes true and your shots on target as you can risk the loss of the captaincy if you put in a shocker.

As always in these situations, multiplayer takes a good idea and makes it even better. With four of you playing in this mode you get a sense of team play as never before as it is infinitely easier to keep tabs on what is going on without the flicking of cursors between different men.

In the couple of hours we put in post-palooza, some wonderful goals were carved out with defenses being pulled out of position and inch-perfect crosses. Furthermore, these Goal of the Month contenders can even be saved to Flash files on the game’s website so you can relieve that clinical finish over and over again.

If you like your football games and you can stomach the third high-profile release in the genre in the last six months, then UEFA 2008 is definitely worth your time.

Getting rid of the dead wood

When the takeover of Gamestation by Game was inked, there were assurances that the two brands would be kept separate in order to preserve the differences that made each of the two successful in their own way. One of these differences was Gamestation’s stock of retro games, stocking most platforms back to the mid-eighties and the NES.

For a few weeks now the internet has been making noises about how Gamestation are destroying their stock of all but the rarest retro games. Slightly concerned about where my impulse N64 buys would come from if this were true, I headed into their flagship store in Birmingham to take a look for myself and maybe stock up one last time.

I was too late, however. The only pre-PS2 games to be found were a hat-trick of the Megadrive’s Phantasy Star and five copies of Link’s Adventure for the NES. Even the Gamecube had been reduced to a mere handful of titles, whilst the Dreamcast was conspicuous by its absence. After having a word with the assistant behind the desk he confirmed that everything had been moved on and there had been indeed been a clearout. He also hinted heavily at the timing of this and Game’s acquisition.

The amount of money I may have sunk into Gamestation’s retro corner may not have been vast but they have always received a trickle of my income as my strategy has always been to trade in games once I’m done and buy them back once their cheap. Cheeky, I know, but I like to spin it as I get more money for my next first-hand purchase and someone else can try the game I’ve just discarded at second-hand prices.

Whatever you may think of my “tactic”, hopefully most you will agree that the possible destruction of hundreds if not thousands of old games cannot be a good thing. I’m sure if Gamestation had announced this was the last chance before they got the gaming equivalent of pulped many would have given a last concerted effort to save an orphaned copy of Sonic the Hedgehog from its fate, but now it appears that it is too late. Their online store is equally thinly stocked as everything on it seems to be “out of stock.”

And so to eBay we must turn. I am truly disappointed about this development because to wipe out such a large part of what made the Gamestation Gamestation, and one of the reasons I kept returning, is a drastic step indeed.

Rock Band

In the lead up to Friday’s Halopalooza, I got my hands on Rock Band for the first time. Given its imminent release date and its controversial pricing, this was an opportunity for me to give it a quick once over and find out whether I could be tempted to relax the purse strings.

So, armed with an imported PS3 copy, thanks to the Cheltenham lads’ jaunt round the States last year, I proceeded to bang several shades out of the drums and wail unceremoniously on the mic. Drumming would be my primary draw to this game; I can sing on Sing Star, I can guitar on Guitar Hero, but no where else can I attend to find out whether I have the rhythm to coordinate all of my limbs.

Pogo in mid-drumroll injects some style

Most people who have played music/rhythm games before should feel right at home hitting the pads in time with the blocks of colour that coarse down the screen but it is the strange feeling of bringing your foot into play for the bass drum that threw me completely. Often I’ve had it tapping along in Guitar Hero or Donkey Konga but to bring it on cue took a while to even register let alone get used to and whole portions of the song would go by without me hitting it correctly.

I actually found the supposed harder songs easier to play through as there was more of a consistent stream of notes and the bass drum came through on a far more regular basis.

The experience, though, can’t be denied. Caning the sticks up and down, feeling as though you are really putting something into the song felt fantastic and the free-form sections allowed an area to truly vent a drum solo making for an inspiring experience.

Slightly less memorable was the singing sections, but this is down to my own talents and paranoia more than anything else.

As with Sing Star, you are given a phrase to sing and a chart that shows you roughly where on a scale you should be aiming to sing it, allowing you to see if you are too high or too low. What it doesn’t tell you, however, is if you are singing in the wrong style.

In a house full of guitar loving rockers, I produced my best boy band sing-a-long voice. My shameful past of really enjoying a good bit of cheesy karaoke at university came back to haunt me as The Strokes and Radiohead were given a new twist.

Just look at that projection

If I had known the lyrics rather than just the riffs on a lot of the tracks I would have probably felt an awful lot better about it all but you could see that the singing offered an deep avenue of gameplay for those who weren’t inclined towards plastic instruments.

Overall, I am jealous. Knowing that there is a game out there that could truly bring together a group of friends to rock out on but knowing that despite the enjoyment I still can’t justify a purchase. And that’s the kicker, when a group of us were playing together it’s a truly great social experience. My only hope now is that Ali allows me a portion of our Wedding List to include some plastic drums.

Bricking it

Throughout Microsoft there are a lot of what I term “guff email rings.” Groups of people all subscribe to an email alias with the sole aim of talking crap on a variety of topics whilst inserting as many lolcats as possible into a single, off-topic thread.

Mostly they contain nothing but whittering noise but occasionally, just occasionally, an utter gem appears.

Ladies and gentlemen, in honour of this weekend’s Halopalooza, may I present to you the LH3FFK: The Lego Halo 3 Foundry Forge Kit.

Hats off to this man who has spent over $300 creating this fine piece of geekery where he is able to mock up his Forge creations on his dining room table before jumping into the map maker itself.