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-INKling- Blog

I'm still here

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I have been very lax with blog posts recently due to a busy work schedule (I do most of my Gamespotting while shirking at work you see) so I thought I would put in a quick message to keep the Gamespot servers busy.

Having completed Half Life 2 on my faithful old X-Box I have turned my attention to Thief: Deadly Shadows. I was hoping for a more mission based element to it but skulking around in the shadows and coshing guards is always a pleasure. However, I think this may be one of the few games I don't complete. We shall see.

Provided that Oxfordshire isn't washed into the Severn this coming week I should be enjoying the ales on offer at the Brackley Beer Festival on Saturday. With the London Beer Festival only two weeks after, I have a pleasant few weekends planned. Six pints of nobrotter for me I think.


With this second Half Life, you are really spoiling us.

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Let's face it, Half Life 2 is great. I am about two-thirds of the way through and can't stop playing it. The only way to not like one of the best single-player FPS would be if you didn't like single-player FPS, in which case, what are you doing playing it for? It's like one big thrilling chase, but on the face of it, it shouldn't be so good.

On reflection, sometimes it feels like you are just travelling from point A to point B and escaping from the combine doesn't seem to be reason enough to fight your way across a dangerous beach-head or through a monster-ridden town. After a good 8 or 9 hours play, I still have no idea what is going on. What are the combine? Where did all the monsters from the first game go, and why are some of the ones left so helpful? Those electricity-wielding frog monsters would have received a crowbar to the face in the first game, so why are they being so chummy now by speaking nice, fixing weaponry on your vehicle and packing you cheese sandwiches.

I may sound like I am contradicting myself and I could continue to scrutinise a lack of story development or reliance on scripted events. At a time when the holy grail of gaming seems to be a completely open game where the player controls the story (as The Outsider is promising), Half Life seems to be the antithesis of this. However, when I start playing I forget all this and just go with it. The game unfolds in it's own damn time and I am left on the run. Gordon is relentlessly pursued and it feels that way. The game throws one scenario after another at you, each one is well balanced and the changes of pace seem to have an almost organic ebb and flow. I barely scrape through some encounters and the game keeps me on the edge the whole way through.

HL2 is a triumphant blend of set pieces, mystery and action firmly set in the old school mould of game design. I may not know who the combine are or why they are after me or how those monsters make such a lovely packed lunch, but if Gordon isn't that bothered to ask then neither am I.


The Importance of Gran Turismo

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Although the opinion that gaming is a solitary pursuit enjoyed only by the socially inept or terminally sad still persists with some, there is no denying that it is well and truly lodged in the public domain. Increasingly seen as an art form, computer games have been given BAFTA nods and even made it into the shortlist of British icons (Lara Croft and GTA). For better or for worse, games are becoming as popular and culturally significant as any other form of media.

So when did gaming get so mainstream? Is it as recent as the Wii opening the floodgates to the masses or does it go back to the days of Doom LAN parties? The answer for me lies with the PSOne which cultivated a much more adult appeal and brought video-gaming to a more mature audience. A generation had grown up with colourful blue hedgehogs and brave plumbers rescuing princesses from green dragons (although I still think Bowser is some kind of monstrous tortoise) but that generation were outgrowing these colourful, childish images. Sony understood perfectly and pitched their console to a market that wanted guns, action, fear and sex appeal. Those kids had grown up and they wanted their games grown up too.

So why the reference to Gran Turismo? This comes from an innocuous comment overheard between two 18 year old lads who both reckoned they had the best car in the game. "I'll bring my memory card round and we'll race." Gran Turismo was not about power-ups and turbo boosts. It was a new type of racing game that was more about driving than battling. A grown-up game with a social aspect that you could discuss without incurring disdainful looks from snooty passers-by. Gran Turismo was an indicator of change in the social attitudes to games and gaming because it targeted an increasingly adult market that could enjoy a game that included tests as a core gameplay element.

In closing, I believe it was the power and image of Playstation (which gave us games like Gran Turismo) that was inspired by and encouraged the maturation of gamers, thus creating the wider and more influential audience that we have today.


As an aside, The Cardigans named their album Gran Turismo in homage to the game they so admired, and the track Losing My Favourite Game is all about playing it. Amazing!

My Life in Games: Biopic of a Saddo: Part 2 of 2

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I managed to land a job in Tokyo and decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to play all the videogames, read all the mangas and watch the newest anime before any other sucker in the west. Take that, capitalist pigs! I saved up for a PS2 to get myself as an early Christmas present. However, stupidly I had forgotten that things in Japan are in Japanese meaning the intricate story I had heard about in Soul Reaver II was lost on me. Also, Tekken Tag moved that little bit faster in 60Hz meaning having to relearn the patterns for ten-hit combos (and re-relearn them on my return to England). Thankfully Silent Hill 2 saved the day with a full translation and a home version of Taiko Drum Master was absolute gaming bliss. Don-Don-Ga-Don!

As an aside, it is worth noting the arcades in Tokyo, which are dimly-lit, slightly musty-smelling gaming meccas with entire floors devoted to a single game. The electricity consumption of those places must be colossal. There are banks of Gundam machines piloted by twitching japanese teenagers, their faces gently illuminated and their brains silently melting. Also, there are loads of dirt cheap retro titles, I even found an old arkanoid machine but didn't play it because a spikey haired youth was sat in the seat watching his mate play Virtua Fighter 4. I like to think I let him have it - "Go on son, just this once."

Then came a return to blighty where I discovered I was miles behind in western gaming and it was a blessing in disguise. I could pick up all those titles I had missed and it has proved to be a saver on the wallet. I quickly purchased a PS2 with GTA: Vice City, Deus Ex and Herdy Gerdy. I went shooter crazy and blasted through Half Life, Red Faction, Psi-Ops, Destroy All Humans, The Thing and piles of others. However, the standout titles were those released during the autumn of the PS2's life: Shadow of the Colossus, God of War and Okami were all great experiences and had real atmosphere attached to them.

Once I saw the reviews for Resident Evil 4, I knew I had to buy a Gamecube. When I eventually got my secondhand 'Cube home it smelt a bit like a tramp but that didn't bother me as I could finally play the game I been anticipating more than that £45 copy of Battletoads. It didn't disappoint and was so atmospheric that even now the sound of a chainsaw makes me look around for bag-headed lunatics. Killer7 was another highlight and for those that have played it through, I am sure that Greensleeves will never be the same again.

Last year, I received an X-Box and a copy of Ninja Gaiden: Black. I will not list the foul language and disgraceful cursing that accompanied me slogging through this game. I almost poked my own eyes out in frustration and had several toddler-esque temper tantrums, but when I finally slayed the last boss (accompanied buy a jubilant swear-fest) it was all worth it. Special mentions also go to Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, Far Cry and the hilariously funny Stubbs the Zombie.

That is the story so far. I have still to dip my toes into the new generation of consoles as there is still so much from the last one and the one before that. I recently finished laughing with Abe in Abe's Exoddus and tearing my hair out at the puzzles in Fear Effect 2 and am looking forward to the event that was Half Life 2. Being a bit behind the times ain't so bad.


My Life in Games: Biopic of a Saddo: Part 1 of 2

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It all started with my dad's Commodore 64. Games were cheap, plentiful and occasionally decent. Standout examples would be Turrican, International Karate, Bombjack, Arkanoid and 180 Darts which actually yelled "One Hundred and Eighty" when you got the top score (sadly after a while something went wrong with the tape so that the game crashed when you scored 180, subsequently 177 became the new 180). I remember my amazement when my dad completed Arkanoid, which was quite a feat considering you couldn't pause the game, making toilet breaks tricky.

I still curse Alan Sugar for my mum's green screen Amstrad which she was duped into buying by a silver-tongued Dixons employee. It's only redeeming feature was Golden Axe which eventually bust and led to me shedding genuine nerd tears.

This was all a precursor to receiving my own NES on my 13th birthday with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt (to this day I still can't understand how that light gun works). The joys of Bugs Bunny's Birthday Blowout, Snake Rattle and Roll and Low G Man are indescribable and by today's standards unplayable. I was fabulously wealthy in those days, having a £7 per week paper round on top of my pocket money so I could splash out on the occasional luxury, like spending £45 on Battle Toads. Other highlights include clocking Super Mario Bros. 3 (dead easy with those magic flutes) and playing Lemmings (with a whopping 14 lemmings on screen at any one time).

Then came the inevitable step into the next generation with the Super Nintendo and it's 16 bit power and pretending to know what that meant - twice as good as an 8 bit, duh? I had all the top titles: Bomberman, Mario Kart, Super Mario World and Street Fighter II. I have no sugar coated view of retro games but I feel that each of those games is still playable today. Especially Bomberman which has not been improved at all by any of it's updates.

Somehow there seems to be a few years in the gaming wilderness, where I discovered grown-up things such as drinking and failing to impress women. I excelled at both these activities. I loved playing X-Wing on a mates computer but I was truly crap and had to have the advanced controls done for me . "Power to lasers, no, shields, why have we stopped?"

In my second year at uni, I spent £200 on a PlayStation with Tomb Raider, V-Rally, Colony Wars and one other I can never remember. The jump here was amazing. Having played Tomb Raider in HMV for a couple of minutes with sweaty palmed kids queueing up behind me, I knew I wanted to leap into the 3D generation. I couldn't believe it when that big ground-shaking dinosaur lumbered towards Lara Croft. I suddenly noticed the audio in the game. From the ambient noises in the Oddworld games to the music of Final Fantasy VII to the amazingly clever static radio device employed in Silent Hill. Being a student meant lots and lots of free time and I used it playing Worms all day with housemates and exploring every inch of Soul Reaver, a truly wonderful game.

When uni ended, a part-time job at GAME began. This truly was pig in sh!t territory. The staff discount on pre-owned games was great and I took full advantage of it to catch up on all the N64 games that I had missed out on like Mario 64, Rogue Squadron, Perfect Dark and Goldeneye (the last two I completed only last month). I practiced Tekken 3 like crazy to beat the store manager but no matter how many ten-hit combos I mastered, he beat me three times out of four and I truly suffered at the hands of Heihachi Mishima. All good stuff.

End of Part 1

There is a happy ending, honest.

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What seemed interesting about the recent articles about the most recent edition of the UK edition of Lonely Planet was that nobody seemed to be denying it. For those that haven't yet heard, Brits have been described as having an "ever-growing obsession with fame and celebrity...even though their 'celebrity' status is based on little more than the ability to sing a jolly tune, look good in tight trousers or kick a ball in the right direction." Yet again the Lonely Planet have it spot on.

Every time I go on holiday I make sure I am armed with one of their guides and feel totally naked without one. On a recent holiday, it helped with not only what to see but what bus to get there on, opening times, entry charges, local customs and cultural habits. It basically covers everything from gastronomy to gay bars. Without it I would never have seen those tucked away temples or eaten the cheapo lunch-time deal at one of Fortune magazine's top 15 restaurants. They are always well-observed and written with genuine love for the country.

I am not a Lonely Planet salesman, but I am just trying to lay a logical path here. For some people, it is hard to take criticism about their country. A recent Gamespot UK topic titled I hate England started by a Brit received antagonistic replies and then descended into the usual jingoistic rubbish. This happens all over the web (which is particularly prone to cowardly idea-trashing) a recent "Have Your Say" on the BBC website about the addition of animal products in Mars Bars somehow descended into "if muslims want to live here they should live like us" territory. How is that linked?!

Back to the logic. A (very) reliable source has made a valid observation (not even criticism...yet) about your country, that's right, your country, but what are you going to do about it? Get angry that's what. "Quick, shave my head and dust off grannies jackboots and you know what, the BNP have some very valid points." No no no no no! The guide goes on to say "Vandalism and nuisance behaviour caused by binge drinking remain serious problems," no doubt caused by those skinheads trying to tie up their jackboots.

No, you need to accept it because it's true and it looks like Britains journalists generally have. The Lonely Planet goes on to say that exposure "to different religions, festivals, music and food allows Brits to experience so many other cultures without even leaving the country...We need to revel in this diversity as this is the future of Britain." Multiculturalism is praised, that's right praised, and so it should be. No-one is attacking your way of life, they are enhancing it. So love your country if you want, and the people in it, but understand that you have to love it's flaws too.



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After deliberating for far too long I have decided to take the plunge and join the Gamespot community. I use Gamespot to check reviews and so on all the time anyway and check the forums almost daily so why not sign up? My job goes through painfully quiet phases so instead of staring into space, I can fill my time making inane comments on the forums and getting needlessly excited when my level goes up.

I am not sure how or what to write about in a blog-type situation. Should it be like a diary (I was wearing an onion on my belt as was the fashion of the time - zzzzz) or perhaps a place for ranting (fecking PS3 at £425 and one decent game, blah, blah, blah) or even an outpouring of my deepest and most personal philosophies (mmm, flapjacks). Who knows? Either way I will use this space in the virtual nest of the internet to talk about.....stuff.