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Next Gen Woes Solved

Times are tough for us console gamers. We have to buy a machine that will sit under the TV for 6 months like a dumb gorilla until Titanfall comes out and in the meantime play Call Of Duty: Ghosts in 720p. Bleurgh. We will be forced to spend money on this generations Perfect Dark Zero to justify getting it in the first place or even get the few indie games that will tide us over until those monsters at Ubisoft let us get hold of Watch Dogs, indie games that use a fraction of the infinite power of a cloud or all those RAMs. Whatever that means. Bullied into buying a machine that requires a day one patch just to enable blu-ray playback or the ability to turn off the internets. Why are you making me do this Sony? Stop your Chinese burn Microsoft. It hurts. Wa, waa, waaaaaahh!

If only there was some way to avoid crippling buyers remorse this November. What’s that you say? I DON’T have to buy a new console? But, but, but, me is gamer, me buy new shiny box! Fetch me that Morpheus bloke because the rules of this world just went red-pill crazy!

I have heard a lot of moaning about the new gen across various podcasts, articles and forums but what some don’t seem to realise is that you don’t actually have to buy a new console if it doesn’t make you happy. Of course there are plenty of people who are genuinely excited about a new piece of kit and are looking forward to the new consoles but they are not kidding themselves that there will immediately be some massive revolution. They just want to be a part of it. However for some it seems like some cross-bearing badge of honour to hate the next-gen while still spending money on it, people who have considered cancelling their pre-order for such feeble reasons as it not having any games they want on it. They stuck to their guns though. Well done, I guess.

I understand wanting to be a part of a new wave of gaming but for me, and this is my own personal feeling, there is plenty to do on the last gen. In fact, I am trying to find the best way to play Majora’s Mask which was about three generations ago. So if you are not sure you want a new console then just don’t buy one. Wait until it’s cheaper, there are more games and you have exhausted what you already have. Is that so bad?

Blogging on the new Gamespot - Feedback and suggestions

A lot of casual bloggers such as myself have been frustrated with the direction that the new GS has taken as there is no way (currently) to easily track a friends blogs. I am not sure what the notifications are for as I have only received two and despite the feed being a great way to scan all my friend's activity there is no way to filter it for the things I am interested in (for me, blogs). As an aside I have two places to check for info. Also my feed is the default for my page which seems odd as I know what I have done. I know it's only one click to get to your friend's activity but I think that matters.

However, now when we submit a blog we can post it to a forum as a thread (as here) which allows users to reach a much larger audience and encourage greater discussion. This is a much simpler method than trying to get the old soapbox emblem to get on the front page (which I have and am stupidly proud of). This is a neat move and one I have seen more and more users take advantage of. I like it a lot.

Unfortunately just as there are now two spaces for information there are now two spaces to check blog comments and reply. One in the blog part of our profile and the other in the forum we post our blog into. Would it be possible to just have a single thread that is mirrored in both spaces? This speeds up things for the user and could encourage further community among related users.

I would be interested to see what others think of this as I get the impression that many who interact with the site as I do are visiting a lot less. I would also love to see what GS thinks.

To sum up:

1. Ditch the notifications and put everything in the feed section.

2. Add a filter to the feed section.

3. Default to friend's feeds for the start profile page

4. Have just one thread for a blog that is available on the nominated forum where appropriate

I am not sure how easy these are but I think it would really streamline the user experience. I worry that there may be a false impression of traffic on the site when in fact we are just checking things twice. I want to improve this community but GS is making it hard work at the moment.

I would really appreciate feedback on my feedback especially from GS staff.

Thanks.

Kick open door, shot by guard

Kick open door to flatten guard, mobster hits you with a pipe

Kick open door to flatten guard, take gun and kill mobster, second mobster runs through the door and shotguns you

Kick open door to flatten guard, take gun and kill mobster one then two, bam, bam, guard stands up and knifes you

Kick open door to flatten guard, take gun and kill mobster one then two, bam, bam, run back to guard and stove his head in

Move on to next room

Games can’t make people into serial killers but if they could then Hotline Miami would be guilty of a fair few. It’s hard to describe the game in a positive light when the first adjectives that leap into my brain are sickening, gaudy, rotten and monstrous but that’s what this game is. Even the trippy title screen feels like it’s trying to make you sick with a parade of horrid purple trees staggering away from you. On starting the game you are taught how to kill and then sent into a building full of mobsters who will stab, shoot or beat you to death the minute they see you.

Deaths come quickly but with a restart time of next to nothing you are back into it in no time. After a while you stop planning and start swinging - 5 retries gone before you can even think about it. The incessant, pounding techno pushes you on and on and on. You want to stop but you can’t. You are a monstrously efficient killer. Your frailty becomes your strength as your many deaths give you foresight that lets you cut your way through levels with superhuman speed. Trial and error is your answer to overwhelming odds. It’s disgusting, it’s horrible, but most of all, it’s brilliant.

I had heard about Hotline Miami and seen a few gameplay videos but hadn’t thought much of it. I was convinced it was just another of these 16bit indie darlings that come and go but having experienced it I have realised it’s power. It’s like when you first get into a nightclub and stand too close to the speakers and it feels like the music is pummeling your insides. You know you shouldn’t enjoy it but it’s thrilling. Is it alright to seek out and enjoy a destructive experience that makes you feel excited but nasty at the same time? I am not sure but it’s certainly one that games can provide. A discussion for another time perhaps.

Previously I looked at To The Moon which is a title that uses videogames as a medium to tell it’s story. With Hotline Miami the game itself is the story. You are not a passenger here, but the driver where the road ahead is not just empty, it’s not even there. Driving becomes the story and it’s almost irrelevant where you go or how you even get there. Viewed as a simple score attack game Hotline Miami works well. The fast levels and instant restarts are reminiscent of a game like Super Meat Boy and you are scored at the end of each level on combos and boldness but this game has a deeper quality in it’s looks and sound. Overall it’s an amazing package and one that is well worth a look.

Why everyone should play To The Moon

To The Moon has the best story in any video game I have ever played. However, in order for you to experience it I can’t tell you anything about it which makes this a bit of a tough sell but I will give it a shot. The premise is fairly simple, in the future a technology has been developed to change a person's memories in a setup similar to Total Recall. The procedure is then administered to patients with only days to live so that they can die happily, knowing that all their dreams were fulfilled. To The Moon follows two scientists who are called to grant the wishes of a dying patient named Johnny whose desire is to go to the moon although he is not sure why.

This is where I stop.

The rest is an exploration through one man’s life that is moving and personal. The game falters with the occasional goofy joke and will be classed as slushy sentimentality by some of us hardcore stone-hearted gamers but at it’s core it is a fantastic piece of intimate storytelling. If it were a book it would sit alongside Never Let Me Go and The Time-Travellers Wife as the kind of novel that takes a sci-fi staple and adds a deeply touching human element to it. This is a videogame that could work as a play. Seriously.

Is it really a game? Well I am pretty bored by that question but it’s worth mentioning that the game contains very little actual gameplay. For the most part you are moving characters between scenes with the odd treasure hunt or mini-game to break up the conversations that you are reading. Personally I quite enjoyed these brief interludes and apart from one slight exception towards the end of the game they are never intrusive or difficult - gone before you know it with you put right back in the story.

In the end your enjoyment of To The Moon will be irrelevant of whether you enjoy games and more about whether you enjoy story. Although the developer Freebird games have stated that the game can be completed at around the 5 hour mark I found that as a fast reader I finished the game in just over 3 1/2 hours. For $9.99 this seems steep in game terms but we have all been coloured by the free-to-play model and this is cheaper than a cinema ticket or a new paperback. What I am saying is go and buy it (wait for that inevitable Steam sale if you must). If you are not moved by the end of this amazing tale then you are clinically dead - seek medical help.

Soul Reaver Retrospective

There is a point in Soul Reaver where protagonist Raziel moves from the spectral realm into the physical one. He shifts from the land of the dead into a world of flesh and blood. Ironically this is the moment that Soul Reaver came alive to me. A Link to the Past introduced the idea of passing between two simultaneous worlds but it was not done anywhere nearly as spectacularly as in Soul Reaver. Rocks around you squirm into their new form, cracks in the wall become gaping caves, ghoulish mist becomes cool water and life materializes in front of you. It’s an amazing transition. There is no fade to black, no lazy palette swap, but a living, writhing move between two distinct vistas. Further into the game you go back and forth between the decaying world of Nosgoth and it’s twisted spirit realm and every time it looks phenomenal. When I saw that I knew that games couldn’t get any better (I used to get that feeling a lot).

Soul Reaver is 14 years old this year and I am still impressed by that shift. At the time I would jump into water just so that Raziel would lose his physical body and move into the spirit realm, then collect a few souls and use a portal to go back. Then I would do it again. It was seamless. There were never any breaks in travelling around either as the world was one continuous space instead of being broken up into areas, you only ever saw a loading screen once. Even ten years later the Fable series couldn’t match that feat. There were telltale joins in the odd s-shaped tunnels that gave the PSOne a bit of room to load up the next region but it still felt incredible.

So a great world then, but what about the story within it? On the surface it seems like a simple revenge story, handsome vampire lieutenant Raziel (complete with Peter Andre haircut circa 1996) is thrown into the Lake of the Dead by jealous leader Kain and revived 500 years later with a need to absorb souls instead of drink human blood (but haircut intact). He swiftly sets out to kill his former leader but soon discovers that the world is not the place he left it in and that perhaps there are bigger motives surrounding his revival. Amy Hennig of Uncharted fame created the story (as well as producing and directing the game) and it is far superior to any action game of it’s time and possibly since, her experience on RPGs really shining through. Sequels would massively increase the complexity of Raziels tale, occasionally to the point of absurdity (time travel anyone?) but the first played it’s twists and turns in a nicely timed manner…. Except the ending.

How disappointed that end left me. A new character 'deus ex machina's his way into the last cutscene and if it feels like a big set up for a sequel then that’s because it is. What makes this more frustrating is the final lacklustre encounter with Kain which is nowhere near the quality and scale of previous boss encounters. An additional boss was cut from the final game due to lack of time which may explain the spotty finale and it’s a shame that for what is an incredibly well paced title there is a pronounced rough spot, especially one at the climax.

However, just as Raziel absorbed the souls and abilities of greats around him, Crystal Dynamics absorbed the most amazing elements of gaming at the time. Titles like Zelda, Metroid, Tomb Raider and Blood Omen are not just poured into an empty vessel but folded into a great body of art direction and ambition. Soul Reaver is no imitator but an innovator, full of the inspiration and promise of great works of digital excellence and making a creature that is more than the sum of it’s parts. If ever there was a game that deserved an HD remake it’s this. I just hope it doesn’t get forgotten as a footnote in the history of the PSOne.

Missing: Turqoise DS Lite

Is it stupid to get attached to material possessions, especially ones that can be replaced so easily? Ultimately they are just things and apart from a home or food to eat then things are fairly inconsequential when there are other more important sides to life (and for me there really are at the moment). Put in this perspective the loss of a gaming machine should barely register on the give-a-crapometer but I have lost my DS and I am feeling surprisingly upset about it.

Like my GBA SP before it that DS has been a cheering companion for a while. It has travelled tens of thousands of miles with me and provided hundreds of hours of entertainment from saving the world in Chrono Trigger to exploring the universe in Infinite Space. Chances are that I have put it on a shelf somewhere or it's down the back of the sofa or something but between my in-laws house and mine it has disappeared. Part of me worries it has dropped onto the street and been DS-napped by some sticky-fingered thief who is pawing it with his grubby hands. Its become a lost toy, the nightmare that every toy fears in Toy Story. Except that's for children and I am 34 for christ's sake.

It all sounds a bit silly and indulgent when I read it back so I will stop there. I was hoping to write a clever article about open-world gaming or a nostalgic retrospective about Soul Reaver but that will have to wait. It seems what little creative spark I had was lost along with my little DS buddy.

UPDATE: The DS has returned! It was in the car boot the whole time. Poor thing all lonely out there in the cold. I gave him a hug and some hot soup.

I didn't get GTAV today

I just thought I would be different as it seems like almost everyone else is in Los Santos robbing banks, playing golf or engaging in the customary pre-bedtime killing spree. Personally I am finding it very hard to get enthusiastic about GTAV and that is troubling me a little bit. Why aren't I rushing out to get the latest Best Game of the Generation? Is there something wrong with me? I played GTAIV and loved it but the fifth instalment is not tempting me at the moment. I will get to it at some point I am sure.

Fear not though as I am still getting my criminal kicks in the comfortably average swag bag of Payday 2. It's certainly not the best game in my library and it desperately needs some DLC (apparently there are 5 packs planned) but it's a fun way to kill an hour or so. Initially the game seems just like a fancy police-based Horde mode set in a bank or jewellery shop where you have to wait for a drill to finish but at later levels there is some pretty decent upgrades that can really change things. I saw one guy with a huge buzzsaw that sliced open safety deposit boxes and ATMs in no time and in another game we robbed a jewellery store without alerting the cops at all. I have always wanted a great heist game but am happy to settle for an OK one.

Payday 2

Payday developers may have been inspired by The Dark Knight just a little

I have had a bit of a gaming revelation recently. Not for video gaming but for board gaming. I am becoming slightly obsessive about board games and have ordered two in the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately I don't have anyone to play them with at the moment apart from my wife and infant son. While the former is quite happy to turn the TV off I am guessing the latter would struggle to understand the finer points of trading in Jaipur or farm management in Agricola although I haven't directly asked him. My workmates would probably laugh in my face if I suggested a round of Pandemic over lunch but at the university I work at there has been a table-top gaming society in the past so hopefully this will start up again now the new term has started. I will have to go undercover as a student like Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed which is a film I absolutely have never seen. Honest.

Brimming with Irony: A Microsoft Farce in 3 Acts

Irony is a word that is often cited but equally as often misunderstood, it's a tough thing to define. Give it a try and you will see. Alanis Morrisette would have you believe it's like rain on your wedding day or a free ride when you have already paid. She was only half right but an example is certainly a good place to start and the next gen console war has plenty of them with Microsoft leading the race that they are losing in sales.

Initially all those people with no internet connection who were hoping to get an XB1 seemed out of luck but a Microsoft press release answered their prayers when it announced that previous plans for a 24 hour check in period would be scrapped. All they needed to do was download a handy patch. Thanks MS. Oh wait...

But what about those that do have an internet connection to download stuff to make their XB1 not need that internet connection? They were angry. Cries of 'Huge-corporation-Microsoft have changed their mind' and 'I dont trust Windows-developer-Microsoft any more' were loudly typed onto message boards everywhere. Occasionally with a lol or herd of exclamation marks to really shame Microsoft into doing the thing that they wanted them to do but then didn't like. That'll learn 'em!

So while the XB1 haters were getting angrier the XB1 lovers were also getting angrier. An online petition was started to get the DRM thing put back in along with all the other toys that Don Mattrick had thrown out the pram. All those wonderful bells and whistles that had been promised like er, well nothing at that point but I am sure they would have been really good.

Actually that's not entirely true, Microsoft had made a mention of cloud servers which meant that developers could add all that detail to a game knowing it would be always online for a few seconds every 24 hours. Sure it's only a few seconds but imagine how awesome it would be. Server ping games could be a new microgaming phenomenon like Twitter was for blogging and Vine was for videos.

I am confident that Microsoft are aware that PR stand for public relations but I am not sure they know that those public relations should be good. Isn't it ironic, don't you think?

Alanis Morrisette

I know, I am struggling too Alanis...

Orbs, orbs, orbs. Gimme, gimme, gimme.

If paid subscriptions were like the film Twins then PS+ would be Arnie and Games with Gold would be Danny Devito. A mighty and generous bigger brother with an inferior, out-of-date copy trailing along behind. PS+ gifted us the 2012 critical darling XCOM: Enemy Unknown and GwG gave us the 2007 Halo 3 beta freebie Crackdown. But never underestimate the wise-cracking weakling because even though Crackdown is 6 years old, looks basic at best and has worse driving mechanics than No More Heroes (OK maybe not that bad) it is addictive gaming at its purest. We are talking Heisenburg pure here.

It's so compelling that if you were to gauge the addictiveness of a title by the amount of time you hold on to a wee before pausing then Crackdown scores a 10/10 on the bladder-ometer. Is that an orb over there, yes, oh theres another, and another, new intel coming in, bad guys to despatch, jump over a building, more orbs, get stronger, throw cars, new weapons, ooh is that an orb over there? And repeat until you have wet yourself. With GTAV and it's enormous world just around the corner I am finding the compact city of Crackdown far more appealing than a 6 minute drive to a virtual bowling alley. I am sure that GTAV will be spectacular but all that world tires me out thinking about it.

Orbs

Arms. Hurting. Must. Get. Orb!

It's the same with The Witcher 3. I am over the blusteringly large open world. Story just gets lost among all the distractions and level-ups and sidequests and so on. Remember how weak the main quest was in Fallout 3? Crackdown doesn't bother with a story. It just throws you into a cosy little sandbox with plenty of toys like super-jumps and homing rockets. Thats all I want. And orbs. Lots of orbs.