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Doctor-McNinja Blog

All things iPad

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If you've just turned on your computer after suffering through a prolonged blackout, you may be interested to know that Apple chief Steve Jobs recently unveiled the company's latest creation, originally donned the 'iPad'. Rather than bore you with the details here, you can read all about it using this handy link.

I'm here to discuss the new product primarily as a gaming platform, but also as a computing device in general.

The immediate reaction to the unveiling has been one of widespread disappointment and general negativity, however it is perhaps worth remembering that similar doubts were cast over Apple's iPod when it was first revealed to the public, and we all know what a powerhouse of a product that went on to become. Still, the iPad offers an experience which definately presents a number of admittedly glaring issues, particularly in its use as a gaming device and even more so as a general computer.

Focusing on its potential as a gaming platform, the device's central flaw appears to lie with its lack of any real incentive to choose it over any other device as a means through which to get your videogame jollies. While no games have been demonstrated as of yet which have been designed specifically with the iPad in mind, the device has been shown running a number of 'iPad enhanced' games originally found on the iPhone, none of which offer any sensible reason to drop $500-$800 on the larger device to enjoy. Looking at the functionality of various gaming devices in general, we can safely observe that the average consumer looks to handhelds and smart phones for quick, simple, time-killing games and PCs and home consoles for their more developed, sophisticated gaming experiences. A game like the motion-based racing title demonstrated on the iPad at Apple's unveiling event would fit naturally as something you can pull out of your pocket and play. The iPad doesn't offer that ability, but instead ups the size of the device to something you simply wouldn't look to for gaming if you had consoles at home.

The iPhone presented a significant step up in the portability of quality gaming experiences, whereas the iPad presents neither the portability factor of the iPhone's simple gaming affairs nor the sophistication of games found on static gaming devices like PCs and games consoles.

In other words, it sandwiches itself between two kinds of gaming device and, at least at the moment, appears to lack an experience which presents the same advantages as those offered by either of the two devices between which it sits.

If developers get their hands on it and start producing some more fleshed-out games (which appears unlikely given the device's modest specs), the issue of storage naturally crops up. How sophisticated can the games really get when developers know their target market has 16GB storage to play with which must also be used for all of the devices other storage needs such as music, videos, applications and otherwise.

Looking at the device as a personal computer, the same issues crop up. Its 1Ghz processor allows for only one application at a time, meaning it's all but useless for multi-tasking. Rather ironically considering Apple's distaste for netbooks, the device fails to offer many of the features and capabilities that the average netbook can pull off, at a price substantially higher than some of the best devices the netbook market has to offer. The iPad doesn't support flash, meaning most video websites wont run on it (the same goes for online games), and doesn't even offer a USB port unless you're willing to pay extra for an accessory add-on. A cheaper netbook would allow for all of those things and a lot more due to the inherrent flexibility and functionality of the modern computer. And a modern computer the iPad is not.

Again, it places itself as a third-tier device. It's not a portable gaming device and its not a stand-alone games machine. It's not a netbook and it's not an outright computer. It's not capable of, or even designed, to replace any of your current devices from your iPhone to your games console to your PC.

So, if we can achieve a better portable gaming experience with an iPhone, and a better standalone gaming experience with a computer or a console, while further getting a superior stripped-down computer device with a netbook, and a better fully-fledged laptop computer experience with a MacBook or any other laptop, the question must be raised; what exactly is the iPad's appeal? What's it's raison d'etre?

Once again it's up to Apple to answer that question, however i cant help but feel that many of these complaints will be addressed with the inevitable unveiling of the device's new and improved second generation model.

Movies based on videogames aka the Hall of Shame

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Last night i wasted a couple of my life's hours watching the film adaptation of the excellent game 'Max Payne'. It had all the earmarks of a videogame-to-movie project; script writting by a person who has never played, or likely even heard of the game, plot points which seem set in a different universe altogether to that of the original subject matter, characters who kinda look like someone from the videogame but fail to mirror their personalities in the slightest. Oh and the classic requirement of most game-to-movie films - it was terrible.

And with that i present to you the videogame crimes of Hollywood, or what may alternatively be considered a list of oscar contenders if Uwe Boll was on the selection committee.

*Side Note: It's also worth pointing out that practically every film in this category will sport some variation of cheesy videogame-related tag line.

1) Dead or Alive

Tag Line: 'Wanna Play?' 3 cheesy cheetohs out of 5

You know you've got issues when your movie is based on a game which is more or less without a plot entirely. I mean, what exactly is the storyline behind Dead or Alive, other than that you enter a tournament and beat up scantily clad women until you are declared the victor? A premise that basic can make for an enjoyable game if the combat is good enough, and indeed the game's multipe iterations have been excellent, but a movie?

The movie aimed to attract the teenage crowd with the promise of women in their underwear, but went on to make less than $200,000 in its opening week.

2) BloodRayne

Tag Line: 'Revenge never tasted so sweet.' Very cheesy for a vampire film, but at least it isn't some variation of 'the game has begun!' so i give it 2 cheesy cheetos out of five.

The first entry from legenday director Uwe Boll, Bloodrayne featured a red-haired vampire much like the videogame from which it derives its title did. The similarities end there. Set in a completely different time period, the movie was a disaster not only in its quality and script, but in its faithfulness to its subject matter. The title 'bloodrayne' is really only there to attract the young videogame playing demographic to the theatre; it featured no real connection with the game whatsoever otherwise.

3) Double Dragon

Tag Line: 'It's not just a game anymore!' Four cheesy cheetohs out of five. Horrendously unsubtle, but it was the mid-90s so what can we expect?

It's rare that an 8-bit videogame successfully tells a more developed narrative than a feature-length film, but in this case that is absolutely true. Awkward and cheesy enough to make Napolean Dynamite look like the coolest kid on earth, the film featured virtually no plot ( a recurring theme here....), and wasn't saved by its tepid, dull as wood action scenes.

4) House of the Dead

Tag Line: 'The game has just begun' - five cheesy cheetohs out of five. 'It's clever you see because it shows that the movie is about a GAME, see!' 'Dammit Jeff, that's genius! You're re-hired!'

After so many game-to-movie adaptations, the notion that hollywood could think of nothing better than that says a lot.

Another Uwe Boll hall of famer. I'm not picking on the guy; he makes a living out of making trashy movies which make more money than they should thanks to slapping the name of a videogame title on the poster. What position does that leave me in? Once again the movie strayed so far away from the original source material as to make the title more or less irrelevant; the film is no more a movie adaptation of the videogame House of the Dead than the Sound of Music is a videogame adaptation of Guitar Hero.

5) Super Mario Bros

Tag Line: 'This ain't no game' Sorta scores points for trying to be badass, but at the same times loses them for the total lack of originality and effort to make Mario and Luigi street-wise rapscallions.

Oh what a doozy this was. The movie pretty much began the practice of attaching big-name videogame titles to movies which made no real effort to bare any resemblance to the supposed subject matter in a cinnacle ploy to attract the lucrative videogame-playing teenage demographic to see the film.

This alternative poster perhaps demonstrates exactly what was wrong with the movie to a greater extent than words ever could:

This is a movie based on Mario and Luigi. The mushroom kingdom. On that poster you will see a tatoo parlor, a police car, a new york city taxi, a desert city and a bunch of men who appear to have dinosaur heads.

LOL WUT!? wasn't a popular expression at the time, but it sums it up nicely. The film was so unenjoyable and so utterly irrelevant to the average Mario fan that even the project's surprisingly big-name cast (dennis hopper for crying out loud!) spoke out about how bad the film was before it was even released.

Never before have the hopes of so many youngsters been dashed by such an insincere movie (probably).

Thanks for reading.

Sticking the knife into Modern Warfare 2

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Modern Warfare 2 is a game which received an awful lot of love in 2009, however as we drifted through the holiday season and into the new year it seemed to attract a snowball effect of increasingly common comments of frustration, irritation and overall dislike of the game.

Now, we all know the game has its good points, and for that reason i wont go into any of them here. So, consider this a heads up; this blog is about Modern Warfare 2 from a very specific angle. I'm here to tell you what's wrong with it, why it's bad, why people play it in droves, why its hype is unjustified. And i intend not to simply rant like another hater telling you 'it sucks' without reasonable backing, i intend to explain the exact technicalities which make this game so unlikeable to so many.

Let's start things off with the single player:

So what's so bad about it?

In terms of gameplay, modern warfare 2 suffers from a serious case of same old same old. The campaign does nothing new, but instead sees you shooting wave after wave of bad guys, moving from one destination to another in exactly the same manner in which you did in Call of Duty 4. Any other game would be lambasted for its repetitiveness and lack of innovation. To add further salt to the wound, the game clocks in at less than five hours, even on its harder difficulty settings which, even in an age of increasingly shorter games, is a criminally short running time.

So why all the great scores?

If you remember the supposedly 'leaked' footage of a rather violent airport scene, you wil recall that Activision and Infinity Ward successfully managed to drum up a serious amount of controversy surrounding the game's single player campaign, perhaps averting the press from approaching the game objectively and taking into account its rather obvious flaws as a game identical to its predecessors in nearly every way. Instead, publications found themselves wasting column inches on the 'controversial' airport mission, rather than telling gamers what they need to know; that the game is largely identical to the original Modern Warfare and offers nothing substantially new in the way of single player content at all.

Next, we'll take a look at "Spec Ops" mode:

So what's so bad about it?

Another victory for Activision/Infinity Ward, Spec Ops presents solid proof that the gaming press can be tricked with embarrassing ease into giving half-baked games amazing scores if you sell them as innovative features intended to be that way. What is Spec Ops? Well if you ask any gaming publication, it's an amazing new mode which lets you play through exciting scearios with your friends. If you ask someone who calls a spade a spade, it's a stripped down co-op mode which only supports two players and limits you to just a handful of scenarios, most of which occur on small segments of the campaign.

Is Spec Ops fun? Sure, some of the missions off up creative little challenges like blowing up a bunch of cars on a bridge. But the fact remains that, as co-op goes, it's limited to say the least. Can you imagine if Halo 3's co-op campaign was limited to just two players, and only allowed you to play through a small, select number of the campaign's scenarios? I'd have been disappointed to say the least, but dress those small, limited scenarious up as 'challenges' and award you stars for beating them and there you have a brand new, super-innovative game mode.

And finally, the multiplayer:

So what's so bad about it?

If you have a single player campaign which can be beaten without rushing on a friday evening, and a co-op campaign which will last you and a buddy a few hours, your multiplayer must therefore present the bulk of the game, seeing as everything else sums up to short distractions.

Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer, like it or not, is poor. It's poor in quality, it's poor in design, and it's poor in execution.

Quality

The game will lag out and kick you back to the lobby with a message of 'lost connection to server' or 'lost connection with host' on a fairly regular basis. In fact, play the game for just a couple of hours on any given occassion and it's bound to happen to you a couple of times at the very least.

Frankly, that's just unacceptable.

Further, a game will rarely go by without some instance of crippling lag. While this is a flaw inherrent to P2P gaming, others have managed to get by with at least substantially consistent games; Halo being one example. Modern Warfare 2 is the opposite; games which run smooth and without hiccups are rare. The bulk of your games will be laggy, glitchy and unreliable.

Third, the game is a hive of bullcrap, again as a result of its netcode lacking in quality. From stabbing a player, seeing the blood splatter and sighing in frustration as nothing happens, to dying for the 10th time having clearly rounded a corner and escaped the view of your assailant due to the game's chronic bullet lag catching up to you.

Design and Execution

As a game focused on XP, modern warfare 2 is difficult to enjoy as a member of a team. It's every man for himself. Add in some features which seem almost designed to create a climate of anger and wrong-doing such as the ability to steal your team mate's kill, leaving them with only an assist when enemies drop into 'last stand' mode, or the ability to steal your team mate's care package when they're alive and well and trying to capture it themselves. It truly is 'may the best man win', only the best is typicaly the person most willing to be the villain of the game.

Add in game modes like Domination, which supposedly require you to capture objectives to win, but in fact list the participants in order of who got the most kills at the end, and you have a game where your team mates are concerned only with their own kill count and subsequent XP rewards, as opposed to helping you out, defending an objective or doing anything at all which doesn't supplement their XP bottom line.

Modern Warfare 2 is a game which doesn't know whether it wants to be Halo or Counterstrike. The game's perks in particular have reached truly ridiculous levels, allowing players in a supposedly realistic game to attach their multiplayer persona with special abilities such as the ability to jump from a 50ft cliff and suffer no consequences, trip a claymore mine and only receive a couple of minor scratches, or lunge like you're being attracted to a super-powerful magnet from several metres away when performing knife attacks. The list goes on.

Time and time again you'll fall victim to a simply rediculous, unfair situation which are actually designed deliberately as part of the game. Think you're safe from that sniper by hiding under his cliff? Nope, he can hop right off, plummet to the bottom and knife you without incurring so much as a scratch.

Watch in awe as you open fire on someone as you turn a corner, only to have them lunge THROUGH your path of bullets to stab you.

Conclusion?

At times, modern warfare 2 can be literally painful to play. Irritating, frustrating, unfair and generally tedious. The rest of the time, it's as standard a shooter as they come. So why have i played it most days for hours on end? Why have i finally unlocked prestige mode? Why did it take me this long to realise that i was gaining no enjoyment from my time with the game?

Because it quite intelligently rewards the player for everything you do. Every game gains you XP. Every act boosts your total towards that next level up, that next weapon unlock, that second prestige. Much like grinding in World of Warcraft, the game can persuade you to endure horrible hours in actually PLAYING it just to reach the next level.

It's when you reach prestige mode and practically start all over again that the game's flaws come hitting home for so many who realise that they aren't enjoying themselves, who then take to the message boards to post their views, typically to be dismissed as haters by those who have yet to reach the realisation that COD has them hooked on XP and level progression enough to to keep them playing a game that offers them no real enjoyment value at all.

It presents the starkest example of everything wrong with gaming journalism; that a game with a short, typical campaign, a short, stripped down co-op mode and a multiplayer mode which nobody would play if it weren't for the rewards system can be slapped with AAA scores and glowing reviews across the board based on little more than hype and first impressions.

Why cant modern games tell a decent story?

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I realise that isn't the most objective title, but then again it's hard not to be fairly one sided when it comes to this issue. This is all personal opinion obviously, so i'll cut to the chase and just throw it out there;

Videogames have terrible storylines

So now that the cards are on the table, allow me to elaborate. When was the last time you played a videogame which told a good story? I'm not talking about Oscar-winning tales of espionage and double-crossing politicians, we can go as simple as a fairy tale or a love story. It's something games just dont do, and as far as i can tell, for no good reason. I know what you're thinking (hopefully), 'but X had an amazing story!'


No, it didn't. Sorry, but the standard of storytelling in videogames is so low that even the titles which pull off the 'best' stories are the theatrical equivalent to daytime soap operas. Want me to prove it?

There you have what supposedly presents the pinnacle of storytelling in modern videogames; a title given perfect 10s by many websites (including this one) with particular reference to its incredible storyline. This game involves an elderly man who isn't REALLY elderly, but has increased in age dramatically due to a disease which affects people who have tiny electrical neurons in their blood called nanomachines. He is involved in a war, trying to take down a guy who seeks to take over a system which controls most of the world's combat forces via the nanomachines in their blood. Meanwhile, there's a ninja battling a vampire. Oh, and you're also a clone.

Propose that storyline to a hollywood big wig and they'd laugh you straight out of their office.

The problem, if you ask me, is that developers are trying so hard to make their game the next big thing, the next mega-hit, that they inevitably end up going for 'blow your mind' ****storylines which, rather than achieve that desired effect, instead come off as dumb, lacking in subtlely and contrived.

It turns out you're actually a robot!

And then after you beat all the crime bosses in LA, you go to a Chinese Restaurant and there are demons in the basement!

The Gods you've been trying to defeat are in fact ALIENS FROM OUTER SPACE!

It turns out the good guy was actually a good guy PRETENDING to be a bad guy, who is REALLY a good guy. But then he turns bad!

It's the story equivalent of 'lol, wat?'

Why can games not have characters who have actual relationships? Where is the harm in a little bit of dialogue? Why are we always stuck with the strong, silent protagonist, or the gruff, irritable soldier?

And the thing is, there's no reason why gameplay should be affected by story and narrative. Take a movie like Saving Private Ryan for example. It's equally satisfying to watch both for it's visceral, immersive battle scenes as it is to observe the strain on the young men trying to carry out a very difficult mission, their rocky relationship with each other and the manner in which they deal with the regular loss of their friends in battle.

Yet after countless WW2 era games, none have come close to creating that level of immersioin and connection with the characters and their turmoil. Instead, we get Nazi Zombies.

When frequently asked by their fans why Halo doesn't feature the amazing narratives on offer in the game's novel companions, bungie curiously responded by explaining that they have to keep their cutscenes under a very small amount of time in order to hold the average gamers attention and not have them just skip it. I find that ridiculous. It's both extremely presumptious of the intellect of the average gamer, but aside from that, even if their presumptions are true; LET THEM skip the cutscene. LET THEM play the game with no real knowledge of its storyline. For the rest of us who would appreciate it, pull out all the stops and come up with a narrative which doesn't involve blowing up a Halo ring before the bad guys use it to kill everyone.

It's not all bad of course; Half Life 2 in particular took the often generic theme of alien invaders and made it far more interesting, along with Uncharted 2, which was probably more enjoyable than any adventure flick to come out of hollywood for the last couple of years.

Aside from the occasional pearls of wisdom however, i feel it has to be said - developers, step up your game and hire a decent writer.

Just got me a Dreamcast

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I am now the proud owner of a Sega Dreamcast console with three controllers and 12 games, all purchased for the princely sum of ten pounds. I kid you not, ten pounds.

...

Ten pounds.


I know it's only January but it's definately a front-runner for purchase of the year. :P

Thoughts on second hand games

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This one has had me confused for quite some time. On the one hand, it seems unfair that companies like Gamestop in the states and Gamestation in the UK make billions every year out of selling games, not a penny of which goes to those who actually produced those games and made them that money. But on the other hand, why should the videogame industry be unique in demanding that they receive a cut of the cash made from selling your own property? It's a tough one, but i've come to a fairly solid conclusion.

David Jaffe of God of War fame is just one of many game developers who has been outspoken on the issue of second hand games, arguing that retailers need to cut developers in with a share of their profits on used titles, or face going out of business as games move towards DRM and digital distribution.

There are a number of glaring issues with this notion however, which i'll try to discuss without being too long-winded:

1) Games aren't exactly bang-for-your-buck.

Now more than ever, games are providing continually shorter experiences for increasingly larger sums of money. Whereas the cost of music and DVDs has slowly declined since their arrival on the market, game prices have either stayed more or less the same or even gone up. While this can be attributed to rising development costs, that has little to do with the consumer.

Simply put, i can go and see a movie at my local cinema for about six bucks (living in England, a ticket costs around £6). I can go rent a DVD, or even buy one thanks to considerably lower prices of older releases. I can buy seasons 1-3 of the Wire on DVD, or a whole box-set of the latest season of 24, all for equal or lower cost than i can a brand new videogame.

And if we take releases like Halo 3: ODST, or Modern Warfare 2, that hefty chunk of change which represents more money spent on entertaining myself than i would normally spend on movies/dvds/books/music in a month would likely last me all of seven hours, and that's playing the game conservatively.

In short, games are no longer the epic experience to completion that they once where. They're shorter and shallower then ever, yet the cost has only gone up. Naturally that pushes the consumer towards used games.

2) Replay value isn't what it used to be.

Most games released today have some form of multiplayer componant tacked on, however rarely do these options go above and beyond the bars set by beloved multiplayer games like Halo, Call of Duty or even Counter Strike. Having completed a game's single player campaign over a weekend, the novelty of that first experience is lost. Unless you consider yourself a collector, what purpose does that game now have on your shelf, unplayed and unused? Once you have finished a game, unlocked some of the tougher trophies or achievements and grown tired of its multiplayer, who would blame you for selling it?

Gamers should by no means feel like they are doing developers a dis-service by selling what is rightfully theirs.

3) A used sale is not a lost sale for the publisher

Publishers and developers such as Dave Perry have talked in the past about how second hand games are equal to a lost sale for the people who made them. In other words, had that store not sold you the game at a discounted, second-hand price, you would have bought it at full price and thus given money to the devloper and publisher.

This simply isn't the case. A couple of months ago i saw an offer in Gamestation allowing me to buy a used copy of Mirrors Edge for just £10 if i bought it with any other game. At such a great price, i did so. Had that offer not been there and had Mirrors Edge not been so heavily discounted as a used game i'd never have bought it, and i imagine the same holds true for many gamers.

Further, a used game does not necessarily equate to a loss in revenue in the age of DLC. Developers should be embracing any tools to make their games cheaper and more accessible, allowing for a greater market base through which to sell downloadable add-ons and expansions. In this regard, developers can make money even when they haven't sold a game in the first place. Win/win or what?

4) Publishers need to be price competitive

If a developer/publisher cannot offer you an experience which feels worth the asking price, the failing is their own, not yours. If you feel like a game is better off purchased a few months down the line at a discounted, used price does fault not lie with the developer for failing to provide the consumer with an experience which they value?

Publishers seem incapable of doing this however, and instead seek to destroy any means through which the consumer can save money, as opposed to changing their products so that the consumer doesn't need to. Come up with a means for customers to sell the game back to you, the publisher. Lower the price of games, or at least have the price vary in line with how much content and value a title has to offer. Publishers have done nothing to make their games more appealing to the consumer, instead pursuing avenues of forcing their customers to buy games directly from them, at full price.

When this does nothing to increase their annual profits, i imagine a great many suits will arrive at work each day feeling confused and slightly embarrassed.

Conclusions:

The videogame industry is not unique. If you buy a car, a book, a DVD - anything - you have the right to sell it. It is your property. The notion that you can pay for a videogame and still not own it is a ridiculous one that publishers need to abandon.

If you own something, you have the right to sell it. Publishers need to accept this fact and stop treating the used game industry as a scummy underworld.

Gamers wouldn't feel the need to wait for discounted games if first-hand sales were more reasonably priced, or offered more incentive and move value for their asking price.

Finally, publishers would do well to compete in the market, as opposed to complaining about its very existance and seeking ways to destroy it or circumvent it altogether.


Saw Avatar the other day....

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In 2D unfortunately, as my companion isn't a fan of 3D movies. But it was still awesome. A very original and immersive film, and i dont understand all the hating on the story. It was all there for you to take in if you wanted to.


Amazingly, four people walked out throughout the movie. Obviously everyone has their opinion, but i really cant see how anyone could go to a screening of Avatar and conclude that it's SO BAD that they should leave, having paid for their ticket. Very strange.

The Wire is awesome

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It needs to be said. The Wire is one amazing show.

I used to think 24 is the best show on TV. I was a sucker for Lost. But then someone recommended i watch the Sopranos, and all of a sudden i came to realise that there exists a whole other echelon of TV; stuff which is actually smart and well-written, well produced and briliantly acted.


While i still love 24, in comparison to shows like the Sopranos and the Wire it just looks trashy and dumb. Having recently given the Wire a spin in DVD form, it needs to be said - this show is amazing. Probably the best thing i've ever seen on TV. I'm two episodes from the end of Season One, and less has happened than in a single hour of 24, yet i've been engrossed watching it infinately more than i've ever been watching a mainstream show like Lost, Prison Break or 24.

Check it out!

Modern Warfare 2 knockout tournament

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GOT SKILLZ? COME PAY SOME BILLZ!

...yeah, i suck at hyping competitive sports. Never mind. What i meant to say was, i'm currently trying to host a modern warfare 2 knockout tournament on the xbox 360. Anyone is welcome to participate, and everyone who signs up will be allowed to play. For further details, check out the thread on the gamespot community game night board, where you can also register your interest and sign up:

Link to thread

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