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The Dumbing Down Epidemic in Modern Gaming - A Comparison of Old vs. New

chaos theory vs conviction

The subject of dumbing down and the simplification of games is a hot topic in modern gaming. Gamers tend to be split into two camps - those who think it represents progress and evolution and those (usually the older gamers) who believe it represents a devolution and removes the need to think.  

I fall into the latter camp and to demonstrate why I think this way I'm going to use Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (2005) and Splinter Cell Conviction (2010). From the offset Conviction is a very different beast to Chaos Theory. Almost unrecognisable (yes, I'm aware Double Agent filled the gap between the two but this is a comparison between old and new). The mechanics in Conviction have been completely rewritten and overhauled. Thats not necessarily a bad thing at first glance; games have to evolve right? But examining the changes in detail makes it easy to see why this series has been singled out for criticism. Lets start with the basics: 

Movement

Conviction now informs the player on screen of any potential actions that can be triggered such as climb and take cover. I'm not a fan of this trend in modern gaming. Chaos Theory gave you the terrain and that was it, no on screen clues or guidance. Conviction tells you exactly which parts of the level you can climb and instead of being able to walk up to a climbable object and simply press the up key, you now have to press the action key, which means you have to line Sam up with the object until the action option appears on screen - not always easy to do in tight situations when you cant afford a mistake. 

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This also means that some objects can be interacted with whilst other very similar looking ones cannot. It's the luck of the draw whether you can climb, or jump or take cover next to something. Likewise some lights you can shoot out, but there's plenty you cannot. Chaos Theory was less artificial - Sam could interact with all scenery and could shoot (almost) all the lights out. The ones he couldn't shoot he could momentarily neutralize with the EMP in his gun (a great mechanic not present in Conviction). So in Chaos Theory the suspension of disbelief remains intact, unlike Conviction, with its constant help and instructions on what to do next plastered all over the screen. Immersion appears to be a concept disappearing from modern day gaming. 

Shooting

Sam is deadly with a gun in Conviction. In Chaos Theory shooting was difficult and inaccurate, largely I suspect due to Ubi, at the time, wanting to discourage shooting and encourage stealth. In Conviction you have a large arsenal of deadly weapons. Stealth kills are encouraged as they give you execution points to take out two guards at once with your gun. But it feels... too easy. And why would he only have this ability intermittently? Where have all the alternative ways to take out enemies gone? It's a lazy mechanic and removes a chunk of realism from the game. 

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Gone too is the ability to simply knock the guards out, Conviction allows only kills. In Chaos Theory you had the option to kill or KO, which meant you had the power to decide if the person should live or die. It was nice having the choice. In Chaos Theory you can hide the bodies to ensure the alarm wont be raised but you can't in Conviction, which makes stealthing through a level completely undetected nigh on impossible. It makes Conviction much more arcade-y (I'm purposely avoiding the more inflammatory console-ish term!) and removes a strategic aspect of previous Splinter Cell games. It also removes that feeling of satisfaction shared by stealth lovers from when you make it through a level completely undetected and without killing a soul. 

Stealth

Stealth is an area in which Conviction really shows it limitations. Ironic considering it is a stealth game per se. The whole "turn the screen black and white whilst in the shadows" thing may have been a nice idea in theory but it is no replacement for the light (and sound) meters from Chaos Theory. With the black and white system it's nearly impossible to predict which other areas are in darkness. Trial and error is the name of the game.

Chaos Theory's subtle sound and light meters allowed the player to keep track of exactly how visible they were (without the need for any obtrusive monochrome screen colour change) and how much noise they were making, another aspect not present in Conviction. In Chaos Theory Sam could use infra-red and night vision to scout for enemies not in Conviction however, instead you have the new sonar goggles that can see everything in the vicinity with a single pulse. It's both limited and unrealistic. 

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Chaos Theory had three goggle modes, each of which had to be used at specific times in the game and all had a genuine purpose AND Sam had the ability to remotely hack a computer with the goggles. None of that is present in Conviction. In fact, the only thing you can do really in Conviction is kill - clear an area and move on to clear the next. In Chaos Theory Sam had many diverse mission tasks - stealing from a bank vault, finding hidden microphones, hacking computers etc. There is no equivalent to any of these with Conviction. Just some QTEs when you interrogate people. 

Level Layout

In Conviction the levels feel more like a linear journey from one set piece to another as opposed to naturally unfolding levels. Every location is littered with blocks to take cover behind with flares dotted about that cannot be extinguished - a poor excuse to keep an area lit and both combine to create an artificial, arcade like feel to the game. Chaos Theory had plenty of things to take cover behind, but they didn't feel unnatural within the level. 

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And some parts of Conviction have seemingly been designed to encourage shootouts over stealth. In many cases, to increase difficulty, the game just throws more and more enemies at you, as though the developers couldn't be bothered to create new challenging scenarios to test the player. Later in the game you'll find yourself clearing one room, walking into the next and then suddenly having a dozen enemies appear out of nowhere. There is often no chance to stealth. No chance to avoid a fight. Its just take cover, get your rifle out and settle in for a shootout.

I've not even bothered talking about the lack of a quick save feature in Conviction (check points suck), the lack of atmosphere compared to Chaos Theory, the dodgy dubsteppy like soundtrack, the multitude of plot holes in the story and that Iraq level (what were they thinking?). 

TL;DR

Summary: It's impossible to argue that Conviction is not a heavily streamlined version of its predecessor-but-one Chaos Theory. In the words of Conviction developer Alexandre Parizeau:

        "When you try to innovate somethings work and somethings don't. Not necessarily as you would like." 

Conviction is not innovation. It's devolution.

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Alpha Protocol and how NOT to make a great stealth game

Alpha Protocol is the kind of game I really wish was great. Stealth games, an understated thinking man's genre of gaming, are far and few between, especially good ones; so when one is released, especially one that appears to represent something new in the genre, namely a third person, stat-based stealth shooter, cum-rpg with a deep back story of espionage and intrigue, you really hope for the best.

And then you discover that all that is largely irrelevant if the quality of the gameplay doesn't match the quality of the premise. And unfortunately in the case of AP it certainly does not. In this day and age there are certain expectations placed on games to deliver on the most basic of gameplay aspects. Gaming is no new phenomena; precedents have been set, rules have been established. Yet still developers, inexplicably, continue to get the fundamentals wrong and AP is a perfect example of this.

Let's take the first level for example; you're placed behind cover in the corner of a yard with an impenetrable wire fence cordoning you off and a guard patrolling just in front of you. Ignoring how you actually got there in the first place, over the un-climbable fence and without the guard seeing, you kill the guard, and he rests, slumped, in the centre of the yard. So why can't I drag the body off to a shadowy location to ensure he won't be discovered? Surely a stealth game like this would require such a feature? Well, even the new Splinter Cell game discarded this ability, so perhaps it is unfair to criticise too heavily for this oversight. But make no mistake it is an oversight.

Let's continue. Wander round the corner and attempt to climb a ladder resting against a building and you discover there's no key command for climb; instead you have to fumble about at the bottom of the ladder until the game decides you want to climb up and allows you on to the ladder. And there's no option to climb fast and to jump off the ladder if you need to make a quick escape.

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Assail up to the sentry's guard post on a nearby tree top; next to a building you're trying to reach the roof of, and attempt to leap from tree to roof and you get a key prompt saying press to leap. "I didn't need a key prompt for that," you think, but wait, you do; as there is no key assigned to jump, so the game has to show you where it is possible to jump from, with a key command. Stop a minute... did Obsidian just make a stealth game which would see you climbing buildings, using zip wires and similar stunts only not to include a jump key? Yes. Yes they did.

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Climb along the roof, jump to the adjacent balcony and enter the adjoining building through a door in the roof and it takes you into a room with platforms along the ceiling and two guards patrolling down below. Up top you're in full view of the guards, fully lit, yet they don't see you. Climb down and walk to the rear of the building, which is in darkness, and you're warned they've just seen you. How could they? It's pitch black back here. Which means light is not a factor. In a stealth game! And that means that you can't shoot out the lights to give yourself cover; yet another fundamental stealth mechanic missing from the game. Add it to the list.

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Kill the guards individually, with stealth, (again you really should be able to dispose of the bodies, one is patrolling not five feet away from his murdered colleague who is lying in full view of him on the floor to his right, but he fails to spot him) and move out to the next building. Look up; oh the zip wire, from the first building I climbed, goes to this building's balcony. I'll go back and use that. Oh wait, you can't. Getting back on to the balcony shows that, whilst the game gives you the option to jump to the building, you can't jump back in the direction you came and reach the zip wire. And you can't walk through the hole in the balcony fence either; something invisible is there. Frustrating. The game should reward creative situation tackling ideas, not hinder them.

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Go back through the building, which is filled full of aisles of stacked boxes and crates that you inexplicably cant climb over or on to, and you reach a yard with two more guards in. They are easy to kill by simply learning their patrol routes, finding a moment when they are not facing each other and stealth killing them from behind. There are not many things that I would enjoy doing to a man from behind, but stealth killing them in Alpha Protocol is one thing that is not entirely unsatisfying. However, as the game unfolds, you soon realise this is the best, maybe even the only, way to pass through the game unnoticed. And it soon becomes laborious.

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I could continue to pick at the little things within the game but I won't. There are certain areas the game excels in and despite these flaws within the core gameplay elements there is more than enough within the game to keep the attention of lovers of the genre. It certainly managed to keep me going back to it. Maybe I just love stealth games too much, I don't know.

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The problem is that, in a great stealth game, you need to be able to know that you can interact with obstacles and conditions within your environment, otherwise it ruins the immersion simply because it lacks any sort of realism. The gameplay is conspicuously limited and, simply put; no great game makes you aware of its limitations. Example: I'm crouching behind a knee high wall waiting for a guard to patrol by me on the other side, once he's gone I want to leap over the wall and sneak past him but I can't jump over it. Instead I have to creep all the way round it and as I do so, he spots me. Why oh why can't a CIA trained espionage expert climb over a knee high wall?

And speaking of which, why can't a CIA agent shoot a guard ten yards away with a headshot with his pistol when the crosshair is directly over his head? I'm all for stat building and improving, but if the best the CIA can produce can not hit a man ten yards away, without holding the aim steady for several seconds until the crosshair turns red, then something has gone seriously wrong during training.

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In a genre in which immersion and absorption are two vital ingredients, you simply cannot kill the suspension of disbelief by making such fundamental design errors as the ones mentioned. Individually they're forgivable, collectively they are not. The cut scenes would have you believe the game is a thinking man's Splinter Cell, with RPG elements and the like bundled in but there's no point making the story, stat building and inventory intellectual when the game play is for dummies.

Alpha Protocol is ultimately a slightly above average game that probably won't appeal to anyone other than stealth or action rpg enthusiasts. Maybe, one day, a developer will produce a thinking man's stealth game with a deep and engrossing premise, and gameplay to match. I live in hope.

Splinter Cell Conviction: Allaying The Fears of Splinter Cell Fans Worldwide!

Sam Fisher has (had) the coolest job in the world. Ice cold, unflappable super-spy; saving an unknowing world, ghost-like from the shadows. The first three Splinter Cell games put me in his shoes and allowed me to experience this first hand, and the result was three very special games and one very happy gamer. Then Double Agent happened and things would never be the same again. Gone was the Sam I knew and loved, replaced by some drunken, bumbling, angry mourner. Gone was the dry wit, the banter between agents in the headset, the stealth meter, hell, even the shadows went too. They were replaced by pointless mini-games, the same level repeated again and again, a story that was hard to swallow (even by Tom Clancy standards) and, if you had the PC version, a buggy, sometimes unplayable, mess. It was particularly hard to take for me because Double Agent started out so well, the first level had me salivating as to what might be in store but, like my life after school, it was pretty much all down hill from that point.

It was never going to be easy following Chaos Theory, no-one said it would be. Chaos Theory is something of a rarity in gaming in that it actually has a number of perfect levels. Yes, that word is PERFECT. In its level design, atmosphere, visuals, sound, controls and pacing, Chaos Theory contained a number of levels that I truly believe were, are, the epitome of stealth-orientated gaming. I won't go into too much detail, that's for another day and another blog post, suffice to say that for evidence of this, replay the Panamanian bank level of Chaos Theory, and you'll have your proof. Truly a level from a game developer at the peak of their power.

So here I am, three and a half years after Double Agent, with the new Splinter Cell game. Rumours of butchery, bastardization, stealth sacrificed for action, simplified, commercialised, "dumbed down" and similar have been circulating for months on the Gamespot boards. And with their recent track record (*cough *cough Far Cry 2) I naturally feared the worst. So I installed the game and navigated my way through the hoops the imposed DRM insists you jump through.

And I'm happy to report that it's not as bad as I feared. Infact, I'm going to go as far as saying that the "re-invention" of Splinter Cell has actually been a success of sorts.

Sure I would like a "this gen" Chaos Theory, but what Ubi have delivered here is actually... pretty good. I'm only a few levels in, so this might seem like a premature assessment, but I've seen enough to make these claims confidently. What I'm going to give you now is a quick overview of the evolution Conviction represents. There are no direct plot spoilers as such, the screens I've used are all from the first level. These screens are scaled down full HD shots with the game played with everything maxed out other than AA on my GTX 295.

 

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My first quibble was Sam's voice sounds a little too old for the rather young looking figure he's been given by the Ubisoft artists, closely followed by my annoyance at objectives and clues being given in big letters on the scenery. And no, it would seem you can't turn it off in the options.

 

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However in no time at all those thoughts had evaporated and I had Sam back to doing what he does best - climbing buildings, traversing along window ledges and yanking unsuspecting bad guys to their deaths on the terraces below.

 

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Welcome to stealth meters in the year 2010. The screen turns black and white when you are hidden in the shadows. Personally I'd say if it ain't broke, don't fix it - Chaos Theory's meter worked a treat, but Ubisoft felt the need to tweak it and gave us the simple red, yellow and green system in Double Agent. So, whilst maybe not broke, it was certainly not in a position were repairs would not go amiss. And I'm happy to confirm the new system works well and is an improvement over Double Agent's, in which one set of shadows would provide camoflauge, yet another, seemingly identical set, would not.

 

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A quick note on the graphics - they're excellent. Sharp, detailed and the performance so far has been flawless. It's very much the interactive movie in places. You'll notice several new features whilst playing such as the cover system and the "mark and execute" feature; a sort of quicker and more deadly form of the V.A.T.S. system found in Fallout 3, both of which feel natural and work well.

 

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In case you were worried, you can still climb pipes and perform "death from above" attacks (oh yes!).

 

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New weapons stash crates are left for you to stock up your depleted ammo, kindly labelled by Ubisoft for the less observant gamers.

 

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You now look under doors by holding your car's wing mirror.

 

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Just in case you couldn't work out what to do with the drain pipe, Ubisoft provides a helping hand. Thanks Ubi!

 

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Sam interrogates a bad guy. You can now bash them into the surrounding scenery if they are unco-operative.

 

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And thus ends the first chapter. To summarise, despite my usual impeccable foresight, I am happy to say that I was wrong to have misgivings about Ubisoft's ability to deliver a good Splinter Cell game. Fans of the series - it's not the Splinter Cell we know and love, but it is Splinter Cell; refined and streamlined, and worthy of a place in your games collection.

So my Xbox 360 finally died

Well, i truly thought i was one of the lucky ones. Ive owned my 360 since 2006 and thought i was fortunate enough to have avoided the red rings of shoddy hardware but alas i was wrong. It passed away on Fri 19th Feb, 2010 at approximately 8:30AM GMT. The thing that has annoyed me is that i hardly play on the bloody thing. Its in a well ventilated area and i rarely play for more than an hour at a time.

Im not too bothered. Technically its extremely outdated, my old 8800gtx used to make mincemeat of it, my gtx 295 just laughs at it.

Anyway, im done with 360s now. Im going to try and get it repaired, even though its out of warranty, and then im selling it and my 30+ games. Just debating whether to go for a ps3 or an i7. Decisions, decisions!

So nothing left to say but RIP in peace xbox 360 (2006-2010).

Gone too soon...

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The problem with San Andreas

After the honeymoon period with GTA IV wore off and the inevitable and predictable backlash against its more serious nature got underway, many people were quick to compare it unfavourably to its predecessor San Andreas, complaining that in comparison it wasn't as fun, that the missions were dull, the characters and story boring and poorly crafted, and so on and so on. I disagreed but found myself many times in the minority.

Out of all the GTA games SA was the only one I felt was a chore to finish. But it had been three to four years since I last played the game so I decided to revisit San Andreas and make an attempt to see why it was held in such high esteem by many gamers, and to understand why exactly I didn't consider it to be the classic many others clearly do.

Well, after many hours of playing the game I have arrived at a conclusion which I feel accurately sums up the problem with San Andreas. And the conclusion is (drum roll please)…

In an nutshell, the game consistently fails to live up to the brilliant sequence of opening missions. Disagree? Then read on...

Despite a trio of incredibly annoying characters (the banal dullard that is CJ, the "busta" obsessed Ryder and the cringe worthy OG Loc) and some awful dialogue, mainly from the aforementioned three stooges, the first part of the game was fantastic fun.

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The integration of CJ back into the Grove Street gang was well paced and the game managed to craft a convincing (yet tongue-in-cheek) gangster rap themed atmosphere through the well implemented storyline, the engaging and imaginative mission structure and the excellent soundtrack.

The final mission in the opening stage is the "Green Sabre" mission and is a wonderful crescendo to the hood sequence in that it achieves so many things. It shows how your relationship with your brother has been repaired and the bond restored. It validates the character of Cesar and shows him to be a trustworthy ally and a fitting boyfriend for your sister. And the plot twist, fantastically captured in that perfect caught-red-handed moment revealing Ryder and Smoke's betrayal, is unexpected yet believable. Your brother, at the conclusion, is arrested and you are deposited outside of town by the crooked cops and as a result are blackmailed to work for them in exchange for their letting you walk free.

What a tantalising cliffhanger to end the opening sequence of missions...

But then it all rapidly goes downhill. The story quickly descends into a series of pointless and irrelevant countryside missions. The momentum from the Los Santos missions frustratingly fizzles out like a damp squib. The gangster rap theme evaporates and the game shoots off on a tangent, inexplicably and almost criminally wasting, in my eyes, the potential the first stage promised.

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After all the gritty gangbanging, murdering and hustling that you took part in previously, why now are you stealing a combine harvester from a group of hillbillies for a hippy stranger, or going on random robbery missions with a detestable Latino woman? Wasn't she supposed to be helping you get your brother out of jail? Indeed, exactly why aren't you working on a plan to bust your brother out of jail? Or to set up the cops responsible for his arrest? Or to get revenge against Smoke or Ryder? Obviously some things need to be saved for the finale but come on Rockstar... at least give us something interesting to do in the meantime.

Just as Vice City imitated Scarface and other 80s themed gangster films, San Andreas could have quite easily taken elements from films such as Boyz n the Hood, Menace 2 Society , Juice, New jack City and so on. I doubt Menace 2 Society would have been so credible if Caine, after seeing his cousin killed, instead of getting revenge leaves town and opens up a garage with a hippy.

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And then there's the driving… and my goodness what a lot of it there is. The majority of your time is now spent arduously driving from location to location, through bland countryside, interrupted only by a need to keep checking the map to confirm you're going in the right direction and by the occasional short length mission, especially short once you've subtracted the amount of time spent driving in them. It certainly makes you really appreciate the taxi service available in GTA IV.

And unfortunately the game continues to plummet in quality as you progress. Win a car race and your given keys to a garage in another City, which you open with your newly found hippy pal and his assortment of whacky friends. The story is stretched thinner and thinner, and the missions become increasingly contrived. The entertaining and fun missions are far outnumbered by the sheer volume of filler missions.

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Occasionally you are asked to perform a task with some sort of relevance to the main story such as gaining the trust of a pimp with Balla connections but by this point its all been watered down so much you've lost interest. All this, you feel, for the sake of elongating the game length, but what a sacrifice, to lose all that was built up so admirably in the first stage, just to make the game longer. No amount of jet-packing or aeroplane flying can compensate.

And this is the ultimate failing of San Andreas – quantity over quality. Jack of all trades, master of none.

How To Make A GIF File For Use On The Forums...

WHAT ARE GIFS?

Gif stands for Graphic Interchange Format and are picture files containing animation or low resolution video clips.

This is a tutorial to show you how to make a gif for your avatar, signature image or to post in the forums. It's not that difficult and with a bit of practice you'll be an expert in no time!

GETTING STARTED:

The first thing you'll need is the actual application used to make gifs which is called GIMP, a freeware, open-source, Photoshop-like application. Download it from here - http://www.gimp.org/downloads/ and install it.

STEP ONE:

Open up GIMP. Go to the menus at the top of the screen, choose the "XTNS" tab, scroll down to the "Split video into frames" option and scroll across to the "Extract video range" option.

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STEP 2:

Click on the button next to the videofilename to browse through your hard drive and select the video file you wish to make a GIF from.

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Once the video is selected go to the Audiotrack box five rows down from the filename and change the 1 to a 0 by clicking the down arrow. This simply removes any audio from the video as you won't be needing sound in your GIFS.

DONT CLICK OK JUST YET!

STEP 3:

First click the video range box in the top right corner which will expand the window and a new section will appear.

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This window now allows you to play your video, find the section you wish to make a GIF from, isolate and loop the section using frame numbers as start / stop markers and save the section as a seperate file.

STEP 4:

Underneath the video image on the right of the screen are three unmarked narrow boxes (see pic below). The one on the left will play the clip, the one in the middle with pause the clip.

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When you play the video watch how the frame number changes as the progress bar moves in the top right of the screen. Underneath it is a box also showing the current frame number. Pause the clip (using the button next to play) and drag the slider left and right in the progress bar to skip through your video clip or, in the box underneath the progress bar, type in the frame number you want to skip to.

STEP 5:

Once youve an idea of which section you want to gif, type in the approximate frame number you want it to start from in the "from frame" box and the frame number you want it to end in the "to frame" box. In this example i'm using a Crysis E3 trailer and i'm going to loop a bit at the end when the crysis logo is formed from shards of glass. I've typed in the approximate start and end points which are 1700 and 1950 respectively.

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Tick the "loop," "play selection only" and "exact timing" boxes. Then press play to check your loop. In my case it isn't quite right and after a bit of trial and error i set the start to 1715 and the end to 1918. Once you have set the start and end points exactly as you want them and are happy with your selection, make a note of the start and end numbers and then press OK.

STEP 6:

Once GIMP has extracted the frames it should look something like this

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Go the video menu on the right of the screen and choose the "frames to image" option. In the new window that opens type in the start and end frame in the "from frame" and "to frame" boxes at the top of the screen and press ok.

STEP 7:

In the new window that appears scroll along to the image option and select the scale image option to change the size of your gif. An avatar on gamespot for example should be 80 x 80. Ive changed mine to 210 x 119.

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STEP 8:

When youve done this go the FILE menu and choose "save as." In the "name" box type the name of your gif and add ".gif" to the end of it. I have saved mine as crysis2logo.gif

In the box that appears tick the "save as animation" box.

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Then, finally, in the "save as gif" box that appears, click save and voila! You have a saved gif file!

Here's my finished gif file..

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Now, a couple of other points to note...

Ideally you're going to need a video converter application. The format that works flawlessly every time with GIMP is QuickTime MOV M-PEG4 DIVX format. GIMP will accept other file types such as .avi and .wma but they are not always guaranteed to work. To make gifs from your FRAPS recordings you will need to convert the massive files FRAPS creates to another format.

I recommend and use Amadis Video Converter and A-One FLV to AVI MPEG WMV 3GP MP4 iPod Converter but these are not freeware applications. Any freeware video converter should do, especially if it has the ability to convert from FLV format to QuickTime MOV M-PEG4 DIVX format, as this will allow you to convert video files you download from sites such as Gametrailers. If you are unable to locate one yourself my advice is to scour freeware resource sites such as Download.cnet.com or Majorgeeks.com.

Most converters look very similar and are extremely simple to use. Load in the original file, choose the format to convert to and press convert tends to be as complicated as the process gets.

Have fun giffing!!

The Top Ten Most Abandoned Places In the World

Some amazing locations which look like they've influenced the locations and setting choices of many video games in recent years.... The resemblance to games such as Call of duty 4, STALKER, Fallout 3, Resident Evil and many others is quite uncanny... And there's plenty of potential for use in future games !!

10. Bodie State park, California, Unites States

Bodie is a ghost town which is now a National Historic Landmark. It began as a mining camp of little note following the discovery of gold in 1859. Now theres no gold and no people. Could make a great location for a game, especially with the ominous weather in the first photo..

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9. Craco, Italy

Abandoned due to constant earthquakes... (could create some interesting possibilities in a game, both over and under ground !)

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8. Balestrino, Italy

Like Craco, abandoned due to earthquakes (great for a survival horror game !)

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7. Varosha, Cyprus

Varosha is an area in the city of Famagusta. Prior to the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus in 1974, it was the modern tourist area of the city of Famagusta. Now its a ghost town... (Could make some sort of pirate coastal stronghold !)

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6. Agdam,Azerbaijan

Agdam was fully destroyed in 1993 in the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Before the war the city population was about 30000 residents. Not a place to be wandering around on your own, late at night... Game potential ahoy!!

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5. Kolmanskuppe, Namibia

Kolmannskuppe is a ghost town in southern Namibia. Was originally a mining town famed for its diamonds but was abandoned and now, due to the extreme geological conditions of the nearby desert, finds itself knee deep in sand. A sort of Hills Have Eyes type location..!

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4. Centralia, United States

Centralia is a ghost town in Pennsylvania, United States. Its population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981 to 12 in 2005 and none in 2008, as a result of a mine fire burning beneath the borough since 1962. Lots of possibilities as a setting in game - you're part of the team sent to extinguish the fire in the mines beneath but whilst there discover the town still harbours a terrifiying secret... and its not as deserted as it seemed!!! :shock:

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3. Kadykchan, Russia

Kadykchan is a ghost town that was built during the World War II for the workers of the coal mines and their families. In 1996, 6 men died as a result of explosion in a coal mine and the mines were closed. 12000 inhabitants were evacuated to other places leaving the town empty and silent... looks perfect for a survival psychological horror type game !!

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2. Pripyat, Ukraine

Pripyat is an abandoned city in the zone of alienation in northern Ukraine. The city was founded in 1970 to house the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant workers, and was abandoned in 1986 following the Chernobyl disaster. Its population had been around 50,000 prior to the accident. The city of was evacuated in two days. Features in pc game STALKER and may well have influenced one of the iconic locations in COD 4!

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1. Gunkanjima, Japan

Former mining town off the coast of japan, now known as ghost island. Looks like its been lifted straight out of Washington DC in Fallout 3! Perfect video game setting!!

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And the second best looking game on the pc is...

..GTA IV

I am now convinced that a fully patched GTA IV is the 2nd best looking game on the pc behind crysis (ok third if you include warhead). I am only running the game on medium to high settings and it just looks amazing, the level of detail in the game continues to amaze even now 3 months after purchasing. Seeing it in motion with the view distance and draw detail turned right up on max resolution is a sight to behold, and now with the 3rd patch improving performance even more the game no longer needs a Cray to run it. I can only imagine how good it will look maxed out (*drools).

Now for the evidence...

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I rest my case!

Sure it could do with some Anti Aliasing to get rid of those jaggy edges, but still, in motion, it beats fallout 3, far cry 2, assassins creed, gears of war, bioshock, dead space, prince of persia, stalker, cod 4 / waw and mass effect. And having seen cryostasis running on high settings i can confirm it beats that too.

So to conclude, with the technical issues patched into the past, gta iv is a game that pc owners should no longer feel hesitant to buy. And beneath the gorgeous exterior, theres a pretty good game underneath too!

Gears of War 2 - To pc or not to pc?

.. errr not to pc it would seem..

Cliff Bleszinski Aug 2008:

"Gears of War is a great franchise first and foremost for Xbox 360, and therefore we're focusing on that platform for Gears of War 2. We've decided we're not going to do a PC version this time around."

Taken from an interview with Totalvideogames.com in Sept 2008:

TVG: Do you see the Xbox 360 as the main platform as opposed to the PC? During the whole Unreal time it was very much PC focused.

CB: The PC right now is a fair amount different to what it was back in the day, with all the badly integrated video chips. Here's the problem right now; the person who is savvy enough to want to have a good PC to upgrade their video card, is a person who is savvy enough to know bit torrent to know all thee lements so they can pirate software. Therefore, high-end videogames are suffering very much on the PC.

TVG: So piracy was a main point for you...

CB: Right now, it makes sense for us to focus on Xbox 360 for a number of reasons. Not least PCs with multiple configurations and piracy.

TVG: But when the dust has settled, is there any possibility of Gears 2 on PC?

CB: No.

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Judging from his comments you'd think piracy was non existent on consoles.

So there are two reasons Gears 2 won't be coming to the PC - the difficulty of porting to multiple configurations and piracy. I'll ignore the multiple configs problem because that's something that every developer has to face and therefore redundant, and focus on the piracy factor instead.

If piracy affected Gears so badly you'd imagine it would be amongst the most pirated games of last year.

Top ten pirated pc games of 2008 according to website torrentfreak:

1 Spore (1,700,000)

2 The Sims 2 (1,150,000)

3 Assassins Creed (1,070,000)

4 Crysis (940,000)

5 Command & Conquer 3 (860,000)

6 Call of Duty 4 (830,000)

7 GTA San Andreas (740,000)

8 Fallout 3 (645,000)

9 Far Cry 2 (585,000)

10 Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (470,000)


This table only lists torrent downloads and its accuracy is, perhaps, questionable, however it has been quoted by many reputable websites including gamespot, so we can at least use it to give us an approximate idea of the situation. And gears doesn't even feature.

I've not been able to find sales figures for the pc version of Gears but i'm guessing they weren't impressive. So, reading between the lines, it seems piracy is being blamed for poor sales. But as far as poor sales goes, Epic have no one to blame but themselves, here's why:

1. The release of GOW PC came a full year after the 360 version. The hype simply had fizzled out.

2. For a game that relies heavily on its eye candy to entice people, it was released at the same time as the best looking game ever, (and brand new IP) Crysis. It simply couldn't compete.

3. And also at the same time as mega popular franchises COD 4 and The Orange Box. Chances are it just didn't show up on peoples' radar.

4. The compulsary use of Games for Windows LIVE. Ill advised and not popular with the majority of gamers.

5. Widespread technical issues such as no sound and saved games disappearing. News of these bugs travels fast, look at GTA IV. Result = people put off.


Now factor in the disappointment with Unreal Tournament 3 from earlier in 2007 and you have legitimate reasons as to why Gears of War on the PC failed to make an impact and ultimately failed to sell.

The lesson Epic need to learn is a simple one - to give your games a better chance of selling release them on multiple platforms on the same date. That way no one loses out.

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..shame because it did look and play great on the pc..

Saints Row 2 pc - first impressions

If you were angry with gta iv's poor optimisation then you probably should smoke a joint or two before you take a look at Saints Row 2. My 8800gtx, q6600 quad and 4Gb of RAM might not have been able to play gta iv maxed out but it could run it on medium-high and it still looked fantastic. This is the first game that ive encountered that my rig struggles with even on medium settings. This could be understandable if Saints Row 2 would give crysis a run for its money in the visuals department but... well take a look and see..


Photobucket oh dear. and not a one off bad screen. take a look at a couple of others..

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Washed out palette and poorly defined objects, it really is quite terrible. Let me just say that my set up runs crysis and warhead on ultra / enthusiast at 1280 x 1024 (with no aa or v-sync admittedly) very, very well so it isn't due to a lack of technology on my part..



Now take a look at gta iv on my pc...

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So not the most impressive start for 2009's first significant release on the pc i'm sure you'll agree. And it doesnt look any better in motion either with a real lack of detail in your surroundings and a jerky camera that makes moving about and driving a bit disorientating. There also seems to be a real lack of animation, things certainly don't move about smoothly. Drop the settings right down and the framerate improves but it's a world apart from the smooth and silky framerate and incredible detail in gta iv.

Fortunately the soundtrack is more impressive. Nas's new york state of mind whilst navigating the start menu and karma chameleon booming whilst spraying unsuspecting members of the public in raw sewage being the highlights so far.

Mission wise so far its been, on the whole, great fun, i've not been on one yet that isnt completely over the top and gratuitous and most contain some genuinely amusing moments. Driving however feels loose, lightweight and is perhaps overly simplistic, or maybe i just find it like that because im so used to gta iv's more elaborate system. Or maybe not. I've also noticed a few bugs so far which left me no choice but to restart the mission. And bizarrely everyone has teeth like jaws from james bond. There must be a real dentist shortage in Stilwater.

So, to summarise, first impressions are a fun game hampered by some quite shockingly poor graphics and technical issues.

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