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Adrian Leigh Gordon's blog

4:28 PM on 02.26.2014

Take that, Soul Fjord!

tldr - something something very tired

So, earlier in the week I released an Ouya game called Bears Can't Drift. And so far, the response has been much more positive than I expected.

Take that, Soul Fjord!

I've spent the last two days collating feedback from all over the place, several different Ouya forums, Reddit, Facebook, Youtube, some people even managed to track down my work email and send feedback there, which I found both amazing and just a tiny bit... creepy.

Despite being positive, I have to say some of the feedback I've gotten has caught me off-guard. In particular the sheer amount of it, despite it being a very small game on a very small platform, the userbase has been a lot more vocal than I expected. And an overwhelming majority of people who've posted about the game have requested a dedicated single-player mode. Something that initially hadn't been planned on given the multiplayer focus of kart racer style games. But based on the feedback we've had it's something that's most definitely being considered now.

On top of that, while I can't actually discuss the details there is now a very good chance that the game will be seeing a lot more content added to it, I find the prospect of developing the game full-time to be incredibly exciting.

For a game that's not been really promoted that well (we're very inexperienced with that sort of thing) almost 450 downloads in a little under 72 hours was quite a shock, we've also shot up the Ouya O-Rank and currently rest at #29.

I cannot wait for all my other commitments over the next 2 weeks to be out of the way so that I can return to developing the game :D   read

3:55 PM on 02.21.2014

After 4 crazy months, a game I made is coming out on Wednesday

tldr - I hate Wednesdays, or something

EDIT: It was approved 2 days early, and is out right now!

What a whirlwind 4 (almost 5 now) months it's been for me, I planned to keep up my "Tales From the Backlog" blog, but in truth I've been playing next to nothing video-game wise (other than Hearthstone, but that's a whole other can of worms) because work has been utterly insane.

How insane? Well, it's Friday night and I just left the office at around 8:30PM and these days I consider that a reasonable time to leave the office. Between multiple bouts of client work and some personal problems, my hobby game development began to eat up almost all of the rest of my spare time until suddenly, I was looking at actually releasing a video game. A ridiculous prospect!

Actually they can, really well...

The game, called 'Bears Can't Drift' will release in an early beta form, as there's still a lot of work to be done but we feel it's in a good enough state that we're happy for other people to play it, on the 26th of February exclusively for the Ouya. It's also completely free.

Salmon Slalom

What began as a simple game jam project began to get more and more fleshed out and other people began expressing an interest in playing it, so after some honing and refining of the core mechanics and some incredible artwork courtesy of my colleague I'm finally able to show it off.

We felt the Ouya was a nice fit for the game, chief reasoning being that:
- It was free to publish to.
- The major focus of the game was split-screen multiplayer, making it a bit unsuited to PC.
- It was (after some kinks were ironed out) a very easy machine to work with.
- The Ouya team have actually been very supporting of us and offered us advice and feedback.

Drifting round these corners is fun as fuck, and I've had to play the game almost every day for 4 months to test it. Somehow it's still fun.

While the initial release will a little bare-bones (2 tracks, 2 powerups, 5 bears) we would really love to be able to add more content to the game, sadly our free time just dried up and we have to go back to client work. But hopefully soon we'll find time to return to it and add some more content and polish.

Cactus Canyon

What surprised me (and spurred me on during development) is that (aside from a top-down 2D game) there are no 4-player racing games on the Ouya, something I would've thought there would be by now. I know not everybody is positive towards the little Android-based cube, but there's quite a good variety of things on there, so that omission puzzled me. Both me and the other developer are big fans of 4 player kart racers, so we wanted to make sure the Ouya had one.

I'm a huge huge fan of Diddy Kong Racing, personally I think it's the best kart racing game ever made, by quite a distance. So I spent a long time playing Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Kart 64, Crash Team Racing and other similar games to try and work out what made them so fun, and I spent a lot of time honing and tweaking the drifting mechanic because I think it's a huge factor in what makes these games so much fun. I'm actually quite proud, almost all of the feedback I've received from people so far have commented on how fun the drifting mechanic is.

I've worked on a lot of game jam, university and client projects that resembled games before, but never actually released something that felt like a whole video-game that was mine, and not something I'd been paid to make by somebody else for a marketing campaign or some corporate training thing, or whatever. So I'm pretty hyped to finally get it out the door!

Maybe I'll find time to actually play some more games from my backlog now...   read

8:39 AM on 09.28.2013

Tales From the Backlog - I Heard It On My Radio

tldr - I hate Metroid or something

What a stark contrast to last month this has been. While some things are not looking as peachy as I'd like them I've seen a dramatic (although possibly temporary) up-turn at work with my business, which has given me lots of fun and potentially interesting things to work on but we've seen the release of what I (at least right now, will re-evaluate in a year or two) consider to be possibly the defining game of our generation and one I've enjoyed playing so much that I sank 50 hours into it in less than a week. But we'll get to that later.

On top of that, I'm moving forward with my game development hobby project that I've been toying with on the odd weekend for about 3 months now, so while I'm not getting my drink on evenings/weekends I've been toiling away at that, I'm currently knee-deep in camera and inventory systems while I drum up interest from colleagues in order to get some concept work started, which I have a writer and a (fantastic) concept artist on-board for and should start to see some inspiration that's a little more concrete than 3 years worth of compiled scribbled notes. 

It's exciting, and I'm excited. Hopefully there should be something 'real' to show around January but work is pretty hectic so who knows. Ill keep you all in the loop. It doesn't have a name yet, and most likely won't for a while but I will say that it's in a very traditional Survival Horror vein (by traditional I mean Alone in the Dark, Resident Evil 1/2/3, Silent Hill, Galerians, and some more obscure games like Carrier and D2) so expect (slightly modified) tank controls and fixed cameras.

And so I started this month with Metroid...

Metroid (NES)
Status: Complete

I'd certainly played Metroid before, but never made a real attempt to complete it, so I was pretty happy this came up on my random game picker, it's one of the classics in the NES library and one every retro fan should play. Or so I'm told. It needs very little introduction.

Heaps of fun, highly atmospheric considering how little there was to work with in terms of hardware and quite expansive, something else that was rare in those days. Seeking out all the various hidden items is as fun (and time consuming) as ever and frankly the only thing truly lacking here is the boss battles, which is understandable considering both the more subdued tone of the game as well as how much the simple NES hardware is being taxed.

Screenshots are so boring. So instead here's a video of somebody tearing the game a new arsehole inside of 16 minutes.

Unfortunately, there's one fatal flaw with playing it nowadays. Super Metroid exists and despite being a sequel, takes place in exactly the same location, follows exactly the same plot (addition of the baby Metroid from Metroid 2: Return of Samus aside) and see's you fighting the same bosses using the same weapons, it's essentially a shot-for-shot remake that improved every single aspect of the original to the point it's only worth playing the original if you're a die-hard fan or curious retro gamer who never got around to it.

Recommended: There's not much point. Kinda breaks my heart not to be able to fully recommend it but if you just want a Metroid fix play Super Metroid instead.

Battletoads/Double Dragon
Status: Complete

More NES goodness and while Battletoads may have defeated me their joint outing with the Lee twins did not. Much like the original Battletoads, for an NES game the level of graphical detail is pretty insane, especially if you know a little bit of how the hardware works. Without wanting to nerd out too much, having used a 6502 processor myself at times I almost refused to believe this was an NES game, and the original Battletoads looks even better, you could almost swear it was a 16-bit SNES game at times.

It plays much like Battletoads only not quite as difficult. Classic side-scrolling with some of context based interactivity such as throwing grenades back at enemies who throw them from small windows, or swinging from certain objects to avoid electricity shooting from the walls. Again, like Battletoads one of the areas this game shines is boss battles, with over-the-top cartoonish animation and relatively in-depth (for an NES game) boss mechanics (such as swinging from light fittings to avoid a charging attack) there's a good amount of variety in the game.

It's colourful, brash, garish and at times frustrating but I'll be damned if it wasn't a lot of fun. 

Recommended: Ehhh, sure. It's not Ninja Gaiden but it's a good larf.

Rogue Legacy
Status: Almost complete (on the last boss)

The premise for Rogue Legacy is pretty simple, you play each successive descendant (one after the other, as each one dies) of heroic knight who happened to have a debilitating ailment, and must overcome various randomly selected ailments and storm a randomly generated castle infested with evil creatures. 

Rogue Legacy seems like a pretty standard affair, platforming hack-and-slash action in the vein of Castlevania, only the castle is much smaller but provides variety through being randomly re-generated every time you enter it with a new descendant, who will also have different traits from the previous hero. These include things from Baldness through to Vertigo, Shortsightedness and Gigantism. Many of which have advantages, disadvantages or just serve a comedic purpose, and while ailments like Vertigo (which flips the screen upside down) wear out their welcome very quickly others provide more subtle gameplay differences. In addition, you also have the opportunity to spend gold gathered on your adventures to upgrade your inherited stats and unlock additional classes and abilities, not only that but the platforming is tight and responsive and really feels something akin to a modern-day Ghosts n Goblins which really helps elevate the game above being a very bog-standard affair. 

Giant flying eyeballs. They're everywhere these days.

Despite being relatively short and re-using most of its enemy types I found myself become quite addicted to Rogue Legacy and ended up spending well over 50 hours on a game I was initially hesitant to spend £8.99 on. It's well worth the asking price. The only criticism I could really launch at it is that there are too many Treasure rooms that only the Lich character class can complete, and that some of the traits (such as Hypergonadism, which prevents you from being knocked back) grant purely positive abilities and seem to go slightly against the spirit of the games premise which is that anybody can be a hero. But that's nit-picking territory, the game is fantastic.

Recommended: Yes.

Ys 1 + 2 ( Chronicles+ ) (only played part 1)
Status: Complete

Ys is an interesting deviation from the regular japanese style action RPG formula for sure. It follows a similar style to games like The Legend of Zelda and Alundra (although Ys actually predates a lot of similar games except for Zelda which came the year before, I'm playing the 2013 XSEED published PC remake, though), top-down hack-and-slash action, however, in Ys you have no attack button. You attack enemies by running into them, and must aim to hit at an angle or to the side because hitting head on allows the enemy to attack you as well. It's an odd premise that feels frustrating for the first few minutes but pretty soon you adjust, and (at least in this version of the game) it's so easy that it won't really matter once you gain a few levels and upgrade your equipment. The only real challenge in the game is some of the bosses, who are mostly enjoyable, interesting and nicely animated.

It's pretty short, but it's a lot of fun and doesn't require the usual massive time investment traditional jRPGs do.

The story is relatively simple but plays out at a relaxed pace, it involves the hero Adol seeking out the 6 ancient books of Ys which contain the secrets he will supposedly need in order to defeat the forces of evil plaguing the lands of Esteria. Nowadays it would be seen as fairly formulaic stuff, but most of the time you'll be dungeon-crawling anyway.

Ys 1 is pretty short, but it comes in a relatively cheap package that includes 1 and 2, so I never felt like I didn't get my monies worth. It's an enjoyable old-school romp that I suspect a large number of people never got around to trying, I'd say it's worth a go.

Recommended: Yes

Unsuccessful Attempts:

Fester's Quest (NES)
Got to the end of the first level, I'm going to have to do it at some point if I want to finish my entire NES collection... I think it might be the most unbearable game I have, at least the other bad games had something funny about them.

MirrorMoon EP (PC)
I only spent about an hour with MirrorMoon EP and the whole thing felt like that infamously long scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I never fully understood what was going on and while I might not have minded that I also found myself unable to progress and lacking the patience to find out why. It's a game that merits a few more attempts when I have some more spare time in the future, it's an interesting game for sure so I hate to cast it off after just an hours bewilderment. 

The game really is as impenetrable as the trailer makes it look. But you know what? That's not always a bad thing, the fact games like this exist is good.

and finally...
Grand Theft Auto V
Status: Complete (mostly, just stunts/hidden item collection stuff left to do)

You thought I was gonna write a huge piece on this, right? Wrong. There's not much left to say that hasn't been said in various reviews and comments sections. It's fucking amazing, takes every single aspect of GTA4 and improves upon it meaningfully and provided me with 45 hours of gameplay before I even began to feel like I'd had my fill, which these days is completely insane, and the multiplayer isn't even out yet.

Initially I thought it might be hard to like these two, I was wrong.

The mission variety, radio stations, characters, social commentary, humor, satire, animation, and graphics (some heavy aliasing aside) is top notch, and apart from a few small glitches (you'll often lose cars stored in your garage) and some nitpicky complaints (tennis is boring as shit, helicopter controls are a bit wobbly, only 6 'heist' style missions, only 2 of which actually play out the way they advertised, and a few other smaller things) this game is one you won't want to miss.

Just, buy this game. You need it in your life.

Recommended: There is no game this generation I would recommend to the general audience more-so than this. Buy it, you will NOT regret it.

With that I'd normally bid you farewell, instead I'm going to MELT YOUR FACE! With an excellent band I discovered last night at a local gig, NeuronSpoiler.

What have you been playing this month, and how has it treated you? I want to know.   read

9:35 AM on 08.27.2013

Tales From the Backlog - A Slower, More Tactical Month also ITCHING

tldr - I hate moving house. No really, I do.

So it's been a pretty frantic month for me in terms of everything BUT video games. I've had some personal issues, I've had moving house to deal with, I've had to travel for Street Fighter tournaments (that I didn't do very well at!), all sorts. 

Moving in particular has been a complete fucking disaster. Not that it's at all relevant to this post but what the hell, might as well fill space with more words! The short version of the longer story is I almost broke my hand in a fight with my brother (yay family!) which made the actual process of moving more difficult (I was at home between houses, so had to move twice) only to find that the place I'd moved to was in a disaster state. Holes in the bathroom floor, ants in the dining room, and now in the last week we're discovering: potentially wasps in the bathroom ceiling and FLEAS. Fucking FLEAS. In the carpets (and now, probably in all of my clothes and bedding). So my nerves have been completely shot between being very phobic of wasps (anything that buzzes near my ears or stings or both) and the madness of the itching caused by fleas (which initially we thought might be bed bugs or mosquito bites), on top of that I'm experiencing one of the worst psychological downturns I've had. Turns out my regular ol' depression may have been mis-diagnosed Bipolar 2. Or something. Whatever. Doctors, eh?

I almost choked on drink when I saw this, the last place I expected to see a Prisoner/Iron Maiden reference (don't know the writer's intent, either one is awesome)

So yeah, I felt the need to point some of that out not to excuse but to give a little context as I've noticed my comments here a little more aggressive/offensive than usual lateley. I don't mean to be a dick (well I do, just not as much as I've been lately). Sorry.

But despite all this I have actually found some time here and there to put in a few hours playing some games from my backlog and I like to vomit my opinion (as you are all aware) on things so let's have a look at what I've been playing this month (or nearly 2 months, anyway)

Fair warning, a lot of this is actually not from my backlog at all! I'm a complete liar. Most of these are new-ish games.

Project X Zone (3DS)
Status: Complete

Sums up the whole game, basically.

I had intended to do a full review of this, but I mostly completed it and then forgot about it in the whirlwind of other activity this month. So here's the short version.

If you have any love for the characters who appear in this game, and don't absolutely despise tactical RPG's, this game will win you over. It is purely an excuse for fanservice and nothing more. Provided you're ok with that going in (I didn't expect anything more than I got) you shouldn't be disappointed. You'll be too busy laughing at all the jokes and having fun with the bizarre situations a lot of the characters find themselves in. Whether it's Heihachi breaking into Dmitri's Castle and helping himself to the buffet, Bruno Dellinger being himself. There's a certain kind of charm to fighting Nemesis, Lord Raptor and several T-Type Tyrants on the front lawn of The House of the Dead mansion alongside a dude from Zombie Revenge.

Boom! Yeah, there's a lot of jokes like this.

But I should stress, unless you're willing to forget about depth, and don't mind the fact that what little story there is is literally just an excuse to have all these characters sucked into each other's various home dimensions, you may not find much to like here. As an sRPG, there's not a lot of depth and almost none of the missions present any real challenge or danger. You cannot lose units as a result of them dying, nor do they really level up (they do, but you play the missions in order from 1 - End so your people will naturally level up properly, and they don't gain many abilities or options as they do) nor is there any kind of hub location from which you can access other content. You just play the story missions in order and that's that.

Morrigan confirmed for peado...

But this lack of depth does have a plus, if you're not a huge sRPG fan (such as myself) but still like all the characters involved, you will find a nice relaxed and entertaining game here that I highly recommend to anybody who looks through the character list and likes at least half of them. I had no idea who some of them were, and was a little worries that might impact my enjoyment but on the contrary I now want to play games such as Sakura Wars and .Hack. 

Characters like Frank West and Bruno Dellinger are a delight among the more super-powered characters, and provide many laughs. 

Recommended? Sort of. Only if you're a fan of a good number of franchises represented here.

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos (PS1)
Status: Complete

This one was chosen by my random game picker that I use to help me clear retro backlog without being impeded by my inability to make decisions. 

It's pretty janky even as early 3D platformers go. It's got a charming aesthetic and were it not for the awful tank controls I might have enjoyed it a lot more. I'm a huge proponent of tank controls, but in a platformer? No thanks.

Pretty standard early platformer/action-adventure fare, you have a few worlds based mostly on the old cliche's, fire, ice, 'crystal', etc. And each one has a good set of levels that vary wildly in difficulty, followed by a world boss. Some of these are more fun than others, none of them except the final boss is super difficult, and if you're willing to put in effort finding all the fuzzy little Gobbo creatures there are some bonus areas and powerups to find.

I'm just gonna leave PxZ screens everywhere, cos whatever!

Overall, if you've played every other retro platformer out there and are a huge fan of the genre, you might find something to like here. Otherwise, it's not terrible but it's mediocre enough that you might want to avoid it. There's nothing special to see here. Which is a grand shame given the history behind Argonaut Games. 

Recommended? Ehhhh. Not really.

Prison Architect (PC)
Status: N/A

This is a quirky little title from the Darwinia/Defcon/Uplink guys for anybody who hasn't heard of those, go check them out. Prison Architect opens with a tutorial that covers a subject which hits harder than I'd given the game credit for. It looks like a light-hearted romp that doesn't really want to make you think too hard about what it is you're actually doing but then it opens with a tutorial that has you building an electric chair and executing a convicted murdered. Whether intentional or not this actually made me sit and think about my life for a few moments. 

Regardless, the game is a lot of fun once you get into it, but it does take a good 4-5 hours of sitting through youtube videos and looking up 'efficient' prison plans in order to really get a functioning facility in place. Once you get there, you can have a lot of fun expanding the prison and seeing how all the various inmates react and interact with each other and the guards, as well as seeing the funnier side of a lot of bugs and glitches. Once they get a more in-depth tutorial in-place and some better AI routines, I can see it being easy to play, but very difficult to master and a charming strategy game which may even be a modern rival to Theme Hospital. Definitely check it out, just maybe wait until it's not in alpha anymore and is actually completed (I guess sometime next year?).

Recommended? Very much so, just not while it's still in early alpha stages.

Sword of the Stars: The Pit (PC)
Status: N/A

Initially I bought this during the Steam Summer Sale because I mistook it for Teleglitch which I also want to play. Thankfully, it was a happy accident. The Pit is a somewhat diluted Rogue-like that see's you venturing into an abandoned facility in order to reach the bottom level in hopes of finding a cure for some mysterious disease (or something).

It plays quite similar to something like Dungeons of Dredmore, only with a little more 'bite' as a Rogue-like. You have to progress through levels of the facility, each one containing a random assortment of rooms, monsters, door traps, lockboxes, cookers, batter rechargers etc etc. These elements are not tailored to your class or skillset, and so you really are at the mercy of random number generation. There's nothing here to stop the game throwing 10 high level locked boxes at you when you're playing a mercenary who might not be able to open them, starving you of resources. Or giving you a ton of unhelpful resources and then not enough health/ammo. It's a signature of Rogue-likes that people often hate, but I love it. This game kept me coming back for more when I initially had decided to stop playing it and finish Surgeon Simulator, by the time I actually closed the window I'd been playing for about 4 hours.

Combat is turn-based and methodical, you have access to a decent inventory system, the game is very easy to actually play and includes a helpful tutorial, combined with the Steam community guides and item lists you can get your brain around the crafting system quite easily (although finding all the necessary resources is another matter) and in that sense this is probably one of the easier RPG-esque Rogue-likes to get into (aside from Dungeons of Dredmore) but that doesn't make its sting any less potent. You might not fall down the stairs and break your neck because you're encumbered, ala Nethack, but you certainly will back yourself into a corner if you're not cautious enough or waste resources and be torn to shreds. One of this games favorite tricks seems to be punishing carelessness with disease from animal bites, which can be very difficult to cure without the right equipment, and WILL kill you if left untreated. The way in which Rogue-likes make you manage resources, is hilariously much closer to "Survival Horror" than most self-described "Survival Horror" games these days.

Recommended? Yes. Especially if you get it on sale or as part of a bundle.

Infestation: Survivor Stories (Previously titled: The War Z) (PC)
Status: N/A

I'm sorry. I just had to know. I had to know, could this POSSIBLY be ANY WORSE than DayZ (yeah I think DayZ is a big heaping pile of dog mess in it's implementation, despite being a great concept, it's unplayable, hopefully the standalone will bring a lot more in the way of polish).

God can't save you from The War Z, Erica.

Somehow it managed it. This game is so bad that its only possible function is to be a measuring stick for the depths to which you will stoop "because it's on sale".

Recommended? NOPE.

The Walking Dead - 400 Days (PC)
Status: Completed

If you liked The Walking Dead game at all, you need to play the DLC. It's fantastic. There's not too much more to say, gameplay is more of the same and you follow 5 different people through small anthology-style tales along different points in the timeline spanning 400 days from the day of the outbreak. Saying much more than this I feel would spoil it. But rest assured, this is well worth your £5.

Recommended? YES!

Surgeon Simulator 2013 (PC)
Status: Completed

Most people know what this is by now, but I want to mention it to re-iterate what many others have said. This game is joyous. Absolutely joyous. The concept is very simple, you play the disembodied hand of a surgeon and must pilot (for want of a better word) it to success on a series of different life-saving operations such as a heart transplant. This sounds pretty simple but the challenge is that you have to operate the wrist and fingers separately, and must to it with precision so as to avoid injuring the patient too much.

What ensues is one of the funniest gaming experiences of my entire life, and it manages to do it without a single line of dialogue (well, there is some actually). But it also manages to be frustrating, in that very specific "I MUST try one more time" manner, that sees you almost giving up before you finally crack the challenge. There aren't many levels, in fact there is only three operations. However, once you've completed them you get to challenge them again in 'Ambulance Mode' which involves performing each operation in the back of a speeding ambulance as various objects fly around the environment in time with the vehicles movement. The first time I played this mode, I was laughing so much as the donor heart flew out the back of the ambulance via the open door that I thought I was going to choke to death on my own enjoyment.

Recommended? Cannot recommend this game enough. Legitimate, no joke GOTY contender. So far anyway.

McPixel (PC)
Status: N/A

Another odd game. McPixel is essentially a series of small, rapid-fire adventure game puzzles contained within a single screen, in a style reminiscent of Wario Ware. Each game consists of 6 screen which you have a very small time window to solve, once you've solved each puzzle you can continue to the next set. These puzzles are chosen randomly from a pool again much like Wario Ware, and many of them have 'silver' and 'gold' solutions which help unlock more puzzles, there are also a ton of downloadable puzzles. Many of these puzzles are homages to that style of obscure adventure game puzzles found in things like Monkey Island or Mystery of the Druids, and contain many pop-culture references as well.

The game has a very odd and stylised (surrealist, not at all politically correct, at times disgusting) sense of humor that I imagine some people will probably not 'get'. I found it amusing at times mostly just bizarre. In a good way, albeit. It really is a perplexing experience but it can be had for less than a dollar so it's well worth spending an hour with just for the spectacle of it.

Recommended? Sure, why not.

Shadowrun Returns (PC)
Status: N/A

Again I'd intended to do a full review of this, but just don't have the time/inclination so I'll give you my impressions, prefaced with the context that I contributed $150 to the Kickstarter but intend to treat it as if I'd paid retail price ($20 I believe, it's £14.99)

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Shadowrun Returns, despite constantly feeling as if it was a little 'lite' or a little bit undercooked. It keeps very much to the style of the old SNES/Genesis games, so if you're expecting a full-on cRPG in the style of Fallout/Baldur's Gate, look elsewhere, you won't find it here. It's a strategy RPG reminiscent of games like Fallout Tactics or Final Fantasy Tactics. Using a grid-based, turn-based combat system.

The characters and dialogue in the game are fantastic, and very much meet my idea of what Shadowrun should be, very characterful and a joy to read through. The music is good (if a little forgettable compared to the SNES soundtrack) but by all accounts, I expect a lot of people to be disappointed/upset by the combat. I found it satisfying and reasonably engaging, but not particularly deep. But then I'm not a big fan of strategy RPGs of this style and I'm not very good at them. Despite that, the only mission which posed any real challenge was the final one, and I only died twice. So don't expect a hard game either, on normal difficulty anyway. The combat itself is quite basic, you will mostly be moving to cover, blasting people, and maybe using a class ability or two if required, there's very little in the way of unique boss mechanics, or specific mission strategies.

Things that a lot of people are used to but which serve less of a purpose to the actual game, like free-roaming, huge hub locations, and expansive character customization are nowhere to be found, but not exactly 'missing'. They don't necessarily feel missing, though. The game does a fantastic job of immersing you in the complex, cyber-punk fantasy setting without overloading you with the finer details of the world, and it looks fantastic to boot.

Despite feeling like a 'lite' version of a more expansive game, Shadowrun Returns' Dead Man's Switch campaign manages to be an enjoyable and satisfying 7-10 hours worth of immersive world, one that I would gladly revisit. And that's the good news, the bulk of the teams development work seems to have gone into the editor which allows users to create their own content using a powerful toolset reminiscent of Neverwinter Nights. Additionally, an estimated 4-6 hours worth of additional content is being created as a free piece of DLC, The Berlin Campaign. Combine that with the potential for user-generated content and you have one heck of an investment if you like the world of Shadowrun. Just don't go in expecting a hugely lengthy, deep RPG in the traditional cRPG style, because you won't find it here.

There are also some issues with saves (checkpoint based, no manual save/load) but despite peoples complaints I never had any real issues apart from Steam throwing out my cloud save for some reason.

It's a great game, but be warned if you're heavily into strategy RPGs, or are expecting a broader experience, like Project X Zone you will find Shadowrun Returns a little lacking. But considering the development budget of less than 2 million dollars (once you account for fees and taxes) it's an incredible accomplishment. 

Recommended? Heartily.

SmashTV (NES)
Status: Complete

What can I say? It's SmashTV. On the Nintendo. It's a remarkably impressive version of the game given the hardware, though. Just, don't bother if you have access to a better version.


Recommended? Ehhh. Yes, but if you can play another version of the game do that instead.

So that's about it for this month. I've not had a chance to play anything else although I am continuing to churn through my NES collection and am considering selling it once I have finished it all. I'm currently about halfway through. Then I'll move focus onto another console.

What have you been up to this month?   read

4:19 AM on 07.11.2013

Pre-Evo 2k13 Birthday Hype Barometer

tldr - I hate fightan' games or something

It's that time of year again folks! No, not Christmas. Better.

Evolution Championship Series 2013 and just like it did last year, and the year before. It falls on my birthday weekend, what more could a fighting game fan ask for?

So let's get this hype train rolling, for those of you uninitiated check out the "How to Watch" guide which also explains a little bit more about that Evo is:

If you've never tuned in to an Evo before I highly recommend that you give it a go, it's so exciting even if you don't know too much about fighting games and the level of commentary nowadays is pretty top notch. I recommend scrolling down to the schedule below and tuning in for at least some of the UMVC3 pools and KOF semi/quarter finals, as well as the KOF, UMVC3 and SF4 finals on the Sunday. 

For those of you who are initiated, I don't need to explain that this is the biggest, hypest fighting game tournament of the year and every single year without fail there is some surprise exciting moments nobody saw coming, last year we had MameSpider's Spiderman bringing the house down, and then the full power Genki-Dama that was the King of Fighters 13 Grand Finals between Cafe Id MadKOF and IGL Bala, which if you haven't seen you should watch. It was so incredible it actually completely changed my mind about the game. As well as the Super Turbo Tournament of Legends and a whole host of other awesome stuff. Oh, and on top of that a marriage proposal! Too much hype.

"Reset the bracket!"

This year we've got a plethora of world class players across a huge number of games, whether you want to see CDjr take down a slew of Scorpion players (In both MK9 and Injustice), or Daigo reclaim past glory at SF4 (or Super Turbo!) or ChrisG cry his eyes out because he's going to get bopped at Marvel, there's going to be something for everyone.

What's that, Nintendo fans? I forgot to mention Smash Bros? Well that's here this year as well, with the 3rd biggest set of participants no less. I often hate on Smash Bros. and it's community, but there's no denying they earned their place at Evo this year with their generous charity donations, and I'll be expecting great things from players like Mango and Armada. Thankfully Nintendo decided to let the game be streamed, and I'll be looking for it to be as hype as can be.

Even the anime fighter fans have something to look forward to this year, with Persona 4 Arena taking the stage, although unfortunately not getting much stream time, it's sure to be exciting regardless. I cannot wait to see what BananaKen and LordKnight have up their sleeves.

The game selection this year is bursting at the seems, there's so much that it can't adequately be covered across three separate streams over two entire days (plus the finals on Sunday)

That's 7 whole days of content across just 3 days. That's a fuckton.

Sadly, not every game can get a huge amount of stream time, but for those of you disappointed by the schedule the community has you covered as well. There's going to be additional streams for Street Fighter x Tekken, The Super Turbo Games as well as Tekken Tag Tournament 2, all detailed in the "How to Watch" guide I posted at the top. Amazing stuff from the community this year, 6 different streams and I'm hearing mention of at least another 2 that are going to pop up for various side-events.

I'm getting hype already and I'll be tuning in tomorrow to try and catch every inch of the action. I'm between houses at the moment so I'm sat here with a rather precarious setup involving my PC, a really old monitor and a guitar amp as a speaker. Nothing will stop me watching Evo this year!

This year I have 2 friends attending the event as well, SleepsJR who's already overconfident that his brackets are 'free', and Cheap/Cheech/Quiche Wizard, who has actually made waves at Evo previously, coming Top 32 back in 2011 at vanilla Marvel 3. He's hungry this year and has a heck of a road ahead of him with Viscant standing in his way to get out of pools. Can he do it? I'm gonna be cheering for him and hoping to see his Magneto/Morrigan/Dr. Doom on stream.

Get Ready

As well as that I'm hoping to see a lot more, notably I want to catch as much of the ST Games as possible, the ST Revival crowd ran a fantastic even last year with the Tournament of Legends and while it's a shame ST won't be getting any main stage attention this year it should still be able to provide some incredible matches. Kusumondo's Honda was an absolute delight to watch last year.

I also want to see some upsets in Marvel, this is the world stage, I want to see ChrisG losing to Filipino Champ, and then Filipino Champ losing to somebody else after that, somebody unknown. That would be the perfect end to their reign of terror. 

Will we see ChrisG's final form this year?

From Smash and P4A, I just want to see some hype matches, I'm going to be really excited to see what those communities have to offer particularly the Smash crowd as this is the first time they've been at Evo for a long time and hopefully they'll put on a good show for us.

Whatever happens we're going to see some amazing stuff on every stream and it's going to be impossible to catch all of it. I cannot fucking wait for tomorrow, I'll be nursing a hangover from my birthday outing tonight and getting hype for SF4 and Mortal Kombat pools, I might tune in to some Smash pools as well if my friend SleepsJR pops up.

What about you? What do you want to see? Are you going? Who do you want to see win what games? I wanna hear what you are hype for this year. If you want something to watch to get your hype meter up, I highly recommend either the KOF13 finals I posted above, or the Super Turbo Tournament of Legends Top 8, incredible play from everyone involved.

My Project X Zone post has been delayed due to all sorts of things happening this week. I'll probably get around to it next week. Also apologies for some of the formatting, I just couldn't get it to work properly.

12:22 PM on 07.04.2013

Tales From the Backlog - Lair Is An Unplayable Piece Of Crap, And NES Games

tldr - I hate Lair or something

With a relative dearth of games I'm interested in lately, and just new games in general I, like many others have been raiding their back catalog's in order to squeeze a few more drops of fun-juice out of games we might otherwise never play again (or at all if you're anything like me).

Completely unable to make such an important and complex decision as "What to play?", I rely mostly on a random game generator at the moment although I've been focusing on trying to clear my NES collection. So I'm gonna talk briefly some of what I've played in the last month or so and whether or not I could recommend them to anybody:

Bart vs The Space Mutants - NES
Status: Completed

Frustrating controls, terrible and repetitive music, unclear and outright bizarre puzzles at times and sub-par basic platforming make this game one to be avoided. Yeah, most people know this game is terrible anyway but like a couple others on this list, I wanted it out of the way. Only play this if you're a masochist, game historian, nutjob, idiot, or the world's biggest Simpsons fan and you've literally run out of Simpson's games to play. The worst part about this, is there there are in fact worse Simpson's games...

Recommended? Absolutely not.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York - NES
Status: Completed

Another absolutely terrible NES game. Again, purely wanted to tick it off the list. I did end up having a small amount of fun with this game though, just because of how ridiculous it is, a few pints made playing this a laugh. Awful controls, abysmal level design, broken and buggy enemies, fucking bizarre bosses and shit music.

Recommended? Yes. But only for the sheer spectacle of it. You have to see some of it to believe it.

My expression for most of the game

The Battle of Olympus - NES
Status: Incomplete

This one is actually pretty decent. It's got mildly awkward controls that take a bit of getting used to, but once you start to upgrade your equipment by meeting the various gods you're able to pretty easily take down most enemies and bosses, provided you figure out a few tricks here and there. It's got reasonable graphics for an NES game and pretty varied locations, enemies and bosses. It gets frustrating in areas but overall I had a lot of fun with it so far, I'm on the home stretch but don't have access to my PC just yet having just moved. Yes, I'm playing these on emulator despite owning the carts. It's a solid action-adventure with some RPG elements.

Recommended? Yeah, just don't expect Zelda or Contra levels of quality.

Limbo - XBLA
Status: Complete

What a beautiful game. I was a little skeptical at first simply because I was worried the core gameplay might be too simple and a little boring, but there are some fiendishly clever puzzles and only a tiny amount of frustration to be had. The controls work well, nothing special but they get the job done, there's not too much need to high levels of precision. The world itself is gorgeous, creepy and uninviting, and the HUD-less gameplay helped with immersion, I feel we don't see enough HUD-less games. 

I was reminded of a lot of similar classic games, Heart of Darkness, Another World, Flashback and even of the cult British kids TV show, Trapdoor. 

Recommended? Absolutely.

Perfect Dark HD - XBLA
Status: Incomplete

I didn't like this when it was originally released on the Nintendo 64, but rather like Metal Gear Solid 2 I think as I've changed a lot personally since I was what, 14 or 15 when this released? I've done somewhat of a switcheroo of opinion.

I've been really enjoying playing it fresh, the HD version looks crisp and nice, there's some varied and interesting levels and while I can forgive some of the slightly frustrating aspects of it given it's age I do wish they'd made more of an effort to re-do the controls  for the re-release. I'm currently shooting for the achievements so I'm only about halfway through it on Perfect Agent difficulty and it's really starting to kick my arse.

Solid shooting action, some interesting puzzles and objectives scattered throughout a nicely varied set of locations. Great game.

Recommended? Highly.

The Last of Us - PS3
Status: Completed

I don't need to say too much about this, I wrote a lengthy blog about it a little while ago. I didn't talk too much about the game itself though but I will say I had my issues with it. But most of them were issues of potential, there was a lot of things I wanted The Last of Us to be (Survival Horror, for one) which it just wasn't. But I can't bring myself to let that nitpicking get in the way for once. Which is rare for me.

Highly polished stealth action with some really unique twists and turns in both gameplay and the exceedingly high quality plot.

Recommended? Abso-fucking-lutely. The Last of Us is great and while I feel a slew of 10/10's might be a little too much, you should still definitely play it.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 - 3DS
Status: Incomplete

Only a couple worlds in, I got it free with my new 3DS and have been playing it while waiting for Project X Zone to arrive. This is the second game in this blog to surprise me. I did not like NSMB1 very much and so imagine my surprise when I had a big childish grin on my face as I stomped my way through the first world. It's got solid platforming controls that perhaps don't quite come close to the classic Mario Bros, Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World, but are still responsive and slick enough to guide you through the games interesting and entertaining levels, a lot of the old nostalgic enemies are back (as well as some of the more bizarre and less interesting ones) and are just as fun to stomp on. There's a somewhat bizarre emphasis on collecting coins, though, and it seems too easy for the most part so far. But that's ok.

Recommended? I wouldn't pay £35 for it, but yes. 

Status: A piece of shit. 

I thought Bart vs The Space Mutants and Home Alone 2 were bad. Holy fuck they look like retro classics compared to LAIR. I believe LAIR was a launch PS3 game (although I'm not sure about the US, as EU PS3 launch was delayed 6 months) and I remember it being heavily criticised for it's fucking awful Sixaxis control scheme.

"Oh don't worry, they updated it to use traditional flying controls. It's fine now." a fan of the game advised me as I picked it up for something like £4. The controls are fucking unusable, the game is borderline unplayable. You control a dragon rider who's job is usually to perform some bullshit tasks on a large battlefield, such as taking out enemy dragons or large units, protecting barge's as they move slowly down a river, etc.

This fish is less slippery than the controls in LAIR

It's got some interesting set pieces and locations, but as a launch game both the framerate and graphics are pretty abysmal, even for a launch game. There's next to nothing to be found here in terms of plot or story at least as far as I got into the game.

The game uses somewhat standard flight controls, you've got a boost button and an airbrake, as well as looking around to determine your direction. But the dragon turns and sways like a fucking zeppelin caught in an updraft. It's nearly impossible to maneuver precisely enough to initiate combat with enemy dragon riders, and when you do it becomes a clusterfuck of unresponsive sixaxis bullshit and an asinine combat minigame that has you pressing buttons to block the enemy dragons attack and counter-attack, but it's usually more effective to just mash on the "Breath fire" button.

Lair is an unplayable piece of shit.

Recommended? Not even if somebody offers it to you for free.

That's the highlights, I also played some other NES games and attempted (and failed) to get into Advance Wars again. My random game selector this time, moving away from the NES stuff for a bit, has given me Croc: Legend of the Gobbos to play through. Which should be interesting because I know one of the developers, and remember hating it as a child.

What have you been playing? How are your back catalog's looking? Do you have a lot to play or just a handful of things? I want to hear what you've all been playing and what you thought of it.   read

6:01 AM on 07.01.2013

I Finally Bought A 3DS: Honest First Impressions From A Late Adopter

tldr - I hate Nintendo or something

After blogging about The Last of Us (no spoilers in the post) recently I seem to have caught the blogging bug again. Who knows how long it will last? I'm like that, I'll get into something suddenly and then a random period of time later drop it like a hot rock because something shiny caught my eye. 

So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give an honest impression of the 3DS purchasing experience from the point of view of somebody who isn't a massively devoted Nintendo fan, at least anymore, I was up until the Gamecube fizzled out. I'm approaching this with a more general set of gaming interests, for which the original DS (although I didn't bite until the DS Lite was £100) was perfect. I got a solid set of titles from third parties as well as some first party titles that that felt fresh and new, such as Animal Crossing: Wild World or Pokemon Diamond or Black, as well as Soulsilver. I love my DS and got a heck of a lot more use out of it than I ever did my PSP, despite having a handful of games on PSP I poured hundreds of hours into I got more overall out of the DS.

So the 3DS seems like a dead cert, right? Well... Maybe not. These are first impressions only, mind.

First up, what prompted my decision to buy a 3DS given my (at times vocal) apparent lack of interest in Nintendo's first party titles? 

Usually my criteria for buying a console that doesn't provide me with 6+ games I feel like I MUST have is as follows: A minimum of one price drop, preferably two and a minimum of 3+ titles I want to play. There are edge cases though, for example I bought my 360 before a price drop almost purely for Dead Rising and Lost Planet (and because I got sick of waiting for the PS3, it was delayed 6 months in Europe) but it worked out because there was enough titles I was mildly interested in but could take or leave. And then obviously long term it worked out amazingly well.

So what was the catalyst for me buying a 3DS? Project X Zone, and both Shin Megami Tensei 4 and Soul Hackers confirmed for European release. As well as a price point of £119 on for the XL version. So as soon as I got paid this month I bought one. 

But it wasn't as smooth a transaction as I'd wanted. Firstly Amazon stepped in and upped the price to £140 the day I got paid, which irked me but I'd already made the decision to purchase and they threw in a free copy of NSMB2. So whatever.

But then Nintendo stepped in and decided that NOT including a charger with the unit was a great idea. Sure, you could pin this on the ill-informed consumer but everybody I had asked had informed me that the 3DS included a charger, so I was very surprised to find out that the XL version did not. That's another £10 I had to shell out for a third party charger as no local stores had official chargers, and only 1 store (out of the 4 I checked) even had 3DS chargers at all. 

So all in all, having been gipped out of £31 over the price I thought I was going to pay I wasn't in the best of moods and was down almost exactly the amount of money it would have taken me to try one of the much praised first party titles that I now probably won't buy at all. Outside of the free copy of NSMB2 I got which I didn't want. 

On top of that, I was then prevented from trying Monster Hunter 3 which I wasn't sure about, having never managed to get on with any previous Monster Hunter games but still wanted to try again. I picked it up on impulse when I bought the charger and was informed by the guy at the counter the game 'required' a Circle Pad Pro. I wasn't sure if it did require it, or simply had an option to make use of it, but now I was unsure and unwilling to risk £35 on it to find out. Why didn't I just buy a Circle Pad Pro? Well, in addition to the money I had to spend on a charger, the store clerk informed me that they didn't have any. Apparently Circle Pad Pro for the 3DS XL are near impossible to find in the UK. Nice. This also meant that I couldn't buy Resident Evil: Revelations, either.

Good job Amazon/Nintendo/My own stupidity!

With that out of the way, I just want to clarify on my lack of interest in first party titles and how it can completely change one's opinion on the machine itself. 

I don't hate Nintendo, or whatever else people want to think, and I despise the fact that any opinion not Pro-Nintendo seems to be taken as Anti. I just feel like having grown up with these franchises, Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Pokemon, and then later Animal Crossing and Pikmin etc that by this point I've seen more or less everything Nintendo has to offer, and their titles are coming across to me as a little stale, in some cases outright boring and yes I'm going to use that dreaded word - 'rehashed'. There have been exceptions, I bought a Wii to play Mario Galaxy (and some other games) and despite being delayed it was one of the freshest and most enjoyable platforming experiences I'd had in many years, especially as generally I don't like 3D platformers much. Twilight Princess on the other hand pretty much cemented my opinion that I was done with Nintendo games for a little while, then stuff like New Super Marios Bros. came along and I just wanted nothing to do with it. So I stuck to third party titles for the remainder of my time with the Wii, while enjoying their handheld offerings on the DS a lot more than the console titles. 

So with that in mind, the landscape of games from my point of view on the 3DS is pretty barron. There are some select Nintendo titles I would want to play but each have something keeping me away. The Mario and Zelda titles I simply don't want, especially re-release titles like Zelda Ocarina of Time or Mario 64 3D, games I didn't much like when they came out in the first place. Then there is stuff like Animal Crossing which seems fun, but I still have Wild World on the DS and that's perfectly fine for me. Kid Icarus (also uses Circle Pad Pro), and Fire Emblem seem fun, but watching back some videos and playing Fire Emblem's demo I don't know if they'd hold my interest long enough to part with £38 and £35 respectively. 3DS games are bonkers expensive here in the UK. And that's pretty much been my attitude to all the Nintendo stuff I've currently seen on the 3DS. It all looks good, but it's either not for me or I've got something similar I'm happy to play in it's stead.

Then we move over to the third party titles. There's a bit more to interest me here.
Firstly there's Resident Evil Revelations and Monster Hunter 3. Both of which require the Circle Pad Pro and both of which are on home consoles as well, so unfortunately for the 3DS I'll be buying neither and just getting Revelations on 360 and Monster Hunter 3 some ways down the line when I eventually buy a WiiU for Bayonetta 2. Then you have stuff like Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, Castlevania: LoS: Mirror of Fate, Liberation Maiden, Code of Princess, Devil Survivor: Overclocked, Tales of the Abyss and Etrian Odyssey 4. All of which look fantastic and I'll probably pick up sometime in the future provided they are available in England, I don't think all of them are. So between that and the three titles I bought the console for, there is actually a good amount to keep me going, even if I don't feel like hunting down a Circle Pad Pro XL. Which are not that hard to find on eBay, but they are all chinese knock-offs and STILL cost upwards of £15, £22 for an official one.

Now we're onto the console itself. With which I am equal parts impressed, unimpressed and bewildered. 

I won't talk too much about the 3D, as that's been done to death. Suffice it to say I have great difficulty seeing 3D with movies, but can actually see it on the 3DS (obviously because it works very differently). However, anything above a very low setting makes my eyes strain painfully and if you don't hold the unit perfectly still you get a bizarre effect which very quickly made my eyes hurt and started giving me a headache. So this feature will remain firmly in the OFF position the majority of my play time. It also drains the battery a lot quicker. Waste of development time and money, in my opinion.

I'm going to go over the physical unit in bullet points, because it got too cluttered:

- The physical unit is reasonably comfortable to hold, the XL is a good size in my hands, although the bottom left corner digs into my palm slightly when I used the thumbstick.

- I don't like portable thumbsticks, they suck and only encourage more 'home console' style experiences that I don't really want from a portable console. But, this has to be the most comfortable portable analogue stick I've ever used. Well done, Nintendo. If the d-pad was on-top and the stick underneath, it'd be perfect.

- The Start/Select buttons are in an odd position that isn't entirely comfortable, especially if you're trying to hold the unit still for the 3D effect, but that's not really an issue.

- The power button is more or less impossible to press accidentally, which is always nice on handhelds.

- The speakers are of a decent quality, but they don't go loud enough for me, a tiny little boost would have been perfect.

- I was glad to see it support an SD card, and even happier to see the XL unit comes with a 4GB one.

- The stylus is the same as the old DS but the touch screen itself feels a lot more responsive, which is great. Although again, difficult to use the unit one-handed with a stylus while using the 3D effect.

- Cameras suck. I wasn't expecting any kind of quality but I found them largely unable to perform the demo tasks the unit came with. It took several photos to recognise my face and generate a Mii character from it, and I found the AR card game thing only really functions if you're able to keep the unit very still. It's interesting tech, but much like the 3D I feel doesn't fucking belong here and was probably a waste of time and money.

- Lastly, want to hammer on again about it not coming with a charger. It's a fucking shambles that the unit doesn't come with one. It's not like you can shove AAA batteries into it. The unit is completely unusable out of the box.

Moving away from the hardware and onto the software side, this is where the unit disappointed me most I think. It really shows that Nintendo don't seem to have any idea what they are doing, and are just doddering along doing what they've always been doing while trying to appear 'hip' for the 'kidz'. The periphery stuff, face raiders, pointless Mii software and other bits and pieces can be happily ignored (especially since the camera is so shit you would never want to use it to actually take photos) so this being unappealing isn't an issue so long as the menus are functional and for the most part they are. It's sometimes unclear when you can/can't navigate purely with the d-pad but that's not too much of an issue as most of this stuff I personally will never ever use anyway.

The eShop on the other hand is a different matter. It's pretty bad. It's been evident for a while that Nintendo doesn't know how to integrate these kinds of services comfortably, but even the Wii Shop was better than this. It's incredibly difficult to find anything, everything takes a long time to load, and even longer to download. It's nice that Nintendo is finally more on-board with offering Demos, but why they felt the need to stick with memory 'blocks' is beyond me. It's got a 4GB SD card jammed into the side slot, just display it in MB/KB, that's got to be a whole lot easier nowadays, surely? 

There looks to be some good games floating about on the eShop but it's very difficult to browse easily and discover things without going on the internet for recommendations, the storefront is abysmal, easily the worst digital storefront of the major consoles that I've used (everything but the WiiU). 

It doesn't help that they follow the same trend as Microsoft, by being more expensive. It would be cheaper for me to go into town on the bus and buy Fire Emblem at the most expensive shop in town than it would be from the eShop, including bus fare. And probably quicker too, with the speed at which the 3DS downloaded demos. All in all, I'd say the eShop itself is utter garbage, the content might not be but if it's not easy to browse then that stops me discovering a lot of it. Also, a good chunk of the content did in fact seem rather unappealing. 

Overall, this might sound like a wholly negative experience, despite being riddled with tiny imperfections, they don't effect the reason I bought the machine in the first place that much: Games! And so far, I've been enjoying the heck out of New Super Mario Bros. 2, which comes as something of a shock because I hated the first one. So if that's a sign of things to come, then maybe there is more to this console's library for me than I had initially though. 

For now, though, I'm going to happily get on with Project X Zone on Friday and see where things go from there. Despite sounding negative, this is actually a pretty positive first impression and the library of games just looks to get stronger and stronger moving forward into next year, even if I'm not interested in things like Smash Bros.

Just be sure, if you buy one, to factor in the price of a Circle Pad Pro XL and a Charger if you want the larger screen on the XL version, which is definitely worth it in my opinion. I find it hard to read from the smaller screen of the normal 3DS (as well as finding the unit itself slightly less comfortable), and some of the better games seem to need the Circle Pad Pro, games like Resident Evil: Revelations, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Monster Hunter 3.

My experience with the 3DS XL has not really done much to change my opinion that Nintendo is something of a doddering grampa who's slowly succumbing to old age (and showing the beginning stages of dementia), but so long as they keep churning out games the fans are happy with, and I can keep enjoying Pokemon and the occasional Mario game. It's all good and I think I'll be a very happy 3DS owner for the next few years.

No pictures this time, I got lazy. Walls of meandering, unedited, and unfocused text for the win.   read

4:36 AM on 06.27.2013

The Last of Fuss – Face of a Medium Struggling With Adolescence (NO SPOILERS)

tldr - I hate The Last of Us or something.

Before I say anything else, I'll say one thing. This post contains no STORY spoilers for The Last of Us. I have finished the game, also, if anybody feels that is pertinent information. I've got no internet at home currently, so this was actually written on Monday night after I finished The Last of Us.

Without wanting to write a generic complaint-ridden statement about why I didn't like a popular game that's received universal praise, I sort of feel like I have to. Usually there's somebody else out there who's better qualified and more intelligent than me who voices my opinion (or one close enough to it) for me. I'm a lazy fucker, if Jim Sterling, Jeff Gerstmann or somebody else said it already I don't feel the need to parrot it outside of my energy-drink-fueled forays into the comments section. I'm not a big blog writer, I'm not any kind of writer at all, really. I'm not good at it.

But I need to talk about The Last of Us and what I feel it represents, and why what it represents is a negative for the medium of video games.

But I should clarify before continuing, despite not expecting to like it, I fucking LOVED The Last of Us. While I have a bunch of personal nit-picky issues stemming mostly from my traditionalist views on Survival Horror and from being hit with the shit end of the glitch-stick repeatedly, (among other things which cannot be discussed without spoiler) none of those are really relevant here and didn't keep me from enjoying the game for what it is. A fantastic script that follows two genuinely well-written and interesting characters on a journey that sees both of them develop in meaningful ways, and a mechanically passable third person stealth action game. But that is precisely where my beef lies. The fact that despite all that effort, all this posturing about pushing the medium forward and 'growing up' to tackle more mature stories and character development, The Last of Us actually represents something far more immature than where the medium was several years prior, it's trying too hard NOT to be a video-game.

These assholes, for example, just plain sucked. 

But that's totally irrelevant to this post!

What is my issue, precisely? It's that no matter how hard developers try, what invariably ends up happening is a pretty jarring separation of gameplay and story presentation, each one being fawned over separately, often by a different team of people entire, who are essentially making two products at once, one a decent quality CGI movie, the other an incomplete gameplay wrapper inside of which the movie will be dispersed in tiny chunks. At no point does the combination ever feel like a cohesive whole. And to me, The Last of Us represents the limit to what can be achieved by the current design trend of chasing movie and television presentation techniques, so-called ‘cinematic’ gameplay. This is it. This is as far as we can take it without making significant changes to how we approach blending story presentation and interaction. 

The larger issue at play here from my point of view however is what the game represents for the medium as a whole. To many it seems to represent a gigantic step forward for story-telling in video games. And on the surface that seems logical. But in reality the larger message here is that it's totally alright to focus on segregating story and gameplay, and that these two things have to be separated and mustn't get in each other’s way. Now, that's not to say that certain plot elements and points of interest as well as atmospheric considerations are not disseminated expertly throughout the gameplay segments, but that the methods and techniques primarily used for exposition are borrowed/stolen from film and television and are (without modification, at least) not suited to a medium built around the concept of interactivity, in my opinion. 

At times I literally felt like I was doing two things at once. Both watching a CGI movie and trying to play a video game. For a medium built purely on interaction this feels like it should be a cardinal sin. But people are so desperate for an interesting and mature story in a haze of boring, cliché, poorly written shite that they are more than willing to overlook this, and worse still many believe that this isn't a bad thing.

I feel that attitude is holding the medium back and genuinely stifling legitimate progression. It feels like the medium itself is a whiny teenager who's trying so desperately to appear "Grown Up" that they are reduced to misguidedly emulating their heroes and peers in a way which is frankly embarrassing when instead they should be looking internally and focusing on who they are and what makes them interesting, and in this instance utilising that to open up more unique and interactive experiences that engage the user in a way film and television simply cannot.

So, what am I saying on a more practical level? 

Well, firstly there is the old cliché which I've oftentimes been a big proponent of. That gameplay should by far be the #1 most important thing, much more important than any combination of story elements, art quality, sound effects, etc. 

"You think every game should just be like Asteroids!" - InevitableCommenter69

But more recently I've been thinking this isn't necessarily true, I don’t in fact want every game to be Asteroids, or relatively story-less affairs like Doom or Serious Sam. Despite the medium being built solely on the idea of interaction I’ve come to realise that all the stuff we’ve been striving for is in fact very important. Higher quality art, voice acting, graphical fidelity, mature storylines and interesting characters etc etc. However, I do feel we’ve sort of jumped the gun. Before attempting to use these elements to enhance and diversify the medium we must first be comfortable with and accepting of the fact that video games are video games and that this isn’t a bad thing. The more we try to deny or ignore this, the more jarring and ineffectual pilfering techniques from other mediums in an effort to appear ‘mature’ becomes.

I got nothing, I just wanted an excuse to post this.

I want a more significant blending of gameplay and plot that doesn't involve each one stepping out of the limelight for the other to perform; I want a more cohesive whole from a product that doesn’t feel as if it’s ashamed to be a videogame at times. At this point I’m going to say that I have no fucking clue how to do that, but that opening up the discussion might be more important than attempting to suggest some arbitrary and personal solution. After-all, we’ve been struggling with these concepts since Metal Gear fucking Solid and maybe even before that. To me, there has been little to no genuine advancement in the field of cinematic game design since Metal Gear Solid up to the current point (The Last of Us) outside of technical presentation and implementation improvements. On a design level, we’ve reached utter stagnation on this current heading and are in dire need of a change of direction.

I personally consider things like Dark/Demon’s Souls and The Walking Dead to be a starting point. They’ve begun to take a few steps backward and to examine the medium’s history for inspiration in both gameplay and presentation. But there are countless other examples of genres and styles that have fallen under the yolk of ‘cinematic gameplay’, both old and new, classic and overlooked.  And with any luck, more experiments of this nature can lead us to better, more immersive and more cohesive gameplay experiences that may one day be comfortable accepting the fact they are not film or television and never will be. While The Walking Dead might seem like an odd choice given my criticism of emulating film & tv, what it does do is offer something that film & tv never could, a level of interaction that shapes and moulds the unfolding plot around the players actions. This simply cannot happen with film or television, and this is where we should be focusing our efforts.

 A lot of this might seem like pointless, borderline whiny philosophising, maybe even pretentious (definitely), but I feel like this needed to be said because The Last of Us to me does not represent a step forward for the medium. In order for the medium to truly ‘grow up’ it needs to stop emulating its heroes and take its own path, wherever that may lead. It needs to graduate from its teenage years and go through that bullshit ‘finding yourself’ phase of life.

Ultimately, The Last of Us isn't a negative, despite what I've said. It does go a ways toward helping bring some of these issues to the table for discussion, but at the same time there's only so many times you can push a dumpster up against a wall and say "Yeah! I solved a puzzle!” and then put the controller down to watch a cut-scene.

I’ve been hearing a lot of people describe The Last of Us as the ‘Citizen Kane’ moment of video gaming. I think that’s presumptuous rubbish, we’ve got a long way to go before that happens. But I would say that, for reasons other than the obvious similarities, The Last of Us is more like 28 Days Later. It’s taken a stale, tired and in some cases laughable genre and made it relevant again. The question now is what to do with that new-found relevance and how to move forward from this point, not just with the genre but with the medium as a whole. I feel this is where we need to stop blindly charging forward on our current path and pause to reflect on where we came from and how we got here and how we can proceed down a genuine path of diversification of experience that isn’t simply homogenized gameplay duct-taped to budget television drama.
Taking a few steps back and embracing video games for what they are might help us decide a more productive direction to take that doesn’t involve making the player mash on the square button and telling him that qualifies as interactivity. If we’re going to do that, we might as well tell the player so sit down, shut the fuck up, and watch the movie.

Enjoy the movie. No, really, it's fucking fantastic. Wait, video-game.

I meant video-game. Dammit, it's so hard to tell these days.

Right now, I’m genuinely excited to see what people like inXile are going to put on the table, Brian Fargo has been trumpeting his ideas for story telling via a basic skeleton the flesh of which is built by the player, layer by layer from a huge network of individual choice, interaction and character progression. I cannot wait to see what happens here because the computer RPG genre provided something that in my opinion has never been matched by any modern spin on RPG gaming, and was cut down in its prime so that elements of it could be grafted onto the flanks of first and third person shooters and sandbox hack-and-slash games alike. It’s great to see it back and being developed naturally from the point it left off in around 2002. You can’t fast forward 10 years of genre progression in 18 months, but what you can do is start fresh and let the genre continue to develop naturally which is something I think we should be doing for a lot of other areas of game design, reeling them back and asking ourselves what we liked about them 10 years ago and how that stuff can better influence our design techniques today. 

Here's a recent interview with Brian Fargo you might find interesting, he talks about the idea that the Golden Age of the RPG is yet to come. An idea I cannot deny I find somewhat appealing. Understatement of the century. I'm so desperate for more developers to think this way that I gave this guy $1000. And when Wasteland 2 drops, I'll probably write a post on that as well.

Lastly, I just want to re-iterate that I don't think cinematic gameplay is a bad thing, or something we shouldn't be pursuing. But I feel that pursuing this avenue at the cost of pretty much every other area is a bad thing, and something the bigger budget games industry needs to break out of if it ever really hopes to be taken seriously as an art form. Cinematic gameplay can help enhance the experience and offers us many benefits for certain types of game. But the current level of cinematic dominance I feel is contributing un-healthily to both rising budgets and stagnation, so maybe we should take a break, go through a more experimental phase. Who knows what could happen? We might find something beautiful (or we might prove me wrong, in which case at least we've learned something!). Every game somebody makes contributes something to where we will end up in 10 years, yes even Amazing Frog, it'd be nice to see some of the larger developers stray from the 'golden' formula we've cornered ourselves with just to see what happens.

I want to know what you think. Does The Last of Us represent a step forward?  Is this all just pissing in the high winds of ‘multimedia’ homogenization? Should we be handing out praise so willy-nilly just because a game attempts to have a decent storyline? Should that even matter for a video-game so long as you enjoy the overall experience? I want to hear your thoughts whether you agree with me or disagree. 

NO STORY SPOILERS FOR THE LAST OF US, please, for anybody who wants to get in on a discussion without having played The Last of Us because it's not really the focal point, it was just the catalyst that made me want to discuss this.

And thanks for reading this massive wall of text, I did warn you I wasn't a writer :)   read

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