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Alasdair Duncan's blog
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10:24 AM on 01.05.2013

Backlog challenge 2013 Part 1

So in the vain hope of reducing my backlog, Iím throwing open the chance to all of you lovely folk as to what game Iím going to play next in my backlog. When I say my hopes are in vain, it basically means that Iím hoping to play as many games as I end up buying in 2013 so I start 2014 in pretty much the same position as I started this year. Anyway, with that cynical thought out of the way, hereís a couple of ground points I want to make.

1) Iím going to provide 5 options each month for people to vote on. Iím planning a theme on each set of games, so I donít end up

2) If I end up completing a game really quickly, then Iím reserving the right to play another game of my choice in the same month. If I finish that game, then Iíll start the next vote early

3) Iím still going to be reviewing games for the site, so if something comes my way, Iíll be dropping everything to play the game and review it. Last year I did about 7 or 8 reviews, so that wonít happen too much, but...

4) When it comes to big new releases, I am dropping everything to play them. So when Bioshock Infinite comes out, I am playing that straight away. Like, maybe taking some days off work to play. Again, wonít happen too much but at the same time I need at least 10 games for my end of 2013 Best Of... list, right?

5) I reserve the right not to play DLC that extends the game and also to play the game on Easy mode (if applicable) should I choose. Also, I ain't playing multiplayer but I may play co-op if I can guarantee people will play with me.

So with those excuses out of the way, letís get to the theme for January and the games youíll be voting for:

Best of 2012 I didnít finish.

So hereís a list of games that I either bought but didnít play in 2012, or started but never finished. I think youíre going to see a lot of repeat themes here...

Sleeping Dogs seems to have been a case of ďhey, this is way better than expectedĒ, considering itís troubled development. I bought Sleeping Dogs at launch knowing my new PC was going to be arriving soon but two reviews and repairs to my desktop meant I had to shelve playing it until this year. I have only played an hour but that was mainly to see how good the HD texture pack looks on my PC (spoiler: it looks reeaaaaallllyyyy good)

Fez was more of a case of ďwow, this is really greatĒ and then ďI have no idea where I am or what I should be doingĒ. The seemingly maze-like series of doors and passages meant I quickly lost my bearings and my puzzle solving skills are so lax that I know I wasnít going to make it far. But I donít want to give up on Fez, I want to experience that ďah hah!Ē moment that everyone seems to have with that game.

File under the ďhey, this is way better than expectedĒ category too. I want to play another modern military shooter set in the middle east like I want an extra couple of holes in my head. Yet Spec Ops seems to have gotten a lot of praise with elements of itís story and itís non-glamorous take on warfare. Worth a shot it seems, after I picked it up in the Steam Winter Sale for next to nothing.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was something that was on my radar but it wasnít until I played it at PAX Prime last year, that I knew I wanted to play for sure. I wasnít ideologically opposed to the FPS reboot but seeing Firaxis update the older XCOM games for modern times was really pleasing. I know I will dig into this at some point but will it be next game I play?

Just like XCOM, I wasnít opposed to the idea of an FPS reboot of Bullfrogís classic Syndicate; the only thing I remember from the original game was playing it at my friend Martinís house when I was a kid and guys in trench coats gunning down people with miniguns. And Starbreezeís update has both of those. I got about halfway through and got frustrated with seemingly invincible boss fights and the nagging sensation that I maybe missed out on some gameplay info.

So there's your 5 choices, I'm gonna keep voting open until Sunday midnight GMT, afterwards I'll post what the choice of game was in the comments and start playing. Bear in mind there were more games I got in 2012 that I need to finish but these were some of the big ones that came to mind. With all that, get to voting!

image header credit   read

1:46 PM on 01.02.2013

Hey, here's my top 10 personal favourite games of 2012

Hey, here's the games I enjoyed the most out in 2012. See the bottom of this post for the obligatory apologies and excuses.

10: Thirty Flights of Loving
A game with simplistic graphics and controls that only takes maybe 15 minutes to play? Thirty Flights of Loving scattershot narrative echoes Reservoir Dogs (a heist movie where you never see the actual heist) but it's told in such a fractured way that it's always moving between action sequences and surprisingly touching moments between your character and his band of crooks.

Be right back, booking my flight to Hong Kong so I can hang out with my close friends and peel some oranges.

09: Mass Effect 3
Yes, the ending was muddled but when it comes to games, I'm more of interested in the journey instead of the destination. The road to the end of Shepherd's tale still delivered some great highpoints in the series. The Krogan genophage is handled really well, returning characters come back with some great moments and the improved gameplay from ME2 (I preferred the shooter-centric style over ME1's loose gunplay).

There were problems with the the third installment; the pacing felt all off after the initial excitement of the Reaper invasion of Earth. The random fetch quests you pick up whilst wandering around places seems really weird and keeping seemingly important story information in paid DLC is really disappointing. Where does the series go from here? No idea, but I'd love to see something different in this universe. A space combat sim during the First Contact Wars? Sign me up!

08: Tribes: Ascend
I already mentioned how Tribes: Ascend was an under-rated game this year. Whilst the aesthetics aren't very original and hardcore fans weren't keen on a classic multiplayer shooter being re-tooled for a modern free to play title, Tribes: Ascend managed to get the frantic, fast paced combat intact.

It's just so fast compared to modern twitch based shooters, the arenas are large and allow you to get a good sense of where the flashpoints on the battlefield are. Seeing a scrap in the distance and skiing over to it was super satisfying and Tribes: Ascend became my multiplayer shooter of the year.

07: Botanicula
Amanita Design have been bringing us charming adventure games for a number of years now, Botanicula doesn't follow the lead of their previous title Machinarium, it still has the same European sense of style and craft. Following the journey of a group of tiny tree dwellers as they seek to protect a precious acorn from a life sucking spider creature, Botanicula manages to communicate purely through tt's wonderful artwork and sound design.

Whilst the puzzles are sometimes simplistic, Botanicula wowed me with every new screen; there's strange and wonderful creatures going about their weird business and new sounds and music that kept surprising me. The scene where the group encounter the magic being in the lamp who grants their wishes was one of gaming high points for me this year.

06: Hotline Miami
I feel dirty after playing Hotline Miami.
Whether it's the slightly queasy visuals or the relentless beats that accompany your balletic bloodshed, I don't feel empowered or like a superhero after wasting a room filled with Russian mafia types. There's a lingering sense of unease after each mission and whilst managing to clear a floor of enemies is rewarding, it's never without a "ooooohhhh shit" that comes with beheading a dude.

Whilst the controls don't have the tightness that might make the game a little easier, Hotline Miami is more about quick planning, reactions and weighing up your options. Ok you only disarmed a guy when you threw your baseball bat at him; should you rush in and take him on before he recovers and picks up a weapon or retreat and wait for a better opportunity. The lightning fast restarts help the sense of speed and meant that experimentation was encouraged. I frankly suck at the game but that doesn't stop me from wanting to come back to it time and time again.

05: Max Payne 3
I played the original Max Payne games back in the day and whilst I really liked them, I recognised there were flaws with them too. The script often veered too much into self referential humour and I often found myself just clearing a room of enemies, quicksaving and continuing which negated a lot of the challenge.
But Max Payne 3 was different; the older, paunchier and even more miserable Max struck a chord with me. What ex-cop who'd been through what he had would not be strung out on booze and pills. The game's presentation was top notch, both in it's visuals and audio and the challenge was rock hard (remember, I generally suck at games but not as bad as babee Britt Zaddler). The multiplayer was decent and I enjoyed playing the Gang Wars mode with the Dtoid Crew on Friday Night Fights. All in all if this is the last Max Payne game then I'm okay with that, the dude deserves a break.

04: FTL
Just like Hotline Miami, I suck at FTL but again, failure isn't a bad thing. With FTL, I learn a little more about the systems at play and I quickly realised that sometimes I was up against a stacked deck. I didn't have the right combination of early luck to get me the right upgrades or weapons to secure victory or maybe additional crew. Maybe I didn't respond quickly enough to emergencies; maybe I panicked when I got boarded; maybe I forgot about re-sealing that hatch and everyone suffocated.

Whatever the reasons for my failures, it never put me off FTL. Modern gaming is generally failure averse meaning there often feels like a lack of geniune challenge, or at least a sense of learning from failure. FTL did such a good job of hooking me in that it was hard to resist jumping into a game every few hours just to see how far I could flee the rebel fleet.

03: Mark of the Ninja

Unlike a lot of people, I really enjoy stealth games; I enjoy the patience and tension they provide and when a game like Deus Ex or Dishonored offer me a stealth option, I'll take it. Mark of the Ninja is stealth above all but the way it communicates information in the levels is sublime. It took me a while to realise that my character had line of sight, it just felt really natural to have to peek over a ledge to check the position of a guard.

Sure, all the indicators and visual cues are super-gamey but it's never distracting; Mark of the Ninja is similar to Hotline Miami as you need to work out the best route to clear a room before you can proceed. Leaping into action expecting to cut the guards to shreds is never gonna work, you need to be thinking clearly and ready to respond to danger. The controls feel so right that I never felt that I was screwing up because of them, rather I hadn't thought a situation through well enough.

02: Dishonored
When I read that Harvey Smith and Viktor Antonov were working on a systems heavy stealth/combat titles I was instantly excited. Smith was one of the key designers on Deus Ex and Antonov's designs were used to great effect in Half Life 2's City 17 levels. Deciding how I should extract revenge on the conspirators that murdered the Empress was a delight, especially when I realised that the harder non-direct solutions were so much more rewarding.

Considering I'm a big fan of Deus Ex, it was no surprise that Dishonored scratched that particular itch; the option of whether to play as a pacifist, a blood thirsty stab-a-holic or a mix of the two is always intriguing. I wish there was a bit more to the stealth mechanics, especially coming off the back of Mark of the Ninja, but the blink/teleportation system was a great choice and the whole city of Dunwall was a strange place that begged exploring. Lady Boyle's party was a highlight of 2012 with the guests' grotesque masks making the vibe so creepy.

Oh, and stop calling it a "steampunk game".... did you see any cogs, steamworks or goggles? No. If anything we should call it "whale-oil punk".

Actually, that sound pish.

01: Torchlight 2
Hey Steam, how many hours did I plough into Torchlight 2 since it came out? 62, really? It feels a lot more. I know I'm almost at the end of my third playthough and I still want to play it in between sessions of the other titles I've been struggling to finish this year. Whilst it's accepted Diablo III's combat has more "crunch", I've loved the build of my Outlander character. Blasting away with dual pistols, her blinding back flip can get her out of trouble really easily and she can summon a whole host of Shadowling allies if things are too overwhelming.

The addition of the interconnecting maps was a great addition, the tweaks made to the pet were fun and the allure of collecting gems and armour sets was totally compulsive. The fact the game ran like an absolute treat on my laptop was a great boon. It meant playing sessions when I was out then returning to my desktop via cloud saves a total breeze. I played no other games this much during 2012 and I certainly didn't return to any game again one I finished playing it. The fact I've started over twice in Torchlight 2 is maybe the highest compliment I can pay it.

2013 and beyond!

"Hey, you bearded pretentious twat! You didn't enjoy (insert name of acclaimed game here)? You useless tit!!"

Hey, whoa.... the year wasn't perfect. I was unemployed for almost half the year, so I wasn't buying a lot of games. My laptop meant I could play fairly undemanding titles like FTL and Hotline Miami but it was only when I got my gaming PC in October that I was really able to play really graphically intense games. Then there were reviews I did and other delays (PC broke, got it fixed)...

Basically, I grossly underestimated the time I had before submitting my top 10 games for the Destructoid end of year list. I purchased titles like XCOM, Spec Ops: The Line and Sleeping Dogs but have only played maybe an hour of each, same with Dark Souls on PC. I waited until all 5 episodes of The Walking Dead to be released only to have a few days to play the whole thing before my list was submitted. Then there's games like Journey, Sound Shapes, Rhythm Heaven, Super Mario 3D Land, Persona 4 Golden that I really want to play but I'm lacking the funds for either a PS3 or Vita right now. Dammed European release delays aren't helping either. I bought a few iOS games but my original model iphone won't support them.

Right now I'm almost at the end of Borderlands 2 as quickly as I can and I've set a backlog challenge of completing 25 titles in 2013. Since I've got a PC that can handle anything I can through at it, I want to eliminate big titles from my backlog as quick as I can. I also want to avoid being an idiot in the Steam sales (probably too late at this point). I'm also considering doing a backlog challenge that will be similar to the one Conrad Zimmerman did a recently, where I list some options for a game to play and you all can vote on which one you'd like to see me play. Won't be streaming them but I'll do a write up on each one I finish, is that something people would like to see?   read

2:19 PM on 10.07.2012

Review: Cards Against Humanity

Cards against Humanity is a very simple game. It can also be a staggeringly offensive game if you are so inclined. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Cards Against Humanity gained notoriety online and it's been something my friends and I have been keen to play. Now, after a few games at PAX, and the fine folks at Cards Against Humanity providing me with copies of both expansions, I can whole heartedly recommend you play Cards Against Humanity as soon as possible.

Gameplay is very simple; each player has a number of white answer cards that have a variety of things written on them; people, places, objects and actions. A randomly chosen "card tzar" will pose a question from a black card and the remaining players will place a white card answering the question on the table. The card tzar will then pick his or her favourite answer card and the person that played the winning card will win the question card. Then a new card tzar is selected and we start over. Simple.

But there's an amazing amount of depth to this game; since the cards are played anonymously, there's a meta game taking place where playing to the card tzar's tastes come into play. Standing out from the crowd with left field and surreal answers can also work in your advantage too. Sometimes the more apt (and probably the most shocking) the possible answer, there's less chance of it standing out from the other answer cards.

And here's where we get to the meat and bones of Cards Against Humanity. The answer cards can get into scorchingly touchy subjects; certain actions, historical events and bodily functions are all fair game in Cards Against Humanity. But the truth of the matter is that by themselves, the cards aren't offensive, it's the players. YOU are the person that chooses to answer the question "What's the crustiest?" with the card marked simply "my vagina".

And thus the meta-game continues with games of chicken being played between those who wish to get a reaction out of other gamers. As such it's best played with newbies who have no prior knowledge of what is on the cards. Getting through those first few rounds produces the most laughs and it's something that Card Against Humanity can produce over and over again.

However, it's best that you play Cards Against Humanity in short burst with small groups of people. I've found between 4-5 people and playing up until 1 player has amassed 5 cards is a real good way to play. A group game I played with 10 other people didn't have a good flow to it and became unwieldy. There's also the temptation to play for hours just to see how crazy/offensive your answers can be but again, that just leads to a game running out of steam.

Photo via Beccy Caine. I was the one who selected The Force and I won. Naturally.

As someone from the UK, some of the specifically American references went a bit over my head but there are blank question and answer cards in the main game and two expansion packs so you can flavour the game to your own regional tastes. Unfortunately the game isn't available in the UK ( won't ship Cards Against Humanity to the UK for some reason), so you're going to have to hit up one of your transatlantic Dtoid buddies for a copy. If you can't wait, you can visit the Cards Against Humanity website for a downloadable cards that you can print off yourself.

Play Cards Against Humanity; trim some of the answer cards if you have to and keep the game brief. Do all this an you're guaranteed a damn funny time with your friends.   read

11:31 AM on 12.30.2011

Resolutions: Get Better At Games

So in 2011, I set myself the challenge of completing more games and making a dent on my backlog. In the end I had mixed results; the games I finished almost all the games I started this year, but I still didn't really make a dent on my actual backlog as I mainly played and completed games that I bought in 2011. Taking stock of the situation I can take comfort in the fact I now have a fairly solid work ethic when it comes to completing games but I realise that big chunks of my Steam library may lay unfinished for a long time.

So now in 2012, I have set myself a new challenge and it's one that I wrote about a while ago, concerning my fairly narrow tastes in games. In 2011 I didn't stray from my usual favourite games, franchise or genres; FPS/RPG combos, small indie titles on PC and XBLA. Lacking funds for the latter part of 2011 meant I didn't get to play things like Skyrim or Rayman Origins but really I played the type of games I would play every year. Hell, I managed 2 playthroughs of Mass Effect in 2011 which is no surprise to me.

So in 2012 I'm going to make an effort to expand my horizons; each month I'm going to play a new game in a genre I'm not familiar with or have traditionally resisted playing for whatever reason. There's a couple of reasons I'm doing this, firstly I feel I will get better at games by experiencing new mechanics and gameplay devices. Playing the same type of games that have similar structures, controls and mechanics means I'm getting better at that type of game but it could mean I'm getting stale in my thinking.

Secondly, I could be missing out on some great gameplay experiences because I'm just playing the same genres over and over again. Variety is the spice of life, so they say and that's something I'm missing out on right now. Thirdly, I think this will be a useful exercise in seeing how a newcomer approaches a genre of game they're unfamiliar with; are games still accommodating for new players or are many catering for the hardcore.

So here's the deal; each month I'm going to play a new type of game that I'm not familiar with and I will write up what I thought of each game in a blog post. Now here's some conditions I'm going to make clear before we go any further: this isn't a backlog challenge, I'm not under any pressure to make sure I finish each game. If I pick a game and find it overly frustrating to play or just not enjoyable, I'll stop playing it but I'll explain why in my blog post. I'm going to try and pick a recent example of a genre or at least a videogame in the last few years that is a fair representation of it's respective genre. I've not got access to a load of systems so my hand is forced in that respect, which is also why I'm not going to listen to complaints of "I can't believe you picked that game, don't you know the superior version is on the SNES?!?". Unless someone is super keen to read what I'm going to write and wants to donate some consoles my way, then I'll be playing on the 360, PC and my DS.

So that's my resolution for 2012, yes it's a flimsy attempt at masturbatory self improvement (along with the cooking classes my brother has signed me up for and I'm going to try and see if Rocksmith will teach me guitar after all these years) but hey, I'm going to try some games, probably fall on my arse and maybe even learn something.   read

10:00 AM on 12.17.2011

Beating my backlog 2011: the results

Earlier on this year, I made the decision I had to finish more games and to make an effort to try and reduce my backlog. The reasons for this were twofold; I had received an X-box 360 for Christmas and after moving back from Australia I had no console games. As such, it would be a good habit to get into before I eventually amassed a big collection of games that would mainly be unfinished, if my past habits were anything to go on. The other reason was my Steam catalogue was still filled with unfinished games, the result of being too spend-happy when it came to sales and my seeming inability to turn away from a bargain.

So, I wrote up a blog entry declaring my intentions to reduce my backlog and to commit to finishing games before getting new ones. I think the year ended up with a mixed result for me but Iíll break the challenge down into two separate parts. First of all, Iím going to list all the games I played from start to end in 2011, listed by format:

PC Downloads

Back To The Future Episode 1
Back To The Future Episode 2
Back To The Future Episode 3
Back To The Future Episode 4
Back To The Future Episode 5
Dungeon Defenders
Max Payne
Max Payne 2
Portal 2 (single player only)
Puzzle Agent 2
Sideway: New York


Mass Effect Galaxy

X-box 360

Alpha Protocol
Assassinís Creed 2
Batman Arkham Asylum
Dead Space 2
Deus Ex Human Revolution
L.A. Noire
Mass Effect (twice)
Mass Effect 2


Age Of Keflings
Beyond Good and Evil HD
Dead Rising Case Zero
Dead Rising Case West
Dead Space Ignition
Pac Man Championship Edition DX

At the start of the year, still lacking disposable income, I managed to get some cheap XBLA titles, also I decided to make the commitment to getting all the achievements for any XBLA game I got (even if this meant getting some lacklustre DLC later down the line). The only XBLA game I didnít complete was Half Minute Hero Super Mega Neo Climax which I didnít really enjoy. Aside from that, my XBLA games were completed before I bought another one, especially in the case where I got Dead Rising Case Zero when it was on special offer, completed it and then picked up Case West before the sale ended that week. If you want to see how well I did achievement-wise, you can look at my achievement list on my Giant Bomb profile.

With the 360, I did just as well as I mainly got games that Iíd either played before (I had owned a 360 whilst living in Australia but left it there when I moved to Scotland) which is why I picked up titles like the Mass Effect series (which I played through to get a save file setup for ME3) and Batman Arkham Asylum (which I wanted to play again). I was really excited for titles like Deus Ex Human Revolution, Dead Space 2 and L.A. Noire so I had the motivation to get through them. The only thing I didnít finish up was Need For Speed Hot Pursuit which was a Christmas present. Itís a great game but I found myself reaching that glass ceiling that I experience with sports or racing games, that point where no matter how hard I try I just canít reach that next level of skill.

I actually lacked a PC for almost half the year but I got a decent laptop in the Summer and was able to play some more games. Previously Iíd completed titles on my parentís iMac which made me grateful for the PC+Mac Steamplay options that I had available to me. The Back To The Future episodic games were good as they could be completed within a couple of hours and there was a new one each month. However with my new laptop, fell back into my bad habits, installing Team Fortress 2 and playing that instead of getting laid into my backlog and new releases. And yes, I still bought plenty of Steam games and more than one Humble Indie bundle which meant I added about a dozen games that I didnít complete.

On reflection, I think I did pretty well with this year; I completed over 30 games for the whole year (compared to 10 from the previous year) and I did get into the habit of sitting down and finishing games, at least on the X-box. A big factor would have to be my lack of funds this year, meaning I really only could play the games I was really excited for; there was no just going out to a games store and just blowing my money on a game I wasnít 100% interested in, just for something to do. On the PC, thereís still too many distractions for me; I can jump on Youtube, IM or the forums if I get frustrated with a game and want to put it down for 5 minutes. And if itís not some internet distraction, itís another game: get frustrated or die in Defence Gird, I could play Rock Of Ages or Orcs Must Die with just a couple of clicks.

Beating My Backlog

The other part of my challenge was to reduce my backlog from having 60% uncompleted games to 50%. Well I did achieve this but only by virtue I was adding a lot of games which I then completed, so I didnít really make much of a impact on my pre-2011 backlog. The only games I did complete from before 2011 were Braid, Max Payne and itís sequel; aside from that I only really completed titles that I got in 2011.

Also, I cheated. When I bought a lot of games for the PC I just didnít actually add them to my backlog unless I played them for more than 10 minutes or so. Again, I spent a lot money on bundles and sales that my backlog would have shot back up to the 60% mark. Towards the end of 2011, The Backloggery introduced a feature to have you list games as being ďunplayedĒ rather than uncompleted. So for instance something like Sanctum or Sol Survivor would really be ďunplayedĒ rather than being ďunfinishedĒ. I think this might be a good way of again, helping me finish games. I could dip into my ďunplayedĒ games when I had no ďunfinishedĒ games on the go. So once 2012 rolls up Iíll start on re-organising my PC backlog again.

Did I follow my own advice?

Earlier this year, I posted some tips on how to possibly beat your backlog; now itís one thing to give out advice but itís another to actually follow it, so did I actually follow my own advice? Well I stuck to normal on nearly all games and it served me well. I rage quit less than I used to and my ego didnít suffer it. I avoided games during the year, that when they approached I looked at them and thought ďI donít think Iím gonna enjoy this, Iíll pass for nowĒ. I mean, no monies helped that decision too....

ďResist temptationĒ Ö. oh man, did I fall foul of that one. I still bought plenty of games that I ended up no touching or playing for 5 minutes. Thatís the one habit I need to change: itís the one that means Iíll end up with plenty more games I doubt Iíll get through. I did avoid multiplayer distractions, however the change to free to play and the creation of a Dtoid server meant I did get back into playing TF2.

So on the whole, I still think I did pretty well. I think next year Iíll do better though. If I can get work Iíll be saving up for a desktop PC purely for games, so Iíll be able to get through some of the more graphically intensive games from my PC backlog. Iíll still be frugal when it comes to purchasing console games but then I see that the MGS HD Collection and Catherine get a UK release in February, Max Payne 3 is in March and Mass Effect 3 and Bioshock Infinite are due to hit before April 2012. Argh! Iíll give it my best shot though.   read

10:55 AM on 11.29.2011

Stevil's very, very late and belated PAX 2010 adventures*

*(Yes 2010, not 2011. I am very late with this)

I am easily distracted. Whilst I like to think I'm very focussed and single minded, I get overwhelmed with other things and find myself wanting constant variety. All of which is a fairly lame excuse for posting these pics so late and why Stevil's avatar adoption for PAX 2010 was such a damp squib. When I got back from PAX 2010, I started my plans to move back to Scotland after living in Australia for 4 years. By the end of October, I was back home but without a PC of my own to use, so Stevil's pics lay on my external HD for months. However, I can now post the results of Stevil's fairly low key and lame adventures to PAX 2010.

First up, Stevil get's endorsed by Mr Destructoid in a pic you may have seen before:

Stevil get's a good view of Duke Nukem Forever. Remember when the announcement of DNF was actually exciting? Wow, that was like last year 'n shit...

I'm pretty sure I saw these delightful young ladies at the End Of Nations booth this year again:

Ok, so yeah I hardly took any pics. I didn't bring a proper camera with me so I was stuck with my 1st gen i-phone camera which is really not a good way to take photos at all. The reason why I didn't do an avatar adoption again is because I just keep forgetting that I need to take photos whilst I'm at an event, I'm not a guy who goes snap happy at all. So, Stevil you crazy Welsh bastard, sorry it's taken so long for you to see the crappy results of your PAX 2010 adventure. My apologies.

Wait, there's one last pic...

*phew* saved   read

3:04 PM on 11.25.2011

A week of offline woes

So over the last six days, I've been in the surprisingly warm, north east coast of Scotland helping my parents moving some items out of my grandparent's old house. My grandmother passed away a few years ago and we've moving some large items out of the home and garage before the new owners move in next weekend. My parents actually bought the house next door quite a few years ago when my grandmother was getting rather frail and that's where we've been staying right now. My parents still intend to keep the house as a holiday home and I've been here quite a few time, twice this year already.
Thing is, there's no Internet connection in this house. Before you ask how that's even possible, I'll point out that there's no actual telephone land-line, at least my parents have never bothered having it activated. Frankly in this day and age, your mobile phone has pretty much replaced your house's hard line and considering the only communication I've had has been in the form of a single text message, it's not really surprising.

What's been irritating has been the lack of gaming I've been able to do, made worse by the fact that this is the first time I've been up at the house with a computer of my own. I splurged the last of my savings at the end of September to get a 15.6" Samsung laptop, the first computer I've owned since I left Australia around this time last year. Knowing I was coming up, I installed a few games on Steam to help pass the downtime. I should point out that I've headed up north just a week after a full re-install of Windows 7 so I've been putting games back onto my laptop but mindful of my tendency to play 1 game, rage quit and play another whilst never getting round to actually finishing them, I put about 7 or 8 games onto my laptop knowing that I wouldn't get bored and that I'd have a decent selection of titles. My knowledge of Steam's slightly flaky offline support has meant that I know that I shouldn't expect games to work straight away, so I re-installed my titles from their backups, went into offline mode and made sure they loaded. No problems, so I packed up my bag along with my wired 360 controller, headphones and external backup drive and headed for the Highlands.

First on my list to play was the rather awesome 2D graffiti platformer Sideways, which I'd bought the night before. I was making good progress with the game and I wanted to carry on playing it so I could complete the game. The game itself plays fine but at the end of the level, your scores are updated to the Internet for online leaderboards; I played the next level of Sideways but then the game stalled, unable to connect to the Internet meant I was stuck until I could re-connect to the Internet. This struck me as a big oversight; the game couldn't just detect that Steam was offline therefore leaderboard scores wouldn't need to be updated?

Annoyed with that, I decided to play some more Beat Hazard, specifically the new Ultra mode. I made a huge amount of progress with that game, unlocking level after level and an array of new perks. However, I never unlocked any achievements despite climbing up the ranks. Was this because I was offline?? More than likely as I couldn't even check the achievement list whilst being offline. I know achievements are the be all and end all of gaming, far from it. I use them as a personal benchmark, a way of saying and showing "Yes, I got all I could out of that game" and as a motivator to come back and try again with games I didn't manage to finish. The idea that I'm missing out on those motivators annoys me a bit, can't the game just unlock them in the Steam client whether you're offline?

So, realising I had more backups I thought "I've not got much to do, why not re-install Fallout New Vegas" a game I had ploughed more than 50 hours into, only for crashes and an achingly dull DLC campaign to provoke me into removing the game so that I could come back to it later. Turns out you can't install a backup without being online, even if you only made the backup a few days prior. So no New Vegas for me, probably for the best really.

So there we go; Steam offline mode not as good as online mode. I mean, no shocks there and to be honest, I still was able to play games like Super Meat Boy, Terraria, Beat Hazard and the Binding of Issac with no problems. I know I'm quibbling here, at home I've got a fairly solid Internet connection that's been working a-ok and with that, I can game without any problems. It's still not a 100% connected world yet, and despite the fact that I'm almost totally converted into having all my needs met by the Internet (I'm dreading the amount of unread posts I'll have on Google Reader when I go home) there's still times when you need services to work offline and have them work as well as an online service. I'm not asking for patching and multiplayer options to somehow work offline, but a single player platforming game that's not able to move onto the next level because you've got no Internet connection is a bit much.   read

2:51 PM on 07.27.2011

EPIC games vs apps

So just a few days ago, EPIC games president Mike Capps claimed that mobile app gaming is going to affect the next generation of console games in a negative way:

ďIím more worried that you can get a really good 99 cent game that occupies you for hours and hours on end and how that impacts $60 SKUs..... But I do worry about what it means for the next generation of console games? Are people really going to want to spend $60 on a game?Ē

Well, in short... no. For starters, this isnít the first time Mike has bemoaned the affect of app-orientated gaming but I wonder why the head of the studio behind one of the biggest iOS games ever would worry about mobile gaming. If Iím reading between the lines correctly, I wonder if what Mike is worrying about is spending two-three years making a big budget game, the same type of game that EPIC have been really successful at making (Bulletstorm excepted).

Something that Mike also mentions is that free entertainment is competition to playing AAA titles, so like why play a big budget game when you can watch loads of free or cheap content on your TV or Netflix. When the Playstation launched years ago, Sony UK boss Phil Harrison claimed that Sony werenít in competition against Nintendo and Sega, they were competing with clothes, going out to the pub, going to the football. Sony positioned the Playstation as a lifestyle choice and it really worked. The Playstation crossed over to market that decided to play games instead of things like socialising and spending money on clothes and booze. Sony prospered in the 90ís and 00ís because they realised that they werenít in direct competition with other videogames companies, Sony realised that they had to make their console and games more appealing than TV or books and suchlike.

As for the charge of mobile gaming ďcheapeningĒ big name console titles seems to hit at the point of the value of a AAA game. Again, reading between the lines Mike sounds as if heís worried that gamers wonít feel a big budget game, like Gears Of War wonít be worth $60. Well Mike, maybe itís not. Yes games have been always been expensive, but are all games worth $60 or $40 (or $100 if youíre in Australia)? I realise that value for money can be an abstract concept to a lot of people and thatís without going into the idiotic ďgame length=value for moneyĒ argument. I would ask Mike if he feels that all the games that are released are worth $60 and it is a bad thing that playing cheap and fun i-phone games make me question the value of spending a lot of money on such games? Iíve gotten an amazing amount of value and enjoyment out of games like Fruit Ninja and Plants Vs Zombies as I have with some AAA games that cost more 40 times more. That's not a bad thing, that's just something that digital distribution and portable technology allows me. Not all my compelling videogame experiences are me sitting on a couch or at a desk, staring into a tv or monitor.

Mikeís comments almost make it sound like this is unfair like ďTV is free, so why are people going to pay $60 for GOW3? Argh!Ē Maybe GOW should be cheaper? Maybe you should split GOW into three separate parts, single player, hoard and multiplayer and let consumers buy them separately. Maybe future EPIC games should be episodic. Maybe EPIC should make more iOS games to test out ideas or tech? Maybe itís not my job to reassure Mike Capps that things are going to work out ok. I donít have the answers and I donít claim to know where the videogames industry is heading. What I believe is that making products cheaper and readily available makes them appealing to consumers.

Itís no newsflash that people have limited time to play games. Itís no newsflash that people only have a certain amount of limited income. But laying the game at cheaper, more convenient forms of entertainment as somehow being unfair is a cheap shot. Again, reading between the lines it sounds as if Mike Capps isnít 100% that his latest game is really worth $60.   read

4:39 PM on 07.12.2011

A Re-introuction to me - Ali D (that rhymes!)

So now that Iíve gotten a couple of posts under my belt, I thought Iíd re-introduce myself, as of course youíre all wondering who that handsome, monochrome man is that scowling at you from the top of some PC news on the frontpage. In my past life I was known as Ali D, a nickname Iíve had since I was very young. In Scotland, almost everyone with the name Alasdair is called Ally, but since Internet communication is now more commonplace, most people would pronounce my nickname as ďthe people that aid you in a battleĒ D. At the start of Summer, I put myself forward for the PC internship, working under the steady gaze of Jordan Devore. Got a couple stories under my belt which feels good (one of which was linked to on Twitter by Ken Levine!!) and hopefully plenty more over the Summer.

Iíve been a community member since late 2007 when I first started doing some cblogs. After that I started getting stuck into the craziness that is the forums, to the point where Iím now one of the moderators serving under Uncle Mxy and MOM. Iím hoping to carry on cblogging after my internship is up and Iíve got a good idea for an ongoing series which Iíll have to get started on soon. Other Dtoid fun stuff has led me to PAX Prime 2010 and PAX East 2011 (where my official duty was being Hamzaís bag bitch) and hopefully PAX Prime 2011 (once I get some stuff sorted out).

I'm the guy with the beard.

So going back to the start, I first played videogames on my motherís Commodore 64.... I say ďplayedĒ but I was still fairly young and the only thing I could actually play was Paperboy. Getting to the end of the street and playing the obstacle course was one of gamingís early thrills. After that, my brother and I got an NES at Christmas to share between us. We both pooled all our money that weíd received and ended up with £40 to buy Super Mario Bros. 3 which has remained a firm favourite. I would play NES games round at my cousinís house every Friday night, when my parents went round to see my Aunt and Uncle. He had games like Mega Man and Castlevania which I tried my hardest to get into, but my gaming skills were still well below par.

Papa Burch is gonna smack Ikarus one!

After that, I never had a new console for almost ten years. My parents werenít happy for me or my brother to be playing videogames often, so we got sent out to play in the streets or go round to friendsí houses, where their parents would send us outside as well. In my later teenage years, parents were happier to have us in the house as it meant we werenít drinking alcohol or smoking, not realising that all me and my friends wanted to do was play videogames. So my experiences of the 16 and 32-bit eras were playing (usually mulitplayer) videogames at my friendsí houses and usually having my ass handed to me at Street Fighter 2, Goldeneye, Tekken or Super Mario Kart. So Iíve had this weird upbringing in which I can remember back to the 8-bit era and beyond, yet Iíve got very little hands on experience or connection to that time.

Me and the boss. I can confirm he has amazing hair. And is also one of the nicest people I've ever met.

Eventually, I left school and worked so I could earn some cash and get a Dreamcast, followed by an X-box and then a 360. At the same time, I was studying so I needed a computer, so I got my first desktop PC back in 1998, just in time for Half Life, MDK and Grim Fandango. I stuck with PC gaming as I always found games that I was enjoying on the PC, especially Deus Ex my all time favourite. Iím no PC-elitist, Iíve got a 360 so I can play some console exclusive titles and some multiplayer fun.

Mr Destructoid (aka Mikey) endorses Stevil. I'll get those pics posted one day buddy.

So if I was to list off my favourite games, they would be a rag-tag bunch. Deus Ex is the game thatís most defined how I look at gaming, especially freedom and open endedness in videogames. The Mass Effect franchise is pushing my sci-fi fan buttons every time I play it. GTA: Vice City does a great job of creating a specific time and place, with added Gary Numan. Team Fortress 2 has been my favourite multiplayer game, so much so Iíve had to kick the habit so I can actually complete some other games. Aside from those core titles, Super Mario Bros 3, Jet Set Radio, Fallout 3, Batman Arkham Asylum, Grim Fandango, Plants vs Zombies, Far Cry.... thereís plenty to mention. My taste in games is shockingly mainstream, but I do love the great wealth of indie titles on Steam.

In addition to being "bag bitch", I am to help Pico dish out massages to senior staff.

Outside of gaming Iíve been going to gigs for years (my first gig was R.E.M. at Stirling castle) seeing so many of my favourite bands. I love all types of music, but Iím drawn to down-tempo electronic stuff, Scottish indie rock, instrumental and post-rock, sample based hip hop and 80ís post punk. Check out my Last Fm profile on the right hand side to see if weíre compatible. I spend a fair amount of time reading both novels and comic books; my favourite authors are Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Simon Reynolds and William Gibson. Some of my other favourite things are Mongolian beef, watching Rangers FC, Addidas clothing, vodka, sleeping in and cultivating my facial hair.

I'm drinking. Quelle surprise.

So thatís me. Howíre you doing?   read

9:59 AM on 06.06.2011

E3 Approaches: Treading Water

[Disclaimer: I wrote most of this last week without having internet access in my house, and only getting videogame news via my phone. By now quite a bit of what I've written about is either incorrect or been revealed, but I'm putting it up as it reflects my viewpoint mid-last week]

So with each passing day weíre seeing more and more pre-E3 announcements. As Iím typing most of this, thereís been a glut of NGP info today and Iím sure there will be more to come before Tuesday. However, as E3 comes closer, I get a feeling that there wonít be any big steps forward. Weíre in the 6th year of the current generation of home consoles and it just looks like Microsoft and Sony are prepared to continue on their current path of convincing us that motion controls have something that arenít going away. Nintendo are launching an HD console years after the other big two. Then thereís the two handhelds, the still to be released Sony NGP and the just-launched Nintendo 3DS, both of which I feel have uncertain futures in the handheld market with competition from smart phones.

The big announcement this year, will be the official reveal of Nintendoís new console which could either be a big moment n this generation of consoles or it could be revealed as simply a stop gap until the next big leap in hardware. Right now, the Wiiís sales are slowing, so itís interesting to see that Nintendo are the first big company who are seemingly reacting to the market no longer showing as much interest in their console as they did earlier in itís lifecycle. With the rumoured specs being either as powerful or even more powerful that the Sony and Microsoftís consoles, the new console is appealing in theory. The thing thatís been disappointing to me is the claims that this new console will attract the hardcore gamer back to the Nintendo fold. Iíd question if the truly hardcore gamer ever did give up on Nintendo, after all surely a hardcore gamer would still be compelled by the excellent first party titles and the small selection of quality third party titles. So, is the promise of ďitís just the Wii again but in HDĒ that will entice the hardcore gamer? I think Nintendo have to do better than that, after all the lack of HD graphics didnít hurt the Mario Galaxy games, or Kirbyís Epic Yarn. I think Nintendo needs to work on their online service, Virtual Console range and attracting more third party support for Project Cafť to succeed.

The interesting thing about Nintendoís position in the market is that they had success with the Wii because it did something different from Sony and Microsoftís consoles; it appealed to people who werenít interested in videogames before. My mum and dad bought one; my aunts and uncles have one; female friends who never played videogames before bought one. They didnít care if it was deemed ďless powerfulĒ or ďnot as hardcoreĒ as the X-box 360 or PS3. They had no interest in playing online shooters or 100 hour long J-RPGs. And the die-hard Nintendo fans that complained about Nintendo losing their way still went out and bought one because they were cheap and they still wanted to play the latest Mario, Metroid and Zelda games. I think that Nintendo do need a console that provides more ďhardcore gamesĒ than the Wii did, but they should still appeal to the casual market. I think that the console landscape needs variety; as MS and Sony have started to make inroads into the casual market with their motion controllers, I feel weíre in danger of having a homogenous console market, one that has three consoles trying to appeal to all demographics but none of them really grasping the needs and wants of each type of gamer and nothing really setting them apart.

Thereís also the question of the 3DS, which has under-performed sales wise slightly against expectations. That could be blamed on a fairly lacklustre line-up of launch titles, but then again, most new hardware launches arenít served very well by their first titles and havenít been for a few years now. So is the problem the price? Possibly, but I think the bigger factor is the handheld gaming sector has shifted to smart phones in a big way. Of course there will always be a place for handheld systems, but I do think that when you look at the value of a smart phone compared to a handheld, then it will be difficulty for Nintendo and Sony to compete. I think if Nintendo are going to come close to the sales of the DS (which would be an achievement, I think), then theyíre going to have to announce some big titles that will convince the people who havenít shelled out on a 3DS that they need one. Of course you know that Nintendo are going to come out with a Pokemon and Mario Kart game, but a Professor Layton game using the 3D or augmented reality functions would be an eye catcher and something that would attract casual DS gamers (like my mum) to consider getting a 3DS.

So if the 3DS needs games and is being held back by its price, then how is the NGP going to succeed? You know Sony is going to price the NGP higher than the 3DS, but how much higher? The NGP is a great looking bit of kit with some serious specs, but again, are people going to want to spend potential $400 on a new handheld system? I worry that Sony are going to replicate the problems they had with the PSP, giving gamers a console like experience on a handheld, but one that you feel youíd rather be playing on a regular home console at the same time. Again, there needs to be games or at least one killer app that people can see in action and say ďYeah, I want that system so I can play that gameĒ.

Sony and Microsoft both launched their motion controllers at last yearís E3, with Kinnect having the edge over Sonyís Move controllers, sales wise anyway. Both launched with near identi-kit range of Wii-knock offs, but Sony would at least put Move support into the new SOCOM and Killzone games. But both companies need to give consumers to pick up their motion controllers and that means games, or with Kinnect, a higher degree of functionality with media apps on the 360. Without new consoles, Sony and Microsoft are relying on Move and Kinnect to make money and expand their traditional audience into the casual markets. But then again, now the initial hype has subsided, what is supposed to attract customers to these new controllers? I feel Microsoft and Sony have to announce more Kinnect and Move titles, because they will feel that thereís still a big chunk of the casual markets, or Nintendoís market, that they can poach.

So, kind of pessimistic stuff then. Microsoft and Sony trying to convince us to buy Kinnect and Move respectively, Nintendo are launching a console that is going to try and win over the hardcore gamer but at the risk of possibly losing their casual market share, Sony and Nintendo trying to find a place for their new systems in a mobile market that seems to be moving away from owning a dedicated hand held. Itís going to be a continuation of what we saw last year, with Nintendo the only company showing some risky behaviour with their Project Cafť console.

The up shot is, I feel games have to take centre stage at this E3. The thing that Nintendo and Sony need to convince people to buy their new handhelds is games; Kinnect and Move sceptics need games to convince them to buy into Microsoft and Sonyís new motion controllers. And Nintendo needs a good line-up of games to convince the supposed hardcore gamers that theyíll need their new console and that itís not just a too-little-too-late HD catch up. Considering the slim amount of releases slated for 2012 and the fairly large amount of pre-E3 announcements weíve had so far (as I finish typing this, Konami have announced their HD remake releases), I think weíre in for a bumper show when it comes to actual future videogame releases. Considering how little we know about what games are coming out in 2012, Iím hoping E3 delivers a wide range exciting titles that are going to appeal to both hardcore and casual gamers. After all, videogames is why we buy this shiny hardware and without great titles, no one is going to buy any new hardware.   read

8:46 AM on 04.24.2011

Aaamaazing: Rapture Revealed

Iíll be the first to admit, Iím a videogame news junkie; even when it comes to either titles or systems I donít own. Part of the downside of this is that Iím often not surprised when I actually play a game because thereís a nagging feeling I know what Iím getting into. Usually it starts off with a big reveal story, outlining the developer, some basic story info and usually some gameplay hook. Then the publishers will tease out some more information about the game, either through some previews, trailers or interviews. By the time a game comes out, weíve already consumed a heck of a lot of information about what the game is (at least in our minds) and what we can expect. Itís gotten to the point that Iíve actually started going on self-imposed media blackouts when it comes to games that I know Iím definitely going to play, but I donít want anything spoilt for me. So, like Mass Effect 3 and Deus Ex Human Revolution are must-plays for me, but Iím no longer going to gobble up all the information I can before I play them.

So for a game to really grab me and show me something that captivates me is sadly rare nowadays. In the case of Bioshock, I read lots of articles about it as it really captured my imagination; the idea of an art-deco city at the bottom of the ocean struck me as really unique setting and the idea of combining plasmids with regular weapons seemed like an interesting way to play an FPS. It even got to the point where I played System Shock 2 just before the release of Bioshock, in order to understand the comparisons between the two and to figure out if Bioshock was really itís ďspiritual successorĒ.

Luckily, my brother in law at the time, was working for Irrational games in Canberra, Australia. He emailed me at work one day asking if I was interested in a dayís unpaid, focus testing for Bioshock. Now this was about 2 months before the gameís release, so I jumped at the chance. I went to their fairly small studios in the city and found myself with some a few other guys playing Bioshock for about 6 hours. Headphones on...... keyboard and mouse all good....... here we go.....

Of course Bioshock starts over with the main character sitting on a plane, smoking a cigarette whilst he remembers some words of wisdom from his parents. Next thing heís swimming for his life as the wreckage of the plane sinks around him. Gasping for air, you have to guide him to a nearby lighthouse that seems to be your only safe option. Once out of the water, you go inside and find the lighthouse is an ornate housing for a diving bell, one thatís going to take you to a place you couldnít imagine.

Now as I said earlier, Rapture itself was one of the reasons I was interested in playing Bioshock, but the whole opening sequence was masterful. With the lighthouse slowly illuminating itís interior to show the tenants of Raptureís ideology, to the strains of ďInto The SeaĒ, to the introductory film where Andrew Ryan makes his politics clear, spitting his defiance at the forces that govern the world above the waves. As the music reaches itís crescendo the screen moves away and presents to you the impossible..... Rapture.

Again, even though I thought I knew what I was in for, I was still taken aback at the scene, to the point where I actually got goosebumps. Passing overhead and seeing the sheer scale of what was in front of me was amazing, to the extent that I almost didnít hear anymore of Ryanís proud boasts. I caught a glimpse of a Big Daddy prowling a glass corridor, another un-identified figure welding a metal strut... there was even a big frigginí whale swimming between these undersea skyscrapers. Imagine what it would be like to live in a place were a whale could swim by your bedroom window. Eventually your trip finishes and you realise the horror youíve stumbled into, as a crazed splicer guts what your would be rescuer.


Of course, the game was amazing, all the more so as I was playing it before most people got their hands on it, so I was experiencing it raw and unfiltered. I played up to Arcadia, so I managed to avoid the big reveal and the final chapters, but I had a sense of how good Bioshock was. That opening will always be something that sticks in my mind about how you open a game: expansive, captivating and enthralling. The beginning of Bioshock is all of these and more.   read

7:27 AM on 04.03.2011

Happy Hamzahah!

Ladies and Gentlemen, let's all look to the seas and wish our part man, part-shark, all badass Community manager a very happy birthday!




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