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Batthink's blog

6:40 AM on 06.08.2015

Papers, Please: The Time Sega Power Went Nuts

My age had nudged into the double-digits and I had already amassed a huge amount of Commodore 64 magazines (which I sadly allowed my father to throw out…argh. I regret that). From the time my brother got us a Sega Master System, we upgraded to 8-16-bit console magazines, ushering in Sega Pro, Mean Machines Sega and Sega Power, in descending order of preference. I also had copies of Sega Force and Sega Zone sometimes, but they were a little away from the comfort of the trinity I was accustomed to. Sega Pro was great at presenting colourful pages with excellent layout, and also covered Japanese titles that rarely appeared in the United Kingdom with the most depth. Mean Machines Sega had a bold, clear aesthetic, with huge screenshots, little pseudo-chibi-versions of the staff, of which one individual was called Radion Automatic. Seriously.

Sega Power was the magazine lagging behind, in spite of having a great Nintendo-counterpart magazine with the same publisher. I couldn’t remember what it was called. I remember Sega Power had a small, long-running comic where the staff members would fight against the evil forces of Ninja Tendo (one of the guys ended up being a mutant head with bat wings, going ‘Cheers, Ears!’ at one point). My memories of the rest of the content are shaky, and I’m guessing that’s because there wasn’t much that stood out against the other two titles. Nevertheless, it was still a source of information on videogames, and I had to process that. And everything was continuing that way for a few years, until somebody made a decision that would make Sega Power stand above the others - for the wrong reasons.

It’s been a long time since I got rid of my copies of those old magazines. I had little room in my house, which I had moved into since my parents had separated. New consoles were released and I started collecting copies of PC Gamer to nurture information about games for my new desktop computer. Something have to give, and I started trying to sell the magazines to friends, then give away the rest. I would have been more attached to my copies of Sega Pro if I didn’t also purchase the annual review collections. That title died off just as the final Mega Drive titles and the first Saturn ones were released. I could tell how near the end was, trying to double its price on a halved page count on the final issue I got. It was a far cry from the days when they would offer a VHS tape with ads and game footage in one month, or the yellow joypad-cable tidy on another (which I still have and use)! The Sega Pro team had a very good run, and it was saddening to see how they finished. Mean Machines Sega, along with its sister publication Nintendo Magazine System, was incorporated respectively into the pretty good Official Sega Saturn Magazine and Nintendo Official Magazine. Radion Automatic got gigs on gaming television shows. I hope he’s still in the business and still has his long hair. You can still view the scans of both titles online, if you do a google search.

You can also search for scans of Sega Power, but for some reason, they are a little harder to come by than the former, at least on the first page of the search engine. I managed to find a whole copy of issue 46 online, and boy, does it take me back. It had a topical story on videogame controversy and how the British media covered them. Adverts from non-existent high-street stores like Woolworths and Ritz, reviews and previews of Master System, Mega Drive and Mega-CD games...even opinions of those new movies of 1993 out that month in the UK, like Jurassic Park, Last Action Hero and Unforgiven…flicking through the magazine again, it’s also eye-opening to see how games get such bad scores…I’ve played Golden Axe 3 before and had a whale of a time with its two-player mode, but did it really warrant a score of 34%? And the Mega-CD version of Afterburner 3, a game so reviled by the Sega Power staff that it got 6%….sorry, I’m getting carried away on a sweet-smelling, rose-tinted wave of nostalgia there.

Everything turns a little sepia now, when I turn my attention to the later stages of Sega Powers lifetime. Back then, I was in the later years of high-school (or into sixth-form, I can‘t nail it down exactly; either way I felt like crap in both eras), and when I picked up copies of the gaming magazine, I couldn’t help but notice the odd direction it was taking. Most of the issue, from previews, reviews and letters section became rambling incoherent stories. They never referred to the game reviewed or previewed, never answered those who were sending the correspondence properly…it was as if the editor just removed the entire staff and replaced them with those avant-garde experimental art-surrealists that would write poetry and stories that go nowhere. Even the captions would have that rambling attitude. There were references to people wetting themselves and just plain inane banter that would very rarely hint at any kind of entertaining humour that the other titles would attempt (and would do pretty well). At least the reviews had the name of the game, the format, screenshots and the score. Without that, I don’t think I would have even considered buying that magazine again. It had all the information I needed for games, but now it would have my attention in a different way…where was the magazine going with this, and what would happen? Looking back, it may have been a clever tactic, hooking people in with pure random, but I also felt that it could backfire…and that would be even more interesting.

To give you an idea of the stuff I witnessed, let’s just say it was the equivalent of a Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer comedy show, with just the events written down on paper. Vic and Bob are masters of absurdist humour that begun to hook television audiences since Spike Milligan and Monty Python trotted into a studio. Well, masters of absurdist humour in the United Kingdom…Canadians didn’t take too well to their popular panel show Shooting Stars when it crossed over the Atlantic, but then it would always be a stretch. Like an art-house Morecambe and Wise, or a Gilbert and George painting come to life, their wacky demeanour was endearing to either the after-pub crowd or those looking for an unexpected, silly edge to their comedy. And the two usually had disarming cheesy smiles. I hear their recent series, House of Fools, brings the house down for the right reasons.

But putting nonsense down on paper with little friendly visual stimulus might have a totally undesired effect. Print out tales about the reviewer, as a boy, going to the aquarium, wetting himself in front of a fish/mammal, then performing the same act in the bath when a sibling mentions the earlier fish/mammal…yeah, the image already forming in your mind isn’t pleasant, is it? By the way, I actually didn’t make that up; that was a tale told across captions under the screenshots of videogames. In a several thousand-selling videogames magazine. For crying out loud. When Steven Hansen crafted his review of Battlefield Hardline by using a community-blog quality rant about police-militarization over statements about how the game played, you thought that was the worst type-up of a review you had ever seen. You were quite clearly wrong, because I witnessed the proof. I’ve seen a review of a Pac-Man game which filled the entire two pages of ’WAKKA-WAKKA’ around the screenshots and score. I remember a Sonic the Hedgehog clone get about one sentence of main text, letting the screenshot captions do the talking about how close it was to it in style and gameplay, then lob a 50% score. And the two examples I gave were BEFORE Sega Power completely changed tack (I hope my memory of what magazine reviewed them was correct, though…). I just wish I had it to hand so I could show you.

How did it all end? With comments akin to ‘…and then I wet myself’ and such, it wasn’t long before the magazine got into the hands of someone who got concerned. A young girl got given a copy of the magazine free at some restaurant, and when the parent took a look at the prose, they didn’t like what they saw. The local newspaper was contacted, who consequently kicked up an almighty fuss. The newspaper even had the audacity to print the young girl’s school portrait photo in the story, giving the impression she had been murdered or something, since those are usually the only times those images are used in the media. Funny how one of the few issues I could find had looked into the issue of the role newspapers had in stirring up paranoia about videogames, and then the publication itself getting a similar treatment several years later. I found this story printed in the back of a newly sane Sega Power, which gave much understanding to their sudden about-turn in sensibility. Quite odd, because they never said why they went bananas in the first place. The magazine changed its name to Saturn Power to cover the Sega Saturn titles, and folded after a few issues.

The thing to learn from this is that a little randomness is allowed in your prose, so long as you still have relevancy to your subject and videogames. Just don’t expect your audience to look at you in the same way if you decide to go ‘full schizo’.


1:40 PM on 10.03.2013

Why Ni No Kuni Shouldn’t Be THAT Closely Compared with Persona 4

*Batthink enters the room and sees his Wizard’s Edition of Ni No Kuni crying*

Batthink:  Aww.  What’s up?

NNK: *Baaw*  Seymour was mean to meeeeee…

Batthink:  Oh, you mean SeymourDuncanRandomnumberattheend?  Well…you don’t need to worry about him…

NNK:  But he was meeeeeeeannnn… *sniff*

Batthink:  *grabs plush of Drippy and waves it in front of NNK, and talks in a rubbish Welsh accent*  Oi!  What cha’ doin’, like?  You don’t wanna be called summing like cry-baby bunting, do ya, boyo?

NNK:  *sniff*  You make him sound dumb…

Batthink:  *back to normal voice*  Yeah.  Now, let’s have a word with him…

To recap, Seymour made a blog stating how Atlus’ Persona 4 Golden was superior to Level-5’s Ni No Kuni.  With that reasoning, he is correct.  Both are Japanese role-playing games and both have long introductions without much gameplay.  But Seymour clearly plumped for the former title because there is a lot of handholding (the main cause of interruption getting in the way of actually playing the game), overly-simplistic themes, morals and over-scripting in the latter.  Whilst I disagree with the gripes about the voice-acting (which is pretty good for an RPG), Seymour makes it clear that presentation is key and his almost two-hour experience of Ni No Kuni declared it a bit of a mess.

He can’t work out why there should be so many tutorials.  He can’t understand the logic that went into Ni No Kuni’s design.  He can’t work out why it seems as if the developers think he’s about as smart as a rock (“The best part is, I feel that Persona 4 actually somewhat respects my intelligence”).  Maybe I have the answers:

He isn’t the target audience and this game, although developed by Level-5, is shackled by the rules of Ghibli.

If Seymour feels a little puzzled as to why I said that, then maybe I should direct him first to the covers of both boxes (unless he bought one or both digitally) and check out the age rating plastered on them.  Ni No Kuni has a ‘12’ rating (or the ‘PG/13’ in the US), and my Playstation 2 copy of Persona 4 has a ‘16’ rating (I should think that the PS Vita version should have the similar/equivalent rating).  Then I considered the Japanese ‘CERO’ rating.  I knew that, since quite a bit of anime in the Eighties had occasional content that would be risqué to a western viewer but wouldn’t raise an eyelid with the native audience‘s kids, so the rating must be set lower.  Checking Japan’s box art, I found ‘CERO A’…suitable for everyone.

Clearly, since this a collaboration with Studio Ghibli, their usual requirement is to deal with anything under the banner of entertainment that the family can enjoy, tying in with their movie audience.  So, not ‘hard’ enough drama and dialogue for the adult Seymour, but the game itself is geared towards those youngsters or movie-goers who haven’t fully got to grips with RPGs.  Those who played with Ni No Kuni will clearly think the CERO rating is more appropriate.  I myself feel that, with the amount of tutorial, handholding and themes.

What is more telling is how much influence that Studio Ghibli has on the game on the presentation side.  Since all of its movie catalogue doesn’t go above the ‘12’ rating (Graveyard of the Fireflies is the most mature of their work), that is effectively what Level-5 has to abide by.  Then you have to consider that the studio has to make up the character/familiar designs and the cut-scenes in their trademark animation for the game.  The first reason behind why the Ghibli cut-scenes are more infrequent compared to ones performed in the game engine is because the former cut-scenes are usually detailed and hand-drawn.  They may last thirty seconds to a minute in motion and are high-quality and thus expensive.  Put on top Hayao Miyazaki’s tendency to throw away any animation cells/backgrounds that aren’t up to scratch, along with the time needed to devote to other projects.  Level-5 has plenty of reasons to pick and choose carefully what moments in the game need that Studio Ghibli visual hallmark.

You also have Ghibli’s need to keep to the script (it could be ‘their’ script or the developers’).  Way back in the 1980’s, Miyazaki’s movie Nausicaä was cut by about half-an-hour by those who secured the license in the US.  Ghibli’s director was spitting blood; after all, how would you feel if you gave 100% effort to your work only to find somebody altered over a quarter of it?  He resolved to make sure that until those who were responsible for the localization of the movies provided the original meanings and intentions, they would not be allowed to show any further movies after My Neighbour Totoro.  Thankfully, someone got the hint by the time Princess Mononoke came around.

Admittedly, aiming at the audience Studio Ghibli holds sway still doesn’t excuse the amount of unnecessary dialog there is, even though the notable appliance of dialects is admirable.  A lot of that could have been cut out, especially later on, in order to let the player apply the right spells with their own initiative and so forth (instead of having to skip text a lot).  This unfortunately impacts not only those looking to head straight into action, but also the people Ghibli caters for.  When I told my anime/JRPG-game-playing friend the fact I had completed it, he was surprised.  He had heard only one other person who had managed to do that, and he himself couldn’t bring himself to finish it.  There were RPGs that were considered far inferior to Ni No Kuni, yet he was more prepared to finish those games than that, simply dropping out of the game.  This was telling; how can you help players commit to a game requiring a few score hours, when you’re working with others who specialize in movies that need attention for only two?

Regardless of whether Level-5 was doing the scriptwriting, I believe Miyazaki and Ghibli would always have a hand in it, particularly where the translation to other languages is concerned.  For example, as the story is set in parallel with a sort of 1950’s USA,  Miyazaki would stress the importance of place and time in identifying a person from that era.  Now, expressions like ‘jeepers’ is going to sound very odd in this day and age, and even when Oliver says it, it doesn’t sound quite right.  But if Miyazaki demands that a child has to say something that identifies him from being from the 1950’s, with the only option OK’ed being ‘jeepers’, then we are stuck with it, good or ill.

Level-5 have managed to do a good job of working with other developer’s franchises before.  See their efforts regarding Dragon Quest VIII onwards, working alongside Square-Enix.  However, instead of being able to have the foundations laid for them and play with more freedom with the given designs, the collaboration with Ghibli has hampered the game a little bit.  It could have been a lot better in script mainly, but the presentation, given a bit more time and resources, would have required small improvements.  Something that a developer like Atlus working on their own wouldn’t have been troubled by, having the freedom to do whatever they can with Persona 4.

Persona 4 covers Seymour’s desires for a mature look at a Japanese society with mystery, murder and many other factors going on.  It is the fourth game in the series, and so is able to provide a refining of what makes the game tick as well as any previous issues the other prequels had.  Ni No Kuni is Level-5’s first game with Studio Ghibli, and they had to start something new and also adhere to Miyazaki’s requests.  It was bound to have difficulties and problems, and indeed the flaws have been glaring to both me and Seymour.  Why wasn’t the ‘all-out defence’ party command option able to be implemented earlier than the Fairyground, for instance?  Maybe they didn’t like introducing everything for their intended audience too quickly, that the handholding would go on more over a shorter period of time.  With a less script, this would of course be less of a problem.

For what has been done right, however, is great.  It has kept the visual style as expected, has plays on words from the groan-some to the clever, the awesome reveal of  what goes on inside the fairy godmother, as well as a few nods to earlier Ghibli-franchises.  Not only that, but the battle system is good enough to make defending an important option, setting up the glims in order to replenish health and magic power.  Level-5 also implements an item combination system carried over from other games in the form of the caldron, so that when you get it, you can craft new items with the existing ones you have.  That, and on top up feeding your familiars to increase their stats and evolve into new types.

I doubt these factors will change Seymour’s mind about the aspects of the game that have made him leave it in favour of Persona 4, and I would respect that decision.  I have given reasons for his gripes, but these cannot excuse the game from its imperfections.  There are only two major issues I have with his blog;  firstly, the level of criticism put on Ni No Kuni by using the other particular game to point out the flaws is, in my opinion, a little over the top.  Maybe it is just me being sensitive, but Persona has the subjects, characters and narrative freedoms that would easily interest him without being held back by an audience he has outgrown.  Ni No Kuni never really had a chance of standing against P4 with more generic characters and situations that could only be presentable to a family.  He could have been looking for laughs, tearing into the game to make his blog sound entertaining.  However, I can’t help but feel he’s done the equivalent of attacking a Disney film because it doesn’t have the deep meaning, topics and research that a Christopher Nolan one has.

The second issue is his dismissal of the plot.  He hasn’t played the game all the way through and yet says that it is a ‘by-the-books-story’ about Oliver’s ‘quick fun…leads to trouble and he learns a lesson’.  It would be easy to encapsulate that if you played the first few hours, but after playing the game to the story‘s conclusion, there are a few twists in the tale that would easily damage Seymour’s assumption.

And where should you, the reader, stand?  If you have a lot of patience, love RPGs with a solid battle system and/or love Studio Ghibli anime, you’ll be fine with this.  But if you are looking to try something away from the norm, don’t want to have to deal with reams of text about things that might not interest you and have more experience with games to know what to do, it might be time to move along to something else with a bit more scope.  We all had to start with a particular game somewhere; maybe another possible Level-5/Ghibli game could garner a more interesting result and rectify those mistakes.  For now, I believe Ni No Kuni and Persona 4 exist in their own little grounds.   read

1:44 PM on 05.28.2012

Ten More Things Batthink Will Allow You to Know That You Didn’t

This meme again? I did this three years ago… Oh well, I may as well get involved. After all, I don’t usually get double-figure posts for my blog-entries… and yeah, I know it is late to the party. I usually am, blog-wise.

1. I love entering competitions

I got bitten by the bug ever since I won a mail competition for a McDonalds hamper (in the end, it turned out to be a bag/holdall, although a very good quality one), in my primary school years. Since then, I’ve kept sending cut-out forms in games magazines, then onto a competition links site when I got access to the internet. A copy of Rocket Knight Adventures, Mario’s Picross and many more entered my collection. I’ve entered seldom, but I still seem to keep winning. Thanks to a recent promotion regarding Justin Trousersnake…I mean, Justin Timberlake’s film In Time, I won a year’s gold access to Xbox Live just in time (oh ho!) to renew before expiry. To all those who complain about not getting a prize; just keep trying. You won’t win if you don’t enter. Which brings me to…

2. I managed to win an Xbox 360 Elite

Yep, that’s right. Years after the competition where I blagged a version of the original Xbox console, I decided upon entering a television website competition. Months later, hey presto! One brand new games console, complete with 120Gb hard drive, HDMI cable, a years subscription to Xbox Live and copy of the new (and dodgy) Aliens v Predator game! I managed to copy my old profile from my first 360 I had, then sell the older console and subscription to a friend I know. The money from that helped pay my motorbike fees.

3. I am a Christian

Since quite a few people in this meme announced their belief status here, I feel this is the right time to put down mine. You might have started to think about all the negative stereotypes, ignorance/rejection of scientific discoveries and general hypocrisy. But please hear me out.

I made my decision in my early twenties to part of Jesus’ household because my head was messed up, not the other way around. I went to a Gideon’s New Testament to try and find a bit of relief, and it slowly relaxed my mind‘s raging thoughts. Although I still have my issues, I can honestly say that my life has gotten a bit better with every passing year, and I sense that after finding out my problems were links to obsessive disorder and the trauma of my parents’ break up (among other things), things came together. The more I kept going, I became less ‘religious’ and the more ‘dedicated’ to the faith. I found new friends in a Baptist group that isn’t stuck up or trying to act perfect. I’ve even learnt a few prayers that helped me feel better through trial and error, just by changing the odd word. The challenge for me now is to try and learn from the awkward mistakes I’ve made in the faith early on thanks to various misconceptions I had, as well as trying to listen to others whose beliefs are different from mine.

I facepalm at my fellow ‘believers’ when they slag off videogames for many reasons. I am accepting of all genders. I may take the bible as god-breathed truth, but I don’t take as gospel everything that comes from a pastor’s mouth. People argue creation vs. evolution but it could also be that God created evolution and lit the big bang. I don’t simply want to be a drone being fed instructions, I want to do the right thing, by knowing what the ‘right thing’ is and approaching things logically. I might be a sheep, but I’m not a lemming.

But you know what else is important? Doing what my soul enjoys and it enjoys fun. And what do I find more fun than videogames? Hanging out with my diverse group of friends I made with the Destructoid EU group, especially at gaming events. And I thank God for that.

4. I have developed a taste for Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia frozen yoghurt

Several years ago, Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream wasn’t even stocked in Britain. Imagine that. Now, we have them amongst the supermarket brands, Haagen Dazs and all the other ones. I’ve started to get a little bored of eating the same caramel/chocolate/toffee/pecan flavours that were my usual comfort food flavours and I’ve drifted over to consume this lovely mix of cherry yoghurt and chocolate pieces. It’s a lot healthier too and tastes exactly like ice cream, so this is something I can eat without worrying about my health.

5. I don’t like typing up blogs that much

To me, typing up a blog is a bit of hard work. Yes, you could get away with entering a three paragraph moan with no images and call it an entry. But you can’t get away with that on Destructoid. Any blog that I decide to construct needs some research (and at times, not just Wikipedia) and at least one image to make it presentable. If you don’t, you just have a wall of text with opinions based on rumours that need checking.

Then again, it is good that I believe this minimal amount of standards may end up making the community blogs more worthy of a read now and then. It is just the feeling that I can only be arsed to do about ten to fifteen lines a day that bothers me, when I have quite a few good topics that could go down on the word processor.

6. I really like role-playing games

I guess it was when my Atari ST-owning friend had Dungeon Master on whilst I was round that I started to develop an interest for the genre. What grabs me in an RPG is when I develop a character’s or weapon’s attributes. You name it, whether it be Bard’s Tale, Grandia, Dark Chronicle (my all-time favourite game), Skyrim or Knights of the Old Republic, I just simply have to see my characters evolve. Sod the story, I want to allocate my skill points.

7. One-on-one fighting games are not my favourite genre, but they entice me so…

My least favourite genres are either flight-sims (not enough action) or real-time strategy (I have to manage a load of units and before I know it, I’m overwhelmed). One-on-one fighters are more of a love-hate relationship; I like the character designs, the competitiveness, the community and the quality but I cannot be bothered to learn complex moves and combinations when there are other games that can be picked up and played with more ease.

Then I visit GundamJehutyKai during one of our London Destructoid EU events and I’m like ‘I want a fight-stick too!’. I’m just eager to join in on any exciting social get-together. My capacity to learn, like I said in the earlier ‘ten things’ blog entry, had been teased out of me because of many a negative school experience. However, any positively good vibes I get seem to plainly override this. Which is a good thing.

8. I read the Big Issue

I remember a couple of other Destructoid members were in stitches because of my reaction to a seller of the homeless magazine. I scanned the articles for something of interest but couldn’t see anything, so I didn’t choose to purchase it, leading to much mirth. I was in London, wasn’t keen to spend money on a magazine that didn’t have much reason to buy, and I was a spendthrift anyway. However, my attitude has changed since.

My apprehension about purchasing the magazine was caused when, years ago, my brother noticed I read it and told my mother about it. They both then persuaded me not to buy it, since they mistakenly believed the proceeds went to drugs or something. However, my mother changed her mind and I’m thankful that she has.

The magazine was primarily focused on helping the homeless earn a living, since in order to get a job in this country, you need a fixed address. You can see the problem now, can’t you? The vendors purchase their copies and sell them for double the amount in order to accumulate a profit. The guy who thought up of the idea, John Bird, was homeless himself for a time and believes that simply giving money will leave them begging and on the street, whilst helping them earn a living themselves will be able to get them their self-esteem back and in turn help themselves to move away from or face what problems got them there in the first place.

When I started to buy the magazine, it was only because I didn’t want to say no. Then, I felt bad about telling the vendor that, so I only decided to buy when I felt like it or if there was an interesting article. Now, I purchase it whenever I see a vendor straight away, not out of guilt, but because it genuinely helps people out. I see quite a few articles which show vendor (and ex-vendor) success stories and challenge certain issues regarding the homeless and the magazine itself. One particular case involves a national newspaper criticising a guest editor who had two homes. So those who have money shouldn’t help those who don’t even have a home? What rubbish. The fact that vendors are ignored when they are busy selling is a common problem, as people who have a stable job and home have noticed when they are invited to sell the magazine to understand what it is like from a vendor’s POV. All it takes is to say ‘no, thanks’ if they ask you.

9. I have a massive backlog of games to play through.

I’m playing through both Forza 3 and 4, along with Black Ops on the 360. I have just started Demon’s Souls, as well as Skyrim, Dirt 3 and Red Dead Redemption on the Playstation 3. THEN I have still to get through Etrian Odyssey 2 on the DS, AS WELL AS either getting all cars or ranking up all of the races on Gran Turismo on the PSP.

AND the fifty-plus games I still have to start for those systems AND others. Other than work, Destructoid meet-ups, gaming with my local friends and church, I wouldn’t say I’d be in danger of having no life outside of the videogames I play in my room. That said, I think I need to socialize a bit more. I need help with that.

10. I can flare my nostrils really big

I must have, like, a huge amount of muscles in the architecture of my nose. It freaks people out. Good thing I have something to use against all those who are nasty to me.

And with that last bombshell, we are at the end. Batthink out.   read

6:59 PM on 03.20.2012

My Impressions of Ridge Racer Unbounded and Armored Core 5

It has been a little while since I last visited the Namco Bandai offices in Hammersmith, London. That time, I got to try out Enslaved before its release. Suitably chuffed with the game and the place where I was able to play it, I was looking forward to returning some day.

Indeed I did re-enter the building. This time, I had the opportunity to play not one, but four games. Two of them I didn’t try; I left Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm Generations and Saint Seiya to Robert, a fellow member of the Destructoid EU e-mailer. He felt that Saint Seiya was very much a game in the ‘Dynasty Warriors’ vein, but with two-minute cut-scenes that happen in the middle of a battle, which irked him somewhat.

Ridge Racer is a well-known arcade racer that truly caught the imagination of the Playstation era, where Namco ported it lock, stock and barrel over to Sony’s new console. A couple of dozen ports and sequels later, and the series needed to discover a bit of new ground after the 3DS and PS Vita versions.

Which leads us to Ridge Racer Unbounded. A game that was described as awful by one of my other Destructoid emailer friends when he tried it at Eurogamer Expo last year. I was concerned about the direction the franchise was taking, feeling a diversion into Burnout territory was going to end nasty. I didn’t get round to trying it then, but when I got my hands on it six months later, I can happily say that I wasn‘t walking away with my friend‘s point of view.

You have a number of places to select in the city you’re going to race in. I believe progressing through each race will open up new areas that can be selected later, but there is also a level-up system (similar to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit) that will get you access to more new, fictional cars when access to a new level is reached. The points to get for this, of course, are achieved by doing numerous feats through each race.

Early on, there are about four race types (might be more later on, but I can‘t tell yet). You get your standard race, drift (better drifts add more seconds and points), a timed ‘stunt track’ race against the clock, and Domination, which is a race with a more aggressive slant in that destroying your opponents can give you a boost that can increase the properties of your car, like speed, for a few seconds. There was also a ‘Frag’ mode, which LightForceJedi spotted in his playthrough, but that was something I didn’t get round to.

Oh, I said ‘boost’, didn’t I? Yes, here is where I can start getting into where Unbounded starts to become influences by other combative-style racers. In order to be able to perform a boost (available in most of the game modes), the driver needs to build a certain amount of drift, air, takedowns of other cars and slipstreaming, amongst other things. This boost will give your car a visible streaming effect and a better chance of wrecking other cars. So far, so much like every other racing game that needs a nitro enhancement, including Split/Second. You remember that one, don’t you? The game where you use power-plays at certain points activating short-cuts and destructive events to destroy opponents? Well, it seems that Bugbear (the developers of Unbounded) have been watching, and they’ve included prompts for the boost to be used. In the early races I played, I saw these prompts appear on buildings and fuel-tankers/construction vehicles. Hit the boost button when close enough to a building to cause environmental destruction and give yourself a handy shortcut (plus a few extra points towards the next level). Hit one of the aforementioned vehicles and an explosion tears up any other racers around you.

Whilst it would be easy to say that Bugbear have cribbed those features from the Black Rock Studios game, it isn’t entirely a replication. For one thing, you must drive into the environment rather than activate it from a distance, so you won‘t turn into a piece of scrap metal and lose out so long as you start the boost to protect the car. Also, the shortcuts stay open once used, so if you thought a sneaky head-start would throw your opponents, there is nothing stopping those who know the track or witness the results of the boost from following that shortcut in the remaining laps. However, this might lead to tempting situations where faking an attempt to open a shortcut can force another racer to crash headlong into the hard entrance if they don’t (or won’t be able to) press the boost button themselves.

Overall, I am pleased to say that playing the game was fairly satisfying. The cars handle fine; racers with a high drift value need to have the handbrake button held down for much longer than one with a lower value, although the lower-value drifters will take a lot more effort to control. You won’t be getting caught up on lamp-posts, brick pillars or small overpasses either; the cars can pile through those and turn them into debris. That is more forgiving than a racer that forces you to stop every ten seconds because your motor has been wrapped around a telegraph pole just by clipping it, but not lenient to let you get away with a firm collision with a sturdy building. There are small life-bars present to let you know who is on their last legs and who you need to avoid if you require a bit of preservation. There was also a track creation system present in the game that I didn’t get around to, as well as an ‘aftertouch-esque’ post-wreck camera shows awards points for the extra damage incurred to the unfortunate car as well as any racers that happen to plough into the vehicle. Early races are easy to ‘three-star’, but Domination races are tough enough to provide a challenge from the outset. An interesting amount of features in the short time I enjoyed the game that may lift it head and shoulders above other genre stablemates.

A series of games I haven’t got to grips with since the opening effort are the Armored Core ones. A quality giant robot game in the vein of Gungriffon, but with focus on customisable parts and weapons, the game has since been supported by a solid amount of gamers. Nevertheless, it has been under attack from the critics for recent instalments’ lack of significant progress and unwillingness to broaden its audience, pointing out the controls as an issue.

I sat down to the fourth official sequel of the series (a hefty amount of spin-off games were created for the second and third games on the Playstation 2), and decided to try to work out what button does what on the Xbox controller I picked up. From the main map, there were three types of mission, one that is connected to the story (I didn‘t bother going for those, and Namco Bandai wouldn‘t like me to broadcast spoilers anyway), another that sets-up an operation that can have its parameters changed like difficulty and operation type, and the most common being short missions to remove skirmish forces to achieve a S-F rank. In my first mission that I decided to try, the lower left-hand face buttons were designated for boost and jump-boost. This gave off a cool heat-haze effect behind the mecha, and launched me further towards where I needed to go. The trigger buttons deployed the firepower to whatever shoulder-missiles or guns were allocated.

After completing the mission, achieved by destroying all the enemy installations, tanks and mecha, I needed a little help to change what weapons were allocated in the workshop, where the mecha are assembled. One of the shoulder buttons switched between ‘body’ type parts and ‘weapons’ to allocate between each part. I found this awkward, but more or less understood what I had to do. I had to make sure my giant robot wasn’t carrying so much that it would affect its manoeuvrability, which was clearly indicated on screen.

Afterwards, Robert and another player decided to join me to play a mission (after sprucing up their mecha with new paint jobs, earning them an achievement. It should be playing the game that’s important, dammit!). We found that whilst some missions had the ability to hold three or more players, others could only hold two. It took a little while to get a game set up for all of us, but when we did, we managed to kick backside. The only problem was that we couldn’t find the final enemy to kill. This was solved in another period of play, where the R3 button switched combat mode to scan mode, pin-pointing nearby enemy positions. The only issue there was that you were out of combat mode, so you couldn’t scan AND shoot at the same time. That was unusual, but all it took to get back to taking pot-shots was another press of the R3 button. That, and the fact I needed to focus on destroying the tougher opposition with missiles rather than ineffective gunshot rounds (did I mention that there are three different types of firepower? Kinetic and thermal types being two of them?).

Before I finished my time on the game, I did manage to play against an A.I. character in their own mech. It took me two efforts to vanquish it, and when I did, my huge killing machine was heavily damaged. With my novice ability with the controls (and not being aware of the infamous Armored Core controller meme), I was quite chuffed.

IGN said that they ‘wish the series would commit to more than gradual improvement. At this pace, it looks like [they’ll] be able to give an unqualified thumbs-up round about Armored Core 5 -- say, four or five years from now.’ That was 2002. They were out by about an extra five years. I wouldn’t know what improvements have been made or to what degree; all I can say is that if you gravitate towards these type of games, it looks like it’ll be best to give this one a try if you have the patience.

Ridge Racer Unbounded is out in Europe March 30th. Armored Core 5 is available now in North America and in Europe March 23rd.   read

4:58 PM on 01.19.2012

Fail List: The Console/Platform Wars Will Never Be Over Edition


This blog is about the results of a poll to do with the various gaming platforms that have been around since, well, forever. I have been well aware of how arguments about this matter turn into flamewars. I maybe looking for comments, but I refuse to condone any crass, unnecessary slanging matches about what console/computer makes your penis bigger. If you try to start something, I will do my best to remove any kind of opportunity to troll-feed.

You have been warned.

Everybody has their favourite platform to play on. Whether you were involved in the Sega vs Nintendo battles of the 1990s (involving many a violent image of Mario/Sonic getting his head chopped off by his adversary in a magazine’s letters section) or plumping for the more versatile PC than the ready-to-go console, everyone has their opinion. And they wish to share it.

GamesTM magazine’s website gave their readers and viewers the chance to put their vote on what their favourite gaming platform was late last year. In issue number 118, they published the results. Whilst limiting the number that would be covered in a certain depth to fifteen, the ten page spread also lists what percentage the unlucky outsiders had. Factors to remember about this poll were that voters got five choices to plump for, and although this was an internet vote where the world could contribute, the main contingent of the voters would be expected to be, once again, British.

The results, as the magazine quotes, were ‘shocking’. When I saw first place, I was more than a little surprised, too.

Okay, I’ve stopped here, because I want to calm about 75% of you down. This is only a list. Remember that. Another website by another predominant countries’ magazine might have different results. Two of the top three are predictable entries, and the other can be written off if you are not happy with it. Now, deep breaths. Inhale….and release. Now scroll down and relax.

I said, ‘relax’.

Yes, you.

See? That was surprising! Considering how many broke down and how many votes the Playstation 3 got (half compared to the winner!), you’d think it would be lower. But no, the Microsoft Xbox 360 is GamesTM reader’s favourite console. Explanations? Well, the pie chart on its page dispels any myths about pre-teen fanboy spamming, because they only made up two percent of the vote for the console. Over three-quarters of the 360 votes belonged to gamers 26 years-old and upwards. It was run very close by the SNES (my prediction for the top), which had a huge percentage of the first choice of each gamer, but featured far less as second-to-fifth choice. This polarisation, including decent survival of a first year without many big titles thanks to Gamer Points and backwards compatible play with Halo 2 helped the leader. Along with the expansion of the Grand Theft Auto series to the platform as well as Gears of War, Forza and more Halo, the updated experience of Xbox Live to include both mainstream and hardcore gamers as well as downloadable titles (from established developers as well as independent), those are the reasons GamesTM holds up in support.

And my ideas of the rest of the places? Well, I’m glad the Game Boy and the NES managed to squeeze into the chart, although they were under threat from the Nintendo DS, which was only 0.27% off the original handheld’s standings. It’s proof of how well Nintendo managed to keep their vision on what was important in their portable gaming machines. As for the Wii, it factored only just over 1.5% of the total console gaming vote. The Big N will need to learn from that particular rating.

Interestingly, mobile gaming for Apple is growing well, with iOS getting 6.17% of the handheld vote, close behind the Game Boy Colour and Sony PSP. The Amiga had a lead of almost 5% percent lead from the PC in the gaming computer vote, whilst the poor old Atari ST only got 0.61%. What also intrigued me was that the Dreamcast managed to accumulate double the total votes over the GameCube, as well as matching the favours towards the Playstation 2 two-thirds of the way. I find it a little mindboggling that, although the Dreamcast died a premature death in the West and the games (and not the console) sales were what earned Sega the profits, it didn’t survive even with that amount of support.

So what do you think? Be good, comment nicely and don’t start a flamewar.   read

5:03 PM on 01.08.2012

Predictions: Surfer Girl Not Included

Hello. I’m sure you’ll have guessed by now that this blog will be concerning this week’s musing, regarding what the year 2012 holds for gamers. I’d thought that, rather than focus on just one particular gaming-based idea for the near future, I’d just do a whole number of random topics. I’d thought it would be a bit more fun for me than try and pick one particular idea and squeeze all the issues out of it.

Regarding the title, Surfer Girl was an anonymous feed of information to Destructoid who popped up about a couple of years ago for one or weeks, then disappeared. Maybe Surfer Girl had an accident with a surfboard that left her in a coma, or maybe she was outed by Wikileaks and had to change to a different username. Still, this blog entry will be in honour of this mysterious ‘Deep Throat’ individual (no, nothing to do with the adult film), and the strange way she sailed into, and vanished from, this site.

Note that the following after this paragraph will be less ‘Captain Obvious’ than you would have thought. Yes, there will be a Call of Duty in some shape or form in the coming year. Paul Christoforo will be getting a new job, although he’ll be having to apply for a lot of ones closer to the bottom-rung of employment. No, 2012 won’t be the end of the world. For the rest, I’ll have to explain a bit of the logic taken towards them.

Microsoft and Sony will announce cloud-based gaming abilities in the next generation of consoles

Onlive has pushed the envelope for promoting the streaming of games across the internet in the past year. After getting a lot of positive feedback, from myself included, I’m sure that the renewal of several subscriptions, sales of games and continued promotions will leave them comfortably at their present vocation. This effort to get recognition via adverts and word of mouth will not have gone unnoticed by the established competition in the shape of the traditional gaming-platform, the home console.

Nintendo has already jumped the gun and is prepping the Wii-U, meaning they will not be considering it for a while. The other two big companies have still to give complete details of what is forthcoming (good thing too, I’d like to get some damn use out of my consoles), so they may have room to manoeuvre a few new ideas into the designs. Cloud gaming could be one of them, but I can already see you going oh no they won’t, they’ll have their XBLA/PSN downloads which people will leave safely on the hard-drives and stick to them. Sound argument, but I still believe the developers have the planning to implement them in a valid way.

Microsoft already has the ability to save your game using a cloud system on the Xbox 360. Extra developments to this may mean more free space from smaller hard-drives in future consoles, with the increased room for fans or processing power. There could be more opportunities for the console to multitask with the processor when the internet is doing part of the work for viewing the game. Okay, okay, I’m not fully sure how it works entirely. But console-makers can’t ignore it completely. All it may take is an application to set it up. They simply need an idea to make it relevant in a home console and keep one step ahead of the competition.

Microsoft or Sony staff will mention L.A. Noire and/or Heavy Rain as starting points for their graphics builds for their next platforms

These two games (aside from the Uncharted series) have set the standard for graphics for a while now. Question the amount of gameplay in Heavy Rain if you wish. Argue against the idea of an expensive facial/motion capture process that won’t help speed up the creation of a game long in development. But there is one thing you can’t deny; these games have had enough impact with their visuals to convince the industry that this will be the way forward.

Imagine how much more interactivity can go on and added complexity into both those games on a new platform, and, so long as the gameplay holds up, you may end up with game of the year material. That’s what both sides want to sell their machines and other games, and will be something to pitch to the third party developers.

Metal Gear Rising will scoop up gamer-bile and force chunder-chimps to eat their words

After looking at the latest round of articles regarding the new game from Hideo Kojima, you’d be forgiven that those commenting on them believed that the title was going to be developed by Ninja Theory. It isn’t. It is being built by Platinum Games.

For those not in the know, Ninja Theory have been getting a lot of stick for their intended reboot for Devil May Cry, DmC. This is before the game has even been released. We agree that their work on videogames has been patchy, in spite of the solid effort that was Enslaved, but trashing the game based on visuals and changes to character designs is jumping the gun.

A similar thing has happened now with MGR with people up in arms because they see more gimmicky lines in the trailer than a Conservative Party speech from David Cameron. ‘Revengence’ and ‘Let’s Move Our Hands’ had over-reactive gamers in overdrive; the former term felt the game had been dumbed down to a level of a pro-wrestler’s botched promo. The latter had others worried that the game would be a Kinect-exclusive or something. And the action involved looked to be a final nail in a non-existent coffin; the protagonist using moves so flashy and brutal, there was absolutely no chance of the game being anything like the stealth-based predecessors that the fans loved.

So let’s set the record straight. Firstly, Platinum Games is made up of former Clover Studio members (credits include Viewtiful Joe and Okami). The development studio is responsible for Bayonetta and Vanquish, two very well-received games that would be good practise for this new title. And Kojima Productions are still involved in the production, so there should not be any deviation from Kojima‘s original vision for the game. I predict that, based on that information, the game will not take any half-hearted efforts that might lead to a mediocre review.

Secondly, the game is supposed to be different from the Solid series of titles. Kojima has eased fears by stating that a more traditional stealth-based game is in the works, so if the fans of the series don’t like Rising, they can fall back on their precious comfort blanket. Besides, this has been termed a ‘hunter-stealth’ game. It is going to be different from the MGS series, a fact that doesn’t seem to sink in to those who are plugging for a return to Solid Snake’s field of operations. Kojima should be allowed to branch out and experiment, to find new opportunities in game development. They aren’t going to force the gaming masses to buy the game, but some will complain nevertheless. Almost like an individual who is cowering in a corner, thinking they are about to be force-fed a spoonful of goodness knows what. ‘Let’s Move Our Hands’ may as well be as literal as ‘Nowhere to Hideo’, another tagline in a long-ago released trailer. That didn’t come to much, did it? I doubt that if Kinect was involved, then the game would never have use for a standard controller? Can’t you trust who is feeding you? Pity. Go miss out on what, I believe, will be some cool slice-dice action. And also…

A Policenauts reference will be shoe-horned into Metal Gear Rising

…well, maybe a copy of the full game I was hoping for. Then again, it took ages for the fan translation to be finished. A reference to Kojima’s other game will have to do.

Sega will release Athlete Kings (AKA DecAthlete) on XBLA/PSN

2012 is Olympic year. Sega have already released the second Sonic and Mario at the Olympics. Konami will (or may) put in a low-key entry in their Track and Field series, whilst Sega Studios Australia’s official London 2012 game and Ghostlight’s annual unofficial athletics-based release will battle for bronze medal position. But why shouldn’t we allow Sega to have a third bite of the cherry and release one of the best button-bashers of all time?

The arcade-thrill was pretty much ported brilliantly over to the Sega Saturn. With the company plugging its Mega Drive backlog for all its worth, and Treasure capitalising on their Dreamcast ports by adding the Saturn-exclusive Guardian Heroes to download, this will be a critical time for Sega to take advantage. Who knows, it might just lead to more ex-Saturn ports. Like Panzer Dragoon Saga. Or all the parts to Shining Force 3. Or even Dragon Force 1 & 2. Just think of all that money, Sega. Come on, you know you want it…

A new Robocop game will be released

Cast your minds back a few months ago, and you’ll have noticed that Robocop avatar clothing was available (I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR, etc) on Xbox 360. Now, with little other Robocop shows/films/promotions going on, why on earth would this be going on? Because the baying masses of Xbox Live actually requested it? Or…could this be a test to see how many people are still interested in Robocop? A test that might lead to a videogame?

It doesn’t matter whether those who crafted the avatar suit/props have any videogame experience or not; if someone wants a list of figures, they can demand it via those programmers or Microsoft or whoever. I’m guessing enough individuals want a new game taking down fleshy perps with an automatic handgun and ED-209s with a rocket launcher.

Tecmo Koei will add more licenses to their Dynasty Warriors-type games

Contrary to what person was responsible for the graffiti that daubed the Koei building may have been thinking, a lot of people still put their hard-earned cash into the Dynasty Warriors hack-and-slash-and-wash-and-rinse-and-repeat series. And they still will, as long as Koei can re-edit it for Gundam and Fist of the North Star fans.

Problem is, Koei have squeezed a lot out of their above franchises. There are only so many Chinese warriors, Gundam series and characters that have been on the receiving end of Kenshiro’s fists to warrant sequels for Omega Force‘s work. The answer to this is to find more to work with.

If Yoshiyuki Tomino allowed Tecmo Koei to use Gundam, for example, how about securing the extra licenses for his other anime that he has been involved in and group them together? Or maybe Omega Force can put giant robots to one side, and create a game based in the comic-book universe of Marvel or DC? Even Jim Sterling’s love of the Dynasty Warriors series is beginning to wear thin now, so the developers need to start afresh. Which finally leads me to my final prediction of 2012...

Jim Sterling will appear on a major television news channel for an interview

Some ex-Destructoid members claim he is the reason why they are not part of the site anymore. Some so-called Destructoid members claim he is the reason why this site is rubbish, although those who send those messages do so on a regular enough basis with enough hate to make you wonder why they don’t leave. For the rest of us, we take him as he is; a British guy who has knowledge of videogames, who can put idiocy under the spotlight and show for what it is, and someone unafraid to give his view of what he thinks and knows about a game in a review.

Jim has gotten into controversy one or two times, but that doesn’t stop him from continuing to be in attendance for Destructoid or his videos on the Escapist. This is usually enough ammo for the mainstream media to keep their distance from him. However, I believe that there will be at least one corporation that will go ‘Hey, we need material for this violent videogames scandal thing, we may as well get this Jim Sterling guy. He’s outspoken and stuff, he’ll give us ratings if he says the f-word. And he’s exactly the kind of sucker we want to rip into.’ Unfortunately for them, I don’t think that is going to happen that way.

For Jim, 2012 will be the year his notoriety will increase, simply because he has managed to increase his exposure a bit within the last 52 weeks. 2/1 he says the word ‘bias’, 3/1 he has a toucan on screen, 5/1 he swears above the level of ‘crap’.

So what do you think?

Did I lack a bit of reasoning somewhere in these predictions, or that you have a piece of information/news that already confirms it/shoots it down? Comment and be gentle with me. I am a human with feelings. Do you have a prediction? Comment, give your reason, however sensible, wacky or outlandish. Want to give me any kudos if these come true? Do so, but I’m giving a tenth to Jesus. Tithing y’see.

Whatever happens when commenting, don’t suck. You don’t want to disappear like Surfer Girl.   read

5:43 PM on 11.13.2011

Acquisition: Midcity Madness

Shepherds Bush, London, under a decade ago. I was standing around in frustration at my recent efforts to accomplish what I thought would be an ideal; my attempt to progress at an Unreal Tournament 2003 World Cyber Games qualifier came to an abrupt halt at the first hurdle (came fifth in a group where three move to the next round), then found myself out of my league in the FIFA qualifiers (I’m good enough to beat my friend many times, but not good enough to score a single goal against the pros).

After uttering a list of expletives (which only happens when something I really really really want to achieve goes begging), I returned to looking around the building at the various games to play. Whilst this was the first in several stepping stones towards convincing myself that I wasn’t cut out at all for pro-gaming in the minor leagues, I never really lost the love for competition and winning things. Ever since I won a large piece of McDonalds merchandise answering a question in a newspaper, I was bitten by the bug. Several videogame competitions were won, for decent games too.

I never won a games console before though. That was to change the moment I headed upstairs for another look at the Xbox stand.

Earlier on, I had a look at the newest console on the block. Microsoft had been largely ridiculed by gamers and critics up and down the videogaming world for its Xbox. They were thinking how it had the power of a mid-range PC, with a control pad that could barely fit into the hands of those holding it. And they all had experienced enough grief from their operating systems, so goodness knows how functional their console will be. A few months into its release, the laughing stopped. It had the games and the balls to back up Microsoft’s claims, and by the time I was at the WCG event, Halo: Combat Evolved had been on the shelves for about a year.

I’d be lying if I didn’t want an Xbox. The Battlenet LAN centre I attended had one set up, with the newest Dead or Alive, Burnout 2, Halo, Steel Battlion and Project Gotham Racing amongst the games it had available in the first couple of years. They were great fun, and not only that, the LAN centre could link the consoles up to Xbox Live. I was hearing and witnessing great stuff. On top of that, IGUK were presenting competitions (yay!) with the chance to win copies of Xbox games and other prizes by getting the various LAN centre all-comers to set times, scores, etc. This, in retrospect, was an awesome way of advertising Microsoft’s machine.

I played two games, Burnout 2 and Midtown Madness 3, thoroughly because the opportunity to win something was there. I got a copy of Burnout 2 for setting one of the fastest times, but the chance of putting my skills to a Midtown challenge was thwarted by cancellation. Oh well. It wasn’t like it was as fun as Burnout anyway. And Burnout had no annoying female characters bitching about you and your driving. And less visible bugs.

At the London event, I gazed at the booths holding the new Top Spin, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and any other new game the Xbox team could show. I also spotted Midtown Madness 3 there, so I moved on to another booth to play something I hadn’t already put my hands on.

The next time I visit the area, I see flyers about with information of a competition on the four Xbox consoles situated in the middle of the floor. The prizes on offer; one Xbox console with game and remote for the winner, one console and game for the runner-up. The game this challenge will be set; Midtown Madness 3.

All of a sudden, I realised that this was my opportunity. All those hours spent in Norwich, throwing vehicles around virtual representations of Paris and Washington D.C. How many of the people around me had the same amount of, if not more, experience than I did on the game? I signed up, and returned to the floor when the time came.

There were several groups of four players, so I had the good fortune to analyse what would go on in each of the races. The first was a normal sprint to the finish line in…buses. Yes, buses. Naturally, the organisers were going to have fun watching us manoeuvre the things around a city course that wasn’t built for racing them. Looking on, I noticed one particular corner catching out the drivers playing over the linked-up consoles. A sharp bend close to the final straight had participants stuck to the edge and each other, desperately trying to haul their metal public transport machines away from the trap. I made a mental note of that potential slip-up point.

My opportunity had come, and I made the most of it. I was doing well, and I was in second place. It would guarantee me passage for the next round, and I was some distance away from third position. I came up towards the corner of peril and…I’m stuck. OH BUGGER, I’M STUCK. Third place catches up to me, and in its attempt to navigate around me, becomes stuck as well. As soon as this happens, my big metal block comes unstuck from the concrete and powers away. I knew I had lost most of my advantage and all that separated me from third place was a small amount of stopping distance. It was a drag race down the straight to the finish, and it all hung on acceleration and speed…

…and I made it. Second place, and through to the semis. I was really shouting when I hit the corner and trapped myself. Kinda doubt I would have forgiven myself if I jammed myself out of contention.

The semis moved us to the venerable Mini as the mode of transport, whilst the game type was altered. The game type was ‘Stayaway’, since in order to win, you had to be ‘it’ and keep from making contact with the other drivers for the longest amount of time. Obviously, being ‘it’ was going to be tough; three other drivers wanting the same thing was bound to have awkward periods of bunching, then once I became ‘it’, I’d have to try and make a break with the previous owner plus two others racing after me. One benefit from my amount of time on MM3 was knowledge of getting around Washington D.C. and that was about to be used very wisely.

The game started around the foot of a hill near a park (possibly around Constitution Avenue), and the bunching started. Minis clashed into each other in the hope of getting points, only to have that chance snatched away. When I managed to become ‘it’, I raced away into the park and left them charging after me. I can’t remember the exact details of how distance was formed between me and them, but I think I managed to head in a north-westerly direction, using my memory of how fast to go on each road to force mistakes from those unaccustomed to playing on those routes. In the end, a comfortable win. I gained a lot of confidence from that result, and entered the final. Beat two of three other players and the Xbox was mine!

The final was to ramp up the difficulty and haphazardness to maximum. ‘Capture the Gold’ was a mode I was familiar with. Grab gold located on the map and stash it for points in an allocated area. However, we were now in charge of the fastest vehicle in the game, the Koenigsegg, in icy conditions within the French capital. To take a supercar and try and take corners where the back end of the vehicle could slip out was a tough undertaking, but trying to slow the car down at high speed in a straight line was hard enough. In the game, I was lagging behind two of my three competitors, each having about double the money I had. My only chance to gain the upper hand was to wait in an area of the map that was not only away from the opponents but also would end up spawning somewhere near the area I was situated. Quite risky, since I may not get the gold spawn I needed until late in the game, where someone may be so far ahead, the game is finished.

Suddenly, a yellow icon appeared closest to my vehicle. I made for it, making sure I gingerly turned each corner slowly to make the journey easier on my vehicle, which had gained a fair amount of damage throughout the match. Then, it was a case of heading towards the drop point after collection. Easier said than done, since I not only had to avoid spinning out, but also had three Koenigseggs homing in on me. Although I was taking my route carefully, knowing that a slip-up might let the others catch up or the gold be taken off me, my enemies were throwing caution to the wind and their make-believe supercars into virtual brick walls. They were gaining and they didn’t care how they did it. They didn’t care that wrecking the car would take a long respawn that would remove their momentum, they had the same thing on their minds. The Xbox that I wanted to win.

I was dodging speeding chunks of metal by bare inches, sometimes at shocking velocity. I hauled myself up to first, but the game still had several minutes left on the clock. Then a duel was forced against another racer who took to guarding the drop-off point when I nabbed the gold. I wrecked the car and had to wait moments soaked with nervousness to reappear. Slowly edging away from the pack with the gold that had been accrued, I couldn’t let up or get complacent. The seconds were counting down…3…2…1…

That’s it. I had done it. I released my sweaty palms from the gamepad and…well, I can’t remember what I did straight after that. I accepted the big box the console was in, with the game and remote, and had it put in a bag. I was happy. I met up with the second place guy who also got an Xbox. It was a guy who I knew on the IGUK Unreal Tournament leagues in a LAN centre in the north of the country. Turns out he also got some practise in for MM3. We had a chat before we left. Catching the tube back the short distance to Hammersmith, I got back to my hotel I was staying and laid the Xbox down on the floor. I called my mother to tell her what I won. She sounded surprised and glad, especially when I informed her as to how much it would have cost to buy. I hung up and rested in the room.

Looking back, I would have returned a bit despondent if I never tried to win the console, because the expectation of performing in the WCG qualifiers didn’t bear fruit and wouldn’t have had much to replace it. But I should remember that being at a gaming event is a reward in itself. You get to do the things you love. You get a glimpse of the future. And you never know. You might win something.   read

5:42 AM on 09.17.2011

Countdown to Eurogamer 2011: A Look at Last Year

Hollie and the gang hanging out at her home

For those of you basking in the memories of PAX Expos, E3 and Gamescom, you’d be forgiven for believing that all of these shows managed to cover all of the forthcoming videogame treats for the next year, and that there wouldn’t be any more to come. You’d be wrong.

As I mentioned in Destructoid a while ago, Gamescom happened in Europe. As such, there has been extra pressure on both British-based gaming shows to deliver something that the German one didn’t. After all, if someone has already had a whale of a time at one event, the newer event needs to give the impression that it isn’t a case of déjà vu. GAMEfest, happening in Birmingham at this very moment, will deliver the UK’s first chance to have a go on one of the biggest titles this year, Modern Warfare 3. Meanwhile, next week’s Eurogamer Expo will have the next chapter in Sony’s ongoing attempt to muscle in on the handheld market, the Vita.

For most of the Destructoid community across the other side of the Atlantic, this won’t mean much. The Vita will probably be demoed at a later event over there. For the British and European contingent, however, the Eurogamer Expo in London will be an important chance to meet up again and have brilliant fun. I promised a post-event blog on last year’s Expo, but I’ve decided to make a pre-event blog now instead. You can blame my laziness for that, but this is also an opportunity to stir up a bit of enthusiasm.

[b]Just to make you aware, cosplay doesn't happen very often at the Expo. When it does, the outfits look very good[b]

When we all met up last year, Kinect and Playstation Move were trying to muscle in on Nintendo Wii’s active-gaming craze. Kinect was stirring up a buzz with various attendees trying out Dance Central, whilst Move had several more booths on hand for people to try the sports launch game. Microphone-based Def Jam Rapstar was something that Hollie Bennett, our leader for the event, managed to give us a more detailed preview thanks to an early copy she was allowed to try out, and was also present on the floor of Earls Court.

Several more conventional games were trying to help people decide what to do with the contents of their wallets. FIFA 11, F1 2011 and Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood were on show, but the ‘highlight’ had to be several booths dedicated to the ‘phenomenal’ Mafia 2. With its slightly buggy NPCs that seemed to have the ability to lean on the most unlikely of surfaces, it ‘could’ have taken Game of the Show. If there was a ‘Game of the Show’.

Forthcoming games like Brink and Medal of Honour were getting extremely long lines, Gears of War 3 had its ‘Beast’ mode on display, and we were getting hands on with Hunted and Killzone 3. The latter game was also being displayed on a 3D television, another important feature of the show. Whilst I was sceptical about how well it would make a long-term profit (we only just had HDTVs out before then, FFS), I was impressed by how it worked on not only the aforementioned game, but also the new Motorstorm game. Seeing people, debris and stuff fly at you was awesome.

What wasn’t so awesome was when the developers of Hunted decided to show off their game in a developer session, only to see it crash right in front of the audience. Humorous, but you had to be reminded that the game was still at an unfinished state.

You'd be surprised how many peeps managed to fit in the tiny place

The first night was spend around Hollie’s pad, checking out Rapstar, socializing, playing around with fake promo Rapstar dollars and in one case, blowing chunks when the alcohol got too much.

There was much more to consider over the first two days which I attended. I didn’t get to see the booth with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but I had fun with Mario Sports Mix instead. I was joined by Approximation (the same could be said about my spelling of his name, because he might have spelt it differently to how I believe), who related a tale of frustration at being barged off Marvel vs Capcom 3 by an over-zealous gamer. Both of us had a go in the end, and I was feeling particularly impressed at my ability to catch my rival’s characters in a Dante/Chun Li cross-up until a big attack on both my fighters wiped them out. But I was happy.

This is the smile of a man who got his first ever go on Marvel vs Capcom 3

Last year will also hold happy memories of what was the last time we got to play in the arcade heaven that is the Trocadero Funland. A hotel will be constructed in there for the Olympics for next year, and I’m sure that all of us will be mourning/enraged at its loss. I personally will be gutted, as will the area of its coin-op machines. I’m praying that they all get good homes. Hopefully, we’ll be able to visit Namco Station at Westminster instead or something.

And can I mention the karaoke? Yes, that was a thing that happened, and it will be happening again this year. It will be joined by a special after-show charity party AND a night watching Jurassic Park in the cinema. And don’t forget the meet and greets with the other Destructoid members. And all the stuff at Eurogamer like free Onlive sets, Gears of War 3, Halo: CE, Forza 4, the new SSX, Skyrim, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, Batman: Arkham City, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Guild Wars 2, Mass Effect 3, Saints Row: The Third, Sonic Generations, Soul Calibur V, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Retro and Challenge Areas, developer sessions, Rage, Ninja Gaiden 3, the Indie Games Arcade, Battlefield 3, FIFA 12, Dark Souls

gasp, gasp, gasp, gasp, gasp, huuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrr….

Expect to feel like this towards the last day of the Expo. Barring any mishap, Aidan (AKA Toilet Duck) will be present at this year's event!

I never knew that looking through the Expo newsletters and listing the names could be so tiring. O_O

Well, I let you in on how it went. Or I’ll let someone else do it, and do the same type of blog next year. Anyway, I’m looking forward to a weekend of fun. Roll on next week.   read

1:06 PM on 08.22.2011

Handhelds: But Look at All This SPACE!

I noticed the title for the weekly C-blog musing and thought could I really be bothered to write about a favourite/worst handheld? I couldn’t be. In the end, I’ve decided to do something a little different. Instead of a sharp focus on the chosen subject, I’ll attract your attention over to the area a handheld doesn’t cover, as well as all the bonuses. That is, all that empty space that would otherwise be taken up by a home console.

It may sound like a stupid idea, the very thought of lugging a home console in the open air. Whether you wanted to show it off at work during break-time so more fun could be had playing Halo with your work-mates or taking it to play games around a friend’s house…it was a little inconvenient. In a rucksack, on a bicycle for several miles, or sitting it on the seat of your friendly public transport, you either had to carry extra things you wanted in your pockets or have another backpack that would make you look pregnant/overweight/overloaded.

No, no, no. That will not do. A handheld games-console is the way to go. Put one up against your home console. Go on, do it. Look at the difference in siiiiiiiiiiiiiiize. Look at the difference. Now think about how much stuff you can put in your bag now that you have something that still can play games, but smaller. Granted, you still need to bring games and a charger in the event of the handheld losing power, but even with those items, you still have more space.

Now, I put a comment forward in a debate about whether handhelds would overtake home games consoles in the major part of the industry. I decided (and a few members noted) that handhelds, since they couldn’t do the things that the home consoles offered (a movie experience, decent controls for one-on-one fighting games were a couple of standards that handhelds still fall short of) would be a smaller, if not equal force in the market rather than the dominant.

We don’t stay at home all the time. Since we love gaming, we can’t bear to be without some semblance of our pastime during periods when we haven’t got anything to do, and handhelds fill that gap. But what quite a few negative nancies are spouting are comments in the above paragraph. They can’t do this. They can’t do that. We should have had robots that cleaned our grotty bedrooms like Tomorrow’s World said, but we have progressed to this, etc. We all nod our heads sagely. However, I feel that continually comparing what handhelds can’t do against their home counterparts is like putting small children next to fully-grown adults, and telling everybody that they will criticize the kids for not being able to hold their own in a pub-brawl. We know they can’t, but that’s because it is not their modus-operandi. They were made that way.

But you know what you can do with them. You can fit one on the extremely tight luggage quota or take it on board a plane for your holiday without much hassle. You’ve got the rest of the space to cram more stuff you want to relax with. You are not encompassing an area of your friend’s or relative’s living space with one. You already have it in your hands, in the event someone wants you to go downstairs and considers a cut in the electricity will spur you on to get your food. You don’t have to be stuck in the same room all the time or fight over the use of a television with someone to play with it.

And just to make you aware, the paragraph above was about handhelds, not small children.   read

5:31 AM on 06.02.2011

Fail List: Before You Die Edition

Fail List: Before You Die Edition

This is it. The big list. About as close to the ‘ultimate list’ as you can get.

When Cassell Illustrated published their 1001 series of books, the first one that caught my eye was 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. I bought it primarily via flicking through and finding Boards of Canada’s Music Has the Right to Children within it, a most righteous entry in my eyes indeed. For those not in the know, these lists are compiled by a group of several knowledgeable people in their chosen field, and presented chronologically. Each of them writes about the reason why their inclusion should be approached, highlighting facts and stuff about it. These books would get occasional updates to remove the chaff and insert what others felt improved on the removed. It is top quality work, well-presented.

The only problem I had with the book usually is the problem with every list; in spite of the large number of albums allowed, there were omissions of certain albums that I believed had a right to exist. I still enjoyed it thoroughly though, despite that fact. And that is the only negative feeling I get when I had perused my fresh copy of 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die.

I started testing the list by finding out ones which I didn’t think should belong in the alphabetical list section at the beginning. Wii Fit and Wii Sports are allowed a begrudging nod through the doorway, since the title of this list isn’t ‘Absolute Best Games Ever!’ and introduced a whole new audience to gaming. However…John Woo Presents Stranglehold? And Army of Two: The 40th Day? Well, I guess those will probably get exchanged with something better when new editions are released, since it is at the latter end of the timeline.

Garry’s Mod is in the list. Explanation? Well, let’s just say that if you think LittleBigPlanet belongs in the list (which it does), then the Half Life mod should exist there too.

And…that’s it. It is quite astonishing that only two games look seriously out of place. The reason for this is the choice of experts. These include Kieron Gillen, Jim McCauley and Jim Rossignol who I knew from the great PC Gamer magazine. Believe me, they definitely know their games. You could have a go at certain choices involving sequels (no Grandia, Shining Force or Donkey Kong Country, but they are represented by Grandia 2, Shining Force 3 and Donkey Kong Country 3), and spiritual installments (no Ico, but Shadow of the Colossus is there), but there is not much to really knock about the book.

So, it seemed like a strong list with one movie spin-off and a late entry that will be eaten up by a more awesome game. But what about those omissions? The ones which you love that seemed to slip through the cracks? To find out, I asked the Destructoid IRC what games they would expect in the list. A few of the IRC-dwellers started off by deliberately shouting out bad games. This was handy, since they were testing their faith in the book’s contents, finding out how good this supposed ultimate list really was.

However, a gap in the armour was discovered early on by T0pc0w. He made a simple, common-sense request for a game that (I agreed) should have made it in there; the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis version of Aladdin. To my concern, the game…wasn’t in the list. I tried looking to see if the game appeared as a subtitle to something (still searching in the alphabetical section, see), and with no luck. Then, after registering his disappointment, he asked for another Disney game, Castle of Illusion. No luck. Then Evil_Cheese suggested Magical Quest. Nope.

When I couldn’t find that either, a shiver went down my spine…and after searching through the whole amount of entries, I reached a conclusion. Apart from Kingdom Hearts, there are no Disney-themed games in this list. Just let that sink in a bit. Maybe it is because most of those great, memorable games are platformers, and other, well-styled ones came before and influenced them. Or maybe that group of chosen gaming journos and experts have something against the big D. I mean, the only person I wouldn’t recommend the book to for fear of upset, other than hardcore Disney fans, is Chad Concelmo. Fortunately, he has already done us a great service and shown his own Best Disney Game List so we don’t need to worry about that…

…although he didn’t include Quackshot and The Jungle Book in that list. Hmph.

Continuing the subject of the rejects, the Star Ocean (Gemsi’s choice) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Coonskin’s choice) series of games do not feature in the book. Yars Revenge, a game that rated really highly on the Atari 2600, isn’t there, and neither are my personal favourites, like Turrican and Shogo: Mobile Armour Division. That said, the latter game still managed to get a nod; Fear 2’s listing has a large picture with a figure wearing an T-Shirt emblazoned with an unmade sequel.

But can you really fight against the existence of the list when you have entries such as Xenogears, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, Square games that usually get passed over in top lists because they either didn’t get an official release in some territories or just because they weren’t mainstream enough for people who didn’t know their stuff? Could you really denounce a book that selects Canabalt, Uplink or VVVVVV, when other lists wouldn’t acknowledge their minimal simplicity? Can you really be so dismissive of this tome just because it doesn’t have your favourite game, when it gives credit to Giants: Citizen Kabuto, God Hand, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, Mother 3, Odin Sphere, Sin and Punishment, Radiant Silvergun, Ikaruga, Psychonauts, Earth Defense Force 2017 and Retro Game Challenge, games that have had their praises sung to high heaven by other gamers and critics, ones who feel that their words have been ignored?

Other than the couple of odd selections and one or two pictures that don’t seem to match the games listed, this is an essential purchase if you can stomach those missing Disney games. I’m guessing that even those that can’t have to admit that choosing not to buy the book because only Kingdom Hearts represents their corner is a little bit sad. If you are one of them, why not make a list like Chad has done? The community blogs are here for you to do just that.

And it has a two-page preface by Peter Molyneux. You could decide not to get a copy because of that. Erm…

No. Just buy it. There really isn’t going to be another book out that is of this quality for a long time, other than an update of some sort. Seriously, I can’t recommend this 960-page book more. It belongs on your shelf.   read

2:57 PM on 12.16.2010

A Temporary Greek Tragedy: Law 3037/2002

2002 was an interesting year. The Allied forces were in Afghanistan and (unwisely) trying to get stuck into Iraq as well; the World Cup was held in Japan and South Korea, eventually being won by Brazil; Joe Strummer, Dudley Moore and Spike Milligan all died (the former quite unexpectedly). In videogaming, Grand Theft Auto III and Vice City were the top grossing games of the year. In Greece, an unexpected attack on the gaming community was about to happen.

Before Greece’s financial problems and their hosting of the Olympics (including their amazing win in the European Championships) in 2004, the country hadn’t really seen much (internationally) newsworthy stuff happen to them, since, I don’t know, the fall of the military junta in 1974. To me at the time, Greece was a holiday destination, and had a football team that couldn’t even score in the World Cup finals stage.

Illegal gambling has been a problem in Greece for a long while, and whilst the leading political party at the time, PASOK, had promised to crack down on this, the last thing they wanted was one of their own to go about doing it. Sadly, that was exactly what happened. One Mr. Chrisanthakopoulos MP made the foolish mistake of stepping towards a poker machine in an illegal gambling joint without knowing a video camera was being trained on him. It wouldn’t be fair to just accuse this person only for the events that introduced this law, since this led to several other MPs being named and shamed. The video evidence, however, was shown on television, fuelling debate. The Prime Minister had to act with the public pressure on and ruled the MP out of the party.

On July 30, in further response to the situation, Law 3037/2002 was drafted in. In trying to ban the illegal gambling, it ended up also prohibiting the use of any form of game software. Every platform, from console to mobile was affected. Not only that, the law even applied to private use; you play games at home? The Greek government had now deemed you a criminal.

As Dan Faber pointed out at the time, Greek politicians not being able to tell the difference between videogames and illegal gambling programs wasn’t the only error they would make. Prime Minister Costas Simitis was quoted being all for the opportunities created by technology, so he’d have to be brought up on that matter and eat his words. As well as this, the Olympics were coming up, and the police would be getting very busy trying to crack down on games-playing visitors from around the world (did I mention the law applied to foreigners as well?). There would be little time to catch real criminals!

The effects were immediate. The businesses wanting to start or continue to work with their LAN centres found it very difficult to build any trade. Police raids took care of any that decided to ignore the legislation.

The good news was that in the same year, a Greek judge decided this law was a pure case of douchebaggery, and decided to throw it out. This was swiftly followed by the European Union who, in spite of all the stupid laws they make up, believed the law was too much against the idea of trade with other EU nations, as well as putting in place procedures that would go further than the aims intended by it. Gamers could all breathe a sigh of relief.

The only other issue is that the Greek government still wanted to curtail all this illegal gambling, so it kept amending the law in the hopes that was better, submitted it to the EU, only to have it slapped back on their desk. The government has kept doing this up to last year…only for this year’s recession to provide a way back for low-price gaming and gambling machines.

Admit it, it was a messed up situation videogaming could have done without. LAN centres out of business, putting a hobby in jeopardy for several months, eight years of a government striving to stop illegal gambling, only to backtrack and have economic conditions putting well-intentioned plans on hold and wasting valuable administration time….you couldn’t make it up. But it serves as a reminder that when certain laws are introduced, they can have a wide-ranging effect that covers other areas, impacting on freedoms and things we all too often take for granted. This threat was only brief…thank goodness that the Greeks can join in our pastime with the rest of us.   read

6:15 PM on 09.13.2010

Small Brain: Woman Neglects Dogs and Kids Whilst Playing Online Game

Damn. Usually Jim Sterling gets shocking articles like this first, especially since it is one I first spotted in the UK's Daily Mail newspaper. Rather than demonising the game, the article writer at least managed to give a few details about Small World, the game a woman from Kent played so much, that her dogs died of starvation and her children (aged nine, ten and thirteen) had to eat cold beans straight from the tin. Seriously shocking stuff.

The only good news here is that the Daily Mail (and the court judging the woman's actions) recognise the woman was responsible for this messed-up situation. Click the link above for the full article.   read

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