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2:27 AM on 10.12.2013

Diary of a Gamer Dad: Weeks One to Three

The last blog I posted was on April 12 of this year, and it dealt with my thoughts about becoming a soon-to-be father and how this would affect my gaming habits. I won't go in to too much detail on what happened between then and now, but I will say that the pregnancy was pretty stressful due to the baby suffering from IUGR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction). That's basically a fancy way of saying the baby was small. In our case it was due to the placenta also being small, which had an effect on the flow of nutrition and oxygen to the baby. Fast forward six months and I'm very happy to announce that my wife and I welcomed our beautiful baby girl into the world on September 25th. She came out small, 5 pound 11 ounces, and she's absolutely perfect. The journey has begun...

An idea I had while we were still in the expecting stage was to document my experiences as a gamer once the baby arrived. I thought it would be interesting to keep a record of how often I played, what I played, how long I played for etc. The purpose of this would be to look back on it further down the track so that I could see just how much having the baby influenced my gaming. I also thought it might be interesting for other prospective fathers to read so that they can have some idea of what to expect when their little sprog pops out and steals their heart. With my little girl nearing three weeks old I can already see that I will be able to balance being a dad with being a gamer.

Week One:

Okay, this is the week where you really have to accept that you're going to get very little or perhaps no game time whatsoever. The only game I played during this period was Angry Birds Star Wars on my phone while I watched over my sleeping wife and baby at the hospital. For one thing, you'll be too exhausted to focus on a game for too long even if you did have the time to play one. Seriously, I've never felt exhaustion quite like I experienced during this first week.

Total Game Time: 45 minutes

Week Two:

This is where things begin to settle down a bit. My wife and I attempted to introduce some routine in to our baby's life and it seemed to work. Other than having to wake her up for a feed every three hours during the night (this is because of her small size) she generally slept well in-between the feeds, which meant that my wife and I managed to catch about 6 hours of sleep ourselves overnight.

During this week I started to develop a bit of a routine for myself, also. I had taken two weeks off work to be at home with my family, which I think is really important. During the days I realised that there were two opportunities that I had each day to get a quick spot of gaming in. The first was early afternoon when our baby had been put down in her bassinet for a snooze and my wife went to have a shower. The next was generally later in the afternoon when the baby was having another snooze and my wife was also catching up on some sleep. During these small gaps I managed to fit in about 20 minutes on the Diablo III demo on the PS3, and some decent sessions of Touch My Katamari and Street Fighter x Tekken on the Vita (thanks to my PS+ subscription!).

Total Game Time: 3 Hours

Week Three:

The night before I went back to work my wife and I agreed that I should sleep in the spare room, at least until the baby no longer needs three hourly feeds during the night. It would just be too much to have to wake up and go to work after a night of broken sleep like that. Although this was pretty strange for me (really, it's weird sleeping in another room when you know your wife and baby are in the room next to you), it did allow me to get some more gaming time in on my Vita before I went to sleep each night.

On one of my trips out to get wife and baby supplies at the local mall I ducked in to EB Games and bought Need For Speed Most Wanted and Persona 4 Golden for my Vita. I was quickly coming to accept that most of my gaming for the foreseeable future was going to be on my Vita, and I thought these two games would keep me occupied for a while.

I haven't started playing P4G yet, but I've been really enjoying NFS:MW. I had already played a fair bit of the game on the PS3, and the Vita version really is just like a miniaturised version of it. I'm looking forward to starting P4G, I haven't played any other games in the series but I've always been curious. A lot of people certainly seem to love them, and it's been a while since I really got engrossed by an RPG.

Total Game Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

If you're wondering how I kept track of the time I played the games, I use Raptr. It's an easy way to look back on what you've played and how long for.

Okay, so that's my first three weeks as a Gamer Dad! As you can see, there is still hope for all you fathers-to-be out there. Your gaming life isn't going to just die as soon as your baby arrives! Having said that, our little girl really is a sweet heart. She's very even tempered and as I wrote above she has allowed us to get some decent sleep. All babies are different, so your mileage may vary...

I really would be interested to hear about the experiences of other parents out there when it comes to gaming. Feel free to leave a comment!   read


7:54 PM on 04.12.2013

Achievement Unlocked: Baby In The Belly

My wife and I are having a baby. Iíve written variations on this sentence many times now over the last week while texting people to notify them of the good news, sending emails to friends and family to let them know, or on Facebook to make the general announcement for everyone else. No matter how many times I write it, however, it still seems a little bit unreal. Having a baby is all part of our plan, donít get me wrong. Weíve been trying for this for a while. I suspect that it wonít actually seem real until he/she pops out and I get to see them in person and not just as an abstract black and white image on an ultrasound scan.

Iím getting ready for my entire life to change. As well as preparing for the baby we also recently bought our first home, which we will be moving in to in 6 weeks time. All in all this year is like the ULTIMATE YEAR OF LIFE CHANGES EXTREME! Itís a combination of exciting/terrifying that Iíve never quite experienced before in my life.

My wife and I were talking the other night about how up until now weíve generally been quite selfish. I donít mean that in a negative way, really, itís just that when you donít have these big responsibilities to worry about you can focus more on your own interests and goals in life. Obviously a big issue for me is that up until this point I have pretty much had free reign to play video games when I want, within reason of course. I am married, after all, so I canít just spend all day playing games like I used to when I was a kid, but I can still play for 30 minutes or so in the evenings and for much longer periods on the weekends. I know that this is all about to change. Considering that I am posting this on Destructoid then I hope that anybody reading this will be able to understand, but to your average non-gamer it might seem ridiculous that the prospect of not being able to play games could be such a big deal. It is, though. Iíve been gaming for almost 30 years now. It has had a huge influence on my life, and to know that this is all about to change in about 6 months time is kind of a big deal.

I canít honestly say that I am prepared for it yet, but I will be by the time the baby arrives. Iím a pretty level-headed guy, and I know that in the larger scheme of things playing video games pales in comparison to the sheer awesomeness that being a daddy will bring to my life. I realise that itís not like Iím never going to be able to play games again, I will simply have to adjust how and when I do play games. Iím so excited to meet this little person that my wife and I have created, and once they are a bit older Iíll be just as excited to introduce them to this hobby that has been such a big part of my life.

So, does anybody out there have gaming advice for a soon to be father?   read


12:28 AM on 03.31.2013

Road Rash: The Novel - A Review

Back in the early 1990s I was a big Sega fanboy. I was the proud owner of a Sega Megadrive (Genesis for the American readers out there), and as a diehard Sega fan I regularly purchased Sega gaming magazines. One of my favourites was the British magazine Sega Power, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sega_Power. I actually subscribed to Sega Power for quite a while; such was my love for the magazine.

In an effort to stand out from the glut of gaming publications back then Sega Power began attaching novelizations of key Sega titles to the front of their magazine. These novelizations were written by editors and reviewers who were involved with the magazine, and I imagine that they must have been in some way sanctioned by both the developers and publishers of the games in question.

As well as growing up as a gamer, which is something that my older brother had a big influence on, I was also an avid reader. As you can probably imagine I went completely apeshit over these novelizations. I still have them in my possession, and I have often intended to go back and re-read them to see if they actually are as well written and exciting as I remember them being. Over this long Easter weekend I finally got around to taking Road Rash: The Novel down from my bookshelf to read through again.



What follows is a review of sorts. To get you in the mood you should also probably listen to this track by the incredible Rob Hubbard, Pacific Highway, from the first Road Rash game on infinite repeat. When the beat changes at the 1:45 mark you'll shit your pants at how awesome it is.



Road Rash, a novel based on the best selling Sega Megadrive Game from Electronic Arts. Written by Neil West

The story is written in the first person and it begins with our protagonist, Alex Player, waking up after crashing off his motor bike. The writer obviously took the "PLAYER A" from the game very literally when naming the character. Player, as he calls himself, had been travelling on his bike around North America for the previous three weeks after quitting his job and cashing in his life savings. There he was, happily cruising along the Sierra Nevada highway on his brand new Shuriken 400 racing bike, when all of sudden he ends up head butting a tree at almost 120mph. It is at this point that I realised how much the author, Neil West, likes to take a cute bit of shtick and then proceed to stretch it out beyond breaking point. In a book which is only 77 pages long he fills up the first four pages with Player commiserating with the tree, which he has left a "helmet shaped dent" in, and also with Player talking to a cow which viewed the whole thing placidly from off in the distance. Like I said, it's cute, but you get the distinct impression that the writer was like: "This is great! I'm on a roll here, the readers are gonna lap all of this up!Ē

As Player's head slowly clears, he remembers what happened just before the crash. Another rider, a woman with flowing red hair, had sped past from behind him and Player had accelerated to keep up with this biking beauty. After flashing him a winning smile, she accelerated off into the distance leaving Player behind. Shortly after this another rider pulled up alongside him and smashed him over the head with a club. Yes, gamers, by now you will have realised that these two riders were "Rashers"! Also, extra points if you realised that the female rider is Natasha from the games.



Player's luck goes from bad to worse and he is picked up by a patrolling Police Officer named O'Leary and taken back to a cell to cool off. In the cell he meets a Rasher named Slater, and yes the writer does describe him exactly as he appears in the game with "a baseball cap around the wrong way and an evil looking sneer". Slater proceeds to tell Player about the history of Road Rash and how it began...

Many years earlier two riders, Fang and Polygon (yes, seriously), turned from close friends to bitter rivals over the course of a summer of competing at the local race track. Their mentor, an old mechanic who saw that they would crash and burn without his guidance, tried to maintain some semblance of peace but when he dies they decide to have one last race to see who gets to keep the old man's mint condition custom racing bike. Really, the way they totally gloss over his death is quite sad considering he was their mentor and all. Anyway, race day comes and Polygon surreptitiously cuts Fang's brake cable with the help of his then girlfriend...Natasha! I know, I was horrified too, but as Slater later explains this was when she was young and foolish. Needless to say, Fang crashes out early in the race and Polygon is banned from ever racing again at the track. This leads to Fang challenging Polygon to one really last, final race. For realsies this time. The race will be along the Pacific Coast highway, no holds barred! Fang ends up crashing three miles into the race, anyway, and Polygon crashes a few months later and never rides again. You would think this would be enough to scare most riders away from such an event, but it gains steam and the "official" unofficial Road Rash league is born.

To cut a long story short, Player ends up joining the Road Rash league and gears up for his first race. This race covers two longish chapters, and it really is enjoyable to read. Before the race Player encounters Natasha again and she gives him some wise advice straight from the game: "Some of these jerks would rather fight than race. Watch yourself out there". Player is left speechless by her beauty and winning smile and simply stares as she walks away, which Slater rightly hassles him about. Before long the race begins and as in the game Player begins from 15th position. He is desperate to make his mark but he ends up getting cocky and forgets the fact that as well as other riders there are cars on the road which leads to an almost collision and Player bailing out and crashing on the side of the road. He gets back on, though, and manages to fight his way up to 10th place. Along the way he also gets revenge on a rider named Viper, the same rider who caused him to crash at the start of the book. Through some skillful riding Player manages to cause Viper to crash into the back of car and wipe out. This act is seen as very impressive by a lot of the other riders, apparently Viper has had something like that coming to him for a long time.



The story then montages its way through the next few months. Player improves in the rankings steadily until he eventually takes 2nd place behind Shiva, a rider from "the land of the rising sun". Hmm, there might be a bit of cultural confusion going on there? With a name like Shiva I would imagine he would come from India. Anyway, during this section of the book the writer kind of lets his reviewer side peek through quite a bit. Player offers some pro-tips to the reader about the best way to take jumps, and also the best way to knock another rider off of their bike (apparently by kicking them off, which I have to agree with from playing the games).

As the story nears its conclusion the organisers of the Road Rash races progressively make the races longer and more dangerous by providing all of the riders with newer faster bikes. At the start of each season, and consequently the start of each new chapter of the book, Player gives the reader a code containing his data from the previous season. All of the racers' results are entered in a fancy race computer, you see. This is a cute conceit, as anybody who has played the game will know that after each race you are given a password to save your progress in the game. I haven't tried these codes yet, but I'm sure that if I boot up my Megadrive emulator on my Wii and plug the codes in then they will correspond to different race seasons in the game.

In the end the story sort of peters out without any sort of real climax. Instead of having one last glorious race against a rival, or something along those lines, Player decides that the races have become too long and too dangerous so he and Natasha (he eventually gathered up the courage to talk to her and they have since become lovers) ride away into the sunset of the Pacific Coast to live their life happily ever after.

Overall, the book actually is enjoyable in a simple, fan fiction type of way. The writing is full of character, although some of the dialogue and Player's internal monologues are kind of cringe inducing. The main problem with the book is that there isnít really a serious villain of any sort, the only challenge that Player faces are challenges that he presents himself with. Considering that there are 14 other riders it would have been easy for the writer to develop one of them into a rival for Player to compete against. Despite the drawbacks I am definitely happy that I re-read this. At the very least, it has made me hungry to play some Road Rash!

My rating: 3 1/2 Cow Jumps out of 5

Depending on what type of response I get to this I may review the other books in the series, Super Monaco Grand Prix and Desert Strike. I also have another book from a competing publication, Sega Force, which has novelizations of two games in it: Street Fighter II and Streets of Rage II! As well as this I have a Metal Gear novelization that I bought years ago for shits and giggles and never actually got around to reading. It has the classic cover with the Michael Biehn look-alike holding his non-existent gun.

Thanks for reading! I'd be curious to see if anybody out there remembers this book, or owns other similar books. Those old magazines used to put some interesting stuff on their covers.   read


6:21 PM on 03.21.2013

Rainy Games

I love rain. I love the sound of rain, especially on a tin roof. I love watching rain as it trickles down a window. I love the earthy smell of a rain shower after a hot day. I love how soothing rain is, and how relaxing it can be to just curl up inside while it's pouring down outside. This love of rain has carried over to video games. The idea for this article popped into my head last night when I was playing Metal Gear Solid 2 HD on my Vita. That game begins in a full-on torrential deluge. It's definitely a great way to start the game. Below are some other games that contain my favourite artificial cyber rain. Exciting!

GTA Vice City and GTA IV

I thought I'd combine both of these. I enjoy the rain in all of the GTA games, but these two in particular stand out for me. Something about the combination of the neon lights, blurry low-fi lens flare and rainy streets in GTA Vice City is very appealing. I remember quite often just taking in the view when a sudden downpour happened in the game.



GTA IV, on the other hand, was more impressive on a technical level. I played through this game on the PC and, although it was a total dog's dinner of a port in many respects, once I managed to get it running relatively smoothly it was a rather beautiful game. The rain, in particular, was a sight to behold. As well as making driving more hair-raising, it softened the harsh concrete landscape of Liberty City. Seeing all of the dynamic lights in GTA IV reflecting off of the wet pavement honestly is quite entrancing.



S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky

My love for the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series is strong. The environment has played a big part in all of the games in the series. In fact, you might say that the environment is really the primary enemy in the game. Simply wandering through the landscape of The Zone is deadly, with anomalies and blow-outs and mutant attacks happening unpredictably at any time. Although the first game in the series, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl, was a fine introduction to the atmosphere of The Zone it wasn't until the second game, Clear Sky, that things got technically really impressive.



Clear Sky was one of the first games that I played that utilised DX10 graphics features. This brought a lot of visual bells and whistles to the game, the majority of which brought my PC at the time to almost a total standstill, but my favourite effect was the rain. The rain itself, as well as the very impressive lightning storms that would sometimes hit, were awesome enough; but now the game also had water running down surfaces! This may sound pretty lame now, but at the time this was very cool to see in action. Rather than the rain just hitting a surface and making it shiny it now actually ran off of the surface in a semi-realistic fashion. Mind.Blown.

Max Payne 2

Another favourite series of mine. All of the Max Payne games have been set during extreme environmental conditions - snow in the first game, rain in the second game, and extreme heat in the third game. As well as being, in my opinion, the best game in the series, Max Payne 2 was a highlight for me thanks to the rainy New York setting.



The rainy setting perfectly fit with the Noir atmosphere of the game, and it was almost a character in and of itself. As Dick Justice so eloquently puts it: "The rain was comin' down like all the angels in heaven decided to take a piss at the same time. When you're in a situation like mine, you can only think in metaphors."

EverQuest

Ahh, EverQuest. I've have written previously about my love for this game, and how addicted to it I was 13 years (!) ago. I have a multitude of fond memories of this game, but one of my favourite memories is of taking a break from slaughtering lions and elephants in the Southern Plains of Karana while the rain was pouring down and simply standing still and staring up at the sky.


Note: This is not the Southern Plains of Karana, but it's the only picture I could find of rain in EverQuest!

Graphically the rain in this game was rudimentary at best, but it was always more about the atmosphere in EverQuest rather than how amazing the graphics weren't.

Uru: Ages Beyond Myst

All of the Myst games are full of atmosphere and beautiful worlds to explore, but there is one Age in particular in Uru which I absolutely love. In the Age of Eder Kemo if you wait around for long enough you'll hear a thunderstorm approaching, and before long the rain starts pouring down and the lightning starts flashing.



The first 30 seconds of that video shows the tail end of the thunderstorm, but it's the best that I could find. While playing this game I would often go back and visit Eder Kemo, even though I had cleared all of its puzzles, simply to enjoy another one of its thunderstorms.

Formula 1 97

A bit of a random one, this, I know. Hear me out, though. This one stands out for me because at the time I played it I was really into Formula 1. I was addicted, and would stay up till the early hours of the morning to watch the races live on TV. At the time this game was the closest thing I had to actually being a Formula 1 driver. I honestly must have spent about 40 or 50 hours playing this game, going through entire seasons with all of the different teams and drivers. One thing that I both loved and dreaded was when a monsoon hit during a race.



As well as making driving almost impossible, it added a fantastic bit of atmosphere to what could be a rather sterile racing environment.

Heavy Rain

You didn't really think that I would have a post about rainy games and actually miss this one, did you? Say what you like about David Cage, but all those polygons sure did make for some emotional rain.

  read


4:56 PM on 03.16.2013

Dtoid Memories: Discovering Dtoid

In January 2011 I got married to the love of my life. No, I didn't get married to video games. I got married to a real, human woman! We decided not to take a honeymoon straight after the marriage. Instead, we planned to wait until it was winter here in New Zealand and then we'd bugger off overseas for a while to escape the cold.

Our initial plan was to visit the United States for a couple of weeks, but after some umming and ahhhing we realised that for the same price of spending a couple of weeks in the States we could actually spend about three months in South East Asia. So, winter arrived and we packed our bags and flew out to Bali. After Bali would be Borneo and Vietnam, we planned on spending a decent length of time in each place to really soak it all up.

Whenever I spend a good length of time away from video games I get cravings and withdrawals. I knew that spending three months away from my consoles and PC would be tough, and unfortunately I didn't own any handheld consoles at this time. The only thing I did have was the hand-me-down Nokia N95 cell phone that my older brother gave me when he upgraded to a shiny new Samsung Galaxy. The N95 is by no means a smart phone. In fact, its IQ is really only below average at best, but it did allow me to download some basic mobile games such as Settlers of Catan and a bunch of rudimentary platformers which I figured would curb my game cravings.

As we got further in to the trip, I realised that as well as missing proper gaming experiences I was actually missing just reading about games and immersing myself in gaming news. The N95 web browser is pretty woeful, and we had intermittent access to internet at best with the places we were visiting. Although I had never really listened to a lot of podcasts before, I thought that maybe finding a good gaming podcast would be just what I needed. Luckily, the N95 has a podcast app pre-loaded. To cut a long story short, it was in Kuching, Borneo, that I first discovered Podtoid.

When it came up on the "video game" podcast search on my phone, I'll admit that I just liked the name of it to start with. Also, I was vaguely aware of the name Destructoid as a website. I had never actually visited it (1up.com was my video game homepage at this time...pour one out for 1up.com), but I had seen quotes and links to the site while browsing other sites. Also, the name of the episode I was about to download, Podtoid 163: Jonathan Holmes' Hospital of Monsters, sounded intriguing...

As I listened to the episode on my headphones in the cramped, hot little room of the hostel we were staying in, my mind expanded. I was introduced to a world of spider sex videos, Jim's aversion to air travel, Voldemort berating Lucius Malfoy, and not a damn thing about video games. I can still remember the look on my wife's face when she asked why I was laughing so much, and I tried to explain it to her. Podtoid is not something you can easily explain.

Needless to say, I was hooked. Any time we were near a good Wi-Fi hotspot I would download as many episodes as I could, and by the end of our trip I had managed to listen to every episode from the new era of Podtoid. I'm smiling just thinking about this. Podtoid honestly is one of my favourite things in life, and from the bottom of my heart I would like to say Thank You. Thanks for filling up all those long hours in buses and on airplanes and sitting around in hostel room with your insane banter and hilarious nonsense. You scratched an itch I didn't even realise that I had.

When we got back to New Zealand and I once again had access to a regular internet connection, I immediately went to destructoid.com and it became my homepage. The articles on the front page, especially the ones by Jim and Jonathan, seemed like a natural extension of what I had been introduced to with Podtoid. Now, of course, mixed in amongst the fun posts there was actual gaming news as well! Destructoid is quite simply the best gaming website I've ever been a part of. The community, the writers, the interface, the stories, all of these combine to make something quite unique. Happy Birthday, Destructoid! I hope that we can revisit all of these "Dtoid Memories" posts in another seven years.   read


3:08 AM on 01.04.2013

Holiday Gaming

Ahhhh, holidays. They are a time for catching up with the family, spending time with my wife, going outside and enjoying the beautiful Summer weather (it's Summer here in New Zealand, you crazy northern hemisphere weirdos), but more importantly they are a time to catch up on some gaming!

Unfortunately I am now back at work as of a couple of days ago, but before this I had three weeks off. Yes, three straight weeks of no-work bliss. You bet your delicious ass I spent a lot of this time playing games. I spread my love around pretty wide, but there were a few games in particular that I focused on. HERE THEY ARE!

Far Cry 3

My love for the Far Cry series is full of ups and downs. I played the hell out of the original Far Cry on the PC back when it first came out. The sense of freedom that it gave you was something that I simply hadn't experienced up to that point in an FPS. I still vividly remember the first time that I jumped on a hang glider and sniped an enemy in the head off in the distance while I was flying through the air. The game got insanely frustrating and difficult in the later stages, but despite this it still stands as one of my favourite first person shooters.

I was pretty excited about Far Cry 2 before it came out. I ended up buying it on Steam not long after it was released. I didn't really enjoy it, to my disappointment. I just checked Steam now and it says I put 14 hours into it, so I suppose I got my moneys worth even though I didn't get anywhere near finishing the game. My main problems were the infernal respawning checkpoint enemies, the annoying malaria game mechanic, and the African setting. Don't get me wrong, Africa is great, but after the lush, colourful jungle of the original I just found the brown (brown) brown jungle of the sequel to be a bit drab. I have tried to go back to the game now and then but I just can't get into it.



Moving on the the third game. After watching early trailers I was hopeful that it would be a return to form for the series. The beautiful tropical island jungle setting was back, for one thing. I was lucky enough to have my brother buy the game for me on Steam for Christmas, and I've already put 24 hours into the game. I'm not even half way through the game yet, either. I keep getting distracted by the side quests and just exploring the island and doing crazy shit. I fucking love this game. It's simply FUN! There are so many sights to see and activities to do. Not to mention that it looks absolutely gorgeous on the PC. It's everything I hoped for, really.

Saints Row: The Third

My introduction to the Saints Row series was with Saints Row 2. I bought the game for cheap on the Xbox, but I only played a few hours of it. The game was a bit too rough around the edges technically for my tastes, although I could definitely see the appeal of the game. It basically seemed like Grand Theft Auto without any hint of the seriousness that GTA sometimes delves in to. Saints Row is definitely a lot more tongue in cheek.



I got SRIII as part of the THQ (pour one out) Humble Bundle. I've put about 6 hours into it so far, and I'm really enjoying it. The whole storyline and setting is absurd, which totally works. The opening of the game is far superior to the second installment. Skydiving out of a crashing plane and fighting off goons while avoiding debris/the aforementioned crashing plane was a hell of a lot of fun. I don't see this being the type of game that I'll play for hours on end, but I'll definitely dip into it now and then for some lighthearted stupidity.

Dark Souls

I've had my eye on this one since it was first released in 2011. In fact, I originally had my eye on Demons Souls back in the day but never quite took the step of buying it. I'll be honest, I was never sure if the difficulty would be a positive or a negative for me. I enjoy a challenge, but as I've gotten older and my gaming habits have changed (i.e. other responsibilities and less time to play) I've found that I enjoy shorter, more condensed gaming experiences that I can wrap up in a few weekends worth of gameplay. Everything I'd heard about the sequel, Dark Souls, made it sound like the original game turned up to 11, including the difficulty.



I decided to buy the game on a whim when I saw it for very cheap, $15NZ (around $11US). I couldn't really pass it up. After playing it, I wish I hadn't waited so long to buy it! I really, really like this game. Sure, there are times when I feel like I may as well be punching myself in the face repeatedly rather than playing the game, but after turning it off and taking a break to cool down I always go back to it and tend to progress past whatever sticking point I was experiencing.

Something I'm really enjoying about the game is the sense of exploring the unknown. Every time I enter a new area I raise my shield and slowly creep forward and start to feel out my surroundings. Often I'm killed immediately, but the game really is quite generous with its bonfires (which act as checkpoints) so you never have to travel too far to get back to where you were. Of course, you could easily die on the way to recover your corpse if you drop your guard for even a second. The game is punishing, frustrating, infuriating, but I fucking love it! It's already climbing up my list of favourite games of the last few years.

It is now the weekend after a blessedly short week back at work, so I'm looking forward to playing a bunch more of these games over the next couple of days.   read


6:30 PM on 11.17.2012

Ultima VII: My Journey Continues

If you read my first blog about Ultima VII you may remember that I finished it with the Avatar having just left the gates of Trinsic, ready to venture out into the world of Britannia...

I decided to head North, and before long I came across a stage at the side of the road. It seemed a bit strange having a stage set up pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but there were a few characters strutting back and forth across it so I decided to approach them and start up a conversation. It turns out they were members of "The Fellowship", a group that I had met a couple of members of in Trinsic. After I paid them a handful of gold they proceeded to act out a "passion play" for me which I think was supposed to demonstrate the philosophical ideals of The Fellowship, but as my companions pointed out once the play was finished the whole thing was quite confusing and ever so slightly sinister.



Without any further ado I continued on my journey. Not too far beyond encountering The Fellowship performance I entered a swamp. Luckily there was a natural roadway that cut through the middle of the swamp, and it was on this roadway that I experienced my first taste of combat in Ultima VII. It was over almost before it even began. Because the game is running in DosBox, GOG have obviously had to mess around with the speed of the game to make it run close to normal but it still seems like everything moves a bit faster than it should. Before I even knew what was happening a crocodile rocketed out of the swamp beside me and was insta-killed by myself and my companions. I didn't even have time to move the mouse on to the crocodile to try and attack it. After this brief encounter I am left none the wiser as to how combat works in Ultima VII, but I'm sure I'll have more chances later on to get the hang of it.

Upon leaving the swamp I entered the small village of Paws, home to a bunch of filthy beggars and poor farmers. I explored around a bit and eventually came across the local branch of The Fellowship. A seemingly friendly couple were running a shelter where they took in those less fortunate than themselves, but after talking to a couple of the tenants I discovered that they were only allowed to stay there if they agreed to join The Fellowship. In fact, one poor lady called Alina had to move in to the shelter after her husband travelled north to Britain to try to get some food for her and her child. Once in Britain he was accused by a Fellowship member of stealing fruit from the royal orchards. Now The Fellowship are trying to force Alina to join their group. If she does they say they'll attempt to clear her husband's name. If she doesn't she'll have to leave the shelter. Okay, so The Fellowship definitely are a sinister organisation.

I left Paws and continued North. Not far beyond the village I discovered the capital, Britain, and I was met with a charming digitised rendition of "Rule Britannia". I quickly discovered that Britain is pretty massive, with an almost overwhelming array of shops and buildings to explore. In one of the houses I met an actor named Jesse. He was very excited about his upcoming role playing The Avatar in a new play that had just been written.


Jesse. He actually looks quite hideous, doesn't he?

I mentioned in my first post about the clever dialogue the game presents you with, and Jesse really epitomises that. In a wonderful display of fourth wall breaking, he proudly boasts that the play is over 100 hours long, and his biggest lines are "Name!" "Job!" and "Bye!". This actually made me laugh out loud, because those three lines are what you are presented with whenever you double click on somebody to interact with them in the game.

I'll leave it there for now. I'm still exploring Britain, and I haven't even encountered Lord British yet. It really feels like I'm only just starting my adventure.   read


1:35 AM on 11.13.2012

To Any "Would Be" Game Developers

My friend Stephen has just teamed up with a mate of his to form a company called Broken Planet, and they're in the process of developing their first game called "The Broken Planet". Here's their website: http://brokenplanet.co.nz/blog/welcome/

As well as documenting the progress of their game, they'll also be posting tutorials on the development process. They're using the Unreal UDK to program the game with, so if any of you out there have been interested in using this engine you might learn along with them as they discover the quirks of the engine.

There's no catch here. You won't be asked to donate money, it's not a Kickstarter or anything. It's just two guys who are passionate about gaming and who want to share their experiences with like-minded people.

Okay, that's my public service over for the day. Oh, actually, here's a promo poster from their game:

  read


7:33 PM on 11.10.2012

Road Rash Ramblings

It's funny what random things can spark video game memories. Yesterday my wife and I went to a barbecue out at a friend's place in the countryside. It's about 30 minutes outside of Nelson and the drive is filled with beautiful scenery.

Anyway, I won't bore you with details of the barbecue, but it was dark by the time we started driving home. My wife was driving and I'd had a few drinks so I had a nice buzz going on. We were traveling along a relatively straight piece of highway and up ahead in the distance there was a crossroads. A white car was stopped on the left side of the crossroads, and you could tell that they were judging whether or not they had time to cross before we reached them. They made a decision and accelerated across the road in front of us with plenty of room to spare, and I watched as the car receded into the darkness off to our right. Watching all of this immediately made something click in my head, and after thinking about it for a moment I realised that it reminded me of Road Rash! Somewhere in the depths of my brain I related the image of that car accelerating through the crossroads with the crossroads in Road Rash where cars would accelerate in front of you, quite often causing you to smash into them and go head over heels down the road. All of a sudden I was overcome with the urge to play the game, but it was pretty late by the time we got home so common sense won out and I went to bed.


Incidentally, searching up "Road Rash" images on Google is quite horrific and I wouldn't recommend it

When I woke up this morning, however, I brewed some coffee and loaded up the Megadrive emulator on my Wii. The remainder of the morning was filled with Road Rash goodness, and weaving my way through those crossroads (sometimes successfully and sometimes not) is just as thrilling as I remembered. I can honestly say that the game still holds up. It really is one of the most fun racers ever made, and it's made me hungry for a new Road Rash game.

How about all of you out there? What type of random things have reminded you of video games?   read


4:01 PM on 11.09.2012

Best...Journey...EVER!

Last night, as is traditional for me on a Friday night, I stayed up once my wife had gone to bed so that I could get some game time in. I was at a loss for what to play, so I had a scroll through my games that I'd downloaded from PSN and came across Journey. I hadn't played Journey for quite a while, and the idea of taking a trip through its world appealed to me so I loaded it up.



It wasn't long before I was totally engrossed in the game. It really is an incredibly beautiful game, both visually and aurally. One of my favourite aspects of Journey is the multi-player, and sure enough I encountered a fellow traveler before ten minutes had past. This traveler was different, though. He/She had a white cloak and an incredibly long scarf streaming out behind them. I had heard about the white cloaked travelers but this was the first time I had met one.



We greeted each other with the traditional bleeps and bloops and chimes, and then set off. I let my companion lead the way and they proceeded to show me all the secret places and glowing glyphs that I hadn't yet discovered on my earlier journeys. We developed a language where they would stop moving, chime three times, I would chime once, and then we'd both jump and fly off. We spent the majority of the game airborne, which is something I hadn't experienced before. By staying close to each other we constantly replenished our flight time which meant we rarely had to return to the ground. I honestly had the biggest grin on my face throughout the whole experience.

Each time we completed a stage I expected that my companion might leave and I would meet up with another traveler, as had happened on my earlier journeys, but each time I entered a new area the same companion was there with me leading the way. It was totally awesome. We stuck together right to the end. Just before entering the final canyon which leads to the ending cinematic we both drew shapes in the snow. The first thing that occurred to me to draw was a smiley face. I drew a big circle and a mouth and my companion realised what I was doing and proceeded to draw the two eyes. It was the perfect ending to what was the best multi-player experience that I've ever had.

Upon returning to the title screen I immediately closed the game and sent a message to my companion thanking them for the great experience, and they replied straight away with a similar message. I'll say again, now, thank you to pleiades6 for such a fantastic Journey.   read


8:19 PM on 11.03.2012

Ultima VII: My Journey Begins

I donít really have much of a history with the Ultima series of games. Other than vague memories of my older brother playing the games on his Amiga 500 when I was a kid, and a brief stint playing Ultima Online around 1999, I havenít played any other games in the series. With that admission out of the way, I can honestly say that I have always been interested in the series. Iím aware of the importance the games have in Western RPG history, and if thereís ever an article in a magazine or online about the games then Iíll happily read it. Iíve always found the idea of the fictional world of Britannia, and the long lived ruler Lord British, to be fascinating. I also think itís neat that the aforementioned Lord British is the alter-ego of the creator of the series, Richard Garriott. Thereís something cool about the creator of the game youíre playing being a character in the game, in a weird sort of way.


Richard Garriott as his alter ego, Lord British

So, now that Iíve established my brief and tenuous history with the series, Iíll move on to the meat of this post. Yesterday I purchased Ultima VII from GOG, as part of their weekend EA game promo. I was in the mood for some retro gaming and the sale struck at just the right time, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to re-introduce myself to Ultima. I knew, in a vague kind of way, that Ultima VII had a good reputation as one of the best in the series and a quick Google search for opinions quickly confirmed this. Without any further ado I clicked back on GOG and purchased the Ultima VII Complete pack.

If any of you out there have ever purchased games from GOG youíll know that they go the extra mile with the added extras you get. With Ultima VII you get a multitude of manuals, guides, hint books, a perfect scan of the original cloth map from the boxed version, a black and white version of the same map, and a huge collection of design documents from the development of the game. All in all itís a pretty awesome package for only $2.39 I spent on it.

After skim-reading the (very well written) manual I dove straight into the game. I was greeted by a red-faced ape like creature with a booming voice advising me that he was keen on becoming the new ruler of Britannia. He actually seemed quite genial and friendly, but I got the impression that he was supposed to be the bad guy. I guess Iíd learn more as I went along.



Stepping through a Moongate, I entered the world of Britannia and appeared in the town of Trinsic. Rather conveniently I immediately bumped into a guy called Iolo, who I gathered was an old friend of the Avatar (the character you play). He explains that a brutal murder has just taken place in town and that you should investigate. Iolo joins your party, a green arrow appears on screen, and youíre now in control. I was initially worried that, like a lot of older PC games, I would be overwhelmed by the control scheme. I was very happily surprised to discover that pretty much the entire game is controlled using only the mouse, making it a very accessible game. Movement is achieved by moving the cursor to where you want to go on screen and holding down the right mouse button. Opening up your character screen is achieved by simply double left clicking on the character, and likewise for your party members. I walked into the stables where the murder has taken place, which is right next to where you start, and was confronted with a rather grisly scene. The town blacksmith has been torn apart and his mutilated body is lying on the ground. I should mention here how the game is presented graphically. You view proceedings from overhead camera angle. Youíre not directly above the scene, you view things from a slightly lower angle. Buildings appear solid when youíre outside, but once you walk inside the roof disappears to allow you to move around. Overall it is an odd perspective, but I quickly got used to it.


The grisly murder scene that greets you when you start the game

Back to the stables, and I decided to experiment with the control scheme. After clicking about on every object I could find I quickly discovered that you can pick up and move pretty much every item in the game. Like the look of that bucket? Pick it up and put it in your pack. See some tasty bread sitting on somebodyís shelf? Steal it and have a bread feast later on. I picked up a couple of clues from the scene, a key and some gargoyle jewellery (a gargoyle was also murdered, stuck to the stable wall with a pitchfork), and then decided to heed Ioloís advice to talk about the murder with every townsperson I encountered. Talking to people is as easy as double clicking on them and following the dialogue trees. I must say, the dialogue in the game so far is very well written and entertaining. Every character definitely has a distinct personality. In particular the town armourer, and his constant demands for you to either buy something or get out of his shop, made me smile.

Trinsic is a walled town and you canít leave without getting the password from the mayor. In order to do this you need to gather clues and then make a report to the mayor about the murder. If he is satisfied with your progress he then asks you some questions about locations around the world of Britannia to confirm that you truly are the Avatar. I imagine that playing the game back in 1992 this part would have been quite a treat, because it requires you to refer to the cloth map in order to give the mayor exact longitude and latitude locations. Iíll admit that for this section I simply used the included guide which gave the answers. Now satisfied that you are the Avatar of legend, the mayor gives you the town password and sends you on your way to continue investigating the murder. He mentions that crime is very reminiscent of a murder that happened a few years ago in the capital, Britain. With that tidbit of information fresh in my mind, I travelled to the town gate, gave the guard the password, and stepped outside into the land of Britannia...


The gate through which I left Trinsic

I plan to continue with these blogs detailing my journey through Ultima VII. I realise that theyíre probably only going to be of interest to a pretty small group of gamers, but Iím really looking forward to exploring the game further and documenting my adventure. I hope you enjoy journeying along beside me.   read


8:35 PM on 10.26.2012

PAX Australia: I will be in you....

I bought a three day pass to PAX Australia! This is kind of a big deal. Living at the ass-end of the world (New Zealand) I always dreamed of one day attending a big gaming show like PAX or E3, but in reality I realised it probably was never going to happen due to dumb real life issues such as money, distance, job, wife etc.....actually, my wife's not dumb. Sorry, honey!

I'm pretty excited about the show. I have a good idea of what to expect from looking at coverage of previous PAX events on Destructoid, but I'm sure the actual event will be kind of overwhelming. Three days of gaming goodness will most likely fry my brain. I'm looking forward to the experience, though, even if I do end up a shrivelled husk of a man by the end of day three. As long as I see this guy at the event I'll be happy:



As well as the event, I'm really looking forward to visting Melbourne again. My wife and I lived there for a year in 2008. It's a very cool city, the only reason we moved back to New Zealand was because we were homesick and missed our friends too much. It's kind of a shame that the event is in July, right in the middle of Winter. Melbourne is a great city and all, but just like any city it can be a bit miserable smack dab in the heart of Winter. It doesn't ever get really cold, but it'll be a shame if the weather is shitty.

Going back to what I said at the start of this post, I've been looking forward to attending a big event like this for a long time. Honestly, the fact that it's a PAX event isn't really a selling point. It could have been a totally new gaming expo and I still would have signed up. I've only visited the Penny Arcade site a handful of times, so I'm definitely not what you would call a fan. I know that there will be some attractions at PAX Australia which will cater towards long time fans of Penny Arcade, but I'm not worried about missing out on these. I'm sure there will be more than enough to capture my attention over the three days.

Is anyone else out there going, or thinking of going? It'd be cool to meet up with some fellow Dtoiders. I'm sure we could get up to all kinds of mischief...   read


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