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1:43 PM on 06.18.2007



The History

For the uninitiated, Rez is a difficult game concept. Developed by Sega's United Game Artists under the codename 'Project K', outwardly it offers a seemingly simplistic game, with little more to do than point and shoot and very little in the way of story. However, peel away the layers and you'll find one of the most innovative, immersive, and involving gameplay experiences to have been released in not only the last ten years, but in the entire history of gaming itself.

United Games Artists were a team of developers containing several former members of the disbanded Team Andromeda (the Sega development team behind the Panzer Dragoon series). Working among them was Tetsuya Mizuguchi, a subdued yet inspired designer and producer with an eclectic catalogue of games including such titles as Sega Rally Championship and Space Channel 5. It was Mizuguchi that conceptualised and produced Rez, and his vision and creativity that brought the game to fruition.

Released by Sega in Japan in 2001 for Dreamcast and PS2, then released in greater numbers in the US and Europe the following year, this amazingly beautiful, striking, and unique game received the critical acclaim it so rightly deserved, but as is the case with most titles that take the chance to be different it received little commercial attention. Maybe this was because it's so difficult to classify, and therefore difficult to market. Rez moves beyond the boundaries set by other games with which it shares similarities (the Panzer Dragoon series for example) and has become a genre unto its own. One thing's for certain, it's become a cult classic amongst gamers, defying categorization and representing the feats games can achieve with just a little creativity and a lot of imagination.

The plot is almost nonexistent in Rez - most of the back-story being reserved for the game's manual - and as a rhythm action title at its heart it cannot really be appreciated in terms of narrative. Still, the story is worth telling, as it infuses your in-game actions with motivation, and also reveals some of Rez's inspirations. The game is set in a vast computer network in which the AI program 'Eden' has become all too aware of the paradoxes inherent in the human world, and thus has begun to doubt in her own existence. She has begun to shut herself down as a suicide, flooding this universal network with problems as she does so. The player enters this network as a hacker, logging into the system with one mission, to find and reboot Eden while destroying any viruses or firewalls that happen to inhibit progress. You will traverse five different areas in all, the fifth being the core where Eden resides. Basically the plot is kind of like Tron on ecstasy. And acid. And probably stoned off its noggin too.

As well as film, Rez takes many of its cues from the myriad of ideas found in music and art. The name Rez comes from the Underworld track of the same name - an energetic, uplifting and face-paced song, three attributes that are also pervasive throughout the game. The visuals have their routes in the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky (hence the name 'Project K'), a man considered by many as one of the founders of abstract art. Kandinsky's works are evident as you play the game, his vibrant use of colour and swirling, hallucinogenic landscapes spreading before you as you soar above them. It's hopeless to try and play Rez without taking note of the surrealist and abstract influences.

Playing the Game

On the surface, Rez is as simple as it gets. You play as a floating avatar, controlling only the on-screen targeting reticule using the left analogue stick. You can either tap the shoot button to fire, or hold down to lock on up to eight enemies at the same time. As many take multiple hits to destroy you can also lock eight shots to a single enemy. The player can also collect 'overdrives', items which, when used, destroy all enemies on-screen at that time.

The game is split into five different areas, each with a distinct musical track and visual style. The areas share a similar structure, each being split into 10 subsections and ending with a boss (or as it's known in-game, a firewall). The player's lives are expressed through the presentation of their avatar. Gaining power-up increments to their evolution bar results in an evolution to a higher form, whilst getting hit by an enemy downgrades the player to a lower form. Getting hit at the lowest form will end the game. The various forms taken by the player's avatar each have different graphical and audio effects.

And that's all there is to it. Reading in the above puts Rez across simply as another on-rails shooter: similar to Panzer Dragoon, the player merely travels along a predetermined path through the level, unable to affect their movement at all. This is the inherent problem - and also the brilliance - with Rez, and that is that it's difficult to accurately describe Rez using just words or screenshots. The more one writes about Rez, the more one realises how hard it is to describe it using just words. The backbone of the game lies in the actual experience of playing it, of watching the relationship between sound, visuals and control. The game goes far beyond a basic on-rails shooter with music game elements. Rez goes beyond, becomes something more, transcending what a video game can be. To be truly understood it must be seen and heard.


This indescribable something, the core of the Rez experience that has to be felt to be truly appreciated, comes from the game's genuine innovation - its application and conveyance of synesthesia. Synesthesia is defined as a union of the senses, the association of different senses and stimuli with each other - something reported commonly by users of LSD. Whilst you soar over the various psychedelic, abstract and futuristic vistas presented in Rez, slowly but surely you feel the integration of sight and sound. As your surroundings pulse to the rhythm of the music, so does your floating avatar, the controller vibrating to not only every beat, but to every on-screen action occurring in the vividly coloured landscape. From locking on with your weapon to firing and destroying the enemies, everything is in sync with the music.

Each area begins barren and quiet, nothing to see but the gentle pulse of your avatar moving in time to the subtle music. As you shoot enemies and objects simple noises are formed, and as you pass checkpoints into the next level of each area the sounds become more complex, the backgrounds begin to form. The areas literally build from the ground up as you progress, the music and visuals becoming gradually more layered and intense, building up into something truly wonderful. This journey from nothing - the evolution of the level as you play - slowly brings everything together. Without even knowing it the different aspects of each level (the sound, visuals, vibration and control) come together, combining to form a truly unique, singular experience. Subconsciously you become riveted to the game, yet at ease all at once. No other game has come this close to drawing you in so deeply. Floating forwards, feeling the intensity rise with each level, you truly become one with Rez; you feel almost a part of it yourself.


It is truly impossible to talk about Rez without doting on the graphics. Tetsuya Mizuguchi once said, "Old games, like maybe 20 years ago, were like this - vector scan and wireframes. But Rez isn't being nostalgic. The look is conscious choice. Current games are a little too real now - there's no room for interpretation. But I think Rez is an experience, so I don't want to put lifelike graphics in it". Rez's backbone is its presentation. It looks like so many things you've seen in the past, yet it looks like nothing you've seen before. Everything has been made up of simple line and shapes that pulsate and pound in time with the music. As the game runs at its smooth pace, steadily escalating in intensity, you view some truly amazing landscapes filled with an eclectic assortment of enemies. The cell-shaded look to the boss battles is truthfully as breath-taking as it is imaginative. It's a tremendous sight to behold, an assault on the senses. This is something that no gamer should miss.

Each area is inspired by a different ancient culture, a design choice that is apparent as wireframe Sphinxes or ancient hieroglyphs will slowly appear as a particular level forms itself. The different areas also exhibit their own music track and visual style, and culminate in a boss-battle. The final area differs slightly, offering a narrative to the player as they progress - one which deals with the Earth and the creation of life itself. This section of Rez is nothing short of spectacular, and I won't ruin it for you here if you haven't already played it.

The different forms the player's avatar takes as you level up, or as the case may be, level down, are also very telling of the game's visual inspirations. Each has its own distinctive characteristic, coupled with a slightly different weapon which will interact with the environment in a somewhat altered way. The final level to which you can evolve is strongly reminiscent of the Star Child from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and your lowest level is a clear nod to Bit from Tron.

The Music

It's best to use a quote from Tetsuya Mizuguchi himself to help demonstrate how integral sound is to the design of Rez. "The first thing we did was decide on the musicians. They had to understand what we were doing with the game - not only the music, but the visual design as well. That was important". The sound design in Rez - from the effects to the soundtrack - is auditory ecstasy. The soundtrack features songs by such artists as Adam Freeland, Joujouka and Ken Ishii. They are electronic experiments, starting slow and minimal and building up into a harmonic synchronisation of beats and pulses. They are phenomenal pieces of work, and blend flawlessly with the game and its aesthetic. The sound effects caused by shooting become part of the music, each shot's associated sound effect seamlessly blending into the rhythm of the track, becoming part of the track itself. The sounds again become one with what you see, melding perfectly with their visual accompaniments to form an auditory encounter you're unlikely to come across in any other game.


Once you've completed the game there are plenty of extra features, and if you feel compelled to play through again (which I'm certain you would be) there are tonnes of unlockables including additional game graphics. The player can also unlock Beyond mode, score-attack and free play modes, the Lost Area and Trance Mission, giving the game plenty of sustainability. Even with these extra modes, simply playing through the main section of the game never loses its appeal - in fact, familiarity with the game serves only to add to its allure. Simply playing to relax and enjoy the visuals is as enjoyable an experience as attempting to gain high scores.

So, a game that on its surface looks something simple and non-provocative - something you'd maybe dismiss due to its lack of freedom and engaging story - is truly a compelling, absorbing and unique experiment that pushes the boundaries of what a game can be. It is very unfair to label Rez as a 'stoner game', and people who say it is too short have missed the point. Rez isn't a game that's going to take you on a roller-coaster ride of excitement, shocks and emotions, but it is a game that will change the way you view how games can be made. The marriage of sound and graphics has never before been used in games to the same extent it is in Rez, and it has set a precedent in sound design yet to be matched by any other game.

Rez is, quite simply, one of the most unique and bizarre products ever released. By the time you have finished with the game the feeling is akin to having just heard a symphony, or gazed upon a work of art. Rez takes daring concepts, astonishing artwork and a powerful soundtrack, combining them to create one singular, exceptional gameplay experience. Rez is about evolution. The evolution of sound, of graphics, and of games themselves. Rez takes the simple concept of a game and transforms it into something beautiful yet fun. Rez is art, a serious yet dazzling adventure that will amaze as much as it entertains. If you have not yet played this game, now is the time to do so...

A special mention must go to the Trance Vibrator, a small vibrating device sold only in Japan designed to be placed in the user's breast pocket to better feel the vibration emanating from the game. The Trance Vibrator was not explicitly marketed as a sex toy, but it has reportedly been used as such, making Rez a game also used for sexual gratification. That's how good it is ;-)   read

2:08 PM on 06.11.2007

Cathedral row over Resistance: Fall of Man *Sighs*

Cathedral row over video war game

I must say, this is absolutely ridiculous. For one, surely the Church Of England would have heard about this long before now. It's the Church of England for god's sake. They must be short on cash or something because there's no way they only just found out.

The whole thing is pretty ridiculous. I've no doubt Sony and Insomniac would have made certain they were legally able to present the cathedral and its interior before they did so, so any legal action taken against them will probably ammount to nothing.

The Church takes the following stance, 'For many young people these games offer a different sort of reality'. Or as we usually like to call it: Fantasy. They go on to say, 'Every year we invite hundreds of teenagers to come and see the cathedral and it is a shame to have Sony undermining our work'. I'm pretty sure that that was in no way Sony's intention. Are people's minds really going to be so horribly warped by their experience of Resistance that they'll go to the cathedral and start shooting the place up? I seriously doubt it. Plus let's not forget this game is rated M, and anyone under the age of 17 shouldn't be playing it anyway.

Manchester's gun crime problem is also brought up. 'We know the reality of gun crime and the devastating effects it can have on lives. It is not a trivial matter'. I completely agree: gun crime is not a trivial matter, but to associate the use of a cathedral in-game to the horrors of gun crime is a bit of a leap in judgement. Sony retorted, saying the game is set, 'in an alternate and mythical version of Europe in the 1950s, in which the enemy are strange-looking alien invaders seeking to destroy humanity...It is entertainment, like Doctor Who or any other science fiction. It is not based on reality at all.' Precisely. It's an M rated game. Surely anyone over the age limit is able to distinguish between reality and the obvious fantasy that is represented here. If they can't then they really shouldn't be playing games in the first place.

To play devil's advocate, you can see that it could be considered distasteful to allow players to shoot each other up inside a church. If the same thing was done with a school in a mainstream game there would be uproar. Bringing gun crime into the argument and saying Sony are undermining the work of the church though? Maybe taking it a step too far. Encouraging gunplay on holy ground was clearly not Sony's intention. They were simply trying to make a fun and immersive game. On top of this, why has Resistance been singled out? As a friend of mine pointed out there are churches in plenty of other games, particularly in WW2 games. Shall we ban/remove every single recognisable landmark from previously released video games? You can drive past Big Ben in PGR3 at 200mph. Should this be banned for creating a joy-riding problem in Britain? The answer is a simple no, and I doubt anyone would bring it up. Just as players would see the clear distinction between reality and virtual reality in PGR3, they will see it in Resistance. Even more so. There are no aliens in PGR3.

So yeah, as would be expected, I completely side with Sony on this one. It's a ridiculous concept, to remove the game from shelves simply because it displays a representation of a building (which looks awesome by the way). The only thing Sony should be sorry for here is releasing such a boring and generic FPS.   read

2:08 PM on 06.06.2007



I was just looking at the Condemned: Bloodshot artwork Nick Brutal posted earlier. Although it does seem to be full of homeless people (hence the title of this post), junkies and eyeless freaks, that's fine with me, cos I'm totally down with eyeless freaks. Despite there being no actual screens or vids or anything I'm still excited about this game. Monolith Studios (who also did the excellent yet very unnerving F.E.A.R. and are currently working on a second) must be doing something right because if I'm honest here, F.E.A.R. and the original Condemned: Criminal Origins are two of the only games that have made me literally scared for my life while I played them. I seriously checked over my shoulder constantly whilst playing Criminal Origins. It's one of the most immersive games I've played. I'll talk about that in a minute though. According to wikipedia, in Bloodshot you once again assume the role of Ethan Thomas, except this time the disturbing events of his past have left him a broken man (I'd imagine so, after mass-murdering about 200 people using mallets and bits of wood with nails stuck in them). So you'll fighting inner demons as well as hobos. Although I assume you won't be fighting Ethan's inner demons with an axe. There's also said to be a multiplayer death match mode which I imagine will be as fun as it is gory.

So yeah, there's not much more to go on, other than that I expect the second game to be very much like the first only more scary and more violent. Which is fine by me. Criminal Origins was one of the first games I played on my 360 and I loved it. True, it was short, but it was different and engrossing, and by engrossing I mean it would have you hammering your joypad, forcefully murmuring expletives as you beat a psychotic bum to death with the leg of a mannequin. The adrenaline you felt going into a dark room - knowing someone was in there as they shuffled about near by, screaming they were going to kill you - would be totally released as you bashed their brains right the fuck in. It was really the combat, environments and sheer terror that made this game what it is. The story (that of Ethan Thomas hunting a deadly serial killer in the fictional Metro City, whilst fending off the population who have somehow been turned into insane, violent psychotics) I could take it or leave it. The forensic stuff added little to the gameplay too. Sure, it was cool to look at, but that was about it. The forensic tools were only availble when you were told there was something to investigate (via Ethan's 'instincts'), and then you would basically just follow a trail of something or send it to your FBI buddy to analyse. Not really puzzle-solving in the typical sense if you're being told what to do and when. Still, it added to the creepy atmosphere and was an interesting compliment to the game if nothing else.

It was the combat and the setting that made this game fun/pants-wettingly scary to play. Firearms were present, but few and far between. Even if you did get your hands on a shotgun chances are you'd run out of ammo in six or seven shots; a departure from the usual FPS approach where you'll carry more ammunition than John Rambo. The use of melee weapons is the key here, and players can take these weapons from their environment, pulling pipes and electrical conduits from walls, or picking up shovels, axes and mallets from wherever they're found. These weapons are to be used as skillfully as they are brutally as you have to time your blocking just right if you want to come out of a fight unscathed. The weapons feel heavy too. The first time you swing a mallet into an enemies skull you can feel the weight and force behind it. You can't just run about swinging an axe to and fro. Ethan has to heft it up to use it and take a poweful swing to cause the kind of damage you really want to. It's this that draws you into the game. The kills are that much more visceral, and as a result you can feel the rush of relief as each swing makes contact. Ok, I'm starting to sound like a serial killer or something but it really does feel good :-/

The dimly-lit, dilapidated and dirty (ooh, alliteration!) environments add so much to the immersion of Criminal Origins too. This is one game you won't feel comfortable playing with the lights off. You have a flashlight, but that's little comfort when you're in some dark and dank (there we go again) abandoned department store, listening to the demented ravings of numerous psychos out there somewhere in the shadows ready to do a whole variety of nasty things to you. It's disconcerting, to say the least. There are plenty of decrepit buildings to explore, including a school, library and subway, each more creepy than the last. In the end you find yourself in a rather disturbing house before the game moves on to the final section, which has some really cool surprises, none of which I'll ruin here. Basically it's a really involving and atmospheric game, one that'll draw you in and keep you riveted to the end. It's just a pity it's not longer. Let's hope that Bloodshot rectifies this and supplies us with another gore-filled, roller-coaster ride of a game.

Also, as a side-note, apparently Greg Grunberg voiced Ethan Thomas in the first game. Greg Grunberg is the guy who played Matt Parkman in Heroes. Who'd have thunk it.   read

7:33 AM on 06.05.2007

Control through the ages.

I wrote this rather long article on controllers about a week back. Have a read and let me know your thoughts. What have I left out? What where your favourite controllers and why? How would you like to see future console's controllers changed?

Game controllers - they're our connection to the many galaxies, dungeons, space stations, warehouses, castles, playing fields, racing tracks, alternate dimensions and fantastical landscapes we explore when enjoying our favourite pastime. That piece of plastic that goes by many names - control pad, controller, gamepad, joypad - enables us to do and experience amazing things. A good controller coupled with a well designed control scheme can either make or break a gaming experience. So what controllers best pull off the feat of putting you in the shoes of a racer, pilot, adventurer or soldier? Which controllers have the right mix of ergonomics and comfort to make any gaming experience a true joy to play through?

Going right back in time to the 70s we have the Atari 2600's joystick. Simple as it may be (a stick for moving and a button for firing) this was the joystick that put you in the proverbial shoes of Pacman, or the pilot of a ship fending off space invaders. In spite of its lack of current technology it was still comfortable, and its simplicity was - in fact - key to the enjoyment of many games. The uncomplicated design of titles such as Donkey Kong made them a joy to play, embracing undemanding gameplay and a more relaxed approach.

Next up is the NES pad. This blocky, rectangular pad is so widely recognised in game culture it has gone beyond its controller routes and even become a fashion item. It may not have been the most comfortable pad, or the best looking, but again the minimalism of its design sat perfectly right with gamers everywhere. In a time before games required intricate and involved control schemes (just look at Assassin's Creed, imagine trying to map 800 different movements to a NES pad) two buttons and a d-pad were all that was needed for an afternoon of gaming. Seven years later the SNES pad - a curvier, more colourful, and multi-buttoned version of the NES controller - became any Super Nintendo owner's link to the games they played. This controller had one major difference: shoulder buttons, a design implementation that made arcade beat-em-ups a viable proposition in the home. The SNES pad was not only comfortable to hold, it was also responsive, and extremely sturdy. Frustrated gamers everywhere could feel safe to hammer these pads to get the knock-outs, first positions, and high scores they wanted.

At the same time Sega were offering the three buttoned, curvy pad with their Genesis system. Sega had improved the design of their pad, making it cosier to hold by rounding off the square edges of previous incarnations. Although this made the pad more comfortable the simple fact that it had just three buttons (plus a start button) meant that it still wasn't quite on par with the SNES controller, and couldn't quite match the level of sophistication in play.

The next generation of games consoles offered not only better graphics, but also a fully rendered, 3D space in which to enjoy them. This meant that control system had to change, and if the control system had to change, the controllers had to change. Sega, with the Saturn, stuck with a very similar design to their 6 button Genesis controller. This time they made the wise decision to add two shoulder buttons. Unfortunately, the shoulder buttons felt odd and clicky, and added little to the gameplay experience. The controller, like the system itself, was designed as an evolution of the Genesis and its pad. The lack of any really quality 3D titles meant that the pad was relatively satisfactory, as the system was really geared for 2D games. However, with the release of NiGHTS into Dreams developers new a more enjoyable experience could be achieved with a different approach. Hence NiGHTS was released with an optional controller, one that had a major design feature: an analog stick.

Sega were beaten to it, by mere days, with the release of the N64 in June 1996. The N64's pad, love it or hate it, was one of the most important joypads ever produced. Not only did the N64 controller feature an analog joystick, which made playing games like Goldeneye realistic and subtle, but it also featured a pistol-like trigger button underneath. The three-pronged shape of the pad - which made it look almost spaceship-esque - meant that the user could hold it in various ways to play an assortment of games. This new and innovative thinking separated many gamers, some who held the viewpoint that they shouldn't have to change the position of their hands to play different games, others who liked the choice and new way of approach to the control of a game. Either way you look at it the introduction of the analog stick enabled gamers to navigate 3D worlds - something that changed gaming forever - and made such games as Mario 64 a possibility.

In response to the revolutionary Nintendo 64 controller Sony also retooled their own pad to make it more suitable for the future of 3D gaming. Probably one of the most recognisable controllers in this list, the Sony Playstation Dual Shock controller came with two analogs rather than just one. This light, comfortable pad also had an 'analog' button to enable or disable the thumb sticks - a way to retain compatibility with previous games that did not support them. Having two analog sticks meant that games could once again be played in a radically different way than ever before. Move with one joystick, aim with the other, steer with the left, control the throttle with the right. This was real control, and incredibly versatile. The L3 and R3 buttons were also implemented, giving gamers even more influence over their on-screen actions. The controller also featured not one, but two motors designed for vibration. This was first offered to gamers in the Rumble Pak, an N64 controller accessory that could be fitted to the pad providing force feedback in synchronisation with on-screen events. The Dual Shock controller offered this in the two handles of the pad, meaning it was much less unwieldy than the heavy N64 accessory. By this time the innovation and design in game controllers was really beginning to bloom. The changing landscape in game design and the ever increasing desire for new ideas from players asserted that not only new gameplay mechanics were needed, but new ways to experience these mechanics were needed too.

This brings us to the most recent generation of consoles and their respective controllers. When Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 they knew something different had to be done with the pad - something 'next-gen'. The original Xbox pad's large design had to go - aesthetics and innovation were crucial. The new, white controller has both. Keeping the left analog stick higher than the right retain the comfort of the previous pad, but smoother curves and a slightly heftier weight are what truly makes the pad a pleasure to hold. This was also the first pad to come with wireless technology as standard. Gamers everywhere rejoiced as they found keeping close to the TV, tangled wires and tripping up were no longer a problem. Freedom to move was given to the gamer, meaning they could enjoy the spectacular feats they performed on screen without having to worry about pulling the console off the shelf in a moment of excitement. Add to this the Xbox button in the centre, giving the user instant access to the Xbox interface and allowing them to turn the console off without having to reach for the power button, as well as a built-in jack for connecting a headset, and you get one of the best designed pads out there. Aesthetically and ergonomically this pad delivers.

The only thing lacking from the 360s controller was the new 'must have' feature of the new generation. Motion sensing technology. Nintendo came first, with the now famous Wiimote and Nunchuck peripherals, definitely the most out-there and different control method mentioned in this entire list. Sony followed not long after, integrating motion sensing technology into their own pad, the SIXAXIS. Sony seemed to take the stance that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', sticking with the tried and true form of their previous controllers (possibly as a result of the public outcry about the original boomerang shaped PS3 concept controller). The SIXAXIS also took its cues from the 360's pad, placing a PS button in the centre. The controller is not without its problems though. Firstly, it did not come with rumble technology - much to the annoyance of many a gamer - who felt that force feedback was a integral part to the immersive gaming experience. Also, the back shoulder buttons, although refined to make them more trigger-like, are convex, and therefore can be difficult to keep a grip on. The Wiimote, shaped like a normal television remote and designed with a large 'A' button to demonstrate its simplicity could be said to be set to take games right back to the stage were we started at the beginning of this article. Back in the days when all was needed was one button and a joystick, games were simple, straightforward and uncomplicated. The Wii's intuitive gameplay harks back to this period, as the simple design of the controller invites gamers and non-gamers alike to join together and play. The Wiimote will undoubtedly make you look a fool sometimes, as you wave you arms about frantically playing such games as Wario Ware and Rayman:Raving Rabbids, but damn, is it fun to use. Only time will tell if the innovations inherent in the Wiimote and nunchuck peripherals will truly take gaming to the next step, or if the simple yet intriguing idea is a gimmick and nothing more.

So what's next? As gameplay and graphics evolve, so do the methods of control. Will we find one day that we use solely our minds to play a game? And if so, would this ever feel as fun as the skill and dexterity required when playing with your own two hands? These controls - our links to the universes we enjoy so much - are such an integral part of the gaming lifestyle. They evolve as the games we play evolve, and constantly find ways to innovate and amaze. Who knows where the next step will take us? But I'll tell you what, I can't wait to find out.

An honourable mention must go out to the Gamecube controller. Although it looks like something from a playschool catalogue, and is one of the least ergonomical contollers out there, but the shoulder buttons have to be the most satisfying of all controller buttons to press. Also to the Guitar Hero guitar peripheral. Never before had a game controller so realistically mimicked its real life counterpart, and any that had tried had never come even a smidge as close to gaming perfection as this did ;-)   read

1:06 PM on 06.04.2007


I'm writing this cos of a stupid bug.

Haha, it's not an official screenshot really, it's just a mock-up I put together using my totally awesome paint skills. I got you there, didn't I? What? You could tell? Dammit.

I don't know if this has already been mentioned on the front page, but here I go anyway...I dids that there mock-up because Atari have officially announced N+ on the PSP and Nintendo DS, a follow up to the immensley popular flash game N the Ninja, created by Metanet software. I decided to go all blogalicious about this as I owe a lot to this game. There was a period of time in my work when there was absolutely fuck all to do, so I decided to have a little go on N the Ninja. The next few shifts flew past as I lept from walls, performed death-defying stunts, collected gold, evaded robots, and engaged in all sorts of other ninja related tomfoolery. It really is a great game, showcasing the fact that sometimes it is the simple ones that really are the best. It's available for download here.

This new version looks set to make many a boring train journey fly by. It'll feature all the acrobatic-action gameplay of the original but with a few extras that'll really get your ninja-juices flowing, mainly to do with online stuff. There'll be community leaderboards, cooperative and competitive multiplayer, and best of all a level editor, meaning there'll be no end to the fun. Some of the levels on the original are damn hard though, I bet some of the user-created levels will be ridiculous.

Anyway, this is due for November, so mark it down on your ninja-calendars! You know, the calendars you keep for all your ninja-related actvities? You don't have one? Well you should.

One last thing, why did I make my awesome mock-up on a PSP and not a DS? Because Sony are teh best!!! No it was because the DS has two screens, don't you know! And I don't know what would appear on the top screen. I wonder what they will use it for...the stylus will certainly make editing levels less of a chore though.   read

8:31 PM on 06.03.2007

Super Metroid is super.

Righty-ho! I recently completed Super Metroid and just got through writing a review of what I now consider to be one of the best games on the SNES. I can’t believe I’ve never played it before now. Terrible. Anyway, here it is, feel free to tell me what you think!

The experience of playing Super Metroid is very much akin to reading a really good book. Once you’ve started, you don’t want to stop, and even when you do you’re still thinking ‘what’s going to happen next?’ ‘Where will that room I last saved in lead to?’ ‘What remarkable power-ups are waiting round the corner?’ Super Metroid truly is an extremely rich, deep and involving experience.

Developed by Nintendo R&D1 and published by Nintendo <i>Super Metroid</i> is the third installment in the Metroid series, and possibly the best. At the time of its release way back in 1994 Super Metroid was the largest game available for the Super NES (having a 24-megabit cartridge size), a fact that is more than evident when you play through the various locations in the game. The scope of the game is huge, considering that it was a 2D platformer released in the 90s. This is a game that was truly way ahead of its time, and many of the modern platformers and adventures we play today have their routes firmly set in its design.

Once again you take on the role of Samus Aran, the sexy yet uncompromising bounty-hunter, armored in her trademark battle suit created by the mysterious Chozo. Samus finds herself on the planet Zebes for a second time, facing the menacing Space Pirates and their plans for galactic domination. In all fairness the story is very light on the ground, although the approach to its telling has changed substantially from previous installments, which reduced storytelling to the instruction booklet. Here Samus narrates the short introduction herself, revealing to the player that she has received a distress signal from the research lab where she took a Metroid hatchling saved at the end of the previous game (1991’s Metroid II: Return of Samus). She returns just in time to see one of the game’s many bosses stealing the hatchling. She follows the beast to the planet Zebes. This is the setting, and it is where you prevent the Space Pirates from bringing their new plan – that of cloning the Metroids and using them as a weapon – to fruition.

The player is thrown right in at the deep end. One of the very first things you do it fight a huge flying monstrosity, then escape the research lab/space colony before it explodes (a countdown timer flashes incessantly, reminding you that you have just one minute to make your escape). Phew. This sets the pace for Super Metroid, one of constant action and suspense. At its core Super Metroid is an adventure based on exploration and time-gathering, with platformer and shooter dynamics. However the game reaches beyond these simple outlines and crafts a whole new experience with the implementation of nonlinear gameplay. True, you are basically collecting items and power-ups that give Samus the ability to defeat enemies and overcome obstacles, but the way this seemingly straightforward design is applied raises the game to a whole other level.

You start off with nothing. A suit and a blaster are your only protection. By the end of the game you’re a one-woman army, and an extreme hazard to the Space Pirate’s existence. You’re able to walk through water, grapple your way across ceilings, jump off walls, defy gravity, freeze enemies in their path, and execute super jumps to get to previously inaccessible areas. Start from the beginning again once you’re completed the game and the difference in Samus is considerable. Getting the items to achieve these feats is no easy task. You have to fight enemies, perform death-defying jumps from ledge to ledge, and solve puzzles to get each power-up. Add to this the multiple paths you are constantly offered, and the fact that some paths will only be available to you later in the game, meaning you must constantly remember the places to which you have been and will have to return to at a later point, and you’ve got a pretty demanding gameplay experience on your hands. Finding yourself stuck and wondering where to head next is not an uncommon occurrence, and it takes not only memory but a whole ton of exploration to find the next section of your adventure. As the game progresses you will find that when you gain new maneuvers - such as the ability to jump higher than before, or a weapon that can blast through solid rock – you will find yourself recalling a ledge that was just a little too high before, or a closed door that wouldn’t unlock a few rooms back. You’ll be constantly taking note of these areas, ready to backtrack when the next augmentation is provided.

Investigation really is key to this game. Every little opening and every door will beckon to you. If you’re incredibly attentive in your explorations you’ll find Samus becoming increasingly powerful as there are plenty of missile upgrades and energy tanks to be found, hidden away in the many of Super Metroid’s secrets. It is possible to achieve 100% completion by collecting everything there is to be found in the game, but this certainly would be no easy task. The game’s map is extremely complex, intricately designed to give you many different routes whilst always making sure you’re gong the right way and doing the right thing. One glance at the entirety of Super Metroid’s map is enough to intimidate any hardcore gamer.

Innovative gameplay and design aside, the look, feel and sound of this game are, simply, some of the best in all of the SNES’s history. The music is sublime, and quite possibly some of the most memorable ever put to a game. Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano did an excellent job of making music that adds a continuous mood to the gameplay, enhancing it whilst still being subtle enough to not overcome the player. The music lurks in the background at all times, changing when new areas are discovered. The music mostly consists of reserved, dark melodies, eventually consuming you and immersing you in Samus’ role. Creepy and eerie at times, stunning and amazing at others, the music is implemented with such subtlety that the graphics and sound form a wonderful relationship, creating an almost tangible atmosphere. The graphics, although not amazing, do the same job. The game has an even, stable and thoroughly crafted graphical style. Each area has its own distinct look, and thoroughly gives the impression that you are, indeed, on an alien planet.

The controls are well implemented and are very easy to get used to. Controlling the height of your jumps presents no problems, and maneuverability is not inhibited at all when dodging multiple attacks – especially when fighting the larger bosses in the game. As you play you’ll learn a couple of new moves by watching friendly creatures performing them first, revealing hidden abilities that the player is only made aware of once they’ve seen them.

On a first play through this game will take the average player anywhere between 8-15 hours. If you’re really diligent and want to find every last secret it could take anywhere up to 20 hours. It is possible to complete the game in under three hours, if you’re an absolute maniac. Super Metroid has been a major contributor to the speedrun phenomenon, opening its distinctive nonlinear approach to 2D platforming to a whole new demanding level of gameplay. If you do manage to complete it in under three hours you get a little surprise (I won’t ruin it for you) so there’s plenty of additional gameplay here if your willing to devote that much of yourself to it. First and foremost it’s a much more enjoyable experience to take your time with it though, as there is so much to see and enjoy.

So there we have it. Super Metroid is a game that has truly stood the test of time. It is hailed as one of the best 2D adventures ever and rightly so. As IGN once so deftly put it, ‘Nintendo’s sci-fi epic still provides one of the most thought out and intriguing gameplay experiences around. Ranging from extensive platform challenges to gigantic boss battles to a comprehensive power-up system, Super Metroid has attained a divine place in the hearts of lifetime gamers. Certainly, it stands as something players and developers can idolize for years to come.’ It really does. As a first time player of the game I felt that this was not only one of the best games on the SNES, but also one of the best games I’ve ever played. Super Metroid elevated gameplay to a whole new level, and its mark on games and their design to this very day shows no sign of slowing down, especially with the release of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption later this year. My only regret is that I waited until I was almost 23 to play this game, because to have played it with a younger mind would have been a phenomenal experience.

To this day, Super Metroid remains one of the most popular and critically lauded games, not only on the SNES, but in all of gaming history. If you haven’t played it yet, do so. Right now. Go on, off with you.

9/10   read

11:05 AM on 06.03.2007

Year Zero

I recently got myself a copy of Nine Inch Nail's new album, Year Zero. I'm a huge fan of NIN and this album is a lot better than Reznor's last, With Teeth. Year Zero is one of those albums that gets better with every listen. At first I thought the songs all sounded pretty much the same, and there was nothing new going on. However, my initial dissapointment has been replaced by pure, unadulterated joy. The tracks are full of energy and that NIN-esque frustration that really drives the music forward. Reznor himself put it best I think, as he says, 'It will sound different after a few listens', 'You can dance to a lot of it' and 'You can fuck to a lot of it (maybe all of it depending what you're into.' Yes, yes and yes. One quote that really hits the nail on the head is this: 'You can think about it and it will reveal more than you were expecting'. I wouldn't have agreed with this if it hadn't of been for the last 5 HOURS I've spent in work doing NO actual work and instead perusing the many pages of and the various fake web sites NIN have up relating to Year Zero and the whole dystopian, police state future kind of deal they've got going on. As it turns out, Year Zero is a concept album, focusing on a timeline stretching fifteen years into the future, based on a story that a totalitarian government has assumed control of the United States. There is so so so much backstory going on behind this album. Each track is a different perspective from somebody from this future, a future in which drugs are put in the water to keep the public under control and a giant, spooky hand comes down from the sky to scare people shitless. Reading all this stuff has really got me excited for the album. I love the premise and the approach taken by Reznor to construct and develop this scenario. Yeah. I love it. Read loads here.   read

11:00 AM on 06.03.2007

Testing the (Dtoid beta community blog's) waters.


Now I've insulted a handful of potential readers, let's get on with it: This game just looks better and better every time I gaze upon it in awe. Bioshock has been described by the hard-working developers of Irrational Games as a spiritual successor to System Shock, and looks set to once again be one of those games that goes all out and starts redefining genres left, right and centre. Irrational (who developed System Shock 2) is comprised of ex-employees of Looking Glass Studios (who developed such games as System Shock and Thief: The Dark Project), so it's not much of a surprise that this is the kind of title that takes the FPS and RPG genres and puts them together in an interesting a purposeful way.

Before I get into all that jargon though, let's take a good long look at those graphics and shed a little tear of joy. Rapture - the underwater city in which the game is set - is simply, yet spectacularly, beautiful. The lighting is sublime, and the water effects are incredibly impressive (will they be more impressive than Blade Interactive's Hydrophobia? Only time will tell). I can't get over how good this game is looking, and it's still got a few months before its release (August 21st in the US I believe) to polish up on any possible problems. This is a graphic whore's wet dream.

Story-wise the game sounds pretty nifty too. You survive a plane crash only to find yourself stranded in the underwater habitat that is Rapture. Once a bustling paradise, the subterranean, Art-Deco styled city is now a dilapidated and ruined place, full of nasty buggers who are out to get you. Rapture, you see, is - or was - a self-supporting community created by a former Soviet citizen, a capitalist paradise designed to house the very cream of society. Unfortunately sea slugs came along and ruined it all for everybody. Don't they always? These sea slugs - a new discovery - secreted pure stem cells. Imaginatively named Adam, these cells that can cure disease, improve physical and mental capabilities, and be utilised to genetically enhance the human body. The greedy scientists of Rapture couldn't learn to share though. This caused a civil war to break out in turn causing the present day Rapture that you must survive and escape. You'll do this by utilising the Adam (that sounds weird, but there you go), genetically modifying yourself in different ways categorised under weaponry, engineering, active and physical. From what I hear you'll be able to mix and match, creating unique and astounding superhuman abilities. The question remains though, how long can you do this before you become a mutated monstrosity yourself?

You couldn't be blamed for thinking the style is somewhat reminiscent of Cliff Bleszinki's destroyed beauty, taking wonderfully gorgeous surroundings and presenting them in a decayed fashion, but Bioshock still has a look of its own, its Art Deco style being used very little in other games. The artists seem to have gone all out on the character design and created some really memorable and remarkable enemies, ranging from bio-mechanical monstrosities to creepy little girls in dresses.

What makes this game really interesting is the revolutionary relationship between you and your foes. Irrational have embraced the "emergent gameplay" approach in their design, crafting complex behaviours that emerge from the interaction of simple game mechanics. Apparently the level of interactivity in this game will be unprecedented, resulting in some very unusual AI behaviour. The developers are focusing on "AI ecology", a system that means NPCs will dynamically search for opportunities to fulfil their purpose. The player will even be able to exploit this ecology to their advantage, manipulating enemies as they fit and even turning them against each other. There really is a revolutionary relationship between you and your foes here, as they have a life and even emotions of their own and act in strange and unfamiliar ways to the player. One preview of the game mentions a far-off enemy talking to their offspring only for you to turn the corner and find their child has long since left the land of the living. Creepy. This AI ecosystem will evoke new emotions from us. We'll feel anger, pity, sadness and disgust instead of just exhilaration and fear. If Irrational really pulls that off, it will change video games forever.

So yeah, I'm pretty damn excited about this game. It seems to have everything going for it. The only downside I can think of at the moment is that there will be no multiplayer, which has become pretty much standard in 360 games. This doesn't seem like the kind of game that needs multiplayer though. The sheer innovation that's gone into the single player experience speaks volumes, and that's the real core of this game. Anyway, August 24th (UK release), hurry up and get here!

I bet the day I get this game will be the day my 360 red rings, godammit >.<   read

8:39 AM on 05.31.2007

Well would you look at that!

I'm blogging! On Dtoid! My excitement is such that I may just soil myself. As its beta at this very minute I'm assuming there's going to be the odd crease to iron out here and there, but expect much blog-tastic blogginess coming out of my blog-hole. Catch on the flip-side, you filthy buggers.   read

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