Archive for April, 2011

I guess you could say I’m a royalist, or a loyalist maybe? Patriot? Those words, even in this day and age, can mean an awful lot, but anyway, I have no problem with the Royal Family, honestly. To me, supporting them is like supporting an old heritage building, or preserving Stonehenge or something – they are a part of what Britain is and what it used to be, and I feel that’s something worth preserving.

As many of you will know, today was the day of the Royal Wedding between Prince William and his 8-year long girlfriend Kate Middleton, who are now the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. This day, as well as seemingly uniting many of the country in celebration, has also caused the nay-sayers to come out and once again question why we still have such an archaic institution.

Sure – in principle, a ruling Monarchy obviously has no place in the 21st century. The idea that someone gets to rule over a bunch of people through no virtue other than their DNA is just a little bit silly, but our Royal Family aren’t in charge of this country any more, and never will be again (although – do you really think the Queen, who’s been around since World War 2, would do a worst job than Cameron, or Brown, or any of the others?). No harm, no foul I say – some members of the Royal Family actually try to do some good around the world, and the Queen is always representing us at various state functions and what not (You try jet-setting around the world at 85).

Of course, one of the main – and perfectly understandable – criticisms about the Royal Family is the money that’s spent on maintaining them. Yeah… when the Government stops spending money on Nuclear Submarines, when politicians stop trying to claim all these weird and wonderful things on expenses, and when the corporations stop screwing the country out of tax, then we can talk about the ‘Royal Bill’. I’m not saying it’s an entirely justified cost ( although – going back to the heritage building analogy – if you pay to keep that standing, the Royals should be given the same consideration), but there are far FAR worse things to have our money spent on than a wedding and a piece of our heritage.

I sometimes think people pick on the Royals because it’s easy. They don’t exactly fight back, and they can represent anything from the problem with inheritance to antiquated ideals, and they’re easy to fling mud at. My mum is very anti-royal, although again in this case she has a completely fair point – The NHS (where she works) still has to keep the Hospitals open, and the fact that it’s a bank holiday means they have to pay that much more to do it as well, and the NHS is in enough trouble as it is.

I’ll admit, my support for the Royals is mainly inspired by the Queen herself – I can imagine not being as enthusiastic about Charles, or even William – even though they both seem to do good work. Queen ‘Liz (II) though, as I mentioned above, she’s been around since the Second World War – and personally helped out in the war effort during the Blitz. She wasn’t coroneted until after the war, mind, but she’s still been involved since then, and must have accumulated a lot of detached wisdom – what current politician could say they have the same insights? Hell, even old Tony Blair went to visit her all throughout his tenure, and they must have been talking about something interesting otherwise there wouldn’t have been any point in going.

Anyway, just my thoughts for today… wedding is well and truly over now, so time for some lunch and EVE Online!

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So, by now I’m sure most of you have read up on the latest announcement from Sony regarding the recent PSN outages. Not what you really want to hear, is it? To be honest though, whilst I get that this is a big deal, I’ve kind of adopted a bit of a naive disinterest – I mean out of the millions upon millions of people’s data that these hackers may or may not taken, what’s the likely hood they’re going to get to mine? Just thinking about it in terms of odds really.

Still, I’m not so much of an idiot that I’m going to do nothing… I’m just not going to do anything about it right now. I’ll change my passwords when it’s all back online… keep an eye on my bank account (I’m changing accounts anyway, so it doesn’t really matter too much now) etc…

What’s really kind of sad though is that I doubt Sony will even lose that much business from this. People have very short memories, and consumers aren’t exactly known for possessing principles. Or a spine. No… Either people won’t be affected at all in the end, and so will just go back to it, or they’ll all forget in a week, and we’ll be back where we were before this happened.

On the bright side, this incident has brought back some more Downfall clips. Downfall – which is actually a really good film about Hitler’s last days that you should go watch – has spawned one of my favourite memes where people take the same clip, and just dub their own text over it. Here are the PSN ones:

I swear, these will never get old. EVER.

I don’t like soap operas – I find them a bit mind numbing and boring, but I imagine the feelings people who do like them get are similar to what I get witnessing (or reading up on) the kind of drama that can take place within the videogames industry. I’m not talking about the serious stuff – studio closures, corporate evil, poor games… those things shouldn’t really be laughed at (well, not straight away anyway). But everything else? That’s fair game.

Take Operation Flashpoint: Red River for example, a game whose review I’m currently just finishing up for publishing tomorrow. Codemasters (developer AND publisher in this instance) have kind of made a big thing about trying to distance themselves from the term ‘simulation’ going as far to allegedly ban that term during the development of the game (their words). I can take a few guesses as to why, and those guesses just make the whole thing seem rather amusing.

What you may not know is that the original Operation Flashpoint, called Cold War Crises, was actually developed by a company called Bohemia Interactive, and published by Codemasters. At some point, the two companies had a falling out. Bohemia went their own way and started creating the Armed Assault (ArmA) series, which I gather are generally considered as the ‘official’ descendants to the original game, whilst Codemasters started developing their own Operation Flashpoint games since they owned the rights to the name. Dragon Rising was the first, which was released back 2009 (despite some protest from Bohemia, who while not being able to stop them using the name, tried to stop them marketing it as the official sequel), and now in 2011 we have Red River.

Of course, this is made all the more amusing by the fact that Red River is definitely more simulation than not, although to be fair perhaps ‘realism’ is the correct buzzword. Regardless, it’s definitely not COD, nor Battlefield, so that really only leave ArmA as its closest competitor – something which they out-right denied when we interviewed them. I tell you, what soap could compete with this? I can’t really find out what exactly caused the two companies to fall out, but I read up on the overall situation when I was reviewing Dragon Rising. I actually want to try out the ArmA games as their hyper-realism intrigues me – ArmA II especially is supposed to be really good.

It reminds me another similar situation I came across, back in the ‘early’ days of my game writing. I had to review a PC title called Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge, which by the way was one of the worst games I’d ever played (to my shame, I still ended up giving it a 6 since I hadn’t really developed the balls to go lower than that at the time). The engine was shoddy for the times (not just in terms of being low-tech – there have been plenty of great low-tech games, you only need to look at Paradox), localisation was done poorly, it was confusing… I’d say it still gives me nightmares to this day, but that would just be hyperbole for dramatic effect.

Anyway, the history behind the games development goes somewhat to possibly explain it’s state. Originally, Hired Guns was actually going to be the next game in the Jagged Alliance turn based action/strategy series. I personally haven’t played any of the earlier games, but I got the feeling it was a bit of an iconic franchise, with many trade mark elements that made it very unique. The IP was held by Strategy First Interactive, and they’d contracted a company called Game Factory Interactive to create what at the time was going to be Jagged Alliance 3D – Essentially a 3D re-make of the second game.

As the years went on there were set-backs and miscommunications, with Strategy First trying to fulfil their grand future vision for the series, and GFI just trying to keep costs down. Eventually, Strategy First had had enough and so pulled the IP rights for the game, and so GFI were left with a half made product that lacked an IP. So, the game was finished, edits were made, and we were left with Hired Guns: The Jagged Edge. You can go here to read a more comprehensive account of what happened(scroll up to the bit about Jagged Alliance 3/3D), although with the caveat that it’s a Wikipedia article.

I tell you, this stuff is better than crack. Although, not better than a actually decent TV series…

No, this is not me declaring my sudden shift to the other team, as it were, however it does relate to what I got up to this past weekend. I went to visit relatives in Brighton (A major sea-side town on the South Coast, for non-UK people) last weekend – my Uncle, his wife and their kids. One’s a girl and one’s still quite young, so in terms of gaming the best you can expect is a Nintendo Wii, with all of the generic family games that come with it (not an old-school Nintendo fan amongst them, it was heart breaking). In the evening, after my mum had taken the girls out shopping and my Uncle has taken us manly-types out for some… crazy golf, we settled in for an evening of videogame-based entertainment.

Now, to be fair, the night did involve some Mario Kart – which is always awesome, and even some Just Dance, which isn’t that bad either (although the second one is better), but a significant portion of the night was taken up by this new game my mum got for her own Wii – Diva Girls: Princess on Ice. It’s published by 505 games, a company who I’ve seen attributed to everything from ArmA, to Supreme Commander to Fashion Designer: Style Icon. It seems they don’t so much make games as they publish them in specific territories. The developer, Arc System Works, has also apparently been involved in games like Guilty Gears, Hard Corps: Uprising, and of course other games in this Diva Girls series. It’s odd what some developers end up doing sometimes.

Anyway – my mum had only played this game once, and didn’t do that well it seems, so she brought it round to the relatives house to see if they – specifically the kids – could figure out how to do it. They couldn’t as it’s not very clear what you have to do, and the controls are a bit fiddly, and then my mum, knowing what I do for a living, asked me to have a go. I kicked butt (naturally). It’s strange – I don’t think I’m particularly great at games – there are far better people than me in almost everything I like playing, but I do think I’m good at picking up quickly how to play them. In front of layman and non-gamers, it’s like I have a superpower, and oddly enough my mum was impressed by my prowess at this rather shitty ice skating game, and then she went on to call me an “Ice Princess”. Which she then put on Facebook.

Of course, it is only impressive to those non-gamer types. Not only would actual gamers be thoroughly unimpressed by the fact that I managed to figure out a kids ice skating game (on the Wii, no less), but they’d probably find it strange that I would be playing such a game in the first place.

What’s really funny though is that mum bought the game thinking it would be a serious Ice-skating simulation or something, as she’s really into her ice-skating. The game is compatible with the Balance Board as well (which she loves), although we haven’t been able to get it to work yet. I had a lot of fun asking her how she could look at a game that has this (see image) as a box, and think anything good could come from it. Graphics are horrible, even by Wii standards, and the dialogue reads like it’s from a bad teen drama.

In other news: Four day weekend starts now! Woot! I’ll probably log tomorrow and Monday anyway, do a bit of work… I’ll have writing to do as well, but it’s still nice to have an extra break. Game wise, will mostly be playing EVE Online and Operation Flashpoint: Red River, I think. What you guys got planned?

So, I can only apologise again for the lack of postage. Boss #2 is on holiday, which means I have to look after his stuff as well as my own. Boss #1 is not really involved in the day-to-day editorial task, so even though he is around sometimes it doesn’t really make much difference. Add to that the events I have this week, and the deadlines I need to meet… not a lot of energy is left for posting :( I should be better though after tomorrow, so I’ll try to catch up on all of the topics I said I was going to talk about.

It’s been a good week for releases – naturally I’m sure many of you will have got Portal 2 by now (I haven’t yet), but if you’re a fan of Battlefield-like FPS gameplay (as opposed to COD’s brand) and are looking for a cheap new game to get into, I recommend Section 8: Prejudice, which should be hitting the Xbox Live Marketplace sometime today. You can read my official review here, (9/10)  but I really can’t recommend this game enough. Single-player is a tad cliché and cheesy, engine is looking dated, but multiplayer is the most fun you can have in an FPS outside of the market leaders. If that’s not enough, then I’ll leave you with this: You spawn by hot-dropping down onto the map.

Just so you have some entertainment whilst you’re purchasing and downloading Prejudice, anyone remember this trailer for Metal Gear Solid 4? It’s very early footage, but the backing track used is one of the best I’ve heard. It’s simply called ‘Love Theme’ and it’s by a woman called Jacki Presti, apparently. It’s on the official MGS4 album. Enjoy!

Seriously, go buy Prejudice.

P.S. Eugh… just came back to this post and noticed all of the spelling mistakes. Late night posting when you’re tired is never a good idea…

So, I just lost my first ship in EVE Online. Well, not my first ship, as I think I may have mentioned before, I actually had a year long stint with the game a couple of years ago whilst I was still at uni – initially as research for a feature I wrote for uni, but then after that was done I just kept playing it until I eventually stopped for some reason. Anyway, over the weekend I started out with a new account, new character etc…, and my ship just got killed by some mobs.

It was a Caldari Condor, one step up from the starter frigate you get when you first join, and it was christened Chucklenuts in honour of the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged Series that I like to watch. It’s replacement, Chucklenuts II, is already up and running though, and when I next log in I’ll exact my revenge. It was pretty cheap too, especially with the insurance payout I got.

It’s a very singular game, EVE. It’s complex, it’s massively open-world, it’s persistent… it’s also not as ‘obviously’ fun either. In other MMO’s, you see your guy, you see him attacking (with either stick or gun) the other guys, and it’s engaging, you have a lot of control over the combat and what happens when. In EVE, the process is less…entertaining I guess. Your ship circles another ship and it fires off its weapons at intervals. You don’t directly control the movements of your ship, and whilst there are tactics and strategies involved in the use of the modules you have equipped, one of the constant criticisms I hear laymen give of the game is that it’s just not that ‘fun’.

I like to think EVE is the game of the imagination. Because so much is in the hands of the player – from the economy, to the politics, to the infrastructure… so much is possible within the confines of this game, that it’s almost like those true reality sims – like Second Life, but in a sci-fi context. So long as you can get to grips with the stats, the complexity… the sheer scale of the game, then there is a lot in it for players. It’s one of the few MMO’s that doesn’t really have an ‘End-game’ in the traditional MMO sense.

I might start doing an unofficial diary of my journeys through New Eden… might be an interesting side project but I’m going to need to find friends and people to play with. Whilst in design terms you don’t ‘need’ to play with other people, you really need to play with other people. Get’s a bit… lonely, I suppose otherwise.

If you could all spare a minute of silence of Chucklenuts, that would be much appreciated.

Until next time.