Archive for September, 2011

I was going to blog about this back at the end of the August, when the this first cropped up. Typically, things got in the way, time past, and it seemed less relevant to talk about – until today. We all talked about it at length when it first announced, but today is the actual day that GamesTribe is hosting their own ‘training course‘ for budding videogames journalists. For those of you who don’t know, GamesTribe is a kind of conglomerate of smaller, independent games websites. Formed by ex-Future employees (and industry veterans in their own right), GamesTribes tries to take on many of the task smaller website might have trouble with, such as contacting PR, advertising, and even lends a hand with site growth. They even partnered with Gameleon, a social network solely for videogames journalists. It seems like an interesting idea, although I wonder how useful if could be in terms of long-term growth.

Anyway, back to the training course: I have mixed feelings about this, as did a lot of the people I talked to about it at the time. The professional in me is actually very curious as to what kind of things will be talked about – you can always learn something, even if it’s just another perspective on something you already know. I’ve never met Keith Stuart before (at least, I don’t think I have… I’m better with faces than with names), but I’ve no reason to believe he doesn’t know his stuff. Whether he’s the ‘highest’ authority in these matters is another thing entirely, but again going by what I’ve just said, I wouldn’t poo-poo sitting through a talk by him. Same with the workshops – no mention of who’s actually teaching them, but I could probably pick up an idea or two – I could definitely use some pointers on interview technique, as I think that’s probably one of my weaker areas.

FYI: the only reason I’m not going is the price. £99.99 for a standard ticket, £49.99 for an early bird. I hear that corporate training always costs a bundle, but I’m sorry that’s just taking the biscuit. I’m not THAT curious.

The other side of things though of course is what will this training course achieve, ultimately? It’s being sponsored by EA, and being held at EA’s offices in Guildford, so I imagine the all of the training will revolve and EA games. I can’t help but think this is just a bit of a publicity stunt for them (and those prices… god those prices), and I’m curious as to what the ‘certificate’ will net attendees. What about people like me who won’t be attending, and so won’t get the certificate? Are we now going to lose out because we didn’t want to go? Will the people who actually attended be treated better from now on? If not, then what was ultimately the point of this? A decent Journalism/Writing course with a University or simply the NCTJ could probably teach the core technical skills just as well, and be far, far more useful. The rest – the gaming specific stuff – you just pick as you go, which you’ll probably end up doing anyway even with this training because there isn’t a hell of a lot of standardisation at the moment.

I can’t help but feel this venture is just going to turn out to be not worth the money, and ultimately pointless. Who knows though – I’m commenting from the perspective of nearly four years experience, this might suite the younger generation of writers just coming into the industry, who might get some good guidance out of this. I hope any attendees get some real value out of this, I really do. We need to do more to educate each other and share information – there’s so many unbelievably bad websites and people out there.

If you are attending and fancy sharing some thoughts, feel free to comment below.

 

SRSLY?

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Gaming, Humorous, Non-Gaming, Other, Writing/Journalism
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And today’s stupidity is sponsored by: ITV.

I weep for the mainstream media sometimes, I really do – sure, on the one hand at least they’re not blaming videogames for Gaddaffi’s alleged support of the IRA, but using videogame footage and labelling it as real? SRSLY guys? And they say us game journos have a problem with standards.This was brought to my attention by the good folks over at PC Gamer, but here’s the link to the NEOGaf forum thread, outlining just how idiotic ITV really are.

Now, in fairness, I’m not 100% sure this is ArmA II footage – the original fan video is actually the worst fan-made video I’ve ever seen, and there’s something about the footage itself that just seems… off. I’m not saying it IS IRA footage, but it doesn’t quite look like game footage either. Obviously, the comments are full of people arguing both sides, but I think it’s safe enough to say that it’s not an original 1988 IRA video.

Unless it is, then I retract this whole post. Anyway, here’s the video so you can see for yourself:

 

 

 

Quick Note: Short Lived

Posted: September 25, 2011 in Gaming, Other
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Yeah… that went well. It was as I thought, after getting my pimped-out Xbox Slim upstairs, it became readily apparent that the logistics of the situation weren’t going to work out, not easily anyway.

My TV’s width spans the entire length of the chest of drawers that it rests on, and my Xbox would always rest on it’s side just in front of it. With the case mode, it has to stand up vertically, and not matter what angle I sit at on my bed, it always blocks at least part of the screen – which I can tell will get on my nerves. I could probably shift things around a bit  to make it work, or by putting the xbox somewhere else, but I don’t really want to.

At the moment, I’ve disassembled the kit and put it back in its box, so I’ll think about what to do with it. Might give it to a friend, or add it into the current competition, or something… it’s sitting next to my tank at the moment, which I still haven’t opened. I kind of what to make a video or something with that – could be funny if I do it right.

Enjoy your Sunday – lots of writing up from the expo for me.

Hey audience – it’s been a while hasn’t it? I could say I was busy – and to be fair I was in London a lot this week, but it was also one of those situations where there was nothing really worth-while I wanted to talk about. I’m not one to blog for the sake of it, although laziness does creep into it sometimes. Attended the Eurogamer Expo in London this Thursday and Friday though, so I’ll do another post later on how that went.

Anyway, I got sent this in the post the other day:

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It’s a case-mod from a company called Calibur 11, part of their ‘Vault’ series of case mods. They have two variations basically – plain or non-themed ones, which can range from colours, patterns and custom panels  and themed ones, which are focused on a particular game. I saw a Battlefield 3 one in Cologne, which looked fairly awesome, and this one is a Gears of War 3 one which was made obviously to celebrate the launch of the game.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to say that I received this after I had reviewed Gears of War 3, and I’m not currently reviewing any games that are being represented by the PR company who sent this to me (as well representing Calibur 11, they represent some game companies as well).

Anyway, I’ve never had anything like this before (probably wouldn’t have been something I would have bought, but there you go), so I thought I’d break it out and put it together, see how it looks. For those of you who also fancy getting one, I took pictures of it’s various stages of construction – although to be honest it’s not the most complicated thing in the world to assemble.

Step One: The Cradle

I think pretty much all Vault case-mods come with a cradle on one side which you can use to rest your controller on, which is pretty nifty actually. I usually just have my controller down by my bed, but it’s nice to have somewhere else to put it as well. Although, I also have a keyboard attachment which I always leave on, but I’d have to take it off in order to use the cradle. I could always just hang my headphones there, I guess, I’m not always using them.

Anyway – first off, you have to attach the cradle to the side panel using some screws. Easy enough.

Step Two – The Case

Next up, you have to attach both sides of the case that fits over the the Xbox, like an extra layer. For warranty reasons, Calibur won’t want you taking off the existing case and replacing it, so the Vault-kits have to go on top off what’s already there. It’s supposed to improve ventilation and stuff though apparently. But we’ll see about that.

This one was a bit fiddly to do, especially by yourself. It doesn’t actually attach to the Xbox itself, you have to fit both sides at once and attach them to each other, using the Xbox as an anchor of sorts. Nothing too difficult, just required a lot of moving from one end to the other as you slowly tighten it together. You also have to make sure it’s fitted properly so that it doesn’t block the disc drive, on button, etc…

Step Three – The Base

Final step is just to attach it to the base. I imagine with the Cradle, and in this particular kit’s case the logo on the the side that lights up, there’s be some balance issues. This does mean though that you can’t have your Xbox lying down – which is going to be interesting because I prefer it lying down – I worry what might happen to the discs in the horizontal position. Now all I’ve got to do is see if I actually have room for it in my room in this condition. If you’ll remember, I don’t exactly have an abundance of space.

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That’s all for today really – I’d like to say a quick thank you to the person who sent me this – you didn’t have to and it’s appreciated. If any of you are interested in the case, we’re running a competition over at Strategy Informer for a kit plus a promotional copy of the game.

So, at the weekend I had another first that I’m going to share with you today (Well, it was a couple of weekends ago, but let’s not dwell on that) – I bought a comic. Now, given the loose category my interests determine I must fit in, you’d think that I’d be the kind of person who reads and buys comics, regularly especially considering I love to read whole books. For some reason though, comics have just never been my thing.

Or rather, I’ve never felt particularly inspired to go buy them. It’s probably due to the fact that the main image associated with comics is the Marvel/DC crowd, which has never really been my thing.

Technically, this isn’t the first comic I’ve owned – I have been given the odd promotional one over the years – but it’s the first one I went out and bought. It was called Halo: Bloodlines, and it was an interesting enough read – I’m a big fan of all things Halo, for reasons I might go into in a separate post – it was a little bit expensive mind. £14.99 for something that, whilst larger than your average comic, was certainly nowhere near a book, or even a film. Still, I’m a firm believer of supporting the things that I like, and this was a special occasion anyway. There was an ODST one that I think I’ll also pick up at some point.

It took me a while to actually decided which one to buy – like I said, I’m not much of a superhero fan – none of that material has really interested me that much outside of watching the cartoons growing up, and any movies that they’ve made recently. For me, if I was going to buy a comic, Transformers would probably be the best bet… problem is I didn’t know where to start. Unlike the self-contained comic (/visual novel) that I bought, regular comics are serialised and lead on from one another. The Transformers IP has also been through several publishing houses, and has several different spin-off universes that all have their own accompanying comics. I did consider asking the store people for advice, but then I saw the Halo one and I decided to just settle for that.

I might make a regular thing of this, although I need to keep an eye on the finances – despite moving out on my own, my financial situation is by no means stable. The way things sand, come 2012 all bets are off, so I’d rather not attribute my downfall to a new comic obsession. I know I suppose I could try and find them online to download but… don’t really see the point really. Same with books, actually – I’ve downloaded the odd book, but only ones that I’ve already purchased so that I can stick them on my phone or something.

Btw, if you want to recommend some lesser well known comic series, feel free – I’m open to checking other things out. Only Sci-fi though for the moment, if you please.

So, as previously mentioned, I’ve been playing through all of the Mass Effect 2 DLC. There’s quite a lot of DLC for this game – there was a bonus character and a couple of new missions that you got for free provided you purchased a new copy of the game, there was another lot of free DLC post launch, and then a series of paid-for packs. Personally, I miss the days of expansions, so I haven’t quite gotten on-board the whole DLC train yet. I didn’t pick up the premium packs until there was a sale, and even then It took me this long to get around to playing it all. At least there shouldn’t be anymore, what with Mass Effect 3 so close and all.

Over all, I’m glad I got all the content in a sale – some of the premium items were a bit disappointing, but the free items were as good as you’d expect a free pack to be. I was also kind of disappointed that – aside from The Arrival – none of the extra content really fitted well with a completed game. All of the content is designed to fit in with everything else during a play through – which further encourages you to start a new play through I guess. That is one way of getting added replay value, but personally I’m not the type of gamer to replay games over and over, especially in a short space of time. That’s partially why it’s taken so long to get around to this. I would have liked to have seen more independent missions, or missions that weren’t blatantly meant to fit in during the pre-completion chronology of the game. Anyway, there were a few packs, so I’ll go through them in the order I played them:

** SPOILER ALERT **

Kasumi’s Stolen Memories

This pack introduced the second downloadable character after Zaeed, who was a bonus character you got free at launch provided you purchase access to the ‘Cerberus Network’ (which came free with a new purchase anyway). As a character, Kasumi seems fairly interesting, and her abilities are especially unique and very useful in fight. In fact, once I’d unlocked her she was a permanent member of my squad along with Legion in all of the DLC incursions after that. Considering this was a premium pack however (Zaeed was for all intensive purposes ‘free’), I had two main problems:

First off, Kasumi’s integration into the game was at the same level as Zaeed’s – Limited. Now, I’m willing to concede it wouldn’t have been an easy feat to retro-actively add Kasumi into all the important bits considering this pack was released well after launch, but considering we had to pay for it Bioware could have tried a bit harder. The problem I had with Zaeed is that, after you’ve met him and done his loyalty mission, that was it. He had no proper conversation engine: so if you went to visit him in his quarters, you wouldn’t go the conversation interface, he’d just be like an NPC, just more chatty.  It was exactly the same with Kasumi. She had no decent interactions outside of meeting her and her loyalty mission, and so you stop having anything to do with her pretty quickly.

Lastly – her loyalty mission itself had a lot of wasted potential. It started off well, with you having to infiltrate a party and crack into a safe without anyone noticing – different from the norm and was mildly challenging. Then there was the obligatory shoot-your-way-out segment, and then… oh. Nothing. It was kind of short, overall, and they wasted an opportunity to do something interesting with the memory device itself, especially considering what they did in the Project: Overlord pack. Overall, too short and the character is not given any room to grow… although at least she’s useful in a fight – never used Zaeed if I didn’t have to.

Firewalker Pack

This was the first major DLC pack for the game post-launch, and the last one to be given away for free. It’s main focus was to introduce the M-44 Hammerhead into the game. It was a hover tank, and the five ‘assignments’ (mini-missions) that came with it all had gameplay that revolved around the use of the his tank. It was great, as it was like having the Mako from Mass Effect back, just with more firepower and less of a bitch to use on awkward terrain. For a free pack, there was a respectable amount to do here, and the fact that the gameplay was completely different stopped it from being just more of the same.

The only we can really complain about is that – apart from Project Overlord – no other DLC pack featured the Hammerhead. Seems like a slightly was of resources to me, but hey it was still a nice little pack to play around with post-game.

Project: Overlord

Speaking of Project: Overlord, this is hands down my favourite DLC pack of the bunch. Basically, your called to a planet were a Cerberus-funded operation has gone awry. In attempts to control the Geth much like how Sovereign/Saren did in Mass Effect, some scientists have been experimenting with fusing VI and Human Intelligence. Again, not to give away too much ,but this is pretty interesting techno-thriller esque pack that combines both on-foot missions and even Hammerhead segments, making it pretty comprehensive and a good hour, hour-half’s worth  of gameplay

There’s even an interesting segment where, prior to the final ‘boss’, you’re actually fighting in virtual environment whilst the last key piece of the story are revealed to you. A really good segment, and it’s such a shame that Kasumi’s pack didn’t do something similar once they’d recovered the greybox with the memories in them. My favourite bit is the end, which managed to forge an emotional response almost equal to the climax of the main game. Ultimately, I feel videogames should strive to forge emotional connections with the players as often as possible, and this DLC pack certainly did in its closing moments. It all seemed so harmless…

Lair of the Shadow Broker

This pack is also in many ways the best pack, but it’s not my personal favourite. Unlike Overlord, it didn’t really connect with me emotionally, and to be honest I felt some of the segments were a bit boring and repetitive. It doesn’t make use of the Hammerhead, and the gameplay could have been taken from any point in Mass Effect 2. Saying that, this pack was a decent length, and it also had the most impact on the wider main game, making it really worth the money. As the name suggests, you finally help Liara track down the Shadow Broker and there’s several parts to this pack – tracking down Liara and dealing with the assassin sent to kill her, infiltrating the Shadow Broker’s Stronghold, and then a boss-fight with the broker himself.

As I said, a lot of it is pretty standard fair, even the boss fights, so there’s not a lot about the gameplay that will keep you interested. Also, maybe it’s just me, but I don’t remember Liara being so mono-tone and emotionless. Her performance seemed a bit wooden, if I’m being honest, although it might have been an attempt to show how she hadn’t been really ‘living’ since Shepard died – there’s some better moments towards the end. The most interesting thing about this pack is what happens after you’ve done the mission. For reasons I won’t spoil here, you get access to the Shadow Broker’s facilities, which offer you various little meta-segments like ‘investing’ in missions or causes for a cash return, buying charts to mineral rich planets, and even video logs – although the point of these still escape me. There are even amusing and insightful dossiers on several of the main characters.

Overall, not the most inspiring pack, but in terms of content and integration into the main game, definitely the one most worth buying I think, apart from Overlord.

The Arrival

Last, but not least, is The Arrival. This is really the only pack catered for post-completion, as it deals with the impending Reaper invasion and sets things up to lead in nicely to the start of the third game. Again, much like Kasumi’s pack, it starts of interesting as you have to infiltrate a prison in order to rescue someone. There’s even an achievement to do it without raising the alarm – something that I think should have been incorporated into the actual gameplay. Considering you were on your own as well, it had the same effect as the Firewalker pack in introducing an interesting and different way to play the game. Once you rescue the prisoner, you then have to naturally fight your way out, but this doesn’t last too long and you’re soon on your way to the second ‘half’ of the pack.

I won’t go into too much detail – but in essence it mainly involves more shooting and escaping. There’s a kind of hoard-like section were you have to survive for as long as possible against waves of enemies (there’s an achievement for surviving all the waves, which despite trying for an hour couldn’t do), but apart from that there’s not a lot too this half. The main character for this pack has an annoying accent and doesn’t really give a good performance, but the ending is pretty cool in an “impending doom” kind of way.

The rest of the DLC (apart from the launch DLC which I didn’t count as I played it at launch) were weapon and armour packs, which I refuse to buy as I think it’s the ugliest personification of the DLC business model. Sure, add in new weapons, armour, whatever in with the other content packs (which they did), but I draw the line at those kind of packs.

Bit of a long one today, but feel free to leave your thoughts.