Things you should see.

Archive for October, 2010

Oddsfish: Blowing Android

I can’t think of a better caption for this, so there you have it..


Nulreview: Fallout New Vegas

Fallout: New Vegas

Obsidian Entertainment is well known for making the sequels to high profile RPGs. However unlike Neverwinter Nights 2 or Knights of the Old Republic 2, Fallout: New Vegas is not the sequel to somebody else’s game. Obsidian started the Fallout series, back when they worked at Black Isle Studios, so this is essentially a dev retaking the reigns of the franchise they created. Question is; how did they do?

Fallout: New Vegas is simultaneously one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played while also being one of the buggiest and worst presented products I’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing. This is the dichotomy presented in most reviews; the game does not disappoint the lofty expectations of Fallout 3 fans and is in many ways better than that game, but also brings along for the ride Gamebryo Engine bugginess many times worse than what we saw in FO3 or even Oblivion.

So it’s ultimately a mixed bag. On the one hand I love this game to bits, but find it hard to recommend due to the sheer disregard for the player with which it has been released. Did anyone test this mess? Is there a QA department at Bethesda Softworks at all? No doubt this will be polished to a fine sheen many patches and DLC packs down the track, but even then why should anyone buy it now if they can get a more complete and more stable version in the inevitable GOTY edition a year or so from now?

Me? I caved and bought it. Obviously.

 

But if you suspend your disbelief and ignore the game’s technical shortcomings, New Vegas is still full of stand-out moments. Discovering the Brotherhood Of Steel’s underground hideout and getting embroiled in the sinister political inner-workings of their organisation is a quest on a par with Fallout 3’s best, with dozens of potential outcomes. – T3

Like Obsidian’s other big-name sequel – KOTOR 2 – Fallout: New Vegas is a divisive game. So much remains of what made Fallout 3 special, from the ridiculous cast to the joy of exploration, that there will be many willing to overlook all the bugs and glitches in favour of the weight of content that lies beneath. Those who were hoping for more than a mission pack to a 2008 game built on a busted 2006 engine, however, may find new Vegas to be quite literally a wasteland. – Kotaku

It doesn’t look as good as Fallout 3 did, and perhaps that’s down to internal support at Bethesda knowing the engine better than their outsourced pals, but it shows, and doesn’t help when Obsidian are known for lacking in the polish department. I was lucky enough to avoid any full crashes (though my house-mates have suffered these), but dodgy texture load-ins, massive frame-rate drops, out of sync voice work and alarmingly close pop-up have actually marred the experience for me. It is a detriment when you invest so much into the world, lore and characters and I’m hoping some serious patch work is released as soon as possible. – Ausgamers

If New Vegas were being reviewed as a piece of software, as a technical product, the judgement would be absolutely appalling. These are games, however, and deserve to be reviewed for the experiences they provide. The experience of New Vegas is sublime and so incredibly big that the ratio between getting annoyed by freezes and getting excited by the game’s wonderfully engaging world firmly favors a positive outlook. Very few games could be good enough to make up for serious technical errors. In fact, I could count them on one hand. – Destructoid

Fallout: New Vegas is still a fantastic game, only slightly held back by its increasingly outdated tech. Obsidian has created a totally compelling world and its frustrations pale into insignificance compared to the immersive, obsessive experience on offer. Just like the scorched scenery that provides its epic backdrop, New Vegas is huge and sprawling, sometimes gaudy, even downright ugly at times – but always effortlessly, shamelessly entertaining. – Eurogamer


Oddsfish: Fallout at Berry Square

A well positioned Fallout: New Vegas poster.

Working in advertising, I oftentimes see things which may seem strange to the layperson, but make sense to me, since I know how all the convoluted workings behind the scenes. Optus’ short-lived ‘Unlimited’ Moose campaign, for example. This is not one of those times. I’m talking about Fallout: New Vegas, the recently released PC game whose not one, not two, but five individual illuminated panels in North Sydney’s Berry Square boggle me.

It’s unusual for a couple of reasons. 1) You rarely see ‘above the line’ advertising for video games in Australia, unless it’s something like Call of Duty. 2) There is not a single place that sells video games in the centre. Not an EB Games, not a JB Hifi. Not even a K-mart or anything like that.

I wonder which media agency represents publisher Namco-Bandai (yeh, they published it here). Whoever they are, this is the most baffling media placement I’ve seen in some time. Well done, guys. It’s even more questionable since Greenwood Plaza, also in North Sydney, does have an EB Games. It however has no panels advertising Fallout while Berry Square has a staggering five- more if you count both sides of the stand as individual surfaces (how they’re billed). Oddsfish.

IMG_0524 IMG_0523 IMG_0521 IMG_0522


Preview: Path of Exile

Path of Exile

Path of Exile has put a smile on my face. With all the post-Blizzcon chatter about Diablo III I got to thinking ‘where did all these Diablo-clones come from?’ In what was just a few years ago an almost extinct genre, it seems like a flood of wannabes has appeared out of nowhere following the announcement of Blizzard’s highly anticipated sequel. Path of Exile is a Diablo clone, but in this exception to the rule, I intend it as a complement. Developed by New Zealand’s Grinding Gear Games, it looks to not only aspire to Diablo, but to surpass it. The game will be online-only. It will free to play. And it also seems to be Diablo on steroids in every way imaginable.

Although a closed beta is planned for early 2011, Path of Exile will ship later that year with 6 classes. Two have been revealed to date; the Marauder and Ranger. Each fits one of the now well known ARPG archetypes, but not quite. They have their own spin on the class and so this makes predicting what has yet to be announced somewhat difficult. You can’t discount the tank, since the Marauder is not quite a tank. The Ranger is not quite typical ranged DPS either… why? I’ll get to that in a moment. Grinding Gear has promised against purely support classes, like Priests or Monks, but I’m more interested in what unique classes could arise from Path of Exile’s unique underlying mechanics than simple direct-damage dealers.

poe4     poe9

I say that because combat in Path of Exile belies a secret depth. Frost novas, firebolts and trademark ‘Barbarian’ skills like leap seem to have made it in. So have the enemies- there’s everything from humanoids, wild beasts and the prerequisite undead shamblers in what has been revealed so far. What makes the system unique, and isn’t immediately apparent, is that magic isn’t learnt or part of a class’ skill tree. No, all skills are granted by ‘materia-like’ gems socketed into armour. One gem might grant a firebolt, for example. However that gem, combined with another in a neighbouring socket might change that one bolt per cast into three. Or make it bigger. Or add armour-penetrating properties. And they can be used by any class. Let that sink in for a second. I’ve maligned the freedom in character-building that was lost between Diablo I and II; this game not only restores that level of customisation but goes a step further too.

    

Customisability doesn’t end there either; loot plays as important a role as ever in Path of Exile. Randomised drops, dungeons and bosses, supported by a persistent online world with a persistent in-game economy, all promise the obsessive gear-collecting fondly remembered and now expected of action RPGs.

Environments are suitably varied. Ruins, forests and so forth are standard fair, but Path of Exile seems to avoid Diablo II’s trap of an ever-brightening colour palate in diversifying locales. Even the sunsoaked coastline in the trailer manages to feel as hostile and forbidding as any dungeon in the game. This in particular is a noteworthy feat given the ongoing controversy surrounding the art direction of Diablo III. And, of course, it’s all random.

poe7     poe5

The online world is hard to fathom so far before launch but the staples; PvP and the aforementioned item economy are promised features. All will be facilitated by the fact that Path of Exile runs entirely on the developers’ servers. While the game will be free to play, it will not be dominated by microtransaction-based advancement. Developers have gone to lengths to emphasise purchasable items will be cosmetic only and will not provide any advantage to players with deeper pockets. This is always the way to go, but unfortunately an area in which all too many online games stumble. Here’s hoping Grinding Gear can stick to their convictions on this point.

All in all Path of Exile shows genuine promise, especially for a game that will be free to play. What the team has assembled stands as one of the most impressive entrees in what is rapidly becoming an overpopulated genre. I can only hope the title doesn’t lose any of its lustre between now and its live date sometime next year. Meanwhile, I’ll cross my fingers for a beta key and eagerly await the chance to take a closer look at this little gem. Until then, take a look at some of the impressive gameplay trailers released so far;

 

 

 

 

Just a disclaimer; as much as I wish they would, Grinding Gear Games has not invited me to formally preview this game. My views here are formed entirely from their public trailers and the write ups at Incgamers, PCGamer & Joystiq.


Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – Crafting Sanctuary Panel

Diablo III Logo

Today’s panel, ‘Crafting Sanctuary’ continued Diablo III’s coverage at Blizzcon 2010. Design issues such as visual design, level layout, loot, AI, UI and the Artisans were all covered in some depth. Here are the videos;

 

 

 

 

For those who don’t recall, Artisans were revealed as travelling craftsmen earlier this year at GamesCon. Here’s Jay Wilson’s walkthrough from that event;


Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – The Battle Arena

The Battle Arena 

Diablo III’s first form of Player-Vs-Player competition was revealed today in the form of ‘Battle Arenas’. Described as small scale team PvP, Battle Arenas are progression- and rewards-based with a focus on teamwork overcoming individual class imbalances. It was also suggested that PvP would utilised the same gear as PvE, but different skill specialisations via Skill Runes would define specs differently. An Obsidian rune might add a stun effect to a skill that would be more useful in PvP than outside of it, for example. Also matches would be in rounds, so that players have time to understand the enemy team composition and formulate strategies.

Here’s a sample of a Battle Arena team deathmatch;

 

 

Visit the PvP section of the official Diablo III site for more information.


Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – The Demon Hunter

The Demon Hunter

Blizzcon 2010 is underway at the moment and for Diablo III fans the first day of panels has been quite rewarding. The game’s fifth and final class has been revealed as the ‘Demon Hunter’, a ranged archetype. Here’s the class’ cinematic trailer;

 

 

The lore supporting Demon Hunters suggests they are a loose-knit, nomadic organisation bonded through a hatred of Demons. Most members, in fact, begin as victims of demonic attacks in search of vengeance. To this end they employ limited amounts of shadow magic, and wear cowls to hide their dark tendency and the glowing eyes that result.

Putting an edge on the Demon Hunter while not straying too far from its readability as a ranged class was the chief design problem. At various points in development, things like katar-based weapon combat, demon limbs and shapeshifting were all considered, but ultimately thrown out since they deviated too much from the core class identity. What are left with is a class that focuses on ranged weapons – specifically dual-wielded crossbows – traps and basic shadow magic.

As you can see in the below gameplay video, the key skills used by the Demon Hunter are Multishot, returning from D2’s Amazon, and Bolo, an attack with a delayed damage-dealing effect. Spike Trap emphasises the class’ focus on preparation and allows fights to be setup tactically. Finally Vault is the ‘shadow dash’ move that enable’s mobility, although designed mentioned all classes would receive similar attention.

 

 

For more info on the Demon Hunter, see its page on the official Diablo III site.


Diablo III @ Blizzcon 2010 – Gameplay Panel

Diablo III Logo

Here are videos from today’s Diablo III gameplay panel at Blizzcon 2010. Topics covered include the game’s fifth class – the Demon Hunter – and its creation, Skill Trees, Traits, Skill Runes, the Talisman and the PvP Battle Arena.

To summarise, the Demon Hunter is the final class in D3, filling the ranged archetype. Skill Trees have been have been simplified to show only active skills; passive skills are now ‘Traits’ and on a separate interface. Runes affect skills, adding properties like Fire Damage or control elements like stuns and snares. The Talisman now holds charms that took up main inventory space in Diablo II and the Battle Arena is the first announced implementation of PvP in the game. Have a watch for all the details.


Sonic Fan Remix Video Walkthrough

Sonic Fan Remix 

Recently, I blogged about pelikan13x’s Sonic Fan Remix – a 2.5D, HD remake of classic Sonic the Hedgehog. The video released at that time whet our collective appetites for a playable version and now one has now been delivered. It’s a celebration! A tip of the hat to pelikan13x, and let’s pray this fan project goes on to achieve great things. If the quality of the demo is any indication, there’s no doubt of that.

Download | Mirror 1

This build, featuring 3 acts based on Sonic 2’s Emerald Hill Zone, was released today and I have graciously put the recently-unlocked Fallout: New Vegas on hold to bring you a 720p clip of them all. First and third acts layouts were inspired by the originals while the second act is something new. Enjoy.

 

Thanks to Sonic Retro for the headsup, and, as you guys noticed, Destructoid was all over it in no time flat.


Steam’s Customer Service Crisis

Steam.

I’m a big fan of Steam, Valve’s digital delivery platform. For a whole bunch of reasons, it’s probably the best thing to come to PC gaming, well, ever. However there are a lot of things it does terribly poorly for a vendor of its size – things that are easier to construe as an underlying malice toward its customers. Steam pioneered digital delivery of games in a meaningful way and had to find its way as it went along. Now, however, it is the market leader with competitors like D2D and Impulse looking to it for direction. It is utterly unacceptable at this point to be clumsy, rigid or have anything but the best customer service but, I think, Steam fails shockingly on all these counts.

It starts and ends with customer service. For many people Steam Support is not something they have to often if ever deal with. And lucky them. Consensus is that Steam Support sucks. Minimum wait time for a response to a query of any kind is 24 hours. Often this response will not be helpful in the slightest, instead asking for more details or requesting you take diagnostic measures that if you wouldn’t have resorted to support if you hadn’t tried. The wait for the next reply is another day or so. Apparently this is prioritised by the nature of the query but I’ve found these timings pretty standard. However if a game isn’t allowing you to play because ‘The Steam server is not available’ or if Steam Cloud cannot sync and you’ve lost access to your game saves, this is really too long to wait.

Registration of retail CD keys is also a surprisingly flawed process. In my 3 or so years of experience with the service, I’ve had to register retail purchases with Steam because the games themselves are integrated with the service. FEAR 2, Dawn of War 2 and Aliens vs. Predator come to mind. The first two of those randomly disappeared from my account one day. On contacting support I was first told that my account had been hacked and that my password was being reset. However the login details given to me by support were for the wrong account! After I sorted that out with them (another 2 days of back and forth) I was asked to verify I owned the games by writing my name and ticket number on the actual game manual next to the CD key, photographing it and sending it through. I did that. After that though I needed retail receipts showing a purchase in the last 90 days to be scanned and sent over. I didn’t have these, and FEAR was bought a lot longer than 3 months prior. Since I couldn’t supply this, they couldn’t restore my games and I was left with the uncertain prospect of re-buying things I already owned only to wonder if this would happen again. I ended up repurchasing the titles later during a sale but the ordeal has left a sour taste in my mouth and an uncertainly in my mind about the reliability of the service.

Reliability is also called into question by regional pricing and release dates. These change almost whimsically- prices can double for a given game overnight and releases can be pushed back days even up to the point where the unlock timer reads ‘1 hour left’. Fallout: New Vegas is a current example; until last week Australians were asked to pay $49USD for the game at which point the price jumped to $89USD. US residents still get the lower price. Apart from pacifying retailers, is there any incentive for publishers to do this? Price discrepancies across regions is as common as it is baffling. For the same product with virtually no manufacturing or packaging overhead, there is no fair reason why one person in one place should pay more than any other. Although this discrimination can be blamed on the publisher, Valve is responsible for what is represented in their storefront. Surely a little consistency is in order; who wants to buy the game for almost double what it was a few days ago? Who will think that’s fair? In recent memory, as an Australian, I’ve seen this happen to Borderlands, Alien vs. Predator, Bioshock 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Darksiders, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and more- it’s not cool.

Release dates are just as finicky. I cite Fallout: New Vegas again but that game was really the last straw for this long overdue tirade. It was meant to come out last weekend. Instead, even though the pre-load is finished, it will only unlock this coming Friday. Almost a week after the same game files have unlocked for playing for Americans and a whole week after it was meant to unlock. You can always look to the publisher but couldn’t Steam admins have got the date right from the beginning? Or at least couldn’t they have noticed and made that change more than an hour before the due date? Borderlands gave me the same trouble. People are always talking about VPNs to unlock early but given Steam accounts are bannable – and with them all your games – over things like that it’s hardly worth the risk. Either way, another area in which Steam fails.

The topic of refunds and resale of your Steam property made the news this week and, although a more fundamental complaint of the service, is also a genuine problem for the prospect of Steam moving forward. Amassing a bunch of ‘licenses’ for games is great and all, but after a while the question seemingly raises itself; ‘what do I actually own’? Very little tangible, unfortunately, and that is a major turnoff about the system as it grows. A brilliant idea to immediately attach worth to that collection is the opportunity to sell it. Or at least trade it in for credit as Michael Pachter suggested with Steam taking a cut each time. Valve quickly put down these rumours but come on. How much would it have really cost them for the amount of value it’d add to customers?

These concerns niggle at all of Steam’s users and the more they use the service the more these apparently minor issues begin to matter. I haven’t extolled the reasons why Steam is a great service, and there are many. Its user base is now mostly comprised techy, savvy enthusiasts who are willing to negotiate their way around Steam’s quirks for the sake of the its strengths,  but that won’t always be the case. Digital delivery will become commonplace and newcomers expecting the level of service offered elsewhere will be sorely disappointed with rust around Steam’s edges. Valve is on to a good thing, but they really need to lift their game lest these dismissible yet all-too-common grievances eventually escalate into real deal-breakers.


Exploring WoW Alpha: Hyjal and Gilneas

Hyjal Summit

Much of the old world in World of Warcraft changed a lot between alpha, beta and final retail builds of the game. In this series I’ll explore zones that differ substantially from their pre-release versions.

This time I thought of running through two zones that will both be significantly featured in World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. They are Hyjal, near Winterspring, home of the eponymous Mt. Hyjal and remains of the old World Tree, and Gilneas, the human kingdom veiled in secrecy behind the Greymane Wall in Silverpine Forest.

Hyjal

This zone hosted the climactic battle of Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. Despite that, it has remained off limits to players so far in WoW history. Wall jumpers and Far Seers have been able to get into the zone using trickery on Live servers but what I’m going through in the below video is the same Alpha build I’ve used for the others. There is no World Tree root and no Archimonde skeleton. Instead we have a bunch of untextured terrain and missing geometry even though the height map for Mt. Hyjal is still there.

 

Gilneas

One of the seven human kingdoms from Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness, Gilneas is another zone whose absence from WoW has been baffling. We still don’t know if it will be a real explorable zone, functional city, battleground or instance in Cataclysm, but here’s what exists of it right now behind the Greymane Wall. Nothing. The zone is devoid of any landmass and is even labelled ‘The Great Sea’. What a disappointment.


Pogo Does Dexter

After writing about how promising the new season of Dexter looked, I’m now finding it a bit stale. That said, the most interesting thing about that lovable serial killer at the moment is this clip I found by Australia DJ Pogo. It’s a track composed entirely of samples from the show which seems to be Pogo’s style. Fun fact: his YouTube Channel is under the intriguing name ‘Fagottron’. Have a watch; a couple more of his videos are below.

On a related note, does anyone else think that the dead animal pickup killer from the last 2 episodes looks uncannily like Epic’s Cliffy B?


The Cherish Ball Mew Mystery Gift

Mew, #151

Did you know it’s been 10 years since Pokemon: Gold & Silver? How time flies, and what strange things I was doing 10 years ago… Anyway, to celebrate, Mew, the most secret Pokemon of all time, is coming to owners of the remakes HeartGold and SoulSilver through that oft-maligned feature known as Mystery Gift. Make sure you WiFi-up and get yours before October 30 when it goes away. It comes with a Premiere Ribbon, is in a Cherish Ball and only knows Pound.

Back in the day I imported a Gameshark for the Gameboy Pocket just to get Mew, the 151st Pokemon to complete the Pokedex in my old Pokemon: Blue cart. So you can imagine how significant this is to me now. Also, don’t judge me.

Here are the stats for those curious;

Name: MEW
Type: PSYCHIC
OT: FAL2010
ID No.: 10160
Lv.: 5
Nature: Timid
HP: 25
Attack: 13
Defense: 15
Sp. Atk: 16
Sp. Def: 15
Speed: 15


Final Fantasy XIV: Failure in Game Form

ff14

It’s now a foregone conclusion that Final Fantasy XIV is pure failure presented in the form of a game. The series has been troubled for a long time now – something I intend to soon chronicle in a ‘fall from grace’ series of posts (Linkin Park will be next) – but it’s rare to find something so bad that a shareholder will dump their stock over. Square messed up here and in no particular order, here’s how.

Setup

MMOs need patching. And registration. However FF14’s process is so drawn out (especially for Australia and other countries that don’t fit into Square’s pigeon holes) makes you wonder if the game isn’t trying to keep you from playing it. If so, well done. It’d be the only player-considerate thing the game does do.

Exploration

FF14’s ‘Eorzea’ is invisible wall city. Progress dictates where you should go at a given time. In World of Warcraft’s beta, they’d debuff teleport you out of places the devs didn’t want you in. WoW abandoned that after testing but FF14 hasn’t. It is frustrating.

Questing

Quests are ambiguous at the best of times. Imagine then how convoluted FF14’s are- rarely do you know where to go or where the next quest will be coming from. I’ve never seen breadcrumbing being done more poorly. Levels, class decisions and even just talking to other NPCs appear to determine when quests are available, but none of this is transparent at all. This is also frustrating. There are also light ‘levequests’ which have a 1.5day quota cooldown, but these are twice as boring as WoW dailies and you can do barely a third as many. Most of the time you have nothing really structured to do.

Combat

I’ll reserve judgement for now on what I think of fighting in FF14. Maybe I just suck though, but the combat seems imbalanced to an absurd degree. I’ve struggled with easy monsters and had an easy time dispatching hard ones. As indicated by the interface of course, which is a poor implementation. Also it seems like the progression through monster-types is very slow and I’m sick of seeing the ones I can’t even beat yet. Finally I’ve never found MMO combat all that well done but come on? Scrolling through targets that doesn’t group allies and enemies? Is there an easier way to make every group battle a messy affair?

Transport

No real ground-covering mechanisms are in the game yet. Vehicles, Chocobos, Airships and the like are not implemented. They’re represented in world, but for the moment you have to get everywhere on foot. Wonder how long they’ll take. There’s always the expensive option to port somewhere, but Anima is a resource that you’ll be wanting to hold on to.

Itemisation

Two problems with items; 1 crafting items is a pain and there is no auction house / economy to speak of. Whenever you do the goldsmithing / mining / carpentry thing, there is a minigame attached. By ‘thing’ I mean either gathering or actually crafting and ‘minigame’ I mean a tedious pain in the ass. Also there is no real means to get a business going with your wares anyway so what incentive is there? To the game’s credit it seems like there is some depth to this system, but there should have been a few more iterations during testing.

The Interface

This is a real mess. FF14 was announced as a console game first and should have stayed that way. The PC version makes you dig through menus and submenus obviously designed for a controller to get the most menial things done. Funny thing is, you still need to manually map a gamepad. Funnier still, the PS3 version is still getting coats of paint applied and so won’t be out until March next year.

 

Being fair, graphics are good despite being demanding on hardware. However it’s not nearly enough to cover for this game’s many failings. Without getting wholly into the Square-hate rant, they have been to insular and too indulgent with their games for a long time now. It’s evident in Final Fantasy XIII and it’s certainly evident here. I never played it, but I hear tell that this is more than a step back from FFXI as well. Maybe our Japanese Square-o-phile friends will entertain something as sadistic as this travesty of a game, but I won’t.

I imagine that’s what prompted the extension of its free trial too. After all, the last thing you want after sinking so much into a game is to have everyone quit during their free month.


Street Fighter II Pinball and Other Treasures

Street Fighter II Pinball

It’s no secret that arcades are a dying breed but I feel there are few places where that is truer than Australia. I get the feeling the business was never really in full swing here, even during its pay day, and in decline I estimate the count of dedicated arcades still around can be counted on two hands. So it’s always a pleasant surprise to find a bowling alley or paint ball venue – in this case ‘Laser Siege’ in Mascot, Sydney – that has a bunch of machines in working order. It’s in poorly-lit backstreets and probably the last place I thought I’d find myself on a Friday night (don’t ask). Anyway, here I found a treasure trove of vintage titles, some of which I’d never seen before,

A variety of old cabinets were in various states of disrepair. Daytona USA, alongside Sega Rally Championship, both with original deluxe cabs, now faded and with stickers half peeled off. Dark Silhouette: Silent Scope 2 and the original The House of The Dead worked with their original setups (I hadn’t seen an actual machine of either before), while Crisis Zone was disappointingly out of order (despite the attract mode still working). As for fighters there was a Tekken and an X-men Vs Street Fighter both setup in those cabinets commonly found at the old George St Galaxy World here in Sydney whose name eludes me.

IMG_0515         IMG_0516

While there were surprisingly no Street Fighters or Mortal Kombats per se, there were a bizarre number of pinball machines. I assume these phased out of popularity a long time before video games which, if anything, is a testament to how long this place had been around. There were licensed boards for Street Fighter II, The Simpsons, The Last Action Hero and a bunch that I’ll likely only recall later.

IMG_0511         IMG_0514

On disrepair most buttons were missing, pedals got stuck down easily and light gun calibration was often shoddy. Buttons were missing in places and the Tekken machine had an odd mix of American stiff concave buttons, transparent Seimitsu knockoffs and in one case a button that read ‘Start and Shoot Here’. Of course it was mapped all wrong as well. XMvSF fared a little better, but the hard sticky buttons here made any PPP or KKK Hyper Combos a finger-breaking experience.

Oh well- doesn’t this all just add to the charm of the place? I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up at Laser Siege at least one more to probe its vintage collection a bit more. Granted there was no Pac-Man; no Dig Dug, but these are still treasures to me. Think I’ll pass on the laser tag though.


The Beta Zones of Sonic 2: Hidden Palace Zone

hiddenpalacezoneact1 Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is one of those games that a notorious pre-release version floating around. People have probed it ad naseum and wondered where all the zones listed in its Level Select went. Did they become other zones? Did they get cut? As if this hasn’t all been documented across the net enough, this series is a look at content missing from the final version of Sonic 2.

Hidden Palace Zone appeared in Sonic 3 & Knuckles as a secret underground area significant to Chaos Emeralds. This concept was actually recycled from an unfinished Sonic 2 zone of the same name that would appear somewhere toward the game’s end. Of all the various incomplete zones in the S2Beta, Hidden Palace is the only one to have distinct code fragments in every known build of the game. In other words, this zone was the closest to being done and it is unknown why it never made the cut.

Like its later incarnation, HPZ in Sonic 2 included Chaos Emeralds. A destructible emerald doodad appears blocking progression through the zone in most versions- this is remedied in the Sonic 2 Long Version ROM hack by Esrael. The zone has one unique badnik- a Tyrannosaur robot that appears nowhere else in the game, but whose data still remains.


Nulreview: Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor (2010) always had a bad ring to it. This game was so clearly a knee-jerk reaction to the snowballing success of Call of Duty that it made you wonder: how does one knock down a rival that has hit its stride with 3 consecutive super-successful titles, which commands an incredible following across all platforms and whose most recent entry is the best selling game of all time? Also, why would you even try?

EA has its own Battlefield series that fills a separate niche to CoD. A bit larger in scale and a bit more tactical, BF is about different things to the twitch shooting carnage of Activision’s series. And it is good because it is different. The real tragedy is that it seems the publisher, scrambling for the scraps of Modern Warfare 2, railroaded its otherwise respectable studio, DICE, into stalling its upcoming Battlefield 3 to match the competitor on its own terms with a pale CoD-wannabe. And it shows in Medal of Honor.

Reviews are in, and EA share price dropped 6% because of them. The single player is passable, but buggy, and its poor AI is propped up by an overuse of scripted sequences. Its multiplayer is flat in every way and fails to live up to the progression-whoring and prestige-enticing MW2. While its clear that money was sunk into this, the only take out from what I’m seeing is that it was money better spent elsewhere.

Have a gander below.

In any other genre, a stellar single player experience would be enough to garner a whole-hearted recommendation. But it’s impossible to ignore the importance of multiplayer, especially when Medal of Honor’s primary competitor tends to excel at both. Medal of Honor’s campaign is an exceptional experience, but the total package simply doesn’t beat Call of Duty. – Joystiq (4/5)

Medal of Honor has some strong moments, but overall it feels like a game that could have been a lot better. Most of the issues I experienced while playing feel like things that could have–and should have–been avoided. But all of those scripting bugs and boring unlockables quickly add up, death-of-a-thousand-cuts style. In the absolutely ruthless world of online shooters, there’s little room for weakness. Medal of Honor alternates between its derivative style and its annoying technical glitches way too frequently to rise above the crowd. – Giant Bomb (3/5)

As a game about the Afghanistan war that does its absolute utmost to avoid being about the Afghanistan war, Medal of Honor is arguably just a shooting gallery spliced with a fairground ride and a solid multiplayer accessory which owes a lot to Bad Company 2. It certainly does little to advance the theory that videogames are responsible enough to tell stories within sensitive contexts. – Eurogamer (8/10)

Medal of Honor fails in making an honourable return to the frontline. It’s an inconsistent package that doesn’t fully deliver on the single-player, nor distinguish itself enough in multiplayer to make it an Xbox Live contender. A real shame. – OXM UK (7/10)

MOH is a robust, if seldom surprising, rebuttal to MW2’s dominance, and its measured tone and diligent observation of military patter make it a marginally more meaningful representation of modern warfare itself. It’s an idealised one – going by the book, telling only part of the story. But it’s only because MOH makes a brave move away from the ludicrous extremes of other shooter fantasies that its failure to seize reality entirely becomes so palpable. – Edge Magazine (7/10)


I would rather be buried than watch Buried again.

Buried with Ryan Reynolds

Let’s start off with spoilers. They are in this post. So read at your own discretion.

Ok, then. Buried is a film about a guy in a box. You might not be surprised to know that, but will be to learn there is very little else to this story. It is harrowing and claustrophobic but not at any point satisfying. There is no reason for anything that happens and that is the worst comment that can be made of a film. In the tradition of movies like it, Buried’s success will be undeservedly attained through misleading promotional material, word of mouth and its tiny production cost. And by the end most people, myself included, will feel cheated. Ryan Reynolds in a coffin for 90 minutes is not $15 worth of entertainment.

To contextualise this with a bit of a summary, Paul Conroy is a truck driver working in Iraq who gets kidnapped and held ransom, buried in a coffin. At many points the seeds of a grand conspiracy are sown. Who has put Paul there? Why? Why do the people he contacts seem untrustworthy? Unfortunately, each of these questions ends up having the most obvious answer. The kidnappers? Simple criminals. His department and company contacts? Just a government agency which is helpless to really do anything, and an employer who wants to get out of paying life insurance. Nothing more mysterious than that. Why did Paul’s supposed saviour Dan Brenner lie about saving the last guy? Because he’s a useless English twat, that’s why. We sadistically see Paul cut off his own finger later in the film to no discernible end beyond making the audience watch it. There is a noticeable pattern of missed opportunity and a profound lack of consideration throughout that presses one to ask why would the filmmakers do these things? Were they to draw out a plot with a core lack of substance? The promo trailers did it as well. A point which they emphasise is that he has 90 minutes of oxygen. Erm, no he didn’t? Time passed inconsistently but surely he was there for more than an hour and half and surely his ticking clock didn’t come from oxygen remaining. Misdirection is good only if you have something poignant to fall back on. To reiterate, this movie does not.

Buried boils down to watching Ryan Reynolds react to the situation he’s in. It’s a situation that doesn’t change and so there’s not much variation in Reynolds’ sweaty, desperate ‘I’m in a box’ routine. I was sick of it after the first 10 minutes. There are a lot of logical inconsistencies in the film and I’m wondering how many of those fall purely on the actor. A 1-man-band production like this relies heavily on the actor in question and, as much as I like the guy, I do not believe Reynolds’ delivered. Couple of examples; at various points either the agency man Brenner, or the kidnapper is calling Paul. However he just lies there, busies himself with other things or just downright ignored it. Huh? I would think answering that phone would be the priority for a guy buried in the ground with no one to talk to, particularly if it wasn’t conveyed very well. The only time this condition is mentioned on screen, Paul is advised to take his pills. He doesn’t do this then. He does so maybe 30 mins later. Real urgent, wasn’t it?

There are a few more examples of shoddy logic at work. If we take the word of the trailers that there is an urgency surrounding oxygen in this film (and no, there wasn’t), we’d question the flagrant use of O2-guzzling lighters and the incredibly stupid attempts to deal with the snake that defies logic to get in the coffin. The phrase ‘smoke him out’ comes to mind and yet there is never any smoke in the box. If there was a faster way to use up all the air in there, I can’t think of it. Yet the film seems not to mind. Also in order to avoid a life insurance payout, the head of personnel at his employer calls Paul to effectively fire him after the fact and get him to confirm the waivers he signed when taking the job. Aren’t there signed documents concerning these things? Did they really need to call a guy taken hostage and buried and then callously remind him that he has no job and his family won’t be paid out? As with the finger-severing incident there seems to be no intent on the writers’ part to do anything but create an exploitative ordeal to watch only one step down from the insufferable Hostel.

Which brings us to the remarkably unsatisfying ending. Want spoilers? Paul dies. The filmmakers made a conscious decision to end it this way knowing full well that this would be the least popular ending choice amongst audiences. Regardless if that audience is made up of Sundance attendees or the rabble at Event Parramatta on a Saturday night, they’ve spent 90 minutes with this guy trapped in a box and want to know it was for a good reason. Whether he lives or dies is the quintessential hook of a movie like this and without that rationale the film is just plain torturous to endure. It’s not about good ending vs bad ending either. It’s about there being some logic for what happens. The whole thing is spent driving home that this is just a normal guy, with no stake in anything political, that doesn’t deserve to be, well, Buried. If you’re going to kill him, you need to have a good reason why. Was he too much of a proud and arrogant American? No. Was he a soldier? Was he rich? No and certainly not. Did he make an obviously bad judgement call in working in Iraq? No, I don’t think so. Was there any political message at work that required him martyred? If there was, I didn’t see it.

No, Paul dies because his incompetent agency friend, Brenner, goes to the wrong place. That’s all. No more rhyme or reason than that. The coffin is collapsing, the guy’s on the phone telling Paul they’re almost there, and just before he suffocates they realise they went to the wrong grave. And for the sake of letting the writer twist the knife, it was the grave of the one guy Brenner had mentioned to Paul in their conversations. How ironic. I see what they did there. I think that for the length of the film and the harrowing nature of its content there needed to be some narrative purpose to the protagonist’s death, if he is going to die. There was none here and the whole wrong-grave fiasco was a kick in the teeth, a ‘we don’t have to give you shit’ approach to concluding it all. Perhaps that in itself is a message? Life is fragile, death on the battlefield is meaningless etc. If the filmmakers had an axe to grind along these lines then there would be certainly be more appropriate and less inept ways of doing so.

In all, people who go in looking to confront themselves with something purely for the sake of doing so will walk away from Buried giving it ‘10/10’ and ‘Best of 2010’ or similar accolades. However I see the vast majority of cinemagoers feeling cheated, and rightly so. Buried was a hack, low budget drama that dragged its audience over a bed of nails for no good reason, with nothing meaningful ever happening and without delivering any sort of purpose to it all. This is not the hallmark of talented indie filmmaking. What’s here is essentially one of the torture scenes from the Saw series, made at half the expense and protracted to feature length. Well done, Rodrigo Cortés. I hope you feel good about yourself and hold the Buried 2, ok?


Resident Evil films… I give up

Albert Wesker. Also Chris Redfield in the back.

Praise to Paul W. S. Anderson. That guy did the impossible in translating Mortal Kombat to the screen with style, and conjured Event Horizon, which scared the shit out of me back in the day. However to my grave I’ll curse the course he set the Resident Evil movies on- they were nothing like the games. I’d expect terrible films, and would be willing to forgive them, if they strayed anywhere in the vicinity of my recollections of REs 1-3. But no, the producers apparently felt that a virus and the name Umbrella would be tie-in enough and I’ve been embarrassed by each of the abominations year after year. Yet now I’m actually wanting to go see Resident Evil: Afterlife and until it opens I’ll be wondering why.

 

 
Well I know why; I just saw the Afterlife trailer. Nothing to indicate it’ll be anything but a train wreck but at least this time it has a few faces I recognise. I knew for a fact Chris Redfield, RE veteran, would have some screen time and it looks like his role has since expanded a bit. Jill Valentine did appear in Resident Evil: Apocalypse but the pathetic ‘Nemesis’ in that film cancelled out any good done there. What I didn’t know is that the leather-clad villain of villains Albert Wesker will be in too. He also does all his Ouroboros-related dashing tricks, and those will be good fun on the big screen. In tow is the Executioner majini although I’m left wondering how that gets shoehorned in here.  Someone in the crew at least played RE5 and it shows that they’re paying conscious attention to the games for a change. Not to say it won’t turn out like the Nemesis did, but it’s encouraging at least, hey? The second and better trailer is below;

 

 
If the intention was to cross-promote the films with the games, and vice versa, I’d always thought they’d failed miserably. I’d thought this a great series getting dragged down by the association to some below-average and some plain awful films. But here I am actually interested in seeing Afterlife. Not in 3D though. Hell, no. Incidentally I’m also tossing up buying a Move and getting that version of RE5. Those two things might be related. Who can say? The thought of facing Wesker again with gun in hand is admittedly enticing. Here’s hoping Shawn Roberts, above, does the character justice. Doubly so since I’ve already abandoned hope for Chris Redfield, set up for catacylsmic fail by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller.


Exploring WoW Alpha: Stratholme and Northeron

Ruins of Stratholme City

Much of the old world in World of Warcraft changed a lot between alpha, beta and final retail builds of the game. In this series I’ll explore zones that differ substantially from their pre-release versions.

Here’s a tour of the alpha uninstanced Ruins of Stratholme. This is the present version of the city; not the one set during the Culling. Note the untextured Necropolis in the sky that would later become to dread Naxxramas.

A common thing in early versions of World of Warcraft is an uninstanced zone on the world map that would later go on to become an instanced dungeon or raid. Troll cities Zul’Gurub and Zul’Farrak are examples, along with Blackwing Lair, Mount Hyjal and the previously touched upon Ahn’Qiraj. It’s impossible to know which, if any of these, were originally conceived as outdoor zones and later reduced to instances as we saw with Azjol Nerub in Wrath of the Lich King. However I believe the city of Stratholme was once one such zone.

NortheronZonePeople have always speculated on the above zone on the world map. Stratholme sits above the zone below it, the Eastern Plaguelands, although currently in an instance off the main world map. If it is added to the main landmass in Cataclysm to enable flying it will most assuredly sit in this currently unused zone. There had been suggestions that this zone comprised ‘Northeron’, an area mentioned in an obscure manual reference to Wildhammer Dwarves and Gryphon Riders. Why such an insignificant zone would be kept on the map while key lore nations like Kul’Tiras are brazenly absent makes no sense though.


The Beta Zones of Sonic 2: Wood Zone

Wood Zone

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is one of those games that a notorious pre-release version floating around. People have probed it ad naseum and wondered where all the zones listed in its Level Select went. Did they become other zones? Did they get cut? As if this hasn’t all been documented across the net enough, this series is a look at content missing from the final version of Sonic 2.

When people talk about the ‘Sonic 2 beta’ they are most likely referring to what is called the Simon Wai prototype. It is a cart that was apparently stolen and later redistributed and is a snapshot of the game’s development circa 1992. Four zones are available, with several others listed in the in the cart’s Level Select screen and not present in the final game.

This protoype ROM contains a very small portion of a ‘Wood Zone’ that shares BGM and doodads with Metropolis Zone in the final retail build. These coincidences lent weight to theories that, during development, Sonic 2 was to feature a time-travel mechanic similar to Sonic CD’s. Ostensibly Wood Zone would be the past, while Metropolis the ‘bad’ future where Eggman had industrialised the area. No badniks are present in the beta data for the Zone. While data still remains in the final ROM image referencing Wood Zone, none of the graphics are still there.

 

 

A ROM hack, ‘Sonic 2 Long Version’ by Esrael, was used to produce this video. It assembled a playable zone beyond the first small area using the assets from the Simon Wai prototype. For more information on the storied development of Sonic 2, be sure to check SonicRetro’s article on the beta.

Exploring WoW Alpha: Deadwind Pass and Old Karazhan

Deadwind Pass

Much of the old world in World of Warcraft changed a lot between alpha, beta and final retail builds of the game. In this series I’ll explore zones that differ substantially from their pre-release versions.

To revisit another Alpha zone of World of Warcraft, Deadwind Pass and the tower Karazhan have also seen significant changes during development. Karazhan was again overhauled with The Burning Crusade to accommodate its new 10-man raid instance. Here’s a look at the zone and the tower before all that.

 

As you can see below, little of this remains. The look of the old tower was much more imposing than what we currently have- pity that the design had to be revised to suit Blizzard’s new purpose for the area.

The Map of Deadwind Pass.New Karazhan.

One last point of trivia is that there is also a mysterious crypt in Deadwind Pass which most people know about by now. I might take my under-levelled Shaman and see if I can’t Far Sight my way in there some time.


The Zones of Sonic 4 [Spoilers]

Sonic 4 Level Select Screen

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I hit the App Store yesterday. Ahead of a full review of the game following the console version’s release, here’s a tour of the 5 zones in Episode 1, with pictures. Except for the last one, each has 3 unique Acts followed by a Boss Stage. They’re all recreations of classic zones from Sonic 1 & 2 and while the nostalgia rises high I’m left hoping for some more original offerings in Episode 2. Which can’t come soon enough, by the way. Also please note that all screenshots are from the iPhone version.

 

Splash Hill Zone

Splash Hill Zone

Splash Hill Zone a faithful reproduction of the classic Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1 even down to the badniks. The orange hue taking over the Zone in the later Acts is reminiscent of Angel Island Zone in Sonic 3. Eggman’s boss stage mirrors GHZ’s for the first part of the fight and adopts a new slamming attack afterward.

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Lost Labyrinth Zone

Lost Labyrinth Zone

Another straight translation from Sonic 1, Lost Labyrinth Zone was simply called Labyrinth Zone in that game. In Act 1 there is a lot of balancing on large balls. Act 2 is based around a minecart minigame and Act 3 around underwater areas. The boss stage’s first part mirrors that in Labyrinth- you must travel upward while negotiating traps and avoiding the rising water level to pursue Eggman. The second stage is column-dodging fight that crosses Sonic 1’s Final Zone with Knuckles’ Marble Garden Zone boss in Sonic 3.

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Casino Street Zone

Casino Street Zone

This time we have an homage to a Sonic 2 Zone. Casino Street replicates the old Casino Night Zone in every detail while adding a few doodad elements from Sonic 3’s Carnival Night most notably the bat badnik. Interestingly, the second Act is based around scoring a quota of points in the slot machines in order to complete the stage. The boss encounter is exactly as Casino Night’s was with the addition of spikes along the bottom of the stage and a new spinning attack.

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Mad Gear Zone

Mad Gear Zone

Mad Gear Zone may as well have been named Metropolis Zone. It shares the closest resemblance to the Sonic 2 stage out of all the Zones in the game. Teleporting pipes, gears, pistons and those relentlessly annoying mantis badniks are back. The final Act borrows a mechanic – the sliding wall – from Sonic 3’s Hydrocity Zone. Avoiding being crushed by it adds an urgency throughout the Act where this trick was only used very briefly in the 3rd game. Mad Gear’s boss stage starts of as Metropolis’, which I believe was one of the best bosses in Sonic history. Note that the Eggman bubbles hurt this time! – you used to be able to hit them to pop them. The fight’s second phase involves chasing the Eggmobile to the right ala the final chase in the Sonic & Knuckles incarnation of Death Egg Zone.

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E.G.G Station Zone

E.G.G. Station Zone

To be fair, you can’t get away with calling something ‘Death Egg’ Zone in this day and age. I’m surprised Sega was able to in the past. Essentially that’s what the single-Act EGG Station is though; Sonic 2’s DEZ with the Metal Sonic fight removed and all previous Sonic 4 bosses recycled in its place. As in the original, the final fight is against Eggman in his Egg Mobile suit. The only change here is that he goes berserk after taking enough hits and then bounds around in a manner Sonic 2’s crawling behemoth count not.

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In all, the Zones of Sonic 4 are well-crafted and of suitable length; 3-acts up from the standard 2 and all of which are slightly longer than the series average. Completing the game offers a hint as to a new character in Episode II but, really, we have Sonic. He’s good enough. Bring on news of the new Zones! And if they’re not going for original concepts this time at least resurrect some ideas from Sonic 3- Icecap Zone, anyone? Sandopolis? Lava Reef?


Exploring WoW Alpha: The Kingdom of ‘Ahn’Quiraj’

Inside the Temple of Ahn'Quiraj

Much of the old world in World of Warcraft changed a lot between alpha, beta and final retail builds of the game. In this series I’ll explore zones that differ substantially from their pre-release versions.

This is an early look at the zone ‘Ahn’Quiraj’, long before the zone itself became ‘Silithus’ and Ahn’Quiraj was relegated to raid instances in it. A lot of the geometry and doodads remained but a lot were also cut. The Temple itself remains almost identical however. Take a gander below. Guess it’s coming full circle now that this is all becoming an outdoor zone again in Cataclysm.

 

 

And just to note, I’m calling it ‘Ahn’Quiraj’ because that’s how it was originally spelt as per original WoW maps. Funny, huh? Suppose they figured the Qiraji can spell however they like without worrying about pesky English conventions. Old Silithus

I’m going to attempt a couple more of these in the next little while. I think the old versions of Karazhan in Deadwind Pass and Strathholme in the Plaguelands would be fun to look at next.


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