Blog #052 - You Should At Least Try These 2011 Games + Awards

I feel like these end of year awards (especially from users) devalue the point of them. You should play these games. By limiting it to 5, or 10, you leave out some other games that you might want to include. Still unemployed, I've been playing a lot of games so I need to give props to those that I can't fit on a neat list.

The important thing is that I'm not saying...

HEY! YOU! THESE ARE THE BEST GAMES THIS YEAR AND EVERYBODY ELSE IS WRONG!

These are some games that you should at least TRY. Not every game is for every person, and I recognise that. By trying a game, and not just talking shit about it, you can at least feel confident that something is not for you, or it is how you discover a whole new world of gaming (strategy games blew my mind a few years ago).

What Games You Should Try From 2011

Just give them a go. You don't have to like them.

1. Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective

Who would have guessed that a quirky, super weird DS game from Japan wouldn't sell well? What makes Ghost Trick special is the writing. Characters are memorable and insane, and the story goes of a cliff with batshit craziness. This game isn't interested in reality, or your notions of how a story should play out.

The presentation is very enjoyable and unique and the gameplay is novel (and can get very tough, if not frustrating). I'm not surprised many people didn't play it, but I will say here that you should try it. There is no other game like it

Also, the ending is fucking insane.

A time travelling ghost dog from the future, trapped inside a lamp from the past. Incredible.
2. The Binding of Isaac

I didn't know the meaning of rogue like until hearing about this game, and while I see this is a more simplified version of that concept this game has so much more going on. A game session can last 1 minutes, or 30 minutes. Even played out until the end it isn't long but the game compels you to finish it over and over to see endings and the temptation of better loot.

Sometimes I feel like I get shafted because I pick up terrible loot, so I tell myself that next time things will be different. That conversation can repeat itself for a couple of hours because the gameplay is so compelling. The thing that holds it together for me is the aesthetic and tone. This game is completely messed up. Wearing your 'mom's' clothes and makeup, peeing everywhere. Loads of blood and poop. It is disgusting but justifies itself by being a messed up premise and setting.

Give it a go. It isn't expensive (99p on steam today) and even if you play it for an hour that is absolutely worth it.

3. Dark Souls

This will be on a lot of individual's lists, and I put it here because I think everybody should try it. Even after a lot of time spent playing this game I can't decide if I like it or not. The difficulty and the exploration make playing this game rewarding and satisfying... but a lot of the design isn't as intuitive or well made as it could be.

While some elements feel budget, where Dark Souls really excels it is fantastic. I might scream when I die like no other game, and yet I keep playing. You might be able to tell already that I articulating why I both do and do not like this game poorly, which is precisely why I think everybody should try this for themselves.

Make up your own mind, give it a shot.

4. Rock of Ages

Gameplay is fun, and the setting, premise, characters, music, aesthetics and boss battles are insane. This game enjoys it's own stupidity and absurdity. For that alone just give it a go. If you don't find it funny you might not enjoy it, but it isn't a huge investment.

5. Dead Rising 2: Off the Record

A lot of people give the series a hard time for unintuitive design and not learning lessons from past mistakes. A lot of this is fair, and never bothered me personally but Dead Rising 2: Off The Record goes a long way to addressing these issues. There are checkpoints between areas and there is a sandbox mode.

These two reasons alone should give a lot of people a reason to check back in with the series and give it another chance. Missions are still timed (but you don't have to do them) and there are annoying design choices (animation still take priority over anything else).

6. Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes

I never expected to enjoy the puzzle part of a puzzle game so much. The story and characters aren't bad but they are incredibly forgettable. The 'combat puzzle' that this game presents is so satisfying when you get it right. Mastering the strategy in this game is rewarding.

7. Star Wars: The Old Republic

A lot of people want or expect this to fail. I can see why, but at least play t first. I am not an MMO veteran. Huge fan of KOTOR, not MMOs. Playing this by myself I am really enjoying it. The abttle system isn['t that different from KOTOR, and all of the conversation systems and cutscenes are what you might expect from a Bioware game.

It has been fun playing with friends but as they out level me I have less and less opportunity to play with them. That is OK though because I have fun playing solo. Companions lower the burden and allow you to play with allies that don't have to be real people. Server queues can be an issue, but in general I am able to play when I want.

Give it a chance.

Best Phoenix Wright Game of 2011

I play Phoenix Wright games pretty much every day before I go to sleep. Considering there are only three of them that doesn't leave a lot of room for winners. I must have finished each of them 20 times and it is hard to choose. This category is needed because I play it so often that it is a series of games that deserves recognition from me every year, regardless of when it came out (plus I didn't start playing it until 2010).

And the winner is...

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Trials and Tribulations

So many great characters

As the end of the Phoenix Wright trilogy the story is incredible and wraps up a three game story arc really well. All questions are answered, dire situations are resolved and you see the characters and world in a different way than before. Godot, as my favourite character from the series, adds a lot to the game and provides a strong antagonist throughout.

While it is hard to match the plot of the first game this final entry to the series takes you across over 6 years and puts you in the shoes of 3 different playable characters, a first for the series.

1995/2009's 2011 Game of the Year

Chrono Trigger

(The only nomination...)

Chrono Trigger DS

New endurance run, more bitching. I hadn't played Chrono Trigger before and this was the perfect excuse to give it a go. Not owning a SNES meant I picked up the DS version, and I am glad I did. It seems as though the translation for the original was unfortunately rushed and that results in the sometimes funny, but generally bad text in the game.

The DS version features a new, more cohesive and literal translation of the game. The graphics looks great on a DSLite screen (not sure about the DSi as that will scale it a bit) which really surprised me. It looks crisp. Even now it still stands up as a fantastic RPG and I'm glad the Endurance Run inspired me to play it.

Game I didn't Get Round To

I bought so many cheap games this year that there is a massive pile of games I didn't get to finish or play at all. Worst of all is when they come out at the end of the year. How am I supposed to play them? Well, at least when I;m playing Skyrim I don't worry about not playing other games but they still stand out.

And the winner is...

Saints Row The Third

After hearing so much about this game on Giant bomb and from friends I broke down and finally decided to buy it. That was yesterday. I haven't put enough time in to it to be able to add it to my game of the year but the opening 30 minutes of this game are incredible. I get the same dreary open world shooter feeling that I do from the previous games or a GTA game but like GTA it's the things around it that I enjoy (characters, story, mind blowing missions/things happening all the time).

And Finally...

My Favourite Games of 2011

You might think my list is predictable, but I'm no hipster. Good games are good games.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

140 hours in 2 weeks. Read my blog to find out about this obsession.

2. Portal 2

I completed this in one 9 hour sitting because I could not wait to find out what was going to happen next. The best writing and best story in any game I have every played. Memorable characters, rewarding puzzles and beautiful graphics.

3. L.A. Noire

The facial capture technology is incredible, if not rough around the edges but in a rare occurance in graphics/animation technology it actually serves the gameplay. Unless you are going to try and subvert/break the gameplay by trying to 'game' the interrogation system, you actually have to pay attention to character reactions in a lot of cases. An adventure game for modern times. Thoroughly enjoyable.

4. Batman: Arkham City

The most satisfying combat system around wrapped up in Batman goodness with a new open world to explore. I disagree with Jeff's review, I think the open world really does add something (mostly to navigation but also allowing something as simple as gang territories).

5. Gears of War 3

Story is what I care about in Gears of War. I might be in the minority, but over 2 games I came t care about the characters with the amount of time I sunk in to the game. Seeing that story through to the end was going to happen even if the game was awful, but it helps that Gears of War is still thoroughly satisfying and great looking.

6. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

I enjoyed the aesthetic, the philosophical discussion about human augmentation and the ability to tackle situations in a variety of ways. The music is also pretty great.

7. Iron Brigade

Great mech shooting. Fun and streamlined tower defence. A great combination that I keep coming back to.

8. Bastion

Incredible story, graphics, narration, music and gameplay. Too bad my Xbox Hard Drive failed and I lost my save. Never got to see New Game Plus.

9. Crysis 2

I loved the Sandbox gameplay of the original Crysis (my favourite shooter of all time perhaps) and while that is scaled back signifcantly in this sequel it isn't unrecognisable. Characters were OK and the story kept me going along but I love the cinematic look of everything in these games.

10. Dead Space 2

This game terrified me, and I love that. Unfortunately I had a series of technical failures early in the year that meant I got 3/4 of the way through the game and had to stop, then start over at the end of the year. I'm glad I saw it through to the end.

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Blog #051 - Two Weeks, 140 Hours in Skyrim

I'm just going to say it. One hundred and forty hours is a long time. A really, really large amount of time. I am not proud of how much I have played this game. As a friend of mine pointed out, that is 10 hours a day for fourteen days (2 weeks). I lost my job over a month ago and apart from looking for work, I haven't had anything to do.

Kids, listen up. Not having a job sounds great, because you can sit around and play games. It's not. You need money, but more importantly you need a sense of place in the world. Something that gives you meaning, and justifies why the world bothers to support your life. Sitting around and playing games isn't a fulfilling life.

Anyway, let's get to Skyrim. This is how I felt when it was announced. I made fancy headers based on the main line quest log glyphs, because I think they look great. This was formatted for blog view, not thread viewing but ehhhh.... what are you going to do?

Dovahkiin, Dragonborn. Such an iconic image.
I miss Cyrodil already...

I played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion a hell of a lot. Over 500 hours of gameplay across 6 years and two platforms. It was the first time I felt fully immersed in a game world, where it was believable to a point where you could just live in the world. You could get a house, walk around town. Shop. Make friends. Eat. Train skills in a realistic way (level by doing). In the last year or so that I've been playing it I have had to mod it extensively, as a lot of the graphical quirks of the engine do not hold up, like most products early in a console generation.

Morrowind didn't do anything for me, purely because up to that point I was a console gamer and even though it was available on xbox it contained a lot of bad elements from porting and not what I would call user friendly. Maybe if Morrowind had made more of an impression on me I would have given it more of a chance and wouldn't have been so blown away by Oblivion, but I consider it a formative experience from my teenage years and don't think I have lost anything in the process of skipping the first fully polygonal Elder Scrolls title.

The game opens with you deep in Skyrim. Literally. You're being carted to your own execution already in Skyrim with your past being explained only briefly in passing (you were trying to cross the border for some unknown reason... allegedly). Events that you didn't know about are already well under way and the game doesn't go out of its way to patronise you because the characters in the world talk as if events such as the civil war are common knowledge.

As the player, there is something satisfying and immersive about slowly piecing together a timeline and a history of the world around you through books and dialogue and not having the game open with "Hey, let me break down exactly what is going on". It is part of what I feel is a way of introducing the player to the idea of talking to every character you meet and exhausting all of the conversation options. Information becomes a commodity to be gained through interaction. It is essential to understand the world, but also progress through items and quests. As a long time Oblivion player there is no way I'm not going to talk to every single character anyway, but it is an interesting example of immersive game design.

I name my RPG characters after Phoenix Wright characters

In Oblivion I felt the only real race and class people should play as was high elf. As the most gifted magical race, they have an advantage in magic and if you are a mage you can do anything. Any deficient aspect of your character can be supplemented by creating a spell or brewing a potion whereas a warrior is a warrior. This leads to some very interesting experiments involving stacking of spells and potions that allow you to run faster than the game can load, and jump above the game world in a single leap.

This doesn't hold true in Skyrim. Character race and class don't really matter as the bonuses are negligible, there is no spell crafting and potion effects are very limited (plus they don't stack). That said, I still picked high elf because that is what I enjoy. So, of course the first thing I try to do is break and exploit the game as much as possible. Leaving the starter dungeon at level 20 because of sneaking around and attacking my companion at the start, putting arrows in his head, slashing away at my friendly tutorial guide who has given me no reason to assault him over and over again.

Despite the levelling and class systems being radically different from previous Elder Scrolls titles I haven't felt constrained in any particular way. I play how I want and at my own pace. At level 58 I have spent most of the game as a mage, and progressed through 140 hours levelling just a few skill trees. The lack of spell crafting really limits my options as far as my options go but again, in Oblivion all I would use that for was to exploit and break the game. Just because I could. I wanted to see it break down.

All it took in Oblivion was getting Azura's star, summoning the top level daedra, capturing its soul, summon bound daedric armour, damage, drop and repair it to get completely weightless armour, enchanting each armour piece with 20% chameleon and that's it. You have broken the game. You are now permanently invisible, nothing will attack you. I don't think this is the reason spell crafting was taken out, but it helps streamline the game and forces you to play a more rigid path where the pace of progress is consistent at the higher levels as well as at the start.

As suggested by trying to break the game, I play fairly stupidly. That's not to say I'm bad at it, or make poor gameplay decisions. I mentioned this earlier, but I love the feeling that my character is living in the world. That makes my style of play in to a routine, much like real life. Clearing out dungeons and exploring is my job, and at the end of the day when I have finished I come home, say hello to my wife, unload all my shit and go to bed.

I have a horrible compulsion where I have to keep one of everything, and so I store everything in my house after each dungeon cleared then sell the duplicates. This adds so much unnecessary inventory management that I can't really fault the game for. It isn't supposed to accommodate my play style. This results in a very methodical and predictable pacing to the game where I have a regular cash flow and regular inventory of new items coming and going, and also the rate at which I can complete quests.

I can't think of any other way to play the game, because if I've learnt anything about Bethesda RPGs it's that at some point I will need an item. This way, I will probably already have it back home and just need to fast travel instead of hunting it down. You know what though? It's boring. Anyone else (yes, even you, reader) would go insane playing this way but I just can't help myself. I feel like it's a testiment to how good this game is that I am willing to put up with my own stupidity.

Despite all this self sabotage, the game offers an incredibly rewarding and immersive experience. The vistas in the game are beautiful, characters and objects are well modelled. There is some beautiful lighting and weather effects, which is appropriate considering the amount of snow and sunrises over mountains you'll be seeing. Textures definitely fall short when examined up close, but as always thee games are about scope, the bigger picture. You should be looking out over miles of tundra and thinking "that mountain in the mist over there... I could go there if I wanted to" not "compression artefacts are preventing me from enjoying this game".

There have been countless jaw dropping moments either because of funny encounters/bugs or impressive quests and enjoyable writing. About 40 hours in I had my first giant on dragon fight, and to see these two juggernaughts go head to head is something I just cant get in other games. Everything is so scripted in most franchises, but Bethesda made their name on open world with very loose scripting. I would happily watch a giant club a dragon to death again anytime.

Amazing landscapes

It sounds like I am giving Skyrim a free pass, but I'm not. The game also falls short in some minor ways that I didn't expect. I don't care what they say, this is still the gamebryo engine. Either that or the programmers recreated all it's quirks and bugs perfectly. It has to be modified, there is no way it was created from scratch. I have experience much less bugs however, compared to Oblivion. That game (without the unofficial and official patches) is so broken and unenjoyable whereas the worst I have experienced is not being able to progress through a quest stage or an item stuck in my inventory.

After 140 hours I am still discovering new places (I haven't even been to 2 of the major towns yet), facing new enemies and even hearing new voice actors. It's strange that this amount of content can be packed in to a game in 2011, where everyone complains about DLC and games being too short. The internet would have you believe that publishers are constraining game development so that experiences are shorter so that you will buy DLC and maybe that is true. I can't say that is never the case, but Zenimax just let Bethesda make the game they wanted to make and it is enjoyable, massive and in many ways the best game they have ever made.

I didn't think it would be possible to surpass my experience with Oblivion. Like I said in the opening, I spent so much time with that game and as a result I started to think that it was one of those experiences that will always be the best because it was the perfect game for that time in my life. Skyrim has made me feel fully confident that I was worrying over nothing, and that I can still form a connection and have intense experiences with games even in a difficult time of my life.

I am Jeff Gerstmann, and this is my Burnout Paradise. Oh yeah, one last thing...

Dragons are pretty badass, I don't know if you've heard...

I have to mention dragons. I'm sure everybody is sick of hearing it, but they are an important part of the story and world. Who cares though? All I care about is how good they look and animate. Their scripting is dodgy at times because they have certain attack patterns and now that I have broken the game by having unlimited magicka, the scripting bugs out when you have a dead flying dragon that spontaneously explodes when it feels like landing.

The best moment in the entire game for me was the first time I shot a dragon out of the air with a dual liughtning spell. It spun around, crashed to the earth with such momentum that it slid for 50ft and left a huge groove in the ground. Was this a completely scripted event and I was supposed to shoot it down? I didn't care. IT. WAS. FUCKING. AWESOME.

FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!

A friend who has been keeping away from this game for the same reason why I had to have it came over, and after pointing out the ridiculous and humiliating 140 hours listed on steam was blown away by how the dragons moved and looked. It is easy to become jaded about this kind of thing, but it is a spectacle when a dragon circles overhead, lands on a roof and tries to burn you. How can they top Dragons in The Elder Scrolls VI? Especially when they also have giants here offering two exciting enemies that provide so much entertainment when you catch them fighting.

Thanks for reading. I know this is long, but I needed to write something about my experience.

33 Comments

Blog #050 - So I heard you like Batman...

Been quite a while since I wrote a blog. Well, 3 weeks doesn't really mean quite a while. A lot has happened though. Lost my job, had the humiliation of going to the Job Centre. My PC very quickly went from failing to boot to not working at all, and after a week I finally ordered new parts, built it back up and now have a working PC again.

Who cares about that miserable stuff though? We have VIDEO GAMES to talk about!

Batman Arkham City

I game on PC a lot, but if you were listening to the Whiskey Media Radio Show a few weeks ago you'll know I have a stupid console collection. I like to game on both and when a multiplatform game like Arkham City rolls around I tend to go for the PC version for the obvious reasons. Graphics, framerate, options, modding. Unfortunately, the price I pay is sometimes day one hassle, technical problems and DELAYS.

My stance on the matter is usually that they delay the PC version in the hopes that impatient people will buy the console version, if they can, so they can boost their day one sales on consoles and negate PC piracy for those waiting to pirate the PC version on launch. In this case I heard they were late for certification, so I will give them the benefit of the doubt, but with such a digital focused market on PC games should be delivered promptly and things like delays and regional differences should be going away. It benefits everybody to do so.

So I can't buy Batman. Even though I will have to wait, I probably wont be able to buy it when it comes out either now due to just losing my job. Instead, I decided to do a design for Arkham Asylum, my favourite game of 2009. I figured it would be fun to pretend it was an old novel instead of a game. Let me know what you think.

View higher resolution version here.

Binding of Isaac

Fiction books need cheesy tag lines...

I have been addicted to this game for some time now. I find it really hard, but the loot whore in me sees death as an opportunity to get better stuff next time. I have spent 7 hours with this game already and it cost so little. The art style, music and gameplay are all fantastic. I need to get over my addiction though, I can't keep playing and failing. Then again, there's another game I could say the same thing for...

RPGs, Punishing and Otherwise

Despite sucking at this game, I made this hog my bitch

I'm like Vinny. I have to play a game series from the start. Something with a deep immersive world deserves it. Sure, I could jump in to Witcher 2 but why would I deprive myself of what a lot of people say is a great experience? After a slow start, and my PC destroying what I had played, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Slow build up but there are so many quests and a lot of well delivered and not so well delivered dialogue.

I also bought Dark Souls while my PC was busted. It isn't as hard as I thought, but I am still being destroyed. Not much to say. I die a lot.

Tangentially, Dead Rising 2: Off the Record too. I enjoyed Dead Rising 2, I enjoy this, I paid £13 for it. Can't complain for that price. Frank is a fun character and like Brad said, it is the best Dead Rising game. Sandbox mode is what a lot of people wanted, and the only problem is you cant find keys in it but you cant do everything else. Level up, get money, find combo cards and... kill zombies.

Might as well post the Dead Rising 2 poster I made a few months ago since we are talking about it again.

9 Comments

Blog #049 - Gears 3 Epic Edition, Bastion Soundtrack, Dave!

Only a week since my last blog. Not much has happened, except Gears of War 3 being released. I also got paid for the first time. As is tradition, first paycheck means a stupid purchase which I will be getting in to shortly.

Happy Birthday Dave!

It is Dave's Birthday today, and as a creepy tribute people are wearing hardcore dave as their avatar for the weekend. Get involved!

You can also have Hardcore Dave emblazoned upon your chest by purchasing the Duder T-Shirt from the Whiskey Media store. Shameless plug over.

Bastion Soundtrack

Roughly 6 weeks ago SuperGiantGames released the Bastion Soundtrack for digital download and physical album, including a signed version. Despite never using CDs beyond ripping them for my iPhone, I ordered a signed copy of the physical album and you will be pleased to know you get an immediate download of the digital version. Considering it took 6 weeks to arrive, that was a good idea as I have listened to it for hours in that time.

My lovely signed album. Great artwork!

I have quite a few pieces of gaming memorabilia, and it's good having one of the best gaming soundtracks among my collection. I love Jen#s artwork too, so seeing the cover makes me happy.

Rock of Ages

A quick note, since I bought and completed Rock of Ages. An incredible, silly, funny, unique game. It is, however, incredibly short with little replay value and a tiny almost non-existent multiplayer community. As long as you go in to this expecting to be entertained, not rocked to the core and getting value for money you should be good. It's not difficult and you will blow through it but it's worth it.

Gears of War 3 Epic Edition

As I said earlier, I got paid for the first time. I am a self employed graphic designer on contract at the moment and got paid for my first month of work. As is obligatory, I made a stupid purchasing decision. I really wanted to build a new PC but with bills and small debts that isn't going to happen, so I decided to go smaller. It was a stretch for me to buy the regular edition earlier this week, but by trading it in for the Epic Edition I got as much as I paid for it. A fair trade for once.

The box is HUGE

At £100 this is an expensive edition of the game, and is essentially the 'limited' edition in a much larger box, and a statuette of Marcus Fenix. I am a sucker for nice packaging and everything about this is higher quality than I have come to expect from games. As Jeff mentioned, the Styrofoam packaging has symbols etched in to them. The box is felt and feel nice to the touch. It also contains a load of junk such as the Hammer of Dawn schematics but the real meat of this edition is the COG service medal (which feels really weighty and solid), a high quality art book and the massive Marcus statuette.

The case looks like the disc given to Marcus by Prescott

The statue is simultaneously larger and lighter than I imagined it would be. There is a lot of detail on the figure and unlike a lot of figures the face is accurate to the game model . Oddly the lancer he holds is detachable, and I don't know why. You have to slot it in place. I guess you could hold it and pretend you are a giant soldier. Anyway, I will leave you with a photo I took of it (including a cardboard backdrop that comes with it) that I took with my iPhone. Terrible quality, I can never seem to take good photos with it. Until next time...

Excessive, but great!
2 Comments

Blog #048 - Hardcore Duder + Dead Island Truck T-Shirts, Gears 3

Been a busy time for me lately. Got my first job coming out of university as a freelance graphic designer. Not as sexy as it sounds, believe me. I haven't had a lot of time for games as a result but I'm finding the time occasionally. As always I keep up with my daily design and have done a few videogame related ones which I will post here.

Hardcore Dave Says...

As I said, I do a daily design blog where I make something every day. I started January 1st and plan to go to the end of the year. I am at Day #259 at the moment. As you can imagine, ideas start to get thin. I also don't have any time to dedicate to these now that I have a job, so I take what I can get. One Saturday I decided to make a silly T-Shirt design featuring an illustration of Hardcore Dave.

Still my favourite quote

The idea behind the design is that it was simple for people to paint over what I wrote under Dave and type their own, without having to hand out an editable PSD. Then Vager comes along and writes a script so that people can simply type what they want Dave to say and the image is created. Along with MisterChief he created the website hardcoredave.com where they made it super simple to create and share your own making it a hit with the community and even Whiskey Media Staff members. God knows why.

Anyway, seems as though Whiskey decided to pick it up as an official T-Shirt, except instead of Hardcore Dave Says it just says Duder. You can buy yourself one of these fine T-Shirts over at the Whiskey store. Oddly though, I knew nothing about this. As of yet Whiskey Media hasn't made any contact with me at all. I've emailed them but nothing back yet. I find it highly irregular, seems weird that I wasn't even asked if they could do this or even ask for the files.

You can represent Hardcore Dave is public now

Dead Island TNT Shirt

Well, the first episode of the new TNT format was crazy. The guys seem to have fun with Dead Island, and it's a shame the community wasn't directly involved. The truck on truck action was too much for me to take though. After the "Truck Rich" phrase was uttered somebody on tiwtter suggested a T-Shirt based on that, so I obliged. Like I said, I do a lot of extra design work and I run short on ideas. Don't look at me like that.

The 4 trucks represent Patrick, Jeff, Vinny and Brad. It's a silly throw away meme design but I thought it was a funny TNT. On the subject of the game, I'm really enjoying it. A friend bought me a copy on PC and it's a lot of fun to use the analogue combat to rip zombies apart. I don't enjoy the co-op much because there's zero patience and I like to look around for items and quests.

Posters + Designs

I've done some videogame designs recently. If you look back in my blog history you can see many, many designs I've done based on games but I'll post some of the recent ones here.

Gears of War 3

Locust are savage

I cannot contain my excitement for this game. Gears of War blew me away early in the Xbox360's life and has become a flagship title for the platform ever since. With good reason. It set so many standards for third person gameplay, handling, controls and cinematic quality. A lot of people dismiss it for it's generic nature, limited colour palette and dudebro attitude. None of that ever bothered me, and I'm glad because I've had a great time playing with friends over the years.

I don't really have much to say about the game because I haven't played it beyond the beta, but I am replaying Gears of War 1 & 2 in preparation and the first thing I do when I get off work Tuesday is go and play this game. Assuming the post arrives while I'm out and I actually get the game. Just wanted to let people know... I think this game is pretty cool.

27 Comments

Blog #047 - Dead Rising 2 Poster, Bastion, Farms, Dawn of War II

A lot going on at the moment. Start a new job on monday. Not exactly looking forward to it. Being greeted in to the wonderful world of self employment and taxes, don't understand a thing. Other than that: games!

Oh, and I also just cancelled my Whiskey Media Premium Membership. I pay monthly, and I think it's good value for how I use the sites but I should be getting a free years membership from Dave soon. Can't wait to see the new subscriber benefits soon.

Dead Rising 2 Poster

I have had this idea for a long time... at least, I think do. I tend not to write ideas down so they escape me for a long time and resurface. With nothing else to do for my daily design #218 I decided to do it while I had the chance. Surprise, surprise. Another minimalist game poster from me. I love Dead Rising 2 though. I created an impressive guide on the forums with the help of the community, and uploaded screenshots to the site of every combo card in the game. I like it a bit too much, maybe.

Let me know what you think. I love reading comments. View High Res here.

My first export read "a game by CAMPCOM", a stupid mistake. They don't even make games, they are a gay boutique.

Bastion Soundtrack

If not for Giant Bomb's close coverage of this game, I may not have heard of it. I let most XBLA releases pass me by (though I own a lot of them). I loved the game, and felt it had some oddly powerful story moments despite being unabashedly 'gamey' throughout. Zia and Zulfs song (and the combo song for the credits) blew me away and really made the respective sections of the game more enjoyable.

Beautiful artwork. Nice headphones, Kid

People have been clamoring for a bastion soundtrack and SuperGiantGames delivered. I purchased a signed copy of the album, and while I wait for that to arrive I also got a digital version (which is all I really needed, but I want that album art by Jen Zee). Some great tracks, and even a bonus track of the narrator singing in his rough smokey voice. I suggest you go and buy it if you are a fan of Bastion. $10 for digital, $15 for CD.

Possibly my favourite song on the album.

FarmVille

Not going to talk much about this. I love the idea of resource management so I decided I'd try and play along with the interns. Having influence on the site, even if it is a competition between interns, is kind of cool. I already do everything I can on the site contribution wise so this is just an extension of that. I managed to do better in 1 hour than the inters did this whole week which isn't surprising given the circumstances they are under.

I don't intend to play much each day. Less than an hour. I'm also not putting any real money in to it at all. We'll see how it goes.

Dawn of War II

Completely separate from the Space Marine Quicklook, I decided to pick up Dawn of War II again. I bought Chaos Rising, but I cannot import my save as I had to format my drive so I am playing through it again. I am also playing it with 2 separate friends in a co-op campaign meaning I have 3 campaigns on the go. It is tiring. I wore myself out playing almost 15 missions 3 times and I just can't play it anymore. I think I will just have to give it some time and come back to it.

Dawn of War 2 is a great game though, I just dont think man was meant to play that much.

Soon my pretty... soon...

Thanks for reading. Leave a comment below, have a cup of tea. Whatever you want.

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Blog #046 - Bastion, Half Life, Cthulu, Recent Illustrations

Despite still not having a job and my graduation ceremony soon, it has been a packed week. Full, mostly, of indie games. I tend to collect them in my room, filling the floor and tripping me up in the night when I go to the bathroom.

Illustrations

I talk about this quite a lot, but I have still been keeping up with my daily design blog. It has become soul crushing and something of a chore at times but passing day #200 makes me feel like I accomplished something. There have been quite a few lately, so I thought I'd post some of them here. Only 2 game related ones for now. I have been trying to cut down. Some Journey fan art that was retweeted by thatgamecompany, and a design concept for a T-Shirt.

Higher resolution versions are on the blog, and let me know what you think. I love reading comments. I do so much of this stuff and I often hear nothing back from anyone, good or bad.

Here are some other designs from the past month or so, including a harry potter poster and my favourite drink in the world: tea.

Half Life

I have owned all of the half life games for quite a few years. Half Life 1 is not for me. I have never enjoyed pre-2000 first person shooters. I will not attribute the floaty control and style of shooting to it being dated, it just doesn't suit me. First person platforming sucks. I can't hold it against Half Life 1 in the same way as Duke Nukem Forever. It was released in 1998, not 2011. It does feel dated in very arbitrary ways but

Yep, that sure is a corridor.

So far the lack of explicit narrative is really killing my desire to finish it, the guns aren't much fun to shoot, the loose and floaty control really hinders the platforming, and I suck at the game so I fall to my death and get killed by enemies a lot. The worst thing of all is the lack of autosave. I have lost hours of progress because the game puts it on me to save all the time. I take it for granted that games checkpoint themselves so frequently. Autosave is a very welcome trend, and I look forward to not having to quicksave every 30 seconds after I finish this game.

I can't blame Half Life for everything I don't like about it. A game from before a time when I started to really enjoy and appreciate them. A lot of the criticisms against it most likely apply to games I did enjoy from the same era, but I have no nostalgia, no appreciation, no love for the half life series. If I had played it 13 years ago I might feel differently, but I didn't.

I will finish it though, and move on to the rest of the games.

Indie Madness

Through Steam sales and Xbox Live I have picked up a lot more indie games than I already owned and didn't play.

Bastion

Starting the show with a show stopper. I first saw this game on Building the Bastion, as I'm sure a lot of people did. Jen Zee's artwork is the first thing that captured my attention. As a designer, I can only hope to ever come close to anything she created for Bastion. Unfortunately, the bright, colourful, cartoony nature of the art style gets put in the 'indie camp', some people even going as far to dismiss this 2D illustrated style of a game as being easier to produce.

The Kid

The problem I have with a lot of modern big budget games is that they fail to have a unique visual identity, like a brand would. That is why the internet is ablaze with comments about games feeling 'generic'. Indie games by nature have to possess unique and attractive art styles to stand out from bigger budget games and their contemporaries. That doesn't mean big budget games can't do the same. I am not talking about 'realism' or realistic art styles. That can still be used with a visual identity or brand. Mass Effect 2 did it successfully, I feel, over it's predecessor.

Back to Bastion, I am having a great time with it. Everything about it feels very well put together and hand crafted. No area feels copy and pasted, the combat is fairly dynamic and they mix up the enemy types and spawns to make encounters feel different. My favourite thing so far is the song 'The Singer', well, sings when you find her. It is beautiful, and I hope I can own it some day.

The passive, almost ambient nature of the story works in it's favour and ends up being much more powerful than leading the player through cutscenes. Narration plays an important role in doing this, and Bastion has shown me the most impressive use so far. I could listen to The Stranger's voice all day, and the game obliges by having him convey the story as well as dynamically comment on events and gameplay behaviour.

Ms Splosion Man

I haven't played too much of this so far, too many games. It feels very much like Splosion Man, which is great. Already frustrating, which is how I felt about the first. I like that though. Much better visuals than the first, with varied backgrounds and loading screens. I still hate Twisted Pixel's awful copy and paste menus. UI is important people. It won't cut sales, so is often neglected. Just make a nice menu, please?

Cthulhu Saves the World

I bought this along with Breath of Death VII. Comedy, when it isn't funny to a particular person, can be offensive. People get angry about comedians and TV shows that do not appeal to them. The particular style of comedy in Cthulhu is laid back enough that this isn't as much of an issue. I didn't have to laugh out loud every time they broke the 4th wall or made a weird RPG convention joke, but it adds a lot of flavour and lightheartedness to an all too serious genre.

Some surprisingly pretty artwork

There is a quicklook up on the site for you to see for yourself, but I highly recommend it to anyone curious. For the low, low price you can hardly go wrong. Having finished it this week the game is a decent length. It goes on a bit too long but that may have been my eagerness to finish the game. The gameplay doesn't change, you just get more powerful. The challenge only ramps up near the end, but the challenge isn't the reason to play this. The story, dialogue and characters are what makes this game special. They wrote custom dialogue for each individual set of drawers and bookcase in the game! That is attention to detail, beyond what I would expect.

Swords & Soldiers HD

I don't know why I bought this, but I am glad I did. A side scrolling 2D RTS is not something I have ever encountered before. They streamline a lot of RTS concepts such as unit and base building, as well as economy. Instead of buildings everything built works like an upgrade, you just select it from a menu and after the 'build time' you can start unit production.

There's a lot going on sometimes

What I didn't realise, however, is that units are entirely automated. Once you have built a unit they march from left to right and attack anything they bump in to. To compensate for the automated nature of the combat they give you the ability to use a large variety of magical abilities to aid your units and kill the enemy. Another indie game with a great artstyle as well. It is a shame that a lot of people dismiss these as glorified flash games, having been spoiled by free games created by extremely talented developers who go on to make these kind of indie games.

I also played and finished (some) more indie titles such as The Maw, Bit.Trip Beat and Bit.Trip Runner, Atom Zombie Smasher, and Amnesia: Dark Descent.

That's it for this blog. Hope somebody reads it, took way too long to type. See you all next time.

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Blog #045 - Journey Illustration, Steam Sales, Oblivion Madness

Haven't posted a blog in 2 weeks. Haven't even been doing anything except playing some games. As always I've been keeping up with my daily design, making something creative every day. Today I did something for Journey.

Journey

I hadn't heard of this game until Jenova Chen appeared on the E3 bombcast. I didn't really look it up until Brad posted the quicklook this week. Visually stunning, conceptually amazing. The only way I can describe that game. It shuns the feeling of 'gameyness' so much, and I like that.

I decided to make fan art for it today. Initially I drew the main character, but the landscape was the most interesting thing to me, and I remembered that in January as part of my blog I drew a man in a desert. I used that as a basis for my design, that you can see below.

thatgamecompany retweeted the design earlier. Awesome. https://twitter.com/#!/Alister_Cat/status/89422593194594304

View High Res Here

Journey, a game about lov-... deserts

I enjoyed making it. As always I love to read your comments so post away.

Steam Sales

I have always looked forward to the steam sales. Never mind that I haven't even played 90% of the games I've bought. I have spent way too much in these sales already, but have shown restraint. So much stuff that I didn't buy. It always annoys me to see people complain about the sales either because they own everything already, or the games aren't for them. That doesn't make the sales bad, it just means that day isn't for you. There are plenty of other people saving a lot of money. It's a great thing for everybody, all around.

The game I wanted the most was Shogun 2 and a friend who has owed me for a long time was kind enough to gift it. I haven't stuck much time in to it yet but it seems like an incredible game that will devour my time. I expect to suck for a long time but I love the setting and aesthetic enough to stick with it.

Oblivion Mod Madness

2am on a tuesday morning. I suddenly have the urge to play Oblivion. 7+ hours of installing and downloading mods later, I have Oblivion fully modded like it was on my system last year. i have sunk at least 500 hours in to this game since 2006. I'm only 10 hours in so far but I can't see it ending any time soon. Mods really improve this game. I wouldn't want to play it vanilla, which is to say I wouldn't want to play it on a console (I bought Oblivion 5 times on Xbox360 when it first came out).

There are some seriously impressive mods. The community gets a bad rap for the numerous nude mods, but there is a lot more out there, including utilities to make modding easier and more expansive (Oblivion Script Extender and Oblivion Graphics Extender). It's true, a lot of the mods for this game are about visuals. I downloaded a lot of mods to improve the weather, textures, cities, characters etc but that's exactly what this game needs. 5 years have not been kind. I am use a mod that adds an experiencing system for levelling, more like Fallout 3.

Most of the mods I download though are for immersion. I never liked oblivion for excellent gameplay. It was living in a fantasy world. I download mods that added farm animals to the world, improve cities to make them feel lived in, more vegetation, more wildlife (wild rabbits), animated lighting and chimneys for houses. All of these things draw me in to the world more, and make the hours and hours (and several huge problems) all worth it. I still have some missing meshes around which is annoying but I'll deal with that in time.

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Blog #044 - Review: A Week With the 3DS

I have spent some time with my 3DS now and felt like blogging about my experience with it. Hopefuly this will help some of you decide if you want a 3DS.

Why?

My Console Collection

I just graduated (well, the ceremony is a month off but I have finished my degree) and this is a really bad time to buy a new console. I'm unemployed, I have little money and time to play all the games I already own. Once in a while you need to treat yourself though, so I bought a 3DS as a graduation present for myself (my parents can't buy me things so I buy them myself).

Why the 3DS? Why now? Well, I already own a lot of consoles. I'm a casual collector, so I had to get one eventually. Then Ocarina of Time came out. I already own the original, and the gamecube version, but a remake in 3D presented a new way to experience a classic that I have played countless times.

Shiny, Sexy Carapace

The Nintendo DS launched as their next generation handheld, moving away from the gameboy brand with one of the ugliest console designs ever. Feel free to disagree, but they moved from the bulky grey box with two bad screens to the DS Lite and DSi, arguably two of the best looking console designs. The Nintendo 3DS draws most of it's design from that of it's predecessors, rather than the original DS.

DS, DS Lite and 3DS

More so than the DS, the 3DS has a certain weight and sturdiness making it feel much less fragile than the DS Lite. Both the interior and exterior of the device have a gloss finish making it a fingerprint magnet, but it gives a certain illusion of added quality you might not get with a matte finish. It is incredibly similar to the finish on the Xbox360 slim models, and equally as reflective.

Dueling Screens

Following from the DS, the 3DS features two screens. Prior the release, I found it incredibly strange that the top screen on the 3DS is larger than the bottom screen, and widescreen format. In practice though it isn't noticeable at all. The top screen benefits more from being larger and widescreen as it is the main display for games. The screens are very bright and clear, making sure your games look their best. There is a power saving mode and several brightness settings for the battery conscious amoung you, but personally I would rather play the 3DS looking its best and spend more time charging.

Controls

One the subject of controls, they feel great especially the shoulder buttons. Everything feels appropriately spaced and sized. The circular analogue 'pad' is the new addition and works just how you expect it to. I expected it to be stuff but movement is very fluid. There is also the trusty D-Pad underneath as an alternative to analogue control.

Threeeeeeeee Deeeeeeeeeee

This guy is so cool... right?

Clearly Nintendo believes that 3D is a key component of this console, even naming it the 3DS goes a long way to proving that. A lot of people have dismissed 3D as a gimmick, and Nintendo understands that too. Only the top screen displays in 3D, and there is a 3D depth slider to the right of the screen allowing dynamic changing of the 3D effect or even turn it off. Glasses free 3D is a reality and a very impressive feat.

The impressive example of this technology is mired by problems however, and make it a qualified experience. Positioning is incredibly important. Angle and distance play a huge role in seeing the 3D image correctly to avoid ghosting or incredibly funky imagery. It takes me a couple of seconds but I eventually 'lock' in to the sweet spot where I see everything correctly and it looks fantastic.

This creates a very strange situation where your time spent playing the 3DS is very static and fixed. Moving even slightly can disrupt the 3D effect and cause you to search for that sweet spot again making it ideal for playing in bed for example, but not on the go. Switching from 2D to 3D though is a perfectly legitimate option, and makes the slider such an important feature of the 3DS.

The actual use of 3D can be described as supplementary and not integral to the experience. Worrying about the 3D on 3DS feels comparable to people complaining about optional Kinect support in Xbox360 games. It isn't a requirement. Menu items animate in 3D space, 3D environments have depth inside the screen and send particles flying out at you (and in the case of virtual console games, a very subtle 3D effect on a gameboy colour frame pops up).

Swiss Army 3DS

Consoles in today's market tend to be feature rich (often nothing to do with games) and the 3DS is no exception. There are 2 rear facing cameras for taking 3D photos with the camera app, browse the internet, browse their 'eShop' and download 3D movie trailers (though there is no video app, each trailer is its own app... which is crazy). The system comes preloaded with some videogame based apps too including Face Raiders which uses the front facing camera to take a photo of your face, map it to a flying orb and allow you to shoot freaky versions of yourself around the room.

AR-GAMES (kirby)

One of the biggest features is the Augmented Reality apps, making use of the rear facing cameras to place objects in to the real world. It is very impressive, but aside from busting out the included AR cards to show off to people who haven't seen it there is little value in them beyond the initial experience (which is impressive, don't doubt that). Even though they made the effort to include several shooting games in this app I don't think I am going to return to these for a good long time.

A second major feature, but much more subtle, is the Streetpass and other networking functions of the 3DS. No longer restricted to WEP internet, the 3DS connects to the internet much more easily and it benefits greatly from this. You can maintain a friends list, each with a 'gamer card' (they dont call it that... but it is) with the persons Mii and live status telling you when they are online and what they are playing. It isn't as deep as an Xbox Live friends list but it keeps you connected to a larger community of players than you could experience before.

Mii

Streetpass allows you to passively interact with other 3DS users by simply walking past them, earning you rewards (including characters for a very surreal RPG-esque game buried in the system) and some games such as Street Fighter IV 3D make use of this functionality in the context of the game. The rewards don't end there though, a built in pedometer keeps track of your steps and rewards you with play coins to spend in games that support this feature.

It might all feel a little gimmicky but to see them trying to take advantage of portability in such cool ways makes it hard for me to make snide comments about the whole thing. Passive networking is a nice surprise, and while I haven't been able to streetpass with anyone yet I am sure that will change once the console has been out a year longer and people are buying more of them.

Videogames!

MAAAAAARIO

The 3DS suffered from a weak lineup of games at launch, as a lot of consoles tend to do. There was nothing I wanted to play. As I said at the start, it was Ocarina of Time that prompted me to buy the system. Ocarina makes a great case for the 3DS. It incorporates motion controls and 3D, but both so subtle and completely optional. The graphical quality is very nice (though not as advanced as say the Vita) and shows what the 3DS is capable of but since it is based on an N64 game doesn't show the full potential of the system (though by Luigi's Mansion 2 looks pretty great graphically).

It could be considered something of a scam, since the only games I was looking forward to prior to the E3 lineup reveal were remakes. Ocarina. Starfox. Snake Eater. I am being resold my childhood. Games that I already own being sold right back to me for full price. Hardly a good reason to buy a system. I revel in nostalgia though, and while the bombcrew dismiss remakes heavily I am always happy to relive those experiences.

The only other game I bought besides Zelda is... Zelda. Surprise, surprise, another re-release. Trying out the Nintendo eShop I purchased The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening for way too much money. Like I said before though, I am prepared to repurchase games. Virtual Console games leverage technology commonly seen in emulators: save states. I can produce 1 save state at any time which is ideal given the incredibly bad save/password systems of gameboy colour games.

The lineup on Virtual Console on offer at the moment is not huge, or great. Zelda is easily the best of the lot and also the most expensive. Apart from direct re-releases though some games are being revamped with a 3D touch. The example given out for free is Excitebike, which has unique depth slider functionality. The slider not only adds depth to the game, it also shifts the perspective more and more horizontally. It is a very cool application of 3D, showing it can be used.

Skip to about 1 minute in this video to see the effect.

What else...?

I guess there isn't too much else to say. The battery life isn't great but it hasn't been an issue for me so far. I am having a great time with the 3DS. Experimenting with it's gimmicky features is interesting, but I am here for the games. It isn't a great time to buy a 3DS because there are very few good games. I bought it for Zelda, and for Potential. I am going to buy Starfox, Mario, Paper Mario and Luigi's Mansion 2 but most of those are too far off to recommend buying one now. The 3DS is a good piece of hardware, but it doesn't have the software support it needs. Waiting for a redesign is not why you should hold off, it's waiting for good games to come out. Zelda was enough for me, but not for the average person.

Thanks for reading, I hope this has helped some of you thinking about buying the 3DS.

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Blog #043 - I Went to Church, Spiral Knights, Zelda Poster

Been a busy week. Handed in my final University project. Went to church. Played some games.

Church

Gareth, RIP

This week I ventured in to a church for the first time since my childhood. My family is not religious, and neither am I but this was a special occasion. Last July my best friend died of Cystic Fibrosis (google it). It wasn't unexpected, but devestating to his friends and family. To tie it in to games, he was a huge gamer. I may have blogged a little about it back at the time but even as he lay there in hospital slpping away I was telling him about Pokemon Black and White, all of the Wii stuff coming up like Goldeneye for Wii. He bought Company of Heroes to play with me just before, and an unopened copy of Red Alert 3 lay on his desk ready for us to play co-op together.

This week I was invited by his family to attend a memorial service a year on for those taken by Cystic Fibrosis. It was a very humbling experience, mostly because of people#s attitude towards religion. 5 or so years ago I was very much defiant against religion but now... not so much. I don't believe it myself, but the ceremony reminded me that as much as people can call it lies, brainwashing, stupidity and a force for evil (given everything that Christianity has caused) there is so much application of religion for good causes out there.

They talked about god in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, but they were people who had cared for people with this terminal illness, and consoled their families. If people need religion for comfort, or to spread good will then I am very much OK with that. I don't wish to hassle them with the same tired arguments about the faults of their religion. They had people of different religions, and even had a Buddhist monk speak.

Quote of the day: "You can't catch God in a net..."

Spiral Knights

Spiral Knights

Free to Play games are new to Steam, and who can say no to free? I tried Spiral Knights and I love it. Unlike a lot of the MMOs released Spiral Knights doesn't seem to be competing with WoW in the same way. It's much more of a casual game (though it can get really hard). The art style is very cute, and feels like a combination of Crystal Chronicles for Gamecube and Zelda.

Since it's free to play it doesn't matter how long it holds my interest so I won't give it a critical analysis. It's senseless. The game has been worth my time so far, and when it stops being worth it I will stop playing. Taking a casual approach to this kind of games helps rather than getting super invested.

Zelda Poster

Yet another design, yet another videogame inspiration, yet another tired art style. Delicious colour pallet though. Makes me hungry for some black cherry cheesecake. Day #168 of my daily design challenge, to celebrate the release of Ocarina of Time 3D for 3DS. I tried to go against the style of the game. Really tempted to go and buy one tomorrow and get this.

As always, love to read your comments.

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