Portfolio Links - Updated 24/7/2011

So I decided that I would create a post devoted to pooling some links for my portfolio. Peruse them if you're so inclined. 

I have been featured as a guest reviewer for Gaming Examiner (www.gamingexaminer.com) and have written two reviews for the site at the following links:

 http://www.gamingexaminer.com/might-and-magic-clash-of-heroes-review-guest-post/7180/

http://www.gamingexaminer.com/mortal-kombat-ps3-review/7443/

I was also recently given the position of News Editor for the website PSNStores (www.psnstores.com) where I have several news articles published. Here are some of the stories I've written for the site:

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/sony-earnings-report-also-details-full-cost-of-psn-hack/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/sony-japan-isp-hacked/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/new-assassins-creed-revelations-trailer-stabs-us-with-anticipation/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/stringer-fires-back-at-critics-over-psn-response/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/zoos-indiepub-label-releasing-storm-this-summer/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/sony-memos-state-that-ps-store-could-be-back-up-may-24th/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/giant-bombs-tnt-this-week-is-all-psn/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/mortal-kombat-online-passes-waived-until-store-is-back/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/grip-games-teases-something-epic/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/no-store-today-says-sony-psn-will-be-down-for-maintenance/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/are-you-ready-for-the-baconing/

http://www.psnstores.com/2011/05/grip-games-teases-with-more-details-on-one-epic-game-and-also-sends-a-teaser/

These are some articles which I have written for the Oxford Student Newspaper (the student newspaper of the University of Oxford in Oxford, UK www.oxfordstudent.com). These articles were written for the film section where I was a staff writer and later was the first online blogger for the section
 
http://oxfordstudent.com/2010/10/01/film-blog-summer-review/

http://oxfordstudent.com/2010/05/20/nothing-much-to-crowe-about/

Finally, my user reviews can be found under the “Reviews” tab of my user profile or at the following address:

http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/burn1n9m4n/reviews/

1 Comments

You're a loose cannon, Phelps! - My first impressions of LA Noire

As of this writing I just got done causing $118 in vehicle damage, $1100 in personal injuries, and $348 in city damage. But my rating for the case was 5 stars (out of a possible 5) and my actions have lead to a promotion from the traffic desk to homicide. 


I was initially on the fence about purchasing LA Noire as I knew that I was probably suffering from the effects of Day 1 syndrome coupled to just normal boredom until MK gets a patch to deal with some of the netcode issues (by the way I will be updating my review of MK shortly). Anyway, I bought LA Noire this afternoon and I can already say that the game is making me fall into the same patterns I fell into with Heavy Rain. While its true that I haven't gone back and replayed many of the cases I already have a good sense of things I need to do differently within each one after I screwed up. 

The world of 1947 LA is amazing. I can't get enough of it. The cars drive great, the sirens sound realistic, and gangsters will shoot at cops in broad fucking daylight all because one of those cops mouthed off to some low level mafia goomba. While the action in LA Noire takes a backseat to the investigative aspects of the game it is well scripted and fits in really nicely with the overall story. I also like how each case shifts and changes depending on questions that you ask correctly and the amount of evidence that you find. One of the early cases has you investigating a hit-and-run. I wandered around the area listening for the musical cues and managed to find a knife sitting in a trash can covered in blood. The corpse also had puncture wounds on his chest. But were those wounds caused by the hood ornament of the car that hit him or were they caused by a knife?

LA Noire is shaping up to be one of those games that plays on everything I love about noir crime thrillers. Cole Phelps feels like the classic detectives Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe with a hint of Bogart's Rick Blaine from Casablanca. I'll definitely be writing up a more extensive review for this after I finish it. Also on my agenda for this week I will be updating my Mortal Kombat review with some more material regarding the multiplayer content, but here's the one word review....laggy.
4 Comments

Anonymous issues a Press Release

First let me start by apologising if there is a forum topic for this already, but I didn't see anything on the forums regarding this and thought that I would post it up.

So the hacker group Anonymous has issued a new press release to debunk some things said in the Financial Times and issue some other statements regarding their take on the PSN outage and its effects on Sony. The group continues to claim its innocence in the PSN outage which has now gone on for more than 2 weeks. They even go on to assert that the hacker community at large is not responsible for this, but that it was Sony's own negligence in the matter which has lead to this point.  


In order to process credit cards, every company needs to be PCI compliant. “If you are a merchant that accepts payment cards, you are required to be compliant with the PCI Data Security Standard” [4]. Since Sony’s network was “unpatched and had no firewall installed” [5], that is a clear violation of the PCI standards and ongoing reviews [4], thus likely to be criminal negligence [see Further Reading]. More importantly, “I can’t think of a major data breach where the company was PCI compliant,” said Ira Rothken, the lead attorney handling the class action lawsuit [6].

The full press release can be read here. Of course a quick check of our forums here at Giant Bomb reveals that the comments by Dr. Spafford (They have misspelled his name to Stafford) to a Congressional Subcommittee regarding Sony's Apache Webserver may have been false. According to an article on bitmob (which was subsequently also posted on GB's forums) Sony was in fact running the update-to-date version of the Apache software. Also looking at the above quote from Anonymous's press release I'm also inclined to question the statement regarding the firewalls. Sony's own executives have stated that the website contained 3 separate parts each with firewalls between them

As this story has evolved its become increasingly harder to keep track of what the fuck has happened and all of the he said, she said stuff that has arisen. Regardless, one statement from Anonymous's press release certainly rings true regardless of your take on the matter:

Until the forensics reports are released we don’t know which exploit was used. The forensic investigators need to conclude their work, and speculation in articles, blogs and comments brings the factual results no closer.    

Still that doesn't stop me from keeping informed and providing information to all of you about this as well. So I'll continue to post blogs about it when I can and hopefully not double post something already on the forums. Sorry again if this was already posted, but I thought that these comments were interesting in light of the evidence against regarding Dr. Spafford's testimony.


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Some new info on the upcoming MK DLC

Playstation Life Style is currently reporting that some videos featuring new MK DLC characters and costumes have been leaked. They are not confirming as of this moment whether the videos (which have been embedded here) are real or not, but after looking at them myself I'm hard pressed to find anything about them that stands out as being fake. Up until now all that was known was that Skarlett and Kenshi were the first planned DLC characters for MK with more on the way soon. However, if these videos are to be believed we can probably expect the god of wind, Fujin to be joining them. The video for Fujin shows only a generic character model titled "DLC Basemale", but the announcer's voice at the character select screen distinctly says Fujin.   

  
In addition to this development, PSLS is also reporting that classic costumes for Cyrax and Sektor from Mortal Kombat 3 will also be available in the future as DLC. Whether these costumes are real or whether they will come with MK3 fatalities for those characters is also open to speculation.

  
The article also reports on some hearsay regarding how hackers have already unlocked Kenshi and Skarlett from the disc, but that their move lists are not filled in. It's not a surprise to anyone that the DLC is probably on the disc, but if these characters have been unlocked by people toying around with the files on the discs then it stands to reason that they will probably be filled out when the DLC is purchased. There are other rumors mentioned in the article concerning the presence of Goro, Kintaro, and Shao Kahn on the disc as playable characters with complete move lists and fatalities. From personal experience I can say that I have seen Kahn's fatality on the arcade ladder. However, at this time there is no evidence to indicate that any of these three will be offered as DLC but being able to play as bosses in a Mortal Kombat game isn't without precedent.

Again some of this is rumor, while other bits could perhaps be true given the video evidence. Personally I hope the bosses aren't playable, but I guess we'll have to wait and see.

*UPDATE* So it seems that a recent tweet from Ed Boon may also hint at the possibility for Rain and Reiko to be added in as DLC in the not too distant future.

RT @PrinceOJanet @noobde Fuck you and the rest of NRS. No Rain or Reiko,over it. Noobde: Do you know what DLC is?

 While this could just be Ed Boon retweeting yet another person's frustrations over his creation the fact that he does not deny that Rain and Reiko could be released for the game outright seems pretty telling. Especially since he would just say it isn't coming out as DLC in the tweet as he has done in the past with question regarding the possible inclusion of a Puzzle Kombat mode. Of course here are the obligatory links to Rain and Reiko.
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Bored at Work - So PSN this weekend?

So I'm bored here at work and its Friday so I'm trying to do as little as possible here at the moment. So my thoughts turned to the weekend and my plans of maybe getting some online time in with Mortal Kombat or Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes. Until I remembered that PSN is still down. There have been too many PSN blog updates and developments in the story to link to all of them here. Suffice it to say that the story is now well past the points I was initially talking about via this blog. Plus even if online comes back this weekend the store needs to come back up before I can redeem my online pass for MK. 


Anyway I think I'll probably play some Challenge Tower this weekend and see if I can make a real dent in that. Also if online comes back I'll play some CoH to get that last trophy I need to S-rank that sucker. Then maybe I'll finish Stacking since I'm on the last level and still haven't beaten it. What is everyone else playing this weekend? 
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Will Mortal Kombat Online be Working When PSN Comes Back?

There's a story currently rated the hottest story under the PS3 tab on N4G which links to Dutch website, PS3life.nl. Our fellow gamers in the Netherlands are speculating that even when PSN comes back up it may make redeeming of online codes that come bundled with Mortal Kombat impossible. I'm not sure whether they are also referring to pre-order DLC content, but they specifically mention online codes.


For those of you that don't know, MK contains an online pass which must be activated with each copy of the game in order to compete online. However, the US Playstation Blog post which mentions that PSN will be back online sometime this week (original post dated April 30th) also details the priority for services for the rollout (read: reboot) of PSN. In particular is bullet point one which states:

Restoration of Online game-play across the PlayStation®3 (PS3) and PSP® (PlayStation®Portable) systems     
-This includes titles requiring online verification and downloaded games

Its tough to determine if PS3life.nl have any credible sources for this information, but judging by the article (which has no English translation and is being fed to me via Google translate) I am inclined to think that the story is pure speculation. So you probably want to go with Sony's statement that when PSN comes back up it will reboot with online verification for your MK online passes if you haven't redeemed them already. Of course we're all going to have to wait for PSN to come back up to know for sure.
4 Comments

Taking a Break - More Mortal Kombat Impressions

This weekend was heavy with a lot of MK play for me. I decided that I would take a break to sit down and write another blog chronicling my impressions so far as PSN is still down and I refuse to issue a review for this game without testing the multiplayer. Because I want to be all professional and stuff. Anyway, in the last post I made mention of my displeasure over the structuring of the boss encounters both in the story campaign and in the arcade ladders. I voiced these impressions only to have it pointed out to me in the comments for that post that the boss encounters are designed to teach you to play a bit more conservatively and unlike the usual in-your-face, constant pressure play style of MK they are meant to test a different set of skills and, I guess, provide a slight puzzle element to the game's design.


It was also pointed out to me that while the story mode does not feature any character specific tutorials (a gripe that I personally levelled against the game), the Challenge Tower of the game acts as an extended tutorial mode which periodically makes you change characters in order to complete further challenges. I've almost finished the first third of the tower (assuming that there are 300 challenges in all as I am to understand). While some of them seem like just interesting mini-games some of them are structured in order to take advantage of the specific character that you're playing in a way that you may not have tried before. More often than not, this comes down to using a move with a character that you had not considered. Not using a different move and attempting to play each challenge the same way will more often than not result in a fairly frustrating experience. However, testing out different moves and exploring what each character does makes the challenges seem to fly by a bit quicker.

After spending some more time with the game and really getting my head around how its structured I now see that there is something truly amazing under MK's hood. In order to describe it I have to use a word which is often unassociated with Mortal Kombat. That word is subtlety. In a game where blood spills out of every character with each and every hit, damage is persistent and shows on the character models in the form of bruises and cuts, and finishing moves result in someone having an award statuette shoved in what used to be their neck in the place where their head used to be, subtlety is not the word that any MK fan would probably use to describe it. However, those are all overt elements. The elements that I'm talking about are the ones that you feel. As an example I recently completed a challenge where Cyrax is fighting Raiden, with you in control of Cyrax. The objective is to beat your opponent. Sounds easy right? Of course, the catch is that with each second your movement speed decreases by 1%. Considering that it will probably take you 30 seconds at least to beat your opponent, you'll already be moving at only 2/3's the speed. By the end of the match it looks like you're fighting on the moon as Cyrax moves very slowly. Its at this point that you try to rely on what Cyrax has in his arsenal in order to compensate for the loss in movement speed. So you try his dial-a-kombos (probably the easiest combos in the game to pull off as most are just  3 button presses with no directional components). However, you soon find that the wind-up time for kombos is very long as the timer ticks down. This leaves you vulnerable to attacks from Raiden who is unaffected by the slow down. 

At first, I exhibited some frustration at this. I tried jump kicking, blocking, and attacking again. I also tried komboing but was still not really having any luck. Finally I realized that the most obvious answer from Cyrax was staring me in the face. His net. Using the net in that challenge is great as it allows you to close the distance to your opponent despite the slow-down and also lets you get some shots in before he can recover. That fight also does a good job of letting you know the effective combat range for the net and why you probably shouldn't be pulling off net grabs from full screen. If any of you played Cyrax in MK3 or any MK game prior to this one, you may remember that when Cyrax used his net it dragged the opponent back towards him. Effectively it was like Scorpion's spear in that it brought the opponent to you and closed the distance. In this game, the net does not move. Rather you have to get to the net before it dissolves to take advantage of your opponent's immobilization. So staying close is a good way to make sure you'll be able to make that opening count. Additionally, it also gives you a chance to test out comboing Cyrax's teleport with the net for quick movement around the arena.

While this is a lesson that is pretty essential for this particular challenge, its also applicable to most, if not all, of the other projectile attacks in the game. Playing through the Challenge Tower has given me a much deeper respect for what NetherRealm is attempting to accomplish in terms of the game's design. I get it. Perhaps I was letting my impressions of what occurs in the story mode color my judgement of the rest of the game. However, in this case I am happy to have been proven wrong. 

Other than doing Challenge Mode stuff I've also been playing the arcade ladder with each character one at a time. I'm more than halfway through the character roster in terms of completion. Its pretty cool how each ending contains some voice over narration and motion-graphic style visuals. After playing through the story it seems weird to see some of the endings that have come up in arcade mode (Nightwolf's ending in particular is pretty dark), but I like how they are continuing in the tradition of character specific endings for each of the fighters. Perhaps in retrospect I shouldn't have played story mode first. While it is a cool way to experience the lore of MK (if there is such a thing...), it sadly doesn't really give you a good tutorial on how to use the characters that you take control of as it progresses. In a way, and I know this is going to sound weird, maybe the best way to gain an understanding of each of the characters is to go through the basic  tutorials, and then the Challenge Tower, and then mess around on the arcade mode ladder. I guess that would be my advice after seeing EpicSteve's post regarding his frustrations in beating the story mode. I almost don't have the heart to tell him that that's only the first time you encounter Shao Khan and is certainly not the last.  Moreover, its also not the last 1v2 match you have in the game. Still I'm really enjoying it and am finding cool stuff with each character that can string together to make some basic bread and butter combos for easy use. Can't wait to test some of it out online. 

I really hope PSN comes back soon. I'm starting to exhaust the single player stuff and given how repetitive it is playing against the AI its starting to get kinda boring. Also I think that my go to characters are going to be Scorpion, Kung Lao, Ermac, and Noob. Anyone have any good tips for using them? Again I've found some moves that string together for some easy combos and can pull off many of their dial-a-kombos, but some advice would be appreciated.
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Catherine Deluxe Edition Announced

Games with weird plots seem to be coming and possibly in threes. Cargo! The Quest for Gravity was recently posted in a Quick Look here on the site. Some of you may also remember the demo of Catherine, a new puzzle-platformer with adult themes from Atlus was also made into its own Quick Look. However, as Jeff said there is indeed an American version of Catherine coming out and its deluxe edition contents have been detailed as well the pre-order bonuses. 


ShoptoNews is reporting that the pre-order bonus is the same regardless of whether you buy the vanilla copy of the game or the deluxe edition and contains an 11 song soundtrack and art book. But its the deluxe edition you're all interested in, so let me get to showing the picture and listing the contents.

The game's deluxe edition contains the following:
  • An “Empty Hearts” T-shirt
  • Vincent’s boxers
  • A Catherine Pillowcase
  • A Stray sheep pizza box
  • A copy of the game    

Let me draw your attention to the second to last item. A pizza box? Really? That's what constitutes deluxe edition content these days? Jesus Atlus, did you have to go all the way to Domino's Inc. to get the boxes or did you order them yourself?! Never mind the boxers and the pillowcase! This bizarre game in both its normal and its 'Love is Over' deluxe edition will be on store shelves in the US on July 26th. That's it....I've got nothing else to say.
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Mortal Kombat - My Initial Impressions

After PSN broke down, Easter weekend, and the Royal Wedding I have managed to weather the storm of UK bank holidays to finally get my copy of Mortal Kombat in the mail. I have the PS3 version of the game which is pretty sweet and I should have a more comprehensive user review of the game up soon as PSN is still down and I want to take a look at multiplayer before I write it up. In the meantime, I've been amusing myself with the single player offerings packed within. 


Playing through MK's story mode gives you a great appreciation for how Boon and his boys at NetherRealm Studios have taken the time to painstakingly take MK back to its roots. All of your favorite aspects to the 2-D combat are there from Dan Forden's 'Toasty!' to Scorpion's 'Get over here!' The transitions between cutscene to fight and back again occur with no load times. Though there is at least one moment (in about the third act of the story) where the audio hitches up a bit and the subtitle timing gets thrown off, but these are minor issues to a game that is otherwise pitch perfect in terms of its presentation. 

But there are some flaws nonetheless with MK's gameplay  that, given how well put together it is, stand out due to the stark contrast with the rest of the content. As an example, every fighter, regardless of your personal preferences or go-to characters, is engineered to not just feel different, but also play strongly in the hands of a player that has an adequate grasp of kombos and move sets. This being said, its sad that MK's bosses don't test your skill (you like what I did there?) more than your ability to recognize patterns and moves with your chosen fighter that allow you to cheese your way through a boss fight. The most notorious of these fights is none other than Shao Kahn who is the end boss (no surprise there!) for both the story mode and the arcade ladders. While I suppose it could be said that the story mode tests your ability to adapt and use different characters as the narrative progresses, ultimately the boss fights you face always fall into the pattern recognition trap. Its a real shame, especially when one considers this with respect to the amount of time, thought, and care that went into the rest of the game's production. 

Another design choice that I take issue with is the lack of any real character based tutorials within the story mode. Indeed, the general game tutorial gives a pretty good overview of the two main modes of play, 1-on-1 kombat and 2-on-2 tag kombat, while also introducing the basic moves available for first time fighting gamers. Unfortunately, that's pretty much where the tutorializing ends unless you count the character specific fatality trainer. Something character specific would have been fantastic in the context of the story mode. As the game progresses you are dumped cold into a new fighter as you make your way chapter by chapter for the 16 chapter long story mode. During the course of the 4-5 hour long story campaign there are no real tutorials or hints given as to how to play some of the new characters as you take control of them. This can be a huge problem especially when confronted with kombatants that move much faster than your current fighter or take advantage of the weaknesses in your character. Further to this, certain battles in the story mode require you to take on tag teams with only one character. One particular fight setup this way that gave me a huge amount of frustration was a fight where you have control of Cyber Sub-Zero and have to fight a tag team consisting of Goro and Kintaro. Then again, I suppose that I may have been making that battle harder on myself than I should have, as that fight again goes back to the pattern recognition game that you have to play with respect to all of the game's boss characters. 

Now while I haven't played online yet I have heard a lot about how Smoke and Scorpion are used predominantly by players. Initially, I thought that this was due to the fact that Smoke and Scorpion are really popular amongst MK enthusiasts. However, upon closer inspection and a playthrough of the story mode it seems that the real reason they are used so much is that both have a teleport punch, a means of closing distance with an opponent very quickly, and both have a limited set of moves that are very intuitive to utilize. Additionally, the dial-a-kombos for both Scorpion and Smoke appear to be easier than most of the other characters in the game. My last complaint with the story is that you never get to play as any of the fighters from Outworld or from Shao Kahn's personal forces. Now, I can realize the narrative reasons for this, but it doesn't really help later on when people want to jump online. One of my favorite characters, Ermac, is also one that I'm struggling to master because his juggle kombos are absolutely insane. However without any real tutorial or hints on how to use him effectively, I find myself at a bit of a loss regarding how to string together some of his more powerful attacks into the devastating kombos that I know his character is capable of doing. 

I will admit that these thoughts are my initial impressions having not played online yet. Also I suppose that I should mention that MK is the first fighting game in a very long time that I've actually decided to take the time to master and get good at. To be completely honest, my list of fighting games that I have mastered can be counted on one hand and in the grand scheme either played differently or are not considered to be seminal titles within the genre (Masters of Teräs Käsi anyone?). In fact, the last fighting game I played really seriously was Super Smash Bros. on the N64. So against human opponents, who also may be better fighting game players, I have no idea where my skills stack up. I'm curious to see how badly I get my ass handed to me when I step into the online arena with total strangers. I'm also curious to see how match making works as I will be entering that arena with a completely clean record. Needless to say, MK has an exceptional amount of content for its single player experience that I can barely scratch the surface of here. That content is very well put together, but is partially marred by either some strange design choices that scream that NetherRealm decided to take the easy way out or that lack any real thought at all with respect to player experiences. Still it does say something that I own it and am still playing it despite these shortcomings. I'll have a full review of this up later once PSN is back up and I can really have a go at the online.    
5 Comments

Do you like Gnoosic? - Learn about new bands thanks to AI!

Considering what happened to our beloved Whiskey Media not too long ago I can imagine that many of you would be a bit hesitant to trust an AI. I assure you though that Gnoosic is an interesting application that (for the moment at least) seems pretty harmless. However, it does learn more everyday so stay vigilant, as Sony would say, and watch out for what could be a burgeoning GLaDOS.


Simply put, gnod (as its referred to) is a website that asks its visitors what they like and don't like and is able to make suggestions based on those answers. The weblink provided leads to a music search engine which seems to be the most complete of the databases. From the website:

Gnod is a self-adapting system that learns about the outer world by asking its visitors what they like and what they don't like. In this instance of gnod all is about music. Gnod is kind of a search engine for music you don't know about. It will ask you what music you like and then think about what you might like too. 
 
The project was created by Marek Gibney of Hamburg, Germany and is actually pretty good. My own test with the music engine gave me a recommendation for the band Bit Shifter after I told it that I liked Anamanaguchi, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and Jon Black and the Winter Hearts. Not bad Gnod...not bad. Still I find myself hesitant as Gibney further states "When I set gnod online its database was completely empty. Now it contains thousands of bands and quite some knowledge about who likes what. And gnod learns more every day."

Maybe I'm just being paranoid. What could possibly go wrong trusting an AI that learns based on our likes and dislikes? Its not like it will use its own programming and figure out that it doesn't like humans right?
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