If I had to pick one aspect of my life to define myself, I'd tell people that I was a writer. For a long time now, I've wanted nothing more than to become a published author. Not a popular author, mind - I have no interest in attaining the same status as people like Dan Brown or J. K. Rowling. The appeal lies more in the creation of something that other people can pick up and enjoy. The thought of putting something real and physical out there into shops and onto shelves is really appealing to me. Probably because it carries the notion that, even when I'm no longer a part of this world, I'll live on through the words I've written, and in the minds of people who've read those words.
Over the last few years, I've been building up the backstory to what will most likely be my first attempt at a proper fantasy novel. I've been toying with the concept for quite some time now, and I finally think things are beginning to reach a point where they constitute a full plan for a book. Things have changed considerably since the initial idea began to take root in the back of my mind. Old plot ties have been severed to make way for new ones. New characters have emerged to take the place of their older counterparts. Locations have been built from the ground up, demolished and rebuilt in a completely different fashion. This constant evolution has formed the basis of my creative thought process over the last few years, often to the point where I start to eat, sleep and breathe the fruits of my own invention. What I'm doing is, by my understanding, not too dissimilar to the process of creating a story-driven video game. Just like a novel, a game that intends to spin an interesting yarn will rely on realising its characters and its setting, as well as conveying the plot itself.
As I near the end of this preliminary stage and begin to think about the transition from concept into product, one thing in particular has been bothering me. I can only describe it as a by-product of being the over-protective parent of such a piece of work - a worry that I might send the result of my labour out into the world unprepared. The way I see it, with fantasy writing in particular, the success of what one writes is determined by its believability relative to our own world. The world that a fantasy writer creates has to be cohesive, and compliant with its own laws. Suspension of disbelief is a necessary aspect of fantasy, but it can only be relied on up to a point. To put it in simpler terms, it's ok to create a world where lemonade is a fuel source, as long as you back it up by adapting your world to fit - it's not going to be quite as plausible if your world doesn't have any means of sustainable lemon production. My biggest concern is that the world I've created around the story I want to tell might not be cohesive enough.
So, over the last year or so I've been looking at the books I've read as a reference point. I've gone back to writers like Philip Pullman and J.R.R. Tolkien, writers who've created worlds that I've been both lost in and inspired by. I've also taken great care when reading new books to see how authors succeed in creating a believable, working reality different from our own. But, it's not just books that have to do this (here comes that video gamey relevance again!). Game developers also have to ensure that the worlds they create are believable - maybe even more so, considering we are not just a spectator of their reality, but an inhabitant and participant in it.With the release of games like BioShock, Grand Theft Auto IV and Metal Gear Solid 4, we're starting to see more and more games succeed in portraying believable worlds with their own mechanics, politics and history.
Story-telling in games has had a profound effect on me. Arguably more so than the vast majority of people who play games, I'd go as far as to say. The big one, however controversial it may prove, was Final Fantasy VII. To this day, FFVII remains one of my favourite games, and that's predominantly due to the influence it had on me when I first played it nine years ago. Before being exposed to FFVII, my experiences in the world of video games had been limited to the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog and Crash Bandicoot. These games featured slivers of narratives, but their stories were essentially only there to validate the actual gameplay. By contrast, FFVII's story and characters were the focus of the game. It completely changed my perspective on games in general, showing me the potential of the medium as a storyteller. What impressed me most, though, was the canon and history surrounding the game's main story that diligent players could unearth as they played through the game. It's the presence of this parerga within the game that really gave the world of FFVII a sense of credibility and made the events that unfolded throughout the story's progression even more believable (for me, anyway).
If you keep up with what I've been playing recently, you'll notice that the list is currently dominated by three sizeable RPGs - namely Fallout 3, Lost Odyssey, and Pokémon Crystal. Each of these three games contains a multitude of auxiliary content that helps to flesh out their world and make it more cohesive, and thus more believable. Fallout 3's backstory is arguably more interesting than the plot of its main quest, giving an insight into life before the bombs fell. Fabricated brands like Nuka Cola and the Ford Nucleon-inspired car skeletons littered around the Capital Wasteland convey the history of a world that was heavily reliant on nuclear power before it was destroyed by it. Lost Odyssey's world can be drawn on a parallel with our own thanks to the comparative energy crisis it experiences, and this is all thanks to the careful attention writers must have paid to the concept of Magic Energy. The fantasy world of the Pok émon games is made more plausible by the inclusion of related paraphernalia such as Poké Balls, not to mention the presence of fictional authority systems like the Pokémon League. It's the attention to detail in each of these examples that makes the game worlds feel "complete".
To take one final example, let's have a look at a recent promotional video for the new Grand Theft Auto IV downloadable content, The Ballad of Gay Tony.
The ad makes liberal use of an in-game brand, which in itself is a parody of a real world brand. The 'Sprunk' name is a tiny part of what makes GTAIV's Liberty City so believable as a parody of the real-world New York City. I think it's pretty safe to say that if Rockstar didn't build up all this supporting content in the form of consumer brands, television programmes and radio shows (to name just a few examples), GTAIV as a game would feel like a very hollow experience.
The last year and a half has been a truly enlightening experience from an authorial perspective. Playing games like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Dead Space, and the first two Oddworld titles has provided me with an insight into how to make my world more believable by creating supporting content and integrating it into the world. In tandem, reading books like Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and Thomas More's Utopia has given me a great insight into how to integrate that supporting content into the narrative I'll be writing. I've reached a point where I'm feeling more comfortable with the way my concept is shaping up than I've ever done before, and I think that I'll be ready to actually start working on the novel itself in the very near future.
I think that's all I've got to say at this moment in time. For anybody who might be interested, I'm setting up a separate blog where I intend to pour out all my more authorial ramblings as I get well and truly stuck into the writing process which can be found here. I know it's devoid of content right now, but I expect it to get pretty active as we head into 2010 and the writing gets underway proper. For those of you who read my Giant Bomb blog, fear not - I won't be leaving the GB Blogosphere, and you'll still be able to find regular games-related updates here. Those of you who couldn't care less probably stopped reading about halfway into the second chapter, so I shan't offer you any parting words. To all you others, thanks a lot for taking the time to read this pretty sizeable (and probably largely nonsensical) blog post. If you have any recommendations regarding games that go a great job of realising their worlds, let me know - I'd love to investigate more of them. Take care, and I'll see you around.
Hey guys. Just another quick update for now. I'm sorry this blog isn't more substantial, I promise some pretty lengthy, interesting entries are on their way. I've just been a little busy with University over the last week, and a nasty bout of head cold didn't exactly help matters either. Next week will bring more meaningful content, I promise.
I decided to return to the Capital Wasteland earlier this week. A major factor in this was my coming into a nice helping of Microsoft Points, which I used to flesh out my collection of Fallout 3 downloadable content. Now I have all five add-ons, I think this is the best possible time to jump back into Bethesda's post-apocalyptic open-world RPG. I'm steering clear of the main quest line for now in favour of finishing up some of the side quests early on. My speech-focused character is currently Level 8, and I'm endeavouring to stay at the good end of the Karma spectrum. I'm just about to embark on the quest 'Blood Ties'.
Just because I'm diving into yet another lengthy RPG doesn't mean I've forgotten about this one. Lost Odyssey is still seeing a fair amount of playtime. I've just emerged from the Ice Canyon at the start of Disc 3. My party's average level is about 32.
A pretty cool "game" that converts your Rock Band drums into a more conventional digital drum kit. You can configure the kit in any way you fancy, and even play along to the songs on your 360's hard drive. This should ensure I keep on top of my drumming, and at 80 Points, it was a steal.
I've always had a soft spot for retro arcade shooters, although I don't play them very often. Geometry Wars cost me 400 Points and offers a fiendishly difficult (and fiendishly addictive) dual stick shooter.
Despite already owning a copy of this as part of the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, I went ahead and spent 400 Points on a second version of what I deem to be the best 2D platformer I've ever played.
I've always been a big fan of the Worms franchise, and a remake of the game that started it all for a mere 400 points isn't something I could pass up.
In other news, my mum sent me some pictures of our new dog earlier today. Longtime readers may remember that we lost our last dog back in March to a sudden and aggressive illness. Well, my parents got a new dog just after I moved into my new flat in August. Her name is Mya, and she's seventeen weeks old. She's half border collie and half Alaskan malamute, so she's going to get pretty big. For now, though, she's one of the cutest little bundles of fluff I've ever set eyes on. Here are some photos. Anyone who disagrees clearly isn't human.
Once again, sorry for the lack of any real content to this blog. As I said, expect some compensation next week. Take it easy, and I'll see you around.
So let's get down to business. I've been playing loads of games lately. I mean loads. I don't think I've had this many on the go for quite a while. Usually, I would go to the trouble of paragraphing this kind of information, but I've just noticed that lists can be imported into blog posts, and I'm quite curious to see how that works. Let's see how this pans out...
...Wow, it worked! Ok, here's what I'm playing right now:
For a more detailed explanation on why Forza 2 continues to occupy my 360's disc drive, I'd recommend checking out this blog. It's starting to get a little laborious now, but at present my stats sheet indicates I'm at Driver Level 48, with a career completion percentage of 89% All that's left to take care of are two Factory Spec championships, five Professional Series championships, and four Endurance Races. To be honest, though, I'm kinda burned out on Forza. I think I'll be steering clear of it in favour of...
I'm not entirely sure why, but I impulse-downloaded Gran Turismo for my PSP yesterday. After some extensive playtime last night and earlier today during a two-hour gap in my university schedule, I've formulated enough of an opinion on the game to write this review of it. As I've only just started, I currently only own seven of the game's database of 830 cars. From what I've played so far, I like it, and I think it's the best way GT could have possibly gone portable.
To be honest this is the only game on the list that I haven't played much of recently. I'm still really enjoying it, it's just gotten a little lost at the bottom of this monstrous pile. On the off chance you're looking for a more detailed account of my opinion of Lost Odyssey, you'll find in the blog linked above. I'm at pretty much the start of Disc 3, working my way through the Ice Canyon, with a party at the average level of 32. I'm hoping to put a little more time into this over the weekend while my girlfriend's away.
I played Pok émon Yellow earlier this year and loved the hit of nostalgia it gave me. Inspired to continue on the Pok émon train, I picked up a copy of Crystal and began my journey through Johto. Right now I'm training my team before I take on the Gym Leader at Olivine City. I have five badges, and according to my Pok édex I've caught 92 different kinds of Pok émon.
This is probably the most on-and-off game on this list. I've opted not to pick up a copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 just yet, preferring to spend some extra time with PES2009 and actually complete the Master League. The plan's not going too smoothly though - I'm playing it so sparingly that I'm still in my first season, about halfway up the table in Division 2.
I bought this along with a drum controller in a bid to keep drumming while I'm at university, so I don't completely forget myself the next time I'm behind a drum kit. It looks like it's going to serve that purpose. Being a big rock fan, the song list is great and features a lot of awesome tracks, including some that my band covers, so I feel right at home playing them. The drums are surprisingly similar to the real thing, despite the limitations of four pads. As long as it prevents me from losing my sense of timing and keeps my arms loose, It'll have served its purpose. The huge amount of fun is a definite bonus.
This is probably the game I've spent most time playing over the last week or so. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's taking over my life. The quirky characters and cute characters have an uncanny ability to draw you in, and the gardening gameplay is surprisingly addictive. It even managed to grip my girlfriend, so much so that I had to convince her to buy the DS version so I could get my 360 back. I think I'm going to be contending with Professor Pester for quite a long time to come.
So that's what's been going on game-wise. In other news...
I'm back at university proper now, studying for my second year of an English Language and Literature course. I'm studying some really awesome texts this year for the literature component, some of which I really can't wait to read. Right now I'm reading Thomas More's Utopia (as referenced in the title of this blog), and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Later in the year I'll be looking at texts like John Milton's Paradise Lost, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, and (this is the one I'm looking forward to most) Italo Calvino's If On A Winter's Night A Traveller. The language component is looking pretty interesting too; I've chosen to focus on phonology and semantics this year.
On Tuesday I bumped into a guy from my hometown on campus. This would be shocking enough on its own, given I was the only person from my hometown at Essex last year, but it's made even more freaky by the fact that I used to be pretty good friends with this guy. Very scary stuff.
My girlfriend continues to be awesome. On Monday (my busiest day), I came home to find the flat clean. She then cooked me dinner, did all the washing up, and encouraged me to spend the evening on my 360. I genuinely believe I'm the luckiest guy on the planet. If you're reading this, Karen, you need to stop being so amazing. You're making me look bad.
I got The Black Crowes' new album, Before The Frost.../...Until The Freeze, last week, and I think it's safe to say that my award for Album of the Year is signed, sealed and delivered. Also of note were The Enemy's Music For The People and Kasabian's West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. To be honest, a lot of the music I was looking forward to this year has disappointed me greatly (here's looking at you, Muse and Editors), so it's nice to have something solid by one of my favourite bands to restore some of my faith in modern music.
I think that pretty much covers it all. I'm going out in about half an hour with my girlfriend to an alternative night on campus. I'm not particularly looking forward to it, given that most of the music they play at these nights tends to be awful, but considering I'm a student it's been far too long since I last tasted beer so I intend to rectify that. Take it easy, guys. I'll see you around.
My Xbox 360 has been stolen by my girlfriend. After watching me play Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise, she asked me if she could have a go last night. In the last twenty-four hours, she's assumed total control of the console, has obtained a bigger garden than I have, attracted more types of pinata than I have, and even earned more Achievement points than I have. This morning she told me she even dreamt she was a pinata last night. Meanwhile I'm in bed, playing Pokémon Crystal and watching her get almost literally sucked into the game as she moves closer and closer to the screen. I'm just praying that I can persuade her to give up the controller for half an hour so I can watch Harry Hill's TV Burp before she gets back to the landscaping and breeding. My girlfriend always thought she'd lose me to games. I never anticipated it could happen the other way round.
Also, for those of you who aren't aware, Giant Bomb now has a spoiler button integrated into its text editor. You can use it to hide spoilers from view. I can't divulge my opinion of the new feature, in case I reveal any spoilers.
Hey guys. Another day, another set of demo impressions to get off my chest. There's also some other stuff, both game-related and not. Dig in and enjoy!
Forza Motorsport 3 Demo Impressions
Today the Forza Motorsport 3 demo became available for Xbox LIVE Silver members to download. As a fan of the franchise, I decided to momentarily put off my quest for 100% completion in the second game and check out the teaser for Turn 10's latest racing sim. I took each of the five demo cars for a spin round the one track on offer, checked out some of the new features and have come back to the blogosphere with some formulated opinions to share.
Graphical enhancements - I always felt that the graphical leap between the original Forza and its sequel was negligible and that Forza 2 never really looked like a next-generation racing game. In fact, I'd even go as far as to say that Gran Turismo 4 looked better than Forza 2. The difference between Forzas 2 and 3, however, is beyond noticeable. The cars look significantly better, but it's the demo's sole track that really shows the improvements made. If the whole game looks as amazing as the demo, then Forza 3 could well be the most gorgeous racing game around when it hits shelves this month.
New options - I spent some time with all the available options in Forza 3 and I'm very impressed. While it's nice to see the old racing line make a triumphant return, it's the rewind feature in particular that I like most. It's really non-intrusive, meaning players will be able to use it as much or as little as they want. Serious racers will no doubt use it to nail those tricky corners flawlessly, while players like me will find it invaluable in endurance race scenarios should they skid off the track and smash into a wall on that crucial penultimate lap.
Interior view - I've never been a fan of first-person views in racing games because although they offer a better sense of speed, they don't really convey the feel of being in a car. As a consequence, ever since the original Gran Turismo, I've always opted for third-person cameras in racing games. Forza 3's first-person view remedies this issue because it's situated inside the car. While it may take a little while to get used to controlling cars from the new perspective, Forza 3 may be the first time I switch to a first-person camera when playing a racing sim.
Underwhelming damage modelling - I don't know about anyone else, but after the teaser trailers from E3 I was expecting the damage modelling in Forza 3 to be a little closer to the kind seen in GRID. While the game does deliver on the promise of being able to roll cars over, the rest of the physical damage modelling doesn't seem to have made any advances since Forza 2. The end result is pretty underwhelming.
Limited demo content - I know it's a demo, but I was expecting a little more teaser content. The five available cars offer a pretty fair representation of all the different types of cars we'll probably be seeing in the final game, but it would have been nice to have checked out one or two more tracks so I could get a better idea of what to expect in that respect.
Ultimately, Forza 3 looks like a step in the right direction for the series. I'm a little disappointed by the damage modelling, but I love the way the game looks and feels. I wish I knew more about how the single-player portion of the game is going to unfold, because that's what is ultimately going to determine whether Forza 3 is a must-buy or not. I guess it's just a case of watch this space.
In Other News...
In terms of what I've been playing recently, not much has changed besides my decision to start playing Pokémon Crystal. I've just reached Violet City and I'm in the process of putting together a starting team to take on the first gym. In a twist of awesomeness, a friend of mine has an old GameBoy Color and a link cable lying around which he's willing to lend me, meaning I can transfer my collection of critters from Pokémon Yellow over when I reach the appropriate point in Crystal. I've also been doing some window shopping online and I'm thinking about treating myself to a copy of Rock Band along with a drum controller when my student loan magics its way into my bank account next week. Truth be told I'm finding it really difficult to re-adjust to life without being able to play drums, and I figured that picking up a copy of the original Rock Band and a drum controller on the cheap would be able to quench my thirst for drumming. I've managed to find a copy of the game and a drum controller for a total of £30 brand new, so I'll probably order them both when my loan comes through next Thursday.
In news not related to games, I've had a pretty damn good few days. My girlfriend and I finally have some neighbours that have moved into the house our flat is attached to. Magnus, Hanna, Maria and A. N. Other are all from Norway and we're really looking forward to getting to know them. The jury is still out on whether or not any of them play games, but I'll be sure to keep you posted as the situation develops. Yesterday I applied for a part-time job as a Student Caller with my university, and while I won't know anything until the end of this month I'm feeling pretty confident about that. I also got hold of my timetable for this year, only to discover that I was scheduled to have six continuous hours of lectures and seminars on a Monday from 9 'til 3. Thankfully the people in the Literature department pulled some strings and my Monday is now down to four hours. The way my timetable's arranged, I have Wednesdays and Fridays completely free. The big fat cherry on top of this enormous cake is in the form of my student loan, confirmation of which came through yesterday. Turns out I'm eligible for about £100 more per term than I initially thought. Things are looking very good for the next few months.
I think I've exhausted all I have to say, so I guess all that remains for me to do is to thank you for reading this blog. Take it easy guys, I'll see you around.
Hey guys! This blog, I figured I'd focus more on the games (what with this being a games site and all). So I have some demo impressions to share with you all, followed by an update on what I've been playing recently.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 Demo Impressions
I've been a fan of the Pro Evolution Soccer games more or less since the franchise's inception. I own and have extensively played every instalment in the series, both alone and in the company of friends. As such, I feel like I'm a pretty good candidate to provide some opinions on the demo of the latest iteration (Pro Evolution Soccer 2010), which hit Xbox LIVE last week. Instead of writing up an extensive mini-review, I'm going to stick with simple pro and con bullet points just like I did when I played The Lost & Damned. In fact, I think I might make this a regular occurrence with anything I download from LIVE, whether it be a demo or DLC.
Improved player control - One of my biggest issues with PES2009 was the rigid player control, which seemed to be stuck in eight planes. This feels like it's been addressed in PES2010, because players seem to be a lot more manoeuvrable. It's not 360-degree dribbling by any means, but it does give a great deal more freedom and, for the first time in the series, makes the analog stick feel like a more viable control option.
Better off-the-ball movement - AI-controlled players seemed to have a little more sense of spacial awareness than they did last year. Off-the-ball, players appeared to be better at looking for and getting into space, which made the execution of attacking moves (particularly counter-attacks) feel a bit more intuitive than it has been in the past.
Improved visuals - Maybe it's just me, but the game seems to be a big step up on last year from a visual standpoint. Player likenesses are much-improved, and the stadia seem to look better as well. Everything and everyone looked a little less... plasticky, I suppose.
Better loading times - One thing I did notice was the practical absence of a loading time when transitioning from the pre-match settings menu into the match itself. I don't know if that's just because it's a demo, but it was nice to get straight into the action without any annoying transitional screens.
Awful presentation - The menus in this demo version of the game are simply hideous, even more so than last year in my opinion. The pre-match settings menu is nigh-on unnavigable. I think that the developers hit on the right menu aesthetics with PES4's crisp, clean menus, and it's a shame to have seen them take so many steps back since then. In the demo's defence, though, the actual formation settings screen looks better than it's ever done. Swings and roundabouts, I guess.
No Post-Demo Information - Normally, when you finish playing a demo, a few screens will pop up telling you what extra things to expect from the finished product. PES2010 had none of these, which leaves me rather unsure as to what improvements might have been made off-the-pitch. Are there any tweaks to be expected for the Master League and Become A Legend modes? I guess we won't know until the full game hits.
I think that just about covers all my opinions. By and large, it feels like a new Pro Evo game, which is fine in my book because I've never expected Seabass' development team to re-invent the wheel. I probably won't be picking it up on release, but that's more to do with money issues than because of any beef I had with the demo. Plus, I'm still pretty engrossed in last year's entry. I'll definitely be picking it up at some point in the next twelve months, though.
I've been playing a few games recently. Here's a quick update on what's going on with everything I currently have on the go.
I've been having a hell of a lot of fun with Lost Odyssey. I've just moved on to Disc 3 with my party's average level at 31, and I'm absolutely loving the game. In particular my praise has to be directed at the game's gripping combat, which has hooked me in a way that I haven't felt since I played Final Fantasy VII for the first time nine years ago. The sheer level of strategy that goes into any given battle is immense. Being able to switch rings and accessories on the fly keeps things interesting, and the implementation of the Guard Condition system adds a whole new layer to depth to what could otherwise be dismissed as yet another game with turn-based random encounters. The game has some seriously amazing boss battles, too; personally I'd go as far as to say the best boss battles of any JRPG I've played to date. Away from the combat the game holds itself together well, with gorgeous visuals and some surprisingly good voice acting for a Japanese import. The story is surprisingly engaging too thanks to the presence of the Thousand Years Of Dreams, which are so well written that a couple have almost moved me to tears. The pace may be a little on the slow side, but after spending well over a month in the company of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, it charges along by comparison. I can't wait to pour more time into this incredible JRPG, which I genuinely believe is the game I've been waiting for ever since I finished Final Fantasy X.
A bit of a strange one, this. At the start of September I felt myself hankering to play a first-generation Pokémon game. Having never really given it a chance due to my loyalty to the Blue version, I decided to give Pokémon Yellow a spin. I'm really glad I did. With the ability to pick up all three of the original starter Pokémon from Red and Blue over the course of the game, combined with the slightly steeper difficulty curve, it felt like a more complete experience. I ended up training a team consisting of Pikachu, Venusaur, Charizard, Blastoise, Sandslash and Hypno, caught a total of eighty-four different kinds of Pokémon, and managed to best the Elite Four after forty-five hours of gameplay. At some point in 2007 I played through Pokémon LeafGreen, and while it was a pretty faithful reconstruction of the original games, it didn't have that charm that accompanies nostalgia. Thankfully, that was something the Yellow version was able to deliver. The limited colour palettes, the primitive audio, the original translation... There's just something about the original GameBoy games that can't be replicated in a remake. Playing Yellow has rekindled my appreciation for the franchise, and has encouraged me to check out a game in the second generation of the franchise. Given how complete Yellow felt as a package, I'm feeling inclined to go with Crystal in the hope it will deliver the definitive second generation Pokémon experience.
Forza Motorsport 2
Ihave very mixed feelings about this. I think Forza 2 is an incredible game with a hell of a lot going for it. It looks amazing, it plays really well, and offers just the right mix of racing and customisation that I've come to expect from the personally-dubbed 'car porn' subgenre of racing simulators. It offers a range of different difficulty options, ensuring that anybody (even someone as terrible at racing games as myself) can have a good time with it. On the other hand, though, I hate Forza 2 with a passion. As with every racing game that's come before it, and almost certainly every racing game that will come after it, Forza 2 has an uncanny ability to stimulate the part of my brain that secretes completionist hormones. In layman's terms, Forza 2 has a hold on me that won't loosen until my game completion percentage reads 100%. The presence of achievements makes matters even worse, because I know that completing all the races and achieving that 100% statistic would net me a substantial amount of Gamerscore and probably turn Forza 2 into my first A rank on Giant Bomb. With my current driver level at 46 and my percentage sitting at a solid 84%, I know my quest is nearing an end. It's going to be one hell of a grind getting there, but I intend to make it to the summit of this mountain before the year is out.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
I picked this back up a few days ago after playing the demo for PES2010 (see above) and realising that I still had a lot to do in last year's iteration of the franchise. Despite spending a lot of time with the game, I seem to have achieved next to nothing. The Master League, usually my sole dominion in the world of Pro Evo games, remained worryingly untouched. So does the new Become A Legend mode, and I haven't even won any of the leagues or cups. I've vowed to change this situation, and I've finally started a serious stint in the Master League. I also intend to win a few of the domestic leagues before my time with the game comes to an end. With money the way it is right now, I probably won't be looking to pick up PES2010 until it drops in price to around £20, meaning I probably have a good six-to-nine months left with PES2009. That's plenty of time for me to achieve what I want to, and hopefully earn something to show for all my time spent with the game.
I think that just about covers everything for now. For those of you who read on a regular basis, I'm sorry about the somewhat sporadic nature of the recent writing. Rest assured there's a lot of content to come. I've got two or three pretty heavy blogs sitting in the back of my head, along with a concept for a serial blog that I'll most probably follow up on. In the meantime, thanks for reading guys. As ever, I'll see you around.
Currently playing - Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (X360) 10 Comments
Hey guys. It's been a long time since I last blogged (nearly a month, in fact), and for that I apologise. I've been busy with a lot of stuff, as you'll discover should you read this. Given I have a lot to say but don't really want to drag it out over three or four blogs, I've decided to revive the Rapid Update In A Train-Of-Thought Stylee for a third instalment. I've set myself the time limit of forty minutes to get all this down, so without any further hesitation...
First, I'll clear up the reason for my prolonged absence. I've spent the last two weeks with my girlfriend at her parents' house in Windsor. It was her twenty-first birthday on September 17th, so I was invited to go back with her to celebrate. To mark the occasion we did loads of stuff - we went to Thorpe Park for the day on her birthday, and two days later her family had a massive barbeque get-together. Both were awesome and I had an incredible time. It was nerve-racking meeting more of her family, but they all seem like great people. We moved back into our flat in Essex on Wednesday, and things are continuing to go really well.
Of course, my two-week stint in Windsor meant that I was separated from my Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2. As a result, I haven't really played many games this month, meaning both Lost Odyssey and Forza Motorsport 2 have fallen by the wayside a little. I intend to pick both back up very soon, as well as trying to get back into Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (I have yet to pour any significant amount of time into the Master League mode).
One thing I did manage to do whilst in Windsor was play through Pokémon Yellow. I've been investing an hour or so into it every night for the last month or so and I beat the Elite Four late last night. I intend to capture Mewtwo before I actually call it a day with the game, but I've had a lot of fun revisiting a piece of my childhood. It's also given me an urge to play through games from the second and third generations of the franchise, which up until now I've never actually finished. With HeartGold and SoulSilver not too far off, now might be the perfect time to pick up a new DS Lite and actually play that old copy of Emerald I have lying around somewhere.
While in Windsor, I also lost my Wii virginity. My girlfriend's parents own a Wii and I was invited to join them in playing some Wii Sports Resort and Rayman Raving Rabbids 2. While it was a pretty fun night, I think that was more to do with the company than the games themselves, and I'm not particularly sold on the Wii experience. Then again, being a fan of story-driven single-player experiences, I'm not really the target audience for games like Wii Sports Resort. I don't think I'll be playing on a Wii again any time soon, but it was nice to finally experience it for myself.
Uni starts again for me in just over two weeks. I'm going into my second year of an English Language & Literature course and I can't wait to start again. I got my reading lists through for the Literature side of the course and I'm really excited about some of the stuff I'll be reading (especially Milton's Paradise Lost). The Language side is also looking pretty interesting, as I'll be focusing primarily on Phonetics this year. The fact I've recently rediscovered my love of writing fiction is another motivation for wanting to get started again.
I think that'll do for this blog. I apologise for the poor quality of the writing, I'm obviously out of practice. With any luck, I won't leave it so long before blogging again. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
It's been a bit of a rollercoaster ride here on the Bomb lately. I shan't beat around the bush - I'm talking about the controversial permanent banning of regular (and popular) GB users SuperMooseman and Disgaeamad. I'm not going to dwell too much on the events that have transpired, but instead I'm going to share a couple of tributes for both of these undeniably memorable members of this excellent online community.
SuperMooseman iss an all-round awesome guy. As a Wiki editor, he's been second to none in terms of the scope and detail of his contributions. In addition to his excellently-written articles, he's provided an additional service to the GB community by regularly using his Wiki powers to change page pictures by request. His blogs are just as well-crafted as his articles, and he also contributed in the form of guides; Moosey has written walkthroughs for both Spy Fox and The Curse of Monkey Island exclusively for the site, with Vinny describing the latter as "really nice stuff".. Renowned as something of a joker and a serial prankster, Moosey is famous for the construction of such elaborate stories as 00Sweep and Sweep & Hamz: The Early Years. Most recently, he masterminded "The Cover Up", and worked with other users to create the masterfully edited conclusion to this week's Question of the Week response video. His wicked sense of humour was not only restricted to the site - he is famous among the site's userbase for his unique presence in the Giant Bomb IRC, where he can still be found indulging in his favourite pastime of hustling.
Disgaeamad's on-site presence has always been felt but never explicitly in-your-face. He's made a substantial number of detailed contributions to the site's Wiki component, not least of which was his monopoly on the Touhou series of games. His blogs were infrequent but always an entertaining read, either because of their humorous nature or their thought-provoking content. It must not be forgotten that Dis was also one of the four figureheads responsible for Giant Bomb's first unofficially unofficial community podcast, Bomb Should Have A Face. Even now, he is an almost constant presence in the Giant Bomb IRC, where he can often be found "piledriving bitches".
As these short paragraphs indicate, both Moose and Dis have been important parts of this online community since day one. I think it's important to think about them in this respect. While we can only speculate as to exactly what has occurred over the last couple of days, we can also be certain of their invaluable contributions to this website over the last thirteen months. Ultimately, above all else, it should be those things that they are remembered for. Thanks for reading, guys. See you around.
Hey guys. I've not got very long, but I felt the urge to blog, so figured I'd give you all an update on what's happening in my world right now. It's mostly game-related, but there are some other interesting developments to note as well.
In an attempt to cure another bout of the JRPG blues, I decided to start playing Lost Odyssey. I've been playing it for nearly twelve hours now and I'm completely hooked. In terms of both plot and gameplay, the game feels like the spiritual successor to Final Fantasy X that I've been searching for. The storytelling is trademark Hironobu Sakaguchi, and as a result it feels more like a Final Fantasy than some of the more recent Final Fantasy games do. Kaim is a great main character, and the blatant use of the "amnesiac protagonist" cliché is offset by the beautifully-written Thousand Years Of Dreams sequences that it results in. I love the Skill Ring system, as well as the fact you can change rings on the fly. It brings some genuine tactical thought into the battle system, which feels incredibly well-balanced. There's also the levelling system, which doesn't appear to be truly experience-based but instead grants faster levelling when taking on stronger foes, and slows it right down when fighting weaker enemies. It's a system that appears to discourage the concept of grinding, while still ensuring the player doesn't fall too far behind to deal with future challenges. Battles are tough and require a great deal of planning, which is nice when compared to the power-level-X-mashing attitude associated with some other JRPGs. My girlfriend has also taken a great deal of interest in Lost Odyssey, albeit for slightly different reasons - she thinks Kaim is "hawt".
I'm also playing quite a lot of Forza Motorsport 2 at the moment. I've just hit 73% completion, I'm Driver Level 42 and I have over 2,000,000 Credits to my name. I don't know what it is about racing games, but they've always had a knack for bringing out the completist in me. Back in 2007 I devoted three weeks of my life to Gran Turismo 2 and completed the game's career mode 100%. Now, two years later, I'm feeling the same compulsion with Forza 2. The presence of race-completing and car-collecting achievements in the game certainly isn't helping, either. I've set myself the target of hitting the 100% mark before Forza 3 hits store shelves, which gives me two months to finish the rest of the races (less two weeks - more on that later, though). I also intend to do a fair bit of car-collecting before my time with the game finishes, to snap up some of those achievements. Which reminds me, does anybody know if changing your region gives you access to cars that can only be unlocked by hitting certain levels in that region? Any information would be greatly appreciated.
It's not all been about the Xbox 360, though. The third and final game that's been getting a lot of play time over the last few days is Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation. I've always had a soft spot for the Tomb Raider franchise. I even forced my way through Angel of Darkness a grand total of three times, an exercise that taught me the definition of pain. I really enjoyed the most recent instalments in the series, but lately I've been feeling the urge to return to one of the original games on PlayStation. Eventually, I gave in to the temptations of nostalgia and fired up the fourth game in the long-running series. First impressions aren't so hot, admittedly - the game hasn't aged well in terms of either graphics or gameplay. Thankfully, it's something that I seem to be able to overlook, as I can still appreciate the game for what it is. For a PS1 game it looks very impressive, with surprisingly detailed character models and environments. Unfortunately there's not much I can do about Lara controlling like a tank, but I'm slowly readjusting to it. I'm about two hours into the game, and I'm looking forward to getting further reacquainted with one of the games that contributed to my deeper interest in the medium that started around ten years ago.
In other non-game-related news, I'm still living with my girlfriend in our new flat near Colchester, and things are still excellent. It's her 21st birthday on September 17th, so we're heading back to her place for a couple of weeks next month to celebrate. I'm looking forward to meeting more of her family - her parents are really great people, so I'm sure the rest of her family are equally nice. Also, those of you who are long-time readers of this blog may be aware that my family lost our dog, Freckles, back in March. Well, a few days ago I received a phone call from my mother telling me that they've got a new puppy. Her name is Maya, and she's a ten-week-old border collie/Alaskan malamute cross. They sent me this picture of her and she looks absolutely adorable. It's a shame I'm not at home at the moment, because I'd love to meet her. I'm sure she's running rings round my parents and getting away with murder.
I think that'll do for now. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around. In the meantime, I'm going to force myself through another endurance race...
As much as I love playing games, it does sadden me that the industry is driven on the back of shooters and sports simulations. I suppose that's why every now and again, I take a break from the plethora of generic consumer-pleasing games and indulge in something a little more off-the-wall. The latest example of this is my recent foray into the quirky realm of Oddworld. Over the last week or so, I've wasted a significant amount of my time playing through both Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee and its follow up Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, bought on Steam in the form of the Oddworld Pack for the very reasonable sum of £8.99. After doing so, I highly recommend you do the same. The first two Oddworld games are a breath of fresh air when juxtaposed with comparatively stale modern releases. Here's why. Both games are essentially the same from a gameplay perspective, and Exoddus picks up immediately where Oddysee left off, so I've chosen to evaluate them as a pair rather than individually. For those of you not familiar with them, the first two Oddworld games are a pair of 2D platformers where the emphasis of gameplay is focused on puzzle-solving. You play the role of a Mudokon named Abe, whose people have been enslaved by the greedy Glukkons and used as cheap labour. It's up to you to help Abe fulfil his destiny and rescue the captive Mudokons. It's a premise that sounds simple, but makes for some pretty complicated gameplay.
The main reason I love the gameplay on offer in the first two Oddworld games lies in their employment of the utterly brilliant Gamespeak concept. Throughout both games, Abe has no weapons or offensive powers to his name (save for the odd rock or grenade, that is), meaning his most potent weapon is his own voice. Through use of Gamespeak, Abe is able to rescue his friends, possess his enemies, and solve the myriad puzzles he's faced with. The games' most memorable puzzles involve a healthy mixture of precision timing and elaborate manipulation of Abe's foes in order to rescue a band of Mudokons. While sometimes they can prove to be a little frustrating and arguably rely too much on trial and error, they're also incredibly rewarding. In fact, completion of these Gamespeak puzzles is more rewarding than anything else I've done in a game in recent memory. I'd even go as far as to blaspheme and say that in some cases they're more rewarding than nabbing a few difficult achievements.
This formula works well enough in Oddysee, but it really comes into its own in Exoddus where the range of creatures that Abe can possess increases drastically. In addition to Sligs, Abe can possess Paramites, Scrabs, Glukkons and even his own farts. As a result, the puzzles in Exoddus are a lot more varied. To top it all off, all of these creatures interact in different ways. For example, isolated Scrabs are a threat to Abe, but will attack members of their own species too. On the other hand, Paramites are more social creatures and can communicate with each other to co-ordinate attacks. Glukkons can command Sligs, and Sligs can command Slogs. These chains of command make for some great situations in-game, and really help to make Oddworld all the more believable.
That's another reason why I loved playing through the first two Oddworld games - the self-contained Oddworld universe is unlike anything else I've seen in any other game. The world has its own inhabitants, its own races, its own heirarchies and its own history. It's like a really off-the-wall alternative to Middle-earth. It makes a welcome change from the same tired old scenarios involving zombies, aliens and terrorists. It's even charming, in a warped, ugly kind of way. Not just that, they're also two of the funniest games I've played in recent memory.
Abe's Exoddus was one of the defining games of my childhood, so it was a pleasure to revisit it and finally get a chance to experience its predecessor too. As I said in the opening paragraph, these games are more than worth the Steam price. If you're tired of the same old story, finding yourself unenthusiastic about Modern Warfare 2 or disinterested in FIFA 10, then I recommend giving the first two Oddworld games a try. There really is nothing on the market like them anymore, which is a real shame. Here's hoping Lorne Lanning and the other guys at Oddworld Inhabitants see sense and return to the world of video games, because it's certainly a less interesting place without them. Now that my stint in Oddworld has come to an end, I have my sights set on getting into a new JRPG. I've narrowed the choice down to Final Fantasy VI, Dragon Quest VIII, Persona 4, and Lost Odyssey. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, as I'm terrible at making decisions. In the meantime, thanks for reading, guys. See you around.