Some photos and thoughts from Eurogamer Expo 2014

Eurogamer Expo (or EGX) was two weeks ago and I had intended on writing a big proper blog about the show shortly after. Then I got distracted. I've just sorted through the photos I took at the show and deleted the really terrible ones (although they were all taken on my phone, so don't expect great quality from any of them), so I'm just going to post those and random thoughts that go along with them.

Firstly, the Oculus Rift:

I'd never tried an Oculus before and I was blown away. First I tried out SuperHot with the Oculus, which is odd because of the abstract art style, but it was still interesting. Seeing bullets fly past your head in slow motion was crazy. Also, I learned that I suck at SuperHot. But where the VR really shined was with EVE Valkyrie. Even just looking around your cockpit as you fly around looks stunning. But where it really shines is when you start taking damage and the sparks are flying in the cockpit. For half a second I freaked out, genuinely thought that sparks were flying at me. Completely amazing experience, I can't wait until this tech becomes commonplace.

Next up, Sunset Overdrive:

I mainly went to Sunset Overdrive because the queue looked relatively short, but I ended up really enjoying it. It is really tempting to just stay on the ground and play it like a normal shooter, but that really isn't the way to play it as the movement is very sluggish on the ground. Once you start experimenting and jumping up on the rails up the top it really becomes very fun. We were playing a six-man hoard mode style game, and I came top of my team (which surprised me since generally I suck at games). I think that was mostly because I experimented with the rails and things more than the other players.

Next some Indie games:

I spend a lot of my time at the "Rezzed" indie area, because I like indie games and I dislike queueing. There were massive queues for all the AAA games and stuff like that (even things like Destiny which was already out. Why would you queue for an hour to play a game that you could walk into a shop and buy?). But the indie area was relatively queue free.

The standout indie games for me were Volume (by Mike Bithell of Thomas Was Alone) and Heat Signature (by Tom Francis of Gunpoint). I went to the "Developer Session" talks from both of those guys (along with one by Rami Ismail and another one from Jordan Thomas, a former Irrational guy now developing The Magic Circle) and they were super interesting. Volume is a 3D Stealth game that takes inspiration from things like Thief and MGS VR Missions. It has a great look to it, and it sounds like the story is going to be a really interesting story of the relationship between two characters. It is simple enough and accessible, but I can see those mechanics being used to make some really challenging levels too.

Heat Signature is a procedurally generated space exploration game from a top-down perspective. You play as a lone-wolf space-guy with his small ship. You have to sneak aboard randomly generated spaceships to either kill someone or steal something. You can then take control over the spaceship and use that for a while, or you can quietly sneak away and go steal/kill some more. It's currently pretty barebones, but It is definitely a great concept. It has a fantastic mechanic of being thrown out of an airlock if you get caught on an enemy ship. You can then use your remote controls to pilot your ship back to your body as it hurtles through space. If you catch it before you run out of blood/air, you can continue on your mission.

Also, I should probably mention that I'm currently the worlds number one Heat Signature player. They were keeping leaderboards (via pen & paper) of how many missions people survived without dying. I completed 14 missions (and felt terrible for hogging the one Heat Signature PC for so long) which put me top of the leaderboard at the end of the third day of the show, as evidenced by this tweet from the developers:

The mission record is getting crazy here at EGX, my personal best is like 4. pic.twitter.com/4IYCjJbuYq

— Heat Signature (@HeatSig) September 27, 2014

And considering they didn't tweet out an updated leaderboard after day 4, I'm just going to assume no one beat it and I'm the worlds number one Heat Signature player. I AM THE BEST HEAT SIGNATURE PLAYER IN THE WORLD!!!! I look forward to the game coming out so I can quit my day job and become a professional Heat Signature eSportser (eSportser is a word, right?).

Anyways, moving on, there was a retro area that had a ton of old games systems set up that was really cool to see at a thing like this. You expect it to all be new stuff, but having a little corner where I could play Zool for the Amiga was really cool. They also had some custom built arcade cabinets, but no original cabinets or anything cool like that:

I got told off by an Ubisoft guy for taking a photo of the screens at the Far Cry 4 booth. He made me delete it and re-take it without getting the screens... But I still got the top pixel or two of the screens, so take that Ubisoft. I'm going to post this picture of a massive Far Cry 4 logo and the top few pixels of the game, and there's nothing you can do about it!!!

And here are a bunch of random photos of the show floor:

That's about it. I played some other stuff, but not a lot stands out in my mind. Splatoon was cool. Elite: Dangerous seems OK but the demo was very basic (and it took a while to get used to the flightstick controls).

One last thing that I found funny. With queue's everywhere and crowds everywhere, this is what the stand for Hatsune Miku Project Diva F2 looked like:

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Don't Fear the Reaper: My Journey on the Normandy.

Warning: This blog contains Mass Effect 3 spoilers.

Ever since finally finishing (and blogging about) Mass Effect 1 and 2 a couple of months ago, I’ve been eager to jump into Mass Effect 3. I absolutely love the Mass Effect universe, and I was keen to see how Commander Shepard’s fight against the Reapers ended. I’d managed to, more or less, stay away from major spoilers about the ending and, despite the internet outrage, was cautiously optimistic about the third installment in the franchise.

Much like my first thoughts on Mass Effect 2, my initial impressions of Mass Effect 3 were somewhat mixed. On the one hand it opens with a bang. The reaper invasion of Earth. It immediately sets the tone. The galaxy is in turmoil. It’s a crisis. It sets up a fantastic sense of urgency which I absolutely love. On the other hand, I could see my personal effect on the Mass Effect universe being tapered. In Mass Effect I chose Anderson to be the human representative on the citadel council. It was a decision I regretted in Mass Effect 2. It was clear the position wasn't suited to Anderson. Yet in the beginning of Mass Effect 3 he is an Admiral on Earth. There is no explanation for this through in-game dialogue. It is mentioned only in the Codex that Anderson used to be councillor, but he stepped down and Udina took over.

That’s not an entirely unexpected plot point considering how Anderson felt about his previous position, but the complete lack of in-game explanation was jarring. There was a perfect point in the opening scene to explain this: When Shepard and Anderson are walking along a ledge talking about going to the council, Shepard asks if he’s sure they’ll listen. Anderson replies “no, but you were a council Spectre, that has to count for something”. At that point, Shepard could easily say something like “And you used to be a councillor, that has to count for something too” and Anderson could reply saying that the position was never right for him and that it’s Udina’s job now. It is a perfect place for an explanation like that. But instead they ignore the issue completely, only explaining it in a codex entry. That issue didn’t seem to repeat itself later in the game. All my other decisions seemed to have a lasting impact on the galaxy, or in cases where they were negated by other occurrences, the events were always explained. But considering how important your decisions are to the Mass Effect universe, this initial blip was pretty awful, especially when it could have been solved so easily.

The other main thing I can criticise the game on is its pacing, and how that factors into the storyline. Upon leaving earth, the situation is dire. It’s an “Oh shit, we’ve gotta go get help right now or earth will be destroyed” type situation. Yet through the rest of the game there is a real clash between the sense of urgency and the things Shepard is doing. One minute Admiral Hacket is talking about how awful it is on Earth, the next I’m having dinner and drinks with half of my crew on the Citadel. It factors into the missions too. Several of the missions have a level of urgency comparable to the Suicide Mission in Mass Effect 2, and while that’s awesome, stopping to listen to relatively mundane audiologs takes something away from that experience.

In the grand scheme of things though, those complaints are minor. A game which such a massive scope built around decision making is always going to have some oddities on that front. And set during a massive war with near-invincible enemies, there is going to be some weird pacing. The alternative would be to have constant action with very little time to do side quests and interact with characters, and no one wants that from a Mass Effect game.

Moving onto the things I liked about the game, and I’ll start with the reason I love Mass Effect so much - the story. The story really comes together in Mass Effect 3. The overarching relationships between the species reach new levels. The Quarians and Geth united. The Krogan and Turians together. Humanity’s role in this, both the alliance campaigning to ally the races and Cerberus on the opposite side of it is extremely interesting too. Ultimately, virtually every race put aside their differences and come together to fight the Reaper threat, which is wonderful to watch.

The story on a more personal level is awesome too. The relationships between Shepard and her crew/former crew continue to develop. The big coincidence of bumping into every single former crew member on various missions is slightly weird, but I can get over that. It’s a video game and it’s nice to meet all of my former comrades again, even if it does get a bit predictable. I'm at an Asari monastery for Ardat-Yakshi and surprise surprise, Samara shows up. I'm on a geth ship and who do I bump into, that's right Legion.

There are certain, extremely powerful moments in the story too. Seeing Mordin sacrifice himself to cure the Genophage. And Liara witnessing the destruction of her homeworld. Both those moments sent shivers down my spine. I had become attached to these characters, and witnessing these things was truly gut-wrenching. There are plenty of really awesome scripted moments in the game which are a truly awesome spectacle. My personal favourite moment was on Tuchanka, fighting a bunch of Brutes with a reaper overhead, then setting a giant Thresher Maw on it. It was amazing. It really felt like there was this giant machine overhead, and taking it in such a spectacular way was fantastic. And Udina betraying the council was crazy. I never liked Udina, but I never thought he'd side with Cerberus. Yet it was totally believable too. A fantastic plot twist.

There are also a bunch of really cool moments on the smaller scale. The Normandy feels more alive than it ever has. In both previous games, crew members stay in their specific location of the ship. You'll never find them elsewhere. In Mass Effect 3, they can be found in any number of places, often interacting with eachother, which adds life to the ship. Joker and Garrus telling jokes on the bridge was hilarious, as was Tali getting drunk. And Garrus and Tali getting together towards the end was really sweet. They make a lovely couple!!!

So, you’re probably all waiting for me to talk about the ending, right? That’s what everyone is obsessed about. OK, I will do. I’ll start off with the mission itself leading up to the conclusion of the story. That final mission on earth was extremely dull and uninteresting. Fighting the reaper forces through the ravaged streets of london should have been awesome. But it was a drab affair. There was no atmosphere. It was just a matter of shooting a bunch of enemies, running around and pushing a button or two, then killing more enemies. Totally uninspired. I expected more considering the epic final mission of Mass Effect 2. Instead I ended up bored and just wanted to to get through it and see the ending.

The ending itself though, I don’t see what the big deal was about. I thought it was a decent ending. The whole revelation of the catalyst was weird, certainly. I definitely wasn’t expecting anything like that. And the final decision was slightly forced. But overall they handled it far better than I expected. They could have done a bland conclusion where the crucible is a big weapon, it kills all the reapers and everyone lived happily ever after. How boring and predictable would that be? Or the Reapers could have won and destroyed all life, totally destroying the universe and potential for more stories in the Mass Effect fiction. Which would have sucked, right? They were backed into a corner. There aren’t many places to go with the story. An powerful, apocalyptic force threatens to destroy all life in the galaxy. Someone has to win, and doing that in a unique and interesting way is not an easy task. But they still managed to do something different. It was weird and unexpected, but I certainly didn’t find it to be bad. I don't get the internet rage comments at all.

In fact, certain aspects of the ending have great potential for the future of the fiction. The Mass Relays are destroyed. Large numbers of aliens are stranded in the Sol system. Add to that the destruction caused by the Reapers and you have total disarray. It’s going to be chaos. Relationships are going to be strained and the galaxy is going to be a changed place. The Mass Relays will be rebuilt - the Protheans built a Mass Relay on Ilos and on the Citadel. If they can, so can humanity and the current alien races. They will reunite the galaxy. It isn't the end of the Mass Effect universe. But regrouping and rebuilding is going to be crazy. It’s going to be an almost impossible task, and seeing that will be fantastic.

So ultimately, I had a really great time with Mass Effect 3. The Mass Effect trilogy are some of my favourite games this generation. I want to replay them at some point, playing renegade. I've been playing all three games as a "chaotic good" type alignment. My Shepard always had the good of the universe at heart, but doesn't care who's toes she steps on to achieve that. I'd like to see the story from a fully renegade perspective. I won't be doing that any time soon though. I need a break. It's been a truly fantastic series.

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I’m Commander Shepard & This Is My Favourite Blog On The Citadel

Note: This blog contains Mass Effect 2 spoilers, along with spoilers from the first two Mass Effect novels, Revelation and Ascension.

So last time I blogged was almost 4 weeks ago. I’d finally played Mass Effect to completion a mere 4 years after first playing it. The next day I went into my local city centre in an attempt to buy a copy of Mass Effect 2 and a copy of the first Mass Effect book, Revelation. The latter was easy, I just walked into a book store, two minutes later I walked out with a copy of the book. The former wasn’t so simple - not one shop in my town had a copy of Mass Effect 2 for PC. Game stores should be more like book stores. I went online and ordered a copy from Zavvi for the low price of £8.50. It was the cheapest on the net. I now know why they’re so cheap - they take forever to send you the product. Their page boasted a dispatch within three days - it was over a week in reality, and then it took nearly another week to arrive.

But I digress, the purpose of this blog isn’t to rant about the poor service from an online retailer, it’s to talk about Mass Effect. During the excruciatingly long wait for the second game to arrive, I set about reading Mass Effect Revelation. Mass Effect Revelation was really enjoyable. It lays down some really cool backstory to the universe. It gets a little predictable towards the end. Being a prequel to the game made that kind of inevitable. It just became so obvious that the artefact that mysteriously changed the behaviour of the two characters who had seen it was obviously Sovereign, and at the end Saren was going to encounter it and begin his indoctrination and the slow journey to Mass Effect 1. Still, it was a fun, enjoyable read.

So moving onto Mass Effect Ascension - I loved this book. It’s obviously not a masterpiece of literature or anything like that, but then I wasn’t expecting it to be. But for the sheer enjoyment I got from reading that book, it really was fantastic. It creates characters that I genuinely cared about. I was pissed when I discovered one of the characters was actually an undercover cerberus agent. I loved seeing the character development of Gillian, the autistic biotic girl. And the events were thrilling and entertaining. I went into these novels expecting middling novels that expanded on the universe's fiction. And while there is almost certainly no appeal to people not already invested in the Mass Effect universe, to me personally they, Ascension in particular, are great books.

Anyways, that’s the books out of the way. Now onto the important part - Mass Effect 2. I’ll be honest, my initial reactions to the game were relatively negative. Some of the changes from the original Mass Effect didn’t gel with me. The first thing was ammo. I loved that Mass Effect didn’t have ammo. Sure, the overheating mechanic wasn’t the best either, but I’m sure there are more unique ways of fixing that than just bunging ammo into the game. For all of the shortcomings of the combat in the first game, I was never forced into using a shitty submachine gun because I was conserving the ammo of my awesome heavy pistol in case there was a tough enemy round the next corner. And the reason for the change in the fiction doesn’t really fit either. I mean, if they’re heat clips for getting rid of heat, why can’t I just wait for it to cool down like I used to when I’m out of heat clips? It all sort of feels like a half assed reason to explain a gameplay mechanic that doesn’t fit within the fiction, and I don’t like it.

Anyways, the first thing I did upon gaining access to my shiny new Normandy was to rush off to the Citadel, which brings me onto my second negative initial impression. I loved exploring the Citadel in Mass Effect. It was a wonderful hub area filled with the weird and wonderful alien life. From the pristine presidium to the the seedy depths of the wards, it was wonderful. And what do I find there in Mass Effect 2? One new area in the wards with a couple of short and simple side quests, and Ambassador Anderson up in the presidium. It was totally disappointing. I could spend hours and hours in the Citadel in Mass Effect 1, I was lucky if there was more half an hour of entertainment there in Mass Effect 2. It was extremely disappointing. I felt like the game had been scaled down. Like it was no longer as much of an epic open world RPG.

Of course, this initial impression was largely wrong. I’d have still loved a bigger area of the Citadel to explore with more interesting things to do, but upon further exploration of the galaxy, there were plenty more hub worlds with plenty of things to do. Omega, Illium and even Tuchanka were like mini hub worlds themselves, each were a unique environment that was interesting to explore. None individually rivaled the size of the Citadel in ME1, but together they provided a similar experience with more environmental diversity.

And despite my gripes with the ammo system, the combat is greatly improved too. It’s a really intuitive cover-based shooter. The shooting is solid, and the powers and squad commands add a layer of strategy and depth, yet remains extremely simple. At one point early on I ordered Miranda to take a high vantage point where she essentially laid down covering fire, which allowed me and Jacob to easily take out the enemies from below. I felt like a tactical genius, yet it was super easy to do. Of course it would have been almost as easy to just have everyone charge in, take cover and shoot some dudes, but that’s not as fun. There were always opportunities for a well placed power or squad command to make the combat a little more interesting. It was a million times better than Mass Effect. It never felt frustratingly hard or stupidly easy. It was just right.

And of course, the story is still brilliant. I love the darker and more morally ambiguous storyline revolving around Cerberus and the Illusive Man. I’ve tried to play both games so far with a Chaotic Good alignment. My Shepard ultimately has the good of the universe at heart, but she doesn’t always play by the rules to achieve that goal. Good with a renegade streak. In the first game there were few opportunities for renegade dialogue when playing with these intentions, but ME2 gave many more chances to be renegade. I still had a maxed out Paragon bar by the end, but my Renegade bar was roughly 2/5 full, which seems like a nice balance to me. And lots of the renegade options are awesome. Telling the Illusive Man to go fuck himself at the end was awesome.

Particular highlights from the storyline are parts where the game goes more in-depth with its exploration of the alien cultures. For example, I loved the Quarian missions. The Haestrom mission and Tali’s loyalty mission aboard the Migrant Fleet were both extremely interesting. Mass Effect told us a lot about Quarians, but encounters with them were largely non-existent apart from Tali. Meeting them and exploring their culture was really cool.

The one storyline thing that did somewhat disappoint me was my outcome to the Suicide mission. This may seem weird to some of you - but I’m genuinely a little miffed that my entire crew survived the final siege on the collector base. I knew going into it that people were probably going to die. I knew I was going to have to make decisions and some people might not make it. I was ready to live with the consequences of my actions. Making choices and sticking by them is an integral part of the Mass Effect experience to me. Even if one of my favourite characters died, I wasn’t going to load a save. And I was expecting to lose someone. Going into it I was hoping I wouldn’t lose anyone. I was hoping I’d make perfect choices and everyone would live. But with hindsight, I feel like I’ve missed out on a key part of the game - Losing one or more of the characters you’ve got to know and grown to care about. It doesn't feel like the true Mass Effect 2 experience. Either way, I'm going to stick by my outcome.

I also went on to buy and play the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. It cost me nearly as much as the entire game did and it was too short to be worth that money, but it was an action packed and fun mission. Plus it gave Shepard an opportunity to get back together with Liara who was my romance option in ME1. I didn’t pursue a Romance in the main game since I my Shepard wouldn't cheat on Liara, so it was nice having that at some point in the story.

So yeah, despite some initial gripes I grew to love Mass Effect 2 even more than I did the first. I’ve ordered the third Mass Effect novel, Retribution, from Amazon so I’ll read that next. I’ll probably have to wait for Mass Effect 3 to drop in price a bit before I get that, but I might be able to squeeze it into my budget somehow. I’ll try, anyway. I really want to continue the adventures of Commander Shepard as soon as possible.

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Mass Effect 1, Decision Making and Blue Chicks

So, I fucked a blue chick

I've blogged before about how terrible I am at finishing lengthy games. The last reasonably long game I beat was Fable II. And before that I can't even remember the last time I beat a game longer than 15 hours long. I always seem to put the game down for a break when the mechanics get repetitive and then I just never pick it up again. Or in the case of Mass Effect I pick it up again 6 months+ down the line by which time I want to start again from the beginning to refresh my memory of the story and gameplay. I’ve started playing Mass Effect 4 times now. The first time I gave up at the first driving section because the Mako controlled horribly. The second time I got beyond that, but not by much. The third time I gave up halfway through the first Citadel section because I was repeating the same things I had played 2 times before. With everyone talking about Mass Effect 3, I decided to jump back in for a fourth time this week, and I finally played the game to completion!!! This blog started as a rambling stream of thoughts about the game, but I’ve managed to organize it into something vaguely resembling a well organized blog. Expect some spoilerific stuff about ME1. I’m sure few people care about spoilers from a 2007 game this point, but never say I’m not thorough with my spoiler warnings.

What I liked:

I have always loved the Mass Effect universe. It is an amazing sci-fi world with vibrant and unique aliens. It clearly has influences from a bunch of other sci-fi fiction, and it seems to cherry pick the best things and merge them with some unique ideas into a very compelling world. I love the elcor and their slow, emotionless speech. I love the Hanar and their unique turn of phrase. I love the mystery of the Quarians and the Volus, hidden behind their environmental suits. I love the Krogan and their 4 testicles. I love the Salarians, Asari and Turians too. Everything about the world is awesome. It is a well thought out and well realized sci-fi universe. I particularly like how it explores humanity's role in this universe and how the other species view them. I’m a bit of a Star Trek fan, but I’ve never liked the “origins” story of Star Trek. To me, it never adequately explains how Humans went from being the “new guys” on the galactic stage to being the most powerful species in the known galaxy. Mass Effect tells the story of the rise of humanity extremely well, something I find extremely compelling.

The character development is another thing I loved. The writing does a brilliant job of making you feel attached to the characters. Or even the opposite. Take Ashley as an example. I started out indifferent to her. She seemed like a generic soldier character. It wasn’t long before I began to hate her because of her xenophobic views on aliens. I wanted to call her a “xenophobic bitch” and throw her off my ship. But as I talked to her more, I began to understand why she was like that. The story of her grandfather surrendering to a fleet of Turians and how that has held her back during her entire career. It didn’t excuse her borderline racist views, but it helped me understand her and feel far less volatile towards her. I actually felt bad sending her to her death on Virmire. Many of the other characters had compelling backstories and character development too. I particularly found the relationship between Shepard and Liara to be very interesting, and ultimately ended up getting the romantic story with her.

Few games allow the player as much freedom in their decision making as Mass Effect, and it makes for a really compelling experience. There were multiple times where I had to pause and think about my actions and how they would effect the universe, or even just how they would effect Shepard herself. The biggest one to me was probably whether or not to kill the Rachni. Doing so would amount to genocide, but the Rachni had attempted to wipe out the other species in the universe in the past - could they be trusted? I ended up reluctantly saving them, a decision the Council didn’t seem too pleased with. I’m sure I’ll learn of the consequences of that action in Mass Effect 2 and 3.

What I didn’t like:

The actual combat was very lackluster to me. I decided to play as a soldier since it seemed like the most straightforward class, and I mainly wanted to get through the story and didn’t want to have to learn a bunch of techniques in order to advance. The combat went from being infuriatingly hard in the early portion of the game (the Krogan Battlemaster on the Liara mission in the Artemeus Tau cluster was so annoying) to being stupidly easy later on. I’m sure the early game stuff wasn’t helped by me putting all my points into Charm and Intimidate early on to avoid missing out on dialogue options. Either way, towards the end I was just running around gunning dudes down without even taking cover. It only became slightly challenging if I was facing a Geth Destroyer or something similar, but even they weren’t too hard. Even the final boss (the zombie monkey Saren) was easy once I figured out that I had an ability that could revive my team mates. That meant that Liara dying wasn’t the end of the world - I could just revive her and she’d go back to being awesome and help me take him down.

That’s pretty much it. That’s the only real gripe I had with the game. OK, it’s a big problem since you spend large portions of the game fighting dudes, but it was worth putting up with to see the story through to conclusion. The only other thing I can really think of that I disliked was the shops and loot. The loot made the shops pretty pointless because I was finding good items all the time. By the end of the game I had over a million credits left over. I’m sure there was better gear for sale, but I didn’t feel the need to buy any because everything I had seemed fine. If the combat was more compelling, I might have cared more about my gear. So it still ultimately comes back to the combat.

Some other thoughts:

I think I have a problem. I make too many save files. Throughout that game (which took me about 23 hours) I amassed 153 save files. That’s one save every nine minutes. Despite how easy some of the combat was in the late game, I’d still feel compelled to save after every battle in case I died. At times it felt like I was saving after I’d walked 5 yards just because I didn’t want to walk that 5 yards again. I feel like a crazy person for having so many saves.

Also, I want to briefly mention the character creation. I always spend far too long trying to create the perfect character in these kind of games. And I the Mass Effect character creation looks simple and easy to use, but for some reason I found it incredibly hard to make a decent looking character. Ultimately I ended up really happy with my Shepard. She looks better than the default for sure, but it took a lot of effort. Also, the hair looks TERRIBLE in that game. It looks like the hair belongs in a PS2 game.

My Shepard

Anyways, now I’m looking forward to getting to Mass Effect 2. I really want to see how my decisions in this game will effect the universe.I don’t want to jump straight into it since I’m worried I’ll get burnt out on the gameplay. I know ME2 is a big step up gameplay wise, but I still want to have a bit of a break. I think I might read Mass Effect Revelation though. I really want to experience more of the fiction in the universe right now, so reading the first Mass Effect book seems like a good thing to do.

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A drunklen rant 2.0

So hey duders, I'm rather drunk, and I have a few things I want to say. Firstly, I'm not quite as drunk as I was when I did the first one of these, and the typo in the title is 100% intentional this time. And I'm not attaching this to the forum this timebecause the last time did that stickied the thread to the forum and it was super embarrasing. But I have a feww thigs i want to talk about, so here goes. Sorry if its dificult to underasand due to my alcohol

St Patricks Day

Today was fun. Went to the pub. Drank guinness. Too much. but i do that every year. It was fun. I broke a glass. But that sometimes happens when I'm sober too. I'm clumsy. Either way it was a fun day.

Giantbomb/Wiskey Media

I can't begin to express how thrilled I am for all the guys involved in Whiskey. Giant Bomb teaming up with CBSi, on the face of it, seems insane. Had you siad 4 years ago that this would have happened, I'd have called you a looney and called for the men in white coats to come. It would have never happened, and it happening would have been the end of GiantBomb. But it happened, and on reflection, big company taking over is what GB needs. GB is big now. Big enough that they need that they need someone backing them up. CBS is leaving creative control with Jeff & Co, but giving them the financial backing to do what they want to do. That's the way to go, because it gives the guys more money to do the shit they want to, and they still get to decide what shit they want to do.

Also, Will & Norm over at tested are working with the Mythbusters guys. That's crazy. I've mentioned before (as have other people) that the tested crew were like the mythbusters of whiskey, so that's a perfect fit. the redesign was a little jarring, but ultimatley the jamie and adam heavy branding is just that, it's a branding thing. it's to attract new people to the site. Will and norm are still involved and the core of the site. I don't care who has their name on the top of the site. As long as will and norm are still involved in the core curation of the site, it's fine with me.

It sucks that GB and the rest of the WM crew will no longer be in the same office. But ultimately everyone seems to be going to a place where they're best off in the long run, so everything is fine.

Muamba

For those of you who don't follow football (soccer), today in a match against Tottenham, a Bolton player called Muamba collapsed on the filed with an apparent heat attack. The current reports are that he stopped breathing, was resuscitated and is now in a critical condition. I'm a big football fan. Suff like this is deeply worrying. I hope he pulls through. It's tragic that things like this can happen, and my thougts are with him and his family.

Work

Last time I think i talked in any detail i didn't have a job. now i do. I'm also at work tomorrow morning, so rather than blogging I should be asleep. So I'm dumb. Very dumb.

My avatar

Thanks to for reminding me of this one on twitter: MY AVATAR DOES NOT HAVE TESTICLES FOR A MOUTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111111oneoneoneone

Other stuff

I'm sure there were other things i wanted to talk about when i started writing this, but i've fogotten. I said at the start I wasn't going to attach this to the forums, but i probably am because im both an idiot and less drunk than i was last time.

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Katawa Shoujo: Don't knock it 'till you've tried it

So I've never played a visual novel before. I never really saw the appeal. It seems weird calling them games at all. In reality you're reading a story and occasionally making choices which affect the story in different ways. In principle it doesn't sound bad, but especially with dating sims they just didn't really take my fancy. But I recently, after much convincing from Swoxx on the Giant Bomb PC Gaming Hub IRC, I decided to give Katawa Shoujo a go. I did it mostly so I could say "I played it, it was rubbish" to shut him up. But my experience with the game ended up being phenomenal. I didn't expect anything like it. Assuming we consider it a video game, it's one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had.

For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Katawa Shoujo is a freeware Japanese-style dating sim set in a disabled school, in which all of the potential love interests have a disability. Now bear with me, because when I first heard of the game I reacted badly too. Knowing that it originated from 4chan didn't help my initial impressions either. I promptly called it a "Disabled girl boning simulator" and filed it away in the darkest corner of my brain which I refer to as "things I wish I didn't know about" alongside Rapelay, squid porn and other similar monstrosities. It sounded horrible. A game in which the aim is to fuck one of 5 disabled girls. What kind of sick pervert would play that?

But after playing the game, I realize that my initial reaction was completely wrong. The game isn't about having sex with disabled girls. Nothing could be further from the truth, really. Yes, there are sex scenes but they are short and aren't the focus of the game. I'll get to them later. To sum up the story, Katawa Shoujo tells follows Hisao Nakai. In his final year of Japanese High School he suffers a heart attack and is diagnosed with a congenital heart condition, arrhythmia. After spending months in hospital, he is finally released but must attend a new school dedicated to the care and education of disabled students.

The first thing that struck me upon playing was the high production values. Coming from a team working across the internet, everything from the art to the writing and even the music was extremely impressive. While I haven't played any commercial games of this style, I imagine it compares favourably to them. As I went into the story, I only became more impressed. Firstly you have Hisao who is coming to grips with his newly diagnosed condition, and getting used to attending a school filled with students with all manner of disabilities. There's an awkwardness in his character that represents human nature. He is unsure how to react around these sensitive issues. He shows humanity and through time, grows more comfortable with the situation he finds himself in.

Onto the 5 potential love interests interests in the game, each with a different disability. It would be easy for a game based on dating disabled girls to make all of them frail and timid, with the protagonist coming along and rescuing them from falling into depression. But it completely avoids that trap. It handles the entire situation with tact and sensitivity. Each of the girls have adapted to their disabilities and it does not consume their life. They have all overcome them to the point where everything they do is second nature. The most defining aspect of each character isn't their disability, but their unique personality.

There is the bubbly & happy go lucky Emi, the shy & reserved Hanako, the weird tomboy Rin, the dignified & well spoken Lilly and the assertive & competitive Shizune. I don't feel a need to define them by their disabilities because their disabilities don't define them. They are unique and vibrant characters. On face value, some of the characters seem very one dimensional and stereotypical. That was a real concern when I wound up heading down the Emi storyline. I was expecting a very one dimensional and stereotypical cheery anime girl. But she opened up and became a far more diverse character, and I'm reliably informed that same is true of the other storylines too.

I don't want to talk about the details of the storyline because that could spoil it for someone, but Emi's story a profound effect on me. I became extremely emotionally attached to the the characters. The writing is great; It's probably slightly amateurish and maybe there is a little too much fluff, but regardless of the downfalls it does a great job of injecting emotion into the characters. It turned a handful of drawings into believable characters. Characters who I cared about. I'm not ashamed to admit that there was one point in the story that almost had me in tears. It was an emotional rollercoaster. Something which I most certainly wasn't expecting. I didn't think I could ever get that emotionally invested in a video game, yet I did.

The lemon scented lube scene

Of course, Katawa Shojou isn't perfect. For a start, I greatly disliked the sex scenes. Two of them were OK. They were believable and seemed like situations that Hisao and Emi could find themselves in, and were reasonably tasteful. It still felt creepy to me. While the game insists that all the girls are over 18, Emi looks really young. But I could believe the situations and it wasn't too explicit, so it wasn't that bad. But there was another sex scene. The middle sex scene. It featured... lemon scented lube. It was totally weird and extremely out of place. Everything from the reasoning why they were doing it, to where they were doing it and their reaction during and after was downright weird. There was nothing "sexy" about the scene at all. I get that they are young and don't know what they're doing. It's supposed to be clumsy and mechanical. But it's not supposed to be like that.

I should note that it is possible to these scenes off in the settings if you wish. That seems like it might be a good option, although they didn't detract from my overall experience with the game. They are all short and certainly not the focus of the game. The other annoying thing in the game is Kenji, a comic relief character who lives in the dorm room next door to Hisao. Simply put, he's a complete nutter who keeps going on about a "feminist conspiracy" he believes in. At the best of times it's a bit annoying, and when you're emotionally invested in the story and you want to continue with it, Kenji showing up is the last thing you want. I found myself saying "fuck off Kenji" aloud during the game once or twice, and then frantically clicking past his dialogue, barely reading a word.

Overall it is a fantastic experience. It's something I wholeheartedly recommend that other people try. I've heard mixed reactions from other people. Some find it lackluster, others have a similar experience to me. Either way it's free, so you've got nothing to lose trying it out. Or you could judge it prematurely and never get to experience it at all, like I almost did.

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Oblivion: My Adventures in Cyrodiil

I started writing a brief Google+ post about my experiences with Oblivion, and it ended up being far longer than I intended so I decided to turn it into a full blog post. I've been playing Oblivion for a short while because I can't afford, nor will my computer likely run Skyrim. I tried to play it once before when it was relatively new but found the first person view in an open world environment really disorientating and gave up a couple of hours into it. I also don't think I fully got the whole "Go anywhere, do anything" aspect of it. I remember actively avoiding the Imperial City when I first played it because that wasn't where I was supposed to be going. I was supposed to be going to Weynon Priory to give the Amulet to Jauffre. That is my task and that is what I'm doing. The game told me to do it so that's what I'm doing. I shouldn't visit that big city, the game hasn't told me to go there.

So this time, I approached it with a much more open objective. I just wanted to have fun. And so far I have. I started out by delivering the Amulet to Jauffre, but then I decided to do my own thing. I headed into the Imperial City and sought out the shopping district to see if there was anything useful I could buy, and to sell all of the junk I picked up in the tutorial level that I didn't want. In talking to the shopkeepers, I learned that Thoronir of the Copious Coinpurse seemed to be selling goods at unbelievable prices, and the other shopkeepers weren't happy about it. I thought this was quest would be a great way to gain favour with the local shopkeepers and get some better prices out of them. I eventually discovered he was getting them from an unscrupulous character called Agarmir who was robbing them from graves. After killing Agarmir and an accomplice, Thoronir repented for his mistakes and all was well with the world again.

After that hough, I began to find the open world gameplay a little overwhelming again. I decided I wanted to join the Mages Guild, so I went to the university in the Imperial City, only to find I have to join the guild in another city. So I headed off to the exit of the city to go to join the Mages Guild in Chorrol. On my way out of the city I stumbled across the Arena, talked to the dude on the door who says to go down into it if I want to fight. So I thought to myself "fuck the Mages Guild, I want to go fight in the arena". I went down into the Arena, talk to some Orc dude who said that he's of noble blood and wants me to prove it for him. Sure, I can do that, so I left arena to go to the place he wants me to go to. I headed out of the Imperial City and on my way out I talked with a dude just outside. He told me he was a fisherman, and an Alchemist was paying crazy money for slaughterfish scales. But he had injured his leg and couldn't get anymore fish scales for him. So, I decided to head off into the lake and do some fishing for him.

WHY CAN'T I JUST PICK A QUEST AND DO IT!?!?!?!?!?!!! WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE SO DISTRACTING IN THIS WORLD?!?!?!?!!!! WHY DO I HAVE TO KEEP BUMPING INTO PEOPLE WHO GIVE ME NEW QUESTS!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!

You know what the really funny thing is? I didn't actually finish the fish quest. All I had to do was walk down to the lake and kill some fish. There was nothing in my way to distract me. I couldn't find another quest and wander off to do that. But I was down by the lake fighting this fish when I get a message that the fisherman dude is dead, and my quest journal updates saying I can't complete the quest because he's dead. So I head up to see what on earth is happening, and some evil sorcerer dude has electrocuted him to death. What on earth? The fact that can happen is crazy.

After whacking my sword against the sorcerer dude a few times and killing him, I finally made my way to the Mages Guild in Chorrol and completed the first quest there (I had to walk up a mountain and pick up a book. Hardly the most exciting quest ever. Although everyone seems to think the book is super important but no one is telling me anything about it, so I guess it'll come into play later). That's where I am now. As I said, I am really enjoying the game. The only complaints I have so far is that the game doesn't give you enough guidance. The reason I wanted to join the Mages Guild was to get some advice on the Mage relevant gameplay mechanics. How do spells work? Do they level up with me? Or will my weak flame spell always be totally useless? How do I get new spells? What about Alchemy? How does that work? I was given this mortar and pestle but I don't know what the hell to do with it. I rolled my character with Alchemy in mind since it seemed super useful, yet I don't know how to do it. And when I talk to people in the Mages Guild there just aren't any dialogue options for me to say "Hey, what the fuck am I supposed to be doing in this game besides whacking people with my sword?" I guess I'm going to have to look that shit up in a guide or something.

But yeah, apart from the lack of explanation about the gameplay mechanics, I'm having a blast. I might do more of these blog things in the future to update you on my progress, but don't count on it. I'm going to be really busy for a while, and I don't even know if I'll have much time to play the game, nevermind write about it.

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Unconventional DRM

As part of Sweep's Blog Initiative I thought I would try something a little different. A blog in a style that I don't normally write. It's a parody in the style of a press release. I'm not used to this style of writing so it's probably going to be terrible. Feel free to tell me that. It's also very possibly libelous, so if you don't hear anything from me for a while, I've probably been arrested for slander or something.

SINGE-DANS-L'ABRE, FRANCE (September 17th 2011): Oobisoft Entertainment Ltd. today unveiled their latest Digital Rights Management initiative, following the huge success and fantastic public reception of their previous DRM systems. Their latest initiative promises to completely stop piracy and leave their products totally secure.

"We are thrilled to be announcing a brand new DRM initiative today that promises to deliver a number of benefits to both Oobisoft and gamers" said Sevy Tomelliug, CEO of Oobisoft as he took to the stage at Random Game Conference "It is a really simple solution to a much debated issue. All our future games will implement this system and will be purchasable either digitally from the Oobisoft website or from any of our retail partners including GameStop and Bestbuy. The purchaser then must travel to one of our many specially built gaming centres in order to play the game".

"For ultimate convenience we have three centres set up across the United States" Tomelliug continued "along with one in the Canada, one in the UK, two in the rest of Europe and one in Australia. We feel that this provides the ultimate convenience for all of our customers. The majority of our customers are within 5 hours travelling distance of a centre where they can play their game. It is suitable for gamers without an internet connection and even without the relevant console or a powerful enough PC."

"We understand it is a little different and some gamers who are more used to a conventional method may initially be against the change" Tomelliug said "but this method provides 100% protection against piracy and convenience for gamers. No more boxes full of games lying around your house. No more disks to misplace and get scratched. No more data to fill up your precious hard drive space. It is so much more convenient that it is a miracle that we are still only charging $60 for these games"

In order to play their games, gamers must follow these simple steps:

  • Purchase a license from Oobisoft.com or one of our retail partners.
  • Travel to their local, conveniently located Oobisoft Gaming Centre.
  • Fill in a simple 42 page form detailing all aspects of their lives.
  • Provide two types of photo identification, and two proofs of address.
  • Provide finger prints and DNA samples.

There then is a 14 day waiting period while their details are processed before customers can be admitted to the gaming centre and play their game. There is also a $30 processing fee for this to occur.

Gamers have already reacted favourably to this new DRM initiative. Interviewed outside the press conference, one video game fan said "I love it. Now I don't need to have my internet connection on all the time. I just turn up at the gaming centre, wait 14 days and I can play my game. Whoever at Oobisoft came up with this idea is a genius". When asked if he wouldn't rather have a traditional, DRM free boxed game or even a digital download he responded "No. I don't need that clutter in my house or on my hard drive. This is the perfect solution. Thanks Oobisoft!".

All of these systems are in place in order to prevent piracy and to provide the ultimate gaming experience for players. For the latest, up-to-date information on this and all of Oobisoft's products, please visit Oobisoft.com.

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I Am Going To Blog More: Where Did All The Cheats Go?

Note: I wrote this for the cancelled issue 5 of The Luchazine back when that was a thing. It's been sitting in a folder on my computer since then. With Sweep's new blog initiative, this seems like a great time to throw it up. There are a couple of other things I wrote for the Luchazine that never made it into the 'zine that I may throw up at some point, but they're pretty out of date now and largely irrelevant, so I don't know if I should bother. This one is still pretty relevant though. And I am of course going to write some actual new blogs soon, I'm not just going to throw up old shit.

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start. There once was a time when pressing those buttons would result in a happy surprise in a huge array of games. Dubbed the Konami code, it remains famous today and is an Easter egg on many websites. Try it now on giantbomb.com (replacing Start with Enter) and you will be whisked away to the Contra page. However within games, cheat codes are a rarity today. Even just 10 years ago they were still somewhat prevalent, although not as common as in the days of the SNES and Genesis. But in recent years the inclusion of cheats have taken a steep nosedive to the point where they are virtually non-existent. What happened? Where did they go?

Gaming has evolved quickly over recent years, and many of the changes lead to cheat codes being less needed. Many people say that games have become easier, which may have lead to cheats being less necessary. Kazuhisa Hashimoto famously included the Konami code in Gradius because he felt the game was too hard for the average player. If games are getting easier, then the need for cheats will be diminishing. But the changing difficulty in games is a lengthy discussion itself so let's leave it for another day.

However certain gameplay elements have most definitely been streamlined, removing many of the frustrations of gaming that cheats used to alleviate. For example, lives systems are a rarity today, negating the need for unlimited lives cheats. Regenerating health removes the need for a health cheat. More frequent checkpoints and save locations make level warp cheats unnecessary.

BIG HEAD MODE!!!

Another recent trend is the increase in unlockables being obtained via gameplay. Many extras which may have been gained from cheat codes in the past can now be unlocked by various gameplay methods. For example, Army of Two: The 40th Day has a big head mode in which character's heads are humorously enlarged. Rather than entering a code to obtain this, it is unlocked by completing the campaign, and is then activated from a menu.

Downloadable content and microtransactions are other recent additions that have affected cheats. Many downloads that would have been cheats years ago can now be downloaded for a fee. For example, Skate 3 has a downloadable “Time is Money Pack” which unlocks everything in the game that would ordinarily be earned by playing through the career mode. In the past, this would have most likely been accessible via quickly pressing a few buttons on your controller, but now it is a $7 downloadable add-on.

A further reason for the fall of cheats is a modern addition to games that we all know, love and are hopelessly addicted to – achievements. Achievements have become a major part of gaming today and in order to be a somewhat meaningful system, everyone must have a level playing field. If a player could enter a code that would make obtaining the achievements easier, that is unfair on players who are unaware of the code. And while developers could disable the achievements while a cheat is activated, many simply elect to not include cheat codes at all.

Of course, cheat codes aren't completely dead yet. You can still see them in modern games such as Grand Theft Auto 4, Saints Row 2, Scot Pilgrim Vs. The World, Rock Band 2 and more. Long live the cheat code!!!

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Final Fantasy VI: My Quest to Finish a Lengthy RPG

Exhibit A: One of the many games I enjoyed, but have been unable to complete

It's not much of a secret that I am terrible at beating games. I wouldn't say I have a short attention span, but longer games usually get somewhat formulaic and repetitive, so I'll stop playing for a while and play something else. That new game quickly becomes my main focus and I forget the former game even exists. Case in point: I have started the original Mass Effect three times. I love everything I've seen and heard about the Mass Effect universe. I love sci-fi and Mass Effect seems like a wonderful world filled with a colourful and vibrant backstory. The first time I played it I got to the first driving section and absolutely hated it, put the controller down and just never picked it up again. The second time I powered on though that part, but ended up getting distracted by another game not too long after. The third time I gave up half way though the citadel stuff because I was doing the same shit I had already done 2 times before.

OK, maybe I do have a short attention span.

Right now, I'm trying to play through Final Fantasy VI. 16-bit (and earlier) console games are a bit of a blank spot in my gaming knowledge. Prior to getting a PlayStation, most of my gaming was confined to the Amiga (and the Philips CDi, but the less said about that the better) so I missed out on a ton of great SNES and Mega Drive games. Apart from the obvious games that have been re-released a million times on a million different platforms (e.g.Mario, Sonic etc.) I've played very few console games from prior to the Playstation. That is something I want to rectify, and what better way to start than with Final Fantasy VI, a game that many consider to be one of the greatest RPG's of all time.

So, fully aware of my attention span issues, I set off on my adventure. It was going along swimmingly. I was loving the story, the characters and the world. The plot was fantastic. It was keeping enough suspense to make it intriguing, but bringing in new plot developments regularly enough to keep things moving forward at a good pace. The story behind the Espers and the War of the Magi was really appealing, and the current war with the Returners fighting Kefka and the Empire was engaging. The characters were varied and interesting, with the world itself being just as diverse.

10 hours in I was feeling great. This was finally going to be the game that breaks my long string of unfinished games. But I always feel like that when I'm playing through the early parts of a lengthy game. Going back to an earlier example, I felt the exact same way about Mass Effect while I was playing through the Citadel sections for the first time. And we all know how that ended.

As I continued, the game started to take it's toll. It became more repetitive. I had to spend time grinding enemies on the Veldt to teach Gau new rages, and to learn new spells from the Magicite. I powered on through this for a while and made my way through Zozo (what the fuck is up with that town?) and on to the Magitek Research Facility. Just over a week ago I reached my breaking point. With the game clock at 17 hours and 51 minutes, I couldn't play any more. Having just infiltrated the research facility, fought a bunch of difficult enemies and gained 7 new types of Magicite, it would time to do some more grinding. I need to learn some new spells and teach Gau more rages. I would be crazy to just plough through the story without learning new stuff first, but I just didn't feel any desire to engage in more repetitive battles.

Frozen Synapse. The perfect game to play on my break from FFVI

But, my story isn't over yet. After giving it a break of just over a week I think I'm ready to jump back into it. I want to further the story, I'm happy to do a certain amount of grinding to achieve that. I think I've figured out how to play lengthy games. I just need to take a break for a while in the middle. Normally within a week of putting down the controller on a lengthy experience I would have found another game to occupy my time and I wouldn't touch the game I stopped playing. But I have stopped myself from doing that. I have played some games, namely Frozen Synapse (which is awesome) and the original Rayman (which I haven't played since childhood and is full of nostalgia) but nothing super in depth. And that has kept my desire to continue the story in FF VI alive.

So, will I complete the game? I certainly hope so. It might take another break after a further 10-15 hours, but hopefully I'll be able to remain undistracted and keep on going to the end. I'll be sure to keep you updated on how it's going.

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