I made every Soul Blade character and costume in Soul Calibur V

SCV is a fantastic game that redeems the bloated mess that was SCIV. Yes, the story mode is laughably bad but if you buy a fighting game for the single player then I'm afraid you're missing the point entirely. It may not have a huge variety of modes but they really focused on what matters- the combat is deeper than ever and it probably has the best online of any fighting game I've ever played. Some more original characters would have been nice, but what are you going to do with a reboot? My number one reason to own this game is for the character creation. Give me any kind of character creation in a game and I guarantee you I'll probably spend more time making stuff than actually playing. Ever the nostalgic type, I decided to revisit the first game in the Soul series, Soul Blade (or Soul Edge, whatever). When it came to 'tone' Blade is my favourite game in the series and I believe it had the best characters. I'll take Li Long over Maxi anyday.

I decided to bring those great character designs into the current generation with the miracle of player customisation.

http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL4A112A181B82017B

Its taken over seven hours (cool how the game keeps track of that) but I have created 31 costumes from Soul Edge/Blade. I have made:

Li Long (P1, P2, P3)

Rock (P1, P2, P3)

Seung Mina (P1, P2, P3)

Taki (P1, P2, P3)

Sophitia (P1, P2, P3)

Hwang (P1, P2, P3)

Siegfried (P1, P2, P3)

Mitsurugi (P1, P2, P3)

Cervantes (P1, P2, P3)

Voldo (P1, P2, P3)

Nightmare (Siegfried!)

Some of these were far easier to make than others (Voldo was a massive pain in the arse) but I'm pretty pleased with the results. Oh and I'd like to thank Namco for giving us 50 creation slots.

I'm thinking of starting a series of reviews of creation tools in games. If anyone thinks this would be a good idea, let me know.

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There should be more PC to handheld ports

I'm going on a Digital Game Design course. With this in mind, I realise that it might be worthwhile to articulate some of my thoughts on video games. Thats what a blog is for, right?

For most of my gaming life, I have been a console gamer. This being said, I have always had a healthy diet of PC games. A lot of my favourite games of all time are PC exclusives and the PC games I include on my imaginary top 100 list all have one thing in common- they're addictive time sinks. While I do enjoy a quick burst of a fighting game or a match on an FPS, sometimes I want to spend a longer amount of time just focusing on a slower paced game with a good sense of progression. Sometimes I just want to waste time.

This being 2012, I now expect gadgets to entertain me for every second of my existence I don't spend asleep. I have to commute regularly to work so four days a week I have two hours to kill sitting on a train. I would love to be able to load up one of these time killing PC games, make some progress in them and then save them. I believe there is great potential in bringing some of these classics to a portable system. I need to stress that these need to be genuine ports or remakes, not watered down 're-imaginings'.

And please don't mention laptops and netbooks, I'm talking new retail releases.

Civilisation (preferably V)

PC box art (cropped)

The civilisation series is synonymous with addiction and for good reason. These games can warp our temporal awareness and turn hours into perceived minutes.

Why would it be good for a handheld?

The strongest argument for this is that as a turn-based strategy game, graphics aren't particularly important. I'm not saying that a Civ game shouldn't be attractive but they're not exactly going to require a massive polygon count. Civ games are essentially board games. The system must be capable of presenting a clear world. Think Civ V's grid view but as the default. Civ would, in theory, technically work on most modern handhelds. We usually play handheld games to kill time until we can get back to our main gaming machines. What game is a better time sink than Civ? Its turn-based structure also lends itself to playing while travelling. Unlike an action game, you can take as long as you want with your moves. If your game is interrupted by a ticket inspector you're not going to lose because you have to look away. Multiplayer would also benefit. Civ games usually have hotseat modes but these can be rather awkward on a big home computer, having to look away with every turn change. It also provides a good stopping point for when you need to save and turn the machine off. Isolating it to a handheld screen conjures fond memories I have passing around a GBA for a four player game of Advance Wars in Sixth Form. Primitive? Sure, but it worked. A plane journey can last a long time you know. Its satisfying looking at how expansive your empire has made since you started. Civ V actually tracks your sessions, acknowledging you're going to come back over a steady period of time.

Limitations

There needs to be plenty of screen space for displaying information clearly. With its clearly refined interface, this is why I cite Civ V in particular. The second screen of a 3DS might cope with it as may the big high res screen of a Vita. Despite not relying heavily on graphics, Civ games use a lot of RAM when the games reach the later eras. Load times get longer with every turn. The solution would be to limit the map sizes and player counts which would turn this into just another weak port.

Closest thing we have:

Civilisation Revolution (DS)

The console version was already a pretty dumbed down version of Civ (a game which actually aided Civ V's design). The DS version is a dumbed down port of a dumbed down port. I don't mean to bash it too much as it was clearly made on a budget but the main issue is presentation. The whole thing just looks like a bad mobile phone game from the turn of the millennium. Much of this is carry overs from Civ Rev on consoles but the artwork is poor, the tiles are unclear and the impressive scope of making your own country just doesn't carry over.

The Sims

Sims. Addictive. Like I mentioned, this is the running theme here. Even though I'm a heterosexual 22 year old man, I occasionally enjoy playing The Sims. EAs marketing has turned this into a taboo making each game in series progressively more girly than the last in an attempt to grab that coveted female market. The Sims is the king of the casual games but I would argue that it never truly found its place where casual games thrive (no, not Facebook).

Why would it be good for a handheld?

There's a lot of stuff to do in The Sims. Create a house or public building. Make a family. Micro-manage a single Sim and play it like an RPG. Turn on free will and watch what happens. Play like a sociopath and do the old pool ladder trick. Its a time killer and without any real objectives and great variety you can play this game for a long time. I personally like building houses. The recent Sims 3 to console port proved that you can make a straight port of a Sims PC game and not have to turn it into a poor adventure game or burden it with a thousand limitations. Granted Sims 3 Console did have some deal breakers (why can't I have multiple families in one save?) but it did give me hope for EAs future after they had spent a good 10 years crapping out countless Sims games that didn't have its objective-less sandbox gameplay that made the PC original so popular. Load your game on a handheld. Mess around doing whatever and save it when needed. The lack of an object makes it perfect for casual play. When I'm on the train coming back from work, I want to relax and put my brain in stand-by mode. Shooting an army of space marines isn't really the experience I'm looking for in this situation. Hell, even a puzzle game like Ghost Trick can be too mentally taxing after a day at work. The Sims is the perfect thoughtless game and I mean that in the best possible way.

Limitations

RAM again. There's potential for a lot to be going on at once in The Sims. The first Sims console game didn't even let you build a second floor. The Sims 1 could handle it on old PCs because it used pre-rendered objects and environments. Saving I imagine could also have problems. Probably. Some platforms may take issue with online content sharing although I personally never thought this was a vital part of a Sims game. Controls could have issues but seeing how everything has a touch screen it could be manageable.

Closest thing we have

The Sims On Whahoo Whahoo Island and about a thousand other disposable GBA, DS and PSP Sims games

I've played a good chunk of these games and none of them have been up to scratch. If you believe in the old maxim of quantity against quality well- here you go. I can identify the main issue as that they always attempt to emulate whatever current PC/console Sims game they're based on. But they're handhelds and a lot of the time the system just can't handle a huge house with 8 people living in it. A Sims game for a handheld needs to be made for a handheld. Just because the Sims 3 on PC and console renders a house in full 3D doesn't mean the DS version should. I don't want to only be able to control one Sim. Perhaps they should go back to the Sims 1 pre-rendered isometric style. I think the main reason EA don't do this is because it would be very difficult to market. Sims 1 gameplay footage doesn't look all that great alongside The Sims 3 for PC. I hope that the Vita can scrounge an experience on level with Sims 3 Console. Just let me build houses on an empty lot and I'll be happy with that. Or just make a port of The Sims 1 with all expansions. Make it tie in with the next five-year multiple anniversary. I'd buy it.

I'm not done yet, this shall be continued. If anyone actually reads it. Otherwise I'll just let it rot here.

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If you hate Mass Effect 1...

If you hated Mass Effect 1, then you should still try Mass Effect 2.  
 
Just thought I would point this out. 
 
I hated the first game, which I bought earlier this year. I had hoped to complete it (as Brad suggested) but I simply couldn't. 
I couldn't get past the confusing objectives, the poor graphics (pop-in textures), the terrible shooting, the nightmarish inventory management and those infernal lift rides (which even a hard drive install couldn't fix). 
 
Despite this, I decided to get the sequel. 
 
Every part of this game is great and its extremely welcoming. Unlike the first game I love the shooting and how it handles missions. 
 
So I just wanted to let everyone know that if you hated the first game, but wanted to like it, then just skip it for this one.    

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Sonic 4 is apparently one of the best XBLA games out.

Despite the fact that nobody has played it yet. I was just searching XBLA for arcade games. As you may know, XBox Live has a rather pointless rating system where every bit of content can be given a rating out of five stars. Of course all fighting games that require the slightest bit of practise to get good at get low ratings while anything Halo gets universal 5s. But thats for another day. 
 
Live has the option to see all the highest rated games. I would say most of them deserve to be there. I'm particularly glad to see that my favourite game of all time is very popular. But one thing is odd- just after SOTN is the unreleased Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode One. Apparently Sonic 4 is the 20th best game on Live Arcade according to user ratings. 
 
I'm like most (ex)Sonic fans- I loved the Mega Drive games but hated the 3D shit. I'm kind of looking forward to this promise of a return to form but at the same time like any sensible person I am very, very skeptical given Sonic's downfall as a whole. I'm not sure what the point of this post is. I just find it stupid that 976 people are willing to rate a game that isn't even out yet. Maybe I'm getting the rating thing wrong. Maybe its just to reflect personal opinion of something. Its like its just proof of good marketing which in turn is just more good marketing. 
 
Screw rating systems. People need to voice their options- not just give a vague "good" or "bad" and run off. Give reason and meaning. 
 
What do you think of the rating system on XBL? I think of them the same way I do with all user ratings- with distaste.

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Games as Art, Episode XIII- The Rise and Fall of the Boy Trainer

 Hi faithful readers. Welcome to another instalment of my quest to reveal the profound nature that lays dormant in every video game ever made.   
Today I look at the ambiguity and themes that got us thinking back when we all completed Pokémon Red and Blue. Thoughts about that boy left in the room outsite the hall of fame computer. This blog asks the question- how did our thoughts of the rival end? Were they justified when we look at the wider picture?
 
  

  
   
We are all familar with Pokémon's rich backstory, that much is obvious. Since its original release in 1999 (earlier outside of Europe), the infamous finale of  Pokémon Red/Blue has been debated by academics to the point of becoming cliché. While much can and has been said of the protagonists rise to power and the obvious themes of captialism subtlety shown through the design of the three 'starter Pokémon'- little has been brought to attention of the role of the rival and his impact on the player's experience.
 
Please note that this piece is going to deal exclusively with the 'rival' character and ignores most of the other themes the two games deal with.


 
The rival's appearance changes throughout the course of the game, reflecting his three-part character arc.     

 We are first introduced to the rival immediately after the player is instructed to enter their own name. As to be expected from Tajiri, this stunning design choice reinforces the strength of the link between him and yourself before the descriptive text even manages to fully appear on the screen. Beyond this subtle action, we are told by Oak, the mentor, the player's relationship with this character. The player and rival were once friends but have since become rivals. One can only imagine what this involved. It is the strength of Pokémon's story that we do not know this. Just like the greatest literary characters such as the pressured Winston Smith, the most simple back story is also most likely the correct one for the reader to assume transpired. We can use our own judgements based on real childhood relationships we have all had to craft the rival's past. Interpretation of the rival make the player character our own creation before you even gain control. 
 
The rival is Professor Oak's grandson. Too much can be said of Oak's inability to remember the rival's name. The most prolific interpretation is how we view Oak's own efforts to develop Gary into a strong adult only to consistently find himself in conflict with his Pokémon research. How does an elderly man approaching his final years prioritise raising a grandson in Pallet Town against his role as the nation's greatest Pokémon researcher? 

 "Gary" in the animated epic.
 
  
 In another genius move, we are able to name him. This mirrors the Mother series and with its emphasis on naming characters to enable player attachment. This literally makes the rival the player's own creation and most certainly a construction from past experiences. The player and rival are explicitly stated to be 'rivals' from the very start, hence our easily justifiable use of the 'rival' label for the character. Even up until the games climax, the specific nature of this rivalry is left completely open for interpretation. Through the course of the game we can never tell the seriousness of the rival's intense dialogue, mostly because the Game Boy's inability to convey prosodic and paralinguistic features. Can we compare this relationship to Ryu and Ken or to Kyo and Iori? The rival's words do indeed seem harsh, but it is the belief of many that he is actuallyjust has a highly developed sense of humour for his age- his frustrations in life are expressed as ironic. However, this is just one view. In a 1997 interview, Tajiri did suggest that the literal interpretation of his feelings was correct. The rival is a haunted soul as evident from his will to leave the player to face Team Rocket alone. Does the rival use his hatred for the player to justify morally corrupt acts? What is the rival's understanding of morals? Is his quest for powerful pokémon any less justified than the exact same aspiration of the player? It is only by having weaker pokémon than the player that he may suffer his downfall.

The rival's shortlived reign as Pokémon champion is undoubtedly the most tragic part of the character and the main argument for those who believe the character is supposed to be sympathetically portrayed. The player's victory conversation is in essence the rival's “If you Prick Us” monologue in Pokémon Red/Blue. It is Oak that congratulates the player and praises him while offering no emotional support for the defeated grandchild. Gary is left outside the Hall of Fame, dead inside.
 
There is much more we can say about the rival, such as his choice of Pokémon. It must be remembered that his character in Pokémon Gold/Silver/Crystal develops the character further and portrays him in a more positive light. These games are not canon and Tajiri has stated that the character will be officially revised in the second part of the seven-act Pokémon story in the upcoming canon games Pokémon White/Black which return the series to its colour roots. We can only wonder where this leads the rival.
 
 
 
If you would like me to discuss the artistic interpretations of other games, just let me know.
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