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Going back with added Beck

I've never written a blog here on general gaming, nor did Gamespot get many of my everyday gaming thoughts. However, when you've played a grab bag of games and want to talk about them all then you write it all down and hope for the best.

I've been thinking about old games and their recent iterations ever since Max Payne 3 was released. Ever few days I find myself going back to Max Payne the third for no apparent reason and I've decided this is because I'm trying to decide what make it different from the first two games.

I have no nostalgia for Max Payne 1 or 2. I played them about a month prior to 3's release and damn did they hold up well. Though with the first game I occasionally had to remind myself that this was revolutionary for the late 90's, The Fall of Max Payne still feels properly modern bar the horrendous platforming sections.

When I say "different" I'm thinking in terms of gameplay. Max Payne 3 is a Rockstar game and when I accepted that then the tonal shift plus the overwrought visual style felt natural, even with the sadistic bullet cam. However the gameplay is evocative of Max Payne without actually being Max Payne. I don't think I died once playing Max Payne 2 but its sequel has a penchant for punching you in the kidneys for trying to pull off the flashy stuff. You die all too easily when you hit the ground and the AI is so tenacious that you don't plan so much as react.

Remember when this was easy?
Remember when this was easy?

However, Max Payne 3 still manages to push the "I feel awesome at videogames" buttons, just different ones. Let's say Max Payne 2 is what you imagine ballet dancing is like, you've probably heard the comparison before. Everything looks smooth and elegant and graceful and the dancers smile as if everything is effortless.

Max Payne 3 is probably more like what ballet is really like. One mistake and it all goes shit. You're forced to be absolutely perfect in order to progress and even then you're probably going to end up limping. Then again when it all works out perfectly and you manage to subvert Rockstar's emphasis on cover by shootdodging with skull, Max Payne 3 makes a single room feel like one choreographed action sequence. You realise you made a series of split-second decisions and they all came together to make fun.

Do I love Max Payne 3 as much as I did 2? Not really. I like Hard Boiled more than I like Man on Fire. I like noir Max more than the great american saviour of the poor. You have to love the Housers and their ability to shoehorn social commentary into a Max Payne game though. Finishing MP3 again got the brain juices flowing on what kind of social/moral message the Houser/Benzies team will push for GTA5. It's not like they're strapped for subject matter after the global economic crisis. Nothing says critical acclaim like a satirical look at the housing crisis right?

Playing the first Max Payne unfortunately got me thinking: "Hey, I can totally deal with old games". Then I tried to play Half Life 1 for the first time and realised that no, I totally can't deal with old games. Even in its Source incarnation HL1 looks rough, so much so that installed some texture mods because the opening train sequence is a masterclass in teaching you how far 3D graphics have come.

Though Half Life 2's opening had a deliberate pacing to it, Half Life 1 makes it feel like God of War by comparison. Back in the day walking around a science lab filled with the 4 or 5 character models marionetting around may have been deep contextual storytelling at the time but today it's hard to appreciate. I know games have catered to my attention-deficit for the past 6 years but brevity is the soul of wit y'know?

It was mistake to go this far back down the evolutionary chain really. Even regarding the story there are things that jibe with my memories of Half Life 2, and then are things that are completely bemusing, like this chap:

No Caption Provided

I did some reading and apparently this guy is called a "Bullsquid". Now vortigaunts I could deal with and seeing headcrabs was like being reunited with an old friend but Bullsquid here? He's unsettling and forced me to dwell on the fact that the formative years of 3D graphics meant weird, disgusting design first and context second. Did "they came out of the rift" cut it in 98 when each enemy looked like it dropped in from another game?

Playing Half Life 1 is still pretty fun even with the odd ladder-climbing and 1998 corridors, certainly more so than my attempts to play Doom 2 and Duke 3D were. But as you can see, without the context of what HL1 was at the time it's impossible for me to play it without comparing it to the Half Life game I played first.

I will finish Half Life but it'll be out of obligation. As someone who wants to appreciate the evolution of games, skipping Half Life 1 is like glossing over the ancient Greeks.

Disillusion inevitably leads to music with me, therefore the intervening period between feeling bad about not really getting Half Life and the writing of this blog has been taken up with Sound Shapes, a game that justifies itself with one-fifth its campaign mode.

Maybe that's an overstatement. But guys, you should play the Beck album in Sound Shapes. This game was sold on mixing music with platforming and Beck's levels literally ARE the songs. Is having to avoid a platform because it turns spiky when the lyrics are "Hurt a little" a tad pretentious? I'm not sure yet but I love it all the same.

Each album almost seems like it had its own design ethic, one specifically tailored for the artist providing the music. Jim Guthrie and Beck's albums have been the standouts so far in terms of raw quality of music. Deadmau5's D-Cade album is surprising inasmuch as it's actually enjoyable but also because I think it actually delivers on the idea of really interacting with the soundtrack you're assembling in each level. More of the platforms add to the soundtrack and make you feel like you're actually making music, while the Proud and Guthrie albums are more like platforming to a soundtrack.

I hope a community forms around Sound Shapes because honestly the platforming itself doesn't really hold my interest without the music to back it up. It's not bad in any way, just unremarkable. The controls are good enough to allow you to concentrate on the music which is why as soon as I finished the campaign I went looking for more levels from people who can create things.

A few tries of user-levels before the servers started getting hairy taught me three things:

1) Tunes from the campaign and tutorial are surprisingly easy to copy.

2) The design tools you unlock from completing the albums don't gel too well together because they come for different art styles. Most levels look like disturbing a mess of Sword and Sworcery and space invaders.

3) The people who like Sound Shapes also like the themes from Zelda/Mario/StarWars/Uncharted/potentially every memorable theme from the past few decades.

In the meantime there's Sleeping Dogs and Darksiders 2 to consider, because what Sound Shapes also taught me was that it's the kind of light gaming snack that gets you hungry for something more substantial. It got me out of my cycle of playing the same old games that I've played for years during the summer droughts.

Videogames right? They're pretty good.

Thanks for reading. If you read.


Super Kombat Fighter vs Tekken: Street Edition

Way back in the mists of 2009 Capcom made a sequel/reboot that actually worked, Street Fighter 4 encompassed much of what fans loved about the series while moving the genre forward in a way that kickstarted it back to life. A fighting game that gets released in this day and age has to reach a yardstick set by SF4 and not without reason, it being one those games that brings in an entirely new generation of players.

2010: SF4 with 100% more Super. Go Capcom

I however, was not one of them. I really enjoyed SF4, up until the moment I thought it was time to engage in some multiplayer competition. Because if chess was a game that was a $60 entertainment product, then it would be Street Fighter, as the board may be different and some regulations could be changed but basically the people who were amazing at chess the first time will be just as good at this new swanky version of chess.

And as Street Fighter is the basis of all fighting games worthy of note, it doesn't take much from a seasoned fighting game fan to become rapidly proficient at them. Or at least, proficient enough to wipe the floor with my arse.

I came to gaming in the very late 90's, and by gaming I mean cute colourful things flashing onscreen as I wrestled my young mind around dual analogue sticks with the PS1. My gaming began in the PS2 era, long after the heyday of MK and the Street Fighters had been and gone. The only option was Tekken, and as 3D fighting games are fundamentally weird from the outset, there was no hook to ever make me care about two Japanese men with camp hair hitting each other.

In however many months time, the promising Street Fighter X Tekken comes out, as will the little known Skullgirls (developed by a load of hardcore people from some tournament or other.) I would love to dive back into a fighting game such as SF X Tekken and have wanted to ever since the recent Mortal Kombat. The allure of a skill-based game offering endless depth for a person who is growing wearisome of buying AAA games that are over and done with in 10 hours cannot be denied. But seriously, how the hell does one play a fighting game against real people?

Chess. See?

The current fighting game crowd out there today are machines, able to determine every nuance and trick built into the systems at play in today's fighters. There are people out there who swear by Ryu, or Skorpion or even Mrs Hulk if you want to take the MvC3 route. They spend their lives learning every aspect of their preferred characters and then viciously use the same online services as me. A gamer who mashes buttons in the vague hope that something shiny will appear onscreen.

What the hell is super? How the f*ck should I know what a hit confirm is? The games aren't so much entertainment as they are sports for the lethargic. And my good gaming friend, being the sly dog that he is recommended SF3: Third Strike to me. Which could be used as tank armour as it's about as penetrable as granite. Fighting games have gotten to the point where you'll only get your money's worth if you play online, and the only way to have fun in that situation is to be good at fighting games. Something that bars anyone from my generation who came to games in the full-3D era of the Playstation 2.

There is no entry point anymore because everything Capcom puts out is so simultaneously insane and intensely focused on an audience that plays only these types of games. At this moment in time a person of my gaming history will jump into any fighting game and be beaten to a pulp by people who have made 2D fighting into a fine art. And the connective tissue between all fighting games that draw inspiration from Capcom's defining series means the transition from one crazy spin-off to the other is far easier than the brutal learning curve that the neophyte must surmount in order to get all $60 out of their purchase.

What is this and how the f*ck do I do it again?

My only hope is for Skullgirls, because apparently that has some base level tutorialising going on that teaches you about fighting games beyond Skullgirls mechanics. Until that day comes, the only fighting game worth playing for me is MK because that included single-player content that went above and beyond what Capcom does with its games. And even that game has created a hardcore online community that will discourage any curious newcomer with malicious glee and much fatality.

The renaissance missed me, there is no point of reference or arcane set of skills locked away in my muscle memory. when want to play a fighting game, I play it and I come away thinking "I would love that game if I could play fighting games" and now the barrier to entry gets reinforced year by year.


A Question of Compatibility

Today I was sifting through my cupboards of books, old games that I'd promised myself I'd play again and the periphery of electronical nonsense that was outmoded as quickly as it came. The crowning glory of my wardrobe is the flat space at the bottom where my dead 360 and its many components share delightful accomodation with disintergrating jogging shoes and cables for things I don't own anymore.

Of all the things that get me tetchy regarding the death and rebirth via $80 and subsequent death of my 360, it's the fact that I have 4 perfectly good controllers which powered many hours of Halo and Gears with like-minded friends. Today, I this annoyed me more than usual because I knew for a fact that the dull and monotonous PC gaming crowd use 360 gamepads for the sacreligeous titles that shockingly require a custom built hardware to play properly.

A plan formed in my irked psyche that maybe, just maybe, I could use these dusty controllers for good. There are a lot of games on PC that I want desperately but having played through them on 360, I knew that a keyboard would completely ruin the experience. Before some of you bite my head off, you just don't play platformers or 3rd Person action games with a mouse, it's a soul-destroying experience. Bastion, a game that I still think is a close contender for the year's finest game, is one such title that I have avoided purchasing on Steam because the demo with the keyboard sucked the responsiveness out of the gameplay.

I assumed that as the 360 controllers have charging kits with USB inputs, Microsoft would be smart enough to make them compatible. Being Bill Gates tech, the world seems to think that this is downright wrong and I should buy a 5th 360 controller that is made for a PC. This dear readers, was an offence to my sensibilities. Upon extra research I found that even if I was to actually make use of my old controllers to make PC non-FPS games bearable, I would have to shell out wonga to secure for myself a wireless adaptor. While most of you knowledgeable folk make be thinking "well duh?", keep in mind that only late year did I have a PC that could manage Team Fortress 2. PC gaming is by and large an anethema to me, though I make say words like "textures" and "draw distance" in my reviews I could not give a monkeys about whether a game looks X amount better on computer Y because of combination Z of card and memory.

I resolved not to bow down to the forces of consumerism and decided to do techy things. While my PC didn't give a rat's arse whether I wanted the 360 controller to talk to the Bastion demo, my PS3 controller was found to be communicative with said PC if not actually compatible with any games.

Now a plug must be given to one caffenpill for his informative video on getting PS3 controller to work on your PC using MotioninJoy (links to the files required are provided). Though it took a bit of fiddling, especially since the program emulates 360 inputs through PS3 which in laymans terms equals: "you have to change the buttons around because no one wants to shoot with R2 on the Dualshock". I get that this may have been one hoop too many to jump through in order to play the games I want to play without using damn WASD but I can imagine plenty of people are in my position and are just as stubborn about shelling out cash for useless add-ons they don't need.

As a result; TOLERABLE PC GAMING. Chuck accusations at me all you want, I am a console gamer. I think console games look pretty damn good, I like games to play when they go in the slot and I want to have a great experience without reading more than 4 acronyms. The ability to play a dual-stick shooter without going in straight lines transcends any "controllers lack the precision" rubbish that the purists habitually throw at the console crowd. Yes, I'm using a PS3 controller whose button prompts come up as "Press A to do..." but as I still think in 360 buttons after 3 years of Playstation that's a minor irritation. No money spent on wireless whatnots, Bill and his friends can slum it.

So far, I think I could play a few more low-key releases on the PC rather than download them on PSN. My card apparently can't run even the graphically ho-hum new releases like Saints Row the Third (best use of Power!) that well so you may expect a despicable descent into the world of Steam sales and indie games. Especially if I get too used to the joy of not playing games with the implements I use to operate the trappngs of my real life.

Now comes the question: I have maybe $25 US in my Steam wallet that has never been spent, in order to test out my new setup I can afford either the new Trine 2 or Bastion (which I finished on somebody's 360 because they were heathens and hated it). Both are my kind of games in a very big way, thus I would appreciate any and all recommendations as to the true test of my elaborate emulator setup.


There is no grey in the Plumber's Moustache

I've been playing Rayman Origins for the past week now, blissfully ignorant of other releases and willfully disregarding the backlog of games that have built up around my desk in what some would call a "horizontal and vertical filing system". For those of you who don't know already, Rayman Origins is truly exceptional on almost every level. However one thing that certainly stuck with me was the fact that though Rayman modernizes the platformer to a certain extent, with checkpoints and so on making the game actually playable, the game still feels like a throwback and not always for the right reasons.

Rayman is a character I've heard described as "The French Mario" on numerous occasions and the comparison is apt, if somewhat unfair. He certainly shared his glory days with Nintendo's icon and similarly made the transition to 3D well. But Rayman has basically been in four "proper" games, discounting Ubisoft's literal butchering of the IP for their commercial purposes, whereas Mario is the most ubiquitous IP on the market even today. In spite of this, you rarely hear Mario in any of his guises described as "a throwback" or "nostalgic" or even "antiquated".

Describing any of Mario's starring vehicles is an exercise in stating the obvious. Mario Kart 7? Well its more Mario Kart. There are few if any elements that have been outright removed from the Mario formula, whether Mario is in a kart, jumping from left to right or 3D platforming on tiny worlds, Mario is still Mario. The format may be different and the platform may be in your hand instead of your living room but pretty much the same plumber and his bag of tricks have been played by us since the mid-90's.

Mario is also practically bullet-proof, if at any point I was to say on a forum that a Super Mario Bros game was just like the 3 others that preceded it then you and probably everyone else would reply "that's because it's fucking Mario". Timelessly bullet-proof as well, I have hit Bowser 3 times to beat him more times than I can count and so has everyone else but the word "dated" is not one that is usually used to describe any of the Mario series, which now function as their separate entities linked only by the presence of the moustachioed plumber and his supporting cast.

Of course many gamers who satiate themselves daily with the cutting edge could call Mario antiquated, and they'd be in the minority because 1 in 3 Wii's have a Mario Kart Wii attached to them. Even though the Mario Karts, the Super Mario Bros and even the more recent Smash Bros and Galaxy games have received numerous additions, they're still recognizably similar to the first games in those series. We don't seem to get tired of Mario and the aspects of his games that most modern platformers have shunned. You still collect coins to get lives, if that doesn't feel ancient to most gamers then I'd be shocked, but of the few complaints I've heard about the more recent Nintendo games with Mario and company on the cover have been to do with the formula and structure showing their age.

Admittedly, Nintendo almost always delivers that special something with a Mario title that's often absent from the competition. They also basically have a blank slate to work from, now Mario explores small planets, now he beats up Link, now he can glide in a race. Even though the ingredients are the same, ie: Mario is in a colourful world, go figure, Nintendo can reinvent the what Mario games can be several times over and still have gamers say "well it's Mario, duh". What other series can have over 4 different versions of itself operating at once with its fans buying ALL of them? You still collect stuff, you probably will have to rescue Peach at some point, Bowser will prove to be pain in the arse but it's hard to imagine a character with so many gaming identities tied to him. The games look a touch old, they sound like games from the 90's and in many senses they play like them too yet they're still awesome and well-loved with nary a "same old same old" from the gaming majority.

Why is this so? Mario's games are fantastic, in fact they're the only thing that has kept me coming back to Nintendo's otherwise unattractive systems. But no other franchise has managed to stay as fresh in my mind as the yardstick by which all platformers are judged while remaining so very similar to the aged games that preceded them. Nintendo does tend to perpetuate itself within its own microcosm while the rest of the world goes off and invents high-definition and other things Nintendo has no truck with but perhaps its innate stubbornness against evolution and progression is because like Mario, they just seem to do things right.

Maybe the overdose of Rayman has sent me down a nostalgia trip, if so I'm struggling to find nostalgia for a Mario game because if you're nostalgic for a game you'll most likely think it feels old by the time you revisit it. Though I'm by no means an uber Mario fan, the same formulas of the Kart, Bros and 3-dimensional Mario games are still superb stuff today. I'm at a loss to explain why, seeing as life counters and coins can infuriate is most other games, but I do hope it continues.


Game Music.

I've spent a few weeks delibating over what games of this year had the most memorable scores, original or otherwise. I generally add interesting tracks to a yearly playlist as I hear them in games. At the moment Hans Zimmer's Crysis 2 Theme, the entirety of the Bastion soundtrack and most of Rayman Origins' OST has been played to death (kazoos are the business people). Anyway I've played most of the big releases this year but no soundtrack bar Skyrim has managed to stick in the mind. Deus Ex had a good sci-fi electronic score and Jesper Kyd always does a fine job with the AC games but everything is so high in quality these days that it all becomes a forgettable yet extremely competent mush.

I'm tempted to say Saints Row the Third has been the most surprisingly and enjoyable set of tracks, even though they're most licensed stuff that was hilarious in the moment (I've played about 5 hours so there may be more to come). Apart from my two aesthetic favourites of the year; Bastion and Rayman, there's nothing that has had me leaving tracks on repeat like I did last year with God of War 3's soaring and bombastic lack of musical subtlety.

Are there any games this year that I've missed or glossed over that had some memorable tracks? I generally prefer games that smack me around the face with the quality of their soundtracks than the more subtle scores so I'd welcome any mentions of the better atmospheric soundtracks this year as I probably failed to notice them.

this was adam1808



Greetings Giant Bomb. I'm a guy who writes things about games, generally on gamepot where many of my friends are but as this site rocks in myriad ways I've decided to become a sporadic presence on this site seeing as I spend an inordinate amount of time here.

If you like any of the stuff I write then I might make the habit of porting my ruminations over but if not, it's just less work for me and more time for me to enjoy the world of sitting on stuffed furniture playing video games.

this was adam1808