10,000 Gamerpoints and Counting

I spent today burning through Gears of War on insane difficulty with my brother, which was quite an fun way to breach the 10000 point barrier.

Regarding Gears of War itself, there are only two observations I have- firstly the cooperative AI is too daft to play the game on insane difficulty solo, and secondly you can’t stop the Cole Train, baby.

E3 2008: Mirror’s Edge

Mirror\'s Edge Logo

Genre: Action adventure
Platforms: PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: DICE (EA Digital Illusions Creative Entertainment)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release date: “Late 2008”

Mirror’s Edge comes from the Swedish developers DICE, most famously known for the Battlefield series. It’s nice to see them producing something very different from their recent games and I’m sure it’s a refreshing change for the developers themselves! The game stars Faith, a runner delivering packages in some future dystopia fighting to save her sister.

The gameplay features true first person gaming, in the sense that as you run you can see your arms and legs flailing about- I did feel queasy the first time I saw the trailers – and seems to heavily feature parkour. Speed and momentum appear to be key, with weapons being a secondary, optional element to the game.

Seeing the acrobatic character, weapon-less gameplay and clean visuals I was reminded of an old Bungie game called Oni (yes they have on occasion made other games besides Halo), as well as the character YT – or Yours Truly – a young Kourier in the seminal Cyberpunk novel Snow Crash.

If you haven’t seen the game in action before the first video below features the game’s first trailer which has been floating around for a while now. Following this is the second trailer that was released recently and puts to rest my concern that the entire game world was going to be very white and very bland. Finally the last trailer features footage of the EA conference where the game was demo-ed. In this walkthough they mention that they are following ‘one of the possible routes’ in the game, however I am concerned that this may be a very linear game with limited replay value, but as always I reserve judgement until the game has actually been released. This is one game where you’ll want to watch the trailers below in high definition if you have the bandwidth for it.

E3 2008

And so it that time of year: E3 is upon us, allowing us to gaze into the future at what games we will be playing this year and beyond.  The big three have had their press conferences, individual publishers and studios are demoing their wares and the big gaming sites are posting it all up for us to enjoy.

I’ll be posting up my own impressions of games that have caught my attention, as well as links to demo videos and walkthoughs.  Penny Arcade – as ever – are on the ball neatly summing up the three main conferences if you don’t have the time to watch them all:

(Credit: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2008/7/16/)

Max Payne: The Movie Trailer

Max Payne The Movie Logo

A movie trailer for the often mentioned but rarely seen Max Payne movie has been released. I’m not sure if it was intentionally let out into the wild as the official site in the trailer bounces to a Fox website, and the link there bounces to a domain place-holder! Regardless although the trailer can be found on the obvious video sites on the ‘Net, NokkonWud has hosted a high def copy here: http://www.nokkonwud.com/?p=189.

Movies of games fill many people – including myself – with dread.  More often than not they are just simply awful.  Street Figther the Movie anyone?  Wing Commander?  For me Max Payne is a cherished IP.  The original game was released back in the ‘Matrix Era’ when slo-mo bullet time was a new concept and sucessfully melded fast-paced action with a strong (if predictable) plot.  I hold the sequel in high regard thanks to it’s storyline, pacing and action.

The movie appears to be based on the plot of the first game.  From the trailer you can see Wahlberg seems to have immersed himself in the role quite nicely and from the one split second shot, Ludacris doesn’t seem to be out of place. My main concern is that in going for a PG-13 certificate the film may be watered down to hit the rating.

I don’t want to say it, as I don’t want to be disappointed and I know I’ll be called on it in the future, but this movie might actually be… good!

1000 Gamerpoints: Assassin’s Creed

1000 gamerpoints in Assassin\'s Creed

I just killed my last Templar – quite stylishly I might add by countering his attack and sticking my hidden blade through his neck – netting me 40 gamerpoints bringing me to the full 1000.

I got Assassin’s Creed back when it was released in November 2007 and looking at my achievement history I completed the whole game in 5 days, 165 points short of the full 1000.  Assassin’s Creed is an entirely single player affair so what were these missing points if they were not of the ‘kill 1000 people in ranked multiplayer’ ilk?  Collectables.

Collectables have been around for a long time, hidden items squirreled away in games rewarding the inquisitive gamer (or the gamer who bought the strategy guide) with extra ammo, a secret level or unlockable extras.  As mentioned in a previous post, Tomb Raider: Legend is my idea of well thought out unlockables (and achievements for that matter).  There are only a few artefacts to be found on each level and are often in plain sight but a challenge to get to.  Putting the effort into getting them rewarded the gamer with unlockable outfits, concept art, character bios and cheats.  Assassin’s Creed has no less than four hundred flags (touch to pick up collectables) to find and sixty Templars (footsoldiers of the game’s villains) to kill throughout the game’s world.

Finding at a guess 90% of these is not a challenge- there are so many of them you run into them when simply bounding from rooftop to rooftop when evading the city guards.  The problem comes when you have found most of the flags and Templars in a city but are missing one here or there.  It is not a challenge to reach those scattered about the rooftops and streets – Assassin’s Creed’s much lauded parkour-esqe gameplay makes this easy – but instead it is finding those hidden in a shadowy corner where you would never venture, or in winding alleyways that you are often flying over rather than travelling through.  Yes in games of old I would be saying that I was being rewarded for diverging from the path to the level exit and exploring that side corridor- but in such ‘living world’ games exploring every street would take an inordinate amount of time and wouldn’t be very entertaining.  It is an exercise in endurance in the face of boredom, not a smart addition to the core gameplay.  In fact after going through the entire game world again trying to find the half dozen remaining flags and Templars (online guide in hand, check out the very useful assassinscreed-maps.com) I had to admit defeat and accept that I had missed them somewhere, forcing me to restart the game again from the beginning so that I could grab each flag and Templar methodically.  I can only surmise that the flags were an artificial attempt at extending playtime beyond the core game, an incentive to buy the strategy guide or an afterthought.  Though it is wrong to assume that everything you do in a game should be directly rewarded there is absolutely no benefit (save gamerpoints- I would not have bothered if I was a PS3 gamer) for collecting the flags or killing the Templars.

In my opinion any sequel should feature far fewer flags, all of them easy to spot but placed on the top of the tallest and hardest to climb structures, rewarding the player in some fashion for collecting them.  They would also be flagged on the map once picked up so that the gamer isn’t forced to retrace their steps later in the game to work out which flags they are missing.  That way the gamer would face a challenge in getting to the flags but then be rewarded with both unlockables and a sense of satisfaction.

Despite some negative backlash from gamers shortly after the glowing praise from professional reviewers on release, Assassin’s Creed is a good game and worthy of a play.  Graphically it is simply beautiful: from the first time you ride in to Jerusalem on horseback to when you climb the tallest church in the game and survey your surroundings, it is quite a masterpiece to look at.  In terms of technical merit the vast, detailed cities that make up the majority of the game are impressive, as are the visceral, action-packed sword fights and the ability to climb just about any surface in the game accurately (the protagonist reaches for handholds rather than simply moving across a wall texture).  There is an argument to be had that in creating such a beautiful, technically brilliant game they forgot to put in the gameplay- it is quite repetitive and simple to play.  On balance though, it is worth playing both as a piece of entertainment and as a milestone in games development, just don’t expect to be picking it up again for another play after the end credits roll.

Promotional Microsoft Points may expire after 30 days

A quick heads up: some promotional Microsoft Points have expiration dates.  This is probably not new, but it is news to me!  From the billing FAQ:

When do my Microsoft Points expire?
Purchased points don’t expire. Any points you get through promotions can have expiration dates. Typically, points expire within thirty days of the date you get them. To view any points in your account that have expiration dates, go to the Billing and Account Management page, sign in with your Windows Live ID, and then click Microsoft Points under Stored Credits. If you have points that are expiring in the next thirty days, you can click View expiring points to view the points and their expiration dates.

The good news at least, is that promotional points are used up first if they are about to expire:

How do I use my expiring Microsoft Points first?
Promotional points with expiration dates are automatically redeemed first before purchased points.

Microsoft’s billing site can be found at https://billing.microsoft.com if you want to check out if and when your points expire.

Thanks goes out to Zico on the OcUK forums for making me aware of this.

Neca Gears of War Action Figure Photos

Or: A Post On My Decent Further Into Geekdom

A catalogue from Forbidden Planet dropped through the door the other day and amongst the myriad of Star Wars memorabilia, Doctor Who tchochkes and slightly disturbing animé statuettes were the new Gears of War action figures designed by Neca. They stood out from the rest of the catalogue through sheer detail alone and ignoring the part of my brain that asks why I need such things I bought two.

One thing that concerns me when buying figures like these is that the product shots you see are often of high detail reference models and what you end up with is of a much reduced quality. For this reason what follows is a series of photos and my opinions on these models.

Continue reading Neca Gears of War Action Figure Photos

Don’t use Scan.co.uk

A quick rant:

I recently put together a HTPC (Home Theatre PC) and Scan came out the cheapest for most of the parts as well as stocking a few hard to find bits and bobs. Annoyingly they were very quick to take my money and then waited a full 24 hours before delivering the parts making them arrive a day late. Apparently this was due to unanticipated demand. Thing is, when I gave them the benefit of the doubt and ordered some more bits a week or two later, exactly the same thing happened, with exactly the same excuse- quick as a flash they take the money, then sit on it. Add to that they sent me the wrong processor (I ordered an E2220 and received an E2200).

So that’s one retailer I’ll be avoiding in future.

Rant over.

Videogame Concept Art

I am a sucker for gaming art books so I thought it’d be an idea to summarise some useful information I have gathered on the subject into one post. This is coming from the perspective of a fan here, apologies to any art/gaming students/professionals who disagree with my ramblings. Also note that while there shouldn’t be any spoilers in this post, I would advise against getting any of these books or visiting any links without finishing the respective game first.

Continue reading Videogame Concept Art