Tuesday, 25 December 2012

From Groundbreaking to Trend Following

Having been playing it recently on my PlayStation Vita, (a great piece of hardware but it's a shame about the sales), I want to talk about one of the biggest games of the 90s both in terms of quality and in regards to the immense popularity it garnered back then, Tomb Raider.

The box art for the first Tomb Raider game which first released in November 1996
The game was a huge phenomenon back then because of it's unique gameplay. Today, many see it as clunky and unresponsive but at the time it was fresh because 3D games were still in their infancy. Playing it today for me is still a very enjoyable experience. Yeah, the controls are heavy and archaic but they are consistent and any mistakes made are the player's fault and not anything to do with bugs or glitches unlike many games today. 

Tomb Raider was an unforgiving game. Any small mistake could lead to failure and losing quite a bit of progress due to the save crystal system the game used, unless you were playing on the PC then you could save anywhere but even that has it's risks. You had to think carefully about each jump and trap, making the game more tense and/or frustrating depending on the outcome of the attempt at the jump or whatever the game threw at you. The game's combat isn't very good, it wasn't back in 1996 either but that was never the focus of the game. Anyway, it made things more interesting and increased the tension due to the rubbishness.

The focus of Tomb Raider was always the levels. These levels which had big, overlapping puzzles and many opportunities to explore the landscape and discover every nook and cranny. Wonderful. No hand-holding either with the puzzles. These days, many games have glowing icons or objects, showing you what can be interacted with. That's fine but it isn't very challenging or fun, well to me anyway. 

It can't be understated how much I love this game. I'd love to see a new game in the vein of the original with excellent puzzles and lots of exploring and challenges. Sadly, it's increasingly looking like that will never happen. I'm talking about the reboot of Tomb Raider.

Box art for the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider. HNNNNNNG.

When first announced, Crystal Dynamics, who replaced series creators Core Design (who have since gone defunct) after the mess that was Angel of Darkness back in 2004, wanted to redefine the series and take it in a new direction. Initially, that was interesting since they focused on survival and being lost on a deserted island off the coast of Japan. It sounded a bit like Metal Gear Solid 3 from what they were saying. Not classic Tomb Raider but it's a quality game and could work well if done right. However, after a long silence there has been a deluge of information but nothing shown sounds like nothing Crystal Dynamics said previously.

For a start off, for a so-called survival game, the game has regenerating health. No medipacks or anything. Just hide in cover for a few seconds and all wounds are healed. A popular feature of modern games which feels out of place in a Tomb Raider. Another thing out of place in a Tomb Raider is the excessive gore and violence. I know Tomb Raider has guns and Lara killing but in this manner, especially when this new Lara is made out to be inexperienced and vulnerable, yet can kill in cold blood like a seasoned veteran.

In this video, you see Lara kill some enemies in brutal fashion which completely goes against the theme that Crystal Dynamics were trying to portray. They are complete opposites and conflict with each other immensely. I know she is in danger but she looks so calculated and those finishers just top it off.

The Magical Shape-shifting Bow/Pickaxe combo...

Another feature brought over is the upgrade system found in RPGs and online First Person Shooters. This allows people to unlock abilities or useless stuff like cosmetic crap other ways to kill people. I'm not sure where this belongs in Tomb Raider. It seems like it's there to keep the OCD gamer who likes to unlock useless nonsense to keep them engaged because the gameplay itself is so drab and boring. 
Blow something up, earn some XP!!!!!!!1

Which brings me on the next point. The levels. In the original like I explained, the levels were the star of the show. In this new game, the focus is shifted on Lara and her growth as a character. The problem with this is that no one cares about Lara as a character. If you ask people who are aware of Lara Croft and Tomb Raider, pretty much no one will say Lara is best known for her personality. Why Crystal Dynamics insist on this, they tried it before deciding the reboot the franchise, is a mystery. A result of this is the increase in confrontation, the combat. This is one area where the reboot should beat the original to a pulp thanks to better technology. However, like Lara's character, this was never important and just served as a break from all of the puzzles. 

With this new-found emphasis on killing things to death, the challenging levels have been simply discarded, replaced by linear pathways which link the combat engagements together, as well as the 'cinematic set pieces'. Another one of those things brought in current gaming trends, used commonly in games such as Call of Duty and of course Uncharted, once referred to as 'Dude Raider', despite Uncharted and Tomb Raider not sharing very much in common... until now it seems. Uncharted has always focused on the characters and narrative instead of challenging gameplay but it works in that because the characters are interesting and have a good chemistry. The only thing Uncharted and the original Tomb Raider have in common  is having a globe-trotting protagonist who go in search of an ancient artifact. Both have similar influences, Indiana Jones being one, but ultimately take that influence and go in different directions. However, Tomb Raider seems to be going in that direction now with the highlighted pathways and objects as well as increasing emphasis on combat and story. I Think these two pictures show it well:

Says it all.

I like Uncharted, it's my favourite new game series from this console generation but that doesn't mean that I want every game to be just like it. Especially not Tomb Raider but I guess I must be in the minority because Square-Enix and Crystal Dynamics must think I do. It's as if there's a checklist for every popular feature in some of the most popular games and every one had to be ticked, including a Detective-like mode where objects and pathways glow to show where to go, as seen in the Batman Arkham games and Multiplayer. 

Yes, multiplayer in a Tomb Raider game. Not officially confirmed but it's as good as confirmed because GAME put up a description on their product page for it for then to remove it hours later. Luckily someone screengrabbed it because I didn't.

I may be overreacting but the game so far looks to be one of the most cynical, uninspiring and creatively bankrupt game I have seen in some time. Since they've got all of these features they might as well go the whole way and shove in some multiplayer which will be forgotten about a few weeks after launch most likely. The game has its fans but so does everything no matter how terrible and this looks to be no exception. Most of the people interested have no prior experience with the franchise and don't care about it's history and what it was about. Some Tomb Raider fans support it too but they're the type who'll buy anything with the name Tomb Raider on it. 

Many fans, myself included, are immensely disappointed with the direction of this game. It's not what I want in a Tomb Raider game and I hope this games fails. That might sound harsh, given the number of people at Crystal Dynamics and Square-Enix who have dedicated lots of time and effort into it but there has to be a point where you have to say that it didn't work and it's not what is right for the series. Maybe a break is what's best. After a short while someone else takes the franchise and takes it back in the direction of the original Core Design games but makes them for the current day with little compromise. One can dream. 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Wii U poem

Oh Nintendo, Nintendo
You release a new console
Which made many go 'doh'
And want to whack you with a pole

Updating the firmware can make you old
When it does and you only get to play
Inferior ports that are sold
'It's not the same game. It's not the same content' Reggie will say

Rehashing 2D Mario once again
Is it the same game as sold before?
Little to excite the brain
No new Galaxy or HD Hyrule to explore

Only Pikmin 3 and Bayonetta 2
Not enough for most
Get the fans talking about you
But not really to boast

The Gamepad
A new Revolution was claimed
But it is quite sad
Low battery life and poor screen is blamed

Keeping costs down
Not pushing the boat
Giving many a frown
And you easily afloat

Off screen gameplay
Without the need for a TV
Allowing you to pick up and play
Whilst leaving others to be

Media features such as streaming
Netflix and YouTube
Will they keep it from becoming
The next GameCube?

Friday, 30 November 2012

Dust Settling on Carbon-fibre

One word describes the 2012 Brazilian Formula One Grand Prix. Dramatic. From the unpredictable weather  to the Championship climax both at the front and the back of the field. There was plenty still left to play for. In the end, it was Sebastian Vettel and his Red Bull Racing team celebrating as Vettel won his third Driver's Championship in a row to go with Red Bull's third consecutive Constructor's trophy. 

At the other end of the field. There was something to play for as well. 11th in the Constructor's Championship. It doesn't sound much but it was worth millions in prize money to whoever got that place. The contenders were Caterham and Marussia and it was the Caterham team who came out in 11th place as Vitaly Petrov came in, you guessed it, in 11th, to secure the money. Funny thing is, Petrov might not be racing next year.

The biggest loser, outside of Alonso who must have known he only had an outside chance he would end up Champion, is Lewis Hamilton. I have already written about him and his move to Mercedes but now I have to again because I think he may be the unluckiest driver in F1.

Hamilton was flying in Brazil. He secured pole and was looking to end his McLaren career on a high and win  his final race for the team. Something achieved by the legend that was Aytron Senna in his final race at McLaren. However, like for much of the season, it just wasn't meant to be. Hamilton was out in front at Interlagos but was being caught by the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg, who like Hamilton was in his final race for the team he was currently at and wanted to end on a high, and the tricky conditions made things difficult for everyone. Which led to an incident which summed up Hamilton's season...

Not the first time in 2012 had Hamilton had to retire because of outside factors, whether it may be getting wiped out by say, Pastor Maldonado, or having technical difficulties with the car, things haven't gone Hamilton's way. What could he have done? Nothing. Hamilton has proved to everyone that he is one of the best in F1 despite the problems he's had this season and deserves a crack at winning a second Driver's Championship more than anyone. Will he get that at Mercedes? If things continue for them like they have recently then probably not. Mercedes have only scored six points in the last six races. Speaking of his Mercedes, McLaren have handled Hamilton's move to Mercedes in a pretty interesting way in their animated show Tooned. Tooned is a series of short episodes starring Lewis Hamilton (not now after the last episode of the series), Jenson Button and presenter of BBC gameshow Pointless, Alexander Armstrong. Here is the last episode of the first series of Tooned.

You can't say they don't have a sense of humour.

So now that the season is finished, many will reflect on what did happen and what could have been and of course, what could be for next season.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Going backpacking or gone forever?

This weekend, the 2012 Formula 1 season hits it's climax at the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos and the title will be decided between smug, whiny bitch Sebastian Vettel and eyebrow extraordinaire Fernando Alonso. However, attentions are already turning to the 2013 season and the biggest news is that Lewis Hamilton is leaving McLaren, the team who has supported him since he was just thirteen.

Lewis Hamilton at McLaren

Earlier this season, Hamilton announced that he was joining Mercedes and ending his long-standing association with the Woking-based team. The reason cited by Hamilton was that he wanted a new challenge and more freedom for sponsorship and other things. This is interesting given that his management company is the same one that orchestrated David Beckham's move to LA Galaxy several years ago. Of course, we can't forget that Hamilton's manager was his own dad before ending the professional relationship. Anthony, Lewis' dad has his own company and manages racing drivers, including Force India's Paul Di Resta. 

This surely means that Lewis' career managers were behind the move, since they had the most the gain from it. There's no way you can say it's to get a better car, since the Mercedes is struggling at this moment in time. That's not to say they won't improve for next year but given Hamilton won the last race at the new US circuit in Austin last time out and is looking good in Practice at Interlagos at the time of writing, you have to question the real motives of this moves. 

Hamilton's current team-mate at McLaren, Jenson Button, believes that his not-for-much-longer team-mate is making a mistake. Button said that "He has chosen to go his own way at the end of the year. It is his decision, although I personally don't think it is the right decision," and Jenson will know the Mercedes team better than anyone if you think about it. Given that had driven for them for quite a number of years in several guises: BAR, Honda and then the one season wonder Brawn GP.

Jenson Button driving the Brawn GP car which won both 2009 F1 championships

For years, even with the backing of Honda, who are rumoured to be returning to the sport, potentially as the engine supplier to McLaren, the team struggled to make real headway and only won one race as Honda in 2006 with Button behind the wheel. Ironically, had Honda stayed in the championship in 2009 they would have won both championships since Honda funded the development of the Brawn GP car which gave Button his Driver's Championship glory. Though that car was only as competitive as it was because they abandoned development of the 2008 car which was a total dud. To their credit, Mercedes have won a race this year, in China, and it was German shampoo model Nico Rosberg who gave them their first victory since they bought the team at the end of 2009. It was Nico's first and only F1 victory as well.

Not even the legend Michael Schumacher (pictured) can save the Mercedes F1 team from midfield  mediocrity so far. 

Since Button's comments, Hamilton has refuted any notions of regret at agreeing to join the Silver Arrows. Hamilton has said  "What I do have is a huge amount of love for the (McLaren) team. Leaving is always a tough decision and these last couple of races will be tough. "I'm happy I've got a new challenge ahead of me. I've got to build new relationships with people. Everyone does that in life so I don't know why I can't do it." 

However, the Team Principal at McLaren, Martin Whitmarsh, does believe that Hamilton is regretting signing on the dotted line to join BAR-Honda Mercedes, saying that he believes his reasons are that he has been offered more money and that Hamilton feels he has to 'flee the nest' so to speak. However, neither have ruled out Hamilton rejoining the team one day. That itself is a bit odd since you never hear drivers saying that they'd one day like to rejoin the team they're about the leave. Whitmarsh did go on the record and say that he would "have him back, yes".

"So let's hope it's just a gap year."

For the last time? Hamilton and Whitmarsh celebrating the victory at the 2012 US Grand Prix

Could we see Hamilton rejoining McLaren after three, or maybe even just a single year at Mercedes if things don't go too well?

It has happened of course. A driver rejoins the team he left for 'a new challenge'. The most recent example is Fernando Alonso, who in 2005 announced that he was joining McLaren from the all conquering Renault team of 2005-6. This only lasted for one year, despite him signing on for three years at McLaren. Alonso returned to Renault for 2008 and endured mediocrity for two years before joining Ferrari.This was down to him having his eyebrows ruffled by the new kid on the block, Lewis Hamilton. Annoyed at this and not being the Schumacher-esque dominator he had hoped, he sabotaged his own and Hamilton's chance of winning the F1 title, allowing Kimi "Leave me alone, I know what I'm doing" Raikkonen to win the championship by a single point.

Will Hamilton rejoin McLaren at some point? I think he will, it's just a case of when to be honest. McLaren have signed Sauber's Speedy Gonzalez Sergio Perez to replace him at McLaren and he is an exciting prospect and one to look out for next year for certain. I think it's more likely Hamilton will return when Button decides to hang up the helmet whenever that is. He's not getting any younger. 

In and out. Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez.
Only time will tell what happens but whatever the case. It's going to be exciting as hell to watch and that can only be a good thing.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Villanelle Poem

Here is a poem I have written. The type of poem it is is called a Villanelle. The poem itself doesn't have a title at the moment. Here it is:

Power can be achieved, seized under control 
Taken from those who take for granted
This sheep despot patrol

The land they command, role to role
Seeds for belief, good and planted
Power can be achieved, seized under control

Man, woman and child watched in whole
Rallying cries from the boss all chanted
This sheep despot patrol

Officers each carrying pistole
Dictators views sweetened and enchanted
Power can be achieved, seized under control

Challengers coming over the knoll
Fighting the walls of the implanted
This sheep despot patrol

The truth revealed, deep from the soul
Word spreads of the disenchanted
Power can be achieved, seized under control
This sheep despot patrol

Monday, 8 October 2012

Flash Fiction story

At University, I did a 500 (well 483 to be exact) word story. This is called Flash Fiction, since it's short, obviously. Anyway, without further ado, here it is: 
“Dumb dog.” Words which were said far too often for one woman as the dog she named Bruce ran around the garden like he had taken large quantities of sugar and caffeine. Bruce was racing around the garden like a flash, his owners seeing nothing but a big black blur. Border Collie’s are supposed to be intelligent as far as dogs go but not this one.

“Bruce you idiot what the hell are you doing?”

“You’re a nutcase Bruce.”

The reason for all the commotion, a cat. An old tale, the dog chases the cat but the cat has the intelligence and agility to evade the dog without much fuss. This was looking to be another story which is looking to have the same plot. The cat in question was a ginger colour, parading the perimeter of the garden by walking on the fence and taunting the dog and causing him to go into a frenzy.

The cat knows it and does it to mess with Bruce. Cats are cruel, cunning creatures. They know exactly what they are doing. However, things do go wrong and they did for this feline. As he was trotting along the fence of the garden he lost grip and fell to the ground. He landed on all fours as it’s predicted all cats do. The feline faced a new challenge, Bruce. The excitable dog couldn’t contain himself once he saw that the cat had dropped to his level he smelled blood.

There was a standoff as the two sized each other up and just stared at each other. The calm before the storm. Then, in just a split second, all hell broke loose. Bruce headed straight for his foe but the cat was too quick and got out of the way before it became Bruce’s latest chew toy. As a result, Bruce went crashing into the garden fence and caused it to wobble like Rolf Harris with a piece of cardboard. This caused a huge racket which alerted Bruce’s owners to his energetic stupidity. Once they were aware of what was going on, they knew Bruce was never going to achieve what we aimed to.

“Come in Bruce you’re going to break something.”

“What are you doing?” were the cries but would this Border Collie listen? No. He just ran and ran trying to catch the ginger ninja but the cat was too quick and too clever to be caught. Both were running around the garden and looked like coloured blurs from an onlooker’s perspective. This battle went on for some time until the cat decided that enough is enough and leaped over the fence and into the next garden in one clean move. 

Bruce looked up in amazement for a few seconds, then proceeded to walk into house. This sheep dog hadn’t rounded the sheep on this occasion. Maybe next time the dog will have his day. 

I'm Back. For Good.

I've decided to come back to this blog after a bit of a sabbatical. I'm going to post things that I've done at University here since I'm doing Creative Writing. It might be good to get some feedback from the internet too. :)

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

New place

Hi all, I am writing this to say that I have joined the team at PlayStation Universe as a writer for their UK contingent. The guys at PSU have been very welcoming and I can't wait to get started for real. I've already written one article for them which you can find here. I hope you check out the website over there and maybe even the forums, if you are up for for nerds going at it in full keyboard warfare. :P

In any case, thank you for reading my posts here and I will continue to do so once I figure out what to write here now that any gaming related literature by myself will be on PSU from now on, double posting is certainly out of the question. Thanks for reading.


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

A Masterpiece

Well I'm back, after well over two months of nothing I've decided to write a new blog post at long last. So what has brought me back you ask? Well, a) I'm bored and b) I've wanted to write about this for a while and now seemed a good time, for reasons I will get to in a bit.

So what am I going to talk about? Well, it's a game (surprise surprise) and it's regarding as one of the greatest of all time and is my personal favourite. Metal Gear Solid.

The European box art for the PlayStation version of Metal Gear Solid
Why talk about this now? Last week marked the 25th anniversary of the Metal Gear franchise, the first Metal Gear game, called Metal Gear obviously, was released in 1987 on the MSX2 computer. There was a NES version too, but series creator Hideo Kojima had no involvement in that release and tends to disregard it as part of the series. Metal Gear got two sequels in quick succession, the first was called Snake's Revenge. This is seen as an unofficial sequel since Kojima had no involvement in it. Snake's Revenge was the reason Kojima returned to Metal Gear and made Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. This was released in 1990 exclusively on the MSX2. No shitty NES port was made this time.

The Metal Gear series was rested until 1998, when the technology in games had moved on enough for Kojima to realise a vision of making a 3D Metal Gear game. Metal Gear Solid. The fact that the game sees the series moves from a 2D game to 3D gave Kojima the idea of adding "Solid" to the title. It also serves as a reference to the protagonist, Solid Snake.

Now before I go further, I have a confession to make. When I first played Metal Gear Solid, I didn't like it, strange, maybe stupid I know but I was young and the idea that you had no weapons didn't sit well with the 8 year old me. Of course, I eventually learned the error of my ways and got to experience a landmark game. It's strange because I felt the same about another game and that is also now in amongst my favourite games of all time, Gran Turismo.

I believe that Metal Gear Solid is a landmark game. It was first game that I played where I was engaged by the story and the characters, which made me want to play on and find out where the story went and what happens to the characters. These days, games which strive to be story driven and cinematic aren't uncommon but back in 1998 it was unheard of. Metal Gear Solid was a trailblazer in that regard.

Another way in which Metal Gear Solid was ahead of the curve was in breaking the fourth wall. If you don't know what that means, the fourth wall is a term used in film to distinguish between the movie and viewer with a wall inbetween, separating them. Breaking that basically means that the film or game will directly interact with the viewer/player.

There are numerous examples of this in the Metal Gear Solid series but since I'm talking about the first one, the third Metal Gear game overall, I'll refer to an example in that. Early in the game, after having a gun duel with Revolver Ocelot, a villain with an interesting purpose.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!1 It turns out Ocelot was on your side the whole time and that he was only fighting you so that you would succeed, if that makes sense, MGS4 has quite a few WTF plot tie-ups to be fair.

Anyway, after the first encounter, the Colonel asks you to contact his niece Meryl, who depending on which ending you get is revealed to be someone a little closer than a niece, and says that her codec frequency (codec is like a personal communication device used to contact anyone anywhere) is "on the back of the CD case". Normally, you'd be looking for some CD case that has her frequency on it, many people did here too but the Colonel was referring to the actual CD case the game came in. Mind. Blown.

The back of the Metal Gear Solid European PlayStation case. As you can see, it has a picture of Meryl and Snake with the frequency of 140.15
This is just one of the numerous examples of Hideo Kojima playing with the person who is playing the game's mind. It's become a part of the series, just as much as stealth and Snake's gruff, masculine voice, unless you're playing MGS2, where you play as androgynous mop head Raiden for the most part. Funnily enough, Kojima evens plays on that, by having the US President in the game grabbing Raiden's genitals because he's unsure what Raiden is. Hilarious.

The gameplay for Metal Gear Solid was unusual for it's time as well, as it made the player avoid confrontation when possible due to lack of weapons. As I said, I didn't like it at first but once I learned how to play I loved it because it made the player think about how to avoid the enemy. Instead of me rambling on you should play it, despite it looking a little basic by today's standards it hold up pretty well if you ask me. 

Another area where the game excels is the music, it sets the tone for the game perfectly, from the main menu music, to the alert music when things get hairy, to the end and you reflect on the journey Snake has gone on.

Here is a few of the songs from Metal Gear Solid:

Menu Theme:

Encounter (Alert and Boss theme):
The Best is Yet to Come (Opening Intro and Ending theme, it also appears in MGS4, it sent shivers down my spine when I first heard it, it still does. That part of MGS4 is truly incredible, pure MGS fan service.):
Metal Gear Solid Main Theme (It doesn't appear in MGS4 because it apparently plagiarised some Russian song, which is complete bullshit.):
If you have never had the pleasure of playing this fantastic piece of gaming history then you should. It's easily available on the PlayStation Network for the PS3, PSP and the PS Vita for £7.99/$9.99. You could track down an original PS1 copy if you don't have any of those, or just want to play it how nature intended. There was also a PC version, which was apparently rubbish because it didn't work very well. 

Then, there's the remake for the Gamecube (why it wasn't released on the PS2 still annoys me) called Twin Snakes. Twin Snakes is basically the original with redone (read; worse) voice acting, better graphics, new gameplay mechanics, well MGS2 ones but retained the same level design which made the game too easy. It also has redone cut scenes which are completely bat shit insane and look ridiculous. If you can, play the original PS1 version, the disc version actually has issues if you play it on a PS2, which makes it impossible to finish the game, so I recommend the PSN download version, no issues there. It's a flawless transfer and the best version.Metal Gear Solid is a true masterpiece.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Attachment to Objects

It's been a while since I last did a blog post but now I'm back and I have an interesting subject that I want to talk about. It comes after Instagram, the popular photo sharing network on iPhone, launched on rival Android smartphones earlier this week and many iPhone owning Instagram users were rather "ew" about it. It got me thinking, why are people so bothered that a popular service or product can be accessed by a larger number of people than before. Of course, this isn't the first time a group of people have become irrationally annoyed at the prospect of  other people enjoying something that was previously exclusive to them.

The Profile screen on Instagram (Android left, iPhone right)

Back in 2008 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known as E3, Microsoft and Square-Enix announced that highly anticipated RPG Final Fantasy XIII would be released on the Xbox 360. Previously, Square-Enix had said that the game would only be released on the PlayStation 3. Why the uproar? Well Square-Enix maintained for some time that Final Fantasy XIII would be exclusive to the PS3 and going back on that was seen as a kind of betrayal.

However, many forgot that Final Fantasy wasn't always exclusive to the PlayStation. From its inception, Final Fantasy was exclusive to Nintendo platforms and Final  Fantasy VII itself was in development for the Super Nintendo and then the Nintendo 64. It was only when Nintendo decided that the N64 would be using cartridges instead of CD-ROM that Squaresoft (this was before Squaresoft merged with fellow Japanese developer Enix) decided that the game would be better suited to Sony's PlayStation and on the 12th January 1996 Square officially announced Final Fantasy VII for the PlayStation.

Why bring this up? Well, many Nintendo fans felt that Square betrayed them when Final Fantasy went to the PlayStation and then went onto the PC in 1998. Final Fantasy VII on the PlayStation propelled the Final Fantasy name, as well as the Japanese Role Plating Game genre into the mainstream, as FFVII sold over 10 million copies and remains the best selling Final Fantasy game to this day. FFXIII however, was met with much criticism from fans of the series, with some blaming Square-Enix's decision to put the game on the Xbox 360, though I believe the game would be no different either way, I'm not a fan, I haven't been a fan of Final Fantasy anyway truth be told. Therefore, it doesn't really matter what platform a game is on, if you want to play it, then get a platform that it's on. So why get so attached to one console then? I think it's because of the time invested with that product or company, that you feel compelled to support and in order to validate the support, they try to downplay the efforts of the opposition.

This brings me back to the beginning, why are people so attached to certain products? Also, why be so disgusted if a certain product or service is opened up to more people? In the case of Instagram, I think it was kind of a elitist thing that it was only available on iPhone's and it gave the users a reason as to why to support Apple and the iPhone. The same as Final Fantasy was for Nintendo and PlayStation fans respectively.

The fact is, the reason Instagram exists is because iOS doesn't give the user the custom filters Instagram does as well as a way to share them with ease. The creators of Instagram saw this and catered to a market. Android on the other hand, you can share a photo from most Android devices without installing a single app to: Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Picasa and Gmail, as well via a message, bluetooth or email. The latest version of Android, 4.0, also called Ice Cream Sandwich, has some filters similar to the ones Instagram has built in to the camera app. There are also third party apps that give you that functionality, and there has been for some time. On an iPhone, it's only Twitter, message, bluetooth or email. I don't want to turn this into an iPhone vs Android debate so I won't I'm just making a point. The point I'm trying to make is that Instagram exists because of iOS's shortcomings but people don't see that. Instead, they try to make out that Android is cheap and inferior when infact, when it comes to sharing photos, it's much the superior way to do so.

Same with Final Fantasy VII, Nintendo fans turned to Square and called them traitors when really they should have looked at Nintendo and the N64's shortcomings. As for Final Fantasy XIII, well I think that was down to money, Microsoft probably paid them a nice sum. It didn't hurt PS3 users anyway, since they could still play it, unlike N64 users with FFVII, unless they bought a PlayStation or had a PC capable in 1998.

Ultimately, people convince themselves that the products they buy are the best and do everything they can to try and find a way to convince themselves that they've made the right decision and feel "elitist".

Friday, 3 February 2012

Hands On: PlayStation Vita

It's not very often that a new gaming device comes to market. It's even more uncommon that the general public gets to sample it before launch outside of specialised pre-launch events. However, Sony has sent out Vita units to Game and Gamestation outlets throughout the UK, despite the problems they're going through. (if you want to read about their problems then Google is your friend)

Anyway, earlier in the week, I got my hands on a Vita and sampled a few of the games that are launching with it on the 22nd of February. My first thought however was how light the Vita itself was, for all the stuff that Sony has packed into it, the Vita feels lighter than the PSP, that's possibly down to the fact that there is no UMD drive in the Vita.

Before launching any games, I had a quick look at the Vita's menus, which uses a "bubble" like interface. The menus use the touch screen and not the physical buttons, which has made the interface very reminiscent of interfaces found on smartphones and tablets. It is very easy to use, like a smartphone interface and operates very smoothly. It also looks great, thanks to the Vita's 5 inch OLED screen, which has very vibrant colours and sharpness.

The Vita that I got my hands on. The picture isn't the best because I was trying to not drop the thing!
The single most requested thing for the PSP's successor was dual analogue sticks, and Sony obliged. Now, for the first time, first person shooters can be done on a handheld console without compromise. Unlike the PSP's "nub", the Vita has proper sticks but unlike the ones found on a Dualshock controller, they don't click down to give L3 and R3 buttons. There also no L2 and R2 buttons, just the two shoulder buttons like on the PSP. Instead, there is a rear touch pad which allows for more freedom, and will give developers an opportunity to do something different.

Sony has always touted the Vita as a games system, not a multimedia device like the PSP, though it does all of the non-gaming stuff the PSP does, and then some. This is backed by the sheer number of launch titles that are coming on day one. These include: Uncharted: Golden Abyss, WipEout 2048, Everybody's Golf, FIFA, Virtua Tennis 4, F1 2011 and many more, with many coming shortly after the launch of the Vita. I tried out four games in total:

  • Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Promoted as the flagship title for Vita, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a technical showcase that utilises many of the Vita's features. It also shows what can be done by the Vita graphically. It feels like Uncharted, and that's important. Nothing has been dropped because it's on a handheld. If anything, more has been added, since Uncharted makes use of the Vita's touch screen, gyroscope and rear touch pad. 
  • WipEout 2048 - Just like the PSP, the Vita launches with a new title from the long-running anti-gravity racing series. WipEout 2048 is a very good looking game, arguably more so than Uncharted. It runs very smoothly and feels very much like WipEout HD on the PS3. Speaking of which, you can race people on WipEout HD if you have WipEout 2048, which is an exciting prospect and I hope more developers implement this kind of connectivity between the two platforms.
  • Everybody's Golf - I'm not a fan of golf. However, I love Everybody's Golf. This game is perfect for the Vita because it has great anime-esque visuals and is easy to pick up and play but difficult to master. It's a testament to the game's quality that someone who is not a fan of golf can love this game. A must have for anyone who is getting a Vita if you ask me.
  • Unit 13 - The only game that I played that won't be out at launch, it's out in early March I believe. Unit 13 is a third person shooter that centres on beating your friends scores through leaderboads. You earn points by getting kills and completing objectives. You will also be able to play co-op with a friend and use the Vita's built in microphone to talk. The game itself is quite difficult, I think it's mostly down to the analogue sticks, since they feel different to those on a Dualshock controller. I noticed this difference with Uncharted too. Once you get used I bet they're fine.
All in all, I think the Vita will be a great gaming system. How well it will do on the market remains to be seen. With things like smartphones and tablets gaining in popularity, questions are being asked about the relevance of a device like the PlayStation Vita. I'll just say this, can you play Uncharted or WipEout on your iThingy? :)

Thursday, 19 January 2012

It's Morphin' Time!

I thought it would be a good idea to take a break from all the gaming blog posts and talk about something from my childhood. I then thought that it would be great to talk about the very first TV show I watched as a kid, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

The original Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers

Yes, this show about six "Teenagers with attitude" was a huge part of my early life. When it first arrived on our TV screens all those years ago, there was nothing like it. I had brightly coloured superheroes, ugly monsters, magic, giant robot dinosaurs and a big blue head. It had everything you could possibly want in a children's TV show. Another thing that I think made Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers popular when it first arrived was the stars of the show, the Rangers. More specifically, the people under the spandex.

From left to right: Billy (David Yost), Trini (Thuy Trang), Tommy (Jason David Frank), Jason (Austin St. John), Kimberly (Amy Jo Johnson) and Zack (Walter Jones)
The reason why they were so popular with fans is that they are all different, yes, they do appear to be your stereotypical teenage characters, which are quite bland, but the circumstances that they are put in make them interesting and seeing them develop as the show goes on. Another thing that made these six characters so great is the chemistry that they had. As each character was purposely different, they were able to play off each other which meant that the characters were such a tight knit group.

  • Jason: The Red Ranger and leader of the Power Rangers. He was strong, compassionate and was always open to listen to his team mates. Twice in fans' polls, Jason has won the "Best Red Ranger of all time" award. A title he still holds. I have to agree, Jason is my favourite Power Ranger ever.
  • Zack: Let's get it of the way, the black guy is the Black Ranger. This was purely coincidental and there was no racist underlining. Zack was the goof ball of the group and was easy going, but always took his ranger duties seriously. He and Jason were best friends in the show and the actors, Austin St. John and Walter Jones, became very good friends.
  • Trini: Like with Zack, there was no implied racism from the show's producers. This is because Thuy Trang wasn't originally cast as Trini, an actress called Audri DuBois was. She wasn't the same race as Thuy. Trini was like the agony aunt of Power Rangers. She was usually the one the others went to if they had any perosnal problems. Trini was strong minded and always calm. She was rarely the focus of the team but didn't need to be. She was very underrated if you ask me.
  • Billy: He started off as the stereotypical nerd, but as the show went on he grew in confidence and even led the team on occasion. Billy was ridiculously clever and his inventions were invaluable to the team. Without him, the Power Rangers would have been screwed.
  • Kimberly: Originally, the character of Kimberly was going to be a ditzy, materialistic idiot. Thank god that was changed. Kimberly won the hearts of many young boys around the world, myself included. :) Kimberly wasn't your typical damsel in distress. She was a strong and capable ranger who was the saviour on numerous occasions. Plus, she is very pretty, which helps.
  • Tommy: What can I say about Tommy? Well he did start out as very shy, letting Kimberly make the first move in their budding romance. He was forgetful but he was a great fighter and let's be honest, he had the coolest zord. :P

Sadly, this never lasted for long. Half-way through the second season, Austin St. John, Walter Jones and Thuy Trang left the show. It is believed to be because of contractual issues regarding pay, although the real truth has never been revealed. Personally, I think that ultimately, letting them go and bringing in replacements, cost them more money than it would have to keep them. It is known that the actors on Power Rangers were payed very little.

 It's disappointing that it happened, especially where the movie is concerned, since chemistry is very important in movies with multiple protagonists but what can you do. As a kid, I never noticed it when Austin, Walter and Thuy had left the show and three stand-ins were used. Now, watching those episodes back today it's glaringly obvious.

Another thing that is obvious but you didn't notice as a kid is the difference between the footage. There is a big visual difference in the quality of footage between the original footage and Japanese footage bought by Saban to be used as the basis of the show. Power Rangers actually came from a show in Japan called Super Sentai. When Power Rangers creator Haim Saban first saw this show, he had the idea of adapting the show for a western audience. He tried for years but failed, until in 1992 Fox Kids agreed to buy the concept and the rest is history. Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers is based on the 1992 Super Sentai series Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger.

There are numerous differences between the two shows: First of all, Zyuranger has ancient warriors, not teenagers. Then there is the fact that Zyuranger has five men and one woman, whereas there are two female Power Rangers. The yellow ranger in Zyuranger is male, ironically named Boi, which explains why only the Pink Ranger costume has a skirt. Also, the Zords in Power Rangers are actually Gods in Zyuranger, and speak to the ancient warriors.

There is more, like how the Dragon Ranger, Burai, is the Tyrano Ranger Geki's brother and the fact that in Zyuranger, Burai actually dies and not just lose his powers like Tommy did.

There are similarites, Rita Repulsa is actually Bandora in Zyuranger. You can see the palace says "Bandora's Palace" in both, thanks to the use of the same footage. Goldar is Grifforzer, and the rest of the villains and monsters in Zyuranger are in the first season of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.

Here are the Zyurangers in action:

Here is the same footage in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers:

There is more I could say about Power Rangers but I think that I've said enough. I think that it's a testament to the popularity of the show's premise and the characters that the show is still going nearly 20 years later. You can watch Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers on Netflix now in the UK, so if you want a nostalgia rush, then you should watch it and memories will come flooding back.

Anyway, I'll leave it here for now and as Zordon says "May the Power protect you".

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

For a New Generation

When Sonic was released in 1991, it was Sega's answer to Mario. This is because Sega were looking for a mascot, a character to be the face of the company and give the brand the image of speed and athleticism, which contrasts with the image of Merio.

In 1994, the face of gaming was about to change, with the shift to 3D graphics, the possibilities for games was to be opened up immensely. Naughty Dog, who had been signed by Universal to make three games, set about on making a game for this new generation of systems. However, choosing which platform to put this new character and world on to would have to be right. It couldn't be on the Nintendo 64 because it would be going up against Mario, which is suicide for any new game. It couldn't be the Sega Saturn because Sega were self-imploding at the time. It had to be the unknown quantity, the new kid on the block, the Sony PlayStation.

Naughty Dog founders, Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin, along with Mark Cerny, who was a designer on Sonic 2, agreed that "Sonic's ass game" which Crash was jokingly known as during development, was a great idea.

Crash Bandicoot was referred to as "Sonic's ass game" because that is basically what it is. Think about it, both Sonic and Crash are linear platformers, both have brightly coloured protagonists, stupid villains and both were and still are great games.

Naughty Dog never intended for Crash to become the mascot for the PlayStation. This only happened when Sony agreed to become the game's publisher and market the game themselves. However, since Sony's rivals had one it was natural that a character from one of their games would end up as Sony's mascot. Crash fitted the bill. The first Crash Bandicoot also established a relationship between Naughty Dog and Sony, which led to Sony acquiring Naughty Dog in 2001. Today, Naughty Dog is seen as Sony's number one developer, thanks to the amazing Uncharted series. There will be a lot of eyes on Naughty Dog's latest title, The Last of Us, which has broken the cycle of one franchise per Sony console for Naughty Dog.

The Crash Bandicoot games made by Naughty Dog have stood the test of time. Even by today's standards they are still very fun to play. I think the developers who made those games deserve a lot of credit for that. It's really such a shame that Crash Bandicoot became what it did after Naughty Dog moved on to Jak & Daxter, but since all four of Naughty Dog's Crash games are on the PlayStation Network for PS3/PSP, you can still relive the glory days.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Beginning of a Passion

Since I play videogames a lot I thought I should talk a bit about it. Anyway, I have played games for a long time, most of my life, so I think it would be cool to share some of these games, and what they mean to me. I'll post about each game in a separate post so that each game gets it's own time in the limelight. :-)

I think the first game I should talk about its the very first game I ever played. Sonic the Hedgehog.

Sonic the Hedgehog came out in 1991 and celebrated it's 20th anniversary last year. In that time, there have been numerous sequels and spin-offs. The series has had it's ups and downs but the little blue guy has kept on going.

I first played the original Sonic game when I was about 4 years old on the Mega Drive and knew that I was playing something special. The game was all about speed and there was nothing better than tearing through a level at immense speed. Plus, back then, there was a something seriously cool about a blue hedgehog. Sonic to me as a kid was much cooler than say, a fat Italian plumber, for example. ;)

I have had Sonic on various consoles and devices, which says a lot about the impact Sonic has had on my life, and Sega's change from a console maker to publisher as well of course.

Sonic was and still is Sega's mascot, and to me, was a symbol of the early years of my life, along with the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (which could make a great blog post subject actually) and I hope that he it's around for many years to come.

Even if he isn't, I'm sure that there will be something that has the Mega Drive Sonic games on it. :)

I played many games as a kid but few have stuck in my mind as much as Sonic.