Tuesday, 31 December 2013

TW: R*pe; Reactions to 'The Day the Laughter Stopped' from Hypnotic Owl.



Ludum Dare is a rapid game creation community, creating fully playable games in weekends or even within 24 hours. One contribution from the independent studio Hypnotic Owl with the title The Day The Laughter Stopped is worth playing before you read my initial reaction to it but the game does come with a HUGE TRIGGER WARNING. However, this trigger warning is on the start menu for this game so you can read it there*

Reaction

I'm not great with horror games as the tension really does get to me and I really wanted to stop playing so as not to see what happened next but since humans can't always easily 'press quit' or 'try again' I carried on and just felt dread the whole time. So well done game.

I felt super nervous as I went on and although my choices even from the start weren't what I wanted to happen I felt that the character of the protagonist was believable enough that I didn't feel like the game lost too much credibility there. I tried to get away from the situation but the story kept justifying why I couldn't do so. However, I found it believable that someone could feel and act in that way so that was acceptable to me.

I was happy to see that they didn't go for the 'random attacker' for the game's villain. What they went for was much closer to the reality with the attacker being someone that the protagonist had some degree of truth and faith in, as well as the attacker being part of the protagonist's social circle/local community.

The trigger warning* is welcome but I feel this game is important for those least likely to be triggered to really try and engage with without imposing your own will and experience on the 14 year old girl you're meant to be playing as. If you get into the RP of it reasonably well this game will get to you, but I think the privileged of us really need getting got to quite frankly.

*which by the way is really quite stellar and hugely considerate.

by Jak Marshall

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Get Started With Board Gaming

by Jak Marshall

Until now I think the only real board gaming related article I've done was ages ago about board gaming classic Settlers of Catan which, among hobbyists, is as synonymous with the concept of board gaming as Monopoly is with people generally. Since then I've learned a whole lot more about the incredibly vast and fast growing subculture of board game geekdom and I thought I'd bring back some of my notes from the front lines so that you all may tread carefully and find your own way should you wish to.

Noh.
But before I even start, 103 is unlikely to turn into a board gaming blog all of a sudden and this is simply because I think there is already a wealth of great media out there already covering this subject in much more detail and colour then I am currently able to achieve here and 103 is nothing if not about providing what you can't find elsewhere. So with that in mind I can heartily recommend Shut up & Sit Down (my personal favourite, please donate to them if you like their stuff) as well as The Dice Tower (a heavy influence on Shut Up who really know what they are on about) and a YouTube series called Tabletop which is basically a Let's Play series about board games featuring some internet/board gaming celebs. That one is presented by Wil Wheaton. That little lot should be able to convince you whether board gaming is for you and what you should spend your money on.

Guess what though? Board gaming is for you! Even if you don't like other people there are great solitary experiences to enjoy such as the dedicated solo mode in the worker placement masterpiece Agricola, which is a game about being a family of oldy world farmers and trying to have all the sheep. For those of us who do like playing with people too the board game I'd recommend that you buy first depends on how many people you want to play with and how you'd like to play with them.

This version is out of print (worth £100+ now) but a new edition is out for way less.

All romantic couples should buy Pandemic, which is a wonderfully straightforward co-operative game where you and up to three other players take on the role of disease control specialists trying to find the cures for four deadly diseases. It's a wonderful thing for two people to play together without that nasty feeling of somebody getting horribly clobbered by the other one. If that is what you want then Carcassonne is great for two players. Carcassonne can be played by up to five people but this very well designed game of laying down tiles to create a map of walled cities, roads and farmland and strategically placing followers on that land to score points is a great way to show your other half who is boss should you be any good at it.

For a small group of friends (say 3-6) people then I'd say Settlers of Catan is a must buy (an expansion exists to allow 6 people to play) and I still recommend it highly. For a more silly and rambunctious affair Escape: Curse of the Temple is just good clean co-operative fun where you all shout at each other and roll dice really quickly and end up exhausted and confused and wanting to play again. The whole game takes 10  minutes to play and comes with a soundtrack CD and lots of extra modules to add more silly stuff to the game once you get good/bad at it. That should be more than enough to get you going and any of the games I recommended for couples would be equally valid in small groups and a hell of a lot of fun to play.

Silliness in a box
Larger groups (say seven or more) starts getting tricky simply because of logistics and this is where you enter the sub-genre of party games. Although traditional board games do exist which can include larger number of players they are usually so involved and deep that they would not make an ideal first, second or third buy so we'll not speak of them here. Get your friends down the pub with a very cheap game called The Resistance: Avalon and you all can learn the game easily and have a very good game of social interaction and bluffing (plus King Arthur) and if you're really looking for a simpler and faster bluffing game (Avalon is pretty simple/fast as it is) then get yourself a copy of Bang!  and you're set to go. A more recent bluffing party game called Two Rooms and a Boom (which you can print and make for free atm) has recently arrived on the scene and I have it on good authority that is very very good but I have not had a chance to playtest it myself so I will leave it to you readers to find out more for the time being. Soz.

That should be more than enough to get you all playing something mint and easy enough to learn and share. No excuses now, get playing!

Next Time: Collectible Games

Friday, 15 November 2013

Winterton’s Fridays: The Unplayables (Reflections on a Generation Part 2)


So, last week I rather self-indulgently published a list of all the video games of the current generation, and asked for recommendations as to what else I should play. Having played through what I consider to be a fairly extensive cross-section of this generation’s canon, I am proud to say that I did finish the vast majority of the games listed previously. There were, however, a few that, for various reasons, were so bad that I have aborted my attempts to finish them indefinitely. They are...the unplayables.

Nier

Made by Square-Enix (Squeenix), “Nier” is perhaps the cheapest looking game I’ve ever seen. Music, environments and gameplay are continually reused. I mean, I have no problem with music looping in an area, but when the track is 5 seconds long it drives you crazy. I gave up because, to be honest, my girlfriend of the time had played through the first few hours, meaning I had missed the story, and the mediocre gameplay couldn’t tide me over until I picked up the plot. I bought it because I wanted an in-depth RPG; what I got was a knock-off Zelda with a flying book that is a cross between Ubos and Alan Rickman

Just Google it.

Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts

Like anyone who understands what is good in life, I like “Banjo-Kazooie”, and I have great respect for it’s sequel, “Banjo-Tooie”. Jak has already explained why, as a sequel, it loses some of the magic of the original, but they are both solid games that I feel everyone should play. “Nuts and Bolts” is quite possibly the worst concept for a game I’ve ever encountered, and easily outclassed by crazier concepts such as “Papers Please”. It is basically a sandbox racing game with a heavy focus on collectibles, which as a genre takes numerous gaming mechanics that aren’t intrinsically bad but combines them into something truly dreadful, like if Hitler had a baby with...Nier. This game broke my heart.

Bulletwitch

It’s made by Atari, and isn’t from the 80’s. That’s basically all you need to know.

The Last Remnant

Squeenix getting their second entry in this list, and not without good reason. This was bought in the hopes of finding a decent, turn-based non-indie game. Whilst it is turn-based and produced by a big studio, it sadly falls down on the decent bit. Following the “Nier” structure of “all towns are only 4 foot squared with one shop and two NPCs who give quests”, it again feels cheap and minimal. Despite that, the combat mechanic is interesting and fairly unique, and I powered through until the end of the first disc, at which point there is a boss that is literally 3 times stronger than everything before it, requiring you to grind endlessly before fighting it. Squeenix, that was your second strike.

Make that three.

Brutal Legend

Ah, Tim Schaefer. A lot of people are big Schaefer fans, referencing his early point and click games, or maybe “Psychonauts”. Despite downloading the Double Fine indie bundle, the only games of his I have played to date are “The Cave” and “Brutal Legend”.

I mean, there is nothing good about “Brutal Legend”. Terrible combat, terrible controls, sub-par presentation, and a theme (Heavy Metal) that leaves me totally non-plussed. People told me there were good parts, but I have yet to find them, despite doing all but the last three missions. They must be damn good for this game to get the praise it gets.


Now, I’m not saying these games are bad. I’m just saying. I’m just saying I would (and did) rather play “Ninety-Nine Nights”, “Alpha Protocol” and “Duke Nukem Forever” over them. I think that speaks volumes.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Winterton’s Fridays: The End of a Generation


Naturally, as we stand on the cusp of a new gaming generation (obviously the Wii U doesn’t count) all gaming journalists suddenly start writing reflective articles about the generation that is just disappearing. While I think there are a lot of interesting things to be learned by analysing how far we’ve come, such as the evolution and subversion of moral choice systems or the explosion (shit pun) of FPSs, as a video game enthusiast I have a different goal; I want to play every significant game from the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii catalogue, as well as any interesting indie games.*
               
                Of course, any list will be subjective, so I thought I would ask for some input from the neglected 103 readership. Thus, here is a list of everything I have played this generation (I don’t expect people to read it all, just use it to check that I’ve played all the games you consider to be great):

-          Alpha Protocol
-          Assassin’s Creed
-          Assassin’s Creed 2
-          Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
-          Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (Sigh)
-          Batman: Arkham Asylum
-          Batman: Arkham City
-          Bayonetta
-          Bioshock
-          Bioshock 2 (Most disappointing sandwich filling ever)
-          Bioshock Infinite
-          Borderlands
-          Brink
-          Brutal Legend
-          Bulletstorm
-          Bullet Witch (Unbelievably shit)
-          Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
-          Dante’s Inferno
-          Darksiders
-          Dead Rising 2
-          Dead Space
-          Deus Ex: Human Revolution
-          Devil May Cry 4
-          Dragon Age: Origins
-          Dragon Age: Awakening
-          Dragon Age 2
-          Dungeon Siege 3
-          Duke Nukem Forever (never thought I’d be able to make that claim)
-          Fable 2
-          Fable 3
-          Fallout 3
-          Fallout: New Vegas
-          Final Fantasy XIII
-          Forza Motorsport 3
-          Gears of War 2
-          Halo 3
-          Halo Wars
-          Halo Reach
-          L.A. Noire (Award for worst ending)
-          The Last Remnant (well, the first disc. I’m only human and not a twat)
-          Lost Planet
-          Mass Effect
-          Mass Effect 2 (the best one, whatever anyone tells you)
-          Mass Effect 3
-          Nighty-Nine Nights
-          Oblivion
-          Overlord 2
-          Portal**
-          Prototype
-          Rage (Runner up in the worst ending awards)
-          Rayman Origins
-          Red Dead Redemption
-          Resident Evil 5 (“Gimme an egg”)
-          Resident Evil 6
-          Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection (not sure this counts but sod it)
-          Shadows of the Damned
-          Space Marine
-          Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
-          Super Street Fighter 4 (Never played Street Fighter before and thought Vega looked cool. He sucks)
-          Vanquish
-          Nier (Yeah, this is the unsorted and un-alphabetised pile)
-          Red Alert 3
-          Dishonored
-          Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (Award for most incongruous ending)
-          XCOM: Enemy Unknown
-          Farcry 3
-          Alan Wake
-          Crysis 2
-          Deadly Premonition
-          Skyrim
-          Super Mario Galaxy
-          Super Smash Bros Brawl
-          Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
-          Wario Ware: Smooth Moves
-          The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
-          Braid
-          Limbo
-          Hydro Thunder
-          The Walking Dead
-          Castle Crashers
-          Bastion
-          Alan Wake’s American Nightmare
-          Dark Souls
-          Deathspank
-          Deathspank: Thongs of Virtue (I feel dirty)
-          Defense Grid: The Awakening
-          Lara Croft: The Guardian of Light
-          Megaman 10
-          Plants vs Zombies
-          Scott Pilgrim vs The World
-          Super Meat Boy
-          A bunch of miscellaneous rereleases, arcade, indie and Wii games no-one cares about
-          Hexic HD

This article doesn't lend itself to pictures, so here's an image of Garcia "Motherfucking" Hotspur fighting off zombies with his Boner next to his hanged girlfriend's body.


Sorry, that was longer than expected. Oh, and here’s my “to-do” list:

-          The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Stupidest subtitle ever)
-          The Uncharted Trilogy
-          Gran Turismo 5
-          Infamous
-          LittleBigPlanet
-          Toy Story 3 (shut up)
-          Gears of War 3
-          Dead Space 2
-          Doom 3
-          Splinter Cell: Conviction
-          Super Mario Galaxy 2
-          Metal Gear Revengeance
-          Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
-          The Last of Us
-          Grand Theft Auto 5 (reluctantly, but it is the first one that looks vaguely playable to me)
-          Sonic Generations
-          Tales of Vesperia
-          Catherine
-          The God of War games
-          That big collection of all the Metal Gear Solid games
-          Heavy Rain

I feel that once I’ve got through that second list I can say that I’ve “done” this generation pretty conclusively, but what have I missed? Input would be great; rebuttal and analysis even better. And don’t suggest Fez. I didn’t like it.




*My laptop is laughably weak, so PC games have been excluded. I do have a DS and played Pokemon White on it, but other than that portable games have been neglected to the point of exclusion also.


** I can’t play any of the other games on the Orange Box, or Call of Duty 4, as they both give me horrible motion sickness after ten minutes

Monday, 23 September 2013

We don't need to defend the indefensible in our games.

by Jak Marshall


I grew up playing games in what I'll glibly call the 'pre-casual' era of gaming. Although some people still treat video games like an alien mind control device set to make us all kill everyone I think I can safely say that most people accept gaming as part of our mainstream culture even if that does just mean Angry Birds and Wii Fit. In the pre-cassh days though a rush of excitement would hit me whenever my parents took a slight bit of interest or gave any respect to my games. It was validating to see my dad appreciate the tactical depth of Worms 2 or get my mum addicted to a match-3 bubble popping game called Bloobs. They could briefly see that it was no more a waste of my time than it was to watch movies and TV and read books. It had some value and in those times I would go to great lengths to extol those virtues.

See! Look! Physics! LEARNING!

From this position I would also find that many games could undermine my argument that gaming was actually something healthy and normal enough for me to be doing. Games featuring violence and crime were things I felt that I would have to hide from or justify to my sceptical parents lest I went straight back to square one in that debate. It took me long enough to convince them that the South Park movie was good so I didn't want to have to even explain away the fact that I could beat a prostitute to death in GTA3 before I was allowed to talk about how cool the open world freedom in the series was. I've certainly been guilty of sweeping these things under the carpet.

But this is precisely because I literally don't want to hear what I sound like if I tried to defend something like that, especially to my nine year old sister who has taken a pretty serious interest in gaming (Pok√©mon Pearl, 7 badges at last count, incredibly proud of her) if she continues playing games. I would not want to try and justify the gamification of strip clubs in GTAV to anyone I want respect from and yet people predictably defend it vehemently in the commentosphere. I'm almost certainly sure that in most cases these defending statements aren't intending to stand up for the intellectual integrity of a sexual harrassment mini-game but more to defend GTAV as a complete game or even gaming as a medium. But we don't need to justify or ignore problems with these sections at all.

Female champions in League of Legends tend to be sexualised. I see this as an easily amenable problem.
                   
We can accept that otherwise well made and perfectly playable games have glaring problems like this. One can simultaneously enjoy a game and regret its flaws. I do not try and justify Bayonetta's ridiculous character design because I know it is bloody stupid and hypersexualised. I can criticise the game for that but also praise it for its solid action gameplay. Nobody needs to point out the deep meaning behind Princess Peach being kidnapped every time. It's dumb and it always has been. I can still say that Super Mario 3 is a work of freaking platforming genius though and not be a hypocrite.

Speaking of hypocrisy, Anita Sarkeesian, who has produced a video series on the problematic portrayal of women in video games is often (I'd argue unfairly) accused of picking up on these flaws but not playing/enjoying the games that contain these flaws. Appreciating these games for their technical brilliance and fun factor but yet ignoring these issues is surely tantamount to the same kind of selective blindness that Sarkeesian stands accused of. Gaming doesn't suffer when it is criticised, or even when it makes mistakes. It suffers when we let such things slide.     

  

Saturday, 24 August 2013

How Gaming Can Get You a Job - Papers Please and Multitask

by Jak Marshall


Gaming does typically give people training in a whole variety of transferable skills. Mathematics and creative problem solving are probably the main ones and it stands to reason that people with these skills should be more employable but this isn't an article about this general effect no sir. I intend to show that certain games actively train people to secure employment directly. In other words, get jobs.



Recruiters employ all manner of hurdles to thin out the sheer number of people applying for the limited number of positions offered in recruiting rounds. It is simply too expensive and time consuming to thoroughly interview everyone so this necessitates a cull. My experience and knowledge of these hurdles is such that I cannot help but draw parallels with certain games I have played which give me a keen advantage at surviving these culls.




Hey look Spation Reasoning! Guess that means motion control is useless!

The most general recent example I've seen is in the bureaucrat 'em up Papers Please in which you take the role of a border control officer for the fictitious nation of Arstotska who have strict rules on who can cross their hallowed borders. The player must quickly accept or deny entry to people based on whether their documentation is up to scratch. If an the date on a passport has expired, that person can't enter. If city of origin is misspelled or not part of the country listed on the passport, you gotta send them home. Rules and regulations aside, wrongly turning away folk is also penalised so accuracy and speed are both key here.

What does this have to with jobs? Well some recruiters ask their applicants to participate in exactly these error detection exercises whether it be checking for discrepancies on forms, ensuring that certain protocols and rules apply to a quickfire series of cases, or more directly matching sequences of words and punctuation marks to a matching answer in a multiple choice list. Something about recruitment values the ability to efficiently cross validate information. It beats me why this is the case but if you want some serious practice at these types of test, Papers Please is certainly the way to go, although at the interview they probably won't ask you to decide between feeding your family, keeping the heating on or supplying medicine to sick family members when money is tight. Or at least I sincerely hope not.

"Do you intend to feed your children with your pay?" doesn't come up in interviews often.

Some companies now test you on your ability to multi-task. This comes in the form of having to accomplish timed tasks of varying natures at the same time, where updates to all tasks come in at irregular yet frequent intervals. I can tell you those tests are tough and only goes to show what lengths recruiters need to go to these days to whittle down their initial crop of applicants. But what better way to improve your multitasking skills then to play Multitask? This free online game requires you to keep up with various independent tasks at once and is probably way tougher cognitively (when everything begins to happen) than juggling the tasks in the recruitment tasks. Over preparation? Maybe but better safe than sorry right?

Personally I think the trend for online tests to drift away from simple electronic versions of pen and paper aptitude exams towards a light amount of gamification is an interesting change and one which could prove most advantageous to your average gamer. Although maybe playing Dota 2 for days on end may not be the best course of action if you're planning to seek employment. Jungling never won anyone a managerial position, unless the job was Jungle Manager...

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Descent Into Madness (Suggs To Be You)

Very rarely do I find games that get to me. This isn’t through a lack of trying; I primarily look for strong and engaging narratives when purchasing games, though very few of them tend to register with me on a mental or emotional level. However, when a video game does get to me, it seems to have to have just as powerful an effect on me than if I was watching the story as a TV show or film, if not more so. Now I don’t mean to sound pretentious when I say that because for something to register with me, I only ask that it have some lasting effect and I don’t instantly forget about it after I’ve finished, which I think we can all agree is the measure of an experience being worthwhile. For example, I would say Psychonauts has registered with me in the same way Monty Python and The Holy Grail has because I haven’t found a game as genuinely hilarious. The tongue-in-cheek, surrealist humour of both of them has definitely had an influence on me as a comedian, yet in terms of mental or emotional resonating with an audience, video gaming as a medium has distinct advantage due to it being an interactive medium; especially when it comes to empathising with a protagonist’s descent into madness.


Just needed to get this joke out of my system. Last one, I promise.
I recently played through Spec Ops: The Line. For those of you who haven’t played it, Spec Ops is a 3rd person shooter that follows a special operations task force into storm hit Dubai to save any of the remaining survivors and  investigate what happened to the decorated American Platoon of Soldiers, the Damned 33rd. The game is loosely based on the book Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and is an examination of both the Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder that soldiers can experience in action and how removed actual video games about war are from the real thing. After a few hours of game play, there is an incident that involves white phosphorous that made me as a player feel physically nauseous and incredibly guilty. Why? It was because it was the player who causes the incident. That simple fact alone means that the player is more invested in the narrative. They’re not passive watching it on a TV screen for the main character to deal with as if it was a film. Having watched Apocalypse Now last weekend, a film inspired by Heart of Darkness, the horrors in that didn’t get to me as much as Spec Ops although it is based on nearly identical themes.

The game finds subtle ways to break the fourth wall to remind you what you've done. (Until that moment where all the characters look directly to the camera and call the player a dick.)

From that point onwards, the player watches the main character try to cope with the things he is doing to survive while also trying to comprehend what he has done; thus allowing the main character’s self-awareness to be that of the audience, making them feel guilty about the horrors they are committing. There comes a certain point in the game when the battlefield changes in a sudden flash to look like a hell on earth before transforming back, which is both symbolic as well as representative of the main character has losing a part of his sanity and being scared forever. Needless to say, Spec Ops: The Line got to me.
I find this altering of the pre-established reality as a way representing the main characters diminishing mental state at its most effective in video games because you are able to actively observe it at your own pace. We all remember the Scarecrow sections of Batman: Arkham Asylum for doing this masterfully to give us both an insight into Batman’s psyche and a unique way for him to battle the Scarecrow. For those of you who have played Eternal Darkness, you will recall how well the game was able to mess with the player in a variety of ways when the sanity meter was low and made them think their TV was broken.
World's worst Pic 'n' Mix salesman ever.
Not that all video games get this right. The desert section from Uncharted 3 is a test in patience at best. I find the key to getting this to work effectively is to use it both sparingly and subtlety. The best uses have those moments where the player isn’t sure what they have seen and are able to doubt themselves. It is a good way of re-enforcing a theme or an idea in the games narrative. Of course, not all games need to incorporate this to be a good game or to give a deep and meaningful experience.

I am a firm believer that video games have the potential to have a more powerful effect on the audience than film and TV. While there will always be shining examples of masterful story telling in every medium, watching a character walk through hell on earth and having the choices you actively made be the reason he is there are two completely different experiences altogether (and I know which one will stay with me for the longest). Now I’m going to play some Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time to remind myself there is still joy in the world.

Monday, 27 May 2013

You don't need to understand what's going on in Kingdom Hearts. Nobody does.

Sorry to make a lot of people feel old (or alienate a lot of young readers at once) but It's been at least ten years since Kingdom Hearts came out on the PS2 which was a lovely idea on paper where Disney characters and their associated worlds get smushed together with cameos from Final Fantasy characters and other original content from Square-Enix. It was awesome, taking on the role of Sora... or someone, you got to team up with Aladdin to smash Jafar with a key-sword... or something to go on an epic journey with Donald Duck and Goofy to track down the legendary Kingdom Hearts... or somewhere.


Whatever was happening in this game, it was awesome.

So after having a magical journey fighting The Heartless through Alice in Wonderland, Halloween Town and Neverland among others I ended up in a location called Hollow Bastion and then some stuff happened involving some guy called Ansem, who wasn't really a guy called Ansem as it turned out because of events that transpired in Kingdom Hearts 2, which is actually the third game in the series as a matter of fact, which explains why "Organisation XIII" consisted of only four people due to the rest of them being thoroughly dispatched during the events of Chain of Memories on the Game Boy Advance, which people understandably mistook for a spin-off title instead of a fully canonised, core story title. The Kingdom Hearts series then became a kind of equal opportunities campaign for gaming platforms, having a main series title appearing on smartphones, microwaves and the long since defunct Neo Geo Pocket. 

This fight, of course, being the turning point of the entire story... eventually.

So when I bought Dream Drop Distance for the Nintendo 3DS I was worried that I would be completely lost having not followed the series in its entirety whatsoever. Turns out that although this was true (Who or what is Braig?) it turns out that you can just sort of power through and get to the business of twatting stuff with keys on sticks without having to worry about why you're doing it. It turns out that these games have a habit of saving all their inter-game lore for five minutes at the start and half an hour at the end, leaving plenty of time for good clean Disney related fun for the thirty hours betwixt.

Also, Sebastian becomes the size of a goat in the GBA title. Fun!

Twenty Keyblade (or chi-blade) Masters? Fuggedaboudit you can just concentrating on having fun with Quasimodo! What on earth is Master Xehanort up to? Who gives a shit because... Tron. The series is certainly self-aware of it's own uncontrollably burgeoning plot and makes up for it by being lots of fun to play and very pretty to look at. Just pick up a copy of whichever title is easiest for you to acquire and get to the happy business of speculating whether Disney will be including Darth Vader and Wolverine into Kingdom Hearts 3 due to wealth of real world corporate stuff that has happened since ancient times when Kingdom Hearts 2 (3) was released. Of course, Kingdom Hearts 3 will be closer to Kingdom Hearts 10 at this rate for anyone keeping count but if you've learned anything from my article today is that it does not matter one bit. 


Thursday, 16 May 2013

First Evepressions: A 2 week trial of Eve Online


by Hugo Jones
                                                                     
It has happened, through the wormhole I have travelled and found myself in New Eden. That's right, I'm in Eve, pulled in by the 2 week free trial, the 10 year anniversary - a serious feat for any MMO I'm told - and thinking I'm Mal Reynolds. Don't Google Eve after watching Firefly. The download and installation were all a doddle, as always fast internets and fast computers make life that bit easier. 

"Wait, what?"
Eve has a reputation for confronting newbs with the steepest learning curb in the galaxy (don't look at me I only have Runescape to compare this against) and so far most of it does make sense. The tutorial runs the rookie capsuleer through the most basic of spacefaring skills and the starter missions are fun and simple enough to accomplish. Many of these missions provide the player with sweet new rides - albeit really cheap ones. The story line missions really suffer from the lack of a compelling storyline. In a game like WOW where the players are phased in azerboth (or whatever it is called) - each player experiences the same world differently according to their game choices. In Eve all players experience the world collectively. Once those asteroids in front of me are mined out by me or other players, the same applies to you, space cowboy. The point is, where in some other game the player becomes the central protagonist to the entire universe, in Eve you are small, you are nothing and you can affect relative amounts of nothing. A player can't complete missions, work his way up and destroy the enemy faction because there are thousands of players playing their with that enemy faction, nothing would make sense if everybody could be a winner at once.
"Big ships aplenty! Yeeeeeeahh boyyyyy"
As a result Eve can feel like a lonely place, even with the incessant chatter on the player channels. So what is a pilot to do? Well go join a corporation, an in game player made organisation where like minded pilots can go round doing what they like to do, which is basically a player's guild. Where the hell do you start with those? You apply to these things, I had one corp member ask me what career I was going into. Career? I play games to escape these things, I can barely work out what I want to do in the real world, let alone set myself a virtual career path. And it seems that New Eden has all the same problems as the real world, theft, embezzlement, corruption, a ludicrous trade in pointless bits accessories (ooh a shiny new hat). Some of the scandals even make it to the real world news, as ISK the in game currency can be used to buy PLEX -game time/subscription- ISK has a rate comparable to what it costs in the real world for game time. So when billion ISK ponzi schemes collapse it hurts in the real world.
"Back we go!"
And yet for all of it's universe and shiny big ships, I don't think I'll be sticking around, perhaps I'm after something with more of a pre defined story line, perhaps I'm afraid of the commitment. Who knows? One thing is for sure though; Eve is not a game, its a second world, a world where you work for your ISK, where you mine and refine and build and buy and insure(!?) stuff, so maybe just maybe you can get to the point where you can really start blowing cool stuff up. It's like you get home from your real job that keeps food on the table and internets in the tubes only to switch to your second job to keep your spacecraft flying and your character geared up with the dopest hat. Eve is not a game, it is the first step to the singularity, it is the beginnings of the total online human, where the mechanics of the game provide the player with everything they need(so long as they work for it) to survive and prosper. But do you know what, I'd rather we start our entirely virtual existence from the sturdy community of Eve players than a world populated by say, Neopets. Do those still exist? (Yes - Ed)

Friday, 10 May 2013

Unfinished Business: Conquering Your Demons.

We all have those memories we wish we didn't have. Embarrassing, humiliating or just downright shameful things we wish weren't part of our histories. All of this is made worse still in that we cannot undo or change the past meaning that our regrets will haunt us forever. Yet I did find that in the case of my very worst regret that I could change the past! I could unmake my regrets and wipe that particular slate clean! Beneath all those damnable atrocities I was responsible for, all the mishandled romances I could have made work and all those embarrassing screw ups in between laid my most bitter regret and that was not achieving a 100% rating in Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back.

Bitter, bitter regret. With seals.

Now I'm not a die-hard completionist in all walks of my gaming life. I lack the time or inclination to earn each and every achievement/trophy available to me and I don't feel particularly bad about that either. I'm not, shall we say, all dat bovvered. But Crash 2 and I have a history. I played that game quite a lot when I was younger although I never owned it. I had a memory card with a save file on it and would load it up whenever I went over to a particular mate's place or that one family restaurant that had a PlayStation with it on. This was also in the days before literally everybody was on the Internet. It was a time where kids were way more likely to find game guides in magasines than they were on websites or those mysterious not yet invented "blogs" you hear about. Incidentally, I never quite found everything in Crash 2 because believe me my friends, there is some serious 'how the hell?' bullshit going on with the secrets in that game.

Hint: You can't reach that gem from below, or even from this level.

I could probably rant on about that for an entire article and disguise my frustration and lack of childhood success as an deconstruction of secret collectibles and levels in games, but the crucial fact of the matter is that I just did not accomplish what I set out to do in this game after putting considerable investment into it. That's the difference between all the achievements I haven't earned (and didn't care about) and my failure at gem collecting back in the 90s. But recently, thanks to the Playstation Network service, I finally managed to go back and take care of that game once and for all, with a great psychological payoff.

Although the actual in-game 'reward' is not so incredible...

Everyone has had that fantasy about being able to go back in time and transplant their mature mindset into their younger selves. Just imagine how much more confident and competent you would be with the advantage of advanced experience. Well that's exactly how it felt playing Crash 2 again. I had all the extra experience of gaming to deal with the trickier sections, any amount of guides to help me track down some of the more bullshit gems (that game pulls some serious shenanigans I tell you, I usually don't go in for guides) and of course it doesn't hurt that I had complete access to the game too! I was totally unstoppable!

Like this armoured chicken

Fellow 103% writer and friend Ben "Spoon" Winterton has written about gaming to-do lists before but his personal list consists of at least as many games that he hasn't touched at all and games he isn't particularly bothered about completing in of themselves (Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts is a case in point) as there are games that Ben feels a genuine sense of longing to finish. I would suggest that people reading this article think back to an example of a milestone not quite achieved or a challenge not yet overcome and go back and cross that one off the list. It's high time you did.  

Monday, 22 April 2013

Guide to setting up your HDTV for gaming

by Dave Lamb


This is a follow up to my first guide on how to pick a HDTV for gaming. After you've selected the prefect TV for gaming, it’s time to tweak the settings to get the very best out of your new set.

"Modern/hygienic living space is completely optional"

You're probably quite happy with the picture on your HDTV but did you know it can look even better with a few changes to the settings. About half of TV owners don’t take the time to set it up their TV’s but there are three big reasons why you should.

The picture will look better
Manufacturers set up their TVs so that they are very bright and colourful when they are on display in the store. This is to exploit the fact the human eye is always drawn to the brightest image. However games, movies and TV programmes are made to a specific set of standards. If your TV is aligned to these standards you will be watching the content as the creators intended, seeing what they originally wanted you to see.

It will use less energy
Once your TV is set up to an accurate picture mode it will normally use between 15 - 50% less energy

It will reduce eye strain
When we look at something bright our pupils shrink to let less light in and when we look at something dark, they dilate to let more light in. If your TV is set too bright, then the picture is constantly changing from bright to dark. This causes your pupils to continually open and close and as a result, your eyes will become tired. If you set up your TV correctly you can have a more comfortable viewing experience and avoid eye strain.

Next follow my 5 steps on how to select the best settings to produce the very best picture your HDTV is capable of. 


1. Select the correct picture mode
The first step is to select the correct picture mode to produce a realistic picture and ensure you are not losing any detail. Change the picture mode setting to cinema/movie mode. If your TV has a THX mode select this as it a mode that attempts to provide the industry standards. 

As you can see, in dynamic mode picture detail is lost and the picture is less realistic. 
Straight away you will notice a drop in brightness which may seem strange at first. Your eyes have become used to watching an overly bright image and it will take time for them to adjust. After a few days you should realise colours are more natural and watching TV is more enjoyable.

2. Select the correct picture size
You should adjust the Picture Size, Aspect or Ratio setting so that the edges of the picture are not lost outside the edges of the screen, known as overscan. The best setting is usually called something like ‘just scan’, ‘screen fit’ or ‘full’. If your TV has an overscan setting turn it off.

As you can see here, if the picture size setting is set incorrectly you lose the edges of the image.




 3. Disable any unnecessary features.
There are unfortunately many picture processing features that degrade the picture quality of sets. It sounds ridiculous but these are all purely for marketing campaigns.

Energy saving features
These should be switched off as they reduce the brightness on your picture. By setting up your TV correctly with this guide you are already saving energy. Power saving functions dim and brighten an image unnaturally which adversely affect picture quality.

Dynamic Brightness (Dynamic Contrast/Black Enhancer/Dynamic Backlight)
Similar to the energy saving features these also brighten and dim the picture in an unstable way which negatively affects picture quality.

Led Dimming
If you have a LED LCD TV this feature should be set to off unless you have a full backlit LED TV, in which case it should be set to low. Again this setting will affect brightness stability if set incorrectly.

Sharpening and Noise Reduction
Sharpening settings add false sharpness to an image which can obscure fine detail in high definition images. Noise reduction smoothes an image which can hide image detail.

Motion Enhancement (Motion Plus/Motion Flow/TruMotion/Intelligent Frame Creation)
This setting creates extra frames in video you are watching by guessing what should be in between existing frames. The created frames often contain errors like ghosting of objects in the picture.




A created frame is inserted in-between the original two frames.


The created frame often shows errors like this. The moral of the story is you can create something out of nothing.


4. Check your Colour Temperature, Colour Gamut and Gamma


In most cases these will be correctly set after you select the cinema or movie mode earlier in the guide but it’s worth checking them. Colour temperature should be set to warm or warm 2 if available. If your TV has a colour gamut option it should be set to rec709 or BT709. If your TV has a gamma setting it should be set to 2.2 - 2.4 if the option is available. These settings align your picture with those used by the studios to ensure you are viewing the content as they intended.


The finished product should be more realistic like the image on the right.

5. Console specific settings
Finally I’ll add some specific settings for consoles that should help you get the best picture quality out of them.

Xbox 360
Firstly make sure you're using an HDMI cable if you can and select the correct resolution of your TV on the Xbox 360. Go in the display settings, set the reference levels to standard and the HDMI colour space to Source.

PS3
As with the Xbox 360 use a HDMI cable if you can. Turn the Cross Color Reduction Filter off,set the RGB Full Range to limited, set Y Pb/Cb Pr/Cr Super White to on and BD 1080P 24Hz Output to automatic.


Wii

There’s not much in the way of setting on the Wii but use the component cables if you can and set the resolution to 480p.




Notes on input lag...



Most Modern TV’s have settings such as game mode which aims to reduce input lag. They do this by removing most of the processing present in modes like "dynamic". If you've followed this guide you should have selected the movie or cinema mode which also cuts out on much of the processing. Movie modes sometimes yields the same results as game modes when it comes to input lag, as long as any frame creation is turned off but you may need to enable it depending on your model. 

There you have it. Give your eyes a few days the adjust and you should be much happier with the picture quality. If anyone has any questions please feel free to ask in the comments section below.


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