A boy and his blob

Today I got to experience a similar sensation to a pregnant woman. No, not the feeling of having your stomach swell to five times its normal size, nor the really painful end bit, but the one where someone examines your insides via the medium of a soundwave-emitting device and a sizeable blob of some freezing cold gelatinous substance.

Yep, today I went for an ultrasound. Not to check if I had a little proto-Schilling inside me, but to check whether my current health woes are anything to do with any of my other internal organs.

Short answer: no. But then that was always going to be the case. I’ve always maintained that it’s some kind of stomach issue, with a tiny outside chance of bowel trouble, so the procedure was merely ruling out problems I never thought it would be anyway. I guess today was useful in the sense that the doctors can now focus their attentions elsewhere, but it did feel like a bit of a waste of time.

And that gel stuff really is bloody cold.

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Rain

When I was younger I used to hate the rain, but as I age I’m growing to appreciate it a lot more.

Perhaps that’s going a bit far; I certainly don’t mind it as much as I did. And it’s fair to say I actually enjoyed walking to the shops in the rain this afternoon. I think part of it is to do with the fact that I have much shorter hair than I used to, so if it gets wet it’s less of a problem.

Today, I found walking in the rain oddly refreshing, wrapped up as I was in a thick coat, with my iPod on full blast shutting the urban noise out. I think perhaps I’d feel differently had it been really pelting it down, but it was somewhere between ‘drizzle’ and ‘downpour’, which was just perfect for a quickish jaunt to Asda and the Post Office.

Maybe it was the combination of my coat’s warmth and the cool of the water on my head, almost feeling like I was wrapped up in bed and having a nice, relaxing shower at the same time.

The other good thing about rain is that it’s a good excuse not to go out on those occasions you’re really in the mood for staying in and doing nothing of any great significance.

To sum up: it’s good for going out in, and it’s a good reason for staying in. Rain, I’ve underrated you for a long time.

Bad design

Whether it’s a difficulty spike, a poorly-explained tutorial or just a fundamentally broken piece of gameplay, bad design decisions can kill a game stone dead for some people.

I’ve played three games recently which have suffered from bad design. The first, Resonance of Fate suffered from Bad Tutorial Syndrome, failing to explain its absurdly complex battle mechanics properly and likely putting a lot of people off before they’d started. It’s almost the polar opposite of Final Fantasy XIII, a game which patronises its players by throwing in hours upon hours of near-identical battles in its opening hours, ensuring that everyone is completely up to speed with every new facet of its combat system before moving onto the next. Resonance went completely the other way. A happy medium would have been nice.

The third game I can’t talk about just yet – at least not until I’ve reviewed it, and it’s a review I’ll be writing tonight – but the second game, and the one I really want to talk about is Nier. It’s a game that offers some unique twists on fairly standard action-RPG tropes mixed in with some almost laughably generic moments, and one particularly egregious piece of bad design.

Now I’m of the opinion that any game with a fishing aside can’t be all bad, and Nier proves it, but its one mandatory fishing quest is such an appallingly misjudged moment that it seems to have stumped half the people playing it. Basically, you’re handed a fishing rod and asked to catch a particular fish. Immediately in front of you is a body of water. So you stand, and you cast, and you’re told to tap the A button when the fish bites. Firstly, it doesn’t really tell you that you have to wait for the rod to bend quite a significant amount, so you’ll miss a couple by pulling too early. Then you’ll pull on the third bite when the rod bends more and the fish will instantly get away. So you try again. And the same occurs.

It’s only after a few times of trying that you’ll notice the red X on the map. So you head there and try again, and lo and behold the fish will stay on the line a little longer. The game tells you to pull the rod in the opposite direction to the way the fish is swimming, and you do that for a while, pushing left and right on the analogue stick with little to tell you that you’re doing the right thing. Oh, but that’s because the game hasn’t told you that you need to pull back on the analogue stick to reduce the fish’s energy bar and reel it in.

I’ve had two people who’ve played the game on my recommendation ask me where they’re going wrong. One of my friends on Facebook posted about it. One other games journalist I follow on Twitter made the same complaint. Two people who post on a forum I frequent have had the exact same issue. It’s baffling that this wasn’t spotted in QA. Yet it remains in the game, and likely will do, because it’s a niche title and thus will never be patched.

Nier’s been made on what appears to be a fairly meagre budget, but surely every game warrants a decent amount of testing before it’s shipped? In the meantime, this one tiny bit of code will continue to confound and irritate, and spoil an otherwise interesting game for many of its players. What a pity.

Best laid plans

My plan today was to write my #oneaday entry fairly early, or at least before my wife and son arrived home this evening. This, like many other great plans, went slightly awry, thanks to a certain piece of work which took longer than anticipated and a deadline being brought forward on another. Neither were major issues, but enough to force me to put today’s entry on the back-burner, thus resulting in me posting this at around twenty to eleven at night.

Not ideal, particularly as my blog stats suggest that any entries posted this late are among my least successful in terms of hits. Hence my (failed) idea to write a little earlier today.

But with other work still to do tonight – and likely to lead well into the early hours – the idea I had for today’s post will unfortunately have to wait for tomorrow now, so I can at least attempt to do it some kind of justice. He says, fully aware of the fact that he probably won’t manage to do it tomorrow either. Oh, and Mad Men still remains completely untouched and unwatched.

Life has an annoying habit of getting right in the bloody way at times, does it not?

One A Day Picks of the Week 19th – 25th April

It’s been a relatively quiet week in the world of news, but the remaining One A Dayers haven’t let that stop them from crafting some fine entries.

There was, of course, another televised political debate, which influenced Andy Johnson, Pete Davison and Mike Grant among others. Mike also took time to examine tribalism in general.

I also enjoyed Ian Dransfield’s piece on Championship Manager, and Daniel Lipscombe channelling Professor Layton while packing a suitcase. Two gym-related entries deserve a mention – Rhiarti’s minimalist workout sounds right up my street, while Mat Murray’s recounting of a potentially embarrassing gym incident amused me perhaps more than it should have.

(I’d like to single Mat out for special praise here, actually, for managing to bash out several hundred words on just about every one of his entries. Well done, that man.)

A few of us have been looking a little closer to home for inspiration, with Rhiarti and Pete (again) talking about their experiences with #oneaday. Meanwhile, Jen looked to Twitter for ideas for a particular entry, which ended up being a very interesting read. And Soraya confronted her hatred of running.

But it’s Adam Englebright’s fantastic forensic examination of the BNP’s election broadcast that wins my Post of the Week this week, partly because it’s just so wonderfully thorough, but also because it’s a very entertaining and informative read.

Congrats to Adam, then, and indeed to all of those still blogging on a daily basis. You’re doing the #oneaday name proud.

Show some restraint

Dear videogame publishers,

As a games critic (I hesitate to use the word ‘journalist’) I see it as part of my job to remain as fully appraised of the latest games and industry developments as possible. I frequent videogame forums to gauge buzz on current or forthcoming releases. I read news sites daily to remain well-informed of what’s out and what’s soon to be out. I read reviews and interviews. I watch trailers – oh, so many trailers.

That latter point? That’s a problem. Because there’s something wrong when I sit down to play a game and nothing that happens within the first four hours surprises me. Mainly because I’ve seen extensive clips from them, or read interviews where you’ve told me all about the game, leaving no stone unturned. Or perhaps, in more than one case, I’ve seen press releases announce details of pre-order bonuses or game features that would otherwise have made for very pleasant surprises during play. But you gave them away. In one case, I played a game where an apparently carefully-orchestrated PR campaign decided to drip-feed the identities of all the major characters in the months leading up to its release. This licensed game would have provided particularly excellent fan service had I not been acutely aware of precisely how far that fan service went.

Hey there, Nintendo. You avoided that game for a while, didn’t you? Not announcing games until a few months before their release, showing a few brief clips and letting a handful of journos write up previews while holding the best stuff back? Good for you. Except oh no, you’ve fallen into the exact same trap. Granted, the videos of Super Mario Galaxy 2 might only represent a tiny percentage of the finished game, but sixteen short trailers and a handful of longer clips isn’t going to make the game feel particularly fresh when it finally arrives – especially for a title which some are referring to as ‘Galaxy 1.5’.

And sure, I understand that I don’t need to watch every bit of media released before a game’s launch. But ask yourself this: what about those who have done so? What can they possibly have gained from seeing that many clips of the game in question? Is that sixteenth clip going to convince someone who’s watched the previous fifteen with a shrug of the shoulders?

Self-imposed media blackouts are clearly the way forward for me. But I don’t see why I should have to worry about that. Show a bit of restraint in future. Tease us, give us the key info, shove out a couple of trailers by all means. But leave a game’s best bits for the players to discover.

Kind regards,

Christopher D Schilling, esq.

Clearout

I’ve decided to try and trim down my game collection quite significantly. This evening I’ve been sifting through discs for half an hour, desperately trying to work out what to play. This has to stop.

I’m going to be incredibly ruthless, even getting rid of games I love that I just know I’d be keeping for the sake of having them on my shelf, rather than ever wanting to play them again. In the vast majority of cases, it’s not going to be a problem for me to buy them back again once I’ve cleared this backlog. I just need to have less to play.

Part of the problem with my job is that I get so many promos, and because you can’t really sell them on (at least, you’re not supposed to) I tend to keep them rather than just throwing them away, even when I’m done with them. A lot of these games I’ll keep thinking I’ll play them again at some point, and I never end up doing so. There are so many good games released these days, that I’ll always end up trying the latest big hit or cult classic ahead of anything I’ve kept for a second runthrough.

As much as anything, clearing the clutter will clear my mind a little, allow me to focus on just one or two games at a time rather than staring at my pile of shame and wanting to weep.

Of course, none of this would matter if I weren’t such an indecisive prick. Perhaps I should start taking Twitter votes on what I should play next, because at this rate I’ll end up wasting my evenings doing everything but get through my backlog.

And that’s even before I consider starting to catch up with Mad Men…

Band of brothers (and sisters)

Inspired by Rhiarti’s post about #oneaday earlier, I thought I’d talk a little about the wonderful group of people we have left.

For all that the ever-dwindling numbers are disappointing – particularly as they’ve noticeably dropped since I took over the reins from our erstwhile leader Andy – there’s definitely a real community spirit about our small but merry band these days. “We few, we happy few, we band of bloggers.” (With apologies to Shakespeare.)

Looking at everyone’s blog in more detail, I think I’m being generous in saying there’s perhaps ten of us living up to the original rules and spirit of #oneaday. But there seems to be a bit of fighting spirit among those that remain. As Rhiarti puts it, there’s a group of us who “deserve credit and kudos for not only keeping going, but often being the only thing keeping me going too…” The same applies here, and I imagine it does for most – if not all – of the rest of us. I certainly don’t think I’m alone in feeling that I’ve made new online friends through this, even among those who’ve since dropped out.

To me, #oneaday now feels like a close-knit little internet community. A tiny corner of the world wide web that tweets, chats and blogs together. Hurrah for us. So if your name is on that small ‘One A Day’ list on the right of this post, congratulations. You’re officially awesome.

EDIT: Just realised, this is my hundredth entry (having started this whole thing a little late). How wonderfully apt.

Handy Murray

So, it seems the Twitter campaign failed and James Richardson will not be taking over from Adrian Chiles on Match of the Day 2 (or MOTD2, as it’s more commonly referred to) on Sundays. As disappointing as that is, the appointment of Colin Murray perhaps isn’t as disastrous as it might first seem. And it could be worse. We could have had Tim Lovejoy.

A while ago, I used to watch Soccer AM fairly regularly, and while Lovejoy was an effective (if a little too cocksure) host, he would have been a terrible fit for MOTD2. Lovejoy feels like a relic from the lad culture of the mid-Nineties. He’s a 1996 issue of Loaded, all blokey swagger and “phwoar, eh, lads?”  He’s the stranger you meet down the pub who’s uncomfortably matey, with his too-clean trainers and pints of fizzy, chemical-tasting lager. There’s a time and a place for Lovejoy – though some would question that assertion – but it’s certainly not here.

Murray might have initially looked a little out of his depth in his anchor position on Five (and that takes some doing on that channel) but has since settled into the role, and clearly knows a bit about the beautiful game, as proven by his prominent weekend role on 5 Live. He’s certainly better than most ITV sports hosts – safe-pair-of-hands Steve Ryder being a notable exception – and enjoys a decent rapport with the pundits he shares a studio with. Murray might not be many people’s first choice as Chiles’ replacement, but with the help of the BBC’s decent scriptwriters and a proven ability to ad-lib effectively when called to, MOTD2 might not feel too different to the show as it is now.

Let’s at least give him the benefit of the doubt before we start the “MURRAY OUT” campaign, at least.

Everyone’s a critic

Today, I was shown a new videogame.

Before I got to go hands-on with said title, I was invited to tour the studio, and speak to many of the creative minds behind the game, from the lead designer to graphic artists to coders. It was an enlightening look at the process of game-making, and it was interesting to see how much thought and effort had gone into every element of the game’s construction.

Of particular note was how determined this talented team was to remain faithful to the licence it carries. This isn’t your ordinary tie-in, but a game which has sought inspiration and knowledge from key figures involved with its source material, staying true both to its feel and its unique look. Embargoes prevent me from saying what the game is, but the savvy gamers among you may be able to guess.

Suitably impressed with what I saw of the procedure, I settled down to play a small section of the incomplete alpha build of the game. During my first minute of play I paused. Was I admiring the craft that had gone into the production? The quality of the level design, the character animation or the noteworthy  faithfulness to the source?

No. Instead I was tutting at the faintly erratic companion AI, which was evidently unfinished, the build being a work-in-progress and not necessarily representative of the finished product.

In fairness, the pause was me catching myself for doing this, but still: what a despicable human being I am.