Problems…

It’s with a heavy heart that I have to announce that I’ll no longer be doing #oneaday. There are a number of reasons for this, chief among them being that I have a few problems in my life that I need to focus on resolving. I was originally planning on just taking a break and starting back in a week or so, but that wouldn’t be fair on those who are fulfilling the requirements of the original mandate.

If I can’t do one post per day, then it’s only fair I should relinquish my position as unofficial group ‘leader’ (not that I was ever much of one anyway).

I apologise to those I’m letting down by quitting, but I have more pressing concerns which require my time, and I feel that particularly in recent weeks the quality of my posts has suffered dramatically. I wish the best of luck to the remaining five bloggers and hopefully you’ll be able to succeed where I failed and reach 365 posts.

Once again, I’m deeply sorry. I’ll still be posting here every so often, though, and will keep in touch with all the people I’ve befriended during the time I’ve been blogging. But it’s bye from me for now. Hope to see you again soon.

Advertisements

Five years ago…

Before I started writing professionally I created a videogame website called Press Start Online. I wrote quite a lot of the site’s content with the help of a number of other writers, several of whom have gone on to write for proper websites and magazines. In December 2005, I wrote a review of Burnout Legends on the DS, which remains to this day the worst game I’ve ever played.

I decided to try and find the review to see if I still had it, and lo and behold it’s still there on my hard drive. Do bear in mind that I wrote this five years ago. I think my writing’s improved quite a bit since then, and I do think the tone of the review is perhaps a little aggressive, but hopefully you might find a couple of bits chuckle-worthy.

You may have heard a few things about Burnout Legends on the DS. You may have heard that it’s not an entirely successful port. You may have heard that it seems to be a bit of a rush-job. You may have heard that it’s just plain bad.

But Burnout Legends DS is not bad. No. It’s much, much worse than that.

Burnout Legends is so abysmal it’s difficult to know where to start. It’s like swallowing a sharp chip. It’s like eating an orange and then realising you have a paper cut. It’s like waking up to find someone’s removed your pancreas while you were asleep. It’s like Carmageddon 64 never happened.

Robert Mugabe’s committed lesser atrocities than the makers of this game.

But this is a review, and mere comparisons to some of life’s unpleasantries and the historically vomit-inducing aren’t going to suffice. So perhaps I should begin listing the crimes against videogaming it commits; crimes so numerous and so appalling even Phoenix Wright would struggle to mount a defence. But I’ve only got so many words and only so much space, so here are the edited highlights:

How about handling so inept that your car turns like Jade Goody wearing blancmange ice-skates? Or the horrible screen zoom effect that occurs whenever you boost, making the game resemble someone holding one of those Magic Eye pictures in front of you and then moving the book rapidly towards and away from your face? Or the horrendously dull font that the game uses throughout, even during the race, when it flashes up such gems as “Tailgating” and “Takedown” with all the enthusiasm of a Jack Dee gig at a home for the manic depressive? Brushing past another vehicle for more than a nanosecond (assuming the game’s hopelessly inconsistent collision detection doesn’t register it as a crash) brings up the legend “Rubbin’” (sic). Which, for all the world, you wish would just be honest and say “Rubbish”. Though, to be 100% truthful, the word would have to be twice the size and fill the screen for the duration of each race.

Not enough? Well, try these on for size: the car models are utterly, and without exception, atrocious, the bus model deserving particular attention for being one of the worst 3D models we’ve EVER seen – it makes Zarch look like Gears of War. The crashes are the least spectacular collisions ever brought to silicon, with tiny triangles spraying from your vehicle like a two-year old making a pathetic attempt to throw confetti. The yellow “sparks” that appear when you rub against a barrier are even more embarrassing – they look more like someone urinating from the window of the car. Perhaps it’s a visual metaphor, as if you spend £30 on this pile of useless shovelware dreck, you’ll certainly have pissed away your money.

Then there’s the way it seems possible to win races despite crashing over twenty times, usually thanks to the game failing to recognise the difference between hitting a wall at a ninety-degree angle and slightly scraping your paintwork against a rival vehicle (which seems to randomly result in either a takedown for you, or a crash that occasionally puts you ahead of said opponent when you restart). There’s also the genius way you can spend almost the entire time holding down boost and accelerate while constantly scraping against the barriers to win races, as long as you remember to occasionally press left and right. There’s the fact that drift is accomplished not by a combination of accelerate and brake, but by simply pressing left or right to turn. The fact that Crash mode can see you get a gold medal by hitting THREE vehicles in total – anyone familiar with the series will recoil in horror at the sight of “Crashbreaker in 2” after hitting the first car in your sights. And that the Crashbreakers themselves consist of your car immediately turning black, and performing a Harrier Jump Jet-esque vertical takeoff and landing.

There’s the presentation itself, which consists of a mercifully brief intro wherein you can’t see a thing that’s going on. There’s the sound effects, which are tinny, bland and entirely unmemorable, save for the burnout noise, which sounds like someone opening a packet of crisps while three people applaud. Much like the reaction to a Charles Kennedy speech at a Lib Dem conference then.

So are there any positives about Burnout Legends on the DS? Well, there’s a couple that immediately spring to mind. First of all, there’s no EA Trax. No, instead they’ve been replaced by the most brain-numbingly generic guitar riffs and dance beats imaginable. So no real change there, then. But I’ve not mentioned the incredible jump-shock scares that put the likes of Condemned to shame. It’s entirely possible to be casually driving (and I use the word in the loosest sense – “vaguely controlled sliding” would be more appropriate) down the wrong side of the road, when all of a sudden a vehicle will suddenly appear immediately in front of you. It’s the sort of shock that perhaps occurs too frequently to be entirely effective, and it eventually becomes tiresome, but the first time it happens it’s soiled trousers time. Or maybe not.

Any more pluses? Well, Pursuit mode is marginally more fun than the others, in the way that hammering rusty nails into your testes is slightly preferable to being burned alive. But that’s about it.

In all honesty, it pains me to say anything positive about Burnout Legends because it’s quite frankly one of the most horrifically misguided, shockingly coded and downright unplayable abortions I’ve ever encountered in all my time playing videogames. It’s shovelware of the very lowest order, and it can’t possibly be recommended to anyone other than the terminally masochistic. A better way to spend £30 would be to buy a 6-pack of Special Brew and a piece of iron piping for the local tramp, then ask him to drink the former before beating you to within an inch of your life with the latter. If it stops you playing Burnout Legends DS then it’s a sacrifice worth making, and money well spent.

I’ve shat better games than this.

One A Day Picks of the Week – 16th to 22nd August

Writing one blog entry per day for 365 days might sound simple enough on paper, but in reality it’s incredibly difficult to maintain for such a long time. There are some days when life just gets in the way. And so we sadly have to bid adieu to Rhiarti, whose last #oneaday post can be read at her fab blog Musings Of A Neoteric Victorian. I’ll still be keeping a link to the site, and I’m sure she’ll continue to blog as and when the mood takes her, but sadly we’re losing one of our regulars.

I’d be tempting fate to say anyone is still going strong, but suffice to say Jennifer Allen has reached the impressive tally of 234 posts, and she talked this week about a movie that made her change her opinion about something. Mat Murray, meanwhile, went to the Edinburgh Fringe, and spent almost a full week blogging about it. To randomly pluck one of his entries from his thorough coverage of the festival, I’ll go with Wednesday’s entry, mainly because I liked the simple yet oddly striking accompanying image.

One of my favourite entries this week came from Mike Grant, with a terrific piece about objectivity – and the inability of some people to engage with that very concept. Adam Englebright, on the other hand, has a very subjective dislike of the BT adverts with him from My Family (and Love, Actually) in them.

Krystian Majewski has been at GamesCom, and had some hands-on time with Kinect and Move, which he’s written two excellent and detailed entries about. And talking of excellent and detailed entries, Pete Davison eloquently tells us why we shouldn’t bother watching The X-Factor.

Which means this week’s winning entry comes from Ian Dransfield, with a delightfully nostalgic piece about his time working at CEX. Having worked in a job I hated with people I really liked, I know exactly where he’s coming from, but even without the added empathy it’s a tremendous read.

Join me same time next week for another round of the week’s best entries. Hopefully we’ll still have a few people left by then…

Move: Bridging the casual/hardcore divide

There seems to be a vocal minority on gaming forums and comments threads that sees motion controls as the enemy of gaming. That standing up and waving your arms about is no way to have fun, and that the widening of the gaming market means we won’t see any ‘traditional’, ‘hardcore’ games any more.

Apart from the fact that it’s utter nonsense, I’ve no idea why motion controls and core-focused gaming should be considered mutually exclusive. Yet it’s the way they’re most commonly perceived, or so it seems. Having spent the best part of an hour just now trying to beat an opponent on Sony’s Sports Champions – and that’s not through any faults of the controls themselves – I can honestly say that motion controls, executed properly, can make for as substantial a challenge as any ‘hardcore’ game.

PlayStation Move is a remarkably responsive and precise controller, with the PlayStation Eye camera able to track its position in 3D space, allowing for near-as-dammit 1:1 controls. You do need to be careful not to step out of the range of the camera, and you do need to ensure you’re a certain distance away from the telly to make the most of it, but otherwise any mistakes are your own fault; there are no glitches nor any noticeable drifting, as with Wii MotionPlus.

Which means if you’re facing a decent opponent in table tennis, say, you need to apply topspin, sidespin and backspin, reach into the court to get shots which land close to the net or lean backwards to return strokes hit to the back of the table. You can simply hold the controller in position and you’ll execute a block return, the ball simply hitting your bat and bouncing over the other side (assuming you’ve judged the shot correctly, of course). It’s a remarkable showcase for the peripheral, but more importantly, it shows exactly how motion controls can be used to make games simultaneously more intuitive yet more challenging. If your bat’s at the wrong angle, you’ll hit the ball into the net or off the side of the table. Fail to counter strong spin or time your shot poorly and you’ll spoon a return over the net, giving your opponent ample time to smash. On the lower difficulties, your rivals make more mistakes; on Gold level and above, they’ll spend more time punishing yours.

This does make the rewards all the greater when you do overcome an opponent, and it’s all thanks to the brilliantly-executed controls. So motion controls aren’t just for casuals, then? Well, that shouldn’t come as a shock to Wii owners who’ve played the likes of Mario Galaxy 2 and Trauma Team, who are no doubt aware that motion and pointer-based controls, implemented well, can genuinely enhance a game. They’re just as perfect a fit for core games as for those titles aimed at a wider audience. Let’s not automatically assume they’re a poor substitute for more traditional controls.

Fifteen years

Fifteen years ago today, my wife asked me out. That we’re still together is a fact which continues to astound me.

At the age of 17, I was beginning to despair of ever finding someone to love. I’d had plenty of crushes on other girls, but the feeling was never mutual. I was friends with plenty of them, but that’s probably because I was the safe option – they knew I’d never try anything on, so they were comfortable around me. I sat next to a girl on the bus to college almost every day, and we used to talk most of the way there. I’ve no idea whether she even knew I liked her, because I simply didn’t have the courage to say anything.

So I’m incredibly glad that Mel told me how she felt, because if it was up to me, I might never have told her the same. I’d probably still be wondering whether she was interested fifteen years on. Again, we were friends before we started going out, and I was really wary of saying anything lest it affect our friendship. When she popped the question at the bus stop just up the road from my house, I was so taken aback that I mumbled a few words and walked off. It wasn’t until I phoned her later on that I said I’d love to spend some more time with her.

And fifteen years later, here we are. Happily married for almost eight of those years, with four as parents of a wonderfully caring, handsome and bright little boy. Sure, it’s sometimes been for poorer rather than richer, and recently in sickness rather than in health, but really I couldn’t be happier that I’ve been lucky enough to spend my entire adult life with the woman I love.

Four Links

As I’ve mentioned before, I often bookmark links from Twitter during the day to read or show my wife later. I’ve saved about eight this week, of which these are the most interesting four.

Men Are Useless is a site which sends packs of grooming products to men each month, but it was the site’s Wall of Shame which made me laugh. A few are fairly trite observations, but some – particularly the final two on the page – are bang on.

A user called Shamantis uploaded a Justin Bieber song slowed down by 800% to Soundcloud, turning it from a disposable piece of tween pop into a sweeping ambient epic. It’s perhaps a bit too long to listen to in one go, but try to give it fifteen minutes of your time.

AdFailure.com is a site which hosts pictures of inappropriately-placed or badly thought-out adverts. I was alerted to the site by someone who posted a link to this brilliant entry.

Finally, there’s a wonderful piece by Linda Holmes on NPR about some of the critical reviews of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It quite rightly points the fingers at those critics who spend more time criticising the audience of this kind of film than the film itself. “Here’s what I’m saying: I’m a woman, I’m in my late thirties, I can’t handle first-person shooters, I’m afraid of Comic-Con, and I really, really liked Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”  It’s terrific stuff, and well worth a read.

Salt

Yesterday, I watched the new Angelina Jolie action-thriller Salt. It’s based on a comic book, apparently, though I didn’t know that before I saw it. Had I done so, I might well have accepted some of the more outlandish elements – like the slightly cartoonish feel to some of the fight scenes. But it was inconsistent in that regard, because elsewhere Evelyn Salt herself felt like a female Jason Bourne, while the story took itself more seriously in places than others.

In general I liked it, though ultimately I was a little disappointed where it ended up, with the film taking a turn for the worse after the skilful build-up of the first hour. Early chase sequences culminated in a few dramatic – if unlikely – escapes, but at least they were grounded in reality. Thereafter, things started getting a bit silly, with latex disguises and almost Matrix-esque manouevres in the fights, and this undid some of the good work from earlier in the film. It was surprisingly dark in a couple of places, and the daftness detracted from that a bit.

Otherwise it’s a pretty lean, efficient and sporadically exciting thriller. Jolie is a little too skinny for the role, but she’s got a certain steely toughness in her eyes that allows her to just about gets away with it. If she looked more like she did in her Tomb Raider days, she’d make a great action heroine. A few scenes let her demonstrate some impressive acting chops, too. There’s one scene in particular where Jolie does some amazing work with just her eyes and the tiniest movement of her lips, quietly conveying emotion at a time where her character is in danger if her mask slips.

It also manages a couple of neat surprises along the way, though I kicked myself for not seeing one of them coming. There’s certainly franchise promise here, with the ending naturally leaving some room for a sequel. Noyce’s direction was capable enough, and so it wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to helm another, though I’d like to see a tighter, more realistic script next time. Otherwise I’d cautiously recommend Salt, though it may be best to wait for the DVD.

Lara Craft

In a time when big studios are going under at the first sign of a AAA flop (Realtime Worlds, Free Radical Design), it’s little wonder that publishers and developers alike are looking to explore the downloadable space. Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light may be considered a mere spin-off, but even from just an hour or so’s play it’s clear it reinvigorates a faltering franchise.

Its environments – viewed from an isometric perspective* – are beautifully lit and really well-crafted, while the combat (using the right stick) is more enjoyable than in any previous title Ms. Croft has starred in. And happily, the single-player game doesn’t feel like a stripped-down version of the co-operative mode, but instead a different and equally enjoyable experience in its own right. I’ve only seen videos of the game being played with a partner, but it seems puzzles are redesigned to make the most of the presence of a second player. In other words, it’s two games in one.

Or rather three, because there are a number of different challenges per level that add substantial replay value. The first level took me 22 minutes to complete; there’s a reward for finishing it under six. So there’s an element of speedrunning involved, too.

I’d like to see more franchises explore this kind of idea, and take a fresh look at an existing digital world. Game-makers often look at ways of expanding their universe through comics, novels and even films, so why not a downloadable game with a smaller budget? It’s the ideal way of keeping a franchise in the spotlight while perhaps shedding new light on bit-part characters and side-stories. Hopefully, Lara’s latest adventure will be the success it clearly deserves to be, so that more publishers consider investing in intriguing side projects such as this.

(*I’m reliably informed that this is actually the correct term, despite what I may have said on Twitter earlier.)

Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One

I like the Ratchet and Clank series, partly because it’s rare to find a game I can comfortably play in front of my wife without worrying about excessive violence and profanity. It’s a game I can happily play in front of my son, too, even if he’s not really interested enough to join in – not that he’s been able to so far, as it’s always been a single-player only experience.

So I was delighted to hear that Insomniac would be making a spin-off, revealed at Sony’s GamesCom conference today. All For One is a multiplayer-focused experience which sees the eponymous duo joined by Captain Qwark and former arch-nemesis Doctor Nefarious (not sure that really makes sense, and I’d rather have had SIGMUND, the robot from A Crack In Time, but there you go).

I was slightly disappointed, therefore, to see that the game isn’t due out until Autumn 2011 (a couple of sites misread it as this year; perhaps understandable given how polished the footage looked). But I’m also slightly concerned that it will be too focused on multiplayer.

The brilliant thing about the recent Toy Story 3 game – or its sandbox mode at least – is that it doesn’t really feel like you’re missing out on anything by playing it on your own. Add another player and it’s more chaotic and perhaps even more fun, but it’s still the same game. I’ve also heard from people I trust that Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (due for release tomorrow on XBLA) offers a compelling solo experience, but that the puzzles are tweaked for co-operative play. That’s possibly an even better solution, though I might be slightly disappointed if I didn’t get to at least try it out with a friend.

My concern here is that the focus on multiplayer will come at the expense of the single-player game. More and more often these days games are being made with co-operative or competitive modes in mind, while others take development costs away from the campaign to invest in a token multiplayer offering that’s little more than an exercise in box-ticking, and played for mere weeks before being abandoned for the next big shooter.

My other worry is that the trailer talks about playing online with anyone in the world at any time. Which has me concerned that it won’t include a local multiplayer option. Given how much I’m looking forward to playing this with my son, I’d be incredibly disappointed if it’s not playable in split-screen (or even, as with the LEGO games, on a single display). Again, this is an aspect of modern gaming that’s being all too readily ignored by today’s developers. When even a local multiplayer staple like Mario Kart abandons its roots to look to the draw of online play, you know it’s time to worry.

If Insomniac can alleviate my fears, then they have my money, and All 4 One will be one of my most-anticipated titles of next year. Nintendo and Traveller’s Tales have pretty much had a duopoly on quality family-friendly games in recent years, and it’d be nice to see more developers join the party.

One A Day Picks of the Week – 9th to 15th August

It’s GamesCom this week, essentially Europe’s own E3, and so it seems fitting that we should start with a post about games. Or rather one game; in this case, it’s the recently-announced Bioshock: Infinite, and Adam Englebright has done the writing. For the record, I agree with him that Bioshock is a little overrated, though I’m looking forward to seeing what Ken Levine and team bring to the table with this follow-up.

A post related to an accidental breaking of Bioshock: Infinite’s embargo led to a brilliant post from Mike Grant about the subject, not only because it reminded me of a great time when our tiny independent website Press Start Online had a world-exclusive review of Halo 3 up that netted us well over half-a-million hits.

There’s a heartwarming story about games testers from Ella Jensen that actually manages the difficult feat of making a tough job sound semi-attractive, while Krystian Majewski ponders the question “what if books were like games?”

Of course, it’d be boring if we talked about games all the time, so it’s only right that I include a few posts not on the same subject. Mat Murray this week expressed his love of the countryside (accompanied by a gorgeous photo) while Ian Dransfield was lucky enough to meet one of his childhood heroes. And make them laugh. I managed the same with Shigeru Miyamoto once, which has to rank as one of my proudest moments.

The ever-excellent and prolific Pete Davison and Rhiarti are both on form this week. The former offered his own personal take on Buffy The Vampire Slayer – complete with the best stick drawing of someone kicking a vampire in the nuts I’ve ever seen – as the latter recovered from a brutal week in her new favourite place.

Pick of the posts this week, however, goes to Jennifer Allen. Jen’s been a #oneaday stalwart since day one, always posting despite often being far too busy (or ill, for a brief time) to want to bother. So I was particularly heartened to read her post about a smile; coincidentally, by the time I’d read it I was grinning from ear to ear.

Before I go, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those who have stuck with #oneaday through trying times. People have started and people have dropped out, but we still have a core group of posters who are sticking firmly to their guns and making sure they blog daily. It’s funny; those who seem to have been struggling the most with life and its travails have been the most prolific contributors. I only hope that when they’ve reached their quota, they look back on their blogs with genuine affection. Perhaps most importantly, I think we’ve all made new friends, and I’m sure even when 365 days is up, we’ll stay in touch with each other.