Rebecca Mayes and The Epic Win

26 08 2010

This is my new favourite song. My new favourite song, otherwise known as my most current favourite song, usually only lasts as long as until I hear something new from one of my favourite bands, but this is slightly different. This is really like nothing I’ve heard before, in so many weird and wonderful ways. This is a beautiful musical representation of modern gaming classic Mass Effect 2 that’s just as haunting and makes almost as big an impression as the game itself (along with a saccharine-sweet DIY indie video). This is Rebecca Mayes, and she’s brilliant.Vodpod videos no longer available. 

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Indiana Jones and the System Board of Doom (XBOX 360 Red Ring of Death/RROD)

2 02 2010

So, having come to a multilateral decision with the real brains behind the operation (my girlfriend) to get an XBOX 360, the next difficulty we’re presented with is “well, which one?”

Given my predisposition towards recycling, and my feeling that pre-owned really can be just as good as new (if you’re picky enough with it), ordinarily I’d be more than happy to plump for a pre-owned console. I buy plenty of pre-owned games, after all. When I was a poor, embittered student, I bought a slim PS2 for something in the region of sixty notes, when the new ones were still retailing around £150 – I was skipping all the way home with that bargain, and it was well worth putting up with the urine smell in the multicolour (if you count different shades of brown) swap-shop that was CEX in Leeds (and I’d just like to say, for the record, since they’ve moved to new premises it no longer reeks of stale urine like an old people’s home, so hopefully I’ve not upset them too much!) When my other half sent me an email from her work noticeboard listing a 360 with 60GB hard drive, two controllers and a couple of games for £120, I was very nearly that delighted again, but then something struck me. What if this guy is selling it because it’s out of warranty and it’s starting to malfunction? What if he’s felt it getting a bit toasty, and thinks he can cut his losses and get part of the money towards a new one before it dies completely? Then he’s laughing, and I’m out a considerable sum of money with an overheating, unusable console.

XBOX 360 Red Rings of Death

I went to bed thinking I was going to go for the second hand XBOX 360 - then I had nightmares that looked a little like this...

It comes back to (as it always seems to) the old XBOX 360 spectre, the Red Ring Of Death (RROD).

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It’s Not As Simple As Blue Hedgehog Vs Red Plumber Anymore… (XBOX 360 Vs PS3)

1 02 2010

I want a new console. I’ve been holding off getting an XBOX 360 or PS3 for reasons outlined below, but I have the blessing of my other half, we’ve cleared a space by the TV, and now I’ve got to choose – the trouble is, I don’t know how to anymore. In days of yore, gamers chose their consoles primarily on what games were exclusive to the format, above all other reasons. Sure, there will always be those who would tell you they chose a Mega Drive over a SNES because of the faster on-screen draw, or vice versa because of the depth of colour and pseudo-3D shading, but really, it came down to what you wanted to play, not how you wanted to play it. 

The Game Boy Vs Game Gear is an excellent case in point – on paper, the SEGA offering trounces Nintendo’s handheld, with a full colour screen, greater depth to its audio, and even the ability to play full Master System titles on it using a nifty adapter (to put that into a little context, imagine being able to play Uncharted 2: Among Thieves on your PSP, by doing nothing more than connecting to a disk drive big enough to take the PS3 media). If you’d asked a humble Game Boy to play a NES title it would have had a heart attack at the prospect of it, and that’s without getting onto the obvious colour issues. But the Game Boy won out in the end, and it did it with style and aplomb, outliving the Game Gear by maybe a full decade, in spite of being the older and inferior device. So what tipped the tables for the bleeping black and yellow-screened wonder? I’d go so far as to say it was two titles that won the battle for the Game Boy hands down (and that’s not to say that, on balance, all things considered, that it won by two titles – I mean that these are two titles that SEGA simply couldn’t compete with): Tetris, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Columns had the edge in terms of visuals, but Tetris was more fiendishly addictive, without the added complication of having to match up colours

SEGA simply had no answer for Link's Awakening, the biggest action-RPG of the era, which featured on the smallest, most underpowered format, the Game Boy

So where does that leave us in the modern, next generation era? I’m going to discount the Wii completely, and not because I’m one of those Wii-bashing unserious-gaming-hating fools (I love my Wii, the warm blue glowing smile and the insane waggling of white plastic) but for two reasons: because of the completely different format of gaming it offers (as well as the fact it’s not a direct comparison in terms of performance, graphics and variety of content), and because you can’t decide between XBOX 360 and PS3 by choice of titles. Nintendo are still the only company you  can plump for if you want some fairly specific gaming. If you want Mario, you have to go Nintendo. If you want Zelda, you have to go Nintendo. Hell, if you want Wii Fit, you have to go Nintendo, and that’s fine by me, at least I know where we all stand. 

I know there are millions of you out there who already have an XBOX 360 or PS3, and I’m sure you all have your reasons (or both consoles) but for me, I’ve been holding out as long as possible. Why? Because while I like to think that Sony and Microsoft are established enough in the gaming market to never wither and die, I remember the spectacular fall of SEGA, and know a few Dreamcast owners who are still bitter over the whole thing. We all know the market is big enough for three competing consoles (and let’s be fair, the only two that are really competing are XBOX 360 and PS3, the Wii is in a different contest all on its own) but somebody needs to tell the electronics giants that there is enough of the absolutely bloody massive pie for everyone to get nice and fat without trying to stove the other’s head in with their rather hefty coin-purses. So as much as I didn’t want to see a fight to the death, I was fully expecting one between the XBOX 360 and PS3, and the first crucial blow was struck by Sony, when they triumphed in the high definition war (Blu Ray Vs HD DVD) more than two years ago. Microsoft had plunged support and money into Toshiba’s HD DVD format, but when all but one of the major movie studios joined forces with Sony and Blu Ray, HD DVD was sunk, and I feared for the XBOX 360, which was to feature an add-on HD DVD player, as opposed to the PS3’s in-built Blu Ray player. 

PS3: "I have a Blu Ray player as standard, but I'm damn expensive and have the aesthetic appeal of a hearse."

As it transpired, though, this wasn’t the critical strike that I (and many others) thought it was going to be. Microsoft took the hit from their giant coffers, and almost by way of an apology to their legions of fans, started slashing the price of the XBOX 360 unit not long afterwards. The PS3 was always a little more expensive, sure, but when an XBOX 360 started creeping under the price of a Wii (the cheap and cheerful joker of the console world) you could see that Microsoft were serious about keeping their console alive, to the point we’re at now, where buying an XBOX 360 (approx £130)  and an external Blu Ray drive, or even standalone Blu Ray player, can come in cheaper than a PS3 with Blu Ray player built in (approx £250, and inexplicably, the new ‘slim’ PS3 doesn’t appear to have driven down the price of the old, large PS3 for those who just want one regardless of how monstrously ugly it is, as happened with the advent of the PSOne and PS2 slim in years gone by). 

XBOX 360: "I'm cheaper and prettier, but I've been known to run a bit warm, melt a hole in your TV cabinet and then never ever work again."

So aside from a big hit from Sony with regards the future of high definition, and a large bite from Microsoft in terms of cost, this great war has turned out to be mostly tit-for-tat, and for those of us who were expecting an eventual victor, we could be waiting a long time. It would appear that the age old tactic of dealing with Godzilla (don’t waste time, money and human life by trying to fight it – wait for some other giant mutant creature to come along so they can kill each other) isn’t going to work here. Godzilla and Mothra haven’t kissed and made up, but they have been fighting so long and so pointlessly that their claws are blunt, their teeth are missing, and neither is strong enough to damage the other. If you want some of that action, go watch Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, it’s awesome and hilarious in equal measure, and does exactly what it says on the tin. 

So how does a confused, indecisive gamer (who already owns the get-out clause, the Wii) come to any conclusions? After all, this is an important decision for more than just gaming reasons – a new console is about the fourth most expensive thing you can buy, after a house, a car and a great big flat-screen TV, and I don’t want to be left out of pocket and disappointed six months down the line. You go back to the tried and tested method – I’m going to pick my console for the games I want to play, dammit. That’s the way it’s always worked, and I’m not going to let the fact that titles are syndicated across both the XBOX 360 and PS3 stop me. When you really think, and I mean really, the only games that matter at all in the exclusivity arguement are Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for the PS3, and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for the XBOX 360. Both are exclusives, both look and play incredibly, they’re immersive, cinematic, and offer truly epic, 30+ hours play time that you don’t often get anymore. They kind of cancel each other out, don’t they? There are of course other titles that are exclusive, Little Big Planet Vs Viva Pinata springs to mind, but I’m really not bothered either way, and can get them both for handhelds (in fact, I do already have Viva Pinata for DS – I don’t need to see it in 1080p on my big screen to enjoy it, and I’m sure the same applies for Little Big Planet).

So that doesn’t really leave me any the wiser, either, but I do have one ace up my sleeve, one trick card to play that may just help me make this decision after all. There has been one game, or more specifically, one series of games that has kept me buying consoles throughout the years, and it may just help me swing the decision once more. I bought a SNES for one, I bought a Playstation (and turned down an N64, Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time) for three of them, a PS2 for two of them, and now, Final Fantasy might just help me choose again, but not in the way is used to. I was trying my hardest not to get excited about Final Fantasy XIII for a couple of big reasons: firstly, Final Fantasy XII annoys me immensely, in the same way VIII did on the Playstation (lots of build-up, amazing presentation, a tad lacking in substance) and I’m scared XIII could go the same way. But if I thought that way every time, I wouldn’t have played IX after VIII disappointed me so much, and I would have missed an absolute storybook fantasy gem, that almost sits up there on the same pedestal as VI and VII – high praise indeed. Secondly, and this really is a big reason, the price of the PS3 is still, in my opinion, ridiculous, and given that it’s shown absolutely no signs of shifting over the three or so years the console has existed, then I’m never expecting it to drop into a sensible bracket.

This is where Square-Enix rode to my rescue! The very exclusivity of Final Fantasy to Sony was the only thing that was tying me to craving a PS3, if I’m honest. I don’t like the look of them, I feel like the controller hasn’t moved on since 1996, and I object to paying that much for the privilege of feeling a bit let down by something that’s supposed to make me feel amazing. Imagine my delight to learn that Final Fantasy XIII is coming to the XBOX 360! Now, I have no reason to cling to bankrupting myself for one title, when I can get every other game I want, plus the one game I need (and I couldn’t stress need enough to you, Final Fantasy titles are my life-blood, they are evidence of all that is great when gaming and storytelling come together) on a sensibly priced, quite attractive console! So thank you, Square-Enix, I know I’ve not been your biggest advocate since you ceased being just Squaresoft, but I promise that with this one act (that has no doubt made you and Microsoft a truck-load of money, I know you didn’t do it solely for my benefit) you’ve put right every ill you’ve caused me over the past ten years, and I’ll never, ever doubt you again!

So here’s the title that (now I know I can have it without re-mortgaging my house for a PS3) is making me so excited and glad to be a gamer again:

FFXIII, UK Release Date: 9/3/2010

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All Hail the Physicists!

26 10 2009

As in my previous post about the ArcAttack madmen, here is another lovely example of physicists (who are quite possibly a little mad – I mean this in the nicest possible way) taking something that would ordinarily have quite dull scientific properties and uses, and turning it into something highly entertaining. Tennis For Two is (depending on how you see it) either the first, second or possibly third computer game ever created, but it’s certainly the first to have the entirety of its gameplay and its visuals contained within the game and displayed electronically, and was created by physicist William Higinbotham in 1958.

William was working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and observed that it was a tad dull for its visitors, so in his spare time he developed and built Tennis For Two with bits of equipment he had lying around. It featured an oscilloscope for a screen, was around the size of an old microwave oven, and had two handheld controllers with two functions – a push button to hit the ball, and an analog dial to adjust the ball’s trajectory. Hundreds queued up to play this infuriatingly addictive game and loved the game’s surprisingly realistic physics – even balls hitting the top of the net received a little drag, slowing them and altering their trajectory.

He never made any money from the game because had he filed a patent, it would have belonged to the US Government (as it was made in their lab with their equipment) but you have to love that he took the time to do this as a technical exercise and simply as a bit of fun, so William Higinbotham, we salute you, and here for your enjoyment, is his masterpiece:

A Boy and His Blob – The Most Adorable Game Ever?

8 09 2009

Yes, I think it genuinely might be.

I remember the original A Boy and His Blob when it was released in Europe in 1991, and it was a sweet concept then (pardon the pun). A young boy is joined by gelatinous blob named Blobert (or Blob, to his friends) and together they quest across Earth and Blobolonia to save Blob’s homeworld from the evil emperor. So far, so average, then. Move from left to right, jump, fight, collect things – hadn’t a short fat plumber done this already? The difference in A Boy and His Blob was the puzzle element, that genuinely relied on teamwork with Blob (yes, I did say ‘teamwork’) in order to pass through the game.

Blob, you see, has a taste for jellybeans (the ‘sweet’ pun becomes apparent) but by a strange twist, different flavours have some very different effects on him. Throw him a licorice flavoured bean, for example, and he’ll turn into a ladder, or a honey one, and he’ll turn into a hummingbird. All you have to do is give a little whistle, and he’ll transform back again. This makes for an extremely novel method of problem solving, really giving you a sense of connection and attachment to Blob, and you start to care for the little ball of fun more and more.

How happy was I, then, to see that A Boy and His Blob is coming to the Wii! And what’s more, they’ve made it even more adorable! Now on top of the original jellybean and whistle related shenanigans (of which there are so much more than the original – shields, rockets, even giant blobular mechanima robot combat suits aren’t beyond Blobert in the modern incarnation) you get the chance to give your pal a cuddle. This isn’t just a saccharine visual tag-on, though – Blobert’s mood changes depending on the situation you are in, and you need to treat him nicely in order to keep him in top transforming shape. The necessity of hugs aside though, this reimagining is a visual picture book feast, and you will find yourself giving Blob a cuddle when he’s already maxed out on happy, just because it looks so damn lovely, and we all need a cuddle from time to time.

Video courtesy of, UK release: November 6th, 2009.

Take Control Of Your Life…

23 04 2008

No, I’ve not started writing self-help (although I hear there’s good money in that), I’m talking about HCI. That’s Human Computer Interaction, and to most of us, that broadly ranges from mice and keyboards to our favourite game controllers. We’ve come a long way from the blinking command prompt, and we’re now firmly entrenched in the realm of the GUI (quite wonderfully pronounced ‘gooey’, standing for Graphical User Interface) but where do we go from here? Read the rest of this entry »

Grand Theft Auto has a lot to answer for…

22 04 2008

Well, actually, no it doesn’t. Or at least, not the things that we’re lead to believe. Read the rest of this entry »