Monthly Archives: July 2013

Eurogamer debut

My first article for Eurogamer was published yesterday, and judging by the positive comments piling up beneath it, I’m pleased to say it was well received. Phew!

If you missed it, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about the DIY computer revolution in Yugoslavia: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-07-30-the-story-of-yugoslavias-diy-computer-revolution. I’d be the first to admit that it doesn’t sound like the most promising of topics, but trust me, it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds. While everyone in the UK was busy playing on their Spectrums and C64s, people in Yugoslavia were building their own computers – Galaksijas – from detailed plans provided by an amazing chap named Voja Antonić.

Voja Antonic is on the right, preparing a Galaksija prototype.

Voja Antonic is on the right, preparing a Galaksija prototype.

I managed to track him down through Serbian DJ Zoran Modli, who I’d got in touch with for another, as-yet-unpublished article. Voja was amazingly helpful, and I’m truly grateful to him for all the input he gave to the article. I’m still bowled over by the story of the Galaksija – imagine coming up with the idea for a new computer, but instead of selling it, just giving it away for free to introduce a nation to computer science. Amazing.

Anyway, I’m hoping to pitch a few more articles to Eurogamer in future, so hopefully this will be the first of many. Also, apologies for my lack of posting on A Most Agreeable Pastime recently – I went freelance a couple of months ago, and I’ve been rushed off my feet since then. Hopefully things will calm down soon and you can expect a few more posts here.

(As penned in excitement and exhaustion by Lucius Merriweather.)

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Far Cry 3 achieves greatness, almost perfection

ImageFar Cry 3 is brilliant at making you feel like whatever you want to be.  While you play the role of rich-kid and kind-of-a-jerk Jason Brody it is easy to mistake yourself for the best hit and run warriors of the Viet Cong or Sam Fisher at the height of his stealthiness.  The game gives you the tools to inflict grievous bodily harm and lets you go and discover your inner soldier – whether it be a close combat silent-type, a long-ranged sniper or a run and gun killer – the game doesn’t tell you how to go about massacring its ill-willed inhabitants. You are trapped on an island trying to save your friends from raging psychopathic murderers on a holiday gone wrong and you’re fighting for survival.  And you will grow into these role quickly and efficiently, becoming more and more of a hunter with every passing minute until you feel like you are the ultimate predator.  Killing will become instinct and you will be sitting at the very top of the food chain.  If Far Cry 3 were to be judged on the merits of tapping that primal urge to hunt we all intrinsically have it would pass the exam with full-mark Honours.

Which is why the fact that the start to the game’s narrative setup doesn’t live up to its promise is so disappointing.  Immediately the game draws you in with themes of insanity and exploitation only to leave most of those threads hanging to become nothing more than a summer blockbuster story line about saving yours and your friends’ and families’ skin.  It is constantly teasing with imagery and words, hinting at twists and turns and that all you see may not be as it seems only to leave you you the straightest possible path through a truly intriguing and engrossing world, delivering little more than a vanilla narrative.  It hits some high notes toward the end with some adrenaline pumping moments but the story never feels like it really hits its stride.  Equally most of its characters while delivering some interesting dialogue never live up to their potential.  The American spy, the German private soldier and the crazy recluse drug dealer all could’ve been used to deliver memorable storylines and interesting missions, but end up feeling like stepping stones along a rather benign story path.  The result is that the game’s pacing and progress through its story  feel like meandering aimlessly between mission givers rather than a real organic and cohesive story.  On the flipside the game’s villains are memorably heinous and interesting and worth discovering for yourself, even if the early glints of promise aren’t ever fully realised.  All in all Far Cry 3’s yarn is decent if, sadly against its promising opening, uninspired.

Of course this really is by-the-by because Far Cry 3 is simply a pleasure to play.  Whether it be liberating outposts to gain territory, hunting wildlife to craft new gear, performing hits, or moving the game’s narrative along, you won’t notice the hours pass for all the fun you’re having.  Far Cry 3’s idyllic isolated island certainly isn’t a relaxing holiday, but it’s still a nice thing to come home to after a hard day’s real world work.  You’d simply have to be mad not to play this game.

Far Cry 3 SS

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Hotline Miami – you won’t ever want to hang up on this indie gem

HMCoverHotline Miami (PS Vita, PS3) – Hotline Miami is like a drug-enduced high that will take you on a trip through the violence, white suits and craziness of a brutal 1980’s Miami that will leave your eyes blood-shot, your sense heightened and your mind warped and twisted. Bloody, bright and brutal, Hotline Miami is a loving homage to 80’s culture and pixel art that takes old school game design and injects it with the blood-lust and maturity of a modern title. The result is a satisfying and addictive game that has a deceptive level of depth and replayability, not to mention enough blood and inards to deck out the set of a Hellraiser movie.

On booting up Hotline Miami you’ll either be blown away or disgusted by its vivacious art style.  Its bright top-down neon-inspired pixel art brings with it an instant retro feel that feels rather in-context with how the game starts out, feeling staunchly like a throwback to a simpler time, as you quickly take to your enemies with baseball bats, shotguns or just your fists as you kill everyone in each stage and move onto the next chapter.  It is fast paced and rewards quick thinking and acting as you chain together kill combos to increase your score.  But whats starts off as simple map layouts with enemies placed as to almost beg you to strew their brains and innards across the floors and walls quickly becomes an exercise in patience and strategy.  One hit can kill you in Hotline Miami, and as it will remind you over and over again, you can’t afford to make any errors if you want to survive.  As it introduces more and more enemies with guns that can kill you from outside the screen it becomes more frustrating but also more rewarding on the off chance that things go right.   Simply put it becomes brutally difficult.

But it is also fair.  The map designs aren’t nearly as much the star of the show as the enemy placement.  Enemies are deviously placed just out of view or hidden in plain site just waiting to splatter your head into a million pieces.  The game basically trains you with a choker collar to carefully plan out your route through the level.  But at the same time it dangles the carrot of a spectacular kill in your face, placing a blisfully unaware ‘melee-class’ enemy in a position ripe for an easy kill, but right in the sights of a dude with a shotgun.  Luckily the game respawns you at the start of that ‘stage’ of a chapter instantly, leaving your only penalty to be the few minutes it took you to progress to that point.  The game punishes you but never lets there be any uncertainty as to why you were cruelly cut in half, beaten to a pulp, or filled with hundreds of bullet holes.  When you die you know why and the game lets you correct your errors in the next run through making it as compulsive as Super Meat Boy and as complatative as Metal Gear Solid, a marriage that shouldn’t work but does and in doing so becomes the closest thing to an addictive substance in all of video games.

Hotline Miami is brutally bombastic bludgeon-em up that will have you questioning your sanity as the bodycount piles up and the nightmarish world becomes more and more twisted.  But as the ear to ear smile becomes cemented on your face with each and every kill you won’t notice the sadist in you growing in power.

Hotline Miami - Bloody, bombatic and brilliant

Hotline Miami – Bloody, bombatic and brilliant

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NBA 2K13 embodies the spirit of the Wii U, but comes with a trade-off

NBA 2K13 has single-handedly defined Nintendo’s newest console’s place in my life.  Sitting there playing through a basketball season with the Celtics on the gamepad made me realise just how awesome of a proposition the Wii U is for a subset of people. Being someone who spends a majority of my game time buried deep in my handhelds, the idea of seamlessly transitioning from the television screen to the gamepad is always tantalising and the Wii U in most cases lives up to the promise of playing console games without monopolising the television screen.  But until recently I hadn’t really appreciated what a boon that feature really is.

NBA2K13WiiU

And there is something truly special about knowing that what you’re playing is the real deal.  NBA 2K13 on the Wii U is as full-featured and realised basketball sim as any other on the market, featuring all the players, teams and stadiums from the NBA.   And it plays a serious game of basketball, featuring a complex yet intuitive control system and layers upon layers of tactical depth, while still managing to be approachable and enjoyable. Basically NBA 2K13 is one of the best sports games currently available on any platform regardless of the system you play it on.  The fact that it now can be played without hogging the television just makes it a slightly more compelling proposition.

But if you’ve grown accustomed to the love and care put into polishing the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the NBA 2K series in the past, you’re in for a shock.  Simply put the Wii U version looks and performs worse than the game on its competitors’ systems, with a frame rate sitting somewhere in the vicinity of 30 frames per second rather than the consistently close to 60 frames per second on the PS3 and Xbox 360, and with what look like slightly lower resolution textures and character models.  It still looks great, oozing style from every orifice, but it is significantly less stellar than what has been delivered on other platforms now for quite a number of years.  Of course if the last basketball game you played was NBA Courtside 2002 for the Gamecube, or just hadn’t played the other versions of the game for that matter, you would be none the wiser to the differences.

The differences though, while pronounced (particularly the frame rate difference), were never enough to detract from the versatility being able to play through my basketball career without needing to takeover the entire living room.  It is a benefit that far outweighs the costs and one can’t help but pontificate about the many competitive scenarios Nintendo’s Wii U would’ve brought to the scene had it released alongside the PS3 and Xbox 360 almost a decade ago. It may not be ‘technically brilliant’ but NBA 2K13 on the Wii U is the most game-changing sports game to hit consoles in a very long time.  Just for different reasons than I expected.

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A Cult Hero: The mystic power of the original Xbox “Duke”

The release of the Xbox Controller “S” was accompanied by wild cries and applause from all of those for whom the original whopper-sized controller didn’t fit into their hands.  Understandably too, it was a bloody handful that while technically ergonomic wasn’t really designed with the average 2002 human’s hand-size in mind.

But amongst my friends that Xbox “Duke” was a thing of legend; a controller that held mystic powers that were beyond our comprehension.  It was our “Ark of the Covenant”, something we all wanted to hold but never understood its real power.

XBDuke

But before I go into that story, it’s best to start at the beginning.

By 2003 Microsoft’s XBOX had well and truly become the multiplayer gaming console of choice for my friends.  Not really because it held any clear advantage over the other but rather because a friend whose parents had rather lax rules and regulations governing the teenager and his friends comings and goings had one in his larger-than-average bedroom.  Days turned to nights turned to weeks in the company of that particular friend, and if we weren’t at the oval at the school across the road playing a hit of cricket in 44 degree weather, we were inside playing fiercely competitive multiplayer games.

Gatherings of friends crowded around the small CRT TV became cornerstones of our summers.  Year after year there would be that game that hooked us and has us playing, laughing, yelling and punching each other in the arm as we waged battle on the television screen.  Controllers, including the one “Duke” controller, were passed or thrown between sometimes six or seven guys over the course of hours as we played Halo, Jedi Knight, Jedi Outcast or Dark Alliance.

But not all controllers were considered equal, and having the Duke Baton passed to you was akin to the poisoned chalice – in the beginning.  The look on the face of the receiving party was not unlike what you would imagine the expression of someone who has been told that their one-night-stand was pregnant with their child would be.  The colour drained from their faces and their pupils dilated as they took hold of the whopper-sized controller and fixed their eyes on the screen.

But then something started happening.  The person holding the Duke controller began winning irrespective of who it was. Watching people slowly become accustomed to the controller, alter their grip and gain a comparative advantage through doing so was like watching a child take its first steps, which while gradual was certainly marked.  As if a symbiotic relationship between the player’s hands and the controller had occured the performance benefits of using that controller over the ‘new and improved’ S were there.

We slowly picked up on all of this and as we did, tried to psych each other out with mind games, hoping that we were the only ones that knew, and trying to keep the pro-Duke club as exclusive as possible.  We were like Jedi trying to keep control of the force as with it absolute power, using our jedi mind tricks to alter the perceptions of each other.  In the background you’d hear “oh dude you’ve got the duke”, “man you’re stuffed with that controller” and the less than subtle “love this small controller it is rad”.  Soon we could no longer maintain secrecy over our secret weapon and it was obvious to all that the Duke had magical powers and whoever had that controller in their hands wielded near infinite power.  It became the Ring and we were all beholden to its power. Matches were thrown, tantrums had and the onset of anarchy began as the rules governing how controllers were allocated and how games were won or loss were thrown into disarray.

The Duke had worked its magic on us and we were turning on each other to wield its power.

Our Precious.

Ourprecious

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