Monthly Archives: April 2015

Remakes and Remasters? She’ll be ‘right, mate

MegaLoManiaCharactersIt’s a bloody pandemic.  Turn back the boats, lock up your wives and daughters. They’re absolutely everywhere and they’re taking over.  Of course I’m talking about remakes and remasters, the plague upon our houses, the trend that is moving the Doomsday clock’s minute hand closer and closer to midnight with every passing day.  And I’ll bet there’s more where that came from.

But no need for alarm, because if the remakes to date are anything to go by, games over the last ten years are a bit like fine wine and get better with age.  Halo: The Master Chief Collection proved that Bungie’s hulking green Spartan is evergreen.  The Sleeping Dogs Definitive edition proved that life in Hong Kong can be even more beautifully gritty than it was on last generation’s hardware.   And perhaps the remake with the shortest lag time – The Last of Us – proved that its narrative can only get better with greater fidelity.  But most of all they all proved that a cracking experience is a cracking experience.

It is entirely subjective of course, but in many ways it begs the question of how much of one’s enjoyment is derived from graphical fidelity.  As someone raised simultaneously on the technical brilliance that the Amiga 500 pushed at every turn and the rather more humble power of the monochromatic monster that was the Game Boy, I’ve always been a bit torn as to how important visual fidelity is to the experience as a whole.

But if my recent experience with the first Halo game on the Xbox One – with the abundance of Ps and more frames than the Louvre – I realised that a visual overhaul may be enough to trick my brain into thinking it’s a whole new experience.  Because as soon as I’d played the game through with its original graphics, destroying the eponymous Halo in the process, I started it back up again with the new visuals.  And half way in it just feels like a new experience, while still scratching that nostalgic itch that makes one feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  Nostalgia is a bit like a drug – no matter how recent – and publishers are more than happy to be the guy peddling it.

Of course it’s not a new thing to video games, last generation saw a fantastic array of remasters hitting the Playstation 3 and the Game Boy’s own Donkey Kong was practically a remake and remaster of Nintendo’s classic of the same name well before it was in vogue.  But the trend has gained momentum in the last couple of years, and it seems every man and his dog wants a piece of that sweet smelling cash stream.  And I’m often first in line to hand my hard earned over.

But take we long in the tooth players out of the equation for a moment and you’ll realise that there is a wealth of game experiences out there that someone old or young is yet to experience.  Believe it or not there is someone in the world that doesn’t own an Xbox 360 – and one who perhaps doesn’t want to – that may want to experience 2006’s hottest technical showpiece that is Gears of War.  It’s a distinct possibility, now bear with me here, that game publishers aren’t solely servicing the ‘been there, done that’ crowd. It may be hard to believe, but perhaps its not about us, but about them.

But you know what? Even if that’s not the case, video games are now old enough as a medium to warrant bringing things back, just like films and books have done for years upon years.  The better part of 40 years is a long time, and it is a near endless well of ideas to pull from, some that have been largely lost to the annals of time.  How there is no modern equivalent of Sensible Software’s Mega-Lo-Mania will forever remain a mystery to me, and in absence of some bright spark taking the initiative to remaster it, it’s a game that will sadly remain buried beneath its contemporaries and out of reach for all but the most dogged enthusiasts.

So I say more of it.  In fact, dig a bit deeper and pull out some more obscure stuff, and give them a second chance at life.  There is no shortage of not-all-that-old games that immediately come to mind as prime candidates for a remake, with the first Dead Rising sitting proudly at the top of that list, closely followed by the twilight Playstation 2 release of the final game in the Onimusha series.  And I’m sure every  person that has ever picked up a controller has at least one game they’d put hand on heart and say “I’d love to play that again and prettier if you please”.  That’s the sign of a medium that is culturally relevant, one that has the ability to speak to anyone and everyone on different levels, and one that is able to pay homage to its roots.  And perhaps it’s the ‘everyone’ for whom these games are intended and maybe even best enjoyed by.  Even if it is the more seasoned of gamers that pay the most attention.

In short: calm your tits mate, she’ll be ‘right.

LastofUsRemastered

5 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Halo: Combat Evolved’s “The Library” is a textbook game design

HALOCEAnniversaryI love The Library.  There, I said it.  Every time I play through Halo: Combat Evolved it dawns on me that it is once Master Chief makes the acquaintance of 343 Guilty Spark that the game really picks up, and becomes justifiably one of the historical cornerstones of the medium.  Being trapped in the tight corridors with the deadly Flood and its infected prey may not be the pinnacle of the tactical combat that to that point Halo had been the purveyor of, but it is during this intensely compressed period of fast-paced and twitch-based combat that Halo really comes into its own.  You may not be flanking Covenant grunts or taking down energy shields, but the change of pace that The Library brings with it is for mine, the pinnacle of first person shooting.

Anyone who has played Halo – and I’m sure that’s close to everyone both living and deceased by now – knows that in a lot of ways The Library is trial by fire.  The Flood has barely been introduced to the player before you’re forced into close quarters combat with a foreign enemy, an enemy that attacks en masse, and an enemy that challenges you to change your approach to combat.  I could write ad nauseam about how the Halo series made weapon design and balance into an art form – and it did – but it is during The Library that it becomes incredibly obvious just how integral the weapons are to the whole experience.  What may have been your go-to weapon combination fighting the covenant may not suit your battle against the rushing kamikaze infected – 343 Guilty Spark even passes comment on it, “Puzzling. You brought such ineffective weapons to combat the Flood, despite the containment protocols””, and it is the Library’s school of hard knocks that very quickly forces you to find your feet, and discover what weapon combination works the best for you. Or die trying.

But it is also the textbook level design that helps make the great halls of The Library not only a brilliant lesson in first person shooter weapon design and selection, but the perfect training grounds for fighting the flood .  Isolating the Flood the first time you experience them in their full force is one of the smartest design decisions of the modern era, taking the player out of the fight with the Covenant temporarily, and focusing the player on learning how to approach this entirely new enemy.  Halo is as much about knowing the opposition as it is knowing your surroundings, and it only takes a moment to recognise that intelligent and battle-hardened the Flood are not.  But The Library – complete with the scripted progressively narrowing kill rooms – is the perfect exam to test your mettle and teach you the skills you’ll need to make it through the rest of the game.  Because the moment you step out of the Library, you’ll be caught in the crossfire between two vastly different enemies, who are both hellbent on killing you.  Whether it was intentional or not the aptly named Library is the place almost singularly designed to teach you how to succeed for the rest of the game, and it is this cleverly-disguised tutorial right at the peak of the game’s storyline, that is the moment the game went from a cracking good time to a masterstroke of game design.

As someone who has never played a Halo game online, rather opting to enjoy the cracking single-player yarn Bungie and its kin have continued to wind throughout the series, it is easy to perhaps take some of the nuance of the game’s design for granted.  But time and time again every time I play the game – and Microsoft has given me ample opportunity to do just that – it all falls into place the moment the Flood comes onto the scene.   From level design that is purpose-built, to the way it changes player expectations and behaviour, and finally the way it represents a significant tonal shift in the game’s narrative, the Library is one of the best hours of gameplay in video game history.  And it’s an hour worth studying to understand what makes it so.

HaloCE-theLibrary

2 Comments

Filed under Backlog - The Mantelpiece of unfinished games, Opinions and Hearsay, The Cellar (a place for old games)

When English translation doesn’t quite work

The Last Story was great, and so is Xenoblade Chronicles – although they’re not without their niggles. One quirk is that both games use British voice actors, which makes for a refreshing change from the usual American voices in video games. But having said that, the acting isn’t particularly, well, awe-inspiring, and in Xenoblade particularly the script is filled with repetition and lots of stating the obvious. In fact, I’ve now switched the voices over to Japanese because I just couldn’t take any more of the actors saying the same thing over and over again.

Also, the cut scenes just work better in Japanese. The conversation structure of Japanese doesn’t properly translate to English – often there are enormous pauses in conversation, after which one character will nod and gravely say “hai” (“yes”: but really it can convey all sorts of meanings depending on context, and it’s used more extensively than “yes” in English). In the game translation, you usually end up with someone saying “I agree” after an enormo-pause, which just sounds ridiculous.

The best Japanese to English translations tend to involve the translator reinterpreting the text and, where possible, redoing the lip sync to suit more usual patterns of English conversation. But unfortunately that’s not always possible – there was a fascinating article in EDGE issue 278 (unfortunately not available online, but discussed here and available to buy here) in which translator Alexander O Smith details the difficulty he had in rewriting the script to match the fixed lip syncs in Final Fantasy XII (most agree he did an outstanding job on the translation).

But certainly with Xenoblade, the game just makes more sense in Japanese… if that makes sense.

xenoblade-chronicles-dialogue

4 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

I’ve set my gaming goal: finishing the Operation Rainfall RPGs

The number of games I want to play far outweighs the number of games I have the time to play (a subject I’ve touched on before). And with a baby soon to enter the Merriweather household, that gaming time is set to shrink even further.

There are a few things I’m doing to make the most of the game time I have. One is to focus on shorter games in order to pack more in. Another is to avoid time-consuming subquests and DLC and just focus on the main story. And a third is to focus right down on only the genres and titles that I enjoy the most.

There are lots of games that I’m intrigued about. I’m quite curious to play Titanfall and Sunset Overdrive, for example. But these sorts of shooters aren’t really my bread and butter – the genres I most enjoy tend to be turn-based strategy games, RPGs, point and click adventures and pretty much everything by Nintendo. So although I’ve got first-person shooters like Killzone 3 and Crysis 2 on my backlog, the chances are that they will never be played, as I’ll always choose a Zelda game or X-COM instead when I’ve got a window of playing time.

xenoblade-chronicles-3ds-release-date

And as part of focusing on specific genres and titles, I’ve set myself the goal of finishing the three ‘Operation Rainfall’ RPGs: The Last Story, Xenoblade Chronicles and Pandora’s Tower. These three were some of the last games to be released for the Wii, and they were the subject of a successful fan campaign, dubbed Operation Rainfall, to have them released in North America (Xenoblade Chronicles had already been released in Europe).

I’ve already finished The Last Story (see my review), and I’m playing through Xenoblade Chronicles at the moment. Plus I bought the newly released Wii U version of Pandora’s Tower last week, so I’m well on my way to achieving my goal. Perhaps the only snag in my plan is that I’m enjoying Xenoblade a bit too much – I’ve already ignored my rule to avoid subquests, and although I’m 35 hours in, I’m nowhere near the end of the game. Still, there’s no time limit on finishing the Operation Rainfall games – it may well take a year or more if my time is truly limited. But the important thing is that it’s an easily achievable goal.

gt_massive_thumb_PandorasTower_640x360_05-02-13

6 Comments

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

My Fire Emblem amiibo set is complete

IMG_2607Good news everyone! With the arrival of Robin and Lucina, my set of Fire Emblem amiibos is complete! At least until they decide to release any more Fire Emblem-themed amiibos, that is.

Lucina, of course, is one of the main characters in the recent Fire Emblem: Awakening for the 3DS, whereas Robin is the player’s character in that very same game – and until Super Smash Brothers for Wii U came out, I had no idea he/she had a name (you usually give the character a moniker at the start of the game). The amiibo is of the male version of the character – although Ms D thought he was a woman. I suppose he is a bit androgynous…

IMG_2610As with the other Fire Emblem amiibos, I’m impressed with the level of detail on these figures – they really look great. Even Ms D admitted that they look pretty cool, even though she’s slightly concerned that tiny plastic toys are taking over the living room. She asked me how many more are arriving.

“Just one,” I replied, “It’s Yarn Yoshi, but that one’s made out of wool, so it looks really cool… Oh, and Ganondorf as well.”

Cue raised eyebrow.

“Well, he needs to keep Link company…”

IMG_2611Anyway, back to Lucina. I was surprised to see her sporting this rather comprehensive support structure, although her legs are pretty spindly, so it’s understandable. To be honest though, the support is fairly unobtrusive – unlike Link’s massive yellow pole. The less said about that, the better. Although actually I barely notice it any more – like a carpet stain that you get so used to that you’re surprised when guests point it out.

IMG_2613

But I digress. The main thing is that Marth, Ike, Robin and Lucina are together at last, and looking rather lovely on my mantelpiece. I’m looking forward to nabbing Codename STEAM when it’s finally released over here and zapping these characters into the game. But to be honest, that’s just a bonus feature – I mostly bought this lot just to look great on the shelf. And I’m fairly sure that’s what most amiibo collectors will say, too.

2 Comments

Filed under Pulp

Through being cool

Dante_DMCWhen i was a young university-aged adult i wanted desperately to be a cool dad when i grew up.  By age 18 I’d met ‘the one’, which in my slightly over-studied and hormone fuelled mind, meant that I was on an accelerated path to parenthood.   In the heady days that were the early 2000’s I was listening to Punk rock and Pantera, wearing studded belts and shorts down to my knees and socks up to just thereabouts.  And it was at this height of youth that I had grandiose visions of being a 20-something father in that image, the cool dad that listened to cool music and wore cool clothes, the kind of dad my theoretical kids would think was so cool they’d never be embarrassed to bring their friends home.  Of course none of that panned out, as I grew up and grew out of that phase, largely leaving all of it behind, much to the delight of my parents and now fiancee.  Time is a wonderful thing.

Around that same time, Capcom’s classic was on the minds of that same uni student, and the Devil May Cry series was the king of my own Playstation 2 mountain. The combination of stylish combat, amazing art design, and what was a technical marvel at the time, had me playing and replaying each entry in the series over and over again.  Every game was the same, I’d slog my way through to the end credits, and then turn around and started all over again.

But I think what sealed the deal for me was the character of Dante himself, who was by far the coolest video game character around, and full of the kind of attitude that would appeal to any red-blooded teenage bloke hell bent of venting that testosterone from their veins.

And people were bloody angry when Capcom went and redesigned Dante.

He was still the same bloke, the same gun-toting sword wielding Nephilim Son of Sparda demon hunter and all that, just looked a little bit different to the guy we used to know.  Gone were the silky smooth white locks, gone was the epitome of Japanese character design circa 2001, and gone was the overly-buckled leather chest-baring ensemble.  In was a younger more modern and dare I say more masculine version of demon hunter that ditched the ornate look and feel of old Dante, and replaced it with a more casual and functional design.

It wasn’t the biggest overhaul, it wasn’t the biggest reboot, and it wasn’t a far sight away from the original design.  But the internet wanted none of it.  They wanted the status quo.  They loved old Dante.  And hey, sure, like the rest of the internet I still have a soft spot for that sassy white-haired trench coat wearing Dante that wowed me so many years ago.  But you’d have to be blind as a platypus in water not to see that watching him run around slaying demons, what with his ‘look’ and all, was becoming a little bit like watching an old hair metal star prance about wearing mascara and a leather jacket.  And if Capcom didn’t change him, he’d be a relic of a bygone age, an embarrassing reminder of what was once cool.  Part of what made Devil May Cry so great back when it was first released was how edgy it was, but 15 years later in an age where most kids utter the “c-word” by age 10 and are sexting by age 16, Dante’s particular brand of sarcastic shenanigans was practically tame.  And tame isn’t what the game that changed so much, and inspired so many, was ever based on.

And that needed to start with Dante.  He needed to get with the times and Capcom needed to get him there – kicking and screaming if need be.  Time goes by, and with it, what’s cool inevitably goes with it.  Much like the odd stalwart Pantera fan you sometimes see on the street, still sporting ripped up jeans and flannelette shirt and toting a bottle of Jim Beam, it was time someone pulled him aside and told him to move on.  Because I bet if he has kids at home they don’t think he’s as cool as he thinks he is.

DanteDMC

Leave a comment

Filed under Opinions and Hearsay

Most Agreeable Moments – Viva Piñata and the nature of nurture

There was something wonderfully magical about Viva Piñata. It was easy for tending to one’s garden to border on obsession, as building a sustainable ecosystem through both the comfort of nurture and the ruthlessness of nature, had me running home from work at lunchtime to briefly play god from the comfort of a beautifully manicured garden.  From the second my first Whirlm crawled into my garden, who I proceeded to affectionately and maturely name Bellend, Rare’s world was the place I’d go home to at the end of the day.  It was my secret garden, complete with trampoline.

And from the humble beginnings of your first Whirlm the garden will grow and so too will the ecosystem of the creatures that inhabit it.  All manner of delightful looking creatures will stumble across your garden, sniffing around the edges, wanting to call it their home.  And it will become your life’s purpose to accomodate them, to find a way to coax a couple of heart-meltingly adorable Galagoogoos onto your land, and then to get them randy enough to have a good old root in their lavish hutch.  And by Jove you’ll have the best damn pedigree Piñata in all the land!

But before all this, you have to learn both the wonders and vicissitudes of life, that it can be beautiful at the same time as it can be cruel.  As your ambitions as a gardener grow, and the beautiful family of four Whirlms you’ve tended to aren’t enough anymore, you’ll become ruthless in your pursuit of garden biodiversity.  First it’ll be a Sparrowmint.  And then another.  But at some point you’ll want more than just the Bellend family and a couple of Sparrowmints hopping around on your perfectly mowed lawn.  You want a Fudgehog and you want it bad.  And that’s the precise moment your mind shifts from ‘maternal’ to mega-lo-mania.

Just moments after you’ve seen the once lone Bellend raise a family of his own, with a wife and couple of kids roaming about the garden, you’re forced to the watch the family be torn apart.  It all moves in slow motion as the Fudgehog that has been scoping the garden for days, watching the Bellend family from the outskirts of your prefab paradise, swoops in and attacks the unsuspecting littlest Whirlms.  And a bloodbath ensues – or rather a lollybath – as the Fudgehog tears into paper exteriors to get to the deliciously sweet insides.  But at tragic as it was watching the garden intruder tuck into little Bellend Junior and his sister Bellendette, that was the moment was when I realised that Viva Piñata was literally making me call the shots on nature, and decide which species would live and which would die and which I would sacrifice for the betterment of the garden.  And so while you farm your flock of adorable and fluffy Goobaa it’s impossible to not feel guilty that you’re doing it knowing full well they’re head for the slaughter at the hands of a nearby carnivore.

For me Viva Piñata took hold of my innate desire to play god, while tapping into that little obsessive corner of my brain to keep me throughly occupied with the more micro curating of an aesthetically pleasing but functional garden.  A beautiful flower here, a lovely water-fern there, a gate to ease racial tensions everywhere.  But while the game masquerades as a nice little sim-like game with cute-as-a-button characters and myriad of items both decorative and function to fill your garden with, it is actually a game that rather covertly teaches you about the fragility of biodiversity. And the  worst part is that every step of the ecosystem’s food chain lives or dies by your choices.

No one said playing god would be easy.

SparrowMint - Viva

3 Comments

Filed under Most Agreeable Moments, Pulp