Thursday, 31 December 2009

This organization was named the Extraterrestrial Combat Unit...

I've been playing XCOM today... Man, that game is just as I remember it. As in, double bastard hard.

I'm doing okay with my current playthrough, no Governments have yet signed secret pacts with the aliens so I must be doing something right. I'm just afraid the aliens are going to escalate hostilities before I get all my advanced technologies together.

Anyway, I might do a more detailed post about it tomorrow, otherwise I'll be posting at the weekend when I'm back with my PC and all my other new games :)

Monday, 28 December 2009

New Year's Games

Hello everyone! I haven't posted in ages... I hope to put some new stuff up in the near future, just wanted to put a quick post up in the meantime.

I went a little mad in the Steam Sale and managed to buy enough games to keep me entertained up until about April 2010. I only (only! ha) spent around £70, but got some games I'm really looking forward to playing.

In particular it'll be really good to get Left 4 Dead 2 up and running, I know a load of people I know have already got it, so it'll be good to get some multiplayer gaming up and running (I even bought a headset to play it with!). Also, I'd love to go back and play a bit of X-COM, the first two especially: Terror from the Deep is, without a doubt, the scariest turn-based strategy game I've ever played.

Anyway, here's a full list of what I got:

  • Penumbra Collectors Pack
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • AI War: Fleet Command
  • Dead Space
  • Audiosurf
  • X-Com Complete Pack
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • Judge Dredd: Dredd vs Death
  • Rogue Trooper
  • Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena
  • Rome: Total War Gold

I also got Dragon Age: Origins for Christmas, and I'm still playing a few games of Blood Bowl, especially now I have a couple of friends with the game (and one especially with a new PC!). I hope to post up some match reports in the future once we get a league going, something I saw done well over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

I hope everyone has had a happy festive season and is looking forward to some game-filled antics in the new year!

EDIT: Also, some new photos I took on Boxing Day with my Dad's new camera. I'm going to have to start saving up...

Friday, 9 October 2009

Cockatoo Island

I took a few pictures while we were on Cockatoo Island the other day... We camped overnight there, and had an explore on Thursday evening. The island is bizarre; it's an abandoned shipyard in the middle of Sydney harbour and is almost completely deserted.

There were three other groups camping on the island, so we had pretty much the whole place to ourselves. It wasn't quite what we were expecting when we booked it, but very impressive none-the-less!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Security failings of Arkham

Despite the fact that it houses some of the most dangerous criminals in the world, the security arrangements of Arkham Asylum seem to be dangerously slack.* Playing Batman: Arkham Asylum has brought home to me how bad the policies actually are. For instance, I can’t see the logic in keeping unlockable boxes of assault rifles scattered throughout the island; are they honestly that sure there will never be a breakout?

Let’s take a look at some of the other worst offenders:

At the beginning of the game, Harley Quinn seems to have gotten access to the security forcefield control room, and has a pass to enable/disable them. We’ll gloss over the fact that Arkham was willing to employ someone who was obviously already unstable enough to allow herself to be lured by the Joker into villain-dom, and focus on how she managed to get into the control room… Did she break in? If Harley Quinn, with her red and blue Basque and chalk white face makeup, was somehow able to evade security, it’s a pretty sad state of affairs. Also, why does her security pass still work? I’m pretty sure most high security prisons collect those and deactivate them once you become an inmate.

Leading on from this, why do they let Batman walk right up to the Intensive Treatment rooms? Yes, he’s Batman, and is unlikely to break anyone out of Arkham, but is it hospital policy to allow heavily armed, masked men walk the corridors?

Batman? Upset the inmates? How very dare you...

Of course, once you’re barred from proceeding any further (you’ll “upset the inmates”, apparently… where obviously a chemically-scarred, maniacal, psychotic mass-murderer won’t), that’s where things go wrong. As soon as Joker is able to get somewhere he’ll cause some damage, he is being attended by a single unarmed guard and an orderly. They even take him out of the restraints they had him in to take him down to the treatment rooms!

How did the Riddler hide all these trophies around the place? Most of them are in places even Batman struggles to get to, so Riddler must have been crawling around ventilation shafts for months. As a side issue, did no-one realise Batman had a Batcave hidden in the foundations? How did he even build it?** Who knows what else is lurking underneath the mansions.

A more appropriate level of security

With all of these flaws, it’s no wonder people are constantly breaking out. That said, when the founder of the Asylum’s idea of treatment is fatal electrocution, it’s not hard to see why the place doesn’t have a roaring trade in rehabilitation (and why so many people are keen to leave).

*Beyond the obvious ‘revolving door’ policy on sentencing, of course.

**Actually, this has always bothered me about Batman. Where does he get his labour? Do Bruce and Albert do all the heavy construction work in the Batcave themselves, or do they have a very discrete building contractor?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

"Just as I expected. The agile crook also managed to slip an induction receiving antenna into your left trouser leg."

Now that I've spent a fair bit of time with it, I thought I would put down my thoughts on Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Batman shouldn't work; it's a video game based on comic IP riding the success of a movie adaptation. I struggle to think of a single recent game with either of these qualities that was better than mediocre; I hear the Marvel Ultimate Alliance games aren't too bad, and City of Heroes/City of Villains, although not based on a particular comic IP, are fairly well regarded. Nothing, however, can approach Batman in terms of style and passion. Batman: Arkham Asylum nails the one thing you want in a superhero game: it makes you feel like the Dark Knight himself.

The game begins with Joker captured and en route to Arkham. A wonderful sequence sees you escorting him to the depths of the Intensive Treatment building over the credits before, inevitably, the Joker breaks free. As you pursue him deeper into Arkham, it becomes clear that the joker has been planning his 'party' for some time, and you are his guest of honour.

It's worth pointing out that the game is not based on the recent successful films by Chris Nolan; good though they are, certain things key to the comic book had to be removed in the transition to the big screen. Though Arkham Asylum feels much more true to the comic book roots of the character, I would point to the critically lauded Batman: The Animated Series as inspiration for some of the stylistic choices (and, indeed, the story was written by Paul Dini, a writer for The Animated Series).

In fact, several of the voice actors return from the animated series return here; Kevin Conroy delivers a solid performance as the unflappable Batman, but stealing the show is Mark Hamil as Joker. You'll hear a lot from Joker throughout the game; he regularly pops up on the public address system to taunt you or, more likely, his own thugs scattered around Arkham. There are enough messages that they never get repetitive, though the thugs you fight for the most part of the game have considerably less variety.

The graphics are, put simply, gorgeous. The game runs surprisingly smoothly, even on a mid-level system. The character models are supremely detailed; it may just be my imagination, but I think you can even see Batman's stubble get longer over the course of the game. Some characters are definitely modelled after their animated versions (Killer Croc, for example). As this is the Unreal engine at work, outdoors environments are handled seamlessly (load times in general are very short, except for the unskippable start-up splash screen), though everything does tend to have a bit of a 'plasticy' look to it.

The visuals do a very good job of bringing Arkham to life; there are vague feelings of other games (the more gothic sections of Bioshock, for instance), but this is ultimately the comic book world of Gotham. The sprawling gothic buildings perfectly evoke the feeling of the infamous madhouse. In fact, you sometimes feel a little uncomfortable walking round it; to mirror Batman's sentiments, it's hard to imagine the place being conducive to anyone's mental wellbeing (I could talk for a while about this mirroring Batman's presence in Gotham; after all, in The Dark Knight Returns, Joker has effectively become comatose until Batman comes out of retirement. This would, however, be overly pretentious, so I won't).

The only thing which may cause drops in framerate is the PHYS-X effects. These are unique to the PC and add certain funky physical effects to the game; realistic smoke, cloth and paper curling and flapping realistically, breakable tiles, etc. These effects weren't present in the console versions and, to be perfectly honest, they're only ever a nice little extra; if you're suffering terrible framerates, you could happily turn them off.

Unfortunately, you may not see as much of the environment as you'd like as much of the game has you using Detective Mode. This vision mode allows you to see enemies through walls and highlights grates and weak walls for you to exploit. Though this sounds like it makes the game too easy, when you play for a while it just feels right; after all, you're Batman! The downside is that Detective Mode paints everything a deep blue, meaning you lose out on the lovely textures and models that have obviously had a lot of time and energy put into them.





Boss fights (not so good)

The 'silent hunter' gameplay is brilliant; you will occasionally be confronted with a room full of armed guards and will have to incapacitate them all before you can continue. Batman can use his grapple to swing about amongst the rafters and gothic architecture (ie, stone Gargoyles), and can sneak up behind thugs to silently knock them out. Other gadgets and upgrades offer more options, from multiple batarangs and selective detonating of your explosive gel (the inverted takedown comes highly recommended). There are plenty of ways to use the environment as well; there are walls to break down, grates to hide under, so you can meticulously plan your attack or improvise on the spot as you see fit.

The real joy in this mode, however, is watching the thugs become terrified as you take their comrades out one by one. You can hear them starting to talk to themselves ("I'm gonna die down here, and no-one's ever gonna know...") and see them shaking; occasionally, they'll even shoot into the shadows at curtains flapping in the breeze or a boiler venting off steam. Most of these sections are unlockable for play in the game's Challenge mode, so you can attempt them against the clock (or just have fun silently eliminating all the threats...).

Lasting Appeal

Challenge mode

Story mode replay

Hard mode

Unlockables (Riddler trophies)

Friday, 18 September 2009


Sorry, but what is the deal with Halo III: ODST? I’ll admit I’ve never been a huge Halo fan, but this is just starting to feel like the Emperor’s new clothes. It’s just another Halo game, people! They’re all boring; boring weapons, boring enemies, boring environments. Give me some Call of Duty any day of the week!

In other news, Batman: Arkham Asylum is out on PC today. Yay! Steam is downloading my copy as we speak… I’m so psyched about playing this; even Yahtzee seemed to enjoy it (speaking of Yahtzee, I’m intending on downloading all of his adventure games to play over the weekend to try and inspire me… I’m hoping to try and write my own adventure game [with a little help from a friend] using AGS!)

Coming up soon (early next week) will be a brief review of Time Gentlemen, Please!, the sequel to the free Ben There, Dan That. If you haven’t checked these out, go do it now! I’m also going to write some more stuff about Fallout 3, just a few thoughts I had about the dialogue that came to me the other day.

Enjoy the weekend, y’all!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Hulk Smash!

So, I've been playing a particular game a lot over the past couple of weeks... BUT! It's not a video game! I've finally got a copy of the reissued Games Workshop boardgame Space Hulk (well, I say finally, I actually got it three days before it was released in the shops), and have spent the last few weekends giving it a spin and playing through a variety of missions.

Space Hulk is Games Workshop's answer to Alien and Aliens. Your squad of Space Marine Terminators have boarded a drifting mash to derelict ships, the hulk, to prevent it from colliding with a nearby hive world. Scans of the hulk reveal it is teeming with sleeping Genestealers, a brooding and darkly intelligent alien species related to the Tyranids. One player leads the Terminators on various missions through the hulk's twisting corridors, the other takes the role of the Genestealers as they stalk the Space Marines through the ship. The Genestealers are initially represented by 'blips' which can hide between 1 and 3 aliens, and the Marine player can use a secret pool of command points to spring surprises on his opponent. In close combat, the odds are heavily stacked in the Genestealer's favour, so the Space Marines must do their best to engage at range with their rapid firing storm bolters...

The box itself is fantastic and, though it is pricey at nearly £60, it weighs in at around 4kg, with much of that being the beautifully detailed 'debossed' cardboard corridors and snap together plastic miniatures. Beware, though, it'll be a good few hours before you can actually play the game; it took me two solid evenings to clip out all the models and shave the flash off them.

The models really do deserve a special mention. They're as crammed full of detail as any of the metal commander models, and the plastic they're made of allows authentically spindly arms and pointy claws on the Genestealers. For the most part, mould lines are hidden well underneath the joins in plates of armour, and the many intricate details makes the models a painters dream. Of course, as they're snap together, there isn't really any scope for conversions, but as the formation of the squad is fixed this shouldn't be too much of an issue (and for your own games, you could always paint up a regular box of Terminators with any funky conversions). The only two slight criticisms are that the models are undeniably Blood Angels, so tough luck if you fancy painting them up as Smurfs, and that they are maybe too spindly; I had a couple of fine bits of detail snap off as I was assembling. However, as you can see, the models are absolutely fantastic.

It's been many years since I last played the game, so I can't reliably say whether the game has changed much since its previous incarnation, but it certainly feels authentic. The rules are nice and simple; they're very easy to learn, though I would recommend rereading the rules after you've played your first few games as there will undoubtedly be some small point you've missed! The game can often feel unbalanced one way or another, with some maps being very challenging for the Marines, and others seemingly impossible for the Genestealers. However, the point of the game is to play each map with both sides in a single match to even out any unfairness.

I thought I would round things off here with a quick summary of a few hints and tips I've picked up over the past few weekends:

  • Firstly, and most basically, don't ever let a Space Marine get bogged down in combat. Only the Librarian and the two combat only Terminators can really reliably win, and even then, they should be left on Guard rather than being used offensively.
  • Don't throw away Genestealers. It may seem like you a limitless amount, but quite often every single one will need to count.
  • You should really be using the timer, it adds a lot to the game. However, a ten second pause at the beginning of your turn can work wonders; just remember to do the things you really need to get done on your turn first!
  • Don't bunch your Space Marines up; bunched up Terminators can't fire, and you are therefore wasting their shots!
  • Remember to read the manual; for instance, notice that Sergeants only get their +1 bonus (+2 for the chap with the Thunder Hammer) if an attack came from the front square only. Also, closing a door will trigger overwatch, as will opening it; a Genestealer can stand behind a door opening and closing it to trigger jams or waste assault cannon ammunition!
  • Finally, paint your models :)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

FUEL Review

FUEL was a game I never intended to buy; indeed, I’d never even properly heard of it until I read an article on it over at The Escapist. I mean, I was aware of the game but knew nothing about it; I very seldom play racing games (the last one I properly played was Need for Speed: Underground 2 back in 2004), so previews tend to slip under my radar. I only ended up buying it as I wanted to have a play round with the game world!

The premise of the game is that, after a massive ecological disaster, people have abandoned vast swathes of land due to the dangerous and unpredictable weather. You, and a number of other thrill-seekers, have started competing in races across the uninhabited wasteland to win fuel (yes, I’ll let you read that again to absorb how stupid it sounds; you race cars to win fuel).

This game is all kinds of large…

The main draw of the game is its much publicised, massive procedurally-generated game world; the playable area is around 14,400km2. I guess this equates to a square roughly 128km on each side, with a few sections on the top of mountains and in the sea being unreachable (this is an area roughly the size of East Timor, fact fans… Thanks to Wikipedia for that one). The game doesn’t store the entire world on your hard drive, however; the landscape is procedurally generated (not the same as it being random; see Elite), allowing the developers to hand-sculpt a few key areas and have the computer fill in the boring in-between parts.

The upshot is you have an enormous post-apocalyptic world you can roam around in (with a handy helicopter mode for quick travelling between zones). Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not quite. This is not a living, breathing environment like Liberty City or the Capitol Wasteland of Fallout 3; you can explore in a ‘free drive’ mode, but there is little to see aside from the (admittedly hugely impressive) vistas. Exploring allows you to spot challenges and races scattered around the map, but it’s far easier to unlock these by bumping into ‘doppler’ trucks. These are unlocked after particular races; all you have to do is drop down on a helipad nearby, drive cross-country until you catch it up, and bang! You’ve unlocked all the challenges.

The views are frequently breathtaking.

Presentation wise, the game is good; the lighting during races is especially pretty, with sunrises and sunsets bathing the screen with a wonderful golden glow. Cars kick up realistic amounts of dirt and spray, all the stuff you’d expect of a game released in 2009. Interface and controls are okay, I guess… The game is obviously converted from console (only being able to switch between menus with the Y and T keys becomes highly frustrating), but if you grab your gamepad you shouldn’t have too many problems. The music is alright to begin with, but I ended up turning it off as the small selection of tunes started to grate; the same applies to the sound effects, particularly the ‘tyre-screech’ sound. Nothing too gamebreaking, though.

The races themselves are good fun, and FUEL is at its best when it does things differently from a standard racing game. For example, one of the challenge modes sees you pursuing a helicopter from the ground, with the dust kicked up by its rotors obscuring your version. Another has you chasing down rival cars and knocking them off the road in a cops-and-robbers mode. The career races are often memorable; one race has you struggling to stick to the road as a monumental lightning storm knocks trees and pylons into your path, and a further has a tornado hurling burnt out vehicles at you as your descend a mountainside. Even the settings themselves are fun to race through, from a wind farm in a desolate forest to a valley floor littered with wrecked trucks and a tanker ship marooned in the middle of a desert.

Some of the career races feature bizarre weather (strangely absent from the free-drive mode).

The strength of these few scripted races only seems to underline the mediocrity of both the free-drive mode and the other ‘fill’ races. You can’t help but feel a profound sense of wasted potential; yes, the Seek ‘n Destroy (the aforementioned cops-and-robbers mode) races are fun, but they ultimately pan out the same, a fact not helped by the lack of a proper damage model. You can’t help but think what would happen if elements of a Destruction Derby type game were added in to the game, or if we had single player ‘missions’ to perform not unlike the structure for flight or space combat games (the old classic ‘defend the convey’ mission would work brilliantly well here). In fact, I intend to post in a couple of days as to what I think could have been done with the game!

The other main problem with the game is the AI. I don’t know if the developers tried to add rubber-band AI or not, but the computer players can be seen to visibly cheat. For instance, if you lose sight of the person in first place, it’s very difficult to catch them up, though they will frequently slow right down once they get within sight of the finish line. I guess playing in multiplayer alleviates this problem, but in career mode we’re stuck with frustrating AI until a patch comes along to fix it (assuming it does!).

Despite the above, FUEL is a hard game to really dislike. It might just be the fact I’ve not played many racing games, but I love the decidedly arcade handling of the vehicles as I can throw the cars round the track as I was playing Mario Kart, and the thrill you get from hurtling down a slope through a forest like an extra from Return of the Jedi is hard to deny. If the idea of a massive post-apocalyptic world with some fun racing thrown in interests you, go for it. For everyone else, we can just look at the best Mad Max game that never was and sigh disappointedly.

Monday, 31 August 2009

I thought of it first!

I quick blog today after I heard some news...

So, some Downloadable Content for Dawn of War II has been announced. The idea is pretty awesome; similar to Gears of War II's 'Horde' mode, you have to hold out with a friend against increasing waves of enemies for as long as possible.

A suggestion I made quite some time ago. And I have it in writing! ... At least, I thought I did. I was sure I'd mentioned this in my blog a while ago, but I can't find the reference now. Anyway, trust me, I did have this idea quite some time ago. Honest.

Regardless, the DLC sounds pretty awesome, I'm sure I'll check it out when it lands. Fun times!

Monday, 17 August 2009


So, I had a bit of a Batman binge over the weekend; I watched Batman Begins and several episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. I’ve also got a copy of Batman: Year One to read, I’ll let you know how I get on with that…

I spent a fair bit of time this weekend playing Fallout 3. The new mods are working well (though I’ve not got the Hunger, Thirst, Sleep mod up and running properly) and I downloaded a couple of texture packs (new textures for Megaton and Rivet City, a more detailed night sky, and a funky lens-flare mod). As I have FRAPS working now, I might post some videos/screenshots of my game so y’all can see how cool the Green World mod I mentioned the other day is.

A couple of thoughts on future plans here:

I’m thinking of running a Let’s Play… blog, where I’m gonna play through a game not many people have experienced, and document what happens. I was originally thinking of doing this with Dwarf Fortress as the unpredictable gameplay would make for hilarious consequences (the Sims would work well here as well, but that’s fairly well worn ground). However, I think I might go for Independence War II: Edge Of Chaos, a game I recently dug out of my attic, as less people will have heard of it. Providing, of course, that I can get it running on my PC.

Secondly, if I can drum up some support, I’d like to run another WFRP campaign, one with a specific focus. I’ve been intending for ages to run The Enemy Within, a complex, political campaign, widely regarded as one of the best RPG campaigns ever written. It’s also quite lengthy; the full campign covers 5 full books and multiple adventures (The Enemy Within/Mistaken Identity, Shadows over Bogenhafen, Death on the Reik, Power Behind the Throne, Something Rotten in Kislev, Empire in Flames/Empire in Chaos).

I’d still love to run it one day, but I think I’d like to get a couple of players interested in a small, dirty campaign with a tight focus and theme but not necessarily an overarching plot. My idea was to run the players as specific Undead Hunters, maybe allowing people to create characters in their second careers, and run a set of adventures ‘inspired’ by popular films and stories; I’ve recently watched Roman Polanski’s The Fearless Vampire Killers, and was struck by how well it would translate to a WFRP adventure. Characters could be based off the typical ‘Van Helsing’ archetype accompanied by his young ‘Dr Stewart’ type protégé. There wouldn’t be much combat, and I’d try and play things for dark humour more than horror.

We’ll see if I can arrange something!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Fallout 3 moddage

Well, I managed to get Windows 7 up and running, but it didn’t seem to solve my crashing problems. I’m moving back towards the theory that my GPU is overheating, so I downloaded a neat little utility from EVGA that lets me control my graphics card fan; it’s previously been stuck running at 40% power, which may turn out to be too low for running most games. I’m going to crank to up to 80%, see if that gives me any improvement.

Anyway, in the meantime thought I would post about a few mods I downloaded for Fallout 3 last night… Following recommendations from a few other blogs, I went for Green World, Fellout and Hunger, Thirst, Sleep.

Green World

This mod replaces all the twisted and withered trees in the game with lush green vegetation. As the models for these bushy trees are included in the game (I guess you come across them in an oasis somewhere?), and the mod does a straight replace, it only weighs in at 4kb. This can apparently lead to some problems where branches begin to intrude on buildings, but I can’t see this being a huge problem.

Fallout purists may initially baulk at turning the Fallout series green (ironically, if it had been included by Bethesda I would have hated it; it does lend a particular Cyrodiil feel to the landscape…), but you really need to try the mod to appreciate it. Trees sprouting from the middle of the road really lends an ‘abandoned-for-centuries’ feel to the landscape, and makes it seem like nature has taken over. It also helps to break up the oppressive ‘browness’ of the landscape that was in the vanilla game.

Main problem is that the trees aren’t solid; I think creatures can see through them, and they can definitely move through them. This saves any problem with pathfinding, but can look a little jarring.


This is a simple mod that removes the green tint from the game (though I must admit, I never actually noticed it was there…). It apparently gives the game a starker appearance, which works well with the Green World mod.

Also included with Fellout are dark nights; and by dark, I mean dark. Going outside with a light means you cannot see anything that’s not right in front of your face. As the pipboy built-in light is pretty weedy, you’ll need some kind of nightvision/torch mod to be able to see anything.


I found a neat mod to go along with this which turns all the street lights in the game on; this might not seem realistic, as the game is 200 years the wrong side of having a national grid, but I like to think all the street lights are powered by microfusion cells. Occasionally you get a flickering street light, which looks fantastic against the deep dark of the night. Also, when you can just about see something scuttling around out in and out of the pools of light cast by the street lamps, it can be genuinely scary; you’re not sure if it’s a relatively harmless dog or insect, or a potentially fatal Deathclaw.

The street light mod also illuminates signs in the game, so you sometimes see a nuka cola machine looming out of the night; with the next mod installed, this can bring a palpable sense of relief flooding over you.

Hunger, Thirst, Sleep

I haven’t really had a chance to fully explore this one yet, but it definitely sounds interesting; I really enjoyed the Realistic Repair Rethought (RRR) which let you repair your weapons using scavenged scrap metal and random junk, and this mod is very much along the same lines.

Instead of skipping straight past those old nuka cola machines or food vendors, you actually stop and dig through them. Also, sacrificing clean water to give to the beggars actually feels worth the boost to karma it gives you, as you’ll definitely miss it.

I’m still playing with the RRR I just mentioned, and the Radio Riven mod I downloaded a while ago which gives you a radio station playing the old Fallout 1 & 2 ambient music. It fits in with the game very well, and gives it a much stronger Falout feeling. It also means you don’t have to listen to bleedin’ Three Dog repeating the same message over and over, which can only be a good thing.

I’ll post again with more thoughts on playing with these new mods over the weekend, maybe even a gameplay video! I also have my eye on a couple of texture mods; I’ll see how it goes…

Monday, 10 August 2009

Do I look like I'm joking?

The other night I repurchased a game I accidentally bought as a pirate version last year; Sins of a Solar Empire. I really enjoyed the game first time round, but eventually couldn’t keep up with the updates as my game was not legit’. I also took the opportunity to buy the recent expansion pack, Entrenchment. I’ve been playing a fair bit of it, and will post up some more stuff about it soon; suffice to say, I love the game. If anyone else out there has it and fancies an online game, please let me know!

Besides that, I played the demo of a game I have been looking forward to for some time; Batman: Arkham Asylum. In a word, it was brilliant. For a start, the demo is fantastic; it’s exactly what a demo should be. It gave you a proper taste of the game, enough so that you know what the full product will be like. It also left me wanting more; I instantly had to play through the demo again after I had finished it. After a third time through, I immediately jumped on to pre-order it (though I’ve heard it may be available through Steam, so I might get it like that instead).

I must admit, after some of the more recent gameplay footage, I was starting to get a little worried about the game; it looked like it was beginning to turn into a console brawler. After playing the demo, I’m completely reassured that this isn’t the case. You have a very definite sense that you’re, without a doubt, Batman. The graphics bring the lantern-jawed superhero to life and he has a real sense of solidity that comes across in the sound and animation. While none of his close combat moves are that grisly or gruesome, you’ll definitely wince when one of Bruce’s collection of punches and kicks slam home. The little touches help, too; when you run down corridors, his cape flaps behind him, not to mention when you swoop down from above with wings spread to land feet-first on a goon. Gadgets are recreated faithfully, and the atmosphere is suitably grim and dark without going over the top.

The gameplay seems to be a satisfying mix of close-combat brawling, adventuring, and sneaking. Late in the demo, you’re presented with a room full of armed enemies, all of whom you have to incapacitate. You can run in fists first, Superman-like, but you won’t win any awards for style. Far more preferable is sneaking round on the rafters, swooping down to takeout an individual thug, before disappearing back into the shadows. You can hear the bad guys getting increasing worried as their friends seem to vanish (the demo isn’t really long enough to get a good idea of the AI) and even see their heart rates rise with your nifty detective vision. It retains the edge-of-your-seat feeling I get from a good stealth game, and keeps the ‘multiple path’ level design I’ve always loved in the Hitman franchise. The area at the end of the demo really does feel like a playground in which to hunt these bad guys, a chance to turn the table on the violent criminals.

Special mention has to go to the Joker, possibly my favourite comic book character, and definitely my favourite villain. He’s not the anarchistic terrorist from the recent Dark Knight film, he’s back to the over-the-top, mass-murdering, prancing, capering, chemically-scarred comicbook version. Believe me, though, this is no bad thing; we’re not talking Cesar Romano here, we’re talking The Killing Joke. He looks fantastic (the character graphics are truly superb), and his voice is just amazing; the voice-over is done by Mark Hamill (yes, that Mark Hamill) and once again proves that voice-over work should be done by professional voice-over actors; Mark Hamill played the Joker in the animated TV Series, a role he won massive acclaim for. All the (super) baddies look good, leaning more to their comic book versions (though Bane is the psychotic lump of man-flesh he was in the film), but I get the feeling the Joker is really going to steal the show.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

"Waah waah waah, I'm a whiney console gamer, waah waah waah, I deserve more free stuff, waah waah waah, Valve said they'd give us more free stuff for Left 4 Dead, but they've decided to improve on every aspect of the original game in a sequel I'm going to have to pay for. Waah."

Well, you know what?

Turns out Valve have been working on new L4D content all along. So, when all those people were saying 'Dudes, trust Valve... When have they ever let us down?' all the whiney free-loading gamers should have listened.


Monday, 3 August 2009

More special characters!

I found these two in a tavern on the docks in Altdorf... Proper geeks should recognise them!

"...I am learning the true meaning of tedium. Do you intend to bore me to death with your speeches, or do you want to come across here and die?..."

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Bit of fill today… I didn’t really do much last night except play it a bit of WAR.

I must admit, I did some very sad sight-seeing; I went to see Emperor Karl Franz, a well known Warhammer character. Turns out the man is a giant; I’m not exaggerating, he must have been twice my height. I even took a postcard snap of us together.

My hero...

I’m off to see the Grand Theogonist (Volkmar the Grim; basically, he looks after the spiritual wellbeing of the Empire) next.

You can also see in the picture modelling my new set of armour; I had inadvertently been collecting RvR Medallions which can be traded in for equipment, and had saved up enough for my first set. Together with my new hammer, I’m looking pretty swish; I had to work for a while at RvR to build up enough Renown Ranks (the ‘experience’ you gain in PvP combat) to equip everything, but it was worth it. I get a shed load of Strength from wearing it all, which is awesome for soloing.

I’ve also moved onto the next tier map: Troll Country. And there are a lot of trolls… I can focus on levelling again now, rather than RvR. That said, Tier 2 does contain the first Keep, so that’s something I can join in on at some point to see what it’s like.

Anyway, might not get much chance to play this evening as I’m off fencing, but I definitely want to hit Rank 13… We’ll see how it goes!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Peter has been feeling ecstatic lately

I downloaded Dwarf Fortress again last night. I haven’t played it in months… It’s still on the same release as when I was last playing it, so I guess not much has changed. I haven’t been keeping up with his latest developments on the DF blog, but I gather he was working on poisons, internal injuries, alternative liquid types… All sorts of cool stuff. Those rivers of blood will soon be a possibility…

So, for those of you who don’t know, Dwarf Fortress is an absolutely astounding game. It’s kind of a cross between Sim City and Dungeon Keeper, with elements from many other games (like The Settlers, Civilisation, and even The Sims) thrown in. It has been called a Roguelike, but if you know what that means you’ve probably already heard of DF.

UPDATE: Looking back over this, I’ve ended up writing a review… Meh, nevermind.

The basic premise is that your party of Dwarves (7 to start with, with more immigrants arriving each season) has decided to leave their current home and set up on their own. The game generates an extremely detailed (and huge) world map; everything from the effects of river erosion and weather to wars and political strife is simulated, with your fortress taking up only a minuscule fraction of the overall map; what’s more, all of your games take place on the same world map. This means, for instance, you can reclaim old fortresses to save you tunnelling out a mountain again (well, so long as you clear away the scattered remains of the previous occupants).

You get given a handful of points to train up and equip your dwarves, then you’re dumped in the wilderness… The rest is up to you. You set tasks for your dwarves, they run and do them. Tunnel out the mountain, start chopping down trees, mining precious ore, smelting metal, smithing goods and weapons, trade with your neighbours, harvest food, train up an army…

Your first few fortresses will, inevitably, end in disaster; my first fortress had me accidentally tunnelling through into a channel connected to a river and flooding my fortress (fortresses, being underground and made of stone, tend to fill up from the bottom). You’ll run out of food, become wiped out by besieging goblins, or simply succumb to the stench of death as dwarves start locking themselves in their rooms and starving themselves. You’ll get the hang of it with time, though, and as you gain more experience, you can tackle more ambitious projects. Maybe you could try running an entirely underground fortress; it requires a source of mushrooms to grow in caves for food, an underwater water supply, magma to use as fuel (you’ll have no trees!) and a healthy breeding program (you can’t rely on immigrants!). Or you might decide to try the infamous water/lava cannon to hose your opponents. And, like all dwarf fortress players, you will spend hours fashioning intricate traps and defensive fortifications to stop marauding kobolds and goblins (the notorious Boatmurdered fortress had a magma channel rigged up which flooded the outside world with molten rock to ward off Goblins and… well, and Elephants).

The true stars of the show, however, are the dwarves themselves. You don’t have any direct control over their actions; they more or less go where they want, when they want. This can be frustrating when you just want them to finish moving those last couple of stone blocks out the way so you can continue laying down furniture, but it does mean you don’t have to worry about them starving to death. Well, most of the time.

Much of the enjoyment of the game comes from the interaction of the surprisingly complex and in-depth dwarf behaviour with the procedurally generated content. The dwarves’ odd behaviour is easy to interpret as all-too-human character quirks, and your collection of sprites soon take on their own personalities. One of my stonecrafters, for instance, got a reputation as morbid when he repeatedly carved menacing spiked balls out of obsidian. Or there was my self-obsessed engraver; he had worked his way up to Legendary level, and repeatedly carved masterpiece images of himself carving masterpieces. What an image to have on your bedroom wall. You’ll care for them, and when you start reading their thoughts as saying things as ‘Snorri has seen too much death recently’ you’ll not be sure whether to laugh or cry.

Actually you will; it’s laugh.

Okay, so the graphics aren't great. Still, that's one sweet-ass dining room

So, what’s the catch? Well, the learning curve of the game is almost vertical but, for me, the learning is what I enjoy. Not to sound shallow, but the graphics are as bad as you can get; the game is based around ASCII characters (though I generally use a graphical tileset mod) and the user interface is pretty much non-existent (That said, the engine behind it is complex; there are proper fluid mechanics, for instance, which allow you to create artificial waterfalls, irrigation channels or wells). And, really, that’s about it for downers. I haven’t even talked about Adventure mode, which is a whole other game mode where you can explore the world with an individual character.

To sum up, Dwarf Fortress is a game for serious gamers who want to lose hours of their life watching little computer people. The game is free (yes, free) so you have no excuse not to check it out. Two thumbs up!

The home of games

Saw this today:

All I can say is…

Boo frickin’ hoo; You console players can sit there playing your version with an inane control device, worse graphics, and endless teenage kids playing online, while I’ll be enjoying it twenty five pounds cheaper on PC. Proof if proof were needed that PC games are, in fact, the best. Epic win.

Monday, 27 July 2009

...The Priest dies.

Where is your faith on this dark day? Chaos rides against you – will you let these beasts destroy your hearths and homes, or will you trust in Sigmar and fight? Forward, men, and drive back this Chaos rabble! For the Empire! For Sigmar!

- Damaslaus Vannemut, High Chaplain of Sigmar

So, I spent a considerable amount of time this weekend playing Warhammer Online. I meant to do some hardcore levelling, but I ended up getting constantly distracted by Tier 1 RvR (that’s Realm vs Realm; Order vs Destruction, Player vs Player, whatever you want to call it). After a whole weekend, I’m only up to Rank 10, so I still haven’t started getting mastery points… But whatever.

I’m mainly working on my Warrior Priest, though I have a Chaos Chosen up to Rank 5 on a separate server just to see what Destruction was like. I had a Priest for quite some time back when I used to play World of Warcraft, but the Warrior Priest has a few differences.

For a start, there is no such thing as mana (which has the side effect of reducing boring downtime between fights). Your heals are powered by ‘Righteous Fury’, which you build through dealing melee damage. In a pinch, you can unleash Supplication, but this leaves you vulnerable if you are counterattacked soon after use. Ideally, you want to balance standing back and healing with charging in and doing damage. In solo play, you can almost act like a tank; I’ve taken on 4 or 5 same level mobs simultaneously thanks to the Warrior Priest’s healing abilities and, in 1 on 1 PvP, they are hard to kill without a very high damage output. You always need to watch out for ranged DPS, though; if you can’t hit them, you can’t build Righteous Fury, and if you can’t build Righteous Fury, you can’t heal!

Unfortunately, the Empire tanks, Knights of the Blazing Sun, don’t seem to be able to hold aggro very well; either that, or the players I’ve grouped with just haven’t been very good tanks. Consequently, as you can be pumping out a fair whack of healing, you can often attract the unwanted attention of several mobs and end up comprehensively owned, especially during the end stages of Public Quests, where Champion and Hero level mobs are inevitably involved.

You see, there's this thing called ‘Aggro.’ It's a very complicated, very technical roleplaying expression. Loosely translated, it means "The priest dies."

- Flintlocke’s Guide to Azeroth

Realm vs Realm is fantastic fun; we can be talking 20 or 30 players a side on a busy day, throwing waves of attackers at each other trying to take hold of objectives; very few people seem to play Warrior Priests as healers, so I get lots of thanks from Bright Wizards (of whom there are thousands) who aren’t used to being healed in the middle of fights… The odd resurrect doesn’t hurt, either, if only people would stop hitting the respawn button as soon as they die.

Once I’ve got a few more Prayers (abilities which affect everyone in your group) I think I can make even more impact; I just have to decide which mastery tree I want to go for. Wrath increases your offensive abilities, and the cost of healing, and Salvation gives you a bunch of pure healing abilities and not much else. Unlike WoW, hybrid builds seem to be permissible in WAR, so I might go for that.

In more general terms, I’m pretty happy with the game; its flavour is most definitely more ‘nu-Warhammer’ than classic warts-n-all, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Warhammer, meaning less grittiness, death and dirt. I don’t think that would translate well to the type of game WAR is, though, so it’s not a huge complaint. Anyway, they’ve managed to retain some of that classic Warhammer feel; hearing your character exclaim ‘Bollocks!’ when they fluff an attack always make me smile.

If anyone is up for a free trial, let me know; I get a referral bonus and can get you an invite to a busy server (i.e., the one I’m on); we can run some Public Quests or hit up some RvR stuff. Especially if you want to play a Dwarf; I have another Slayer character ready to level…