An Important Message from Japan #8

11 08 2008

Secret message intercepted and decoded:

38

The president has been notified.





An Important Message from Japan #7

22 07 2008

News coming in on the wire!

16

Stop.





What’s In a Name?

20 06 2008


Recently I read this article on Joystiq (who sourced Game Daily), the article was titled “Boom Blox a bust at retail, sells only 60k units” and talked about how even though Boom Blox was critically acclaimed, it has sold very poorly. My reaction to this is: Of course no one bloody bought it! It’s called ‘Boom Blox’ for christ sake!

Look, at some point during the process of a game finding it’s way from a publisher, via the local game store and onto a shelf in someone’s living room, there is going to be someone who knows absolutely nothing about the game other than it’s name who has to make a decision about it. All this theoretical chump has to go on is a single name “Boom Blox”. Maybe this person is the guy who does the ordering for your store, or maybe it’s a confused parent trying to find a game for their hyperactive kiddies, or maybe it’s just another average uninformed member of the proletariat. Whoever it is, it’s the majority of people, but certainly not anyone who has found their way to reading these words. What’s like to happen upon seeing the words “Boom Blox” is that their eyes will continue on to find other better words to read.

So what’s wrong with the name? It makes it sound like a shit-ass piece of goddam shovelware, that’s what’s wrong with it! I’m not denying that ‘Boom Blox’ does reasonably accurately describe the contents of the game, but that doesn’t stop it from sounding terrible. Also, ‘Blox’? Really? Actually, Boom Blox’s problems go even further than that. I had heard the game described numerous times, stared at multiple screenshots and even watched videos, but at no point did I really ‘get it’ until I actually sat down and played it. But that’s beside whatever the point I am trying to make is. The name is the first stumbling block that doomed it to financially unviable sales mediocrity via the following process…

Let’s start with the manager guy, he’s probably hung-over and it’s that time of the week where he finds himself staring at a printout of upcoming games. Lodged between ‘Atari – My Horse and Me’ and ‘Crave Entertainment – George of the Jungle and the Search for the Secret’ he spots ‘EA Games – Boom Blox’. This guy doesn’t follow games, he hasn’t heard of it, he doesn’t know Steven Speilberg is involved. What he does know is that good games have names like “God of War”, “Call of Duty” or “World of Warcraft”, or they have “Mario” in them somewhere. Games with names like “Boom Blox” just sit around gathering mounds of dust and being laughed at by chavs, so the theoretical manger who might of otherwise written ‘hundreds and hundreds!’ in the ordering number column sighs heavily and writes ‘two-ish’.

Next we come to the average joe. At least he has more to work with than just the rubbish name. He has a whole piece of box art to work with!

Yeah… the dude probably doesn’t even notice Steven Spielberg name written on there in tiny letters, and it’s not like that’s necessarily going to do it as the guy remembers watching ‘AI’ and isn’t eager to repeat that mistake. Anwyay, this game has poor box art from the point of view of actually trying to convince anyone to pick it up, though that’s not to say it’s misrepresentative or anything. So a combination of a poor name and poor picies will lead to less copies being in stores, and less chance that anyone is actually going to consider buying this.

For those of you who remain unconvinced, I would like to draw your attention to “Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure” which suffered the exact same fate a few months ago. It did excellently in the media, terrible in the stores. Why? Well obviously the name is horrible and unwieldy, the box art is a bit like this:

That’s not going to convince anyone, dammit!

Another example would be Beautiful Katamari…

The sales clerk looked at me like I had said the most hilarious series of words he had heard in ages when I asked if Beautiful Katamari was in stock yet. Again, if you are familiar with the Katamari series it’s fine and pretty much what you’d expect. It’s just please don’t start whining when it doesn’t sell very well.

Oh yeah, there was also ‘Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords’. I remember looking for this game when it came out. I think most stores in central london must of gotten about 3 copies in, and once again I blame this entirely on it’s godawful name. Breaking the trend, Puzzle Quest did actually do quite well, though that’s mostly because it was released on every platform that has ever existed, and people eventually people started saying “Oh, puzzle QUEST! Right!”. The name certainly didn’t do it any favours.

What am I suggesting? I don’t know, use common sense or something. They could try going out into the street and asking people ‘Would you buy a game called Beautiful Katamari?’ and judge their reaction. Or I guess they could use the ‘x of y’ format. Though we would end up with “Cubes of Death”, “Island of Treasure”, “Quest of Puzzles” and “Sphere of Shit”.





Lotro Log #1 – 16th June 08

16 06 2008


Current Level: 11
Epic Quest: Prologue, Chapter 3

I have long held the belief that writing a single review of an MMO beyond covering the question “Is it broken?” is largely pointless. Due to the nature of the genre, one person’s experience can and will differ vastly from any other persons. This is my second attempt to play Lotro and I am finding it remarkably different from the first time. The biggest contributor to this is the fact that I am playing a hobbit rather than a man, so consquently I am in a totally different zone. Well actually, lets go back to the beggining.

When you first start a character, you are thrown into this linear instanced single player tutorial section which gets you going and provides a bit of action straight of the bat. This sequence had Black Riders hastling hobbits looking for Baginses and such things. Once you have learnt how to both click on things, and click on other different things, you are graduate to actually being able to play with other players. You find yourself in a non-instanced newbie area which is sectioned off from the rest of the game. Actually i was most disappointed to find that it was the same place that the humans go at this point so I had already played through it. At level 5 you run out of quests here, do a story mission, and then I was sent back to the Shire to start the proper game.

While Bree-land felt a bit sparse of quests and towns, there being a mere two before you ended up wandering into Bree, the shire is a sprawling mass of hobbit villages and seemingly endless quests. I think that for the proper Lord of the Rings related experience, it is definitely best to start as a Hobbit. It just seems the right place to start. You potter around doing relatively unimportant quests of no real consequence, which is appopriate to the ramp up that I know is coming later. You also get to see ‘famous landmarks’ like Bag End. Here’s a holiday snap.

Enjoying

* The shire is beautifully constructed. It’s largely based on this marvellous piece of art which Tolkien seemingly doodled on the back of a napkin. All those villages are present. You start in Little Devling, and find Michel Delivng, Waymeet, Hobbiton, Bywater, Overhill, Needlehole, Tookborough, Brockborings, Scary, Frogmorton, Woodhall and Stock. Each village has a distinct look, and has a lot of content which is usually about 4-10 quests.

* Playing a Minstrel. There is something oddly badass about whipping out a lute and playing chords as a bear comes charging at you. The minstrel is basically a healer/caster, but using a lute instead of magic. The reason for this is that characters in Lotro don’t have hit points, they have ‘morale’. Apparently the only effect of being gnawed by a bear is a slight loss of morale. Anyway, the minstrels little tunes boost morale which sort of makes sense, I guess.

Hating

* There is some pretty blatant attempts to waste the players time going on. There are these postal delivery and pie delivery quests. Both have the player trying to delivery post and pies between the various villages while avoiding hungry hobbits or nosey hobbits. Most of these quests take about 5-10 minutes of boring running from one town to another, and if you can mess up at the last second and have to start all over if you get too close to one of the hobbits. It’s rather aggravating really.

* Group quests. Well I haven’t found many of these so far, but I’ve got one in my log that doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere any time soon. The server I am playing on seems a little dead and no-one seems to be around to do it. This is a problem I had with Wow as well. The only option really is to wait till I really outlevel it and come back later.

Desire to Continue: 9





Lotro Log

11 06 2008

I recently had this terrifying desire to play “Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar” or Lotro as the kids on the streets are calling it. Frankly I am just glad it wasn’t a desire to play Wow again. I think I am scheduled to have one of those around whenever the Wrath of the Lich King expansion comes out. As I haven’t been finishing a lot of anime recently, and I find writing games reviews oddly hard and un-fun, I have decided to write some stuff about my experiences with Lotro until the time when I inevitably freak out and uninstall it forever. again.

What’s a Lotro?

So yeah, Lotro was the first big MMO that had the misfortune to be released after Wow. Actually that’s probably a complete falacy but I can’t be botherd to check it up. It borrows a ton of stuff from Wow, which is probably a good thing as that game did so many things totally right. It’s good that I can just press the same buttons and have pretty much the same things happen.

Lotro is of course set in everyone’s favourite Tolkien-esque fantasy world Middle Earth. Actually it’s only set in a bit of it. Middle Earth is big in the books, and while they could of compressed it bizarelly like Azeroth, they instead went the better of option of just making everything totally massive. Lotro is currently set in the part that most people remember from the time they tried to read the book and gave up at the Tom Bombadil chapter. You’ve got The Shire, Breeland, Rivendell and various other places between there and the Misty Mountains that they probably either scraped from a single mention in an appendix, or just made up.

One odd thing to note about it is that this is nothing to do with the Peter Jackson films, so it definitely doesn’t look exactly like them, but it’s still recognisibly middle earth and even seems to nudging you in the ribs trying to remind you of the films at times.

You played it before?

Yeah, I played it when it first came out back in Jun 07 I think. Me and a couple of friends played it for a couple of months.

What class?

A minstrel. Largely because I find the idea of bards and minstrels to be hilarious. I got to level 13 or so.

What are the graphics like?

What they lack in style compared to Wow they make up for in Bloom and technical fanciness. The water in this game looks most excellent. The game seems to of gained some fancy Direct X 10 features since I last played, though this might be just because I actually have a DX10 card now. There’s a slider for Bloom level in the Advanced Graphics options menu which I have slid all the way to max, because I find Bloom funny for some reason.

Why did you quit?

I eventually freaked out when i could see it becoming the same time consuming monster that Wow is. Like, everything took to long, and I was going to have to be increasingly reliant on grouping with internet jerks to get things done which is something I could really do without. Funny for someone playing an MMO to think that really.

Wait, why did you decide to start playing again?

Oddly, the only original thing about Lotro is the thing that caused me to come back. The game has this thing called an ‘Epic Quest’, which is a quest chain that goes throughout the entire game. In it you are basically following the Fellowship in their quest and helping them out as they travel around doing the events from the book.

The epic quest is structured into books which is split into about 10 chapters or quests. Some of these even have crazy cutscenes and stuff like Sauron’s eye will appear in your mini-map whenever you are near a rider. They’ve been releasing new books for free in patches which is awesome. I sort of wonder how far they’ll ever actually get through the story before the game dies for some reason. They are currently working their way through the second of the six volumes of the story.

There is a new expansion set in the Mines of Moria which sounds really great apparently contains another 6 books. Playing through this quest is the real reason why I am starting this again. It’s just a really interesting and compelling idea. It’s a shame that I know I’ll need five other people to get through a lot of the parts of it. *sigh*

So are you starting over?

I logged into my old character and discovered that I had totally forgotten how to play, or what I was doing, so I have decided to start over. I have created myself a Hobbit minstrel this time so I get a different starting area.

I am not planning on playing it for much more than an hour a day. Though I’ll have to see how I do with that. I have no desire to lose my self to a bloody MMO again.

So yeah, Lotro. I’ll do a proper log of what I’ve been doing when I have something to say.





Sam & Max 203: Night of the Raving Dead Review

6 06 2008

Title!
Developer: Telltale Games
Platform: PC
Genre: SAM & MAX, WHAT PART OF THAT IS UNCLEAR?

Warning: I spoil all!

This game has zombies in it. Do I need to go on? I guess if you for some reason are not the zombie-obsessed type of person, more convincing is necessary. New York, and indeed the entire world is overrun by zombies. The zombies are by all accounts largely well behaved and aren’t really being too much of an inconvenience, but that doesn’t stop Sam and Max from feeling obligated to trying to stop them anyway. Unfortunately, firing bullets at them seems to have little to no effect, so they have to rely on the usual combination of puzzle-solving and wit to see them through.


Zombies!!!

Most of the regular characters have returned for 203, with the exception of Bosco who is pleasingly absent from this entry. Bosco is an okay charcter, but he sort of wore out his welcome in the first season where the writers never gave him anything to do other than put on his accent of the week and overcharge for vital item. Other returning characters are Cybil Pandemic, Stinky, the ever awesome Agent Superball and some minor characters from episode 102 show up again.

You may remember that I had beef with the puzzles in the previous episode, I am pleased to report that the puzzles in this episode are a lot better, and while some are relatively fiendish, it never delvolves into illogical nonsense. The limited number of items and locations in each episode means you should never get stuck for too long anyway, as you can always try everything with everying relatively quickly if needed.


Jurgen got back to stuttgart in time to see Kraftwerk

The investigation eventually (quickly) leads you to Stuttgart which is the source of the zombies. A euro-emo-vampire named Jurgen is creating a zombie army for reasons that could probably of been explained better. Jurgen has quite a prominent role in the episode, so it’s fortunate he’s such an amusing character with great voice acting. Most episodes only have the main baddie showing up at the end, so it’s good to have him around for most of the episode.

The new location in this episode is Jurgen’s castle exteriors and interior. They seem to be limiting themselves to 3 new screens per episode, which is perhaps a bit too little? The new areas look very good though, and could almost be described as atmospheric. This episode also features more Flint Paper than ever before, which is totally awesome for the following reason: Flint Paper is totally awesome. If that wasn’t clear, he’s Sam and Max’s psychotic PI neighbour who solves crimes using bullets and fists.


A gun in one hand, a brain in the other. Fully awesome.

There a lot of refferences to zombie culture, like Resident Evil, George Romero and his films (and John Romero who I’m glad isn’t too obscure a referrence to make yet). The zombies themselves are they type that like brains, which might turn off zombie purists, but it’s fine here because brains play an important role in some of the puzzles. The episode has one of the best twists yet in half way through, and if you are planning on playing it at this point, I strongly advise you not to look at this image, as it will spoil the suprise totally.

One of my favourite aspects of Season 2 has been what they have done with the driving sequences. In the first season they were incidental and poorly developed. In this season they have become full blown mini-games complete with easter eggs. In the first two episodes of season 2 the sequences involved Sam and Max are driving along a neverending road, and you are challenged to run over various things. In this one, the perspective has change to a sort of Paper boy like setup, and you can chuck SOL discs at zombies which works okay even if it is a horribly dated joke).


Is this the zombie of the good lincoln or the evil lincoln?

In these sequnces, if you play them long enough you’ll see some odd things that if shot or run over will unlock a decal for your car. You get these from running over zombie parties, shooting down blimbs or swinging pianos, etc. If you collect them all you get an entirely cosmetic car upgrade like a giant engine. The best thing is that the decals and upgrades are persistent between episodes which means that I obsessively collect them all. Not that it takes very long or anything, but it’s a nice touch.

Overall, this is a much better episode than 202 or even 201, but still not as good as 104 or 105. I talk in code! The next episode looks to be Bosco centric, which I’ll have to see how well works out.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Zombies





Gundam 00 Review

22 05 2008


Studio: Sunrise
Genre: Gundams, Gundams, Gundams
Episodes: 25

Warning: This review contains words which might be construed as spoilers by some.

What the fuck is a Gundam anyway? Wait, i’ll look it up… General Unilateral Neuro-Link Dispersive Autonomic Maneuver System? That doesn’t spell gundam…it spells gundams. Well anyway, Gundams 00 is a show about Gundams’s. I should probably mention my history with the gundams, just to make it clear that I am not one of those people who can identify every gundam model by silhouette. The first thing gundam related I saw was the first episode of Gundam Seed, and it was a very confusing experience. My mind was not prepared for the majesty that is gundam related entertainment. I watched all of Seed, and it’s sequel Gundam Seed Destiny. I then attempted to watch the original show Mobile Suit Gundam but stopped watching because it was boring or something. Oddly I found myself very pleased to discover that Gundam 00 was being made and that I would soon be able to view it with my eyes.

Since 1979 there has been almost continous stream of gundam things coming out. 616 anime episodes split among over 21 properties, and more than 12 films. Apparently the whole brand is worth 5 billion yen (250 million british pounds). Thats crazy madness, and admittedly very daunting as a person trying to understand what the hell it’s all about. In that regard, it’s worth knowing that each show is quite a separate entity. For example, this show Gundam 00 does not share anything in common with any other Gundam show except that there are gundams in it. There are some shows which are connected, these are identifiable by the fact that everyone in them refers to years in the same manner (ie. Universal Century, Cosmic Era)


Yes, that’s totally a gundam.

It’s worth asking the question, Why the hell is it so popular? An answer would be “Giant Robots? I dunno”. Another slightly more accurate answer would be that it taps into the same part of the brain as Star Trek did, but for the Japanese. Gundam shows are probably a lot more political than you would expect. Usually the universe has been divided into a bunch of different countries and their conflicts. Also there’s usually a baddie who wears a mask. Japan as a country also doesn’t seem to feature prominently in any of the shows I have seen. The theme of the each series seems to be vaguely analogous to what’s going on in the international headlines currently, and they deal with touchy subjects such as racism and unexpected amputation, that sort of thing. Gundam 00 is about terrorism and the effects of a global energy crisis which they solved by building millions of solar panels in orbit roung the planet, but that ruined a lot of countries only export and it all went tits up.

In the future there are three countries, the Union (which is America, Australia and Japan), the League (China, Russia and India), and the AEU (basically Europe). Coming along to mess things up is the ridiculously named Celestial Being, a group of people with the mandate of waging a war to end wars (with gundams). Continuing the theme of having dodgy names, the four pilots of the gundams are Setsuna F Seiei, Tieria Erde, Lockon Stratos, and Allelujah Haptism. Yes, Allelujah Haptism. Actually, they code-names which makes it a little less dumb. Main character Setsuna is a little Kurdish tyke who got himself involved with local civil wars and a youngster. He sort of fits the mold of angstish teen that you might expect in a Gundam show, but oddly he gets very little screen time. There are so many characters and plots going on simultaneously that no one element of it ever gets overplayed.


Setsuna F. Seiei, seemingly pretending to be Solid Snake

The bods of Celestial being are enacting the 200 year old plan of one Aeolia Schenberg, who wanted to unite the world somehow. He also invented the mysterious Solar Furnace drives that the gundams use that makes them continuously fart out fairydust. Whenever war doth occur, Celestial Being show up in their overpowered robots and total both sides. Their plan is to do this until no more war occurs. It’s a solid plan, and I like it. Also, they obey this big computer called Veda who tells them what to do. Yes, the plan is retarded, but that’s part of the point. Everyone is like “A war to end war? That’s sort, you know, stupid!” so you can’t make fun of that if you were about to.

In most Gundam shows, the opponents of the main characters can usually put up a bit of a fight, but in this show most of their opponents respond to almost anything any of the gundams do by exploding. This makes these gundams seem more like Super Robots than Real Robots, if you get the difference. Anyway, the three countries of course don’t like being messed with very much, and start trying to build robots good enough to not explode whenever a Gundam flies over them, and are largely unsuccessful. In the later half of the show some enemies that are more of a threat emerge, and the characters seem very put out that they actually have to put some effort into their giant robot piloting, the lazy sods.


Aeolia Schenberg declaring the war on war

The cast is far to vast to list, but there are some good memorable characters. Being a gundam show, it looks really really good. Sunrise pride themselves as not stooping so low as to use CG to render robots fights. Sunrise employs humanity’s foremost experts at drawing gundams, and they are not eager to be put out of the job by computers, so they dutifully get out their rulers, compasses and sextants in order to bring us some of the best animated robots possible. This series was aired in HD which makes it look even more better than any previous gundams. There isn’t an enormous amount more detail on characters, but the background paintings and detail within scenes is truly astonishing. Music ain’t so bad either, especially the first ending song, and the second intro song which is very excellent:


HD version

Most gundam shows hover around the 50 episode mark, but this one went for the much more restrained 25 episodes and managed a much tighter narrative because of it. There is supposed to be another season coming along after Sunrise stop making Code Geese R2 which is good. Though this season did have a mostly satisfactory ending so it’s not entirely necessary. The ending was actually pleasantly bleak. I just hope you don’t get attached to any of the characters or anything. All in all if you have any interest in Gundam but are unsure where to start, this would be as good a place as any.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Gundams.