Archive for May, 2011

General

Uncle Victor on Flies

My Uncle Victor used to claim that all flies genetically inherit the ability to see into the future.

He would put forward that explanation as the reason for why they were so good at avoiding a fatal swat from a rolled-up newspaper. When pressed with the evidence to the contrary – the occasional successful bludgeoning, he’d merely add that those flies were quite obviously suicidal.

GamingGeneralMMOMovies

Link review

As my sidebar widget of links has pretty much sat unchanged since I first started this WordPress iteration of Skoardy.com, I thought it was about time that I reviewed and updated the list. Time to add some of the other sites I frequent (and tentatively recommend), and bin any that have fallen from favour (perhaps their design aesthetics have become a lumbering mess of interface-related tortures – I’m looking at you, Kotaku).

Without further ado, here we go.


Kotaku – as mentioned above, it’s gone. The reason being is that the web design for this site seems to be going backwards in terms of usability. It’s like the Benjamin Button of the internet. Reports of its visitor drop-off since the change do not surprise me in the least. There’s a thousand and one websites on the internet all clambering to supply people with gaming news. You do not ensure you’re the site they choose by making yours almost painful to use.


MMO Champion – Yes, I want the latest information about World of Warcraft. No, I don’t want pages and pages of filler articles in the shape of editorials and fluff, solely designed to wring out a few more advertising page-views. And that’s where MMO Champion comes in – it’s basically just a stream of pure information, quotes from Blizzard and images of new content. None of those pesky ‘contributors’ waffling on about whatever happens to cross their mind.


Wowpedia – Now, if you visit this site, you may get a little bit of déjà vu – in that it looks a whole lot like WoWWiki.  In fact, you may even marvel at how an awful lot of the content looks much the same, if not identical. Well, that’s because it basically is. Back at the end of last year, some people didn’t particularly like moving to Wikia and so split off to create WoWpedia. I was planning on losing WoWWiki from my list and replacing it with Wowpedia but even though there’s very little difference to the two sites (as they’re basically cataloguing the same information about the same game), from time to time you might find that one site holds a little snippet that the other has overlooked. So, might as well keep both links handy just in case.


GameFAQs – I don’t know why this site didn’t make the cut the first time I rebooted the site as I’ve been using it almost since I took my first steps on the internet. Ploughed thirty to forty quid into a game and you’ve been stumped on the first level for over a month? Maybe it’s time to crack open GameFAQs and find out what you’re missing. Only got 99 collectables out of a 100 despite circling the game map dozens and dozens of times? Chances are GameFAQs has a map with all the items marked on it. It’s a great site, even if it does look extremely dated.


Twitter – As you can see from the bunches of white strips between the ‘proper’ articles, I’m a sporadic twitteree. Big fan of it. Apart from your friends spouting stuff they’d consider too short or fleeting to bung you in an email and all the voyeuristic celeb-life watching, Twitter has shown itself to be a real social movement in world events. Being informed has never been so immediate. Of course, I’m hunkering down as @skoardy on Twitter so if you want my random thoughts seeking you out in a more direct fashion, feel free to follow me (or any of the people I follow – a lot of them are very entertaining indeed).


As to the sites that have survived the shuffle…

  • FirstShowing.net – still my first port of call for general movie news and trailers. I just find its design a lot less offensive to the eyes than a lot of the more flashier sites. If there’s one thing I would change, it’s the head honcho’s need to add his own emphasis almost seemingly indiscriminately to nearly every damn sentence he writes, even quotes. Kinda does my head in.
  • Gametrailers.com – only reviews I particularly pay any attention to these days. Apart from seeing the actual game in action, they don’t focus on how they felt while writing the review or ramble on about some unrelated guff they were doing the previous week, unlike most of the other tits that call themselves games reviewers on the net these days.
  • Joystiq – compared to Kotaku, a nice and clean presentation keeps this gaming news site in the list.
  • Penny Arcade – this webcomic still makes me chuckle. Yes, it’s still occasionally filthy.
  • VG Cats – updates are few and far between (follow his twitter instead, to save you checking the site every so often) but still a very funny strip.
  • Wowhead – come on, it’s the go-to site for WoW in-game information. A huge database of items, spells and more, all haphazardly commented on by people playing the game right now.
  • WoWWiki – as mentioned above, I decided to keep this to have an alternative on hand on the off chance the other site doesn’t quite cut it. You never know.

And that’s your lot. Maybe it’ll be another couple of years before I update the links list again. Get ready!

 

RantTV

Chuck Versus the Product Placement

Chuck AdvertIt’s hard to complain about product placement in Chuck. It was built on a foundation of product placement. The Buy More is almost literally wall-to-wall product placement. It’s the ‘quiet’ kind though – shelves full of brands sat in the background, peacefully minding their own business and not tripping up the plot. But as each season continues towards the inevitable question of whether or not the show will return, it’s the more blatant advertising wedged painfully and obviously into the plot that made me wonder if I was really that bothered any more.

I used to think that Chuck was a great show. Comedy, action, a plot not a thousand miles away from the sadly cancelled Jake 2.0 and a very likeable cast (with Yvonne Strahovski being all Yvonne Strahovski all over the place and the always fun-to-watch Adam Baldwin, ex-space-thug). It had it’s fair share of cheesy silliness, yes, but even that was charming in its own way.

Chuck, it seems, has been renewed for a fifth (and final) season. We can only hope that the writers spend more time on their storylines and less time trying to figure out excuses to awkwardly force a scene featuring a sandwich or a car somewhere into each episode. Maybe they were cutting budget costs by selling their souls to the advertisers but for whatever the reason, I have very little respect for TV shows that follow this route.

It’s a trend that seems to be seeping into more and more shows these days and it’s so blatant that it pulls you out of the moment. In an instant, you’re no longer following the story and enjoying the show. Instead, you’re painfully aware something is wrong – that the show’s producers are trying to pull a fast one. There’s no finesse to these in-show-ad-breaks, and really, there never could be. You’re just sat there feeling sorry for the actors having to whore themselves out like that.

Over the years, the audience accepted the idea that TV shows tried their utmost to avoid showing brand names if they could. For so long we had products turned away from the camera, mocked up brand labels or worse case scenario – black masking tape inexpertly applied all over the place. Slowly but surely, paid product placement started seeping back into soaps, dramas and comedies and before long there were the odd prominent laptop logo here or a very distinctive touch-screen mobile phone there. These I don’t mind quite so much. It’s when there appears to be a scene specifically included simply to show the characters interacting with a product, commenting on how great the features of this specific product happen to be and ending with a shot lingering for just… a… little… too… long… to… be… natural… of the product’s logo that I feel the rage building.

Will things change? I have my doubts. If anything it’s probably going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. Do these antics stop people watching a show completely? Probably. I know that I’ve got to the point where I’ll seriously consider binning a show that included such shitty advertising gimmicks. But the question is, will the dipstick execs be able to correlate a drop in viewers with their increasingly unwelcome advertising bootprints all over our once-favourite shows?

Gaming

Gaming Wisdom – 10 things I learnt from Dark Chronicle (PS2)

I recently came across a post that I’d written for a couple of years back for another site. Since it was pretty ageless (I was taking about a seven year old game at the time), I figured I’d repost it here for prosperity’s sake. Who knows, I might continue this as a ‘series’.


Got a little nostalgic the other day so I decided to dig out an old RPG. Settled on the outstanding Dark Chronicle (or Dark Cloud 2 for our friends across the pond) from the ever-reliable Level-5. Playing it through, I considered the number of times games can bestow wisdom – little life lessons that surely must be as applicable in the real world as they are while you’re tramping around a randomly generated dungeon driving a hulking robot built from a telescope, a milk can and a chimney.

So here are 10 things I learnt from Dark Chronicle (PS2)

Dark Chronicle

  1. The pen may be mightier than the sword but a well synthesised wrench can hand you your ass on a platter.
  2. Strange unattended chests should be opened from behind in case they have an urge to bite you.
  3. Whether you choose yellow or pink, gift-bearing clowns will always screw you over.
  4. Wandering around a city taking photographs of everything and everyone will not get you locked up for suspected terrorism but can in fact lead to the greatest discoveries of our time.
  5. Most of the temporal anomalies featured Star Trek TNG could have been repaired with a golf club or at a pinch, a handy stick.
  6. Fish love bananas and carrots – a cruel joke indeed considering their lacklustre horticultural skills.
  7. You can leave an old lady alone on a train for several months with no negative side-effects …or disturbing odours.
  8. When faced with overwhelming trouser-browning danger, the best course of action is often to whip out your Kodak.
  9. The fossilised remains of a loaf of bread found in volcanic rock will be both still edible and nutritious.
  10. The fate of the world can rest on how you place your Homebase garden furniture.

There’s nuggets of knowledge to be had from gaming so get out there and apply what you learn at the foot of your favoured electronic shrine to your everyday life. How could you possibly go wrong?

GamingRant

BioShock 2… meh?

BioShock 2 logoYou know I’m all up for Steam bargains right? If you don’t mind being a year or so behind the curve of newly released “triple A” games and prefer to pay under £5 for titles that were £39.99 RRP originally, then Steam is a godsend. Yup, I’m a cheap, cheap bastard. A few weeks ago, I took advantage of such a bargain and purchased BioShock 2 for the low, low price of £3.49 – a great opportunity to enjoy the much-anticipated sequel to the 2007 blockbuster, for pretty much peanuts.

So that’s what I’m going to talk about here – what I thought of BioShock 2. I doubt it’s going to matter or be that interesting to many people considering it’s a year old game but what the hey, I’m going to do it anyway. Just on the off-chance someone out there hasn’t played it and still might, I should probably warn you now, there is very likely going to be…

SPOILERS!

There. You were told. Anyhoo, to business.

For £3.49, you can’t really complain too much. I played the game to conclusion and according to Steam, got a good 14 hours worth of entertainment out of it for my pennies. I admit, I did take my time, creeping through the dingy structures, pausing at every sudden clatter of noise and staring like a dope at each period-piece poster that adorned the walls. I spent so long dawdling that the game regularly thought I was lost and helpfully informed me how I could get back to the serious business of blowing chunks out of splicers. I was having none of it. Part of the charm of the original BioShock was how rich the atmosphere was. Exploration is a big part of my enjoyment of games where the environment is so wonderfully detailed. For a let’s-get-this-done ‘serious gamer’, I’d expect a much shorter play through than 14 hours. No matter, it was certainly value for money.

Having also enjoyed the original title, I was looking forward to having more of the BioShock world fleshed out. I didn’t go ga-ga over its first outing as much as some of the really rabid fans as I find tying a so-so FPS with a somewhat watered-down RPG (also known as Mass Effect syndrome) to be a let-down coming from Irrational Games. Still, it was very polished and provided an interesting narrative, which made up for a lot.

BioShock 2, developed by another 2K Games studio tends to stand on the shoulders of the first game, not really bringing much new to the party. Another protagonist is led by the nose through the ruined utopia by a group of people who probably don’t have your best interests at heart. A lot of shooting, a lot of skill-set upgrading and a lot of black/white choices masquerading as a fleshed-out morality system.

So this time round you’re a Big Daddy (nope, can’t think of a legitimate way to work Shirley Crabtree into the sentence) with a mission to re-unite with your Little Sister. There’s a little fluff and manoeuvre in the story but that’s the main thrust of it. You being a hulking monstrosity doesn’t really affect the gameplay that much – you have their customary drill for melee (never bothered using it), can now travel underwater (thoroughly underused and didn’t bring anything interesting to the table anyway) and people generally react badly to you (compared to the legions of splicers who wanted to invite you over for tea and crumpets from the first game). It’s basically business as usual down in the depths in Rapture.

There was one thing that really got my goat about this outing that I don’t recall being such a blatant abscess in the first game and that’s the developer’s reliance on a gameplay mechanic I call Reward Punishment. It’s something that tends to rear its ugly head in lazily designed FPS titles such as the Doom series. See that health/ammo/power-up down the corridor? Go pick it up. Go on, you know you want to. Go it? HAH! Tricked you! Now a platoon of space zombies have spawned down the corridor behind you, pretty much negating the point of any health or ammo you’ve just gained. In small (i.e. rare) doses, it’s a minor annoyance and a surprise. On the other hand, when it happens constantly, it becomes tiresomely predictable and just smacks of amateurish game design.

A large problem for BioShock 2 that is really no fault of its own is that the shine has gone. We’ve been to Rapture. It was a wonderful journey of new sights and experiences in the first game but now the player knows what to expect and even if they don’t realise it at the time, it colours the experience. We’ve faced the choice of how to deal with the Little Sisters and their protective companions, explored the leaky retro-themed corridors of lost splendour with its psychotic inhabitants and endured the duplicitous nature of its misguided leaders. BioShock 2 can’t reinvigorate those elements for the player so has to rely on polishing the aforementioned so-so FPS at its heart.

Ultimately, it’s… more of the same, but without the fresh-Rapture-smell of the original. Enjoyable, but lacking. If you ever see it for pennies, I heartily recommend picking it up but don’t go into it expecting quite the same wonder that you experience with BioShock. Personally, I’m rather looking forward to BioShock Infinite – the next in the series. No more Rapture and a chance to work out my vertigo issues. Since it’s supposed to be coming out sometime in 2012, I’ll probably be playing it in 2015, courtesy of another Steam sale. Go Skinflints!