Archive for the ‘Rant’ Category



Sniper Elite V2If you watch any of my Let’s Play Badly videos from my YouTube channel (erm, probably not the Minecraft ones so much – I’m talking about the Borderlands and Just Cause 2 videos), you’re probably aware than I’m a little keen on games that feature sniper based combat. I do enjoy popping the old heads from a safe vantage point, yes siree!

So when Sniper Elite V2 came up on sale for cheap, I thought I’d snap it up and check it out. I’d never bothered with the original game and it is a Rebellion game so I wasn’t really expecting great things. But as with most games I pick up for pennies, I figure if it manages to keep me distracted for a few afternoons, it’s a fair exchange.

So I gave it a bash yesterday. I only played the first level – which is basically a tutorial – before I had to come away and think about what the game was trying to teach me.

It all started well enough. The grumbly voiced actor told me that the Nazi Army were still the bad guys and how the game centres around V-2 rocket shenanigans. Then I was on a mission to assassinate a defecting General. Creeping through the ruined city, I was encouraged to string a trip mine across a doorway (to protect my rear, and help with my escape, apparently) then booby-trap a recent kill with a landmine. Use this cover, hop over that gate, clamber under this debris – all the regular tutorial checklist items such a game would be expected to tick off.

Then it was onto the main event and I held my breath, pulled the trigger and watched a lump of metal shear through the air until it found its grisly x-rayed target, the General’s skull. All good fun so far. Of course, the ‘S’ hit the ‘F’ and I had to leg it. Aware of my presence, the soldiers fell foul of my landmine but before I could crawl back along my previous route, a tank burst through the wall, blocking the way. Another path was found and my trip mine had done its job. I probably wasn’t as stealthy as I could have been and a lot more skulls began to sport ventilation where previously there was none. Eventually, I hopped one final wall and the mission ended. Here’s your score, well done.

But the thing that stuck with me was my preparation. How I’d dotted mines from my limited arsenal in the hopes that they’d bear fruit and make my life as a sniper elite that much easier. But when the game features scripted events and clearly isn’t averse to throwing me down alternate routes, how am I supposed to know when placing anything isn’t going to be just a waste of time (and vital resources)? It seemed to me that the only way to make sure that I got the most out of my kit was to memorise the mission and use that knowledge to replay it.

I realise that in real-life situations change and the best laid plans can go out the window but this is a game. The very first mission out the door basically tells you both that a) preparation is important and b) your preparation could become completely irrelevant due to a level designer’s decision to script an ‘exciting’ set-piece to spice the mission up. Is it a conflicting design flaw in the game? Are developers under pressure to include modern scripted ‘events’ (all the cool kids/shooters are doing them, you should too!)?

It hasn’t completely put me off playing the game but it will make me more wary/blasé regarding preparation. If it’s merely a case of guessing when the game is/isn’t going to render it all irrelevant, why bother putting it down? There’s no skill involved and I won’t learn through experience in-game how to maximise the effectiveness of my tools. So is the only time I can ensure my traps are useful is when I fail a mission and armed with foresight, can prepare retroactively?


Who to follow?

TwitterIt’s magic, I swear! I don’t know how Twitter manages to do it. On the sidebar every time I visit the site is a little list of people who Twitter apparently believe are perfectly suited to my tastes and would make great additions to my feed. And each time I look at this list, I’m stunned at Twitter’s incredible matching abilities.

I mean, how the hell do they manage to concoct a list of idiots so skilfully that they only fill it with people I’d happily pay to see fall down a flight of stairs?!

Simon Cowell – do I give a flying fig about his take on the talentless plebs his shows churn out? No. Would I stop, turn and giggle if I saw him bounce off the hood of a taxi while he was crossing the street? Yes! Likewise, while I’d certainly attend a gathering where Peter Andre, Wayne Rooney and Jimmy Carr were encased in comedy sized piñatas and placed before gullible stick-wielding children eager for candy, I actually care very little for their self-interested ponderings.

So how do Twitter come up with this perfect storm of people I have zero interest in? Why are they so convinced that this seemingly endless queue of sub-celebs are suitable for me? I click ‘refresh’ and they swap in a new selection of clowns, just as depressing as the last.

It honestly makes me long to see the other end of their list. The end that contains the people Twitter are adamant would be totally incompatible for me. Logic dictates they must be glorious – able to fit such solid chunks of humour, wit and topical commentary into only 140 characters that each tweet would blow my mind! Those are the people I want to follow.


MC Server Switcheroo

This was originally one post about my new build in Minecraft but I decided to preface it with a little background explanation… and it kind of ran away from me somewhat – so I decided to split it into two posts. This is the ranty one. The one above is the buildy one. Anyhoo…

I hadn’t been playing Minecraft for such a long time. I took a break while the owner of the multi-player server I used to roam sorted some things out. They took so long that I drifted away a little, enticed by shiny new games and forgotten titles from my stack of shame on Steam. Well, now I’m back playing Minecraft and everything new again!

First new situation – I’m not longer playing on that old server. I tried going back to it but the world containing all my builds had been removed. No worries, said the owner, I’ve got the world stored, I can get them back for you! So I waited… and waited… and nothing happened so I figured, sod that, I’ll play somewhere else. Just as I was perusing the alternatives, the drama llama came visiting the server.

Now, the owner is… well… somewhat of a schmuck. The best times I spent on that server were the ones where he’d lost interest in overseeing things, leaving everything to his very capable ‘staff’. They second he came back, he’d be making lousy decisions, over-reacting, banning people for things he had misunderstood and trolling the players with juvenile power-trips. But, he spent a lot of time ignoring the server so it all worked out well enough.

Just recently though, he made some decisions that the head admin of the server (the one basically running the place) disagreed with. Now the admin didn’t kick up a fuss. Didn’t threaten or cause trouble – he merely disagreed. And for that the owner effectively fired him. The rest of the staff, realising this was an incredibly dumb and unjust move, all quit in support. So the owner went on a banning spree. And in the great words of Futurama’s Bender, they decided to say “Yeah, well… I’m gonna go build my own theme park, with blackjack and hookers. In fact, forget the park!” and created their own server. All the good stuff, minus the… ‘problem’.

And that’s where I play now. It’s called ‘HavenTerrace’ ( and it’s doing great. Well, apart from the childish threats from the owner of the other server. He’s acting like a sad little man who fancies himself as a Bond villain, upset that he’s managed to most gloriously shoot himself in the foot and is desperately searching for others to blame.

I’m looking forward to creating many new builds on this server – especially since it seems a heck of a lot more stable than the previous one. I’ve missed Minecraft and boy, have things changed since I last played…


Life support

Getting a new script must always be a tense situation for an actor playing a supporting character in any kind of drama. Death is around every corner. You’re not loved-by-all enough to be essential but you’re well liked enough so that your death would resonate (or so the theory goes).

I can just imagine turning the pages and finding out that your chipper and up-until-that-point rather danger-averse character has suddenly decided to put themselves into harms way for no conceivable reason. Your stomach must sink as you continue through the script seeing tenuous logic dictate that rather than the heroes of the show, it’s you who is sat defusing the bomb, saving the kids from the burning building or facing off against the psychopathic villain. “Noooo!” they must be thinking, “I just put a down payment on a condo!”.

Then it happens. Blammo! Your character is dead and unless the show has a serious flashback fetish, you’re going to be cashing your last pay check soon. The main characters will show up after the bad guy has hustled or they were all stood just outside the blast radius. One of them will hold you in their arms, looking teary as the writers try to squeeze the last few drops of empathy from this ‘sudden’ loss.

This sort of thing must be like the sword of Damocles hanging over an actor’s head, the hair suspending it twanging each first reading of every new script. The idea that you’re just a bone the writers can throw the audience any time they have a lull in the ratings weighing heavy on your performance as bumbling comic relief. All the time, knowing you’re one cheap ploy away from unemployment.


Dear Indie Game Developers…

Last year for E3, I made a post with a few guidelines I would have liked game developers to keep in mind while practising their craft. Naturally, nothing changed but I think I’ve found a new audience to plead to.

Steam Greenlight

A few days ago, Valve launched Steam Greenlight, a customer facing round-table where game developers (typically small companies and indie set-ups) get to present their digital babies and a raving horde of juvenile imbeciles Steam customers either rip the living shit out of them or fawn like drooling nincompoops critique and provide feedback in the hopes of uncovering potential hits and grooming them to take their place in the Steam store itself. It is, of course, a colossal travesty of ignorance and fanboy excess an exciting process to witness! So…

Dear Indie Game Developers…

…not every RPG game has to have blue text boxes and a white font. We get it, it’s ‘retro’! It’s like Final Fantasy! But you’re also drowning in a sea of similar clones who all had the same bright idea.

…you’re not a huge developer with hundreds of employees churning out mountains of quality assets and hours of content for a triple-A game. Stop pricing your slightly-better-than-shareware like it was the next Fallout or Call of Duty.

…I know ‘Hunt for the Ember Lodestone: The Challenges of the Fire-Scorched Demon Mistress from El-quor-Marankta Seven‘ sounds impressive, but unless this is the latest long-awaited part in a hugely successful series of games, maybe you should lay off the subtitles and pick something a bit more snappy/memorable.

…yes, Minecraft was very successful, yes, it wasn’t a wholly original game and yes, Notch has more money than he knows what to do with now. But, no, not every game has to be a multi-player adventure sandbox world-building survival-based voxel game. Basically, if you find yourself appending ‘-craft’ to the title of your game, you’re a joke.

…and while we’re at it, no Slender clones, no Super Meat Boy clones, no Terraria clones and no Day-Z clones.

…just because every major game these days seems to have a near-endless trail of DLC in its wake, like an incontinent goldfish, doesn’t mean you should. Your original content barely qualifies for DLC status alone so why do you think you can piecemeal it even further? You’re offering a game that doesn’t have the backing of hundreds of artist/coders/designers/musicians behind it – you should be offering more, not less (for more money).

…stop using the ‘retro‘ tag as an excuse for producing terrible graphics, ear-grating music and one-dimensional gameplay. We know you’re not really paying homage to anything – you just suck. That goes for ‘old-school‘, ‘classic‘ and ‘nostalgia trip‘ too. You’re not fooling anyone.

…your pretentious experimental art/thought journey ‘game’ might have gone down great guns at Indiefest 2004 but please don’t get too upset if it doesn’t appeal to the knuckle-draggers just coming down from a 8-hour L4D2, CoD, TF2 stint.

…enough with the silhouette artwork already. Yes, Limbo did well and looked great but they used it for atmosphere. You’re just a lazy bastard who can’t be bothered to spring for proper graphics.

…maybe your droning, nasally voice isn’t really suited for promoting the game in your trailer. You’d probably do fine for YouTube unpacking clips, rants about how Blizzard screwed you over in the last patch and narrating your clan’s new CoD kill-fest but for your game, just stick to gameplay clips and music. It’s for the best.

…while we’re on the subject, you and your friends aren’t voice-actors. The professionals get paid for a reason.

…six players at the same time doesn’t make your game an MMO project.

…just because whatever engine you’ve licensed can do a screen full of glows, motion blur, bloom effects and depth of field, it doesn’t mean you have to go crazy using them all. Calm down.  And no amount of post processing will cover up terrible graphics, anyway.

…spell-checker. Use it.

…let me guess, your game is all about zombies, right? Yeah, well, so is 95% of the other games on Greenlight. The rest are hidden object games or dating sims.

…you might have done well with your sub-Facebook game on the iPhone/Android or whatever but people might be expecting a little more meat on the bones of their PC games.

…people will figure out you’re nothing but hot air if all you’ve got to show are renders of art assets. Maybe wait until you’ve actually written some code before trying desperately to stoke the hype train up to speed?

…engines. Nobody cares you used the Unreal/Cryengine/Unity engine for you game as long as it’s good. You don’t get a special badge for mentioning it.

…engines. Nobody wants to play a game you churned out after ten minutes with some tatty game-maker. You might think you can get away with not mentioning it but we all know.

Thank you.


Just sayin’

Minecraft Pixel Art SucksSorry, but no, copying a retro bitmap into Minecraft isn’t worthy of anyone’s praise. Sure, Reddit might fall for it every time and upvote you to hell and back but we both know that you put as much thought into it as you do picking your socks in the morning and both probably only took you five minutes. Pixel art shows all the imagination of a rock.

You might have gotten away with tracing when you were a toddler but maybe you should aim higher and do something just a little bit more impressive? Pixel art in Minecraft just plain sucks.

Update: In case you need to convey to your server’s guests exactly what you think of pixel art, the model in the image in available as a schematic, downloadable from this thread.


Press [A] for Awesome!

Dragon's LairYears ago, there was a game in the arcades (ask your parents) called Dragon’s Lair. You might even have heard about it. Since ‘retro’ became cool, it has been ported to every single platform in the known universe. What was once a game that came on a big silver Laserdisc (ask your parents) the size of an LP (ask… oh, just face it, I’m old), can now be played from the palm of your hand on an iPhone or Android unit. It differed from other games at the time because instead of being given immediate and direct control of your character, you were prompted at certain specific points for an input (joystick direction or button mash) that either led to success or death. Think one long quick-time event and you’ve pretty much got it sussed. Get the waggle right and your character did some awesome death-defying dodge and got to live on to the next precarious event. It was very popular at the time. Not so much now except with the retro freaks.

Games moved on. Players wanted more than linked FMV, no matter how lush it looked or how action-packed the canned moves were. They wanted control.

But these days it looks like we’re coming full circle. One thing I noticed from the demos shown at the recent E3 – canned awesome is back. Yeah, we have control over our grizzled soldiers, our wrong-man-at-the-wrong-time-in-the-wrong-place or our plucky English roses with an archaeology fetish but jabbing away at the game pad now has them cinematically leaping across obstacles, wrestling weapons from foes and performing grisly take-downs that’d have most action movie stars green with envy. Have we reached a tipping point where we’re once again handing back our control just so we can look awesome?

We used to get our awesome quota from cut-scenes. If we needed our protagonist to look just that little bit more heroic and death-defying than the game engine could muster, the cut-scene would be there to show us the big explosions, the cityscape-altering alien invasions or simply the snappy back-and-forth banter that would have been missed if done in-game while we were too busy scouting round for that last health pack pick-up. But cut-scenes got too big and people eventually complained that they wanted a game, not a movie with only occasional joystick waggling.

Watch DogsThese days cut-scenes are sneaky – popping up in bite-sized chunks every few seconds in triple-A titles. They’re integrated into the gameplay with the developers worried that you’ll lose interest if you’re not seeing something humongous, kinetic and awe-inspiring taking place in the game world every third or fourth step your character takes. Round a corner, blammo! Open a door, surprise! Scratch your nose, woo-haa!

I admit, canned actions of cinematic awesome look nice but ultimately leave me feeling a bit unfulfilled. I know that while it was my random button jabbing that brought the moves into being, I’m not really responsible for the dynamic and rather graceful way my hero is separating the bad guy from his spine. I don’t deserve it. That’s not skill. Just like Dragon’s Lair, I’m simply pressing the right button at the right time. It’s how you play the game, it’s what I’m supposed to be doing and yes, more often than not, it does look amazing but I just don’t feel… awesome.


Déjà voice

Déjà voicesDear game developers, if you happen to find yourself working on a title that features a huge (but essentially faceless) NPC support cast; perhaps one where gameplay happens to swing close to the phrases ‘open world’, ‘free roaming’ and ‘sandbox/toybox’, could you please do me a small favour when it comes to your voice actors. One thing and it’d only take you a few moments effort to completely eradicate this minor gripe I have.

Could you please give your actors differing lines?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking for more lines. The number of recordings needed could stay exactly the same. No, the problem I have is when you have a number of different NPCs all react to certain situations with exactly the same line of dialogue. Different actors, different voices, but all the same line of dialogue.

It just destroys your sense of immersion when a crowd gathers and two separate NPCs parrot the same sentence within seconds of each other. Annoying in itself but when you’ve clearly gotten multiple voice actors to read the very same line of dialogue when they could have just as easily read two different lines (but with basically the same intent), it’s really frustrating. Just think – the meaning would remain intact and you’d avoid giving the player the impression they’re experiencing of some kind of hive mind.

It doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re an assassin with a death-wish when it comes to urban path-finding, a thug with Russian accent or a jump-suited saviour trekking across a post-apocalyptic wasteland, you’re going to encounter this flaw. The voice acting in these types of games is often top-notch and as a whole, it does a wonderful job of fleshing out the environment, making you feel like you’re within living, breathing historical city / hive of sin / radioactive cesspit (delete where applicable). It’s rather like listening to a symphony only to find one of the musicians couldn’t find their violin this morning and decided to make do with a pair of bin lids instead.


Dear Game Developers…

E3 - Electronic Entertainment ExpoSince E3 starts tomorrow, I thought now would be a good time to post a couple of helpful notes to the people crafting the wondrous nuggets of entertainment we so enjoy.

Dear Game Developers…

…’Depth of Field’ can create impressive and sometimes even quite realistic effects but the way you guys are overusing it, it makes everything look like bad Tilt-Shift photography where I’m playing the game in toy-town.

…why does every forgotten deity, evil genius or subterranean monster have a lair that features miles and miles of twisty tunnels/corridors/tombs full of traps and thugs to get to the area for the final encounter but the way back to the surface from that area is just down a short passage round the back?

…your up/down does not match my up/down. Get with the 90s and offer an invert-Y option for your game.

…no, foot-high impassable hedges blocking off the edge of maps are no less annoying or acceptable than the invisible walls they are meant to replace. If my character is supposed to have the physical skills of a circus acrobat during the rest of the game, such silly obstacles look all the more ridiculous. Worst still are foot-high impassable obstacles that the player has to run around. All characters who can’t clamber up tiny ledges, needing to use ramps, steps or excessively circuitous routes should be shot.

…I know you’re really pleased with all the shader effects you’ve crammed into the game but please, calm down. Not everything needs to look like it’s made of wet vinyl.

…unless your game is specifically all about stealth, please don’t tack an unskippable stealth section on to your third-person shoot-em-up. Likewise, if it isn’t a platform game, don’t force players to wrestle with your shoddy controls and unhelpful camera angles trying to pull off feats that’d make bloody Mario jealous.

…a pitch-black gaming environment isn’t scary. Spawning enemies right behind the player isn’t scary. Repeating the same tired shock tactics for an entire game isn’t scary. They’re all just lazy. Please try a little bit harder.

…if you’re going to cut costs employing drama school drop-outs for the voice-overs in your cut-scenes, don’t forget a subtitles option for those of us who’ll have trouble understanding the accents they’re busy murdering.

…not every much beloved classic game series needs to be turned into a first-person shoot-em-up. Just saying.

…can you stop with the ‘we realise now that our last game in the series was absolute shite, but the next one will fix (insert your particular concerns here) and be fucking amazing!’ type of promises. I know every slack-jawed idiot out there falls for this lie every time so there’s no real reason for you to stop producing sub-par games and then whipping out this line but please, just give it a rest.

Thank you.


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?