Posts tagged with video-games - page 3

Xbox 360 – More thoughts

Okay, so I’ve been living with my 360 for a little while now and was able to pick-up a hard disk and a headset from Kmart while in the USA (they’re a little scarce here in the UK at the moment).

Backwards compatibility

Now I have a hard-disk I can play my old Xbox games (it died a while back). I gave Buffy: Chaos Bleeds a shot and it seemed okay apart from the unexplained slow-downs in some parts. Alas it seems about half my collection isn’t supported -Outrun 2, Shenmue 2, Buffy (original), Soul Calibur 2 and Headhunter: Redemption. I can however play KOTOR, NFSU2 and Fable apparently.

All these games are now supported, thanks guys!

Gamer cards

The gamer card system is pretty cool, mine is shown here;

Basically everybody you play against on-line has something like this and you can see what games they have and what achievements they have met. You can also review a user if they were good or bad which affects whether the live system will put you with them again. If a number of people review you good or bad, it affects your star rating with 5 stars being an all-round nice guy I gather.

Dashboard

The dashboard that I found so cool to start with is leading to a number of annoyances. The first is content management – it can be confusing to locate items you have downloaded or if you just want to delete/transfer stuff between hard disk and memory card. Basically it could do with two lists – what’s available to download and what you have on your disk – each with a filter of content types (music/video/games).

Another major niggle is the downloading which seems to occasionally abort mid-download with no automatic retry and also the fact that it ties your whole 360 up while downloading something. Rumor has it that background downloading has an outside chance of turning up on the next dashboard update.

Xbox Live Arcade

The live arcade consists of small downloadable games you can buy for “credits” which cost real money. By using credits MS think you won’t notice how much you spend? Anyway, I’ve tried a few…

Gauntlet

One of my childhood favorites marginally enhanced to improve the text readability and allow 4 player on-line gaming. This should be good fun but it is marred by a few issues. The first is the multi player game suffers major lag problems. Secondly you only get 700 health points per level – hard work when constantly teamed with people who don’t know what they’re doing. The final issue is that diagonals and avoiding objects are trickier unless my memory is rose tinted.

Quite why the developers chose to do Gauntlet and not the superior Gauntlet 2 I’m not sure. With Gauntlet one of the top sellers on arcade at the moment no doubt we’ll see the sequel soon.

Hexic HD

This game came pre-installed on the hard disk and is very similar to Bejewelled 2 in that you have various colored pieces that need to touch to explode and be replaced by more pieces. They are both kinda fun but rather slow to get going and the only on-line interaction is a leader board and achievements. There is no head to head mode – a missed opportunity indeed.

Voice communication

The headset is quite comfortable although covers one ear effectively killing off your stereo/5.1/7.1 surround systems in one clean swipe. It’ll no doubt be putting a drain on the battery in the wireless controller too.

Speech quality is variable. In PGR3 I’m normally paired with other Brits – often northern guys who laugh for the duration although not always at my PGR3 skills. Gauntlet on the other hand seems to consist of broken speech with young American boys and possibly girls – it’s hard to tell the difference.

[)amien

Xbox 360 – first impressions

As previously blogged I got my hands on a Xbox 360 Core package just before Christmas – and yes I know the Premium is better and if one of those was available at the time I would have brought one. For now this must suffice…

Packaging

The 360 core is packaged in a surprisingly heavy bright green box that draws enough attention at airports and towns when not serving as a make-shift seat. Inside are the curvy 360, the chunky power supply, a wired controller, a basic composite-video only cable with separate SCART converter and a couple of manuals. Surprisingly no demo disk is included and the box handle can detach rather easily when not digging into your skin. 7/10

Dashboard

The dashboard lets you play movies, mp3’s off your iPod or hard-disk, download live content, chat to your friends and see what they’re up to etc. It’s pretty good although some of the functions are a little bit too tucked away. 8/10

Controllers

The core comes supplied with a single wired controller (the Premium has two wireless ones) but I picked up a wireless one. Initially they feel comfortable when navigating menus and playing driving games however a quick bash on the Kong demo left my hands aching. The way the wireless controller quickly finds the 360 which doesn’t need ugly wireless modules dangling out of the front is a bonus. 8/10

Project Gotham 3 Racing

It’s clear this title is pushing a lot of polygons and runs smooth… the problem is the graphics look neither realistic (Gran Turismo) or stylized (Need for Speed). Instead the game actually looks like an arcade game and so keeps you at arms length immersion-wise. The detail in the car is impressive – especially if you take the realistic sitting-in-the-car view where you can watch your driver steer and shift as you wrestle with the controller. The crowds look impressive too, as is the live interaction which includes various rankings, an on-line career and a variety of race modes.

The main problem with PGR3 is the depth. It boasts a little over 70 cars and they’ve all been chosen for being 170mph+, a far cry from the 700+ models in Gran Turismo 4 which boasted old, new and concepts together so you could try out your real life car against a Skyline for a laugh. The result in PGR3 is that every on-line race seems to consist of 5 of the 8 players having identical red Ferrari F50 GTs – the car the game denotes as the number 1. Thankfully many online players can’t handle it for toffee and my little DBR9 slips though to the podium.

The final problem with PGR3 is the car’s physics. They don’t behave how you might expect, lending more credence to the whole “it’s an arcade-racer with a career mode” argument. I can understand how Xbox owners who’ve never touched Gran Turismo might be impressed but GT3 offered depth and play-ability that put this to shame.

Single player score… 6/10… multi player 7/10.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

The NFS series eschews the strict racer ethic of PGR and gives you a city to roam around in, cars to tune and rework, police chases, road blocks, destroyable scenery and a whole host of race modes varying from simple sprints to checkpoints, speed checks and drag mode.

The graphics are rather beautiful and stylized, it’s a deep autumn and the action never really ends. Some of the races start to get a little long even before you are too deep into the title but you can always just mess around in the city and do something else.

My only complains would be that after Underground the selection of car modifications is a little thin although the new ultra-reflective paintwork and the deep engine roars go some way to address this. The on-line modes exist and can be quite fun too. Overall 7/10.

Conclusion

Looking at the current launch titles doesn’t inspire the desire to purchase. Microsoft have managed to hype the console itself up enough to sell what they can make purely on it’s technical specifications but the Japanese aren’t fooled and are waiting for something they want to play.

It is interesting to note that the biggest selling console at the moment is the Nintendo DS, not because its specifications are the best but because games such as Nintendogs and Wario World are fun and different.

I wonder how long Sony and Microsoft can push games that are simply what you played last year but with better graphics?

[)amien

The hunt for a PSP in time for Christmas

My little brother just decided he’d like to merge his November birthday present and his Christmas presents in the hope I’d get him a Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP).

The hunt

I decided to beat the seasonal rush and get one now and checked out my usual on-line suppliers of merchandise… Amazon, out of stock despite their Google advert claiming otherwise, Play and MX2 out of stock (Play now have it back in stock for £179.99 including Donnie Darko UMD). A few other stores I’d not used were also out of stock or rather vague on the whole issue.

I hit our main town known as St. Peter Port – or just “Town” – and found that Woolworth had sold their last one today, Guernsey Computers had a waiting list that would probably be two weeks at best, Gruts had a head-shake and a shrug. Number 19, known for it’s overpricing policy and twangy curry smell, had decided to sell grey Japanese import models for a whopping £179.99 (bear in mind we don’t have VAT here….) This is the same place that last week had Red Dwarf VII for £21.99… while Woolworth had it for £13.99 – a 57% mark-up over another shops retail price!

A quick trip to the secondary town area known as The Bridge led me to Southside Computers and NSEW (formerly PC Island) which yielded similar useless responses.

One might wonder if these stores are not capable of putting an “out of stock” notice over their huge piles of empty Sony PSP Value pack display boxes that adorn their window displays.

I recalled that The Bridge is home to a smaller less well known store called Big Byte. They deal with the usual gaming gear as well as a sizable retro and used section and so I headed there.

Here a PSP Value pack, genuine UK edition set me back just £145.99, in-stock there and then. They also have a deal where you get two games for an extra £30 bringing it to £174.99 (these two games are listed at £29.99 each on Play).

They’ve still got a few PSPs left as I type this and are expecting a few more in but I don’t believe they do mail order so Guernsey residents only. Call them on 01481 240444 – they are opposite where Microgames used to be.

Intentional stock shortages?

All this lead me to wonder what Sony is playing at. I can only imagine the problem with consoles and the manufacturer subsidizing the cost of the system is that they don’t want to sell too many at Christmas. Perhaps it’s a hit on their accounts or maybe the slightly disinterested receiver of such a gift doesn’t pay back the cost of the console buy purchasing a few games.

This probably explains why Sony is offering the current “Giga packs” which seem to be much more readily available for £265 (ex VAT) and include the PSP value pack contents, two games , a USB cable and a 1GB memory stick. The price of these components individually comes to £280 (ex VAT) hardly much of a saving but then this isn’t about giving you a good deal it’s about Sony minimizing that subsidy by ensuring you buy some products with a positive profit margin.

Subsidizing the console is a pretty standard affair, the Xbox360 is loaded to the hilt with the latest techniques to prevent you from running anything unapproved.. or more specifically not helping Microsoft claw back their massive per-unit hit. Sony’s PSP has been bypassed a couple of times, the latest technique allowing you to downgrade the 2.0 internal software back to exploitable 1.50 so you can run third party games and tools.

This can be a bit of a pain with some titles such as requiring 2.0 software. I’m only actually interested in one piece of third party software, ScummVM, which lets me run my favorite old point-and-click adventures on lots of hardware and as of v0.8.0 that list includes 2.0’ed PSPs :)

The whole concept is in total contrast to the mobile phone market where the networks subsidize the price of the phone and the manufacturers (including Sony) are clambering to make it as easy as pie for anyone to develop for their phone going so far as to provide tool kits and samples to do so.

Maybe Sony and Microsoft should satisfy the geeks among us with non-subsidized versions of the consoles that will happily run unsigned code as well as the legal stuff. Sony have done something similar with the hobby-developer PS1 Net Yaroze and the Linux kit for the PS2.

Now that would be a nice Christmas gift…

[)amien

Fahrenheit & The Movies

It’s been quiet here of late and while I did want to post I didn’t have anything ready nor did I want some whining apology with no content.

For the last few weeks I’ve been a recluse getting my Open University TM427 project wrapped up and delivered and now that’s out the way I’ve been kicking back and relaxing with a few games and a bit of retro computing.

Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy)

A murder takes place within the confides of a small wash room in a down town American diner and you are left holding the knife very unsure as to what just took place. And so begins the start of a point-and-click adventure affair interspersed with sections where you need to hit buttons rapidly as they are shown. Your actions, while not throwing the story much off it’s linear path, are at least reflected upon and determine dialogue and actions available later in the story.

From the forums and hype you’d believe that French studio QuantricDream has created a whole new genre, and you’d be quite wrong. We’ve had adventure games with much more freedom in the past – even in 3D – check out industry legend Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece Shenmue for something similar but much larger in scope and execution.

Where Fahrenheit does score highly is in the storytelling and atmosphere – taking control of multiple opposing people within the same story is just icing on the cake. The story leads through a few emotionally and physically charged pieces story telling more adult in nature than the standard affair, no doubt contributing to the 15+ rating on the box.

The experience is refreshingly much shorter than the 35+ hour fest that the gaming industry insists on pushing onto us for plot-driven games. With game production costs now getting out of hand it would make sense to produce shorter games for less money. This would surely allow companies to better absorb the cost of a flop here and there too.

David Cage, the Frenchman behind this little escapade, has already stated there is a sequel in the works. Here’s hoping they concentrate more on the game’s content itself by dropping their own inferior game engine in favor of something like Source or Max Payne 2’s… Then we’d be able to experience decent sized levels you can actually interact with.

The Movies

I’ve been waiting for this one since legend Peter Molyneux started talking about it in interviews. Taking the same principles as Sim Hospital and Theme Park it sees you operating a Hollywood style film studio and lets you go down as far as editing the shooting scripts and even lets you export your movies out to put online.

Initially the game was quite fun, setting up in the usual fashion of introducing you a few concepts and buildings at a time but within about 8 hours of game-play things had gone awry.

The main problem, and one that is common to this genre, is that there is no way of delegating control of the aspects the player isn’t interested in or become repetitive over to the AI. Soon you find yourself clearing up litter and dragging individuals around to do the job they were employed to do (perhaps it was the quality of the staff I employed but frankly I had to employ everyone the game threw at me just to meet the positions I had. I could still have done with many more).

Perhaps I could live with that if it weren’t for the fact that the game simply moved at such as pace there was barely time to do anything. Inventions and scenes were flying out faster than I could get them in scripts and award ceremonies were coming up before I’d had even chance to dress my stars in attire suitable for the decade.

I guess that’s another disappointment from Peter – Fable had so much promise too. While features were dropped it had me hooked with the opening scene showing the mysterious abduction of a loved one. The game then proceeds to send you on unrelated trivial exercises that do nothing to advance said plot. Attention lost, game consigned to the dusty drawers.

[)amien