Saturday, 28 September 2013

Steamy Palms

Valve’s final announcement of the week was, as expected, the unveiling of the prototype Steam Controller.

The most obvious deviation from current controllers is the lack of dual-analogue sticks on the unit. Replacing these are twin trackpads (Think of your laptop) with unique haptic feedback technology, which allow for games traditionally dependant on mouse input to work seamlessly. RTS and other games heavily based on the use of a mouse should now be much easier to control with this pad.

The haptic feedback built into the trackpads, which are also clickable, allow the user to feel various textures and other physical sensations through their fingers. It’s something extremely difficult to describe without actually experiencing it yourself, but by all accounts works extremely well.

In the centre is a touchscreen which will allow an infinite number of button combinations to be displayed, as well as game specific information (Maps, inventories etc) once developers start integrating it into their titles.

It’s just in the prototype phase at this point and will be included with every beta unit sent out, presumably to be tested as much as the Steam Machine and OS. They will also be available seperately when launched next year.

As always, more information can be found here.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

No it’s not an Iron or a fancy Mop

As expected, Valve today officially announced the development of Steam Machines, the set of dedicated PC systems designed to run SteamOS.

SteamOS, which I talked more about on Monday, will be the Linux based operating system which allows you to play your PC games on your living room TV (Or any TV for that matter) in a simple and easy manner.

Several hardware partners are already developing systems which will be available to the public at some point next year. Gamers will be able to purchase a system to suit their needs and budget, while retaining the ability to upgrade the hardware as they see fit.

In the meantime Valve have developed their own prototype hardware to run SteamOS and have 300 beta kits up for grabs to Steam users. Anyone interested in being considered for one of these kits should follow the instructions here.

Steam Machines will not look like this. Probably.

While I am very happy to see Valve taking this route I do wonder how the general public will look upon the various versions of Steam Machine that will be available. One of the main advantages of consoles over PC is that “It just works” out of the box. You don’t need to worry about the spec of the system, or upgrading it a few years down the line. I’m sure it’s something Valve will have considered and they’ll have multiple options when it comes to this.

Fridays announcement also seems to be related to controller options. Presumably the gamepad for SteamOS/Steam Machines and news on how Mouse and Keyboard will integrate. Some rumours are pointing to a possible Left 4 Dead 3 unveil with some wild speculation even going as far as saying SteamOS may even support the upcoming Oculus Rift VR system.

As before I’ll post more as I hear it.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

All Aboard The Steam Train!

Continuing their ever-onward march to world conquest, PC developer and digital-download pioneers Valve have just announced the upcoming release of SteamOS.

SteamOS is to be Valve’s first major push into the living room space currently dominated by Xbox and PlayStation, and is one of three announcements promised for this week. The others are certain to include the oft-rumoured, but never seen, “Steambox” and one other surprise which many are hoping will be the announcement of the most anticipated PC game of all time. Half-Life 3.

I’ll cover those announcements as and when they happen but for now I want to talk a little about SteamOS.

As a highly customised version of the Linux operating system, it is designed to run on a dedicated living room PC, and will offer an experience similar to a home console. Friends lists, web browsing, etc. Not to mention all the features they’ve not talked about yet.

So why should you bother? What will Valve offer that you can’t find on PlayStation or Xbox? What are the potential hiccups and obstacles in their way?

Both SteamOS and standard Steam have a number of key plus points. The first, and arguably the most important of these is variety and pricing of games.

The value for money and sheer size of the Steam catalogue is astounding. There are games dating back over many years, at mostly reasonable prices. Almost every major multiplatform title (With the exception of EA games) is available and usually at a lower price than its console cousins. The legendary Steam sales offer tremendous numbers of games at massive discounts. Even when a sale isn’t on, you can often find “Steam Keys” available from other online retailers at a lower price than Steam itself (These let you add the game to your Steam account). It creates a healthy market where competition is encouraged, resulting in great deals for gamers who shop around.

So SteamOS comes with a vast library of PC games, past and present, at your disposal. If you already have a Steam account every one of those games you own will be available, in some form (More on that in a minute) through the system. Unlike PS3 and Xbox 360 you won’t lose all your purchased downloadable titles when you move to a newer model.

However it’s not all perfect. One issue is that SteamOS itself is based on Linux and not Windows. This means that all the games on Steam that currently have a Linux version available will run just fine on SteamOS. However anything else will not run on the system. To get around this you have the option to stream from another PC in your home to the SteamOS. So you could have one dedicated gaming PC in another room and still play your games in the living room. It’s not the most elegant solution, but until Linux ports of games become common it’s going to have to do.

But for me, the main stumbling block is that many PC games just aren’t suited to TV and controllers. Mouse and Keyboard has been the standard control scheme for PC since the eighties. FPS on PC are mostly tweaked to take advantage over the greater degree of accuracy and speed it offers over a traditional gamepad. Real-Time-Strategy titles like StarCraft, Company of Heroes and the Total War series just do not work with a controller. It’s not a massive problem, as most games today offer support for pads, especially the Xbox 360 controller, but there will be games that will not play well on anything other than a mouse and keyboard.

But it’s still early days. It’s a great experiment from Valve and one that could create a viable alternative to Xbox One and PS4 in the next couple of years. I personally cannot wait to see how it pans out.

For those curious about PC gaming in general you can’t really go wrong with downloading the Steam client and having a look at the store. Many games have demo versions and there are even several Free-To-Play titles such as Star Trek Online and the ever popular Team Fortress 2.

To see the announcement for SteamOS, with more details, then visit this link:

Join me on Wednesday night for some discussion about the next announcement.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Humble Pie – Nom nom nom

It’s that wonderful time again. The time when the lovely people over at the Humble Bundle provide us all with a delicious sampling of gaming goodness.
For those with no idea what I’m talking about it’s all very simple.
The Humble Bundle consists of 4-5 games and the customer chooses how much they want to pay for them. You can be as generous, or as miserly as you wish. Fancy getting all these games for the princely sum of 1 pence. You can do that. Alternatively if you’ve woken up like Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas morning you can go as high as you like.
The money taken in is split between charity, the developer and the people at Humble Bundle themselves. As with the amount you pay, you can decide exactly who gets what from your donation. Give it all to charity, split it evenly or cut out someone altogether.
Steam keys (Allowing you to activate the game on your account there) are given for donations over a dollar, and if you spend more than the average price which is usually only around 5 dollars, you get some added extras such as additional games, soundtracks, artwork and more.
So these games must all be pretty poor if they’re practically giving them away. Well not really.
The current bundle consists:
  • Trine 2
  • Mark of the Ninja
  • Eets Munchies Beta
  • Brutal Legend
That’s just the basic bundle as well. Pay over the average and you’ll also receive Indie hits Fez and FTL: Faster Than Light.
Just a few weeks ago behemoth publisher EA had their own bundle on the site, giving access to some of their recent AAA titles such as Battlefield 3, Dead Space 3, Sims 3 and Need For Speed: Underground with ALL the proceeds going to charity.
It’s a great, cheap way to add to your library as well as give yourself a warm fuzzy feeling at having done something good.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Remastered, Remixed and Refined – 3 Platform games you should probably play


There’s a lot to be said for the humble platform game. In a world where the biggest selling titles are military based shooters and crime epics, it’s almost hard to believe that the most iconic games character of all time is a short, fat plumber with a porno-tache who jumps on turtles and guzzles magic mushrooms. Super Mario Bros laid down the template for just about every platform game that has followed in the last twenty-eight years.

Three of the most recent platformers to come out follow slightly different takes on that template.

Any child who had access to a NES system in the early 90s almost certainly would have played a certain Capcom title based on a popular Disney cartoon with a catchy theme tune.

1,2,3…. DuckTales AWOOHOO!

Colourful, well designed and punishing at the same time. DuckTales was one of the NES most iconic platformers. In development for the past two years DuckTales: Remastered is a very faithful remake of the original title, with only a handful of changes and concessions to modern players.

The most striking change of course is in the presentation. Replacing the originals sprites with the hand-drawn HD versions you see above makes the game look, and indeed move, like the cartoon did. Scrooge still runs, jumps and pogos his way around the five diverse areas, but this time a bit of storyline has been grafted onto the skeleton to give some context for visiting Transylvania and the Moon. Every character is fully voice-acted, often by the original actor from the show, lending the game a fantastic air of authenticity.

The levels themselves are mostly kept as they were. Each one remains a 2D plane, but now has some superb 3D backgrounds to give the environments a bit character and life of their own. There’s also some new areas added in the form of a tutorial and a new level leading up to the final boss.

For those who remember the original it’s a fine piece of nostalgia, but younger players may find that it’s not quite to their liking.

But DuckTales isn’t the only classic Disney platformer to be getting a revamp. While the NES had DuckTales, the Mega Drive would play host to Disney’s superstar mouse in one of the systems early big titles.

Is Minnie really worth all this effort. Really?

The team behind the remake of Castle Of Illusion have taken the fundamentals of the original classic and given them a wonderful polish. Mickey retains his floaty jump as he bounces through the many levels to reclaim the Rainbow Gems from the evil witch Mizrabel and rescue Minnie.

Where DuckTales: Remastered settled for a straight remake, with almost exact level layouts recreated, Castle Of Illusion instead remixes the whole thing. The Castle itself is now explorable, with it’s own secrets to discover as you journey from world to world. Each level, follows the themes, enemies and basic style of the original but are otherwise completely new takes on the established areas.

There are new sections where Mickey can move freely in any direction and the transition from strict 2D movement to 3D is achieved almost seamlessly. The 3D movement is most obvious outwith the main levels, as you explore the Castle itself, bringing to mind some favourable comparisons with the seminal Super Mario 64.

All in all it’s a good fun game, with a healthy dose of that feel good Disney magic in it.

If there’s one other series of platform games, besides Mario, that has it’s own special magic to it, then it would have the Rayman games.

Whoever is playing this sucks. Either that or he was getting some really weird slowdown. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it.

The only all new game of the three, Rayman Legends is the follow up to 2011s Rayman Origins. Tasked with rescuing as many Teenies as possible, Rayman has to make his way through several themed worlds fighting Toadmen, Undead Mexican Skeletons and other weird creatures.

Rayman has always been a series I’ve admired from a distance but never really spent any proper time with. But Legends has certainly gotten my attention over the past few weeks. Everything about it oozes polish. The artwork is gorgeous, the animation smooth and the music just has to be heard.

Each world consists of eight levels or so, with a Boss level and a Musical “escape” level at the end. The basic levels are all well designed with sneakily hidden secret areas to find, most of which lead to captured Teenies. But the stars of the game for me are the Musical levels found at the end of each world. While none of them quite reach the level of awesome set by the very first one, each and every one is a delight to play. I’ve replayed several of them multiple times simply because they’re such good fun. Rayman must run, jump, kick and punch his way to the end, all in time with the music. Watch the video above for an idea of what I’m talking about.

Rayman himself handles perfectly. The controls are nice and tight, making it very easy to put him where you want when you want him. Of the many times I’ve died I’ve not once been able to blame the controls.

Being a Ubisoft game it also features a very european sense of humour and it’s often left me smirking at it’s wit and charm.

I don’t want to go on much more, but I’m more than confident to put Rayman Legends right up there with the best 2D platform games of all time.

So there you go. Three great games, each with a different take on the classic genre done in a modern way. All three are out now on all the major systems, although Rayman is the only retail release of the three.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Comments welcome!

Someone mentioned to me today that they'd had trouble posting a comment as they didn't have any form of google or blogger account. Having looked into it I've tweaked the settings so that anyone can comment! Please let me know what you think!

Fear Itself

NOTE: The youtube clips posted may contain swearing so might be best to wear headphones or turn the sound down. There is also definitely screaming and loud noises.

Those of you who've ever listened to me babble on about games in real life will very possibly have heard me mention my feelings on "scary" games.

I don't like them.

That's not to say I don't appreciate them, far from it. Many of them are excellent games, I'll just never play them as I don't like to be scared. Which puts me in a bit of a situation, as I'm sure if I could get over my inherent dislike of things going "boo" I would find some truly fantastic games to play.

Games like 2010's Amnesia: The Dark Descent. There you find yourself unarmed, as you tend to be in a lot of modern horror games, making your way through dank, unlit cellars and rooms with only a lantern to guide you. You solve puzzles and basically try and escape from the unspeakable terrors that pursue you.

Just a teaser of what Amnesia will do to you.

To look at a still screenshot of Amnesia tells you nothing about what the game is like. You have to play it, or at least watch someone else play it, to have any idea of what to expect. 

Amnesia, as I mentioned earlier, makes use of one key element to creating fear. You have no weapons and no way of fighting back against the monsters you face. It's an simple, yet clever piece of design. In an entertainment medium that is so often dedicated to empowering the player and giving them the tools to deal with anything the game throws at them, to have that stripped away is quite disconcerting. It's a simple way to induce fear and it's being utilized more and more often.

The sequel, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, is the next title in the series and is due for release today on PC. 

I find that mostly it's the idea of being scared that puts me off. Slender, based on the prevalent "Slender-Man" character was one of those rare horror games I actually downloaded and played (for two minutes) before retreating to Youtube again to watch other people lose their minds. 

Not creepy in the slightest. No siree.....

If the idea of walking through a dark forest at night, collecting bits of paper before turning around to find a 7 foot tall man with no face and elongated arms less than a meter away appeals to you then you can find the most recent version of Slender here:

One small piece of hope I find though is that I've finally gotten over my Resident Evil aversion. I've found the most recent title, RE: Revelations to be highly enjoyable and very bearable for my low-fear threshold. That said Resident Evil hasn't been true Horror in a long time but that's an entry for another time.

I'm glad I find games terrifying though. Movies, TV and books haven't given me a truly good scare in a long time so it's nice that there's something that can.

Sleep well.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Independence - Yes or No

Living in Scotland, the Independence debate is raging on at the moment. With a referendum due next September, people are starting to pick their sides and everyone is being asked their opinion.

Fuck that, this is a games blog.

I've been playing a few indie games recently. More so than usual anyway. The first one came out last month and was a title I'd waited for since I first read about it last year.

Gone Home, as I'm sure many of you know (If indeed there are any of you. I'm still sure I'm the only one who reads this stuff), is a game about nosing around a house, rifling through drawers and cupboards, reading other peoples mail and generally throwing the notion of other peoples "privacy" into the bin. And by God is it good. The only real problem with it is how to talk about it without spoiling the experience. You see Gone Home is a game about discovery, and not just in the "Ah-ha! I found the key!" sense. To talk about the game is to take away some of that discovery. Some of that mystery. So in the broadest possible terms here is what Gone Home is about.

You return from a year-long trip abroad to find your family home empty. No parents, no little sister. The aim of the game is to find out what has happened while you were away and where your family has gone. That's it.

You find yourself walking from room to room, looking for those hints which all add up to create a better picture of what's been happening. But it's the subtlety of those hints which impresses. At no-point is anything spelt out for you as you wander the corridors and rooms. There are occasional voice-overs from your Sister, who is at the center of the "main" story, but excluding the very end of the game you are left to piece it all together in your head. So as I said before, you find yourself reading letters and diary entries, opening cupboards and looking under the bed.

The atmosphere in the game is just incredible too. You're new to this house so everything is unfamiliar to you. There's a storm raging outside. The house is old and prone to creaking and thumping. Your own mind begins to convince you that at some point the game is going to abandon its realistic tone and suddenly you'll be confronted by something. The game itself even panders to that fear, so much so that right up until the end I wasn't sure if it would. It manages to create an unease in you, which only disappeared for me at the end, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Setting the game in the mid-nineties also allows a certain level of nostalgia to creep in for players of my age. For example there are numerous cassettes dotted around that can all be played, which feature bands from the 90s. Someone in the house is an avid fan of the X-Files it seems, from the number of VHS tapes found in the living room.

It's the smaller details that help create that bigger, more vibrant story in your mind. There are rooms associated with one character in particular, which all seem to have at least one almost empty bottle of Whiskey somewhere, none of which are highlighted or have your attention drawn to them any more than anything else. You could very easily play the whole game and never even notice them, but those who take their time to explore and take it all in will be very well rewarded.

But it astounded me just how much I felt I knew these characters through nothing more than what I found in the course of the game. It's through this fantastic writing and slow exposure to who and what they are that made them more realistic people. These aren't video game characters at all. They're just a family, with the same problems, quirks and nuances as any other in the world. Each of them has a story for you to discover and each of them has an ending.

This is not a long game at all. I finished my playthrough in about three to four hours, but I was taking my time with it. I dare say if you were to rush through it you could perhaps do it in an hour or less, but you would be robbing yourself of a truly fantastic experience. Take your time and absorb it all.

This is now my go to game for people who've never played a game. It's intelligent, thought provoking and genuinely mature. I would encourage my mother to play this game. Hell I'd encourage my grandmother to play this game.

It's the kind of game that re-affirms my love of gaming. That not everything has to be a huge budget console title with a cinematic score, shouty Space-Marines and 1080p 60FPS at a price of £50.

Try Gone Home. It's available from the games website and is well worth the $19 you'll pay for it.

So yes I am very pro-indie at the moment. If it means more innovative, truly interesting titles like Gone Home are out there alongside the big budget titles then it can only be a good thing. Imagine a world where there were no indie films like Reservoir Dogs, only Michael Bay films............ Oh god.

What's the deal then?

So this is the first post on my blog. I guess that tradition dictates that I talk about what my plans are for the site and what you can expect to be reading.

Well my aim is to try and post something at least once a week. As you may have guessed from the title I'll be talking video and computer games. Now I'm primarily a PC gamer at this point in time so you'll find lots of talk about Indie-games, awesome mods for established titles and probably more than a little about how fantastic PC games in the 90s were (God I love Doom).

That's not to say there won't be any console talk. With new home consoles due in the next few months and all the games that go with them, I'll be chipping in with my two cents worth on them as and when I have something to say.

Expect reviews as well, though I'll be following the template of the absolutely superb Rock, Paper, Shotgun and not giving a score. I think it's more important that readers get an idea from what I write, instead of some arbitrary number at the bottom of a page.

Depending on how this goes on I'll try and have some video clips for you guys as well but that's for the future.

So I hope everyone who reads the page enjoys what I have for them. If anyone has any questions, comments or suggestions feel free to comment or email me and I'll take a look (I know I suck so we can save ourselves some time by not telling me).