I’ve been beavering away on my other blog over the last fortnight, only permitting myself the odd hour or so for gaming. I’m still ducking into Halo: Reach on a daily basis, racking up cRedits while I can; I’ve just cracked into the Eclipse rank, with over eight-and-a-half million cRedits earned. Well over a third of the way there, and I’m still learning new techniques to further speed up the acquisition. And it is still, of course, a great game to play :)

Halo begets Halo, of course, and – despite being distracted by the upcoming Festival season – I’m still mindful of my lingering desire to get at least one game a month off The List. With that in mind, I looked at the remaining effort required to polish off Halo: Anniversary: a couple of tricky Achievements, and solo & co-op Legendary playthroughs.

The Legendary playthroughs are nowhere near as daunting as they were back-in-the-day; with the advent of the Bandanna Skull and its infinite ammo capability, grenade spamming takes a fair chunk of the challenge out of it. But some of the Achievements looked a little trickier; The Library on Heroic without dying? The Library in less than 30 minutes on Legendary?

So off I went: grenade spamming my way through The Library netted the “no death” cheevo pretty quickly. The speedrun, on the other hand, took a bit more effort… and grenade jumps. A couple of key grenade jumps. But a lazy Sunday afternoon (after I’d got some writing out of the way!) saw them both knocked off without too much trouble.

A couple more Achievements (on the Keyes level) popped, but right now I’m feeling a bit guilty; I probably played a bit too much today (after all, there’s still about 28 posts left to write on the other blog), and I’ve still got fifteen levels to play through on Legendary before Anniversary is off The List. It’s not going to be a January game.

…but I pretty much knew that already. Last week, feeling a little bit desperate (even though only halfway through the month), I looked at one of my other Lists – the Things To Buy List. My objective? Something new that I already wanted that I could finish by the end of the month.

Solution: PAC-MAN Championship Edition DX.

What a bloody awesome game. As much as I loved the first Championship Edition, DX renders it absolutely obsolete with a ruleset that never fails to delight. There’s nothing like getting a 60+ ghost combo going, audio pitches going up as you urgently seek another power pill to stretch your combo even further. My HORI Stick (or one like it – mine, a much older model, lacks the turbo functionality) got a great workout as I pushed through all the Achievements in a couple of hours over two nights; another couple of nights saw me get an overall A-Rank on all maps, my personal completion requirement. A little more play to better a few key Friends, and I was done.

Finally, I had a little mojo lull a couple of days ago; rather than start something new (my standard response to any attack of the glums is to spend money), I decided to fire up an old friend: Rez. And I will state, here and now, that Area 1 is one of my most cherished gaming experiences; I love it ever-so-much, I really do. Most other Rez-fans will wax lyrical about Area 5, and I can understand that; but Area 1 is so beautiful, the music so joyous, the audio punches so perfect, that for me… well, it’s beyond compare.

That thought made me dig up my Rez (Part 1) post… which was made almost four years ago. So much has changed since then: the SO has since departed, and – rather than play on my old 23-inch widescreen monitor – this week I was playing on a 52-inch monster screen… with a decent sound system. As I played through it again in the dark, quite possibly annoying the neighbours with the bass-beat, I fell in love with Rez all over again.

In fact, there’s a task to the handful of you that read this: go play Rez. Area 1 if you like, Area 4 is a blinder too, Area 5 if you want the majesty. And if you don’t already own Rez? Well, you’ve got a shopping trip to do (to XBLA, or off to eBay for some PS2 or Dreamcast Rezzing). Go on; you won’t regret it.

My 2012 Gaming Resolutions

So… Gaming Resolutions, eh? These are rapidly becoming a bit of a joke with me.

Every year I present a collection of commitments, any of which in isolation look completely manageable, and every year I fail to satisfy those commitments. Every year, I plan to pare The List down, and every year it is merely whittled.

And, more to the point, every year I feel myself drifting further away from the mainstream gamer. As I write this, I’m listening to Giant Bomb’s 2011 Deliberations, and I’ve played precisely zero of their Top Ten. True, I want to play Saints Row: The Third, Bastion, and Portal 2, and they’ll undoubtedly be picked up next year, but still… none of them.

With that in mind, let’s have a look at last year’s Resolutions…

…to leave 2011 with The List pared back to 50. No shit. I’ve just pulled that number out of my arse, and I’m sticking to it.

Verdict: Fail. The List currently sits at 67. So that’s actually a Big Fail.

…to keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. Again. Last year’s goal of 50% was completely reasonable, yet I missed it. Try harder!

Verdict: Thirteen new games appeared this year; seven of those were off The List by year’s end. Success!

…to make an impact on every platform. Again. But do it this time!

Verdict: Fail fail faility fail. The only platforms that were touched were the Wii (and I only just scraped that in), 360, PS3, and DS. Sounds like a comprehensive FAIL.

…to clear up some of the doubles. This will feed in nicely to the pruning of The List indicated above; after all, I’ve got two copies of No More Heroes 2. Three copies of Jet Set Radio! Two copies of Ikaruga… ummm, let’s not fret about that one too much ;)

Verdict: Gimme an “F”. Gimme an “A”. Gimme an “I”. Gimme an “L”. What does it spell? petee.

…to clear up some of the lingering 360 titles. There’s a bunch of games in which I’ve acquired all the Achievements, but haven’t crossed off The List. Ninety-Nine Nights needs a bit of OCD collection lovin’, Rez needs some 100% levels. Let’s get some of those wrapped up, yeah?

Verdict: What starts with “F”, and sounds like “tail”? That’s right – me.

Clearly, 2011 was outright shithouse in terms of Resolution adherence. So what do I do – choose more resolutions that look attainable, then dismally fail yet again? Or do I pare down expectations somewhat?

Let’s find out…

In 2012, I resolve…

  • …to leave 2012 with The List pared back to… 64. Yep, the same target as two years ago. Soft, but – on previous efforts – pretty unlikely.
  • …to (still) keep on top of stuff obtained through the year. 50% is fine, since it means that some of the back catalogue is getting wrapped up.
  • …to knock Perfect Dark Zero, Skyward Sword, Uncharted 2, and Halo: Anniversary off The List.
  • …to beat Luxor 2‘s Normal skill level.
  • …to make some inroads on both WipEout HD and F-Zero GX. Racing ahoy!
  • …to clear up some of the lingering 360 titles… fo’ real this time. Ninety-Nine Nights, Rez, Shadow Complex.
  • …to break at least 500 GS in Child of Eden.
  • …to play something new; something outside the stuff I know I like. To take a risk!

So there you have it – my targets for the next year. Fewer broad sweeping statements, and more focus on the current generations (because there’s a technological change a-comin’, kids).

And, cut’n’pasting a line from previous years… What are your Gaming Resolutions for 2012?

Teaching the Young’uns (Part 1)

After last week’s burnout missive, there’s precious little to report this week; despite the suggestions (some reasonable, some barbaric) that were proposed, I’m no closer to deciding on my next major gaming focus. Between cheap Reach Daily Challenge sniping, I took a lot of the suggestions to heart: I gave Geometry Wars^2 another couple of bashes (I seem to be getting worse with every attempt), I fired up Ikaruga for the first time in aeons (blimey, I need to work on my dexterity – and vision), and gave Shadows of the Damned another run (and gave up in scaredy-pants fear after two checkpoints. And I’m still in Act 2!)

My nephew – who knows little other than his blinkered world of gaming – dropped by with his father on Friday night, and – as usual – asked if he could play something. Now, I’m a real stick-in-the-mud of an uncle: he’s only eleven, and I’m very careful about what I will let him play. I’ve admonished him loudly about buying games like inFAMOUS for his PS3 (and then chastised his parents); while he maintains that he doesn’t like “shooting games”, and attempts to project himself as an angel as a result, he had no qualms whatsoever about running around as Evil Cole, electrocuting civilians with abandon. I asked why he never took the “good” option; his response was that he was just chasing the better weapons.

But I’m not going to moralise right now; instead, I’ll just recount what happens when he asks if he can play a game.

Once upon a time, it was simple: I’d just fire up the Wii. I was happy for him to play nearly anything on my Wii (No More Heroes excepted, of course), and he was happy to do so, even going so far as to carry a number of his own games around with him any time he thought there was going to be a Wii in the vicinity. Since his mother bought him a PS3, however, all passion for the Wii has fallen by the wayside: he’s now very much a graphics hound, and the first phrase out of his mouth when evaluating any game now is usually of the form “the graphics are[n’t] very good.”

Which rankles a bit.

A brief side-story: my ex had a couple of twin nephews that we would take from their parents about once a month. Pizza and gaming we traded for their admiration; we were most definitely the cool aunt and uncle (I was introduced to some of their young school friends at a social gathering with almost mystical awe). These boys, too, originally saw little beyond the images projected on-screen; but, over time, I was able to help them see beyond the visual quality, and to look for other aspects in a game: control, storytelling, feeling. Not my nephew, though. He has resolutely sidestepped any efforts to educate, to expand the way he thinks about games. And that saddens me a lot; he’s obviously passionate about gaming (quite possibly at his health’s expense), but that passion is only skin deep. Anyway…

The Wii’s not good enough for him anymore, and the only games I’ve got on the PS3 are Uncharted, inFAMOUS, and WipEout – one of which he lacks the dedication to play, the other two I think are inappropriate for a boy his age. So we’re onto the 360 – handy, because there’s a lot of XBL Arcade games on the hard-drive that I fire up without leaving my seat (after all, I’m a lazy bugger); on the other hand, there’s not that many that I actually want to see elevated on my gamercard. That’s OK, though, since I’ve got a house profile set up… but what to play?

I’ve tried arcade re-imaginings, like Pac-Man – no interest. Too boring. Costume Quest entertained for awhile, but his habit of not reading on-screen text stymied his ability to progress: no progress, no interest (that buggered up Stacking as well). Twin-stick shooters are an abstraction too far, and I’ve even tried goading him – using the phrase “this is one of my most favorite games ever” – with Space Giraffe.

This week, though, I was at a loss. So I fired up Rez. And he hated it. While he played, I tried explaining why I loved it, but he remained mystified. “Not very good,” surmised my nephew, putting the controller down and picking up his 3DS; “it should have some boss battles.”

“You want a boss battle?” I said, snatching the controller. “Check this out.”

I chatted with my brother as I hammered through the early levels of Area 4. The child was disinterested, and I could hear the beeps and boops as he flitted through various NES-era games that he downloaded as part of the 3DS Ambassador Program. Despite my brother’s blank expression as he watched the glowing abstractions of Rez flow by, I explained why I thought Rez was such an important game – both personally, and within annals of gaming – and, despite nearly being fifty and having limited understanding of the form, I could see some words get through to him.

And then came Area 4’s boss: the Running Man. “Now this is a boss battle,” I said, and the boy looked up, half-interested. That’s when Area 4’s music picks up pace, becomes ominous… the early stages, abstract collections of cubes, almost lost him, but when the Running Man appeared with a cacophony of crashing drums, his curiosity was piqued.

“Can I have another go?” he asked. He tried Area 4, convinced he was better gamer than his uncle; he died early. But I could see some absorption: a look beyond the screen. A foot almost imperceptibly tapping with the rhythm.

Then I fired up Child of Eden.

My brother was left murmuring to himself, for the sake of his child – equal parts of “what the fuck” and “bloody hell that TV’s good.” My nephew tried to play, failed to progress very far, tried again, then asked “this is out on the PS3, isn’t it?”

“Later this year,” I said (September 23 over here).

“I might ask for this for Christmas,” he mused, eyes on the screen.

Now, I’ve no idea whether he means that, or whether he was saying what his cool uncle just wants to hear… but I’ll take that as a win.

But his education isn’t over yet, not by a long shot. I’m still waiting for him to get old enough – no, scratch that, mature enough – to start talking about games on a deeper level. I want him to be astute enough to explain why he does (or does not) like Ico without making me bite my lip in frustration. I want him to be able to win me over and get me to try something new – because, even though he knows I hate fighting games, I’m not going to change my mind and admit that the latest Tekken is awesome because it “looks cool.”

But, since I’m the games-as-presents purchaser in the family, he’s going to get Child of Eden for Christmas anyway. And I’ll (ironically) be goading him until he gets the Platinum.

Je Retourne (2011 Edition)

Ummm… hello again.

It’s with my tail firmly wedged between my legs that I return to the game-blogging world; after another massive Fringe (131 “official” shows, another handful of impromptu gigs, and nowhere near enough writing done… I’ve still got 93 shows left to write about!), there was a long period where I couldn’t face the keyboard at all. Which is proving to be a bit of a problem with work, but that’s another story.

That’s not to say that I’ve forgotten about gaming; quite the opposite. In recent years I had experienced a kind of post-Fringe malaise, a separation-anxiety after the hyper-social frivolities of my ultra-arty-month; but that didn’t really seem to be the case this year, and I hurled myself back into gaming with a vengeance. This seemed to be fuelled by the games that were released during my self-enforced gaming exile: Double Fine‘s Stacking was the first cab off the rank, followed closely by Beyond Good & Evil HD.

Double Fine games are an easy sell to me; I love Tim Schafer‘s work. Costume Quest proved that, even with his role reduced to that of an overseeing producer, the rest of the company has more than enough talent to pump out funny and focused games. Stacking proved to be a perfect sibling for Costume Quest – a short, punchy game with a distinct sense of individuality and style, backed up with an elegant sense of humour. A short late-night taster of the game turned into a six-hour session, experimenting with all the different dolls and their special abilities (the flatulent efforts managing to bring an immature smile to my face, whilst managing to somehow remain charming). It didn’t take long to explore the breadth of the game, but there was a short wait until the Lost Hobo King DLC was released in early April, and then it was crossed off The List.

The second of the March releases was Beyond Good & Evil HD. Despite having heard many raves about this game, I knew next to nothing about it – but its age was apparent from the somewhat clumsy opening. It’s a great game, though, and I managed to hammer through a pair of playthroughs in quick time before crossing that one off The List too.

So – with two new purchases quickly wrapped up, I cast my mind back to my Gaming Resolutions for 2011, and decided to tackle a game from one of the previous generations; the Chosen One was Deus Ex: Invisible War (hereafter more conveniently referred to as DX2) on the original Xbox. I adore the original Deus Ex for its wide scope and political intrigue, coupled with a solid FPS with RPG aspects and myriad possibilities. And I recall being ultra-keen on this game when I first saw the leaked opening FMV back in early 2004. And I also remember the disappointment when I first played the game, blasting through it on the easiest difficulty setting in a couple of days… before turning my back on it. A neutered ammo system, the removal of the RPG elements, and an overwhelming feeling of claustrophobic simplification all combined to leave a distasteful memory.

Hence, I returned to the game with trepidation, wary of the experience my memories recalled. And first (re-)impressions were not good; time has not been good to DX2‘s visuals, with dim and grimy textures on the tiny maps and an appalling frame-rate. But, pushing on through a playthrough on Normal (the second of four difficulty levels), I was soon immersed in a storyline that – whilst failing to even approach the sophistication of the original – was still quite satisfying. Tinkering around with biomods encouraged me to tackle levels in a creative manner, yielding enjoyable solutions where my first playthrough had been brute-force and tedious. Indeed, I found myself having fun with this much-maligned game.

I eventually reached the final “level” – a return to the opening location of the first game, where decisions can be made to yield any of the game’s four endings. But the visuals had taken their toll, and I needed a high-definition break… and, wandering through JB Hifi to find a present for my nephew’s birthday, I discovered the perfect antidote: Just Cause 2, which had languished on my “To Buy” List since its release nearly a year ago. A 20%-off sale, a sticker-price on a brand new copy for less than AU$40… sold.

At first, I was a bit perturbed by some of the voice work in Just Cause 2 – Sheldon’s voice actor is the same guy who played the porcine Pey’j in Beyond Good & Evil. Hearing them (almost) back-to-back in two very different character roles was… well, odd. But everything I wrote about the first Just Cause still holds true in the sequel – there’s a massive brand-new open world (the gorgeous island paradise of Panau) to explore, but it’s still filled with cookie-cutter missions that became almost mechanically rote to conquer. The sequel is significantly more polished than the original (aside from some gameplay tweaks that I feel are detrimental), but there’s one are in which it absolutely shines: the numbers game.

I’ve said before that I love a good grind, and Just Cause 2 offers the opportunity to grind oneself raw. 368 369 smaller missions, 75 races, over 5000 (yes – five thousand) collectibles & destructibles, each and every one of them responsible for a little OCD endorphin rush… this is a game that takes ages to complete to satisfaction, even if it’s impossible to 100%. And, sure enough, 120 hours on my Casual playthrough yielded a maximum of 99.95%; my Hardcore playthrough, a more efficient 100 hours, also yielded a 99.95% final statistic – and a plethora of bugs, which I’ll whinge about at a later stage.

I’ve also indulged in a little twin stick shooting – Geometry Wars, Geometry Wars^2, a little bit of Robotron, and a splash of Mutant Storm Reloaded. And I’m still shit at all of them. I returned and finished off my Normal playthrough of DX2 – all four five endings, tiptoeing around the final level before letting loose with barely controlled use of the rocket launcher. There’s another two playthroughs required on that one, though – but, to be honest, I really enjoyed the time I spent with this sequel. It revived interest in the upcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution, though dissenting opinions about the most recent build of that have dampened my enthusiasm somewhat.

You might have noticed that there was a minor disturbance in the gaming world a few months back when Sony’s PSN account databases were compromised. Now, I’ve frequently been critical of PSN in the past, and I remember heaving a sigh of relief when I realised I’d never entered my credit card details into the system. But the leaked (alleged) details about the naïveté of PSN’s infrastructure certainly gave reason to roll one’s eyes in disgust; plain text passwords, really? Sure, even I’ve done that before – but that was my first project out of Uni (and it certainly wasn’t exposed to the Internet), and I soon learnt pretty quickly why it’s a ferociously dumb idea.

But Sony’s “Welcome Back” package, while a blatant attempt to placate the (rightfully) angry public, was certainly welcome to me – despite my wariness of free games. Still, I picked up inFAMOUS and the (perennially List-bound) WipEout HD, and managed to knock out a quick Platinum trophy on the former. It’s fair to say, now, that the PS3 is beginning to earn its keep in The Moobaarn – the grand total of AU$75 I’ve spent on the system and games so far has just broken into positive value-for-money territory.

The final game I’ll mention in this little roundup of the last five(!) months is a game that both inspired great excitement as well as great trepidation: Child of Eden. I’ve ham-fistedly tried to explain how much I love Rez, but I cannot honestly say that I ever wished for a sequel, or even more content; Rez (and especially Rez HD) is perfect in just about every way. But Miz reckons that Child of Eden is a spiritual successor to Rez, so (despite its release in the middle of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival) it was a day-one purchase.

But, after several attempts to get into the groove, I’m really not feeling it at the moment.

Maybe it’s the twee overtones of the (incredibly polished) production. Maybe it’s the lack of coherency of the visuals. Maybe it’s the lack of the player avatar onscreen (understandably necessary because of the Kinect integration, but its absence is noticeable for those of use wielding traditional controllers). Maybe it’s the fact that the controls don’t feel as familiar to me as I’d like. Maybe it’s the lack of connection with the music; there’s nothing as immediately uplifting as Rez‘s Area 1 tune (Buggie Running Beeps) or Area 4’s pulse-thumping Rock Is Sponge. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’m finding it a little bit difficult.

But I remember that Rez took a while for me to “learn”, too – I certainly recall struggling to finish Area 4 at all, and needing oodles of practise before finally conquering Area 5 – both of which I can breeze through now after a night out at the pub. But the difference is that I was immediately drawn into the world of Rez; I wanted to be there. It feels like Child of Eden is holding me at arms length – a cold pat on the shoulder, when what I really want is a warm hug. Still, I’ll persevere – after all, that’s my lot in life – and maybe I’ll learn to love it… I certainly hope I’ll learn to love it.

And, after five months away, that pretty much brings us up to date. Sorry about this mish-mash of text, but there were words on my fingertips that needed to get out – hopefully there’ll be a few more coherent pieces coming soon. In the meantime, though, there’s more DX2, and more Child of Eden

Quicker and Dirtier…

A couple more Bayonetta notes is all you’re getting this week.

Firstly, finish the game to unlock the Couture options. Purchase the Witch Queen Couture Bullet, then change to that costume (RB at the Chapter Select screen). Now play the game again, watching all the cutscenes. It’s filthy… but in a totally good way.

Now do it all again, but with the P.E. Uniform. And then the Various – Type B costume.

Oh my.

Lest this blog become a teenage-ish outlet for physical lust, let’s mention the game again: it’s still bloody brilliant. My complaints last week about the difficult of Hard have been completely scotched after a bit of experimentation with the purchasable items; some nice combinations led to a Saturday-afternoon hammering of Hard mode, and an eventual completion time of a touch over three hours. Replay one botched level, and bang – 2:59:58, enough to unlock yet another item in The Gates of Hell. And now I’m coasting through the Non-Stop Infinite Climax skill level; that should be wrapped up by Australia Day.

Then there’s the simple matter (ho ho) of wrapping up some of the Alfheim Portals (little challenge levels within the game), and I’ll have nabbed all the GamerScore available to me from the game. But that doesn’t mean that Bayonetta will soon be off The List, oh no – there’s so many little unlockables within the game that I don’t even really consider myself a third of the way there yet. And that’s after nearly sixty hours!

I’ve got a few other games like that hanging over me on the 360; Rez HD really does require 100%-shot-down runs, and Ninety-Nine Nights has a whole lot of random drops to collect. But that’s the price I pay for being me, for letting my OCD have its way with my gaming hobby.

And I think about the sixty hours invested in Bayonetta so far, with the prospect of at least a hundred more, and I quiver with joyful anticipation :)

2008: The Year in Review

Another year older, another year wiser, right? If I look back to the 2007 Year in Review, this little snippet catches my eye:

There’s far more games than time, and my records show that I’ve still got 63 games incomplete. Maybe I should consider making a New Year’s Resolution regarding the “incomplete” list? Something along the lines of reducing it to around 50? Hah – I’m nowhere near that naïve… a more realistic resolution would be to not let it blow out much further.

I think I used up all my wisdom right where I said “a more realistic resolution would be to not let it blow out much further” – because, at the time of writing, The List only shows 65 games incomplete – hardly a blowout at all! (Of course, this is largely due to a ridiculously productive December, which saw no less than five games get knocked off).

But let’s not focus on the numbers too much (however much they rule my life); let’s have a look at a number of pithy categories in which I can toss the names of the games that have touched me (oo-er) this year. Forgive me for recycling several topics from earlier compilations…

Disappointment of the Year: That Wii Fit hasn’t magically halved my weight. Bastard!

Proudest Achievement of the Year: Easy – Mutant Storm Empire‘s Black Belt Grandmaster. There’s a little bit of ninja in all of us, and World 4 Level 2 made me dig deep and harness that little bugger up good. An honourable mention should be made of No More Heroes and its deliciously difficult Bitter Mode.

Under-Appreciated Game of the Year: Everyone slated Microsoft’s choice of Undertow as compensation for a spotty Xbox LIVE service last Christmas, which is a shame – it was a thoroughly enjoyable shooter that really came into its own when played with online co-op on the hardest difficulty level. But, hands down, No More Heroes takes this award for being the game that everyone seems to be sneakily sliding into their Top Ten lists to appear edgy and cool, but which no-one bought. You bastards.

I’m-Still-Waiting Award: The PS3. Come on, tempt me with a game that I actually want to play! The closest it’s come so far is with PomPom’s Astro Tripper (which, given I’ve played Space Tripper to death, isn’t even that compelling).

Pulling Teeth Award: Bullet Witch‘s Hell Mode. All that effort for One. Fucking. Point? I guess that’s why I call myself O/C. Or maybe I’m just a beggar for punishment.

2008 Blast From The Past Award: Let’s give an award a game prior to this generation, purely because I have been – and will always be – catching up on my gaming history. Psychonauts? Killer7? Let’s go with the former; barely a single criticism can be levelled at Tim Schafer’s previous game, and my appetite is well-and-truly whetted for Brütal Legend.

Where Have You Been All My Life Award: Killer7. Because I can’t bear to let it go unrewarded (see above), and because it’s absolutely, completely, stonkingly brilliant.

Funnest Gaming Moment of the Year: Seven cars sitting at the bottom of the quarry in Burnout Paradise, side by side as at a drive-in movie, waiting for our online compadre to finally nail his barrel-rolls. A cheer goes up – he’s done it! – followed by a yell of “Car Cuddles!” as everyone proceeds to smash into each other, laughs and merriment a-plenty. Ten minutes later, the next Challenge starts :)

Multiplayer of the Year Award: Burnout Paradise – see above. Challenges, or simply smashing the shit out of each other, there was nothing that came close to the online experience of cruising Paradise with seven friends.

Bringing Indy To The Party Award: Braid, or World of Goo? Both displayed impossibly impeccable production values; tiny teams easily upstaged the bigger names. Goo gets this award, since it’s a shining example of what two people can do with a gorgeous demo; having said that, Jonathon Blow‘s contribution to the indy gaming community is far from overlooked.

Gaming Payback of the Year: No More Heroes, Bitter skill level, the third boss encountered – Shinobu. I’ve written about this previously, but this fight turned my gaming world on its head – previously, boss battles had been automatically deemed abhorrent in my little mind. Shinobu changed all that.

Earnest Navel-Gazing Award: Braid, for slipping a story of weight and depth into a brilliant game… even if most of it is hidden from those who brand Braid a “Mario rip-off”.

Best Game Writing of the Year: No More Heroes, hands down. It’s got no plot, and yet the paper-thin characters still manage to feel convincing, and the fast-forward exposition prior to the final boss fight is deliriously good. Proof that a good page trumps bad volumes.

Worst Game Writing of the Year: Mercenaries 2. Because, playing as the hot chick merc, you can pimp yourself as follows:

Chinese Contact: “Ah, welcome back mercenary. I have need of you.”
HCM: “Well you can afford me, let’s not waste time.”

And, as cool as that may seem on paper, it actually leaves you feeling a little icky. So you dress up in a chicken suit, drop a MOAB on a building, then sky-dive out a helicopter. It’s all good, right?

The Gasping Grin Award: World of Goo, end of World 3. I’ve no idea why, but the laughter and evolution of that level left me wrung out, in much the same way that Braid conjured emotion.

The Gasping Gasp Award: Braid, the final level. I’ve never felt a greater cognitive click.

Still Kickin’ Award: Rez HD. Into its eighth year and Rez is still as glorious as ever.

AAA-Title I Missed Award: Ummm, that goes to pretty much all the triple-A and mega-hyped titles released in 2008; pretty much the closest game I got to AAA was Burnout Paradise.

So there you have it, kids. My 2008 in a nutshell. Big props to Braid, Burnout Paradise, No More Heroes, Rez HD, and World of Goo, with belated kisses and cuddles to last-gen’s Killer7 and Psychonauts. These are the games that made the biggest mark on me this year, though honourable mentions should go to a couple of older current-gen games, Excite Truck and Mutant Storm Empire, for continuing to bring the fun.

“That’s a nice capsule summary up there, Pete,” I hear you say. “But I need something more concise. Come on then, you crapulent wordsmith: what was your Game Of The Year?”

I think you know ;)

Quick Notes…

Lordy! Posting to my own blog two days in a row! Who’d have thunk it.

But events warrant such outlandish action! For one thing, fire up your 360 and pop on over to Live Marketplace and download the latest Marble Blast Ultra map pack; it’s a mere 200 MS Points to buy, contains a bunch of new multiplayer maps (three of which are great, one is a shocker, and another scared me just to look at it). There’s another new Achievement wodged in there too, which is pretty easy to snaffle with a bit of online play. I really like this approach to MBU‘s DLC, and firing it up again today just demonstrated how lovely the gameplay is. Can’t wait for the next map pack.

After goading a mate at work into trying to pick my next Target Game from The List (go on, readers – what game do you think my focus should be on next?), I realised that I hadn’t updated it to contain World of Goo, purchased from the US Wii Shop via a bit of Homebrew Channel hackery. So I’ve rectified that omission and, inspired by typing the word “goo”, decided to fire it up again. And it’s still as brilliant as when I first laid eyes on it (then promptly ignored for a month).

The end of Level 3 is a real treat, right up there with the emotional brainfuckery of Braid – but without the headachey bits. And tonight I managed to finish the game – but I’ve still got 38 (fittingly-named) OCD ranks to snaffled before Completion. I’ll say it again – an absolutely fantastic game, well in contention for Game of the Year.

Speaking of which, at the moment my yearly highlights are Rez HD, Braid, No More Heroes, and World of Goo – with a bit of Burnout Paradise thrown in for good measure. What about you?

Rez (Part 1)

The earliest reference to Rez I can remember reading was had Jeff Minter denouncing its gameplay, claiming it was “Panzer Dragoon with trance trousers.” Which meant nothing to me, until I snaffled Panzer Dragoon Orta on the recommendation of an Edge review. At that time, I had little-to-no understanding what a rail-based shooter was all about – but Orta sure taught me all about it. I still love the occasional bash at Orta (which, due to the Hard mode and all the fiddly little mini-games – and the original Panzer Dragoon – is still on The List), and it sparked an interest in the genre.

And then I recalled Minter’s words.

Rez, eh?

I already had a Dreamcast – Jet Set Radio forced my hand in that direction. A bit of eBaying led to a pricey, but mint, copy of Rez. Then came a period of days where I learnt all about the dodgy GD-ROM pressing that led to most Dreamcasts being unable to read the Rez discs. Worry not – it’s possible to adjust the GD-ROM laser (similar to the C64 Datasette’s azimuth adjustment) to read finicky discs; a bit of hardware hacking, a lot of time, a smidgeon of panic when the Dreamcast failed to read any discs, and finally Rez was booted.

And fuck me if it wasn’t magnificent.

The first level, Area 1, will go down as one of my favourite levels of any game ever – purely for the aural accompaniment. I feel like I’ve written this a million times before, but the sonic punch provided when you enter Areas 1-4 and 1-8 – “breathing” – has attained almost spiritual significance to me; the choice of Buggie Running Beeps as this (almost tutorial) level’s soundtrack is inspired. Visually, Area 1 provides a trippy introduction too.

But Area 4 is the one that I love the most (and yes, I realise this means that Rez has two of my favourite game levels ever – but I feel obliged to give credit where credit is due). For a long time Area 4 gave me grief – it was my stumbling block, the one that made me feel uneasy. But, with two years of hindsight, it’s also the level that excites me the most – I find the graphics to be the most arresting of the game (even over Area 5, which is the reason most people give for Rez‘s greatness) – the Running Man boss is simply incredible. Joujouka’s soundtrack is edgy, driving you on through the level with rising levels of adrenaline and concern, building to a thumping crescendo; end-to-end, it’s a wonderful level, surpassing Area 1’s dull boss and Area 5’s introspective length. Area 4 is simply a miracle of gaming, one of the few times that the audiovisual experience is all-enveloping, all encompassing.

And yes – I do have the Trance Vibrator for my PS2 copy of Rez (a far less pristine version of the game, I might add; a most-definitely second-hand eBay acquisition, the PS2 version makes the hacking rainbows more colourful). Whilst my SO looked at me with what can only optimistically be described as quizzical indifference when I indicated Game Girl Advance’s Rez exploits, I found that it was a brilliant addition to the game – playing the PS2 version, Trance Vib behind a cushion nestled into the small of my back, was a sublime experience.

And so we come to 2008, and the long awaited release of Rez HD – and I’ve never been more excited about a game’s release, never felt so much anticipation. Having to travel for work determined the release date, with 2,000kms deemed an attractive torture device by Fate. Whilst others were blissfully playing through Area 1, I was half-drunk; I lay on my bed in the dark and listened to the soundtrack rips that have accompanied me everywhere on my MP3 player for the last 4(-ish) years. The backs of my eyelids glowed with the recreation of the visual experience that I know all-too-well, yet not well enough; Areas 1 and 4 came alive for me.

The plane ride home Saturday night was nominally two-and-a-half-hours, but felt much longer; I listened to that soundtrack again, over and over, while clouds and land and sea drifted below me. The plane only had a smattering of passengers, so I was unabashed in weeping with joy, weeping with anticipation, grinning like a loon – for I was on my way to play Rez again. A bigger, bolder, brighter, louder Rez.

I got home, kissed the SO, and played.

Oh yes. Oh yes.

But more on that later. Another day, when typing is easier because the tips of my thumb (which prove to be ever-so-useful for hitting the space bar) ache so much from the mashing I’ve given them the last 24 hours. Easily my best Score Attack scores, and even a miraculous 98% run through Area 5. I love this game.

But I’ll leave with this little tale:

When I had my little jaunt around the UK in 2004, the RLLMUK rips of the Rez soundtrack never left my MP3 player. Not once. Pretty impressive when you consider that it was only a 512MB player. There were so many dream-like instances where I’d be coasting through the English countryside – by train, bus – and have sunlight streaming through the window onto my face, the greens and whites and blues passing by, enveloped in a state of bliss. At those times I’d often reflect, a little self-indulgently, that this life I was leading was just a game, a game that – like so many others – I was only moderately “good” at, but I was having an absolute ball playing. And Rez provides the perfect soundtrack, the perfect metaphor, for that game of life.