Just Cause (and the Cost Of Content)

It’s a thrilling opening – Rico Rodriguez, your third-person avatar, gets tossed out of an aircraft; you deploy his parachute, drift over a lush tropical island, roll-land on a beach, arm your weapons and dispatch threats. Into the back of a jeep, speeding across the island again whilst shooting down aircraft and pursuing cars. Later, you’re pushing Rico to use his grappling hook to grab a car, deploying your parachute, and paragliding behind it. Suddenly, you spy a flurry of aggressive helicopters; you shoot one down with your rocket launcher, grapple to another, kick the pilot out to land on the forest below, and speed off into the glorious sunset.

The problem is, Just Cause never re-captures the thrill of the first couple of hours of play. You acquire the grapple gun very early on, and it’s largely the last time you feel genuinely thrilled by the game – but the freedom it allows, letting you jump around the lush tropical island setting at will, is wonderful.

The story is laughably cheesey and undeveloped – and hopelessly short. It’s also occasionally too easy – in fact, the last three chapters I completed without actually knowing what I was doing. The side-missions required for Achievements can result in a bit of grinding, but it’s only thirty hours max for your full complement of 1000pts.

And, believe me, that’s a good thing. The Achievements are all very achievable, and they contribute about 50% of your playtime. I’ve no idea how long I would have played this game on the PC or PS2; it’s only the GamerScore on offer that kept me interested in the end.

And that makes me sad. Just Cause plays well enough, and it certainly looks gorgeous – the tropical setting is lush, the environmental effects stunning… just wait for dawn or dusk, they’re utterly convincing and gob-smackingly beautiful. The expanse of the San Esperito islands is wonderfully realised (especially when you learn that it’s created with a simple heightmap), but it feels… empty.

And, in a way, I can understand that – the gameplay area is massive, and to actually fill it up with content would require a metric truckload of manpower… which means money. And it worries me that a game that may have a playable lifetime of 20 hours would require so much money to produce. News that Lost Planet cost Capcom $40 million dollars exacerbates these fears; to be fair, the development budget was apparently just half that, but that’s still $20 million for the tech and content.

Kotaku also posted a story indicating that Gears Of War cost a mere $10 million to make. I’d imagine that’s pretty much devoted to the content development budget, too – I think the Gears hype machine pretty much negated the need for marketing, and one would imagine that the Unreal Engine development came from a different budget. Let’s think about that for a second: sure, Gears is a polished bit of work, but it’s hardly the most bug-free or – at about 10 hours of single-player time – the most content rich title.

And so the emptiness of Just Cause is to be expected, really – but it plays well enough, and I certainly think my AU$90 for thirty hours interactive entertainment was about par for the course. At worst, the demo is still well worth the download from Live Marketplace. But it highlighted to me the Cost Of Content – and, pessimism heightened, made me apprehensive for upcoming next-gen gaming.

Ninety-Nine Nights

I love Rez. Rez is ace. And, leveraging my O/C nature, I scoot about looking for other games that had been subjected to producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s touch. And so, when video became available for N3, I downloaded – and enthused. This looked like a bumper hack’n’slash-fest with squillions of characters onscreen – something that I find appealing. After all, the scene in Kameo where you wander into a valley of carnage is one of the few memorable moments of that game.

The six-out-of-ten review in Edge (which began with the line “Ninety-Nine Nights deserves a better score than the one at the bottom of this page”) only heightened my anticipation of this game. Edge roundly criticised N3‘s flaws, but their description of the underlying game mechanic had me salivating. A pre-cursory (after all, my mind was already made up) pootle through the demo available on XBLA made did little to discourage; thus, I pre-ordered, I picked up, and I played.

The initial intro movie is beautiful – certainly FMV, but still lovely. The titles looked a bit… clunky. Very clunky. Stuttery framerates, poor design. Really disappointing. The save system is cack-handed, giving the gamer every opportunity to unwittingly over-write their progress. There’s no checkpoints or opportunities to save within levels, which often means that the frustrated player can often lose half-an-hour of progress because of a poorly executed boss battle. The plot and character development is pretty much non-existent and, when it is there, is astonishingly lame.

And, worst of all, this game crashes. A lot.

A peek about the Xbox Forums indicated that I was not alone in this issue; often, the DVD drive in the ‘360 would slow to a stop, and the next time the game requires some data to be streamed in, it crashes, resulting in the fearful Blade-Of-Borkedness popping out from the right-hand side of the screen.

So the trick is to never let the drive spin down; I discovered that popping into the inventory screen every couple of minutes seemed to cause sufficient activity to prevent problems. It’s a bitch of a thing to remember when you’re in the middle of a 5,000+ hit combo, though, and tends to kill the mood.

But despite all these niggles, N3 is still a worthy diversion. Graphically, it’s a treat, with some decent character models appearing onscreen… and there’s a lot of them. At some points in the game, you can spy the plain scenery covered with two dozen of your own henchmen and literally – yes, literally – hundreds of bad guys in floods of hackable goodness. Sure, the baddies are relatively low-polygon in nature and blend into a blurry mush of things-to-kill, but that’s all that’s required of them… the important number in N3 isn’t the number of vertices per bad guy, it’s the number of bad guys on the screen.

In fact, the only graphical quibble lies in the design of some of the playable characters. And it may be a cheap shot (and, believe it or not, I don’t want to turn this blog into a repository of my fave pervy images), but I’d like to know how this is supposed to protect a knight in battle:

Inphyy and her WonderBra [2,575 KB]
Aim for the cleavage.

Gameplay is pretty simple – select a character (starting with principal protagonist step-siblings Inphyy and Aspharr, other characters are made available as the game progresses). Wade into battle. Mash X and Y in various rhythmic combos until all opposition has been vanquished. There’s a two-stage mega-weapon power-up, and it’s a joy seeing each character’s Blue Orb Spark for the first time. Vigk Vagk, in particular, has a visually spectacular attack; Tyurru, despite her nubile 12-year-old jailbait qualities, has an attack which slows the 360 to a crawl as it models a tidal wave flooding the surrounds causing maximum damage.

Levelling up characters can be a bit of a chore, but the extra combo variations make it worthwhile. Tyurru, in particular, morphs from a crapulent weakling into a veritable superweapon as she clambers through her ranks. And Inphyy’s Level 9 Seraph Butterfly combo (a joyfully simple A, A, Y) is a joy to behold.

Tyurru [34 KB]

So, in short – enjoyed the game, hated the crashes. The O/C in me is still playing it for the purposes of item collection, but – due to the random drops and lack of complete list – it’s difficult to determine when this task will be complete. Still, it’s not an onerous duty – in fact, as long as the crashes are avoided, it’s a secret pleasure.

Simple Minds and the Gaming Unconcious

My brother and I have little besides parents in common. One thing that we do share, however, is a love – well, perennial interest – in Simple Minds (the band, not dullards). Thus, when my brother rang me (on my mobile on my birthday at some silly hour during the Fringe) to let me know that Jim, Charlie and the boys were doing an Australian Tour… well, I was in. An overnighter in Melbourne was required, but no biggie.

We wind up getting a hotel berth a short stroll from the Palais in St Kilda, so we wandered down Ackland Street for quite possibly the dirtiest dirty-burger I’ve ever stuck in my mouth – seriously, it was filth, like charred falafel and sawdust with red gelatinous goop for “flavour”. No matter; we pop into the Palais, grab a beer or three, and observe how the opening chords of the backup band caused absolutely no-one to rush to their seats.

We eventually amble to our seats (Row ZZ – fantastic, eh? It sounds more like a joke than an actual location – and there were still another half-dozen rows behind us) moments before the Minds take to the stage. And suddenly we’re amidst a performance that, as much as it existed in the present, felt like it transported me to an earlier time with a younger me. Which is odd, because the average age of the audience is – guessing – late 30s to mid 40s. Oh shit – that very nearly includes me :}

Initially, I was a little concerned… they opened with AnonymousNewSongFromLatestAlbumThatNo-OneKnows. Eventually, though, I hear the brooding bassline and always-warbling lead guitar of Burchill in “Love Song”, and I’m sold.

“Ghostdancing” has the crowd up and jumping. The mid-song interlude into “Gloria” is a treat, and only heightens the tension leading to the crescendous end of the song – which delivers gobs of glorious rock goodness.

It’s scary when you realise that the punch of the song you’re grooving to is “81, 82, 83, 84”, the era for which the song proposes hope. That I felt disappointment – after the initial quirky delight of the difference – when the phrase is reduced to a meaningless “1, 2, 3, 4” is a genuine surprise.

Whilst I’ll not say that this was the greatest show ever, the inclusion of “Love Song”, “Ghost Dancing,” and “Waterfront” made it more than worthwhile; and the only post-80’s SM song I like, “She’s A River”, received a suitably rocking treatment. Lovely stuff; a bit of filler, but that’s only to be expected.

So – what does this have to do with gaming?

The fact that this middle-aged crowd were on their feet – stomping, clapping, singing, wide-eyed with joy – looking at each other in recognition of a shared experience, a collective youth, led me to believe there’s a deeper connection to the formative experiences.

Formative experiences – those occasions, when growing up, that shape your life. That mold your soon-to-be-adult thinking. The common childhood encounters that bind adults. The collective shared knowledge of a generation.

And maybe that’s what we – as gamers – need. When will great games reach the same level of collective recognition as the great bands or concerts that create such indelible marks in our formative consciousness? When will they form a cogent part of the formative experience? I believe we’re approaching such an era now; men in their mid-to-late twenties may have had a childhood featuring a NES or SMS; in ten years time, people of the same age have a pretty good chance of being raised in a PS2 household.

Of course, gaming has nowhere near the social acceptance or availability that music has; it’s still a relatively niche passtime, a solitary hobby. But acceptance continues to grow – parents these days seem to see less evil in children plonked in front of the TV all day if they’re being actively involved in an activity that fires cognitive neurons. Right or wrong, that’s making gaming more mainstream.

2006: The Year in Review

Yet another collection of worthless opinions from some guy you don’t know.

Surprise Discovery of the Year: 2006 saw me acquire my first handheld gaming device since my good ol’ Helmet (CN-07) Game And Watch… I picked up a Nintendo DS Lite. This really opened my eyes to the opportunities of handheld gaming, mainly because of the World Cup in Germany. I’d sit in front of the telly, “watching” every minute of every game (including Australia being robbed) and, during breaks or dull bits of play (hello, USA) I’d belt through some Project Rub or Sonic Rush.
However, late 2006 also saw the arrival of the Wii – and what a blast the last couple of weeks has been.
Wii Sports Tennis, Wii Zelda… it’s been brilliant. Sure, my shoulder’s stuffed now from that bloody Baseball, but it’s just fantastic fun. And so the Surprise Discovery of 2006 Award goes to… Nintendo. For… well, everything. Hey look at me, I’m a born-again Ninty fanboy :)

Disappointment of the Year: Easy one, this. After the sheer bliss of Project Rub, I felt compelled to snaffle the sequel, Rub Rabbits. Big mistake; no real advance in gameplay, and several aspects broken. And, let’s face it, Stampede on Hell Mode is just stupid. Booooooooooo.

Almost-but-not-quite Award: Ninety-Nine Nights. So much potential, and when the stars are correctly aligned the gameplay blissful. But the fact that it crashes more-than-occasionally, the completely half-arsed “story” (and I use that term very loosely), and the fact that there’s no checkpoints or save opportunities in Missions that can last half-an-hour result in you screaming with rage at the 360 because an end-of-Mission boss mashed you to a pulp because your dry eyes blinked at the wrong time or maybe the 360 Blade-Of-Death appeared right after the DVD drive spun down whilst trying to load the “Mission Complete” screen… ahem. Bugspray and a bit of care in the concept would’ve seen N3 highly regarded; instead, it’s a sorry tale of All That Could Have Been.

Press Conference of the Year: No-one could have guessed at the time that E3 2006 would be the last rendition of the Gamer’s favourite meat-market; no doubt a squillion smaller dev studios heaved many a sigh of relief after the announcement, thanking their deities that yet another make-or-break deadline for their pride and joy had disappeared. Still, E3 went out with a trio of variable press conferences from the console manufacturers. Sony started the ball rolling with the epitome of marketing suicide – talking smack, followed by gob-smacking stupidity. “The next generation doesn’t start until we say it does” blended right into “actually happened in actual ancient actually actual Japan” and, of course, the giant enemy crabs. Never has one hour of such head-up-arse arrogant dribble turned me against a company so completely. Compare and contrast, then, against the much shorter press gig that Nintendo put on – chock full of enthusiasm and, dare I say it, FUN and JOY and LOVE OF GAMING. So, who takes the award – the people who encouraged me to hate (and I do love a good hate-fest), or the people who projected love? Nintendo, hands down.

Saviour/Death of Gaming Award: I’ve professed my love for Xbox Live and its GamerPoints before, but in that missive – right at the end, for all two of you who bothered reading – I expressed concern for the cheating potential. Of course, human greed is a wonderfully predictable thing, and so the numbers of people cheating via gamesaves (or similar) has gone through the roof, and there’s even “services” now who pledge to acquire GamerPoints on your Xbox Live account in exchange for cold hard cash. Delightful. And yet, Live still proffers plenty of moments from Gaming Heaven; wonderful demonstrations of international camaraderie and competition, and gentle encouraging GP goading. I guess the good comes with the bad.

Where-have-you-been-all-my-life Award: My Nintendo DS allowed me access to a game family that I had never previously tasted: I snaffled New Super Mario Brothers and indulged, for the first time, in the glorious 2D platforming antics that Mario (apparently) typifies. And NSMB would be a more-than-worthy winner of this Award – symbolising the gaping holes in my gaming upbringing – were it not for the stunning beauty of Ico. For which my words cannot… ummmm… express stuff. But it’s a bloody brilliant game, I’ll tell you that.

In Summary: 2006 was a great year to be a gamer here in Australia – even if we had to make do with late 360/DS Lite/Wii launches and no PS3 (guess what, Sony? The next gen has already come to Casa Moobaa, and the PS3 isn’t part of it – oh boo hoo). The brickbats from this rag-tag bunch of awards went to Rub Rabbits, Ninety-Nine Nights, and Sony; bouquets were delivered unto Nintendo, Nintendo again, Xbox Live, Ico, Ridge Racer 6, and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. I threw those two at the end in just because.

Anyway, what are you still doing reading this? It’s 2007 – a whole new year – so get gaming!

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

First thing’s first: what’s my Zelda background? I claim completage of the original Legend of Zelda, the much-maligned Zelda II, Ocarina of Time, and Wind Waker. There’s moments of utter joy to be found in all of them, but there’s also moments of “WTF?”, “you fucking bastard” and “fuck this, I’m off to GameFAQs”. The mood of the Zelda games is what sucks me in and permits me to label them “great”, despite their penchant for occasionally obscure problems.

They grow up so fast…

And so we come to a new console, and a new Zelda; and, as usual, it all starts out a little twee, meeting all your chums and catching fish for cats and befriending birds and avoiding bees and… it’s pretty boring. But here’s the thing: if you can survive the dullness of the first few hours, you’re in for a treat – it gets much much infinitely much better. If, on the other hand, you really enjoyed the goat herding, horse washing, and the bloody annoying clan of children who dote on you, you’ll literally explode in bliss later in the game.

I can’t pick the point at which the game turned from a somewhat tedious trek to a blissful bounty – but I suspect it was when a baboon spanked its arse in my general direction. That made me laugh – a lot. In fact, despite the darker-than-usual storyline, there’s a lot to laugh at; incidental characters like the Fortune Teller and the flamboyant Cucco master add a lot to the giggles.

All your Zelda regulars are here – the mazes that have you running around in pointless circles until you get off your arse and map the buggers out. Dungeons that are a perfect mix of “whaaaaa?” and “aaaaaah!” Some familiar weapons are a little tweaked; the upgrade for the old hookshot is a pleasant surprise, and works like a charm. Likewise, the boomerang gets a bit of a makeover, and the inventory screen gets tarted up and is a treat. There’s plenty for the O/C amongst us to do – Heart Pieces a-plenty, along with the usual Poes and a few other little collect-em-ups which initially shock in scope before you realise that it’s 5am and you’ve just spent the last 8 hours roaming Hyrule but at least that’s done no wait there’s more.

Boss battles are epic, engaging, visually delicious and – above all – fun; more Wind Waker than Ocarina. And taking another leaf from Celda, there’s a fantastic boss battle redux near the end of the game which reminds you of all the goodness that has come before.

And that’s the thing about this latest Zelda installment – it knows exactly what it is, and where it’s come from; there’s a certain self-assuredness about it. But it’s learnt from the mistakes of earlier games, too – there’s no obscure puzzles (even all the Heart Pieces are easy to find!), there’s no long treks required, and there’s certainly no fucking annoying bosses (Bongo Bongo, I’m looking at you). It all just effortlessly flows along, dragging you blissfully in its wake.

Twilight Princess is just packed full of Moments – extravagant boss battles, great storytelling, arse slaps, character entrances, the thrill of the new. Minutes or hours spent fishing. Oddball action sequences that, as in Mario 64, just seamlessly blend right into the game. The first time you stream onto Hyrule field atop a motion-blurred Epona, sword drawn, hacking evil minions… akin to the first steps onto Hyrule field as young Link in Ocarina, it’s one of those Gaming Moments that you’ll never forget.

Of course, the benefit of having not one, but two “platonic” love interests (the rather plain Zelda and the fiery hotness of the eponymous Twilight Princess) for our effeminate hero merely adds two inches of sweet, sweet icing to an otherwise calorific cake. Dreams of a Princess threesome leave me in a sticky slumber most nights, now.

It’s pretty obvious I like this game. And I’ve not mentioned a thing about how the Wii handles… so let’s be brief: the graphics are fine, the sound is great (except for the tinny Wiimote speaker which occasionally feels overused), and the controls are brilliant. By game’s end, when you’re dispatching Lizardmen with a Z-lock, two jabs of the Wiimote and a flick of the nunchuck, you’re convinced that there’s no other way to play the game.

So – is this game perfect? Hell no – to attain that status, I shouldn’t have had to hunt out orange rupees like a madman to complete one sub-quest, nor had that dull intro, and the end-game would have involved female nakedness and hard-core lesbian frivolities. Many interweb twonks will cry “it’s too easy!” or “it’s too linear!” or “it’s just a GameCube port!”

And you know what? They’re right (except for that guy who says “it’s too easy.” Possibly the most rock-fucking-hard Zelda moment ever is hidden in there.)

But you know what else?

And pay attention, because this is the really important part:

It’s A Really, Really, Fun Game.

I’ve spent 75 hours and four AA batteries traipsing around the world of Twilight Princess, and I’m not bored yet… nor am I finished. And nor has it stopped providing me with FUN. It all adds up to the deepest, most complete experience on the Wii – nay, the entire Next-Gen – so far.

Wii – First Thoughts…

Righto – so the Wii was released in Australia on December 7, and it (allegedly) sold out, making it the biggest console launch in Australian history. I pre-ordered way back in September, and eagerly awaited the 9am store opening (no midnight launch for me, as I do my bricks-and-mortar shopping at an independent).

So – how is it?

Well, I’m amazed at just how well the Wiimote works – lovely and responsive. Wii Sports is an absolute belter, with the exception of the baseball (which seems to be a bit wishy-washy to me). Wii Play is barely worth the AU$10 it cost as part of the Wiimote bundle. And Zelda is, quite frankly, a little dull at the moment.

But the killer app is, without a doubt, Wii Sports Tennis. It’s absolutely brilliant, and even the completely un-sporty sister-in-law managed to flail about enthusiastically. The inclusion of Mii-s in the background in some of the events is delightful.

More to come, no doubt, as I dutifully plough through Zelda

On Music and Gaming…

Since the dawning of my gaming life I’ve enjoyed the aural pleasantries afforded by my addictions. Be it the twee jingles in Moon Cresta that almost goad you into performing well with the little pea-shooter that is the “I” ship, or the jaunty bounce-along of the near-monotonic backing music featured in Moon Patrol. Hey look, both examples had “Moon” in the title – wacky.

Of course, I was spoiled in my upbringing; my first real games machine (the beloved Commodore 64) featured the mighty MOS 6581 sound chip, affectionately known at the time – and fondly remembered as – “SID”. Sure, the early aural “delights” created by programmers using SID did little to elevate the games on the C64 above those of its peers; but there’s little denying the impact of the glorious speech synthesis of Impossible Mission (and the somewhat grittier Suicide Express).

However, the advent of the professional computer musician – and, most notably, Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway – changed all that. After reading all the hyperbole of the english gaming magazines (thankyou, Zzap!64), the first time I heard Monty on the Run I was gobsmacked.

In the same way that people tend to be polarised into two groups – Mac or PC, Crows or Power, Black or White – the C64 community tended to be split on the “best” composer for their machine. I’m a Hubbard man, myself; whilst there’s no denying that only Galway could create the eleven-minute epic of Parallax (which, I risk flamage to state, is infinitely more enjoyable than Hubbard’s Pink Floyd-esque Delta theme), Hubbard consistently came up with a great beat and tunes that bubblegummed away in your mind for days.

The dark horse on the C64, in my opinion, was Steve Rowlands of Apex Computer Productions, the brotherly duo responsible for the magnificently sick Creatures series, the deep Retrograde, and perhaps the C64’s last great game, Mayhem in Monsterland. ACP frequently published little compilations of their tunes and demos on the covertapes of various magazines, and so it was that I happened upon the Monty on the Run, Crazy Comets, I, Ball, and the oft-lauded, but rarely heard, Thalamusik from Sanxion (the “live” synth version of the loading track was on the first Zzap!64 covertape, no less). But after I left my C64 in search of degree qualifications I also left my gaming-bound musical interests.

(For the uninitiated, C64 music is often presented as *.sid files, which can be played using plug-ins for your music player of choice. The Wikipedia page for the High Voltage SID Collection acts as a gateway to memories of my gaming youth.)

My return to gaming after a somewhat Uni-inspired absence was through Quake; it was made all the sweeter because of Trent Reznor’s involvement with the soundtrack. This was after NIN had hit pop culture via the cheekily wannabe-subversion of “Closer” and “The Downward Spiral“, which no doubt created additional interest in the game through tech-savvy industrial pop fans. And, whilst I adore “Broken” and have a lot of time for Reznor’s aural frolics in general, there was no way I was going to combine my fringe interests in a manner similar to that of a LAN-mate one evening; eager to impress all with his intimate knowledge of Reznor’s background, he substituted the troubled atmosphere of the original Quake CD audio for “Pretty Hate Machine“. “The Only Time” should not be associated with fragging. Or any kind of gaming. Ever.

Further PC gaming (most notably through Deus Ex) further enhanced the expectation that game music should be left in the background, or leveraged for atmosphere and punches – I’m hard-pressed to mention any other PC-gaming music of note. On acquiring my Xbox, Halo emphasised that further with a glorious score, but one which worked in concert with the game; it’s impossible for me to hear the score and not imagine the associated assault on the Covenant, and vice versa.

The game that changed it all for me (again), though, was Jet Set Radio Future.

JSRF was recommended to me as a solid second Xbox game and, the moment the “Graffiti is art. However…” warning left the screen, I was awestruck. Hideki Naganuma‘s “The Concept of Love” is a perfect opener for a glorious game, and the rest of the soundtrack was of comparable quality. Discovering (after the fact) that I could buy dodgy Taiwanese bootlegs of the JSRF (and the crunchier Jet Set Radio) soundtracks on eBay allowed me to indulge in Naganuma on demand; then I started branching out into other artists on the soundtrack: Russell Simins, Guitar Vader and, most significantly, Cibo Matto.

In the same way that we have Black/White, Mac/PC, and Hubbard/Galway polarisations, with JSRF there was the love/hate split regarding Cibo Matto’s “Birthday Cake”. I loved it, and a cunning one-click-buy deal on Amazon suddenly saw me in possession of both their studio albums. And they are *fabulous*. Further catalogue exploration, coupled with the wallet-worrying scope of GEMM, saw my Cibo Matto collection pretty much complete, and they’ve rarely been troubled at the top of my AudioScrobbler rankings.

Things didn’t stop there, though; perusal of AudioScrobbler’s charts for Naganuma threw up a few new song names amongst the usual collection of mis-tagged tracks; more soundtracks! An arcade game I’m never likely to see, Ollie King, followed by Sonic Rush for the DS, research revealed. But I didn’t own a DS…

And suddenly, I did. I bought it for Sonic Rush. So I could claim “Fair Use” on the ripped soundtrack I found on the Net. A good friend at Sega helped locate a copy of the CD soundtrack that Naganuma (through WaveMaster) put out. And Naganuma returned to my ‘Scrobbling with a vengeance.

The new DS led to Electroplankton. Project Rub and Rub Rabbits. Buying a Dreamcast for Jet Set Radio and Rez led to Space Channel 5, which will lead into Lumines Live (eventually). Rez on the PS2 justified access to Katamari Damacy and its soundtrack. The track “Glitter Girl” that accompanies the opening FMV to Perfect Dark Zero. The majestic scores of Panzer Dragoon Orta and pretty much any Zelda game. The cheeky cheese of Super Galdelic Hour and Vib Ribbon and Super Monkey Ball. Even the perfectly weighted silence of Ico makes for a memorable aural experience.

I (relatively) recently started trying to bash my way through FreQuency on the PS2 (why do I continually buy these rhythm games? I’m amazingly crapulent at them… but that’s a topic for another entry), and one tune would *not* leave my head. GameFAQs and YouTube told me that the tune in question was Freezepop‘s “Science Genius Girl”. Freezepop’s MySpace page (which contains some great tracks) was enough to convince me to buy all their tunage that I could; initially, I was convinced that “Science Genius Girl” was a perfect pop song (downloadable in a glorious retro-tinged remix). Then I discovered the glorious chorus of “Tenisu No Boifurendo“. And then came the stunning “Stakeout“, in which I utterly fail to find flaw.

Oh yes, music in gaming has come a long way from the beeps, boops, and occasional spot music of the arcade games of my formative youth. And games have introduced me to music which have introduced me to more games and more consoles and more music… leading to both a burgeoning CD and game collection.

Oh look, my latest batch of Freezepop rarities have just arrived from GEMM…

7 Blades

So I’m looking at my Spreadsheet of Games Left To Complete, and I notice that there’s a huge chunk of PS2 games that haven’t been afforded the appropriate care. Casting my eyes over the list, I figure that approaching the PS2 games in alphabetical order would be as good an approach as any; so first on the list is the little-known, hardly-mentioned-on-the-interweb 7 Blades.

Believe me, this was not an intentional purchase. I bought my PS2 very late, well after the Slim PS2 hit the market, but such was the joy experienced by running Xbox games off the hard-drive that I was determined to do the same on the PS2, if possible. So I had sought out an old-style PS2, HDAdvance, and a network adaptor; the latter two were easy enough to find, but the console drove me to eBay. Luckily, I found a local seller at a reasonable price; when I picked it up, he put a tatty DVD case with ripped instructions in my laden arms and said “here, have this game, I can’t sell it anyway.”

Great. Now I own a game that I didn’t really want, but still appears on The Spreadsheet regardless; The O/C Gamer’s worst nightmare.

(Clearly that’s not really true – my worst nightmare would involve the house burning down, the SO getting burned to a crisp, and then being locked in a tiny claustrophobic coffin-like box and buried alive, only to survive to discover that my insurance company would cover only my gaming stuff on a straight replacement policy, and that I’d have to battle through Ridge Racer 6 Final Battles again.)

Firing up the game for the first time, the presentation feels sparse. Starting a new game as Gokurakumaru (the “first” of two characters: the O/C Gamer’s rules dictate top-left to bottom-right), the controls feel loose, sloppy. Combat is okay, nothing great. Sound is cheesey at best, unannoyingly repetitive otherwise; graphics are chunky textures on angular models. But I persevere, simply because it’s a game that I have to play.

The first few levels are satisfactory; the fight sections seem of a decent length (no infinite respawns, hurrah!) and exploration isn’t onerous. But, all of a sudden, I’m deposited on a beach with a metric shitload of ninjas kicking my arse. Repeatedly. And it’s frustrating – I can’t see an end to it. The frustration grows, hits a threshold – and then I’m off to GameFAQs. Apparently, I’m supposed to ignore these ninjas, run right past… of course.

And that’s the first of many sub-par aspects of Gokurakumaru’s half of the game; cut-scenes fail to convey any useful information, and in fact make the storyline murkier. There’s obtuse targets, confusing battles, and a healthy dose of Jap-wackiness. Boss fights become frustrating – there’s little feedback on whether I’m impacting on the boss, and they consistently require the hit-and-hope, repeat-ad-infinitum approach. Gokurakumaru’s storyline finishes, and I’m left bewildered and underwhelmed.

And I know I’ve only played half the game… sigh.

I start to play the game again, this time as Oriyu. The first few levels are identical to those of her male counterpart, the only differences being the short skirt and tastier textures of my avatar, and the substitution of the G-man’s sword for a gun. Initially, the more distant approach afforded to the player by using the gun seems flawed – the tight spaces and cramped corridors that afforded Gokurakumaru some of his finest moments make Oriyu’s gun feel wimpy, and control – once again – feels loose and only accidentally effective.

But suddenly, as the storylines of the two characters diverge, the whole game opens up. All the “WTF?” moments from the storyline start getting filled in, there’s colourful splashes of humour, and levels far more suited to use of the gun are romped through with glee. The return to familiar areas works much better – “The Alchemist”, set amidst one of Gokurakumaru’s most annoying areas, is transformed into a truly joyous little run’n’gun section. I genuinely enjoyed playing as Oriyu – until the final boss who, as per most Final Bosses, was a finicky and annoyingly difficult impediment to Enjoyment.

7 Blades offered a mix of bland hack’n’slash and fun run’n’gun; neither section on its own would be able to prop up a game, but they both had their moments to shine. The problem, though, was that the second half of the game was soooooo much more enjoyable than the first; upon reflection, it’s like Night and Day. And it’s that disparity that really hurts the memory of 7 Blades. Still, for a game I was dreading, there were a few wacky moments of wonder, a few levels of genuine ninja-slaughtering fun. But eventually the game was finished, and I doubt it’ll be played again.

Ridge Racer 6

Xbox Live – I’m abso-fucking-lutely loving it. Far more than I ever thought I would.

Most of you 360ers will know about MyGamerCard.net; a neat part of their service is that they provide leaderboards that you can filter by Game, Zone, or Country. So naturally, once you get past the usual jousting amongst your friends, you get to the stage where you start looking at where you stand with respect to your neighbours.

Now, I’ll profess to being an average gamer – I’m OK, I’ve got a smidge of “natural” ability, but I’m far from good. But, in perusing the Australian charts, I saw a chance, an opening. For Ridge Racer 6.

Now, up until a few years ago, I fucking hated racing games. But then a pic of Ahchay & nbcl… er, strawdonkey playing F-Zero GX graced the virtual pages of Way of the Rodent, and I thought “I’ll have some of that.” And I was poo at it. Only this year, after playing pretty frequently, did I manage to unlock the Master Cup. But I loved it, each and every second that it was handing my arse to me on a platter with a frilly pink bow on it. But that’s another story.

The point is, I’m not a natural racer – I’m as untalented at racers as I am in fighting games. But I liked Ridge Racer 6 – eschewing any pretence at realism, it just felt like honest, glorious, absolutely silly good fun. From the first extravagant drift around the first corner, I was hooked. For all the second-hand swearing I submitted my SO to, she never once saw me without a big stoopid grin on my face. I was crap at the game, but I was learning… slowly.

I caned RR6. Calouses formed on the the tips of my thumbs from thrashing the cars around the Ridge Racer Universe. Hours of gameplay passed. I got stuck many, many times. Venturing online for the first time, only to encounter the Japanese and Korean pros who had been playing three months longer than I and could lap me whilst drifting (for fuck’s sake!) only served to reinforce my own perceived crapulence.

But then – 80 hours in – something clicked. Some nugget of knowledge finally lodged itself in my brain; something suddenly made sense. I unlocked the Final Series. I persevered with the much-hated Final 1 race… then came Final 2. The rest came with a rush, almost like a flourish. I finished the Final Series. My Gamer Score went through the roof as Achievements were achieved and unlockables unlocked.

I checked the Australian leaderboard again; there were still two players ahead of me. Comparing their Achievements to mine indicated that they were both able to score some extra points relatively easily. To leapfrog ahead of them, I had to do some serious racing – I had to get the 100 points for racing 10,000 miles.

But after 80 hours of play, I only had 6996 miles.

The next day-and-a-half were a flurry of driving, occasionally looking over my shoulder to look for any movement from the competition, whilst pushing my thumbs and forefingers to the brink of RSI. I was calculating the number of races left, counting them down. Continuous triple-nitrous blasts were continually applied. Sleep – bah! No time for sleep!

10 races to go… 5… 3. 2. 1.

As I exited the Single Race menu, the standard Ridge Racer 6 achievement display popped up. I scurried over to Xbox.com, confirming that the Achievement had registered. I checked Mygamercard.net; they hadn’t updated their stats yet.

F5. F5. F5. F5.

And, suddenly, I sat atop the leaderboard for my country.

I won’t lie; at the time I thought it was going to be mere moments until I lost that honour, because I’m really not that good. But the thing is, it feels like one of the greatest bits of gaming I’ve ever managed. It feels weighty to me. It feels like an Achievement: I really wanted to do it, and I managed to learn – or was taught (by a spectacular game) – how to do it.

Would I have bothered, had I not been spurred on by Xbox Live and its endless possible statistical comparisons? Maybe not – I certainly never “finished” F-Zero GX, did I? So I have this overwhelming sense of pride in this tiny, piffly, insignificant thing that I’ve done, and it’ll always be associated with the social cajoling of Xbox Live. And I’ll always feel lucky to have experienced that.

Sadly, though, this is not a story with an entirely happy ending. About a month-and-a-half later I was joined at the top of the Australian rankings by a chap who was my alphabetical superior; thus, when demonstrating my top-ranking to my nephews, they remained unconvinced that having your name second on the list is equivalent to an “equal first”. They’ll learn, the bastards.

Worse, though, is the amount of Achievement cheating that appears to be going on now. A recent check of the leaderboard shows a bunch of people who appear to have used someone else’s saved game to glean their “achievements”; seriously, acquiring all of RR6‘s Achievements in one day? Getting a 200 Win Achievement before a 50 Win Achievement?

Clearly, this fantastic incremental idea of public Achievements – those very items whose presence drove me to be a better player – can also have a negative effect, too.

The P.N.03 Papillon Quest

It’s pretty difficult to find any PAL P.N.03 information out there, so I thought I’d also share a save file [6 KB] (saved using the EMS Gamecube save card) and a few tips on Papillon suit acquisition.

Here’s the 5 slots in the file:

  1. Start of Mission 11, Easy, all suits except Blackbird and Papillon unlocked. Complete this mission to see ending #1, and the Blackbird unlock screen.
  2. Start of Mission 11, Normal, all suits except Papillon unlocked. Complete this mission (without changing out of the Blackbird suit) to see ending #2, and the Papillon unlock screen.
  3. Start of Mission 11, Easy, all suits unlocked, wearing Papillon. Complete this mission to see ending #3.
  4. Cleared data, Blackbird. Load this slot to view the Blackbird start screen.
  5. Cleared data, Papillon. Load this slot to view the Papillon start screen.

FWIW (considering the vast amounts of dubious P.N.03 information out there – especially regarding the PAL version), here’s how I did it:

  • Slot 1: played through on Easy, completed all the Trial Missions, and repeated Trial Mission 7.5 (ie, Trial Mission 5 preceding Mission 8 ) until I had sufficient points to buy all the suits. When this game was complete, I saved the Cleared data into Slot 4.
  • New game. Loaded Slot 4, then played through on Easy again, racking up the points and upgrading all the suits to maximum. Saved the “Cleared” data to Slot 4 again.
  • New game. Loaded Slot 4, then raced through on Easy mode again (not worried about the Trial Missions), saving into Slot 2. The purpose here was to generate a “Cleared” Slot in Slot 2. When loaded, the Slot 2 Cleared data still results in the Blackbird title screen.
  • New game. Loaded Slot 2, played through on Normal, saving to Slot 2. Changed suits to the Blackbird at the earliest opportunity, before shooting anything. Completed all the Trial Missions, getting Professional on all of them (resetted without saving if I missed Professional). I definitely did not get Professional ranking on all the “real” Missions. Completed the game, awarded Papillon, saved the Cleared data into Slot 5.
  • New game. Loaded Slot 5, played through on Easy with the Blackbird, racking up sufficient points to upgrade the Papillon to maximum (this generally doesn’t require any Trial Missions). Saved the Cleared data to Slot 5 again.
  • New game. Loaded Slot 5, played through on Easy, saving to Slot 3. Changed suits to the Papillon at the earliest opportunity, before shooting anything.
    Playing with the Papillon on Easy still gives you a slight buffer (getting hit twice kills you, as opposed to Normal mode’s once (!) ).

I’ve also collected a few lovely P.N.03 movies for you:


This entry was published – with permission, of course – in Issue 78 of the utterly joyous Way of the Rodent. Hurrah!

Back in 2003, Capcom resuscitated the hopes of GameCube owners when they came up with the Capcom Five – a series of Cube exclusives. Sadly, one of the five were dropped, and three others were ported to the PS2; P.N.03, however, remained a rough diamond that all Gamecube owners should cherish.

Sonically, it’s a bit meh. There’s nothing to inspire, nothing that infuriates; inoffensive beats that may accidentally make you tap your foot every so often, moody pieces that cajole the tone rather than set it. Gameplay-wise, it’s an odd blend of move-then-shoot, spiced up with largely ineffective mashing of the D-pad in an attempt to conjure up the use of an Energy Drive. So let’s now consider the visual aesthetics of P.N.03, and we’ll cut straight to the heart of the matter; the game is built around the model of the protagonist, Vanessa Z Schneider. Few games have characters modeled as strikingly, as gorgeously, as pneumatically, as P.N.03. Which is just as well, because the rest of the graphics are average, at best. In the variety department, this game is shamed by Halo. Or even just The Library in Halo. Yes, it’s that dull.

But, as mentioned before, this game is focused on Vanessa. VANESSA! The first time you get an Autofire power-up, you’ll hold down the A-button and sit back in wonder as Vanessa seductively moves her hips whilst dealing out death. And it’s utterly mesmerising. I’ve spent hours just watching her arse move. In fact, P.N.03 is known as “Wigglies” in my abode, such is the splendour of her buttock convolutions.

As for the gameplay… well, P.N.03 is a bit short. It’s easy to blast through the 11 levels on offer pretty quickly. But then you notice the Store, where you can purchase different skins for Vanessa’s Aegis Suit… or rather, Vanessa’s Arse. The game then becomes a matter of viewing that posterior in all possible suits in all possible surroundings; discovering that certain suits, in certain lighting conditions, are nothing short of pornographic. Wankworthy, at least.

Of course, to acquire these suits you need to score points. To score points, you need to play the game. A lot. In playing the game, you have to watch Vanessa gracefully leap, run, and cartwheel about between shooting, occasionally striking a vogue-esque pose when you manage to fire off an Energy Drive. And she wiggles her arse, too.

Did I mention that Vanessa’s got a gorgeous arse?

Finally, you discover the existence of the final Aegis Suit for Vanessa’s wardrobe – the Papillon suit. Maybe you read about it on the Internet, maybe you noticed its 0.7 second appearance in the end-game movie. No matter – you now know that the Papillon suit is, essentially, a fetching pairing of a boob-tube and a G-string. There may be something covering Vanessa’s legs too but, let’s face it, if the arse is exposed you’re not going to notice.

YES! Those glorious fleshy orbs will be freed! And a rather tasty butterfly tattoo exposed, too.

And so the quest for the Papillon suit begins. More running, gunning, posing, gyrating. It’s the best kind of gaming grind imaginable, like receiving fellatio whilst leveling-up in Sword of Fargoal. Eventually, though, you are awarded the suit – basking in the post-orgasmic glow of the achievement, you see the sex-on-a-stick Papillon title screen for the first time.

You wait for your heart rate to drop to something approximating normal, and you start playing with the Papillon suit. You leap, you bound, you pirouette, you drool. The suit, by its absence, is lush. Sure, you’ve got no actual protection from being shot, but the visual feast on offer makes it more than worthwhile.

And then, you think to yourself… “I wonder if there’s anything tasty if I beat the game wearing the Papillon suit.”

And here’s where the purity of P.N.03 is revealed, for the Papillon Quest boils down to a simple matter of not being shot. And you can’t get more hard-core, more shoot-em-up, more pure, than that.

Play. Wiggle. Don’t get shot. Wiggle. Strike a pose. Wiggle. Don’t get shot.

It’s what video game dreams are made of.



I am an obsessive/compulsive gamer.

I’ve always loved the out-of-body experience that gaming has provided, even in the days of primitive beeps and blips. From the time I first spied an early black-and-white Sprint clone in the local fish and chip shop, scoring my C64, acting all grown-up when I hit University and “forgetting” games, unintentionally being thrust back into the world of gaming by winning an Xbox, catching up on what I’d missed… all along the journey, I’ve loved the worlds and characters that can only be experienced through the wonder of (once-)chunkified images and (once-)simplistic audio environments. And, now that technology seems to be able to supplement imagination rather than restrict it, the new worlds that are being presented allow immersion to be ever deeper.

However, I have a problem with gaming: it turns me into an obsessive/compulsive. And, to avoid offending anyone, let’s be quite clear what I mean here: the Wikipedia entry for Obsessive-Compulsive disorder states that the phrase obsessive/compulsive “is often used in an offhand manner to describe someone who is meticulous or absorbed in a cause” – and that’s the intent I’m trying to provide: that, for one reason or another, my approach to gaming is meticulous, sometimes at the expense of all else. I’m not trying to suggest that I suffer from OCD – at the very least, my missus would kick my arse for suggesting so.

Part of my problem is that I get emotionally engaged by my avatar; I treat their life as my own (with the notable exception that I’d never pop myself into the situation where I have ridiculous numbers of creatures, robots, or the undead to slay before continuing my quest). In Quake I tip-toed around corridors, afraid to let my health drop below a safe “100”, shitting bricks at the mutterings of unseen knights around the corner. Zelda had me overly cautious in the same way; who would allow poor little Link to be harmed in any way, shape, or form? Halo had me panicking as – not with – the Master Chief; I literally cried tears of relief when I finished Legendary.

The other part of the problem, I believe, is the utter rush that I get from completion – from seeing all that has been presented unto me. And this is a big issue: simply finishing a game isn’t enough, it has to be finished on the hardest difficulty, all the unlockables have to be unlocked, all the bonuses have to be realised. I blame Halo for solidifying this – that extra couple of seconds of footage in the final movie sequence drove me on to finish Legendary and, in doing so, taught me how to play the game, rather than just plod through it, seeing the sights. Glean every morsel of gaming goodness from the article on offer. Experience the game, rather than co-exist.

So the idea of “completing” a game – 100-percenting, mastering, whatever you want to call it – became a very real, very central goal for me. And I started playing through my back catalogue of acquired games, aiming to complete them. I got off to a quick start with a couple of games that I know well.

But therein lies the problem. In striving for the rush of completion, I now find that I can often miss the joy of the journey. I remember precious little of Ocarina of Time, sadly, because I barrelled through both Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker, one after the other, in about ten days straight. I remember the beginning of Ocarina, and that’s it. I popped on the demo of Wind Waker the other day for a look, and could not remember the dungeon that was proffered unto me. And so I thought I’d start writing a bit about what I was playing in my O/C way, as a record of what I’d done (in the same manner as my other blog, chronicling the silly number of Adelaide Fringe & Festival shows I’ve seen).

So – what can you expect from this essentially meaningless blog? One average gamer’s musings on gaming in general, and on his journey through the gaming world. The impending car-crash of the O/C’s realisation that his obsession cannot be satisfied, limited by his own failings. Pithy reviews and ever-so-occasional useful snippets. Attempts to leech off a potential readership of three through affiliate promotions and a tips jar. But, most of all, an honest look at an afflicted mind that just happens to dig gaming. A lot.

What you won’t find – at least, not intentionally – is well written and well reasoned commentary. I fully expect to be self-contradictory, self-important, self-involved, and full of shit. This isn’t supposed to be a one-stop gaming info site, and I really recommend that you go elsewhere for your up-to-date news. I’ve still got 70-odd games – most of them 3+ years old – to ruminate on, so there’ll be no breaking reviews of Halo 3, no walkthroughs of the hottest new games. But hopefully someone somewhere will be able to identify somewhat with something that I type.

I am an obsessive/compulsive gamer.

But, most significantly, I am a gamer.