The Silly Season…

With the start of the US-centric “holiday season” comes a glut of high-profile releases, with November seeming to suffer the most from the weight of numbers (and expectations, too, with all the “AAA”s being thrown around). Most years I find it easy to ignore The Silly Season: I can tune out of the gaming world, knowing full well that the hyperbole that gets thrown around will be forgotten – along with the games that encouraged it – in a few months time.

Not this year, though. Three triple-A titles, one on each of the major consoles, coming out in the same month… and all are likely to be List-dwellers for some time.

Towards the end of the month comes the latest Zelda title, Skyward Sword. I remember seeing some promo movies a while back, and wasn’t particularly impressed: the style for this outing seemed to be a non-committal cartooning of Twilight Princess-era graphics, without pushing all the way through to create something as unique (and stunning) as Wind Waker. The idea of Motion Plus-inspired controls didn’t fill me with optimism, either, so I was thinking that maybe I could sit this Zelda out.

And then the press started buzzing.

Typically stingy-scorers Edge gave it a 10, calling it “a triumph”. Pro-press and lucky bloggers alike waxed lyrical (within the constraints of their embargoes) about the game, many expressing their delight at how they were surprised by a franchise as familiar as Zelda.

So that’s pre-ordered, then.

A week or so before Zelda? Halo: Anniversary. I’ve literally been suffering flashbacks to my original Halo Legendary run, and wondering how the hell I’m going to manage the same again. And that’s before tackling the rest of the Achievements, some of which encompass the tricks I know and love… and some of which look insane.

So that’s pre-ordered, too.

The final game in my Silly Season is Uncharted 3, which I picked up last Thursday and pushed through on Easy over the course of a couple of sessions. And that first run was significantly more enjoyable than my first playthrough of Uncharted 2, with a notably improved graphics engine. But my most recent Uncharted misgivings remain, with all senses being co-opted to drive the storyline along, distracting the player from the loose gameplay.

That’s not to say that I didn’t like the game; lord no, it’s a genuinely thrilling experience. And it certainly encouraged me to go back and start a second playthrough of Uncharted 2 (and dip into the multiplayer of both, which has proved to be both surprisingly fun and exasperatingly annoying). But… the Second Coming it most certainly is not.

And, whilst the storyline of Uncharted 3 is quality B-movie action, it’s the conversation around the game that has been most entertaining. Eurogamer’s Uncharted 3 review spawned one of the most amazing comments threads I’ve read in ages, with the (UK branch of) EG awarding the game a healthy eight-out-of-ten score… raising the ire of many. Apparently, many readers are unable to comprehend the idea of modern “reviews”, leading to cracking messages like this:

How can this get 8/10 when Uncharted 2 got 10/10?!

Or this:

So is it 8/10 like you say, or is it 10/10 like Eurogamer Italy gave it today. I don’t want to hear that’s it’s your opinion man, opinions mean shit, is the game 10/10 or 8/10

Are you trollin or is Eurogamer Italy talking shit, because you can’t both be right

Which is, quite frankly, pretty funny. One of those things that, like drunk Facebook photo postings, people will regret having committed to the Internet in their middle age.

But then, you also find comments like this one:

You, as a player, are not required to do anything from a gameplay perspective. You’re carried along on a strictly linear Cinematic Emotional journey and are even bolstered, as mentioned in the review, at certain points, should you fail, just in case the “narrative” is interrupted. The player has absolutely no agency in this game at all; they’re not really the primary participant. They just get to press buttons now and then.

Indie designer Keith Burgun came up with a great term for games like Uncharted and Call of Duty (yes, I consider them products of the same school of thought): asset tours. It’s perfect. Because that’s what they are. The developers create a bunch of beautiful assets and then the “game” itself is just about dragging you along to look at them.

The narrative itself may well be compelling from a “storytelling” perspective, but the narrative the player tells through his or her actions is nonexistent. That’s not what a game should be.

And that is brilliant. That post captured so much of what I think about Uncharted‘s later iterations that I feel frankly embarrassed about my own ramblings. I’ll try and chat more about the player agency (or lack thereof) in the Uncharted series at a later date, but – in the meantime – let me just say that “asset tours” is a perfect phrase.

In the coming week, though, I’ll be forgoing my agency and looking at pretty pictures onscreen… and getting dragged into the emotional slipstream that the Uncharteds supply. And then hating myself afterwards for being sucked into a shallow experience. And then playing through it – and getting sucked in – again.

Reach for the Damned

Last week? 225 words. This week? Fewer.

Of course, this week saw more Halo: Reach… plump dailies make the cRedit snaffling easier. Less than 102,000 cR to go until Field Marshall rank.

The only other game that got a look in? Shadows of the Damned. The Legion Hunter difficulty has been conquered (and the last of its Achievements popped), with the only tricky bits being the last two bosses. The earlier of the two has a well-known “issue” that, whilst easy to work around, still makes the battle tough; the final boss was more difficult, with ammo in scant supply and constantly consuming my (thankfully well-stocked) health-providing drinks. But, as premature congratulations popped into my TrueAchievements feed, I leapt back into the fray on the hardest difficulty level: Satanic Hell. And if the jump to Legion Hunter was significant, it was bettered by Satanic Hell; one hit from a demon leaves the screen throbbing red, and George possessed a one-hit kill (guess how I found that out).

But my gems have been glitched already, and I’m pushing ahead – lord knows how I’m going to manage that final boss, though. That will probably be the reason Shadows remains on The List.

Nothing to see here…

Last week, I opened my post with the blunt promise that it would be “short, sharp and shiny” – then proceeded to blather on for another seven hundred words.

No chance of that this week, simply because there’s precious little to opine on.

Halo: Reach, with its 343 Industries-fattened Daily Challenges, gets a look-in every second day; less than 200,000 cR to Field Marshall, now. And Child of Eden gave up an Achievement for hammering through the easiest level on the Hard difficulty setting. But the only game that’s got any serious playtime this week has been Shadows of the Damned.

Whilst a good sixth of my second playthrough was spent glitching Red Gems (to ensure that Garcia Fucking Hotspur’s weapons were at their most powerful), the second run – on Normal, or “Demon Hunter” difficulty – proved to be four hours quicker than the first, weighing in at a lazy twelve hours. The game didn’t really seem that much harder than the easiest difficulty; but, now that I’ve leapt straight into a Hard (“Legion Hunter”) playthrough, the difference is more apparent: being struck by a demon is now a worrisome event, with the potential for the second strike being fatal. Still, I’m in the midst of the gem glitching again, and looking forward to the rest of the game… although tales of buggy final boss encounters concern me somewhat.

225 words. Now that is short.


Short, sharp and shiny this week, since not much gaming has taken place in the last seven days (due mainly to a spot of sickness, the Adelaide Festival of Ideas, and offering oodles of moral support to a friend in need).

After belting through Uncharted 2 last week, I wanted a bit of a palate cleanser; I decided to push on and finish my first (Easy – or “Lemon Hunter”) playthrough of Shadows of the Damned. I noted in my last post that the game’s writing had been improving as the game went on; later chapters are a cunning mix of frustration (there’s lots of instakills) and glee, especially once the weapons get amped up and the demon parts start flying. There’s some wonderful nuttery (the oft-cited segments where you control the protagonist as he runs over an enormous rendition of his girlfriend’s lingerie-clad body) and a few choice bits of dialogue; the bosses aren’t too obtuse, and it was all a good bit of fun. Lemon Hunter complete; three difficulties to go!

Having got that out of the way, I thought I’d bounce back to Uncharted 2 for a second playthrough; I managed to get to the first of the stealth bits before turning the PS3 off in disgust. I didn’t mention hating the stealth segments in my last post, but my word I thought they were awful. And far too plentiful! So that’s a nice little turn-off.

Feeling spurned, and having snaffled a fair few GamerSmarties from Shadows, I started poring over my 360 titles for more gettable Achievements… and decided to give Child of Eden another bash. Playing through the earlier – and hence familiar – levels was fine, but when I attempted the fourth level again I was reminded at why I found it tough going previously: the “game over” mechanism amounts to little more than a very sudden (and occasionally disorientating) message that can be crudely translated as “fuck you”.

And that, y’know, doesn’t really inspire me to leap back into the fray.

Still, I was convinced that Eden was at least beatable… and, after many attempts, I managed to squeeze through the end of the Passion Archive. That unlocked the final regular level, and when my first attempt lasted for a good fifteen minutes before that blunt message reappeared (doubly galling given the glacial pace of the Journey Archive’s opening minutes), I had a peek at YouTube for a level playthrough… only to discover that I’d died within about ten seconds of the final “danger” spot of the game.

On my second attempt I breezed through… grabbing a nice, fat, hundred-point Achievement in the process. But the end-game… oh my. For all that Rez managed to emote in its final stages, Eden completely misses the mark for me. Now, I’ve raved about Miz previously, but there’s one crucial bit of evidence that indicates that he and I aren’t on the same page: he thinks Heavenly Star is an awesome and inspiring song, and I most certainly do not. So that’s a bit of a bummer.

My OCD quakes at the thought of having to gold-star all those levels, especially when my first attempt at the Hard difficulty ended in shameful failure. So that will be an interesting learning experience…

One last note: I was sorry to hear of the passing of Steve Jobs. The first computer I ever coded upon in anger was an Apple ][e, and once upon a time (in the System 6-7 days) I was a massive Mac Fanboy – I’ve still got the “Windows 95 = Mac 88” t-shirt to prove it. Whilst everything I’ve read (and heard, from people who’d met and worked with him) indicated that he was a… difficult man in the workplace, I’ve nothing but admiration for the bloody-mindedness that Jobs applied to his companies to ensure they produced the products he thought the public wanted. Without his focus, I’m certain the smartphone market would be nowhere near as vibrant and exciting as it is now, and the computer market in general would be stuck with beige-box aesthetics. But most of all, I respect Jobs for not caving to the music industry – and for setting a precedent for the paid digital download of media. That’s something that I really do believe in, and without Jobs’ efforts the digital delivery landscape would be a far more fragmented beast than it is now.

Rest in peace, Steve.


After wrapping up my Uncharted Platinum last week (and writing a few thoughts about the game), I decided to return to the previously-disappointing Shadows of the Damned.

My first impressions of Shadows had not been kind; once I got past the fear generated by the awesome soundscapes, I didn’t like the awkward aim-then-fire control mechanism, and it felt like my avatar (the gloriously-named “Garcia Fucking Hotspur”) was a lethargic blob. Enemies were difficult to target, and…

Blah blah blah.

That line from my Uncharted piecemy first impression can be useless – should be tattooed on the backs of my eyelids. Whilst Shadows is by no means brilliant, I had a shitload of fun with it this week; I’m about two-thirds of the way through it, I reckon, and – after ditching my existing save-file and starting again from scratch – it’s been a real romp. I took advantage of a well-known glitch to max all my weapons out very early on; this had the unexpected effect of making me play with a much more carefree manner – a recklessness. Without The Fear, the game become much more engaging for me, and so I got to experience Suda51’s wacky bosses… and the dialogue has just been getting better and better. Garcia struggling to read a storybook was an absolutely brilliant touch.

But, being quite honest, Shadows was only a placeholder, something to pass the time – because I was absolutely gagging to play Uncharted 2. I wanted to hammer the first playthrough, so I fired it up for the first time on Friday night, expecting to spend the weekend romping through Drake’s second outing. Unexpected Grand Final plans on Saturday stymied my intentions, though, but (after a little recuperative snooze) I leapt back into it on Sunday… and finished it that evening. Two big sessions is all it took.

Now – as I’ve said before, my first impression can be useless, so I’m not overly concerned at my comparative lack-of-enthusiasm regarding Uncharted 2 at the moment. But I will tap out a few notes: I love the new grenade mechanism. I hate the new armoured enemies. I love that the Shiny Teeth from the first game have gone. I hate that they’ve been replaced by shiny eyeballs that make Chloe look like she’s wearing mirrored contacts. Speaking of Chloe… I hate her voice acting – it sounds like it was recorded separately to everyone else. Hate the city bits. Love the temple bits. And it’s still a pretty poorly signposted game, though I know that only annoys me on the first playthrough.

Here’s the thing, though: for all the “hate” mentioned above, I really quite enjoyed belting through Uncharted 2 the first time… certainly far more than I enjoyed the first run of its predecessor. But – and that’s a big “but” – I couldn’t shake the feeling (once again) that I was disconnected from the game somewhat, like my actions didn’t really matter. It really feels like the player is flung from one spectacle to another – and whilst these set-pieces are really quite exciting, and certainly well scripted, I always felt a little cheated when I reflected on them.

But hey – this gaming thing is still a relatively new artform. Uncharted 2 is pointing us in the right direction in terms of storytelling – that moment in Chapter 17 is really, really well done – but we’re not there yet.

Of course, that’s just my first impression, so who knows what I’ll think in a month’s time ;)

Oh – Halo: Reach remains a constant. I’ve just hit General Grade 4; now begins the long climb to the last of the military ranks, Field Marshall. 344,841 cR remaining…

Admitting You Were Wrong…

Not much gaming this week, primarily due to Social Distractions: a dear friend’s birthday bash, some slam poetry, and a creeping addiction to Treme. I still pottered around the edges of the Reach Daily Challenges, though, and I creep ever closer to the end of the General ranks – though at a much decreased rate. I just don’t have the passion for the two hours a night (that it used to take me to snaffle about 20k cR) at the moment.

And I really hadn’t felt inspired to push on with anything else, either; Geometry Wars^2 entertains, but not in a gripping manner, and I just cannot face Child of Eden or Shadows of the Damned yet. The mojo still hadn’t selected a target, and that was starting to get me down.

As another distraction, I thought I’d catch up on a few videos that I’d bookmarked for later viewing, and I started with Giant Bomb‘s Quick Look at the upcoming Ico / Shadow of the Colossus re-release for the PS3. I was on the fence as to whether I’d purchase this: I loved Ico dearly, but Colossus really didn’t work for me at all (even after I changed the controls to something that made sense to my uncoordinated fingers). But the Quick Look reminded me of all the utter loveliness of Ico again and, as I watched the video, I had an almost synaesthetic recollection of what it felt like to play that game.

Now, Ico was the first game I really played on the PS2, so it is inexorably linked to the feel of the DualShock 2 for me. And, as much as I dislike all editions of the DualShock controllers, it just worked for Ico.

But the video left me with a Sony-esque yearning in my fingers – something I’d felt earlier this year. I fired up the PS3 for the first time in ages, and started playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune from scratch.

And, after a quick ten-hour run through the game (on Easy, natch), during which I netted most of the available trophies, I have to stand up and say: I Was Wrong.

Because it’s a bloody nice game.

I think I can justify my earlier bitching (and my whiny “Shrugging ‘Huh?'” award): the DualShock 3 doesn’t help at all with control accuracy, and I’ve steered clear of enough mainstream games recently that I’ve not overdosed on Nolan North, so the writing and dialogue on this second run through the game felt fresher. In fact, it almost screened like an action movie.

And that’s how I decided to play it, running-and-gunning rather than sitting cowardly in cover. Isolating bad guys and giving them the old one-shot-one-punch combo. Actually using grenades!

In short, I had a ball playing Uncharted for the second time – and I’ve immediately started another playthrough. I know that I’ll wind up gnawing my own fist when it comes time to do the Crushing run, but hey – after my Reach Legendary heroics, I should be able to grind it out, I reckon. And then, maybe I’ll move onto Uncharted 2… just in time for the release of Uncharted 3.

A real up-to-date gamer, I am ;)

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.

Reach Burnout

And so, after nearly five weeks, my Halo: Reach flame has burnt itself out.

The beginning of the week was fine; I’d just hit the rank of General, and my daily inclination of 25,000 cRedits was proving to be pretty easy going. Grab the Dailies, pop into Grifball, a couple of games of Slayer, have a little Firefight Doubles session. Tuesday night saw my cRedits-in-hand break two million – enough to purchase the single most expensive item in the Armory, the Inclement Weather armor effect. Bought and equipped, it seemed to turn me into a target in Multiplayer Matches – Grifball is now insanely silly, with the opposition drawn to the lightning & black storm-clouds surrounding me.

But, thereafter, I lost something. Willpower, I think it was.

The climb to the next rank was a bit of a struggle, and even though the increments between ranks has dropped to a less daunting 150,000 cR, I’m just not feeling it anymore. The fun grind has been reduced to just a grind (with a few bits of fun mixed in).

It might be time to focus on something else, I reckon. I’ve gained about 1.4 million cRedits since I fired Reach up again… General Grade 1, nearly 62% Commendations. That’s a pretty good platform to build on.

But I must admit that I’m a little bit concerned that I feel so spent after only five weeks. Sure, it was five pretty hard weeks, but the difference in passion now, as compared to when I fell back into my Reach-fest, is pretty marked. And the permanent distraction of all of Reach‘s statistics (and I do love a good number crunch) has led to yet another month where nothing has been struck off The List; an all-too-common occurrence in the last year or so.

But what’s going to be next on (or, more importantly, off) The List? I had a bit more of a fiddle with Gridrunner Revolution this week, but I’m not sure it’s something I want to focus on, y’know? Burbling around in the background is fine for that one, I reckon. I had a bit of a fiddle with Geometry Wars Evolved^2 (in a vain attempt to see whether it could help avert the Completion-less month), and that could lead to some ongoing interest… then again, there’s always a potential return to initially underwhelming pair of Child of Eden and Shadows of the Damned.

Or maybe a freakish left-turn into bizarro-land… Towers II on the Jag.

In the words of Fox News… you decide.

(That was a hint to you, dear Reader. What do you think I should tackle next? Put forth your arguments! Something already on The List is preferred, but other titles will be considered…)

Reach Revolution Podcasts

This week in The Moobaarn? Reach, and plenty of it. Up to Brigadier Grade 2 now, 59% Commendations. And, apart from mentioning that Grifball is my new favourite cRedit whoring method, that’s all I want to write about that.

There’s a new addition to the family this week – my first new PC since 2004. Sure, I’ve bought a couple of laptops since then, but I’ve got no hardware newer than my pre-unibody MacBook Pro. And bugger me if hardware hasn’t marched along… sure, that’s hardly an astute observation, but there’s such a massive leap in performance from my last PC that it actually makes me feel like my new mid-range video card was actually an overspend. Where the old graphics card used to cough and splutter under the Shader 2.0 efforts of my most recent PC game acquisition – Gridrunner Revolution – the new video hardware barely raises a sweat under Shader 3. And Gridrunner really benefits from the extra grunt; running it full-screen at (essentially) 1080p is akin to serving up a visual feast. Delightful, and I’m looking forward to spending some more time with Minter’s work.

But, in the absence of any game-progress-related talk (I’m saving all the best Reach-related stories for later), I thought I’d tap out a few words on a topic that has been sitting on the back-burner for a while now – gaming podcasts. And when I say “a while”, I’m talking years – I’ve got a note from July 2009 that was meant to act as a post-prompt that was conveniently ignored.

Now, I listen to a lot of podcasts – probably up around twenty hours a week. Music, current affairs, tech, politics, and – yes – gaming. But of all those topics, of all those podcasts, the gaming field has proven to be the one with the biggest turnover… because, quite frankly, a lot of them really suck.

Or, worse, are borderline offensive.

I realise that there’s a large element of personal taste involved in any podcast selection; after all, you’re essentially making new friends. You’re inviting new people into your ears. It’s like a more intimate extension of the old Zzap!64 philosophy: provide consistent personalities that the listener can learn to recognise and identify with. So when I listen to a podcast for the first time, and hear nothing but testosterone-fueled conversation which wouldn’t feel out-of-place ensconced in a date-rape joke, then you’ve lost me almost before we’ve started.

I usually give podcasts a fair bash before deciding that they’re not for me; my most recent rejection received a good dozen episodes – nearly twenty hours! – before I decided that these people just did not deserve the ear-time. Well-meaning – and even pleasant – in their own circles, I’m sure, but me and them were just never going to get along. But some gaming podcasts struggled to make it through one episode; they were people I’d be ashamed to share the same air with, as laden with narcotic fumes as it would appear to be.

But when you do get a podcast that works for you… well, it’s like a little reunion every episode. A great example of that is the Giant Bombcast crew; when I first started listening to their two-hour-plus ramblings, full of discussions on energy drinks and cooking and – hey – a little bit of video gaming, I initially thought that they’d be heading to the Reject pile. But a few episodes was enough for me to get a feel for the regulars, and their insightful gaming commentary shone through. And their recent E3 episode featuring David Jaffe is amazing, featuring a wonderful, heartfelt discussion on the interactions of design and development, with Jaffe weighing in as only he can.

I’ve tried really hard to stay positive here by not naming any podcasts that I simply don’t get along with. But here’s a list of those that are still in my RSS feed, including a few that are sadly no longer with us…

  • Giant Bombcast: An audio spurt out of the Giant Bomb crew, this is probably my favourite gaming podcast at the moment. Yes, it’s usually bloody long, but it’s totally worth it – especially if you have any interest in Mortal Kombat or Starcraft (some pet loves of the crew). Great guests, passionate commentary.
  • Retronauts: Just about the only 1UP podcast I can handle, even if the regulars have a seemingly unhealthy interest in the Final Fantasy series. They’ve recently shifted formats to a alternating themed call-in shows (which can be disastrous) and in-depth panels; the recent Deus Ex episode [MP3 – 92MB] was great.
  • 8-4 Play: Despite the lame podcast name (and rocky first few episodes), Japanese translation company 8-4 push out this great podcast from Japan, focused on Japanese games and gaming. It’s a great alternate take on the western podcasts, and their episode that featured a surprise drop-in from Tetsuya Mizuguchi was fantastic.
  • GDC Radio: GDC Radio used to have a bunch of fantastic (and free!) recordings from GDC. Sadly, they all appear to be stuck behind a paywall now;
  • Kotaku Talk Radio: Another production that seems to have fallen by the wayside, the Kotaku folk put out a handful of decent shows. The show featuring Tim Schafer was beyond great, though.
  • Platinum Games PGTV: No audio here, but plenty of video… including director Hideki Kamiya’s Bayonetta playthrough (with commentary!).
  • Major Nelson Podcast: If you can forgive the (expected) Microsoft bias (not so apparent now, but in the year after the 360’s launch their was some real shonky “interviews” in there), this is actually a relatively enjoyable bit of banter.
  • Zero Punctuation: Oh come on, is there anyone out there who doesn’t watch Yahtzee’s stuff religiously?
  • The Arsecast: Hands down, the funniest gaming podcast committed to the Internet ever. Though it’s been four years(!) since an episode was released, this short-lived indie-focused one-man show is beginning-to-end brilliant. Graham loves his indie stuff, and his scripts are riotous in either their effusive enthusiasm or brutal mockery. If you can handle any level of classical British humour, download every episode forthwith… and thank me in the comments.

Apparently, there’s also a Grasshopper Manufacture podcast that’s occasionally available on their Facebook page – I’ve never seen (nor heard) one, though.

And what about the two of you out there who’ve read this? Do you have any gaming podcast faves?

Another Big Completionist List…

This should be a quick’n’easy weekly post – I’ve mainly played a ton of Halo: Reach. I’m still really enjoying myself – even more so, now that I’ve discovered the gloriously silly Grifball. Running around the map, smashing gravity hammers with scant regard for anyone’s safety (with, thankfully, no punishment for betrayals), and occasionally actually paying attention to the Grifball, is a soothing palate cleanser after a couple of hours of Team SWAT or Firefight Doubles Arcade.

I’ve hammered my way through most of the Colonel Grades, and have just attained the Rank of Brigadier; the targets I mentioned last week were clearly far too low. And with the variety of games I’m comfortable with now, it feels like it’s relatively easy to snaffle 200,000 cRedits a week… if I avoid playing anything else.

And, y’know, I’ve got a few other games to work on as well.

The most overt of the “other” games is Suda 51’s Shadows of the Damned, which I finally got around to starting this week. And, for me, it’s a pretty conflicted game: I’m not into the control mechanism at all, and – as soft as this may seem – I’m finding it a bit too scary to play late at night… thank christ I decided to ignore the game’s gamma-adjustment suggestion. On the plus side, however, there is a generous amount of Suda nuttery on display, and Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack is fucking amazing. But overall, I’m finding it tough going at the moment – not so much in difficulty, more in desire and application.

But what about the other “other” games – the long-term List-dwellers? My old Gears-boosting buddy Lita asked (on my TA friend-feed) whether I had a breakdown on my outstanding requirements… and I figured that was a pretty good thing to write about (rather than try to recount some sticky-grenade antics from the week’s Halo-play).

Now, a lot of these requirements are driven by my desire to see everything the game’s creator has included – to fully acknowledge their work. It’s not just a matter of Achievements (or Trophies), though they may indeed span the breadth of (or even exceed) what I would have normally deemed “complete”; it’s the satisfaction of the OCD itch that tells me something wonderful may be hidden inside a game’s bits and bytes. To that end, I’ll often do a chunk of research (i.e., hammering GameFAQs) to see what may be embedded before deciding on a reasonable completion target; I’m always open to suggestions, though…


  • Wii Sports: All Pro-levels, all Gold Medals in the practice events (yes, I know there’s a Platinum Medal, and that there are maximum Sports rankings, but I see no need to attain them).
  • Wii Play: All Gold Medals.
  • Paper Mario: I’m almost done with this (though I’d love to replay it at some stage) – I just need to ensure I’ve collected all the recipes.
  • MadWorld: Complete the Hard difficulty level, get all collectibles.
  • Wii Fit Plus: Ummm… no idea, really. Make sure everything’s unlocked? Actually use it again?
  • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle: I’ve got two versions of this – the US and the Japanese. Both should be completed on Bitter difficulty; I’m dreading the return to it, actually.

Xbox 360:

  • Perfect Dark Zero: All Achievements. That covers all the difficulty levels, and I’ve played too much of the multiplayer as it is.
  • Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved: All Achievements.
  • Mutant Storm Reloaded: All Achievements. The one remaining cheevo for this is Black Belt Grandmaster (complete the whole game on the hardest difficulty setting in one go); never going to happen.
  • Robotron 2084: All Achievements. Even less likely to happen than the above. I struggle to make Wave 10, let alone Wave 100.
  • Ninety-Nine Nights: Ah – the first game on this List for which I have all the Achievements, yet is deemed Incomplete. There’s a bunch of random drop collectibles to be snaffled here; quite looking forward to revisiting this at some stage, actually.
  • Lumines Live!: All Achievements, all Skins unlocked, all Puzzles solved.
  • Halo 3: Hey, it’s a Halo… complete Legendary Solo.
  • Boom Boom Rocket: All Achievements. No DLC required, since it was a pack-in freebie.
  • Luxor 2: All Achievements.
  • Rez HD: Oooooh… 100% shoot-down all levels.
  • Ikaruga: All Achievements. The Gamecube version of the game deserves to have all A-Ranks, too. S-Ranks are just pie-in-the-sky thinking.
  • Geometry Wars Evolved^2: All Achievements. Should be doable.
  • Bionic Commando: Rearmed: All Achievements. Probably won’t be.
  • Shadow Complex: This has a bunch of internal Master Challenges; I reckon these should be doable (in much the same way that the Braid time-trials got reeled in).
  • Bayonetta: Ah, Bayonetta. Your Achievements came so freely, yet you are less than a third complete. There’s two whole characters (and hence playthroughs) left to go here; one requires all Platinum levels, the other the successful completion of a bastard hard challenge. Never going to happen.
  • After Burner Climax: Christ, I’d forgotten about this. I feel compelled to get all the Score Attack medals. The problem is that I’m incredibly shit at the game.
  • Halo: Reach: Ugh. Witness my torture! 100% Commendations, 100% Armory, Legendary Co-op Campaign, Inheritor Rank. Most of that is insane.
  • Child of Eden: All Achievements. Never, ever, going to happen.
  • Shadows of the Damned: All Achievements, though I think there’s an additional difficulty level unlocked after Legion Hunter. That’d be in-scope, too.

PlayStation 3:

  • Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune: All Trophies. Ugh.
  • WipEout HD Fury: All Trophies. Pretty near impossible, I reckon.


  • Time Splitters 2: All unlockables… ummm… unlocked. This pretty much translates to all Gold Medals, play through on Hard.
  • Panzer Dragoon Orta: Everything in Pandora’s Box unlocked, a successful playthrough on all sub-levels, and a Hard playthrough.
  • Deus Ex: Invisible War: Explore dialog trees and repercussions (tricky!), but I’m not sure whether I’ll force myself to do a Realistic run…
  • Outrun 2: Unlock all Cards. I’ve no idea as to the feasibility of this.
  • Halo 2: Hey, it’s a Halo… complete Legendary Solo. Also create a series of save-points near the Skulls.


  • F-Zero GX: All machine parts unlocked, Story Mode complete on Hard, all character responses witnessed. Never, ever, ever going to happen.
  • Metroid Prime: Complete on Hard, and complete the embedded version of the original Metroid.
  • Super Monkey Ball and Super Monkey Ball 2: Have all levels unlocked for practice… including Master and Master EX. Incredibly unlikely.

PlayStation 2:

  • Bujingai Swordmaster: All coins collected, all goodies unlocked.
  • Frequency and Amplitude: All songs unlocked.
  • Katamari Damacy: Roll up all the countries in the end segment, and get 75% or better in the Constellation levels.
  • We Love Katamari: Collect all items. Don’t really know about any of the levels yet; I’ve not played this since the weekend after I bought it.
  • Super Galdelic Hour: Check to see whether the end-week sketch image changes depending on results.
  • Vib Ribbon: All Gold.
  • N2O: Complete on Hard.


  • Ballistic: Complete on Easy (yes, that’s right, Easy… because it’s a fucking shit game and there are no additional rewards for completing the higher levels).
  • Tempest 3000: Collect passwords for every (available) level. Oh, and finish the game.


  • Jet Grind Radio and Jet Set Radio: I’ve got three versions of this: US, PAL, and Japanese. I know the US and PAL releases differ, but I don’t know whether I’ve got the slightly-buggy-but-hard-as-nails JP version, or the re-badged US version. Regardless, all three must be played until all characters are unlocked.
  • Space Channel 5: Dunno about this one, really. All routes explored?


  • BattleMorph: Erm… finish it!
  • Cybermorph: Likewise!
  • Defender 2000: All 100 levels, plus a look at all the other bits Yak squeezed in there.
  • Iron Soldier: Just finish it…
  • Tempest 2000: Just the 100 levels, thanks. A playthrough on Beastly will not be required.
  • Towers II: Completion with all four characters. This one may be painful.
  • Zero 5: Figure out what’s going on, first and foremost. Then… finish the game.
  • VidGrid: Complete all the levels.
  • Blue Lightning: No idea about this one at the moment.


  • Starship Titanic: Finish the game, exploring the dialog tree along the way. Play with the parser!
  • GridRunner Revolution: Finish all levels in Normal, Endurance, and Thrusty modes.
  • Space Giraffe: LNLM both visualisations.


  • Electroplankton: Explore all modes!
  • Chrono Trigger: A Level 3 Perfect File, as described here (minus the cat requirement).

So there you have it… all the expectations I have for myself. These are complicated, of course, by the fluid nature of the industry: I feel compelled to focus on the Achievement and Trophy hunting in the short term, in case those mechanisms disappear in the future! That’s also reflected in my current Reach efforts, too – I feel like I have to hit those targets before the Reach servers disappear, or the community dries up.

So – for the very few who make it this far, please comment: what’s the most stupid thing you have ever committed to, in terms of game completion?

Reaching for the Implausible

Last Monday night, having just got home from the first of four movies in the local Bill Murray Bonanza (Ghostbusters!), I decided to have a bit of a spring-clean of my Mac. Unsurprisingly, the desire to organise things nice’n’neat soon passed, leaving a half-arsed confusion in its wake, but one thing I did accomplish was the thinning down of open browser tabs… from fifty(!) to a far more manageable twenty.

One of those browser tabs was my Halo: Reach profile page, which I always left open so I could easily check the latest Challenges… just in case I wanted to chase some easy cRedits. Just before the browser tab disappeared, however, I snuck a glimpse at the latest Weekly Challenge – 10,000 cR for an incredibly easy task. “No problems,” I thought, and fired up Reach for the first time in months.

It's-a me... petee-moo.
Hello, I’m petee moobaa… I’ll be your target this evening.

Several hours later I forced myself to go to bed, several Daily Challenges conquered alongside significant progress on the Weekly. But I’d been bitten again; my wandering attention had been grabbed by Reach. And that’s a bit of a problem, because – in terms of List-worthiness – I don’t really know how much Reach will actually placate my OCD niggles. All the Achievements have already been acquired, and there’s three clear indicators of complete-ness: Campaign progress (I’ve still got a co-op run to do on Legendary), Commendations (awarded for accruing in-game events), and Rank.

For those (ha! like anyone reads this) who haven’t encountered Reach, I’ll elaborate a little. Commendations are split into three equally-sized categories, and are typically based around kills – Covenant kills in the Campaign and Firefight categories, your online foe in Multiplayer. There’s Commendations for sprees, using certain weapons, destroying vehicles… that sort of thing. Commendations each have five levels before you max them out – Iron, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Onyx – and attaining each of these five levels adds a point to your Commendation rating – there’s a maximum of 225 Commendation points, upon which your Commendation percentage is based.

The problem is that the requirements for some of these Commendations are… ummmmm… insane.

Now, don’t get me wrong – most of the Campaign and Firefight Commendations are relatively easy to snaffle. Manipulate the game into giving you a useful Checkpoint, get your kills, restart from Checkpoint… rinse and repeat. Boring, but doable. But when it comes to (say) the Firefight “Grounded” Commendation – “Destroy an enemy-occupied vehicle in Firefight matchmaking” – well, I’ve seen maybe a total of fifty vehicles in all the Firefight I’ve played (and I’ve played a lot – I’ve got a handful of Commendations at Onyx already).

Let me repeat: I’ve seen fifty.

To get an Onyx Grounded Commendation, you need to destroy six thousand.

So that’s, like, pretty daunting.

And to a cack-handed player like myself, inexperienced in the ways of online FPSs, the multiplayer Commendations seem equally as remote.

But let’s also mention Rank: Rank is based solely on the accumulation of cRedits. You glean cRedits for just about every violent act in Reach, with little bonuses being awarded for completing Challenges (tasks assigned by Bungie that range from the simple – “kill 100 enemies in any game mode in Reach” – to the insane – “complete <level>, Legendary, All Skulls On”). There’s a cap on the number of cRedits you can earn each day – currently, that’s 120,000. And the topmost Rank is Inheritor – which requires an accumulation of twenty million cRedits.

Do the math – that requires hitting the cRedit cap every day for 167 days.

To put that into perspective, I got a lot of my early Firefight Commendations playing Gruntpocalypse (on Corvette, natch), which netted me about one thousand cRedits every fifteen minutes or so (including setup time). I’ve never come close to the cRedit cap.

So there’s my dilemma; my OCD says “you really won’t be happy unless you’ve got 100% Commendations and an Inheritor Rank”, but the pragmatist in me knows that my OCD has no firm grasp on the time required to achieve those goals.

So, then – baby steps. It’s nearly been a year since Reach was released, so why don’t I set some sort of reasonable target for the anniversary?

I decided that I’d aim for 50% Commendations, and up to the Rank of Colonel Grade 3. That left me with about 300,000 cR and about a dozen Commendations to acquire in about six weeks; 50,000 cR a week seemed doable.

I started poking around the hive-mind, looking what The Kids were doing for easy cRedits these days; “Firefight Doubles,” asserted one youngster. Off to Firefight Doubles I went for a look.

And, bugger me, it was insanely good fun – twenty minutes of rushing forward, guns blazing, before being mercilessly slain and starting again, the only penalty being precious seconds (of the maximum allowed twenty minutes) wasted. There was no need for communication between my partner and I; occasionally we’d cover each other, but most of the time it was just plasma-coloured mayhem.

And then, during the end-game, the reward – over 3,200 cR.

Holy shit, I thought. Three thousand for twenty minutes of fun. Now we’re talking.

So I started hammering Firefight Doubles; if there was a lull, a moment where a match wasn’t immediately available, I’d leap into the Rumble Pit, a generic Multiplayer playlist. Now, I’m amazingly shit at multiplayer – my kill/death ratio was sitting down around 0.7 – but I figured that any kill would add to the overall tally. Based on previous performance, I expected that I’d manage two-to-three kills a game.

And I pretty much managed to keep that average up.

Saturday morning, though, I noticed a message pop up as I fired up Reach – big cRedit jackpots in Team SWAT! Now, I’d never played Team SWAT (team-based, no shields, rifles & pistols), but I was willing to give it a bash if there was a potential for a “big jackpot”.

I was slaughtered, a true impediment to my team. Two kills per game, if I was lucky.

But after the third game… boomshanka. Twelve thousand cRedits.

Easy! :)

So – I’ve been playing a shitload of Reach, hopping between Firefight and Team SWAT. And bugger me if I haven’t noticed a tangible increase in my skills – most SWAT games I’m now garnering six or seven kills, and my team appears to be winning more often than not. And the feeling that these old eyes, these old hands, are steadily improving is absolutely joyful; maybe not quite as joyful as breaking through that 50% Commendation barrier, or knowing that I’m already within striking distance of Colonel Grade 3, but… hey, this stuff is fun.

But it’s a bloody long road. And I’m not sure I can reasonably manage it. I suspect that, as with most games lately, boredom will set in and I’ll eventually get distracted, leaving Reach behind… only to return with a vengeance for another hit of the cRedit pipe later.

And all week, Suda 51’s latest game, Shadows of the Damned, lay unopened on the couch armrest, begging to be played.

Kamxor 2, and Supporting the Ones You Love

The précis for the past week reads somewhat similarly to last week’s effort: nothing but Kameo and Luxor 2.

I’ll start with the latter: I think I’ve managed to burn myself out on Luxor yet again, pushing through to Stage 12-4 on Normal (and up to the Supervisor of Fledglings rank); whilst I’m getting some jollies from my conservative approach to grinding through the levels, the rewards have started to be outweighed by the relentless pressure of the game. It’s stopped being fun and, though I’m a mere eleven stages away from another rare achievement (and the chance to get my gamerscore modulo five again), I might have to step away… again.

Kameo, though, is finally – after having picked it up on the 360’s launch – off The List. Monday night saw me knock off the two remaining solo Thorn’s Pass Achievements, and a greedy late night attempt at my final Score Attack A-Rank ended in failure when I neglected obscure game traits – like Kameo’s health. But Tuesday morning I woke up nursing a dribbly, muddle-headed cold, and subsequently had two days away from the office… I still had sufficient hand-eye co-ordination to play, however, and a repeat attempt at the final Score Attack was a half-billion-point success. Enabling Kameo‘s inbuilt cheat modes (through Score Attack unlockables) yielded a simple Expert-mode walkthrough, and with that… Kameo was done.

But I still want to write a longer piece on Kameo, so I plunged straight back in and started a whole new game, just to check whether my memories of the game were correct. And it was a blast – my A-Rank skills allowed me to blitz my way through the game, and I almost 100%-ed the game inside a dozen hours, and my level scores nearly all exceeded the A-Rank requirements (except that bloody Forgotten Forest level – grumble). So – the information gathered will now likely gestate for a couple of months before popping out into an experience-piece (as opposed to opinion-piece, or review).

There’s one more thing I’d like to write about this week (having just pissed away a large amount of time watching stuff on YouTube), and that is the battle that I’m facing on an almost daily basis about whether or not I go on a big game-buying frenzy. Now, let’s be quite clear, here: I’m well aware of the need for retail therapy, but what I’m currently feeling isn’t an instance of that; rather, I’m currently being jostled by the desire to Support the Ones I Love conflicting with the need to reduce The List.

One of my many Other Lists is a collection of names that I feel have earned my immediate support – creators that will get my money almost immediately upon release, no questions asked. But that List has been causing me a lot of double-takes lately; whilst Llamasoft seem to have targeted the non-List-impacting iOS, Double Fine have seen fit to release Trenched which, by all accounts (and I admit to not having even tried the demo), is a tower defence game that requires friends for Good Times (a problem for me, since its release in Europe – where most of my XBL friends are – has been caught up in a legal quagmire). And I’m not a fan of tower defence stuff… at all. Platinum Games have delighted with Bayonetta, and then disgusted with a not-returned-to-in-ages MadWorld; the demo for Vanquish didn’t impress me (on either the 360 or the PS3). And after the stunning Killer7 and No More Heroes, I was shattered by the crapulence of Suda 51’s No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle, and am thus wary of grabbing Shadows of the Damned (especially when Suda 51’s next game is slated to be the zombie-filled Lollipop Chainsaw – because I hate the use of zombies in games). If Shadows is shit, that may put Suda 51 in the three-strikes territory for me (as it has for other people).

In short: I want to buy Vanquish to support Platinum. I want to buy Trenched to support Double Fine. I want to buy Shadows of the Damned to support Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufacture. But I’m scared by the resultant pressure on The List; whilst Shadows looks easy enough, Vanquish most certainly does not, and I’m already struggling with Luxor, another game-style I don’t get on well with, and I doubt Trenched will offer the same opportunities to brute-force progress.

My arm gets twisted when I hear that sales for recent games have been “disappointing”; whilst I have no real idea how accurate the numbers at VGChartz are, Child of Eden is pegged at less than six-figure-sales, and Shadows of the Damned has struggled to sixty thousand sales (split evenly between the 360 and PS3).

And that, frankly, is bullshit.

I went straight out and bought a brand-spankin’-new copy of Shadows. I’ve not played it yet, but at least I’ve put a penny in Grasshopper’s pocket. Vanquish will have to wait – part of the lust behind that was driven by the discovery of a local store selling lenticular copies (on both platforms) for a mere AU$30. But then that’s almost too cheap; I’d actually rather pay AU$50 to buy it on XBLM (or, I assume, PSN) because I believe in digital delivery, and because I figure Platinum would actually get more out of that.

…oh god, what have I done?


Last Sunday night, post-blogging and lacking inspiration, I found myself pottering around aimlessly: looking at everything, settling on nothing. My plan for the month was in disarray, and I didn’t really know where my (legitimate) game-for-the-month was going to come from. I still have a few fall-back games that I can push myself through (you know, the type of backburner game that’s pretty much done, but just needs another weekend’s TLC before being struck off The List) – so a Plan B formed, and Paper Mario and Super Galdelic Hour started meandering to the foreground of my mind…

…in the meantime, though, I figured I’d put some effort into one of my long-term games. Chrono Trigger? No, that’s too long-term. Rez HD? Not while I’m still struggling with Child of Eden (which didn’t any game-time this week). F-Zero GX? I want to play something, not be reminded about how crap I am.

And somehow I found myself playing Luxor 2.

Now, I’ve written before about my love/hate encounters with Luxor 2, and when I loaded it up for the first time since I got on Stage 13-4 I was full of trepidation. But, fully aware of the struggle I was having just finishing the first third of the game, I had no great expectations… other than accepting that I was engaging in match-3 practice.

So imagine my surprise when judicious use of the account-signout “feature” saw me inch my way past my stumbling block… and the next stage. The next night saw another three stages completed; the following night another fell. That left me on the final level of Easy difficulty… when I was whisked away to Perth on work. Any spare moment on that trip, my mind flittered back to Luxor 2; the moment I stepped back into my home, the 360 was booted. Forty-five teeth-gritting minutes later, I’d scrounged my way through the game.

And then I leapt straight back into the Normal difficulty level. Currently at Stage 6-1, with my rank a lowly Cutter of Reeds. And, once again, I find myself curiously thinking that I may be feeling something that approximates fun… I’m unexpectedly eager to push on, anyway.

But, having posted a link to last week’s post on my my TrueAchievements feed, one of my old boosting buddies left a comment on TA suggesting we return to our previous Kameo challenges. Some months ago we’d given up on making further progress on the (zero-gamerscore!) Time Rank achievements after our Water Temple attempts left us bewildered and bemused; however, some enterprising German lads had posted some new video guides online, and they left my mate gibajon champing at the bit. So we started tackling them again… with initially predictable results. We were well off the pace, unable to even finish the level.

But we learned; we worked things out. We acted as a team. Sure, it was a pretty uneven team – with gibajon’s slick skills showing my old-man floundering for what it really is – but we worked out how to cover for each other. We polished each little section of the game, we started getting the feel for the flow of the level. The first time we actually finished the level – with a scant three seconds left on the clock, earning a convincing E-Rank – felt like a triumph. Getting within thirteen seconds of our A-Rank target, we knew we could squeeze the extra seconds from somewhere; but when the breakthrough came, and we finished easily… well, it’s safe to say we were both pretty happy.

Then came the next level… less than a dozen attempts. The next… less than a handful (despite my protestations about the apparent impossibility of the task). The final level, with tight initial timings and requiring a healthy dose of luck early on, was more testing, but eventually it too was conquered.

And suddenly Kameo‘s Time Attacks were out of the way – and a little bit of digging led us to discover our world-wide rankings were a more-than-credible 38, 41, 30, 35, 22, and 25. We got gibajon a few extra hosting Achievements, and then somewhat sadly went our separate ways – the Co-op camaraderie was brilliant fun. But it left me further enamoured with Kameo again: it’s still a lovely game, and – now that I’ve managed to blitz the hardest remaining A-Rank – it’s feeling like it may be off The List sooner, rather than later.

I’m pretty sure it deserves another playthrough, though…

Dirty and Uninspired…

I entered the second half of 2011 with a pretty clear goal of what I wanted to achieve; whilst it looks like my goal of reducing The List down to 50 (as arbitrarily – and optimistically – stated in My 2011 Gaming Resolutions) is out-of-reach, most of my other targets are much closer. I’d actually started mentally steeling myself to tackle six past-gen titles for completion, along with a couple of other current-gen games, and even went so far as to nominate a month in which I wanted them Completed.

Unfortunately, the plans have all gone awry.

My July game was none other than Deus Ex: Invisible War. Fresh off a playthrough on Normal, I figured I could just leap straight back into it on Hard, opting for the opposite choices that I made in the previous run, then return on Realistic for a “breaking” playthrough. However, a little research told me that some of the breaks I was planning can make the Xbox version of the game unstable – “possibly resulting in game save corruption.” And boom – just like that, I’m discouraged to the point where I cannot face those grey, bland textures again… especially after the teeth-gnashing week at work I had (and am likely to be facing this week, too). Coupled with the fact that I know my “seventeen hour” Normal playthrough was actually more like thirty, and I was starting to feel like I would be pushing to squeeze another two runs into July anyway – what with the expectation of work travel and the upcoming AVCon knocking out a weekend.

So I looked at the other titles planned for the rest of the year… and I couldn’t find a morsel of inspiration in any of them. Except for Tempest 2000, but the task of digging the Jaguar out put paid to that idea.

Luckily, a workmate was kind enough to lend me his Kinect while he was away, so I decided to set that up and have a play. I discovered the Kinect Fun Labs series of toys; four free downloadable titles that tinker with the capabilities of the Kinect. And hey – they have Achievements… Free? Gamerscore? Sweet.

So all four of those “games” were acquired and completed in short order – you only need an hour or so (each) to snaffle all the Achievements. The problem is that, despite the glossy production values of the toys, they’re only vaguely entertaining for about five minutes – the rest of the time spent feels like a grind. Still, I pushed myself through it because, I figured, these “games” could count as my Completion(s)-of-the-Month, as well as keeping my new-game-percentage up.

The problem is, even with all four on and off The List within a day, I feel so dirty. It feels so cheap to have even let those things taint my profile; and my temporary leap into the Top 100 of Australia’s Completed Games Leaderboard has sharpened the sour taste.

To cleanse the palate (still not feeling inspired enough to make any real progress), I decided to focus on the main reason I wanted to borrow the Kinect in the first place: Child of Eden. Much has been written about Eden‘s Kinect mode, with many comments suggesting it’s the best use of Kinect to date… and I have to admit, I actually found it easier to play whilst standing and waving my arms. The brain soon compensates for the lag as you sweep your arms around, and releasing Perfect Octo-Locks seems much easier as you throw your hand forward with the beat. But the finicky nature of Kinect also jars, too, with many instances of confused hardware popup spoiling the flow of the gameplay.

But at least Kinect managed to conjure up some interest in Child of Eden – and I consider that a big win for the week. However, I’m now convinced that Eden will be a long-time List-dweller; even with the lax targeting and reduced scoring targets of the Kinect mode, the best I can manage is a four-star completed level. I’m buggered if I know how I’m ever going to gold-star those buggers, especially when the fourth Archive is so severely kicking my arse…

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