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?


Last week’s glut of new games provided a focus for this week’s play, with all my other running projects (Katamari Damacy, Tempest 2000) falling by the wayside.

We Ski was the big winner – it was an absolute delight to play, and I’m almost a little sad to have Completed it (160 stars, all animals found, all questions from The Question Guy answered). I even rode the chair lifts without skipping, panning around and checking out the surroundings in moments of enforced relaxation. It’s a beautiful looking game, the feeling of skiing has been absolutely nailed (though I suspect that a 1080-degree Rodeo is a little trickier to perform in real life), and none of the “missions” outstay their welcome. I cannot express how much this game surprised me; I was genuinely feeling a bit iffy about buying this, but it’s turned out to be a Wii highlight. Sure, there’s not a whole lot of content in there – after all, I knocked it all off within a distracted week – but it comes highly recommended. I’d even pick up the sequel if it didn’t include those bloody snowboarders. Snaffle it from Play-Asia (I used the US version on my homebrewed Wii).

A couple of minutes each night were taken up by further progression through GridRunner Revolution, which finally threw up a sizable challenge on Level 48 of the Phaal difficulty level (I’m still stuck on the final level, which goes on for bloody aeons and just grinds me down). Once that nut is cracked, though, there’s another ten levels of Vindaloo and twenty levels of Madras to return to (which should be a doddle, once Vindaloo is conquered), then the fifty levels of the wacky Thrusty Mode and another fifty Vindaloo-ish Endurance levels.

Yak wrote an interesting blog entry during the week addressing the naysayers of GRR – that is, people like me – who claimed it was too easy; and I can kinda understand his points. After all, it is fun to experiment within the spaces that GRR provides, creating beautiful patterns of bullets that swirl around the screen and (maybe, hopefully) wrap your ship in a protective cocoon of weaponry; but my OCD nature wants to push onwards, to achieve something, and that drags me out of the Pretty Zone.

Recognising that I don’t naturally want to dwell anymore has been a bit of a revelation, and provides a pretty decent explanation of my gaming inclinations of the last couple of years. As previously mentioned, I don’t consider myself to be highly skilled – competent, sure, but completely lacking in finesse. Ikaruga is a fine example; yes, it’s easy enough to bludgeon one’s way through the game (just grind twenty hours of playtime, unlock unlimited continues, Bob’s-your-Auntie’s-live-in-lover), but getting A-Rankings? That just reeks of skill and memorisation and hard work. Relentless grinding to level-up to a near-unbeatable position? That’s easy-peasy for me, and it seems to fire off all the right synapses to make it feel enjoyable.

So I reckon that’s why I’ve been leaning towards the soft-RPGs and easy-OCD games lately; they give me all the satisfaction of completing the game, whilst still providing something that feels like accomplishment. Sure, there’ll always be moments where I’ll want to switch off and just be a little less “active” in my pursuits – those times when I’d normally play a couple of levels of New Super Mario Brothers, or try a speed-run through JSRF or Halo‘s Library – and the next time I get in one of those headspaces, I’ll fire up GRR instead… maybe that’ll change my opinion completely.

But the thing is, I also fired up the PC version of Space Giraffe this week (just to… y’know… check that it worked). And bugger me if it’s not beautifully balanced and utterly entrancing – my quick “check” turned into thirty levels. As I’ve said before, I instantly fell in love with the Giraffe, but GRR wants me to work for it’s affection.

My final excursion this week was a brief sojourn into MadWorld. My opinion of it picked up a notch, despite the odd game-hanging bug, and I was actually enjoying myself in its blood-splattered monochrome world… until I hit a level with a one-hit-kill character in it. He hit me from out of nowhere, I died, I muttered “fuck this” and shut the Wii down.

And then I thought again about buying We Ski & Snowboard.

Bloody snowboarders.

Five New Games

The List took a real battering this week: five new games. Five. Well, six really, if you take into account the PC version of Space Giraffe that I snaffled… and, since Rez appears on The List three times for three different platforms, it seems only fair that the Giraffe gets another airing.


That unplanned acquisition was, of course, due to the superlative double-bundle currently offered by Llamasoft to celebrate the release of GridRunner Revolution. I excitedly downloaded GRR on Friday night, a painful eight hours after its release (after an unexpected day at work), and… well, to say I was underwhelmed is a bit of an understatement. Is it pretty? Oh yes. Does it sound good? Hell yes – no-one does deep chest-thunking sound effects quite like Minter. But the problem was that there was no excitement in the gameplay; I was rarely troubled at all in the first fifty(!) levels I played. No pressure to perform, no seat-of-your-pants thrills. And that made me well and truly glum. After all, it was love-at-first-sight with Space Giraffe: I could tell straight away that she and I had a connection. GRR, on the other hand, was like the doting girlfriend with puppy-dog eyes, willing to conform to your every whim without offering anything in return. No challenge. No personality. No spark. And, dare I say it, a little boring.

Then I start on the third set of levels (the levels are arranged, in order of difficulty, into collections of Korma, Madras, Vindaloo, and Phaal)… and initially, apart from a bit of a speed bump, it seemed like more of the same. But after another twenty levels, the difficulty actually started going up a notch, and there was a bit of a fight going on. Unlocking the final difficulty level has further piqued interest, but my first (and only) bash on Phaal saw me pummel my way through just over half of the fifty levels.

GRR is most similar to GR++, returning to the fluid mouse control. But the SuperZapper smart-bomb – previously triggered by the mouse button – has disappeared, replaced instead by a rotate mechanic that allows you to send a stream of bullets in any direction you choose. The XY Zapper also seems to have been left out, but the new inclusions – a plethora of subtly different gridrunners, barriers that hem your bullets in and, most importantly, black holes and suns that can be used to bend your streams of bullets – are really neat gameplay mechanics.

But here’s the thing: when GR++ introduced the Sheepie Save (a technique where the player could resurrect their life if they could guide their falling carcass onto the sheepie bonus token), it felt astoundingly fresh. That simple mechanic, and the strategies that bloomed around it (do you take the sheepie for the power-up, or leave it as a safety net?), made GR++ a truly unique experience. GRR maintains the Sheepie Save and tries to improve upon it, allowing the player to continue killing adversaries in the hope of triggering a sheepie to Save them; but all this encouraged me to do was scrub the screen as fast as I could after hearing my death; if I managed to trigger another sheepie, then I was fine. If not… well, the levels don’t reset with death, so it’s a war of attrition.

This is awfully hard for me to write, really; I’m a big fan of Minter’s work, and there’s no denying his unique (and ungulated) take on videogaming. But after the well-weighted and sensual success of Space Giraffe I was expecting massive things from GridRunner Revolution, and… well, I don’t think it’s delivered. It’s not that it’s bad, just… it’s not great. Perfectly competent entertainment if you like bright flashy things and not much challenge.

Let’s put it this way: you really should go buy GR++ now. And as for GRR… well, it’s only US$20 (or US$25 with the superlative Space Giraffe), so you’d be mad not to pick up that double bundle – if only to experience the technicolour mind of Minter. After all, I rate Space Giraffe as one of the best shooters this decade, and GRR is awfully pretty.

Blimey! What a lot of words.

“But wait, Pete!” I hear no-one exclaim; “what about all those other games you picked up this week? Surely you can squeeze out a few words on them as well?”

Well, yes I can.

Monday saw the deliver of one of the Wii’s few M-rated games to my door: MadWorld. Previews videos of this game had me salivating in anticipation, with gloriously rendered black-and-white graphics violently splashed with blood in a Smash TV-esque gameshow of brutality. And it certainly delivers in that regard; despite the monochromatic colouring, the graphics are clean and crisp, and the audio is great. But even after just one level, it’s all feeling mighty samey and not all that inspiring, with woolly controls and a nagging feeling that it’s not quite baked. Luckily, it seems to be a short game, so hopefully I’ll be able to churn through it in quick order.

Tuesday, of course, saw the release of Halo 3: ODST. And let me be quite blunt here: I fucking love ODST. I love the storytelling, I love the snippets of action, I love the voice acting, and I love being back in the Halo universe. It really feels like a paean to all that makes Halo memorable; there’s Warthog runs, Scorpion assaults, Banshee raids, and wars of attrition, each a tiny little vignette in the ODST storyline, each an utterly fulfilling experience. And that’s just on Normal!

And then there’s Firefight. Now, I’ve not played Gears of War 2 or its Horde mode, so it may well be the case that Bungie have ripped Epic off mightily in terms of game style. But you know what? I don’t care, because Firefight is bloody amazing. Playing with three Melbourne mates one weeknight, we managed to hold out for five sets of pain, including one where I had to finish the set off solo, with no ammo of any kind, being chased by half-a-dozen Brutes wielding gravity hammers and fuel-rod guns, with the Black Eye skull enabled, dead team-mates watching remote to tell me when a hammer lunge was coming. Such tension I’ve not experienced since trying to no-collision Island Circle R :)

But the week’s not over yet! Also delivered was We Ski… and it’s bloody fantastic. Somehow this cutesy graphics engine, combined with some intuitive motion controls with the Wiimote & nunchuck, manages to create an absolutely convincing sensation of skiing. The first time I found an ice patch on the shady side of a mountain I panicked, flattening my skis in terror; the first time I hit the powder trail I yelped in delight, then started carving trails. It’s simple, it’s bound to be short, and I’m sure there’s some frustration in store – but I’m utterly chuffed that I took a chance and picked this up.

And that’s it! Hopefully this week will yield lots more Firefighting, and maybe a Legendary run… so much to do, so little time.