Thursday, January 27, 2011

Special Guest: Issac Clarke

So Dead Space 2's out all around the world. From the hour or so I've played of it, it's quite a fun game, and if you've got the means to play it - Dead Space Extraction HD is also quite fun. But it's thanks to Dead Space 2 that I've gotta look at EA and question their crossing over ability, because it's something suspect.

For those who purchase a new copy of Dead Space 2 (either of the three versions), you'll get a code that allows you to download the "Ser Issac of Clarke" armour to use in the upcoming Dragon Age II. It's kinda similar to the same type of deal EA pulled with Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, in which you recieved a code in new copies of the latter which allowed you to use the same armour in the former.

But the weird thing about all this, is why Issac Clarke? It's not that the character hasn't got the greatest design out there (the engineering suit has a neat look to it), but EA have this really odd habit of putting the Issac skin in a whole series of games that don't make a lick of sense. Don't believe me?

Here's Issac in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10:

Here's Issac in the PSP version of Army of Two: The 40th Day:

Here's Issac in My Sims Agents:

Here's Issac in Skate 3 :

Here's Issac in Dante's Inferno :

I mean, I can understand EA's strategy here - they're putting Dead Space and Issac out there unlike a lot of their other brands and trying to get the name out. Compared to other EA games, Dead Space has two animated movies, three comic book series, a Wii (now PS3) prequel game, and XBLA and PSN prequel game to the sequel, and even an iOS game. Not even other, and possibly more popular, EA games have this type of additional items.

However, it seems just so random and pointless to do so - and worst of all, the Issac skin is completely out of place for most of those games I mentioned above. You'd have to be mad to justify the costume being in Dante's Inferno, it clashes with the design aesthetic in Dragon Age; but the most jarring is in Skate and Tiger Woods - more so in Tiger, which uses real-life locations and people. It just feels...weird.

For comparison's sake, Sony have it down pretty well on how they let Kratos be used in non-God of War games. Sure, he's made appearances in games like Everybody's Golf (subtitle?), Modnation Racers & Little Big Planet, but at the same time - you look at his use in PSP title Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny and the upcoming Mortal Kombat. Thanks to the God of War games being kinda-fighting games, he's a natural fit in playing, plus his backstory actually makes him fit in with the Soul Calibur storyline better than every guest character not named Link. As for Mortal Kombat, anyone who's played a God of War game can tell you that he's an absolute perfect pick.

I mean, I'm all for EA trying to get Dead Space out there...but putting him in every bloody game ever isn't going to work. What's next, an Issac Clarke driver/car for Shift 2 Unleashed?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 in Review

When all's said and done, 2010 was probably a bit more of an interesting year than I'd have anticipated. When it started, I created a list of things I wanted to achieve before years end (such as get a girlfriend, get a full time job, leave the state - that kind of thing) and wanted to see if I can achieve at least one of those. I'm glad to say that I did.

Let's start with the thing that defined most of the year for me, which was getting a job. Between finishing up University in November and going through the graduation sometime afterwards, was the constant searching for a job. I spent pretty much half the year trying to get some work, had way too much free time than I really wanted.

Job searching would have to be the most painful and depressing experience I've had to go through in the last few months - constantly writing up cover letters and resumes, constantly getting rejection, constantly getting no explained reason as to why I didn't move to the next came to the point which I had to get some assistance from the local welfare groups, which was the most fucking depressing thing I'd ever have to do. There's nothing I hate more than not only being taught "HEY, THIS IS HOW YOU GET A JOB!", but also waiting in line to submit paperwork to be paid for effectively finding a job.

Things turned around in the middle of the year - I managed to get a spot in a somewhat local council which saw me volunteer as a trainee teacher, which if I had stuck around - would've seen me teach elderly or newer citiziens to learn how to use a computer. I had left because of a job interview attained by one of the people at the council, for a company that specializes in mail insertion and delivery, and it was a full time gig! And thankfully, I had gotten that job!

Getting used to it was probably the hardest thing. Initially, the job was quite a distance away from home, which resulted in a 5am wakeup, leaving home at 6am to make a 7am start, with a 3pm finish. Was a rough few months, in addition to learning how to actually do the job. Then there was leaving all the free time I had accquired, which meant that a few commitments I had prior had to be changed. Though this all got better when the job shifted much closer to home.

As for Level 3, it was a fantastic year. Getting recognized for my Twitter (that'd be DarthHomer), taking part in much live stuff at the various Monash Computer Games Boot Camp's across the year, learning how to create a livestream (and by extension, a live show), and taking part in the 200th episode of the show. Makes the bad stuff associated with it seem like nothing in the long run.

Only real disappointment in this regard was the stopping of the audio podcast. Sure, there are respectable and understandable reasons, but it sucks that something that I've put a tonne of time in has suddenly stopped. And sure, the livestream is awesome and all, but the personal investment is too great to me to not let it pass by easily.

I guess 2010 wasn't that bad of a year after all. Well, the second half was anyway - I can't recall much of the first half. Bring on 2011, I say.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Project CRPG #1 - An Introduction, of sorts...

I have a terrible habit of buying a tonne of games that I never get around to beating. Mostly because of lost interest, but there are cases where I've been pissed off with a game, is virtually unbeatable (for whatever reason) and plenty more reasons I can't quite think of at the moment. Point is, I have a problem. For the most part, I've been doing my best to curb that habit this year - most of the games I've attained I've given a fair go and attempted to beat - with more success than actual failure. But rarely do I go back and attempt to finish a game in anticipation for a soon to be released sequel.

Yeah, this requires a bit of backstory.

For the longest time, I've been wanting to finish the original Dragon Age - even with the announcement (and subsequent release) of the Awakenings expansion and the sequel, it was always something that I had meant to do, but was swamped with other things that I had wanted to play. The same goes with the Witcher - a game that I had really dug, but lost interest in.

And almost with the same time frame, I heard Dragon Age being discussed from the perspective of someone who hadn't played the game before on local podcast "GameTaco", and the subsequent announcement of the Witcher 2 release date triggered something within me. The desire to go back into those worlds and see the ends of their stories.

It was perfect timing too - there weren't very many more console games that I had wanted to play through (except through mostly older stuff like the Sly Trilogy or Prince of Persia Trilogy), and I'd all but lost interest in Fallout: New Vegas (which was taking up all my PC time).

I also guess the other trigger was the story incentive. Both Dragon Age II and Witcher 2 take advantage of cleared saves to tell new events in the story, and I didn't want to go into either sequel completely fresh - I wanted my world and my story to continue. That, and Bioware had done a pretty great job of it in Mass Effect 2.

So the goal was set - I've got until March 2010 to finish the original Dragon Age, and May 2010 to finish off the Witcher. No matter what, I'm going to finish both games, because I know I can. Sure, it'll mean juggling my game review commitments, jobs and other fun stuff, but hey, why not? Plus, I want to write about these things for as long as I can keep it interesting (or find something interesting to talk about.

Thus begins "Project Beat CRPGS Before Sequels Come Out", or "Project CRPG", for short. The name comes from Donald, a co-worker on Level 3, whom had a personal project called "Project RPG", in which he attempted to beat as many RPGs this year as he could. At best, he got quite far into Final Fantasy XIII, which is more than what I can say about myself!

Either way, welcome to a wonderful journey. First stop, revisiting Dragon Age: Origins...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review: DJ Hero 2 (PS3/360/Wii)

DJ Hero was one of the most ambitious titles of last year, and really didn’t get all the recognition that it really deserved. Admittedly, it was a bit of a bold gamble (especially going as crazy as pricing a special edition at $300 AUD, shortly reduced to $100), but for those who took the risk, it paid off with one of the freshest and most exhilarating rhythm games seen in some time. Regardless, a sequel was expected, and DJ Hero 2 doesn’t fail to impress – providing one of the best rhythm game experiences of 2010.

For the most part, DJ Hero 2 is a refinement of last years game – it improves on just about every aspect of the gameplay, without adding too much new. For starters – freestyling now plays a bigger role in the game. Previously, the only real element of personalization that you had in a mix were via sample zones – which were tied to generic sets you needed to unlock (which everyone just used the Public Enemy samples, regardless). Not only now are the samples tied to the different songs in a mix, but there are zones now where you can freely swap between the two songs in a mix, as well as zones where you can freely scratch. And you’re now scored for all this – adding in not only a deeper layer of personalization to a mix, but also giving you an incentive to experiment to try make a mix sound fantastic.

Replacing last years rather haphazard single player mode is Empire Mode. There’s supposed to be a story about how you’re travelling around the world, building up your brand, but it’s something that only appears in the loading screens upon starting the domination of a club. Effectively, Empire Mode is more or less a much more organized career mode than last years – the flow of each club starts off with you playing as one of the many guest DJ’s (such as the RZA, Deadmau5, David Guetta etc.) in a megamix (three/four mixes combined together), a few setlists, a battle against a rival DJ, a battle against a guest DJ, and an unlockable bonus mix to play. It’s not revolutionary, but it does what it’s expected of.

However, the most significant addition to the game is a bigger emphasis on multiplayer – which was an element that was underrepresented in a big way in the original game. In one of the best moves developer Freestyle Games could’ve made, DJ Hero 2’s multiplayer component is heavily inspired from sister studio Neversoft’s underrated Guitar Hero 5. The Party Play modes (the drop in/drop out co-op) are present, as well as a host of different competitive multiplayer modes – the most prominent of these is a checkpoint battle, wherein you battle to see who can do the well across a mix. Unfortunately, I hadn’t had much of the chance to check any of these modes out – lacking an additional DJ Hero turntable to do so.

In addition, one of the weakest elements of last years game – the DJ vs Guitar mixes, have been completely nixed, replaced by a singing mechanic. Unlike with the DJ/Guitar work, you can play co-operatively on a larger portion of the mixes – which immediately is a plus. That being said though, the mechanic is something that provides an interesting experience. Unlike other games with a singing mechanic, DJ Hero 2 requires you to know how to sing two songs at the one time, as well as making you forget how you’re supposed to sing the songs, thanks to the mixes changing up the order in how lyrics progress. It functions well enough, but it certainly won’t be a replacement for other games.

Visually, DJ Hero 2 is underwhelming. Not that it looks bad – but it lacks the distinctive style and look of the first game that defined what DJ Hero was about. Ditching it for a more realistic look doesn’t quite work here. The environments do look great, as do all the animation work. The models for the guest DJ’s range from good (The RZA, Deadmau5) to kinda off (Tiesto, David Guetta). Otherwise, looks fine.

It’s a completely different story for the sound. As mentioned above, the guitar based stuff has been completely nixed, and there’s practically no repetition in terms of the mixes (so no more of that godawful Billy Squier song that was mixed with at least 5 or 6 songs). As such – there’s much more of a focus to the soundtrack on music that can be mixed together well, providing one of the best soundtracks of 2010. In particular – some of the house/electronica mixes towards the end of the setlist are quite fantastic, such as New Orders “Blue Monday” vs Calvin Harris’s “I’m Not Alone”, or even Janet Jackson’s “Nasty” vs Justice’s “D.A.N.C.E”. With that being said, there are quite a few dud mixes – it becomes apparent that no matter how much you scratch, mix or fade between; you’re never going to make Soulja Boy, Lil’ Wayne, Lil’ John and Chamillionare sound good.

As far as sequels go – DJ Hero 2 trumps the original. While it doesn't add anything particularly revolutionary or game changing, it's a fantastic refinement on one of the better games of last year. It's worth it alone for the fantastic soundtrack. Just as long as you ignore the singing portions of the game, you're going to have a hell of a time.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Bomb Just Went Off

I'm not a particularly huge fan of Giant Bomb. Sure, I do enjoy their video content and their podcast, the Giant Bombcast, is very entertaining- but that's just about it. Their opinions rub me the wrong way, their fanbase is far too obnoxious and praising...but I do quite like the other Whiskey Media sites. What's this got to do with anything, you may enquire?

Whiskey Media is starting up a subscription program across all its sites - with two models. For $4.95 US, you get a monthly subscription, access to HD Video Content, an exclusive HTML 5 mobile site and access to a live show on Fridays and premium profile content. For $50 US a year, you get all the above, plus no ads, $10 in savings (their words) and a custom T-shirt.

I'm not going to get into why Whiskey Media should be charging for this - there have been plenty of examples of websites charging for "premium" content and have had plenty for the people who don't want to pay and still have a great experience (IGN, for example). However though, this does affect one of the core WM elements that is honestly quite disturbing.

On the Giant Bomb side (via NeoGAF), their Bombcast will actually affected adversely. If you're a paying member of WM, you get access to the full Bombcast (usually which lasts around two hours). If you're not a paying subscriber, then what'll happen is that you'll get the first half of the episode, and then a week later, get the second half for free. 

Put simply, that is a fucking horrible business decision.

Let's consider this from a number of angles. With gaming podcasts, timing is everything. News is very easily datable. There's always something new to cover and you can't really fall behind. By splitting the show in two and giving a week delay for the people who don't want to pay, they miss out on timely content. Admittedly, there are reports that they'll try limit the time-sensitive material, but at the same time, that'll still affect the podcast.

But what really gets to me is the sense that the only way to get a full show is to be a paying member. This isn't one of those sense of entitlement types of deals here - but a matter of telling their audience (which although I don't have numbers, is surely bloody high) that the ONLY way to enjoy a full show is to pay for it.

There are plenty of podcasts out there that ask for donations. Not aggressively, but at least have the option that if you like the show, you can give as much as you want - I've never come across a single podcast that's ever asked that if you want a complete show, you need to be a subscriber. Sure, there are things like the Ricky Gervais podcasts, but he barely does them, and the less said about him the better.

As well as that, paying doesn't exactly give you that much of a bonus if you just want to listen to the Bombcast. For everything else, you at least get higher quality video or no ads, which is something. Here, it's not like you get a super special high quality audio file or even bonus outtakes. 

Though at least there's something good to come out of this. Whiskey Media's offering (via Twitter) to make the Bombcast free to everyone, should they get 5,000 paid members by September 10th, 10am PST. We'll know soon enough if it works.

Otherwise, it's a fucking terrible decision, and I hope to hell they recant on this. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Level 3 - Episode 185

Level 3 is back on the blocky with a new episode, Donald Reviews Silent Hill: Shattered memories, Jason gets in to some Deathspank and reviews it! Timmay finishes the reviews with Singularity. Hosted by Jason and Kirsty.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Level 3 - Episode 184

The definition of normal is a strange thing when it comes to Level 3, but here we are back with a traditional episode, Jamies reviews the latest Prince of Persia, Brad reviews Lost Planet 2 and Jason reviews Crackdown 2. Hosted by Jason, Mick and Brad.