Monday 23 February 2015

Magical Screenshot Shower

This doesn't need much in the way of an explanation... just thought I'd dump a few shots on here of some classic game scenes.

First up... Outrun, taken from the Megadrive version.

Thursday 23 May 2013

A Different Perspective

Some games I've owned over the years have been played to death.  Whether it is playing Golden Axe or Streets of Rage so many times that I practically know where the enemies are going to appear from, or driving the roads of Outrun 2 until the scenery itself doesn't amaze any more, it can get to a point where you start looking for challenges.

For driving games there is the Time Trial mode - an easy side step that is great for beating your own time and a chance to see how you stack up vs the world with online leaderboards.

For the likes of Streets of Rage, maybe try to see how far I get with only one life?  Maybe put it on hardest difficulty too?

But maybe the answer is more subtle than self made mini challenges.  Is there a way of giving the existing main part of the games a new lease of life?

A game like Spelunky is an interesting concept.  A game that is different every time, with randomly generated level layout and content.  That's fine, but I've always thought that a lot of the magic of games is that you CAN master them if you choose so you DO know every corner or wave of enemies off by heart.

Strangely enough, it was playing FIFA 13 that made me think most.  I play a lot of FIFA, but even when playing online there is a big element of boredom.  Its why the annual updates are welcomed with open arms -   its very easy to get stuck in patterns of play, and the new game that rolls over the hill every August brings a freshness (albeit only slight, in reality).

On a football game, or most sports games maybe, its easier to get to this point, because its too easy to stick with what works reasonably well, as opposed to getting inspiration to do things better and differently each time.  This is different to, say, a 1-on-1 fighting game as you learn quickly to try different things for different enemies if you keep getting battered.

So it came down to one simple yet major change - the camera angle.

Just changing the camera angle from the default 'Tele' setting that defines the FIFA standard, year-in year-out, to a zoomed in Dynamic setting makes a world of difference.

It becomes a new game.  Goals become more satisfying, its closer in, more defined in colour & detail, more real.  Its the same old game that can be played in the same kind of way - but now its had a wash, a beer & a shave of its balls and is ready to go again.

In essence, this is the case for a few other game types.  Changing the camera from a classic chase to in-car or on-bonnet viewpoint on any driving game makes you learn a whole new way of driving - but its still the same courses & tracks.

Also makes me wonder and remember back to when DVD's used to boast about films that have been shot in different camera angles, and how you could choose from each one.  It never really took off.  And besides - a film directed in a particular way with particular camera angles builds its character - like anything from John Woo or Tarantino.

But would there be a benefit for any particular action film to be watched at a different set of camera angles?  Would it give the film a fresh ball shave too??

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Time And Time Again

I love the film Groundhog Day.

The whole concept of being able to repeat a day, or a moment in time over and over again, learning and tweaking your actions and behaviour to get better and better, or wiser and wiser each time, is something that fascinates me.

I think the way that Phil Connors (Bill Murray) uses the time he has to meticulously tailor the situation to get to the end result he wants is absorbing and hugely satisfying to watch.  The way he knows what is going to happen though experience and learning is comical and expertly done by the directors.

But equally, I find the way that he also uses the time to do the bizarre things, the ridiculous things, the dangerous things, morbid things and the positively evil things is where the magic of Groundhog Day shows itself - summing up what the human mind can do when there are no real consequences.   Bill Murray isn't my favourite actor, but in this film he is perfection.

I watched another film, Source Code, this week.  Although not a comedy, it has a lot in common with Groundhog Day with the theme of exploiting time shifts, and again I really loved it.

And although Source Code shows the character going 'off topic' (or off mission in this case) and using the opportunity to do something different, the crux of the film is about learning from mistakes & rashness, taking more advantage of time, building progress bit-by-bit to finally change the outcome of the future for the better.

 And, as a bonus, Michelle Monaghan in Source Code is significantly fitter than Andie MacDowell !

Shortly after watching Source Code, it then struck me - these films are just like videogames.

Whether a platformer like Mario, ESWAT or Super Meat Boy, a scrolling fighter like Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, a shooter like R-Type or Afterburner Climax, driving games like Stuntman or maybe an action/adventure game like Dark Souls or Call of Duty, a whole host of games are based on patterns of play, on learning based progression - getting better and better through knowing what is going to happen - before it happens.  I remember playing Virtua Cop so much that I knew exactly where each of the enemies was going to come from - but it made thing no less fun.

But this is combined with the similarities to open world adventures like Shenmue, GTA4 or Fallout 3 where the joys of experimenting interfere playfully with your main focus.  Is it really the best use of time to play on an Outrun arcade machine for hours when you should be hunting down the killer or your father???  No, but when there isn't really an consequence, who cares!

Friday 15 June 2012

Bang Bang, She Shot Me Down

Such a long time since I posted on here... all the way back in January.  But behold, a reason to write once more - the launch of Bang Bang Racing on XBLA has got me interested again!

You'll see from a couple of posts down that I was quite looking forward to this game's arrival.  I'm a huge fan of top-down racers - some of my fondest memories are from playing the likes of Super Off Road & Super Sprint on the Spectrum or Micro Machines (plus sequels!) & Super Skidmarks on the Megadrive.  I also loved playing a lesser known game called Indy Heat on the Amiga that my cousin owned, which fascinated me with its wonderful tracks, settings, colour and staggering detail.  It is this detail that is behind the reasons I have also quickly fallen in love with Bang Bang Racing.  Check out the intricate detail on this track below from Indy Heat and compare to the one from BBR - I'm convinced the developers of BBR were inspired by Indy Heat - look at the pit lanes, the bridges & buildings, the crowd stands - even an ambulance on stand-by on both!

The game looks superb, with its crisp, smooth action and pastel shades reminiscent of Sega's blue skies of Outrun & Sonic.  Little touches look great, such as tyre marks are left on the track when skidding, the way the cars burst into flames after taking too much damage, even setting alight an oil slick if driven over while ablaze.

This is all very well, but it also delivers with the different driving mechanics of the 4 classes of cars available in the game - forging a path between arcade simplicity and genuine skill, much in the same way as the greats like Super Mario Kart & F-Zero do so well.

The game starts you off with the N-Dura class of muscle cars - solid and safe to handle but without a lot of thrills and virtually impossible to powerslide round corners. The game's well designed tracks and race formats (standard race, time trials & eliminators) are slowly introduced and unlocked (including the Daytona & Indy 500-inspired Layton Raceway oval!) and you begin to start learning the track layouts.  Learning the tracks is vitally important in Bang Bang Racing, not least because while the "Fixed" camera viewpoint of the racing is generally OK, visibility of the track in front of you can be poor at times, most often when racing 'down' the screen at speed.  Knowledge of where the corners are and the best route through them helps a lot.  There is an option to choose the "Follow" cam, which places the viewpoint above and behind the car at all times, but for me it brought its own trouble of making me feel ill and disorientated and, frankly, takes away some of the magic of it being a top-down racer.

Quite how the track visibility reduces even further in multiplayer affects things I don't know, but credit to the developers for remembering that some people do occasionally still want to gather round the telly to play together on local multiplayer. (Why has this disappeared from the world????!!)  I've always felt that online multiplayer isn't the be-all-and-end-all, although in fairness it would have been a good addition so does unfortunately feel missed by its absence.

However, the fun really starts with the introduction of the Evo & Protech classes of car, which take the speed of the action up significant notches but also open up Bang Bang Racing to be a game not just to play in patches, but to master.  These cars can be flung around corners at speed and powersliding becomes a real joy.  Taking a Monaco-style hairpin bend at full speed to take the lead on the final lap can be hugely satisfying - and all of a sudden this twee-little arcade racer becomes something you want to really play around with.  Its depth of handling for a top down racer is impressive and brings a smile.  Shaving fractions off your best lap times becomes important, finishing first on all tracks and races (then repeating it on Hard difficulty) becomes an obsession.  Even the slightly suspect (but true to retro!) rubber banding of the AI racers is easily overlooked as you strive to perfect each corner to ensure a win.  Leading a race only to misjudge the final corner and see victory snatched away is INFURIATING yet really dramatic, and because the races are fairly snappy affairs with lap times ranging from 10 seconds to half a minute it certainly never feels like a chore to repeat the races.

The final class of car, Apex, which are essentially F1 style, flings the game into another dimension, with speed cranked up to overdrive but handling reverting to precision.  Nitro timing is key, powersliding is far less important nor possible and corners need to be taken accurately.  Races become a pants-wetting, edge-of-your-seat, blast of panic as you fling the little rocket of a car round the tracks with little or no room for error.  Track knowledge, already built up, is paramount - and by the time the big Layton Raceway finale comes around to win the championship you feel like an exhausted yet refined driver of these little toy-esque cars.

I think that this is the biggest compliment to Bang Bang Racing - while very much an arcade game, the way the game is paced through the Career mode and the way each car class requires different driving skill to succeed in my opinion lifts BBR from just another top down racer to sit proudly as a modern classic in its genre.  We've been starved of a decent top-down racer for decades - for that reason I'm going to declare it a massive success and I urge anyone reading this to at least give the demo trial a shot and relive the joys of retro arcade racing!!

Sunday 29 January 2012

How to mess up a games console

Haven't had much to blog about recently - I've slipped into a habbit of falling asleep early on the sofa during the evenings, meaning time on the Xbox has been limited.  And anytime I do go on it tends to be FIFA that gets the nod, despite it sending to me asleep itself!

But during this time one thing has really got on my tits - the newly designed Xbox 360 dashboard.

Its a sad time when playing games becomes a secondary function of a games machine.  I've never seen it before but this Xbox dash update confirms Microsoft's sad intentions - to appeal to the wider market and turn the 360 into an entertainment hub, leaving idiots like me who might expect some kind of games focus incredibly frustrated and saddened.

I used to enjoy turning on the machine and looking at the latest game features, demos & coverage on the home screen, but its now hidden through multiple menus in a dark sweaty corner, barely making a whimper.  New demos are just not advertised, new XBLA releases are unknown.  Instead I get some more news about Facebook & some shitty movie being available to download.

Message to Microsoft - get a grip and remember who got you here - the hardcore gamers who purposely picked an Xbox and a 360 to play games.  Tossers!