Eurogamer Expo 2008

Whelp, in a kind of spur of the moment kind of thing myself and my pop popped off to the Eurogamer Expo 2008/Gamesindustry.biz Career Fare on tuesday, partly to get some inside advice for my future Level Design career from some industry employees, and partly so I could grab a play of Mirror's Edge and a couple of others. I ultimately ended up having a go on Mirror's Edge (twice), Far Cry 2, Red Faction 3, Saints Row 2 and Killzone 2, which I will now brag about and give some impressions on. Mostly brag.

Mirror's Edge. Wow. I'm not really sure how to even approach this. God knows I've seen the same opening level played enough times in videos at various games expos, but to actually play it yourself is something totally different. The controls are incredibly simple but ultimately work very well, the graphics are highly stylized but fecking awesome (radiosity lighting doing its magic) and the whole game just feels excellent. The main thing that surprised me was the level of skill needed to play the game well. I sort of expected it to become insultingly easy after the first couple of tries at a level, but even after figuring out that you used the left joystick to stay stable whilst walking across the red pipe I was still falling to my death three or four times per turn. Doing a soft landing is much harder than it looks as well - you need to press L2 at just the right moment to execute a roll so you don't break your knees upon impact. Overall I'm massively impressed with Mirror's Edge. Playing it has only heightened my desire to grab a copy of it around Christmas time, which indeed I will be doing. There should be a demo of it around sometime today if you want to try it for yourself.

Far Cry 2 on the other hand was quite contorary to what I expected.
The introductory sequence was pretty good despite the terrible anti-aliasing problems and low-res normal maps, which were no doubt a result of Ubisoft's typically awful PS3 port, or may have been an issue with the unit I was playing on. Either way I'm getting the PC version so I don't care too much. Visuals aside, the gameplay was clunky, stiff and I felt like I wasn't really in total control of my character. Enemies take an entire box of ammunition before they go down, wildlife is rare and despite being billed as an open world game it feels terribly linear and the environments seem repetitive. Despite all this I now want to play it more than ever. Don't ask me why because I have no idea. I just get the feeling that I had a bad experience and that the actual game will be much better. Some issues are to be expected in an open world game, after all.
The game is out now and it doesn't look likely that Ubi are going to release a demo, so I guess I'll have to buy it if I'm to find out.

Killzone 2, if I'm honest, I haven't really cared about until now. The original, which I borrowed from a friend, was pretty average. The reload animations were good but that was about all it had to its credit. I was amazed to find that not only is Killzone 2 one of the prettiest games on PS3, it's also one of the most meaty and satisfying.
I played a small section a couple of levels into the game where I was basically following some dope in a Marine cap through a series of encounters. Once I clumsily got used to the controls rather badly in front of an audience of 7 or 8 others waiting to play, I found the combat to be very satisfying indeed. The guns feel weighty and powerful, the iron sights feel very precise and solid and enemies fly backwards in a whirlwind of airborne blood and shattered armour when you empty a magazine into them. Killzone 2 is, to my delight also using radiosity lighting and it looks pretty damn stunning as a result. My turn ended, however, when a puzzle involving the PS3's sixaxis presented itself. It told me I needed to press L1 and R1 together and rotate the controller to turn a valve. It moved about a quarter turn then refused to budge. After handing the controller to somebody else a Guerilla rep told them that you needed you release L1 and R1, then turn it back the other way, then press again and turn, sort of how you would turn a real valve. To the newcomer, however, this is quite purplexing and hopefully easily disabled in the final build.
Killzone 2 has shot from 'meh' to pre-order in my book and I'm definitely glad I decided to try it out. Unfortunately it's got a 'when we feel like it' release date so it may be a while before any of us get to play it for real.

Saints Row 2, like Far Cry 2 I got off to kind of a bad start with. Somebody else had already created a character, played through about 10 or 15 missions and wasted ammo for all the available weapons before me so I was thrown in very much at the deep end. Thankfully the controls haven't changed at all since the first game so I was able to defend myself fairly well. One thing that has changed from the first game is any kind of restraint. The original was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas on speed, but with SR2 it's more like LSD. Characters with the most absurd make-up, bling, hair styles, clothing and facial defomities populate the world and I seem to be the only person who notices. Everything seems bright, multicoloured and densely packed. I didn't get to see much of the city because, paradoxically, it rained the whole time I was playing and the first mission I jumped into took me into an ironically bland casino building for the duration, so I can't really comment on that, but it looks like the visuals have changed slightly and the animations have received some much needed smoothing and blending.
I didn't really get a very firm impression of Saints Row 2, mixed signals seemed to be coming from everywhere, which means I'm all the more eager to play it and clear up some of the mystery. Saints Row 2 is already out and has been for some time but no demo is available at present, so I guess I'll have to wait until I get it.

Red Faction Guerilla hasn't exactly been pushed very hard. It's been kind of like a distant humming in the background; you know it's there and you want to investigate, but it doesn't do much to tell you where it's coming from or even if it exists at all. Perhaps you have a brain tumour and you're slowly going mad, or maybe your friend has been doing it, but when you turn around and accuse him he has you committed. Perhaps it's the noise of the nanomachines inside your brain the government has been putting into the drinking water to enforce social conformity and council tax payments!
Ahem. Anyway. Having caught a play of RFG I can safely say it lives up to the Red Faction name. The open world gameplay (which I was, again, thrown in at the deep end of) of course won't make the most of the plot, but it certainly makes the most of the destruction, which is undoubtedly the main feature here. Straight away I whipped out my sledgehammer and began to 'disassemble' a nearby building, the walls giving way in satisfying, crunchy chunks. I then found out that the previous player had been doing a mission where this particular building was the object of the exercise, so I ran to a nearby monster truck and proceeded to drive it into the side in a shower of crumbling Mars concrete and rebar. I then found the button to change weapons and made use of the sticky mines to obliterate the remains. I also joined a base assault a bit later on where I was ironically killed by a falling water tower (ironic because I felled it to try and crush some nearby enemies) and can confirm that the combat is meaty and the cover system is as good as GTA IV's, which isn't bad all considered. During the time I was playing I had several in-game messages requesting help from various factions or requests that I destroy such and such a building, which was annoying since I had done nothing to invoke them. They were, however, quite easily drowned out by loud cracks of sledgehammer against concrete or human flesh, and gigantic explosions, so no harm done.
Overall, the game feels a bit like an early beta or tech demo; there doesn't seem to be much substance or plot to follow (again, perhaps because I was already a few missions in when I started playing), but the gameplay certainly makes up for it. Red Faction Guerilla could well be the Crackdown of 2009 if it continues the way it is. The physics are impressive, the gameplay is very solid and it has little to no plot, which is the perfect recipe for a game more fun than smoking marijuana at a bowling alley. Unreal Engine 3-esque muddy brown visuals aside, I'm really looking forward to Red Faction Guerilla. Destruction is one of the core elements of a fun game and Volition have put a lot of time into making it as easy and as satisfying as possible. Multiplayer battles could be a heck of a lot of fun on this game when it's released.

Semi-finally, I also went to the Gamesindustry.biz Career Fare, which I also went to last year when it was a separate event. It gives us aspiring designers, programmers and artists a chance to mix with the 'employed' crowd and ask a few newbie questions, as well as gain valuable information from inside various studios.
After asking around a few studios (Ubisoft Reflections, Realtime Worlds and Starbreeze) it seems that I'm doing all the right stuff so far, but that going ahead with my mod idea would be a smart career move. Because of this I've decided to go ahead with the damn thing, so readers (yes, both of you!) can expect to see some content related to this in the future. Perhaps even a recruitment drive or two.

Finally, I would also like to mention that I acquired an Oyster Card during this particular trip to London, which I guess makes me a sort of honorary Londoner. Hooray!

Stay tuned for many more gobsmacking revelations next week/month/year!


Viva Venezuela!

It's been a while since I've made a post, but since I was such an enourmous fan of the original Mercenaries back in '05 I thought that a small review was in order.

For those that don't know, Mercenaries was one of the first games that let the player destroy almost everything. This includes vehicles, houses, skyscrapers, bridges, crates, fences, Koreans etc. and a wide variety of tanks, choppers and air strikes were provided to make the process a little easier than attempting to take the building down by repeatedly smacking it with the butt of your rifle. It featured believable if clichéed characters, a wonderfully atmospheric Korea to explore and destroy and a plot which you could almost see happening any day after release. I personally ranked Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction in my top five best games ever made, and not just because I enjoy ruthlessly carpet bombing legions of poorly equipped North Korean soldiers into glass whilst a heart-stoppingly good orchestral score roars up and down in time with the blood-curdling screams.

The sequel promised to be much the same, only with many key features added to address nitpicks with the original (namely parachutes, which didn't make the final cut anyway), and set in an oil war-torn Venezuela.
The rather distant Asian geopolitical plot of the original game has been ditched for one that directly addresses the player, but at the same time one that has more clichées than the original Space Invaders does now.
It's your basic double-cross betrayal; you do a job for a guy with the unlikely name of Ramon Solano, he shoots you in the ass and doesn't pay you. Naturally instead of forgetting the small amount he owes you and the impossibly fast healing 7.62mm hole he leaves in your ass, you go on a rampage, the magnitude and lucrativeness of which renders your original objective of killing the guy rather pointless. Stacks (literally) of money pile up in the vast million-dollar villa which you steal from him in the second mission as you take on contracts from various factions within the world, and yet as the UN and China enter the conflict with fleets of tanks and gunships and Solano goes into hiding, your choice from a group of the original three equally clichéed protagonists still continues the hunt unabated.
Basically, the plot's about as thick as a melted ice cream, however plausible the actual war is, but that's not what you buy a game like this for. Onwards to gameplayville!

Before I start, I would like to mention that in the build up to release of Mercs 2 I decided to replay the original, partly for the lulz and partly so I could make a brutal comparison between it and its next-gen cousin, which I was amazed to find out is not shit despite it being published by EA, although many tell-tale signs of EA's influence are scattered throughout the game.
Possibly the best one of the new features is the ability to create and run your own PMC, or Private Military Company. Admittedly you recruit people by simply completing a task for them, and it's always the same three people you recruit, but calling in your chopper pilot to pick up two 500lb bombs which your jet pilot then drops on a gaggle of unsuspecting Venezuelan soldiers standing around a gigantic fuel tank has never been so sweet.
Aside from this and a few other gimmicky new features, it's very much a port of the old game given shiny new graphics and a new setting - the PS2 version didn't even get the former - but the first game was genius anyway so it's not exactly a bad thing. You can still derive the same twisted pleasure from turning 100 acres of AK-wielding government soldier-infested rainforest into a pile of smoking twigs and 'meat surprise' for the local pasty shop, and believe me when I say there are hundreds of ways to do this.
You could fire a tank shell at one of the trees starting a massive fire, you could call in a fuel-air bomb or any one of 20 other air strikes to start a blazing inferno, you could pick up a fuel tanker with your attack helicopter's winch, drop it over the forest and ignite it with a volley of HE rockets... the list goes on.
What I'm trying to say here is that the destruction is better than ever, and from the amount of time they've had to perfect it you'd effing expect it to be. One thing, however, does not live up to months and months of delays, and that is polish. The game has more bugs than a Mexican chef's sock drawer, with randomly appearing and disappearing objects, horrible pop-in, AI you'd expect to find in Goldeneye on the N64 and lots of strange saving/loading bugs which often cause saved games to become corrupted or fail to load properly. While the game's sub-par graphics are excusable given the amount of stuff you can destroy, bugs are not.

I'll just make a separate paragraph about the AI here as I feel it needs a special mention.
I can sort of see what Pandemic were trying to achieve here - enemies firing in short bursts from behind cover at long distances... but since this AI doesn't adjust to light you up with all 30 rounds if you get within two inches of their face, taking down enemies is no harder than dodging a burst and then sprinting straight up to them and knocking them flat on their backs with the melee attack, which is apparently more powerful than 30 7.62x39mm rounds to the chest as one punch will send them 15 feet backwards into the nearest wall, stone dead and already cold before they hit the ground. Enemies are also incapable of anything other than firing from behind cover. While I acknowledge and applaud the admission of enemies entering and firing from the prone position, they still refuse to flank you or indeed follow you around behind any cover you may have got yourself behind, quite content to crouch down behind their little row of sandbags taking potshots at you all day.

While the ground troops are thick as canned shit, the chopper pilots and tank drivers are not.
Enemy choppers will circle around you, dodging basically any missile you fire at them, and launching infinite numbers of horribly overpowered heat-seeking anti-tank missiles at you whenever you dare to enter a vehicle without their direct permission. Highjacking enemies' choppers is as easy as one-two-three though, which kind of makes their whole being there a bit pointless other than a way of acquiring transport or additional firepower quickly.
Tank drivers are about half way inbetween these two extremes, but jacking tanks is incredibly difficult, given that you need to kill the gunner while he and the driver are still firing at you before you can haul yourself up and along the barrel and pop a grenade in the hatch after a generally annoying button matching sequence.
The inconsistency of the AI really is quite jarring, especially when you see some moronic VZ soldier clumping over to steal your chopper and watch as he magically turns into an evil version of Einstein the second he enters the cockpit.

As already mentioned, the graphics are nothing really special to look at, but given the feature list it's excusable. The developers seem to have taken more than a few pointers from Just Cause in terms of the environment (as well as the grappling hook amongst other things), with large, sweeping countryside areas and mountainous vistas adorning the landscape. I won't hang around the graphics or general look of the game though, as a slew of next-gen games have taken place in tropical environments so we're all pretty bored and over-familiar with the look at this point.

Sound design is solid for the most part. Weapons sound adequate and explosions sound epic, which is good as these are the two sounds you'll be hearing the most during your time with the game. Dialogue is quite repetitive though. As noted by various 'professional' reviewers, many of the same lines have been recorded by different people in the game, so you get two people saying the same line in their own way. It's rather jarring and detracts from the experience, but there's nothing game-stopping in this department.

Despite all my nitpicking, the game is generally brilliant if you love to blow stuff up even half as much as I do, only it lacks the greatness and epic nature of the first game. My recommendation? Go buy the first one if you haven't already. If you liked the first one and want a different country to blow up then buy this. Rent it first though, or download the demo whenever it arrives as I can't guarantee you'll like it based on what a lot of people have told me - I think I'm almost unique in my view that this game is genius.

Next week: WIP Level Design images!



GTA IV review + tech stuff

Last month's mindless wishlisting aside, I'd like to present to my waiting audience of five my opinions on Rockstar's latest blockbuster creation, Grand Theft Auto IV. However, before I let rip I'd like to discuss lots of boring gaming technology which the average adolescent gaming halfwit probably won't understand, so if you match the above description or in any way find the Unreal Engine 3 to look 'cool', please skip down five or six paragraphs and then run head first into a wall.

Since the next-generation of gaming began there's been very little in the way of progressing next-generation games technology. People think that as soon as you add a couple of thousand extra polygons, a dogshit brown or gunmetal grey colour correction filter and a ghastly normal map to a game (QED UE3) that it automatically becomes 'next gen'. While EA and many other companies seem to agree with this philosophy, I do not. Graphics alone do not the game make. In recent years (well, year) gaming has taken great strides forward in realism and graphics, without actually advancing, and indeed taking huge leaps backwards in depth, gameplay and overall fun. What are games about, after all? It's all well and good to see a 7000 polygon gleaming bullet enter the shiny, tear soaked eyesocket of a normal mapped fat Puerto-Rican man in slow motion, but if your character handles like a diesel engine and has a personality as flat as a pancake without any toppings then chances are you're going to get bored and throw the disk out of the window. But I'm getting a bit away from the point here.

Nobody has really done anything to advance the technology of next-gen games aside from Crytek, who failed miserably to make a game whose hardware requirements are anything other than, to say the least, optimistic. Two little nuggets of hope have entered the crapper of sorrow however, in the form of HDR Audio and Radiosity lighting (Global Illumination).

HDR Audio didn't really seem to be anything special until I played DICE's Battlefield: Bad Company demo in which it makes its debut. It's basically an audio version of HDR lighting, which creates a blinding effect when you walk from a dark corridor into a bright, sunlit courtyard. It essentially drowns out the quiet sound of a mouse scurrying across some beams when you light up the little bastard with 30 rounds from your HK416. Every bullet in the ceiling above him, the audio adjusts to make his scurrying away sound loud again. In any other game the mouse would still have been audible under the gunfire. If you're a bit thick, there's an explanatory video here.
I'd imagine it's a relatively simple technology to code and implement (I'm sure DICE's development team will disagree), but amazingly effective all the same. If you haven't actually played the BF: BC demo yet I suggest you do so and experience it for yourself.

The other technology is Radiosity lighting, which is a form of Global Illumination. I can't begin to describe the technology myself in text, so here's a handy picture courtesy of Wikipedia:

On the left is realtime lighting technology up to this point, where nothing can actually be 100% dark. It's either illuminated or it's not. On the right is radiosity, which not only allows colour bleeding (notice the pink-ish walls and ceiling), but also reflects the light from the more shiny surfaces, allowing for a much more realistic and less binary fill of a room. It's by no means a new technology; Half-Life 2 was (I believe, please correct me if I'm wrong) the first to use radiosity lightmaps back in 2004, but since then nobody else has taken up the torch and used realtime radiosity, which is strange considering it's easy to implement with a relatively low impact on framerate, and adds so much more to the atmosphere of the game. Illuminate Labs' Beäst and Geometrics' Enlighten, which are third-party realtime Global Illumination solutions, have been on the market for quite some time now (along with many others), both offering integration with the Epic's Grey Environment Simulator Mk. III. Beäst is being used in this format in DICE's upcoming Mirror's Edge to beautiful effect (here, notice how the red of the crane has 'bled' onto the rooftop), but it's the first for four years.
Anyway, just a few pointers for any developers that happen to be reading this blog (yeah right).

So, onto my GTA IV review for those that care.
At a glance Grand Theft Auto seems to have taken the predictable path that most next-gen games have by investing in a shiny new game engine and then filling it with utter crap. Well, that's a little unfair. IV still manages to keep players entertained with a wide variety of stuff to see and do, but if you've played the previous three GTA games you'll probably be just the slightest bit disappointed with IV.

To begin with, IV looks pretty much as you would expect a next-gen game of this genre to, perhaps a little less so on first glance. The rain especially looks fantastic, adding a mild specular and normal map to the pavement which reflects light sources within the scene. While I don't want to go on about the graphics too much as aside from this they're really nothing special, this one effect pretty much makes up for the rest of the graphical shortcomings. Everything is really nicely detailed but there's not enough variation to keep you noticing the details for long. It's the same three dustbins, skips and empty coffee cups strewn down every alleyway in the whole bloody city. It is atmospheric, but nothing like as atmospheric as it should be. Rockstar's claim that you could stand in a random area of the city and tell exactly where you are by the ambient noise turned out to be a load of rotting bollocks; it uses the same ambient drone over the entire city with varying numbers of emergency vehicle sirens. After a while most of the sound effects become repetitive, and the music is abysmal
for the most part (that's not just my opinion, most other people agree), punctuated by Rockstar's humour which is either lacking this time around, or I just no longer find it funny.

Going back on what I said last time around, gameplay is below average for the most part. I've played better shooters, driven better racing games and can go bowling any time I want in real life. Fun and engaging gameplay have both given way to gimmicky crap stolen from other places, like Saints Row's mobile phone and ragdoll physics, Gears of War's cover system and a generic multiplayer mode, which is admittedly quite fun. I'm not particularly impressed by Euphoria now I've seen it in a game either.

The friends and girlfriends system SHOULD NOT have been carried over from San Andreas, and makes almost every waking moment of gameplay a nightmare where lots of psychotic, drug-addled freaks nag you to take them drinking every five minutes. And what's more the game genuinely wants them to be a chore; wherever you are, the game always places your friend's pick-up point at the other end of the map and his/her preferred destination just down the road from you, meaning you need to drive in an enourmous circle all around the city just to get a quick meal, which you have to pay for. All of the characters are genuinely unpleasant as well; Brucie's gobshite wittering about how awesome he is, Roman's constant snyde remarks whenever you miss a shot at pool, Dwayne's depressing whinging about prison and Packie's coke-fuelled rants about his lifestyle all make you want to stab them to within an inch of their lives and leave them to bleed to death in an alleyway, which I do frequently. Dwayne's heartfelt text message about 'dragging his sick ass all the way back home from the hospital' (because I'd shot him several times the night before and left him in an abandoned warehouse, then ignored his calls for me to pick him up from the intensive care ward) actually had me in stitches.

For a conclusion I'm going to reiterate what I said on GTA4.tv:
It's the same tired old formula in the same tired old city with little in the way of actual innovation, just gimmicky crap which keeps you distracted from the game's almost total lack of fun for a total of 2 hours. The new 'realistic' image hasn't done anything positive for the game and sits in jarring contrast to the childish sex jokes and radio adverts. Honestly, I laughed more at the radio on Saints Row more than this crap. It just seems as if Rockstar is following the crowd of realistic games which have so far characterized the next-gen with their dull, repetitive gameplay and bland environments, when instead we need more games like Crackdown and... well... Crackdown is the only example I can think of.

It's ok for the first of a trilogy, though. It's not an overly bad game, it's still okay to play but it makes a lot of bad choices. GTA III had a similar 'gritty' vibe to it when it first appeared, but Vice and San Andreas didn't continue it. If IV is setting the tone for the next two of three games then you can bet your balls I won't touch them, especially if they redo Vice and San An again, which would essentially mean paying £40 for a graphics upgrade. "BOYCOTT!" he screamed, with an air of Che Guevaran revolutionary authority in his voice.

TL;DR: If you've played San Andreas, don't bother.

Lastly, I guess I should stop ranting off about the games industry and start living up to the title of this blog by posting some WIP levels. I'll get around to it eventually... probably... maybe... nah.


Grand Theft Auto IV

Like most people who don't have friends, a job or aren't Jack Thompson or one of his parental lackies I've been playing the long-awaited Grand Theft Auto IV for the last week or so. I haven't quite made up my mind about it yet though. The driving, vehicle handling, shooting, cover system, audio and visuals are all utterly superb, to say nothing of the impeccably detailed and atmospheric recreation of New York City. I think my main problem with it is that the gameplay and the city clash. From the player's end it feels just like one of the previous GTA games, but on the graphics end it looks (and indeed is) a totally different game based in a city whose detail was unimaginable in San Andreas' day. For me at least, this creates a somewhat awkward feeling whilst playing the game and has probably restrained me from enjoying the game for what it is.
It still remains one of the best games I've ever played, however, but I can't shake the feeling that this isn't really a GTA game which I suppose no longer matters.

Anyway, onto my main point.
My theory for the new trilogy of Grand Theft Auto games is as follows: New York, London and Tokyo. Anything backing up my theory? Well... not really. Only one small nugget on Massive B Radio, that station where the DJ rolls his Rs constantly like some kind of coked-up asylum escapee. At some point during the program he gives a 'shot out' to his crew in Liberty (New York), London and Tokyo. If you think about it, it makes sense, but I'm not professing to know for sure. Let's have a recap of events so far.

Grand Theft Auto I: Liberty City, Vice City, San Andreas
Grand Theft Auto I: London 1969

Grand Theft Auto II: Anywhere City

Grand Theft Auto III: Libery City
Grand Theft Auto III: Vice City
Grand Theft Auto III: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto IV: Liberty City
Grand Theft Auto IV: ???
Grand Theft Auto IV: ???

The GTA III trilogy is based upon the original Grand Theft Auto game, which had Libery, Vice and San Andreas as the three main cities in the game. There was an expansion pack released for this named GTA London 1969. The second Grand Theft Auto game was based in a city simply referred to as 'anywhere city', which pretty much rules it out as a possible setting. Setting the IV trilogy in New York, London and Tokyo would firmly establish it in the 'real world', something which is echoed in IV's increased level of realism, both in graphics and gameplay. Like I said, it sort of makes sense to set the IV trilogy (that is assuming it is a trilogy and not a tetralogy, which seems unlikely) in the undisputed capitals of the world.
That said, I really can't see GTA leaving the US and I think a GTA in London would be incredibly awkward, let alone Tokyo.
Basically, I am becoming sick of America as a setting for everyone's favourite hooker shooting simulator. The same old radio stations, vehicles, pedestrians and satirical comment on American society are beginning to wear thin, and a change of country may be just what GTA needs to keep it fresh.
Think about it, Houser.

Anyway, just throwing in my two cents. The next GTA trilogy has been on my mind ever since IV showed itself as I couldn't really imagine anything other than the three previous cities.
And I'm out, enjoy GTA IV everyone!


Miscellaneous Ramblings

A whole lot of not much has been happening over the past few weeks here (as usual), so I thought I'd mention a few things that have been going on in the outside world that have affected me in some way. Well actually that's a bit of a lie because I did have an operation on Wednesday, but it was just to remove an ingrown toenail and has proven to be nothing but an embuggerance, preventing me from going airsofting and generally making upright movement uncomfortable.

On the gaming side of things there's been an event comparable to Duke Nukem Forever's recent media release, and that is that the NeoTokyo mod team have recently released a new video showcasing some of DJ Bourgeoisie's enviable level design (the talented bastard). There's also word that they're planning a huge media update soon, with new screens and trailers, so if you're a massive NT freak (please tell me I'm not alone) this will no doubt be welcome news and should be making your undergarments moist right around now. There's also a few samples of the completed soundtrack on composer Ed Harrison's MySpace page which should send tingles of ambient-styled delight down your spine.

In the industry there's been lots of hubbub over EA's recent bid to buy Take-Two (and with it Rockstar Games), and I'm happy to report that so far, even though EA have taken it straight to the stockholders, T2 aren't budging. This has been labeled as the first 'hostile' takeover in the history of the games industry, and hopefully it will be the last. I would also like to mention that although psychotic crackpot 'lawyer' (and I use the word loosely) Jack Thompson offered EA his full cooperation and well-wishing, they essentially told him to go and sodomise a tree because of his 'colourful' history. He has also been sanctioned by the Florida Supreme Court in an event in gaming history on par with the parting of the red sea in the Bible. Hopefully old Jack will one day realise his God-given task of freeing the world of games is in actual fact filling a gap that some milk he forgot to buy at the store fifteen years ago left and he will promptly resume his normal life. In the mean time, the best we can do is try to keep him off the streets at night and all do our part to try and comfort his embarassed wife whose sexual satisfaction has been fulfilled only because of generous gamers - poor woman.
Get well soon Jack.

Finally, although this may not even ring a tiny little dinnerbell for 99.7% of you, Itlit Software, as I have been recently informed, has been purchased by a larger corporate entity (£5 says it's EA) to boost funding for their flagship RelentENGINE title Relent: The Fallen. Similar to Crytek in their fascination with a single word, but in that only. Yes, the RelentENGINE showed signs of being a fair competitor to Crytek's frame-per-minute graphical throne, and indeed even the Unreal Engine's stranglehold on the console gaming and mod communities, but at a playable framerate and with some colours other than pale grey, respectively. It not only promised this, but has also made claims to provide 'massive destroyable city environments' along with many other impressive features (full specs here).
So why, you ask, am I talking about it in the past tense? Well, following Itlit's purchase by the as yet unknown (can anybody clarify?) company, all previous non-profit projects, agreements and policies have been bombed, along with any hope I had of securing a copy of the engine for myself. Why, you ask? You do ask a lot of bloody questions. Thing is, I have been drawing up plans and calculating feasibilities to create a game of my own, free to download. I won't say any more than that as it may still happen one day and I don't want some sneaky bastard stealing my plans, but the RelentENGINE was the only hope I had of ever getting it rolling. I wanted a next-gen engine, capable of various degrees of shader rape, typical physics stuff, typical AI stuff and large, detailed city environments without loss of framerate. The RelentENGINE's specs hit my needs and kept going until they hit the horizon, and, even though I haven't actually seen any screens or videos, it seemed perfect and I just had really good feeling about it. I was half-way through the paperwork of a Confidential Disclosure Agreement (am I allowed to disclose that?) before I was informed of the takeover and new policies, and my teenage hopes of bitch whipping a team of trained monkeys into helping me make my perfect game were cruelly dashed.
It's not over yet, as I may be able to get my hands on the engine yet. In the mean time, however, I shall despair.
I bid you good day.


2008: Year of the game?

Being honest, 2007 was a huge disappointment for me. Games like Assassin's Creed, Super Mario Galaxy, Bioshock, Mass Effect and Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare paled in comparison to everything that came before them, and you'd have to shove the pointy end of a loaded rifle into my rectum and threatened to pull the trigger before I actually played any of them. On the positive side there was Crackdown. And that's it. One great game worth playing, for a whole 365 days, 8 760 hours or 31 556 926 seconds of prime release time. But what about Crysis, I hear you cry (pun intended)? You could launch Crysis and its entire development team into the sun and you'd have to send my testicles along with them before I started caring. But that's a rant for another time.

So I was casually flicking through the latest issue of PSM3 yesterday when I discovered an 18 page extravaganza featuring 157 new games. Think about that for a second. 157 games on PS3 alone means there must be something good in there, right? Right. I noticed a few gems I'd either forgotten about or didn't know about to begin with. For example, The Getaway 3, Two Days to Vegas (new media released recently on Steel Monkeys' official site) and The Outsider (Splinter Cell: Conviction without Sam Fisher).
I'm going to go off on a limb here and spew out every good game I can think of that's coming in 2008, in no real order.
Grand Theft Auto IV, Mercenaries 2, Mirror's Edge, the Half-Life 2 modification NeoTokyo (pigs flying etc), Mafia II, Eight Days, Midnight Club Los Angles, Alan Wake, Red Faction 3, Rage, MGS4, Gran Turismo 5, Haze, Killzone 2, The Club, Frontlines: Fuel of War, Far Cry 2, Battlefield Bad Company, Fallout 3 and Rainbow Six Vegas 2.
And those are just the ones I'm interested in.

There is a little voice in my head screaming at me for writing this because the majority of them are sequels and soulless mush, the likes of which are slowly draining away all originality and creativity from the gaming industry, along with my will to live, but the sheer number of appealing titles has already bound and gagged the little bastard and beaten him until he can't move. I probably won't end up buying more than one or two of these, but it's always good to have choice, and a repeat of last year would have seen me hanging myself in a mental asylum for cases of unusually extreme boredom.

I'm almost a month late, but I'll say it anyway: bring on 2008!


Ground Zero, 13th January

Whelp, it's the 16th and I still haven't got around to regaling you all with tales of my latest airsoft skirmish. That's because sitting around on the two small tongue depressors with a piece of A4 paper stretched over them that I call my arse in front of a computer screen for 364 days of the year, and then venturing out into the wide world for six hours of excruciating physical exercise, apparently leaves you in a state unfit to move comfortably for a couple of days, which includes settling back down into one's natural habitat. My habitat, in this case, being a paint-stained black leather office chair which has an arse groove so perfect you could fill it with Plaster of Paris and sell the results to an anorexic supermodel to use as a mould for the next plastic surgery on her gluteus maximus.
Picture to the right: My 'My Lai' face.

If the following is to be understood, you will need to take in the list below (which is also general knowledge for future posts, so learn it like the words to a song because I'm not going to post it again):
  • My local site is Ground Zero, Hampshire. See link on the right hand side of the page.
  • There are two teams at Ground Zero, Delta (white tags) and Bravo (orange tags). Myself and my team (Delta 1337) always go Delta (obviously), mainly because Bravo are a bunch of unwashed halfwits who wouldn't take their hits if somebody was dangling their nan over a threshing machine. Up until recently, the marshalls haven't really cared about the cheating, at least until Howard had a word with a few of them and got some to go onto Delta team. At Ground Zero it isn't 'who won?', it's 'how badly did Delta loose?'.
  • Howard is the owner of said site, who gives a long, boring speech at the beginning of every game. Those wishing not to offend him will refrain from falling asleep.
  • Neil is the site's gun handyman, the gaps in whose knowledge about airsoft guns are comparable to the size of a Venezuelan transexual's penis.
  • I own three guns, all of them made by Tokyo Marui, or 'TM', who are regarded by most airsofters as the standard on which all airsoft guns should be made. They have flawless internals and will almost never jam or do anything wierd such as strip their gears, which ICS and Classic Army (CA) guns have been known to in the past. The only downside to TM is that the majority of their guns are made from mostly plastic (with a few metal parts). While this may not be an issue to people who are there to actually play the game, realism junkies and sad bastards with too much money to spend prefer CA and ICS. If you actually want to pay an extra £40 (or £100+ for an aftermarket metal body) just to increase the weight and decrease the reliability of your weapon, you are a sad bastard indeed. Having said that, I am a man who prefers realism, but not when it's going to make your rifle sling start to cut through your neck after a few hours of playing.
  • The guns I own are (at present): TM Steyr AUG SR (bricked), TM FR Ordnance MC51 + red dot sight + solid stock, TM XM16E1 (M16 Vietnam style) + CAW M203 grenade launcher, TM Glock 26 Advance, and a KSC Heckler & Koch USP .45.
  • I only have a phone camera at the moment, so the quality will be awful on all of these pictures.
The weather forecast for the 13th in Ringwood was heavy rain all day. Rampage (crazy bastard with two 6-barrel revolving grenade launchers, amongst other scary guns) said on the forums that it wasn't going to rain, and "RampageWeather™ is rarely wrong!". By some miracle, he was right. The weather for the day was cloudy, with a little bit of wind, but a nice temperature (approx 9 degrees, which is good for airsoft).

After arriving and parking in the bog-like field (rain the previous night), myself and squad leader (kinda) Tim (who owns a 512fps L96 sniper, one of the same grenade launchers as Rampage and two chrome-plated Desert Eagles, the crazy sod) idled over to talk to Neil, who doubled as the pick-up point for Zero One orders. I had only bought a spare magazine for my new M16/M203 (having only one previously), but my friend Stuart (AKA Jewbu) had recently saved up to buy a shiny new TM M14, which he seemed to be muchos pleased with. Tim also received his sniper rifle back after some repair work, which consisted of the repair crew at Zero One putting some duct tape inside the buggered trigger mechanism and charging £45 for it, chuckling all the way. You could see where they had been giggling whilst writing the bill. Jewboy also brought along one of his friends, Scott, who I reluctantly lent my MC51 for the day. After some buggering around (during which Tim managed to send my M203 shell to its untimely death) we assembled for Howard's speech as usual and had a nice nap to make up for getting up at 7am. We were informed that nobody had actually volunteered beforehand to be Delta's captain, so Howard shouted for Rampage who assented, apparently oblivious or uncaring as to Delta's reputation as 'the unleadable team'.
Picture to the right: Jewbu, Tim and Scott from left to right, relaxing in the car park at lunch.

A long walk later and we arrived at our designated spawn point, Checkpoint Charlie, where rampage handed out pink sashes (sash holders do their 'dead time' on the spot without having to run to a spawn point to wait. Downside is if Bravo get hold of them they get points), one of which I took, and later lost in what can only be described as a move of unparalleled coma-inducing stupidity on my part. I won't elaborate.

Some confusion later we arrived at Stag Camp, where there was a timer to be switched over to Delta (timers are an objective, you switch it over to your team and hold the position against the enemy, then every half an hour a marshall comes to see who is currently in the base and gives points accordingly), as soon as we could find it. 23 and a half hours later we found the timer and switched it over to Delta, then dived into whichever trenches weren't knee-deep in water and prepared for the attack. 15 minutes and some head-scratching later, shots rang out across the valley over in Firebase Charlie (right next to Checkpoint Charlie, which is essentially just a guard tower). The clueless pillock who leads Bravo had given the wrong orders and they were attacking our base instead of the actual objective. More than half an hour later, and after receiving some points for the timer, Bravo decided attacking the objective might be a good idea, and lurched slowly into motion in what can only be described as a cluster fuck. Our squad, consisting only of 5 or 6 guys at this point, were attacked on all sides from Bravo. I managed to plug about 3 of them using my new baby before all my team mates were killed and I was the last man standing. I slammed my second and only remaining magazine into my M16 as some prick with a support gun sprayed most of the mud from the top of the bunker (which is just a hole in the ground) into my hair, and stood up, ready to unleash hell. Before I even spotted the two bastards shooting at me, some guy came through the bushes on the left-hand side and shouted 'BANG', pointing a Colt 1911 in my face. Not one to reject a bang kill and be shot at point blank in the face anyway, I called the hit and climbed out of the bunker just as no less than 15 Bravo swarmed into Stag, declaring it to be theirs. We'd already got the timer at this point and the objective had moved, so this was entirely pointless, but your typical Bravo has about 5 brain cells, and it simply cannot turn down the prospect of shooting somebody.

Other notable events of the day include four people (myself, Jewbu, Scott and one other guy who joined in on the fun) holding The Village and area surrounding for more than 30 minutes against an attack of 12 Bravos. I managed to get some bald twat with an armalite and a sniper hiding in a bush (although he didn't take his hits even after I threw a rock in his general direction shouting 'GRENADE!') until both myself and Jewbu were hit and the four of us decided to break for lunch. Just as we were leaving, a marshall came through the bushes with the timer we had been waiting for all this fricking time, followed closely by a squad of four drooling morons. We spotted another eight on the way out, including the poorly concealed sniper whom Jewbu used to zero his iron sights on. This was just before I took the picture on the right.
Picture to the right: The random guy who hooked up with us, Jewbu and Scott all posing for my phone camera on the way back from the village.

My last battle tale is one either praising the Tiger Stripe camo I was wearing, or showing how ridiculously stupid Bravo really are. Myself, Jewbu and Scott piled into a hollow bush just outside Stag camp late in the afternoon, after Delta had re-taken it, and chilled out for a bit before Bravo showed up. After some lengthy discussion about where to set up a defensive perimeter around the base, a Bravo popped through a hole in the front of the bush, preceeded by 15 or so BBs that slammed into Jewbu and Scott. The angry Bravo yelled at the pair, accusing them of not taking their hits (irony), until Jewbu declared that the Bravo was in fact a silly twat who apparently didn't hear them shout 'DELTA HIT' at the top of their lungs. I slowly aimed my rifle at the intruder who was on his way out of the bush and sprayed a few rounds into his arse before pulling a smug grin and giggling slightly. He apparently didn't even see me.

Me now being alone in this bush, most of Bravo team were attempting to attack stag from the direction we were supposed to be guarding. I felt a little claustrophobic as most of Bravo team slowly surrounded the bush on all sides, advancing towards the base behind me. I took a few pot shots at ones passing through gaps in the leaves, praying they wouldn't figure out where I was. Most notable of these was a guy who came into the same gap that the dispatcher of my comrades had. Not once, but twice I managed to bang kill him. The second time he brought along a friend who I was glad to accept as a human sacrifice. Another one was a suicidal halfwit who ran past the entrance to the bush and tried to jump behind some sandbags about 5 meters away from me. Before he even hit the ground after the jump, I managed to put about 3 rounds into his neck and head, assisted by the team actually in the base more than 20 meters away. He walked away holding his neck exclaiming 'Christ, it's always the long range ones that hurt the most'. I chuckled a little, knowing that yet another Bravo had failed to spot me in this bush.
I was finally knocked off my killing spree by three friendly Deltas who, seeing we were pushing Bravo back a little, piled into the bush with me. Before long they were merrily popping rounds into advancing Bravos. I was glad of the assistance, until I suddenly realised that they were merely attracting attention to the bush at the exact moment a line of shiny white BBs collided painfully with my legs and groin from the right flank.

I should also mention that I saved Jewbu's life (probably) at one point during the day. We were running after Rampage (who should compete in the fucking Olympics) who was leading us around the back of a Bravo-infested path, when we came across a small pond. No big deal. One, two three, four and five of us jumped over. I turned back just in time to see the last of us, Jewbu, try, and fail to jump over the small hole and fell in up to his knees. He later told me that it was incredibly pretty sticky mud, so I guess he was lucky I was there to pull him out.

Also, apart from being impossible to keep up with, Rampage was an exemplary captain. After this incident with the bog, we encountered stiff Bravo resistance in the back woods. Jewbu was saying that Rampage had gone on ahead and deserted us, but he was wrong. After being pinned down for about 10 minutes by a small squad of Bravos, we heard the 'fweeeeeee' of two electric motors, followed closely by 'CONTACT LEFT!' and 'HIT BRAVO' several times. Rampage jumped from over a log holding two VZ61 Skorpions, ginger beard flashing in the light, and said:
"Right, I've got your bad guys, now move up!"
I have never laughed so much in all my life, the man is a complete legend. Shortly after this, we followed him to a large path and said that we were going to have to run past a Bravo only spawn point. We all gulped a little, realising that they were probably going to follow us. After some deliberation, we all broke into a sprint, heading straight towards the T-junction on which the spawn point was situated. "Morning lads!" I said merrily, saluting as I ran towards the village where our aforementioned predicament took place. There was a clamour of about 15 Bravos attempting to give a smart ass answer at the same time, but I didn't catch any of them.

So there you have it, the 13th in a nutshell. As always, I end up feeling like a battered wife at the end of the day, but I always go back for more. The camaraderie and friendliness of all the staff and players (including the Bravos, they're not really that bad) at Ground Zero is fantastic, not to mention what a socking good day out it is. I'm not trying to sound like an advertisement, but that tends to happen when I talk about something awesome.

This post wasn't very funny, was it? Tough shit, I wasn't trying to be. Hang around until whenever I feel like it and I'll post a rant which will keep your feeble minds amused.


Let's have a go at this 'blogging' stuff

Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Laurence 'Imbrium' Trevennor.
Full time internet geek, gamer, proud Airsofter, full-time cat owner and Level Designer. I currently reside in the piss soaked, toothless yokel-infested backwaters of Wiltshire, England and created this blog mostly as a means of venting my anger at various game/publishing companies, inform the general public as to the depressing state of their grammatical skills and perhaps even post a few map WIPs. But first, a little about myself.

Freakishly lanky (6"5-ish), worryingly pale and heavily armed, I am, in reality a bit of a shy bloke (due in part to the long imprisonment on this metaphorical desert island) with a love of firearms and collection of airsoft replicas. While this may sound a little worrying to some readers, I do happen to have a soft side. This is where my cat, Ruby comes in, and my two rabbits Amber and Sapphire. I'm 16, slowly working my way through college, and for those of you who play computer or console games on a regular basis, I welcome you to my blog and wish you long life and good health. You will need your gaming skills to understand the majority of terminology I will be using throughout the life of this blog. To Daily Mail reading parents who have been brainwashed into thinking games are evil, Jack Thompson and anybody who takes anything they read on Gamespot without a 5lb bag of salt, I wish you two weeks holiday at the business end of a firing range, you bunch of stuck up hypocrites.

Well, we're 19 lines and one rant in and I haven't even touched on Level Design yet, so let's get on with it. I am currently a Source Engine man (Half-Life 2, Counter-Strike Source, Garry's Mod etc.), mainly due to the complete absence of any other games with a grotesquely huge fan base, (mostly) bollocks-free toolkit, radiosity lighting and framerate in excess of 3 per minute. I am currently working on one map, GM_Mudstorm for Garry's Mod, which I will post some images of next time I compile it, and have two or three other projects in the pipeline. Hopefully there will be a game engine along with real-time radiosity (none of this compiling malarkey, to quote Interlopers.net's Athlete UK), a decent SDK and all of the next-gen bells and whistles before I stop giving a shit and join the marines.

Anyway, I hope that's given you a little insight into who I am and what I'm about. As my whiteboard has just reminded me, I have an airsoft game at Ground Zero on the 13th which I must now prepare for. I'll post a few pictures if I remember.
Tally ho.