Yes, after another year of inactivity and neglecting my duties as a worthless, over opinionated internet blogger writing egotistical nonsense nobody cares about, I'm back to write another clueless, pointless and vaguely unpleasant rant about whatever I feel like verbally attacking this month, which given the amount of time I've been away will be rather a lot. In fact, in the following wall of text you can expect the following: seven pictures(!), a review of Gran Turismo 5, two all-new rants and some self-indulgent tripe of interest to nobody but myself concerning both my new car and a new career path!
So, before my motivation wanes let's get this show on the road.
The two previous viewers of this blog may have noticed I'm no longer sporting the 'Beware of the Level Designer' title. Well, that's mainly because I'm no longer a level designer. I'll explain fully at a later date, but suffice to say that having spent two years working on a course in possibly the worst public college in Europe I came to the following two bitter conclusions:
Firstly, although I was a barely passable designer the job had completely lost its allure for me.
Secondly, my pencil and paper artistic skills were certainly not passable even in a pre-school and would hamper my career as an artist or a designer, the two games careers I was interested in.
Therefore, with my Distinction-Distinction-Merit-grade National Diploma in Games Development freshly placed atop the contents of the junk box in my attic I give my leave to the once alluring games industry. Not to sound bitter, but from the way it's evolving, I think I left just in time - before I could become a part of what is likely to be either its undoing or its evolution into what the IT industry has become - a corporate wasteland where money is firmly in control of everything and everyone.
Obviously, the games industry is too big and too diverse to collapse at this point, but it's been getting steadily worse since its '70s origination, where auteurs would release entertaining pet projects that publishers would happily greenlight and send to arcades nationwide. Up until the 1990s and early 2000s there would still be some original and artistically brilliant projects making it to market, but today we have to make do with atrocious movie tie-ins and the 73rd sequel to a franchise whose teats are so sore and desiccated that milking them constitutes an act of torture, both for the developer and the player. Obviously games themselves are too artistically dependent to be completely subsumed by corporate greed, and original titles will still slip through the spreadsheets on occasion, but the trend has been overwhelmingly depressing so far, and with people like Bobby 'The Tick' Kotick piloting industry-leading publishers like Activision, one has every right to be a doomsayer on the matter. And that's not all.
While major companies like Sony and Microsoft, publishers like Activision and EA and even developers like Treyarch and Infinity Ward are waging bloody conflicts in the streets for people's money the games industry is completely lacking the cohesion or cooperation necessary to change its immature, 'child's toy' public image. This means the games industry has and is increasingly going to balloon into an even fatter, easier target for blind, misinformed halfwits to blame for society's problems, exploiting their position in said society to get their foundations, charities or movements into the headlines by making all-sweeping generalisations about matters unrelated to whichever extremely inappropriate subject happens to be in the news.
I find it somewhat ironic that the Irish, a people renowned for their drinking, fighting and womanising is trying to undermine the cause for a violent act. It brings to mind the image of a drunken Irishman sitting in a police holding cell, yelling incriminating lies about his friends in order to occlude his own guilt, possibly convincing one of the slow-witted coppers to free him.
(You see, Mr O'Dowd? I can spout misinformed, bolshy propaganda as well, mine just doesn't make the headlines. Please stop unquestionably parroting the speeches handed to you by your grubbing press officer, do some actual research on the subject that goes deeper than Fox News headlines and Jack Thompson's website and come to your own, less media-friendly conclusions.)
Phew, rant over.
You'd think that we gamers would be used to the frequent assaults on our pastime by self aggrandising pricks manipulating the public into thinking they're fighting for 'family values' and 'ending violence forever', and yet every time they mingle their way into the crowds of other lies broadcast on the Fox News network I still have a surge of bile work its way into my typing fingers.
Anyway, with any hope I might have had at employment in the games industry lying smashed and broken in the pages before my bloodshot eyes, I take another swig of Captain Hotmug's patented Morning De-Fogger™, better known as coffee, and look towards my future. I suppose every wrong turn gets me one step closer to success, or at the very least a step closer to life as a syringe-riddled corpse floating face down in the browny-grey waters of a disused bathhouse. On that note of optimism, I should like to present my appropriately optimistic (read: deluded) case as a writer. Having no discernable talent for anything other than spitting myself into a stupor every morning Jack Thompson wakes up alive I think any other artistic (read: do-nothing) career would be somewhat out of reach to me, and life as a retail assistant or short-order cook doesn't particularly appeal to me, given that interaction with live humans is necessary in order to sustain it.
So why, I hear you sneer disgustedly at your screen, does any of this matter to me, the reader of this two-bit internet skid mark? Well, for starters it means that I might take this blog slightly more seriously from now on, providing anything up to monthly updates as opposed to my previous 'whenever' policy. One might also assume that the quality and variety of the content may improve as well, but I honestly wouldn't get your hopes up. Given my prior record it's a bad assumption to make at all.
Having made a mockery of both my past and future careers I would now like to present something that I take very seriously indeed. Those with a short attention span may wish to skip ahead a few paragraphs until I start berating something again. This shouldn't take long.
Having a life-long interest in both cars and games means that I have naturally owned several copies of the famed Gran Turismo franchise over the years, and later on in this wall of text there is a review of its latest incarnation, but for now, a nostalgic trip back through my childhood.
Of all the cars in the original two Playstation 1-dwelling GT games, the one that stuck with me through the years was the 8th generation Mitsubishi Galant. Despite not being anywhere near as exciting or as obtrusively fast and brash as, say, a Honda NSX or a '71 Charger, it wormed its way into my subconscious with its discrete, pseudo-aggressive front and hard-lined form. Its mere inclusion in Gran Turismo must have also had an effect on my opinion of it, as I mentally categorise it as a performance-oriented car, even though it was never designed as such. Even the rally-bred, range-topping VR4 was adapted from the existing chassis, rather than the chassis designed for it.
Many of you at this point with an automotive knowledge may be of the opinion that I don't exactly have high aspirations, especially when you consider that the Galant is a mid-range, mass-produced, front-wheel drive 4-door saloon car that dropped off the end of the production line almost 9 years ago. Well, naysayers, I put it to you that this car is better looking than any diesel-powered box excreted by any wholly-owned Volkswagen subsidiary over the last twenty years, which includes most of Europe at this point. In fact, I'd be so bold as to say that the Galant, with its gaping, consume-all air dam, its calmly determined eyes, all-forward bonnet bulges, beaky nose, subtly flared arches and bulging upper-midship is more handsome than any 4-door in the world, and to me at least, the best looking car design thus far in our history. Sure, the backside is slightly anonymous, with an unappealing boot and a set of subservient taillights, but it can't all be good. The addition of a low spoiler greatly improves the look of the poopdeck, and the taillights encourage trailing BMW and Audi drivers to overtake, comfortably allowing them to settle into the firing line of its unnerving stare.
Sure, the design is somewhat derivative of the Germans that came before it but Japan is famous for improving upon existing designs by making them sharper, more efficient and adding layers of cutting-edge tech.
There are many who would argue that a lowly saloon can never beat the beauty of a classic Ferrari, a Lamborghini or even a boldly designed hatchback, but the fact of the matter is when you accelerate past a crowd of waiting people at a pedestrian crossing in your bright red ZZX-620 Kompensator, every one of those people is going to immediately envision an over-privileged twat behind the wheel, snorting at the peasants outside his world of leather and wood for not being as rich as him.
A well designed sports saloon can slip past the crowd unnoticed in comfort and style, but once out of earshot can swiftly overtake the yuppie and be out of sight before he even has time to consider ringing his local BMW dealer.
Anyway, I realise that beauty is naturally subjective so here are a few pictures which state my case for the beauty of this freshly polished car's design.
Please excuse my shitty number plate photoshopping.
Sigh. It hasn't been this clean since I took these pictures in October last year.
If you know about Galants you'll probably know that this is a UK-spec post-facelift (2001-2003) Galant saloon with the UK-exclusive alloy wheels created by Team Dynamics. It styles the same bodykit as the top-of-the-line VR-4, and while that may be a slightly hollow choice given that it only has a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder 4G63 SOHC producing 131bhp, it's a bold design that sets it apart from other saloons in its class. Of course, the ambition is to one day own the 4-wheel drive, twin-turbocharged super-saloon that is the Galant VR4, but until the insurance costs become slightly less extortionate, my valiant pretender will do just fine.
That's not to say I'm not going to try and improve on Mitsubishi's work - oh no.
The 4G63 engine sold in bottom-tier UK Galants is undoubtedly one of the smoothest 4-cylinder engines ever produced, with its rolling rockers, balance shafts the size of barbells and a mild, smooth-revving manner - but it's inescapably a dinosaur. It's based on an iron block that's been around since the early '80s in one form or another, and while it is eminently tuneable, I would prefer not to brand myself as a ricer by bolting on a bright purple air filter and drilling holes in the exhaust.
Instead, despite the one-off cost of the work involved, I'm going to be removing it, replacing it with a 197bhp MIVEC-equipped 6A12 DOHC 24v V6 from a donor Mitsubishi FTO. This engine, while quieter and smoother than a 4-cylinder, also makes a BMW-like power output of nearly 100bhp per litre of displacement - the holy grail of naturally aspirated engine design. It features a three stage MIVEC variable intake and exhaust timing system which, while requiring some RPMs to provide any real kick, makes a superb growl which evolves into a roar as the system actuates.
For those of us unfamiliar with the complex language of Car, this roughly translates into the following - "I'm going to make it go really fast".
Mitsubishi themselves sold a 6A12-equipped Galant in East Asia as the Galant VR-M, but this is the only market in which these two entities saw union.
I also plan to have an exact duplicate of the factory exhaust system made in stainless steel for longevity, and the addition of a double-din satnav system/stereo should improve its usefulness as a long distance cruiser - the car you realise the Galant was always destined to be once you take one for a drive along a motorway.
Cosmetic modifications will be few but tasteful; a low-level boot spoiler, some 'Sport' edition fog lamps, stainless steel 'Galant' kick plates and some floor mats - all genuine Mitsubishi parts designed for this car.
The idea is to make a car that, aside from some material improvements, Mitsubishi could have designed and built themselves, using all-original Mitsubishi parts (wherever available) taken from other MMC vehicles.
Recycling every scrap I remove, I also intend to turn the original engine block into a coffee table by removing the head, having the iron block treated to prevent rust, polishing it, and affixing a sheet of custom tempered glass using the original head bolts.
While all of this may sound extremely expensive and wildly over optimistic to readers unfamiliar with this car's past I can blushingly admit that since its purchase I have already spent a little over £6000 on repairs, restorations and replacement parts, and it's still not finished. I bought it for a few pennies over £1000 just before Christmas 2009 and from that you can probably hazard a guess as to the state it was in. Any logically thinking person would have simply scrapped it and cut their losses, but a person in love with a ton and a bit of metal isn't likely to be thinking logically. I can at least console myself with the knowledge that the money I lavish on it could just as likely have been spent on the girlfriend I have in some alternate universe.
Besides, the image of some future incarnation of myself watching TV with my feet up on my shiny 4G63 coffee table is infinitely motivating; backlighting the glass with the application of LEDs inside the cylinders is of course optional.
Conversely, my review of Gran Turismo 5 is certainly not optional given that it was promised earlier in this post.
Drawing on my self-destructive habit of exploding a small issue into something that insults the entire gaming community, I should like to start with my view of GT5's journey to market so far.
Gran Turismo 5 has had a development time of approximately six years, if you assume they began work immediately after finishing GT4, and during that time it has been Sony's prize fighter - an unwilling mascot with questionable abilities thrust into the world of public conflict, of console vs. console, of Sony vs. Microsoft - used as a crude instrument in a marketing war designed to help a major corporation win millions of dollars from its competitors.
Playing Gran Turismo 5 is a very different story. Every memory of the war this game has fought fades away and is replaced with the image of a small, dedicated team beavering away somewhere in Japan on their vision of a perfect racing game. This is an experience which manages to completely separate itself from the hype, hysteria and promise of its marketing and simply do what comes naturally to it.
Starting from the 'FINALLY!' moment after game finishes installing itself onto your hard drive, you're greeted, oddly, by planet earth.
What follows is Gran Turismo 5's introductory video - an abridged journey of a car's trip from ground to track, as its metal is harvested and turned into a familiar shape by a series of vast industrial empires. The chassis, the bodywork, the glass, the engine, the interior - all fly past the undercranked camera accompanied by a sophisticated classical piano composition - reminiscent of the PS3's equally adult boot-up sequence. Even shots of a working engine are interspersed with the madness, beautiful in its complexity and delicate function. What follows the manufacturing process is a reminder of what the end result of this process means to its consumers - freedom. A series of headfirst clips of some inspiring roads are fired at us, including some famous racetracks, to remind us of what the car has meant to humanity since its birth, and what it is capable of. We are then given a bird's eye view of the arteries of Tokyo, running red and white with lights of thousands of cars, pumping their occupants through the largest and most advanced city in the world - emphasising the car's importance in Japan's post-war development.
This stunning montage of history and technology then ends with a spinning V6 engine slowly revealing itself as that of the R35 Nissan GTR, which greets us with a blaze of light.
At this point the piano ends as abruptly as it started and we hear the howl of modernity assert itself over the scene, slowly evolving into a modern rock song which gives us a tour of Gran Turismo 5's wide repertoire. From WRC to NASCAR, F1 to Kei cars, from the fifties to the two thousands, Gran Turismo 5 seems to relax into the satisfaction of its completeness and, like its difficult birth, ends in its best bit - the game itself, or in the case of the video, the Red Bull X2010.
However, is its best feature any good?
Above: Can you see what it is yet? My 'Standard' Pyrenees black Legnum in action.
I'm not going to pretend I went into Gran Turismo 5 with anything other than hope.
I prayed that my childhood memories of early PS1 and PS2 Gran Turismo games wouldn't get brutally stepped on by some ham-handed rehash of past glories - I wanted it to succeed. I prayed it was soul and substance, not just flash.
However, my scepticism fell away like an old newspaper in the rain because almost immediately you're charmed by its class and simplicity - the slightly dated Japanese piano tunes that play on the menus create an atmosphere of optimism and potential.
The gratifying rush of excitement stimulated by buying your first car in a Gran Turismo game was always vaguely reminiscent of buying your first real car, and 5 is no different. Taking it to a race event and nosing past your opponent over the finish line is made into an ecstasy as you receive a shining trophy, a handful of experience points and some currency which you can use to improve or replace your car - all set against a suitably congratulatory ditty.
This is the reason GT5 is such a joyful game to play - every positive action is attributed value and significance - however seriously you want to take it - and the addiction of buying cars, tuning them and powering them to victory is made ever stronger.
However, it's not the gratification that will keep you playing Gran Turismo 5, nor is it the superb gameplay which I'll mention in a minute, it's the detail.
Any given car may be represented in GT5 with multiple versions - different engines, different years of production to include minor suspension or engine changes, identical cars sold under different badges (so you can buy the version of the car sold under the brand in YOUR home country), different trim levels and special editions... and most of these aren't even to pad out the game's 1031 cars, either - many of them aren't even recognised as separate models. While it does become tiresome to wade through the millions of variants of RX7, NSX, S2000, Impreza and Z-car in the used car lot to buy the car you were actually looking for, I'm glad for the frankly stupid amount of choice.
Another example of this near-rectal level of detail is the game's camera mode.
A feature carried over from Gran Turismo 4, this allows you to photograph your freshly-polished baby in one of several glitzy locations - all beautifully created. Once you've walked around the scene and positioned your motor in a nice spot, adjusted its wheel angle, headlight setting and orientation, you walk your camera over to comfortable distance and go into camera mode. Here, you enter a prostate-tickling camera viewfinder and are able to adjust tens of settings - some I haven't even figured out yet. Focal length, exposure, light exposure, lens shape, composition, filters... it's insane.
It's features like this that really let you know what Polyphony Digital were doing for those six years.
Above: My 'Premium' Alfa Romeo 147 snapped in photo mode.
Aside from every member of staff earning a fairly comprehensive proctology degree they must have spent quite some time driving cars, too.
I do not take it lightly when I say this: the handling is perfect.
I thought Grand Theft Auto IV's handling would take some beating (yes, I've changed my opinion on GTA4 again - story for another time), and yet GT5 manages to capture the same weighted feel with none of the unresponsiveness or on-rails feeling that GTA sometimes had when pushing cars to the limit. Every single car, however small the differences between them, feels different. Buying a new car is a genuinely tense experience the first time you throw it around a track, as you slowly learn its quirks and kicks and compensate for them. A car will often genuinely amaze you if you've been driving something else for a few races.
Don't get me wrong - GT5 definitely has a recognisable style of handling unique to it, but there are so many possible variations within this style that it's mind-boggling to consider the implications. This is even considering the most advanced and powerful car in my garage is currently a 365bhp Lamborghini Countach - I'm genuinely looking forward to trying some of the legendary Italians, technical Japanese and power-infused Germans later on, but I'm buying cars as I need them - not as I want them.
If you want to know how it feels like to hold a car's potential in your hands, to experience the weight shift as you flick into a corner, to explore the limits of grip and maintain control once you break traction then I cannot recommend a better game than Gran Turismo 5. It's intuitive enough for anybody to pick up, but deep enough to enthral even the most pedantic car bore.
As for criticisms of GT5, I have but two - firstly, the aforementioned wading and waiting required when searching for a specific used car, and secondly the game's sound effects - every car still emits the same dull drone as it screams around a track, however hard you thrash it. That's not to say it hasn't improved from previous GT games, far from it - each car now sounds unique and there are some recognisable noises made by specific cars I am personally familiar with, but they still lack the satisfyingly grumpy noises provided by, say, Project Gotham.
As for the generally agreed-upon criticisms cited by so called 'professional' reviewers like Gamespot who get told by their advertising agency what to say, here is my retort to each of them.
Yes, the Standard cars don't look as good as the Premium cars that they far outnumber (as seen in the two pictures above), but who cares? I have 14 cars, two of them premium, and they still sound great, drive and tune up just as well as the Premium cars. If like me your PS2 died before you had a chance to buy GT4 they'll all still be new to you. Besides, Polyphony Digital has stated an interest in remaking the Standard cars as Premium models and releasing them with subsequent patches, so this could be addressed in the future. I'd personally like to request doing the TOM'S Toyota Chaser, Mitsubishi Legnum VR-4 and Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird first, please!
Also, confusing menus? Christ. Unless you're so thick-skulled you could fall out of a moving train and walk away with an unchanged IQ then you learn them straight away, just like every other game you've ever played. They're different to mainstream western games, I'll grant you, but if you're not used to the slightly unusual way Japan designs games after twenty years then there's no hope for you.
And yes, the AI is still completely autistic - the one legitimate criticism that I have no mature comeback for, so I'll sit here blowing raspberries until you go away.
To sum up then, Gran Turismo 5 is a terrific experience.
It carries itself off as a completely classy, classless racing game that has appeal enough for anybody with a muse wrapped up in the automotive. It still manages to engage me like a plug in a socket, just like it did 13 years ago when it debuted.
Quiet, dignified - totally lost in its own world, GT5 can sometimes seem slightly eccentric and clueless; occasionally losing sight of the big picture.
In the end though, it comes through, and provides an utterly realistic experience with food for the soul. Bravo.
You get none of this sense playing Forza 3 - and yes, I'm aware of the volatile rivalry between the fans of both these games, and mentioning them both in the same breath, especially if that mention is a comparison, is tantamount to weighing up the pros and cons of Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad and deciding a victor.
With Forza, Microsoft seems to have repeated their market strategy, last seen with Saints Row, of creating half-baked, Americanised rip-offs intended to saturate the void left by Sony, who faff and wile the evenings away making pie charts of their ever-decreasing market share, waiting for the call from Polyphony Digital, Square Enix or Rockstar Games.
By capitalising on both the absence of a then-current Gran Turismo game and the popularity of the riced up, dumbed down, twat-ridden 'Fast and Furious' culture, they commissioned a game in which you customise Datsuns. Feel free to read that last sentence in Jeremy Clarkson's voice.
Okay, fine - Forza's ample choice of Ferraris, Porsches and roll cage-equipped racing machines construes me as a hypocrite for using the earlier criticized practice of ignoring the evidence to make an untrue point, but I challenge you name me one car featured not instantly identifiable to anyone who's watched both MTV Cribs and Initial D.
Who knows, maybe this is its appeal to the knowledge-vacant youth of modern America, and while it's a commonly levelled (and not unfounded) criticism of Gran Turismo that it's dull, this is purely because of the seriousness and pedanticism with which it approaches its subject matter, and how precious few sacrifices are made in realism to accomodate gameplay.
And speaking of gameplay, even with all the driver aids switched off (which is in my opinion the only way to play a racing game), GT5's cars are predictable enough in their handling to complete a lap of a given track without tasting grass.
In Forza when you turn into a corner, even in a traditionally predictable front-wheel drive car, its numb and uncommunicative handling model gives you absolutely no feedback as to the position or orientation of the front wheels, leaving you to either understeer wide or, if you're more cautious, hug the inside line and get blown away as your competitors overtake you on the outside.
Now of course there is always going to be an element in gaming society that will send me badly spelled emails accusing me of being a whinging, pre-pubescent Playstation, Gran Turismo or Sony fanboy, but simple fact of the matter is that GT beats Forza over their most important feature - the driving. Forza has never exactly had a concrete reputation as a lifelike simulator unlike Gran Turismo, but given it's trying so hard to imitate its forebear you'd think they would at least try.
Now, be forewarned; I am about to completely invalidate my opinion to the aforementioned children who cling loyally to the legs of the multi-billion dollar corporations that own their dignity, by stating that I've only played the demo of Forza 3. Well I'm sorry, but if you want a full review you're going to have to buy me the game because I would rather give my money to the makers of the franchise who are at least honest in their intentions. While Forza has earned the distinction of my categorising it as a franchise worth watching, I consider it as nothing more than that.
Before you click send on the expletive-filled retort you've no doubt prepared in retaliation for this attack on your beloved corporation, consider this: the above distinction is just as worthless as my opinion on the subject. The only difference is I was motivated enough to spend the three minutes necessary to create this Blogger account and begin pissing said opinions over the once pristine internet.
End of rant number two.
Completely changing the subject, and with a record amount rants, masked apologies and fanboys provoked for a few of hours' writing, I would like to leave you with the altogether more pleasant promise of some near-future raves rather than rants.
Having slightly disgusted even myself with the above ejection of foul-smelling bile I feel the need to brighten this page up by posting something slightly more digestible. For now, I bid you adieu - hopefully into the pages of a slightly less depressing site.
Coming soon: An artsy, bespectacled analysis of the Kane & Lynch franchise, my pointless opinion on the Mafia II demo (I'm broke, don't judge me) and a summary of 2010's major releases.
TL;DR: Considering a career change. Bought a Mitsubishi Galant. Love GT5. Deplore Forza 3. More horseshit coming soon.
Thanks for reading. Complementary eye soap is available at all the exits.