Categories
Currently playing

Left 4 Dead: Survival DLC

I like many others have been pulled back into the world of zombie killing following the recent downloadable content for Left 4 Dead. We wanted more zombies and we certainly got them.

While Valve hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel in this recent update, the new experience it provides it certainly worth dusting off Left 4 Dead for…

Getting started

  • A completely free download. Including the previously unavailable Dead Air and Blood Harvest campaigns for versus mode, and one completely new map for survival.
  • The sheer amount of enemies on the screen leads to frantic bursts of gameplay. Rounds are usually extremely short, and have more impact than even the most tense scenes from the campaign mode.
  • Beware of some potential download problems when downloading the DLC. Most of my friends list had problems getting past an endless “pending” message.
  • You’ll soon develop favourite maps, particularly the ones with easy routes to ammo and with the best tried and tested strategies for success. The lack of more new areas may start to grind.

Preparation

  • You will need everyone to be working together like never before. Communication is key in every aspect of Left 4 Dead, although survival sets you up to fail discussing how to delay that outcome with other players never gets old.
  • As with versus mode, tactics are king. The game changes from a comparatively relaxed experience in the campaign mode to all out chaos, and that in itself is like playing a new game entirely.
  • The overwhelming nature of survival mode means it’s not completely suitable for people may be new to the game, it has a completely different pace and may be best saved until harder difficulties are attempted.
  • Sadly there’s no option to build your own maps in the 360 version of Left 4 Dead. I appreciate the limitations of the console copy, but that doesn’t stop me from being extremely jealous of the PC version.

Teamwork

  • Survival is even more of a group game, and the end of timer counter reflects this – by recording your best team survival time and your collective zombie kills by type as a group effect. Can take the pressure off the individual to rack the kill in.
  • Using the time before the clock starts to prepare a particular map for the zombie hordes is particularly satisfying. Some of the best times will be gained by utilizing the fuel cans, and ammo areas dotted around the maps.
  • It’s extremely challenging to have so many special enemies on the screen at once, while this isn’t a bad thing in itself it means one false move can lead to game over fairly quickly.
  • Other players are pretty much a requirement for playing as the NPCs can make survival an extremely frustrating experience.

Conclusion

773 common infected, 15 smokers, 11 boomers, 7 hunters and 12 tanks were harmed in the making of this weblog post.

Categories
Gamers

Is enjoying games still a stigma?

Do you mention video games as one of your hobbies? Perhaps more of us should – numerous present gen consoles are becoming some of the best-selling game devices of all time, helping those who wouldn’t normally play games to become engaged and willing to try them.

But what about the rest of us who do this full-time so to speak? The people to whom the DS is a five year old console.

A personal example

The analogy of the DS is a good one. I remember queueing for the original Nintendo DS back in 2005 at a midnight launch. I also remember that some clubbers were trying to walk home after a short night out. They thought we too were queueing for a nightclub, and started to chat to those of us waiting there.

After explaining that we were waiting for the new Nintendo console, they came in and bought one rather than moving on to their intended venue. I can only assume based on our brief chat they were former gamers as children – remembering their nostalgia for Nintendo long since past.

A family from Katamari Damacy.

Fast forward four years and this is apparent everyhwere – a growing population of casual gamers have realised the enjoyment that can be taken from gaming as adults. The positives are starting to vastly outweigh any negative connotations for these new, but now more informed new gamers.

There is no denying that video games have become more of a mainsteam pastime of late – but even so my personal experience with being a vocal video games supporter has been largely negative. This is usually due to the following:

  • Games critique doesn’t have the same level of respect afforded to film appreciation, or TV.
  • Gamers are not properly represented our respective parliaments and institutions, and this leads to distrust and scepticism, largely fuelled by..
  • The media. Our specialist press is deemed as niche, and the mainstream press focusses on violent games, big releases, and feel good stories.
  • We all know the old idiom of games being for kids, we’re all living, breathing examples of the opposite.

There is another way

Many gamers I know are quite ashamed – or made to feel ashamed by what they enjoy, despite the joy it gives them. There are good reasons for this largely related to gaming’s infancy, and like anything young it’s open to exploitation. There’s a really nice metaphor for this too in Left 4 Dead – for those who haven’t played it features some really intriguing in-game graffiti.

Graffiti from Left 4 Dead, the largest of which reads: We are the real monsters.

This is what being a gamer often feels like to me; a continual conversation. Only the voices outside of the industry are the largest and loudest. Gamers may deal with a huge amount of prejudice for what they enjoy, but we do so because the experience of playing games can be profoundly positive and personal. The greater interaction playing them involves, over say a movie or TV programme means we feel obliged to speak up for their merits.

Is your gaming a closely guarded secret or a badge of honour? Personally, I’m long past the need for reassurance or acceptance from others, but part of me hopes others are too.

Categories
Video games

Enormity in gaming

We already know games can trigger real reactions and emotions, such as fear, excitement or awe, and one of the many ways developers are able to do this is through scale and enormity.

Size invokes different sets of feelings – ensuring you remember your first and last steps out into the game world, usually using three key and equally important design elements.

Locations

Size helps to convey the idea that the world is not a flat notion on paper, but an immersive and expansive playground rewarding you for wanting to explore it. A little gift from the mind of the developer from them to you.

Scale is a massively important theme in gaming because it can be deeply emotive, and a confirmation of what is to come. Some of the best locations in a game world have been those which has tapped into this idea of a wide expansive space setting the mood for the game. This emotive link to an area is often why some gamers can feel a particular affinity for the early areas in the game, the sort of nursery locations which encourage them to explore as they get used to the game.

Half Life has numerous examples of “impact areas” moments in the game – locations that break up the tone of the action, aid the narrative, or are there simply to entertain. Such as the long, cable car ride to the heart of Black Mesa, or the enormous fans that need to be avoided and dodged. And finally, after hours of crawling through vents and destroying labs; this magnificent open sky and dam awaits – a moment to pause and enjoy before continuing.

Half Life screenshot - A helicopter flies over a dam

Other notable game locations:
  • Hyrule Field – Ocarina of Time – The temptation is to remain in this area indefinitely; enjoying the dawn, finding secrets, and catching Big Poes on horseback. A landmark gaming landscape.
  • Lost Valley – Tomb Raider – It starts with a spectacular swan drive following a waterfall’s descent, then out into a the verdant forest dappled with ancient ruins. Fantastic enough, even without the enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex looming out of the darkness…
  • Halo – This enormous ring provides the setting for the second level of Halo: Combat Evolved. You will later learn that that world you have crashed landed on is a giant intergalactic weapon, once you tear yourself away from staring at it’s curve above you in the sky.

Set pieces

In a similar theme to impact areas – games frequently use large objects as part of the level design, an enormous centrepiece to the level that helps the player to navigate an idea by providing a focal point, or an object that must be navigated in some way to complete the level.

The sphinx in Tomb Raider for example, is the gateway to the remainder of the early Egyptian levels, a large, eye catching object which continues the level theme while providing the player with a physical embodiment of the character’s goal – the high point they need to aim for.

All of these principles work in 2D also. In Blood Omen, the player must walk between the legs of an enormous statue of William the Just, a representation of the enemy you are on your way to face, which stands tall over the landscape.

Blood Omen screenshot - A gigantic statue fills the screen.

Other notable game set pieces:
  • Nupraptor’s keep – Soul Reaver – This giant skull has fallen over on a hillside and was once used as an ancient keep. The eye socket is easily large enough for the player to climb inside, allowing you to reach higher parts of the level which were previously inaccessible.
  • Imperial City – Oblivion Although it is technically a location in itself, the City lies at the heart of Cyrodiil, providing a focal backdrop to nearly every quest and undertaking.
  • The Moon – It’s normal for a video game that is nocturnal to feature this natural element of the night sky, but Majora’s Mask uses a living, tortured moon as the tool for Termina’s destruction. The red-eyed globe looms over your every action, reminding you of the three day deadline for your task.

Bosses & enemies

It is well-known that game bosses provide the climatic challenges within the duration of a game. But would the conclusive bosses at the end of numerous Final Fantasties and Zelda games be quite the same without that climatic assent (or descent) into the unknown?

What is becoming more and more common in modern video games is to create, larger bosses which physically represent the challenge the player is about to undertake. Examples in normal games of this sort of large, imposing enemy is common, and is becoming more so – particularly in massively multiplayer games, where respawning enemies often have to fill the requirements of the area they reside in.

This screenshot from Final Fantasy XI shows this different in scale between enemy and character well, the tiny shapes of the people working together to defeat the large, jelly-fish like Yovra are barely visible.

Final Fantasy XI screenshot - A giant jellyfish-like character looms over two players.

Other notable game bosses:
  • Dark Falz – Phantasy Star Online – At a time when real-time RPG bosses were quite scarce, this Dreamcast based boss was a significant challenge to those used to using a turn based system. Dark Falz rides upon a three-headed neon mount, dwarfing the player with his weaponry and size.
  • Mothership – This ship leads the invasion of Earth in Earth Defence Force 2017, and it could quite possibly be the largest destroyable object in video game history. Seemingly invincible, you eventually learn it’s weaknesses through the course of the game.
  • Intestinal Fortitude – It often smacks a little of Jabu Jabu’s belly, but this worm from Gears of War 2 makes him seem tiny. As you progress through the belly of a worm large enough to sink cities, its hard not to humbled by the its enormous digestive teeth, or large-scale circulatory system – that is of course until you take the creature down from the inside.
Categories
Currently playing

Resident Evil 5

I’ve never been much of a fan of the Resident Evil series, but the reinvention in the shape of Resident Evil 4 shook me to my senses like many others, and left me hungry for more.

Has Resident Evil 5 managed to shake off the shadow of it’s mighty predecessor? Largely no (how could it?) – but here’s what I think works and what doesn’t.

Multiplayer

  • Co-op gives a new feel to what in the past has been quite a lonely game.
  • Although you still can’t run and shoot, it is nice to have someone else to cover your back while you navigate a level.
  • Slight bias towards those who are able to play multiplayer. Those who will want to experience RE5 as a normal Resi game may feel frustrated at times.
  • The brightest AI in the world can’t compare to playing with a friend. Certain points of RE5 have obviously been created with two people in mind.

Inventory

  • Your Inventory is persistent allowing you to keep your items and weapons for multiple playthroughs or to join a friends game.
  • The selection of weapons are good, placed often enough through the game to allow you balance your upgrades.
  • We’re back to the days of rationing ammo, which is challenging, meaning you have to be quite tactical with your fights, only this is more enjoyable with company.
  • Inventory isn’t upgradable from nine slots, you’ll often struggle for space.
  • Unable to swap weapons in multiplayer. Presumably this is to stop you giving upgraded weapons to a friend, but even being able to pass a basic version of a weapon back and forth would have been helpful.
  • No option to split ammo to help out your partner, would have been helpful if one stack of bullets could be split between two.

Gameplay

  • Capcom has added a cover system! Making the later, and more difficult chapters more manageable, and more like a proper firefight.
  • The cutscenes are involving and a genuine pleasure to watch, and thankfully skippable after you’ve watched them once.
  • It’s nice to return to the RE4 format. Despite the inclusion of new multiplayer elements it still has the right amount of Resident Evil tension.
  • That said it’s not up to the standard of other cover systems, it’s very cumbersome and will only work in a tiny percentage of areas.
  • This will help because the quick time events will kill you more than anything else in the game. They need to go.
  • But the menus may create some more. Capcom’s title screen menus are dated and unhelpful. Joining an online game, or continuing a saved games means scrolling through pages of jargon.

Conclusion

I suspect if you start RE5 expecting it to be better than RE4 you’re going to walk away disappointed. RE5 doesn’t improve upon the genre in the way it’s predecessor did but it will provide you with an enjoyable experience which will be improved by the fact that you can play with another.

Categories
Site updates

Behind the scenes of pp.net

Thanks for visiting my website, although I’m sorry to say that it’s still a work in progress. Somewhere in the region of 80% done to begin with but after years of procrastinating with websites I figure its time to chuck something up on the web and hope for the best.

Rather than hide all the stuff I’ve worked on, I thought I’d use my first post to describe how pp.net was put together and what is left to do.

Preparing the design

I started with a rough sketch, this is probably one of my first pages of notes. Most of my websites start this way – random scribblings on paper as I start to figure out what goes where and what I want to do. For once I have a really clear idea for a design in my head and a fair idea of how to put it together.

Mostly ineligible scribbling on paper, including a tiny pen sketch of the page layout.

Building the grid layout

I have to start building quickly, before I lose momentum (and give up, and go enjoy my spare time). This mentality has led to my website being on hiatus for the best part of two years. So I start to plan low-res visuals in Photoshop.

Coding of the grid layout begins in Taco HTML Editor.

I’m trying a few new things this time around. For example, since the last website iteration I’ve become obsessed with twitter, so I need a twitter feed. I’m also trying a brand new Content Management System (CMS) to save me time when the design is done. By the time I get around to start coding anything I am too invested too much time into my design to give up and go play games. I must finish.

Coding of the grid layout begins in Taco HTML Editor.

The weblog

The weblog was an absolute after thought – well I knew that I would be making one, but I wanted to concentrate on the games content. So rather than create something from scratch, I settled for Ensellitis’s theme for WordPress.

And then well into theming my weblog for wordpress I realised after some technical jiggery-pokery… that I didn’t want to use WordPress and why not try blogging in something else? So with Alex (the PHP and Javascript guru), I started Isolation in Frog CMS.

Coding of the grid layout begins in Taco HTML Editor.

Now hours of coding and testing follows. Alex had to do quite a lot of tweaking of the Frog backend to get to play nice with the design, that and getting the date images GIFs to behave was probably the trickiest part. The weblog was running in Frog after about 40 minutes of play on my end – and working fully (with all of the features I wanted from WordPress) after about a week. We both have other stuff to do full-time I sure we could have cracked it quicker.

Left to do

Start to finish technically, this has taken about three months worth of spare moments. My first lot of content took a month, as I wasn’t keen to rush my work out ASAP. As far as I am aware, the only things left to fix is the inspiration page, which is another task in itself. I’m also aware that blog entries, and my contact page, do not validate properly, because of the way the CMS interprets my forms, all other pages should validate, and look lovely in all modern browsers (and iPhones!). Hey as long as you’ve got Javascript on.

So I’m about two years late. Let me know what you think. Was it worth the effort?