Month: August 2012

48 Hours With PS Vita Firmware Version 1.80

It has been roughly 48 hours since the latest update to the PS Vita firmware was released, and it brought about quite a few changes to the system. Version 1.80 brings improved features to the music and video players on the portable console, it also promises to allow the use of the PS Vita as a controller for the console, and will also feature continuous gaming for the cross platform releases, such as the eagerly awaited Playstation Allstars: Battle Royale.

The most anticipated feature for the system update was the inclusion of PS1 titles finally being playable from the handheld. It was argued that they should always have been available from launch, but Sony focused on new titles and PS Vita versions of successful franchises instead, meaning we had to wait a while for this feature. The US were treated quite badly, with only a handful of directly supported titles, Europe had a fair spread of over 120 titles available to play, and Japan fared the best with over 600 titles available as soon as the update launched. More are promised for all regions, and the balance hardly seems fair, even taking into account localisation for each area.

I have tried the PS1 compatibility with the Final Fantasy series (obviously), from Final Fantasy V all the way up to Final Fantasy IX, and also with the original Tomb Raider game. The first thing to report is that the options for the game (which make use of the various features of the PS Vita’s hardware) are not entirely obvious. All of my previous game saves have been thankfully restored from my play time on my PSP Go, but as most of the games in the series came on multiple discs, the option to switch discs was not immediately obvious. After much trial and error, I deduced that I needed to press and hold the touch screen, whereby the menu appeared for changing the settings of the game, including disc-swapping.

The menu also allows you to change the size of the playable area (from a choice of 4 available presets), and also allows the brightness, volume and control scheme to be changed, and also enables “fast loading” which may not be all that useful, but promises to increase the loading speeds of “some” games.

Actual gameplay on the PS Vita is pretty similar to the gameplay on the Playstation 3 or the PSP, the buttons work as expected, and areas on the rear touch screen work as L2, L3, R2 and R3 buttons. The gameplay runs smoothly, and although the graphics haven’t been up-scaled in any way, when played on the largest zoom they are still bright, fairly clear and ooze nostalgic charm. I think this feature is going to be the most used of all the update features, and after the wait that gamers have had for this, I can’t really blame them.

One could argue that we shouldn’t be so hung up on playing games that are over 10 years old on a brand new hand-held system, but as the games had already been paid for on my PSN account, and were rendered unplayable when I sold my PSP Go, it is a welcome relief to be able to return to some classic turn-based combat and fantastical storylines again. It may have taken a while, but I think the PS Vita is finally going to earn it’s place in my console collection; it’s just a shame its taken games from 2 generations ago to prove its worth.

How Many Times Should We Buy Consoles?

Gazing upon my console collection this morning, it struck me that I have purchased each of the consoles that I own (and several of the games) multiple times. Some of the purchases have been through necessity, others have been through desire to own more than one for LAN gaming. Unfortunately, I have also found myself forced to sell some of the consoles as I struggled for cash, only to purchase them again, or receive them as gifts.

It started when I realised that I have owned 3 versions of the original Microsoft Xbox console – in Black with large control pads, and the limited editions in transparent white plastic and green – for use while LAN gaming on the original Halo game with my friends. I had to utilise every TV set in the house (and borrow some) in order to make the most of the gaming set up. Looking back, it was totally worth it.

My latest repurchase has been a Sony Playstation 2, as I found myself with a desire to replay the Final Fantasy games from that era on that console (as Square Enix has delayed in delivering the HD remake of Final Fantasy X and is insistent on providing a third edition of the Final Fantasy XIII franchise), along with a couple of other forgotten gems from that era, including Quantic Dream‘s Fahrenheit (as reviewed by Kirsty here). I have had  a total of 3 Playstation 2 consoles, the original large one in black, a slimline silver one which I sold to a friend, and now a slimline black one for the retro gaming.

I am also currently on my third Xbox 360 console, the previous two having been sold due to financial reasons, and I just couldn’t justify selling my 1st edition Playstation 3 console (which was the only one released with backward compatibility). Now I am more financially stable, I have decked out my current Xbox 360 with a Kinect and a multitude of games, but my Playstation 3 has recently given up the ghost so I begrudgingly had to purchase a slimline model, and hence my need for a Playstation 2 again.

I have also owned 3 PSP’s (“phat” black, slim white and PSP Go), 2 Nintendo Wii’s (white and black) and 2 Nintendo DS’s (original silver, and slim white). I currently have no Nintendo consoles in my home, and only have a PSVita as my portable gaming device.

Although not all of these purchases have been from retail establishments, a good two thirds of them have been, and Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo have made a profit (albeit small) from me purchasing their hardware, peripherals and software time and again. “Why?” you may ask, and the only answer I can give is that I am a gamer, and this is my only hobby, and my only vice.

So am I alone? Have any of you purchased a console more than once? I imagine there are a few of you purchasing new hardware due to faults like the RROD or the YLOD, but surely there are a few of you who have spent more money than is sensible on these devices of pleasure. I hope so, or I may be beyond hope by the time the next generation of consoles emerges.

Weekly Wrap Up: Week 4 of August

Welcome back gamers, to the end of yet again another week.  There are four weeks down and yet another week of August to go, let’s look at what’s happened this busy week in the industry.

Peter Molyneux’s new studio, 22 Cans, will have its debut game releasing in September. The game shows players chipping away at a virtual cube trying to get the center of it, to discover what the center hides.  The twists comes that whom ever gets the last tap that gets the players to the center is the one that will know what secret lies within the cube.  The game is going to feature DLC to allow players to obtain different types of chisels to go after the cube.  The chisels will range in price, the cheapest of which costs 59p, while the most expensive is priced at £50,000.  Curiosity, will drop in September for PC, Android, and iOS.

Earlier this week, Sony decided to close the doors of Studio Liverpool.  As the needs of a business can change, Sony made the choice to change the approach to their European development.  In a statement from Sony about the closure –  “As part of SCE Worldwide Studios, we do regular reviews to ensure that the resources we have can create and produce high quality, innovative and commercially viable projects in an increasingly competitive market place. As part of this process, we have reviewed and assessed all current and planned projects for the short and medium term and have decided to make some changes to our European Studios.  It has been decided that Liverpool Studio should be closed. Liverpool Studio has been an important part of SCE Worldwide Studios since the outset of PlayStation, and have contributed greatly to PlayStation over the years. Everyone connected with Liverpool Studio, past and present, can be very proud of their achievements.  However, it was felt that by focusing our investment plans on other Studios that are currently working on exciting new projects, we would be in a stronger position to offer the best possible content for our consumers. Our Liverpool Facility will continue to operate, housing a number of other vital WWSCE and SCEE Departments.  This should not take anything away from the great work WWS are doing and the incredible games and services that we have made, and continue to make.”  Studio Liverpool put a statement on their Facebook page thanking their fans for their loyalty in the past years and they’ll be missed.

There have been a lot of rumors about the upcoming Fallout 4 and it’s taking place in Massachusetts.  The rumors were stirred after a post from an employee of Massachusetts Insitute of Technology posted to his Reddit, In case you haven’t heard, Bethesda has recently been scoping out and researching Boston. They also have a strong connection to MIT. I may or may not be an MIT employee. But that’s really all I can say for fear of losing my job.”  That statement was later followed by  Apologies for the vagueness of this post. It’s not just my job that worries me, but also getting the f**k sued out of me. Bethesda’s contracts are basically full-proof [sic] so if they were to discover who I am, or rather, who I got this information from, a few people including myself could get into a lot of trouble.”  There has been no word from Bethesda about how much of this rumor post is valid.

This week it was announced that Worms Collection would be making its way to store shelves on August 31st for Xbox 360 and 7th September for Playstation 3.   The feature collection will consist of Worms, Worms 2 Armageddon and Worms Ultimate Mayhem which spans the last 15 years of earthworm warfare.  A full summary of the different Worm titles can be found in Tim’s coverage of the announcement.  Just beware of landmines when you go to pick up this crate.

That’s it for this week, check back to Zero1Gaming for addition gaming news, reviews, and more!

Counter Strike: Global Offensive

I want you all to think back to a time before Call of Duty 4 came along and revolutionised the online shooting game. Back when games like Goldeneye and Timesplitters were the big names in multiplayer shooting. Valve is attempting to recapture those days of yore with their new game, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, available on Xbox Live Arcade and PC. Before getting into the review proper I should state that this review is of the Xbox version of the game, not the PC version.

 

That’s right, Counter Strike aims to be a gimmick free online shooter. Everything newer players to online shooting games have come to expect has been stripped bare. That means no killstreaks, no perks, no create-a-class, no interactive maps… hell, you don’t even get a sprint button or the ability to aim down your sights. It’s just you, your gun and your team, against another team and their guns. And therein lays the beauty of the game. You don’t have to worry about an unbalanced roster of weapons, unfair killstreaks dominating the sky or the fact that some was a higher rank than you so they had better equipment. If you get killed, it is because the other person was better than you, making it a much fairer game than the majority of today’s top online shooters.

 

Due to the fact that this is an Xbox Live Arcade game, the graphics are not amazing, but they are functional. All the guns look as they should and the maps all have a unique visual style, which means that playing the game feels much less repetitive than if all the levels were say, desert based. It all sounds fine as well, with the guns each having a unique sound and your team giving accurate information during matches. My only slight niggle is that although the menu music is good and fitting for the style of the game, it does get repetitive quite quickly.

 

The decision to eliminate a single player campaign entirely is a controversial one but it allowed the developer to focus purely on the multiplayer, and in this regard I think it is a risk that has paid off. The game boasts four different modes each of which play significantly differently and have unique maps available to those game types. The mode which appears to be the most popular online is classic casual mode. This is a round based mode where players only get one life per round and each round is won by each eliminating the other team or completing the objective, either planting bombs or rescuing hostages. You earn or lose money for various actions and you use accumulated money to buy guns at the start of each round. This is a key mechanic as it means everyone starts on a level playing field and it brings in a risk reward factor as to whether you save up for the big weapons or buy frequent, mid tier weapons. Classic competitive is like a ‘hardcore’ version of casual and plays the same way except that friendly fire and team collisions are on and it is the best of 30 rounds instead of 10. These two modes can be played on eight unique maps, which initially does not sound like a lot but each map is so well designed you will not get bored quickly. Each map has multiple flanking routes and choke points, and the bomb/hostage sites are so well positioned on each map that it creates some truly tense standoffs.

Each map really has a unique style.

The other two modes are arms race and demolition. Arms race is the only game mode with respawns which gives it a unique feel. You start with a weapon and with every kill you move onto a new weapon until you reach the final weapon; the knife. The player who gets a kill with the final weapon first wins the game for their team. This creates an interesting dynamic as technically you are part of a team but you are playing to increase your individual score and provides an interesting ultimatum as to whether you stay and help your team but risk having kills stolen or you go lone wolf, putting yourself at greater risk but potentially for better reward. Demolition plays like a cross between classic casual and arms race, whereby it is a round based game, but instead of buying new weapons at the start of each round, you get given new weapons each round based on you kills in the previous one. These two games are fun in short bursts but not as addictive as the ‘classic’ modes. Arms race only has two maps in can be played on and demolition has six. However the maps are not as well designed as the maps on classic mode and can be a bit repetitive.

 

The game does a few other things to help set it apart. Any unfilled spaces in games get used up by bots, but when you die you can immediately take control of the bots on your team, meaning you are never out of the action for too long. Also if you thought that 10 and 30 round games sounded like a slog, the spawns on each map are only a maximum of 30 seconds apart which mean the game plays at a very high pace and rounds fly by. Lastly the game offers full button mapping, which is something I have been wanting to see in shooting games for ages, meaning you can assign any action to any button alongside individual vertical and horizontal sensitivity settings which really allow you to customise the game to your play style.

 

Hmm.. which instrument of death will it be this time…?

As much as I have been singing the praises of this game, and rightly so, it does have a few issues. When the game was first released it was full of lag and it was difficult to get into a game at all. Thankfully, touch wood, this problem appears to be resolved now and the connection is much more stable. Also the aforementioned button mapping, although a great feature, has an error currently in which if you assign anything to ‘X’ it means you can’t buy or pick up weapons or open doors which is a fairly big, but hopefully easily fixed issue. Lastly, although the AI of the bots is okay, it is still nowhere near that of a real player meaning it can be highly frustrating at times if you get caught on a team full of bots against a team of humans.

 

Ultimately, this games continued success is solely independent on the strength of its community. Thankfully, due to the well designed maps and balanced gameplay I can see people coming back to this game for months to come. It is a refreshingly old school approach to the online shooting game and one that any FPS fan should buy. So go on… what are you waiting for?

King’s Quest Part 2

I realize I’ve been doing the Forgotten Franchise articles a lot lately and I SWEAR I’ll talk about a game made within the last 20 years soon. I’d love to do a review on Darksiders 2 or something but while checking on my money I realized that I spent 400 bucks on the Steam Summer Sale. It was just so easy when it was several dozen 5 dollar games! Imagine my embarrassment. Anyway King’s Quest is a long franchise and we’ve got a lot of ground to cover. Last time I mentioned we hadn’t even made it out of the 80’s yet but fortunately the next game to cover was released in 1989.

THE MANLIEST GAME EVER

King’s Quest 4: The Perils of Rosella was actually the second Kings Quest game I played, and it was also the few games at the time that featured a female protagonist. Looking back I wonder if this was part of my mom’s sinister plan to prevent me from assuming gender roles. After all, girls can be heroes too! The story in this one picks up immediately after where the third game ends. Spoiler alert Gwydion from 3 is one of King Graham’s two children. He escaped his enslavement, discovered his origin, sailed across the sea to rescue his sister and return home to his parents. However it was all cut short when Graham had a heart attack and collapsed. Everyone’s pretty bummed and Rosella goes off to cry alone. While sobbing the famed Magic Mirror is activated and a solution to save Graham is presented to Rosella: If she helps Genesta the Fairy Queen retrieve her lost amulet she may also find a rare fruit that will save Graham . Standing in her way is the Dark Fairy Lolotte and as always the cruel dangers of Sierra games.

Now were talking! A haunted mansion in the middle of a graveyard! It’s even got a ghost baby inside!

Ok it’s not exactly the most masculine sounding of plots but you know Fantasy doesn’t always have to be The Witcher and Lord of the Rings damn it, there used to be room for whimsy! Besides, there are zombies. The graphics have been given quite a boost finally with this installment but the interface is still done by typing. This one also has a handful of notoriously annoying segments. I bet you never realized how hard it was to climb a whales tongue, or for that matter, find the required whale in the first place. Or make it through a trolls cave entirely by random chance. The game returns to the formula of the first 2 games by having you seek out 3 special items as the meat of the game, this time in the style of payment for Lolotte allowing you to live. All in all, it’s still a solid game and an enjoyable adventure. I think what makes it so good is that the villain is present throughout a large majority of the game, giving a sense of accomplishment at the end. It’s the last hurrah of the carefree days of old in the series, for the next game would become a thing of infamy…

What kind of witch gives people fair warning?

It should come as no surprise to me that King’s Quest 5: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder has seen some popularity as of late with Let’s Plays and the mockery of them. King’s Quest 5 is presented on Sierras brand new SCI engine that has done away with typing in favor of 4-5 icons with which you will now interact with the world. Gone are the days of typing profanity and seeing if it gets you a comical Easter egg. Not only have the graphics been bumped and interface simplified, but the game now has ambiance sound, a musical score, and perhaps most damningly, it’s fully voiced. Voice acting these days has people assuming quality, but for Kings Quest 5 it means the art department was brought in to read some lines. I won’t pick on the voices and dialogue too much since that freak show has already been covered much more humorously by the likes of Retsupurae and JonTron.

You will learn to loathe this useless bag of feathers and his Betty Childs voice.

What can’t be stressed enough is how stultifyingly difficult the game is to figure out. Sure the old ones took some strange thinking to finish but none were as bizarre and unforgiving as 5. Seemly minor occurrences early on have grave consequences later in the game. Did you notice the sled in town? I hope you got it because you can’t get through the mountains without it, AND you can’t go back to get it if you didn’t! Oh you got it? How did you get it? Did you buy it with the one gold coin you get in the game? I HOPE NOT BECAUSE THAT WILL BE REQUIRED TO BUY THE PIE! And don’t scoff at how important the pie is! What do you mean you fed the pie to the hungry eagle? NOW WHAT WILL YOU THROW AT THE YETI?!?! And don’t think that you can just avoid these situations, THERE ARE NO OPTIONAL SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEMS IN THIS GAME YOU WILL DO IT RIGHT OR NOT AT ALL! If the difficulty wasn’t enough the game is also buggy, as were all Sierra games at the time. Ah the halcyon days of early PC gaming! Thank god the internet came around and let people fix things themselves. At the time though, the flashy graphics, voice acting, and the fancy new CD-Rom disc were enough to win over quite a few people! (18 megabytes, how immense! Games will never exceed THAT size they said!)

All right! We’re back to the whimsical days in wacky-town!

Fortunately when Kings Quest 6: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow rolled around Sierra had gotten their act together again. Returning to the spotlight is Alexander/Gwydion from Kings Quest 3, having fully recovered from the events of the past 2 games Alexander fell in love with the last games antagonists slave girl who turned out to be a Princess herself. In a foolhardy act of a love-struck young man he sets of to her mysterious homeland in the Green Isles. Upon arrival he discovers that the Green Isles are in disarray and he in unable to talk to the Princess. With no means of leaving the island he runs amok and unravels the conspiracy behind everything.

The Lord of the Dead actually looks pretty badass

Kings Quest 6 isn’t nearly as brutally unforgiving and bizarre as 5, and like the 4th game the villain is present throughout the game and the goal is so-close-yet-so-far. Solutions to problems make a bit more sense and the setting and hints are tied together well enough to let you figure things out yourself much easier. This could have been due to what was going on outside of Sierra, mainly that they were having competition. Lucasarts was churning out quality adventure games thanks to Tim Schafer and Myst was skyrocketing in popularity and redefining what adventure games were. Some of the Lucasarts games even had a feature where you couldn’t enter a no-win situation which made the games more accessible. Sierra took notice but not quite in the way expected.

Oh God I don’t like where this is going

Kings Quest 7: The Princeless Bride was almost a complete overhaul from previous games. The art style was lifted somewhat from Lucasarts games and instead of realism the games tried to look like an interactive Disney movie. If you’ve ever seen the Legend of Zelda CD-I games you’ll get the idea. Even the item interaction was done similar to Lucasarts, except without the 9 options for ways to interact. This game would bring back the star of Kings Quest 4, Princess Rosella, and for the first time her mother, Queen Valenice who had mostly been in the background of the previous games since 2. The game was divided into chapters and featuring short sequences switching off between the two protagonists.

I always wondered what it would be like if Queen Elizabeth fought a giant scorpion.

Whoops, I forgot to mention the story. Like the previous game, the other child of King Graham sought love too, or rather to avoid being forced to marry at first. While arguing by a nearby lake after a peculiar musical number, they are whisked away by an evil witch/queen person to a fanciful realm not unlike Disneyland. Separated and confused, Valenice awakens in a strange desert temple with a rather large scorpion nearby. Rosella on the other hand is in the Kingdom of Trolls having been transformed into one herself. Of all the Kings Quest games this is the one I’ve played the least (8 doesn’t count but more on that later). Mostly because the art style and animation are fairly unlikable and while some aspects of Kings Quest are there the game feels seriously lacking. Maybe it’s the inconsistent and poorly made movements like the Clutch Cargo style mouth movements, or that EVERYONE at the time seemed to think that the CD-I style graphics were the greatest thing ever despite the gameplay suffering for it. For better or worse, the game wrapped things up for King Graham’s family. His kids were married and moved on and all was calm and peaceful without the previous games subtext being explored.

I don’t want to spoil whats in store for the final installment but it involves skeletons.

Sierra would churn out one more Kings Quest game that had very little to do with the previous titles. However, I wanted to save it and a few more games related to Kings Quest in the next and final installment. Don’t worry, I’m almost done milking this cow dry.