Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Electro-Mechanical Magic.

Lets take a look at some pre-electronic arcade games.  



 What was in the arcades before the advent of video games?
 If you said one-armed-bandits and slot machines you are half right. Because mechanical based arcade games machines shared the floor with the more long-lived pin-ball machines and bandits from far before even I was born.

These arcade games machines were all initially very much mechanical based.

I’ve read first-hand accounts from the people responsible for building these machines and it appears that, towards the end of their run at least, the building process became more of a suck-it-and-see ‘black art’ than a precise science. Many of the people responsible for fixing these electromechanical marvels would freely admit to ‘not know exactly how or why they worked in the way they did half the time.’ The ‘science’ of these machines had evolved into an ‘art’ in much the same way early bedroom-coders would later forge the beginnings of the multibillion dollar/pound video-game industry.

One of the most collectable of these is the ‘World Series’ game released by Rockola in 1937.
This was pretty much a mechanical device, but did have some minimal electricity-run components, so technically this was an early electro-mechanical gaming device.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A Review of AMY (PS3 & Xbox 360)

I’ve decided to have a look at those quirkier or somewhat left-of-centre games that got panned in the general press and internet review sites.

First of all I intentionally picked a few games that I had never heard off, which consistently got low reviews from the main media sources, and then I did some internet research, before playing them with an open mind whilst remembering the on-line and in-print comments.
I intended to see if I thought all these games are genuinely awful, or if there is possibly something more to the general review trends? After all there’s truth to the old axiom ‘know your audience.’

Me, well I’ve absolutely no idea who reads this stuff: So this one’s for you Anon...

Panned Games - Review 1: AMY
The first game on my list was AMY by VectorCell. This is a first person horror-survival game, where you take control of, Lana. A character who, as well as trying to survive in an epidemic ridden world, also has to take care of Amy, a young girl who appears to have some undisclosed form of autistic communicative difficulties. 

The back-story revolves around your attempts to escape the city with Amy in tow.
The game-play is primarily puzzle based, with the Amy ‘companion character’ having three main functions. The first being that you must keep Amy safe; this is done ether by keeping her close (calling for her and holding her hand) or by hiding her. The second function of Amy is to aide in puzzle solving. This can range for something as simple as getting her to crawl through a space where the main character couldn’t fit and press a button to activate some mechanism or open a door etc, to more complicated puzzles where you must place her in certain positions in order to perform some action(s). Then move her around with a combination of instructions; getting her to move and perform a series of simple commands that help accomplish a task; always bearing in mind that she is more vulnerable when away from your direct control.
The third, and most intriguing, function of Amy is to protect your protagonist from the infection. When separated from Amy the main character will slowly become infected, leading to your eventual death if you can’t find Amy in time and don’t have any serum handy.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The best indie games on PSN and Xbox Live

Indie, or Independent, game releases have been gaining momentum and notoriety on the PC for some time now. And over the past few years they have turned into a legitimate force on the two main console platforms as well...

The main problem with Indi games has generally been deciding exactly what an Indie game is. Some people seem to forget that ‘Indi’ simply stands for ‘independent’ and generally try to define the games by their game-play or genre, normally calling anything that’s outside the mainstream gaming gamut and ‘Indie’ game. This never really works though, because there’s nothing to stop an Independent developer making a game which is firmly within the mainstream game style, and some of the major developers have released the odd quirky game over the years..

The grey-area comes in trying to define exactly what an Independent publisher really is, and isn’t. Although, I think it’s faire to define a few (but still rather fluffy) rules...

They are not financially backed by a publisher.
They are generally promoted by small or start-up companies.
They tend to be produced by individuals or groups, who may form small companies.
They generally rely heavily on on-line ‘digital-distribution’ markets.
They tend to have much less (or no) resources and budget than mainstream games.
They are not limited to an allocated budget or development schedule and time-frame.
Development is not generally steered by any controlling (corporate) interests.
They do not require publisher approval: many self-publish.
They often rely on the artistic ability, creativity, imagination, and experimentation
 of an individual or very small team.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A review of Slender:

Are horror games getting more or less horrific?

With the rise of a plethora of big-name horror based games, and game-series; released for the PS2, original X-box, and even the Dreamcast; it looked like horror, and survival horror in particular, was a genre that was here to stay by the 32/64Bit era.

Then something happen.

I'm not entirely sure what, why, or when but the (planning and resource based) Survival-Horror game suddenly seemed to die out.

By the time Resident Evil 4 came out it seemed to popularise the notion of far more action based 'horror' games, and the RE series never returned to it's roots after this, apparently, despite recent proclamations to the contrary. Not that I'm blaming RE4 for this demise, but in the current climate most commercial horror games are taking the RE4 action based route, and not necessary basing their new games around the purer 'horror' aspects that a lot of the older games did.  Some of the independents, on the other hand, seem determined to get right to the beating heart of what makes a horror game. And Slender is one of those games gaining a reputation in the scare stakes...

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The games you will never see!

So... you think this post is going to be about unfinished and/or cancelled games...

Well you're wrong!

After accidently discovering an audio-only game called BlindSide on the Desura site I decided to have a rummage around the Internet to see if I could find any more titles like this and discovered the unique, strange, and sometimes apparently quire disconcerting world of Audio Games.

Audio games seem to have their roots in the add-on speech synthesisers that could be used with some old-style text adventure games (or interactive fiction, as they are now known) before a niche market for games aimed at the blind user emerged. With the advances in sound control these games made came an opportunity to appeal to a wider, and more commercially lucrative, audience. The Audio game is fast becoming a recognised subgenus that is now making some important inroads into mainstream gaming platforms.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Google goes OnLive as Sony gets Gaikai!

Welcome to the heavyweight game streaming wars...

Two things happened in the world of on-line game-streaming recently:
1)      Sony bought over Gaikai, currently the only real rival to OnLive.
2)      Google signed a deal to incorporate native OnLive support into Google TV.

At first sight this may not sound like much of a problem, just the integration of this emerging technology into the more established marketplace... Well on first sight maybe, but this has already caused some unease even before any set-top devices utilising these technologies have been released.

Google and OnLive have announced that both the OnLive service and its proprietary controller device will be incorporated into the Google TV service. Support for the controller will be ‘baked in’ to the software, and the streaming service will be available as a Google TV app, regardless of the manufacturer producing the set-top hardware.
This means that set-top boxes like Sony’s NSZ-GS7, which incorporates Google TV, would ‘in theory’ be capable of running the OnLive games streaming system. There was some initial speculation that this would indeed be the case, but then support for OnLive seems to have been quietly pulled.

Monday, 9 July 2012

All your clouds are belong to us!

Have you ever wondered why the Internet has always been represented by a cloud symbol?
Well a cloud is intangible; it doesn’t have any defined shape, and is in constant motion. When viewed from a distance it seems like a tangible entity, but when examined up-close all sense of structure and solidity is lost. Sound familiar?
Simply put, the Internet has always been one large unmappable information-cloud.
Now a staggering amount of personal information is beginning to accumulate, and float around, in this cloud. This information only looks set to increase with the advent and growth of ‘Could Computing’ resources. As the Internet will be offering increasingly interactive, and personalised, remote services
You may not have heard of it but in late 20011 a group of researchers from Ruhr University in Germany released a paper called "All Your Clouds are Belong to us." This caused quite a bit of restlessness within the ‘cloud computing’ fraternity, as the paper revealed basic security vulnerabilities in various cloud platforms  including, but not limited to, some of Amazon's services.
Amazon has since released a statement to say all these issues have been resolved.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Dear Esther: The world's first Interative poem?

A Review Of: 'Dear Esther' by 'The Chinese Room.'

I've heard a lot of rubbish said about 'Dear Esther,' both from the pro and anti lobbies.
So I decided to give my own take on this rather unique peice of entertainment software.

Okay, I didn't call it a game, you probably noticed that, well I'll come back to this latter...

The program was originally released in June 2008 by 'The Chinese Room' as a 'Half Life 2' MOD. Later a much-improved stand-alone version was subsequently provided as a full stand-alone release through Steam in 2012. This is also now available through the
OnLive service.

'Dear Esther' is essentially an interactive story at heart. There are no puzzles to solve and no guns to shoot. In fact there are no protagonists at all, so any weapons would be a mute addition...
The story is told by allowing the 'player' to wander freely through a 3D landskape, where the plot progression is marked by peices of auidio being delivered over the ever changing background music at randome points as the player progresses through the landscape. This audio loosly describes a journey, or back-story; through seemingly disjointed peices of a letter, or the unnamed narrator's reflections.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Should we be keeping the Internet Free and Private?

I’ve been taking a look at some ways to hide your Internet identity lately.
Why you ask? 
What have you been up to? 
Well, nothing really. And that’s the thing most information gathering trolls rely on, people assuming they don’t have anything worth hiding. Because of this most Internet users have no idea just how much information is being built up about them.
You may not care, but you may also be shocked to find out just how much the Internet knows about you and your family.

Most security applications are based on hiding your IP (Internet Protocol) address, the number (or address) that identifies where you are connecting to the internet from, your ‘provider.’ From this the provider (the company you use to access the internet) can then find out who you are by backtracking who this IP number was assigned to.
Now first off all I want to reassure people that all those ‘I know your IP address’ threats you may have gotten from scare-ware sites trying to sell you ‘protection’ or ‘security’ software don’t amount to anything. You can’t be directly attacked by anyone knowing your IP address; if a site didn’t know this the internet couldn’t work...

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Iz bin reedin a book about lolCatz & Anonymous /b/

If this title gave you ‘lolz’ you probably already have a good idea of where I’m going with this.
If you haven’t a clue what I’m havering on about... well take a deep breath and prepare to enter the internets underbelly, the err nether-regions that are 4chan and its ilk.
The book is called ‘Epic Win for Anonymous, How 4chan's army conquered the web.’ and it does indeed heavily refer to the lolCats phenomenon, especially in the opening chapters. But its main thrust is in poking around in 4chan and its history, as well as seeing what Anonymous things can be stirred up... Yes, that’s definitely, or defiantly, anonymous with a capital ‘A.’

The book is actually fairly heavy reading in parts. It doesn’t help that it starts of by attempting to explain memes, and Internet memes in particular (very basically, memes are self replicating ‘viral’ ideas), although I can see why the author thought it important to explain this before entering the main focus of the book. This isn't an exposay of the Anonymous group, nor is it the steriotypical rant about 4chan filth, but it isn't trying to suger-coat or defend anything ether. It's a decent propper open-minden and informed look at the culutre and history behind the modern on-line world of 4cahn and Anonymous. It is amed at 'normal' people who may have only ever heard the explotative rants in the press, there is another, different, story to be told and I think this book makes a decent and unbias attempt at telling it.

So what has all this got to do with computer games you ask?
Well not a lot directly, but the book got me thinking about the internet’s influence on games and the current games industry, and it’s sub cultures. There are a lot of hacker types in 4chan... No, I don’t mean what you are probably thinking (although they undoubtedly are also there). Good old-fashioned ‘hackers’ are codies at heart, programmers that do what they do because they like it. And nowadays they are unfortunately becoming dying breed.
Mixed in amongst the legions of angst-ridden teenagers, cam-girls, and general shock-merchants are the uber-savvy indi-programmers and general computer geeks of yester-year and tomorrow.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

What's the future of app-based digital distribution?

Are we currently seeing the genesis of a new type of app-based proprietary online digital distribution store?
Or is it just another internet marketing fad?

You may have heard of, if not used, the Steam digital distribution platform before. But do you know about the other players in this newly emerging market?

If you don't know, Steam is a PC and Mac based  computer games distributor and reseller, which distributes games and their related media on-line. You can pay for games through an on-line purchase and then download the games program to your computer, no box, no posting, no shop-front. However, in order to play these games, and organise your Steam purchases, you are first required to download the steam client application to your local  computer. As well as allowing you to play the games this interface also serves as a database to keep track of your purchases and allows for community based multiplayer elements, which includes utomated game updates and  in-game voice/chat functionality through a Steam community HUD. The Steam platform was developed and is run by the Valve Corporation, and carries a fairly comprehensive list of games from both the large software houses and the small independent developers. At the last count over 1504 games were available through Steam. But it isn't the only game in town...

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Polybius – Not a parrot on public transport...

... but is it a game?

For those who don’t know the original Polybius game was apparently released in 1981 and has become a bit of an urban-myth.
It may, or may not have been an arcade cabinet system, programmed by a mysterious company called Sinnesloschen, which also may or may not have existed. The original game became famous for its apparent ability to cause seizures in its players, and become rolled up in wilder and wilder accusations of government cover-ups and experiments in mind control...

If you are interested in the ‘legend’ you could do worse than having a look at the Wikipedia page. I would also strongly suggest taking a look at the very strange, but hysterical, RetroGamer forum thread, where the apparent author ‘debated’ the game at length.

But this review isn’t about any of that!
This is a review of the fan-made re-make (or recreation) game produced in 2007...
... if you can re-make a game that may or may not have been real in the first place, from a company that may or may not have evere xisted, that is.
This game can be downloaded from the Sinnesloschen website...
N.B. This is not the original ROM, which may, or may not, exist.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The power of PI

The raspberry PI is the new £16 or £22 computer that has a lot of people talking.
The first 10 boards from the initial production model run were recently auctioned off on eBay as a publicity stunt, and gathered thousands of pounds each, but will this new system be any good for gaming?

If you haven’t heard of this before I’d suggest having a look over on the official site, as this really is an interesting little piece of hardware.
The computer is sold as the bare board only, a strategy not done since the early days of home-computers. Although many dedicated third party case designs have already been produced.
As can be seen from the photo to the right, the PI board is smaller than an iPhone and just a little taller with all the interfaces attached.
It will run a variety of Linux operating systems and has already been shown to handle relatively processor intensive games like Quake 3. Obviously it would be silly to expect this to run your modern PC games or to compete with a PS3 or 360.

It was Acceptable in the 80s...

So sung Calvin Harris in 2007, but when it came to cloning popular games, never a truer word was spoken.
Today we are told to look on copying in any form, even intellectual copying, as a bad thing, but without that first wave of bedroom coders sitting up all night trying to write their own versions of the popular arcade games of the day there would be no games industry. And that’s not a ‘maybe there wouldn’t be a games industry’ it’s an absolute certainty, because that spirit of free innovation is where the modern industry directly hailed from, and not from any corporations, they only really got involved much later, when they saw a market developing that they could make real money form.
The fact that some of these same bedroom coders are now heads of companies that seem to wish to stifle innovation in favour of market forces now baffles me. In many cases they started by cloning Space Invaders and Pac-Man for the 8bit home-computers, and now they are churning out the same old FPS wrapped up in (slightly) different skins... Ok so I suppose there’s certain symmetry to that, but it’s the innovation that has been lost. The games market of the eighties was all about taking the big-game concepts and running with them, advancing the concepts and trying to come up with the next new big thing. Very often this innovation led to completely new and innovative games. Games that now form the very bedrock of a stagnant pool of FPS sameness.
It seems that there isn’t enough profit in innovation for the big-name companies to risk any game that hasn’t been proven to have a ready made mass market audience, although the recently developing on-line Independent games market is making good inroads into bringing back innovation to gaming. Unfortunately this could all be set to change.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Pivotal and Landmark games: from the beginning up

This post looks over what were, in my view, the landmark industry-changing games from the early years up until present day.

Of course everybody’s idea of this will be slightly different. I suppose the writer's age and game preference will always play a part in this type of thing (even if it is subconsciously).

I have tried to be as objective as possible, and the choices definitely contain games I both personally like and dislike.

I’m not claming this selection  is definitive in any way, and there are a lot more games that almost made my list.
Feel free to let me know if you think I’ve missed something important, or if I've added something you think is largely irrelevant.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Back to the future with cloud gaming?

So first of, what exactly is cloud computing?
Well it sounds good doesn’t it? 
It sounds all technical and important. 
But it seams that the truth is nobody ‘exactly’ knows. 

‘The cloud’ had been used to mask a variety of disparate distributed network systems and at one level seems to be little more than a new catch-all buzz-word for combining existing networked stuff in new an interesting ways...
Basically, it’s a generally used term meaning any centrally-based system or resource that is accessed through a non-specific network infrastructure.

Got that? No, nether did I...

What does all  this gobbledegook mean for gaming?
The cloud is spreading all around us whether we see it or not. It’s running web-based applications and/or services; like Google’s Apps, web-based  document storage, and on-demand video; as well as much of  the information you are accessing through simply browsing the Internet, and gamming hasn’t escaped this trend.
Like using one of Google’s on-line apps, or even playing Runescape you don’t have to physically download any actual program code to your machine in order to use these products. This means that the physical hardware you are using to view these ‘cloud’ programs is largely irrelevant, and games are no different.
Using this ‘cloud’ technology it’s perfectly feasible for any modern networked TV or other networked device  to play the latest games, irrespective of the format they were originally written for; PC, MAC, xBox 360, Playstation3, VIC-20... it doesn’t matter; as long as you have a client capable of connecting to the server platform hosting them.
With services like OnLive now beginning to provide live games streaming directly to your client hardware the only limitation is whether or not a ‘thin-client’ program is made available for your device. You may have noticed that I didn’t say ‘computer’ here, because the ‘client’ hardware doesn’t have to be a computer. Any device capable or running the client software is capable of accessing and running the games directly on and from the central server. Just as if you were using the high-powered machine directly... and if that all sounds a bit familiar... well, there’s a very good reason for that.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Run, but no Gun!

It’s software-house review time again.
 I’ve had a look at another little-known developer. This time from Helsingborg in Sweden. 

The outfit is Frictional Games, and it all kicked off when the founding members produced a non-commercial tech-demo for MS Windows in 2006.
This demo was simply titled ‘Penumbra’ and was intended to showcase Frictional’s new HPL Engine (standing for H.P Lovecraft) the intended use and leanings of this new engine were rather obvious. Work on the original engine was started in 2004 and it was coded with 2D gaming in mind. The concept was later updated, with a new 3D  layer being added to the system. The Penumbra demo received much interest and acclaim upon its release, and this success spurred its creators on to produce a full commercial game using the system.

Unlike many other companies nowadays Frictional Games have taken the time to produce and develop their very-own proprietary game-engine, and very good it is as well. The code has been rewritten and tweaked for each subsequent release. So much so that by the time ‘Amnesia’ was produced the engine had developed into a very strong and solid piece of coding. This gives the games a very different look and feel to most mainstream stuff, which can generally all be traced back along the same engine-family trees.

I personally hope to see more games produced using the HPL engine. In some ways Frictional’s design is a nod to the point-and click type adventures of the past. But it mixes the level of exploration provided by these systems up with the unrestricted first-person perspective movement of modern games. Along with a well honed physics engine this leads to a game that feels like it puts you much more in touch with your environment, and lends itself very nicely to the atmospheric adventure based game-play offered by Frictional Games.

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Alternative way to Mainstream Gaming

If you don’t know, OnLive is a pay-to-use based live streaming service that delivers games-on-demand through a broad-band connection. The major difference between this and the more traditional download services like Steam is that absolutely nothing is downloaded to your local machine with OnLive. This gives the advantage of being able to play the latest mainstream games ether through their dedicated proprietary TV-Box console, or on practically any PC, Mac, or even an Android 2 enabled smart-phone.
The downside of course is that you are completely reliant on your Internet connection, and any serious lag or loss of service will render the OnLive system unusable.

The fact than any purchase made is entirely virtual also initially put some people off. No program downloads are ever saved to your local device with OnLive. Instead all programs are held on central servers, and you are buying a ‘user licence’ right to play the centrally held games, a good thing for multi-player system where all players are running their game on the server machine.
To me the convenience of the service outweighs the chance that I will loose any purchases I have made if the company ever ceases trading and the servers go offline.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

All aGOG with old games

GOG stands for Good Old Games, and is a pay-to-download internet site hosting a range of old (or ‘Retro’) computer games.

This is a review of that site from the perspective of an old gamer who grew up with some of the games on offer...

I must admit that I’d heard of GOG on and off through various web-sites and forums, and my first thought was always the same, ‘Why are people paying for old games that they could probably find on Abandonware sites anyway?”
Well the lure of the ‘three free games’ over the Christmas holiday period eventually lured me in, and I was quite pleasantly surprised by the site, and the services it provides.

Upon logging into the site I was presented with a screen showing six games on my ‘owned’ shelf. One of these was Ultima IV, the first PC based RPG game I ever completed way back when, on a green-screen Amstrad 1512 no less.
Ok, I thought, so I’ll have that one then.
Next came the downloading. It seems you have two options here. You can ether let your browser do a standard download, or setup GOGs own download manager program. I selected this option and it all went very smoothly. The game installed and run without any problem. Before I knew it I was staring at the Ultima IV start screen, in colour no less.
Wow, that looked old...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Dislodging the ice-pick

Hello again. This time I’d like to have a more in-depth look at the relatively unknown Ice-Pick Lodge studios.

Ok, so first things first, who are Ice-Pick Lodge?
Well, they are a studio-based games development team from Moscow. The team first formed in 2002 and became a quite well-known name in Russia after the release of Pathologic, their first ever full game.
This release gained both critical acclaim and some notoriety. Pathologic won several major gaming awards in Russia, and earned the company a reputation for a certain degree of quirkiness, something that was to be continued in their later games. As if to underline this eccentricity Pathologic went on to win the "Most Non-Standard Game" award at the 2005 Russian Game Developers Conference, a feet they would later echo in 2007 with ‘The Void.’

To date they have released three games, Pathologic, The Void, and Cargo, each of which retained their unique take on the first and third person genres.