Category Archives: Features

Humpday Reading List 18/09/2013

Black Angel will see a new lease of life at the Mill Valley Film Festival.  / Picture: Roger Christian

Black Angel will see a new lease of life at the Mill Valley Film Festival. / Picture: Roger Christian

Let’s just dive into things this week with your first tasty morsel coming out of Skywalker Ranch (kind of). Black Angel, a short film that ran before The Empire Strikes Back, and thought to be lost for years, will have a re-debut at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Ars Technica interviewed the film’s creator, Roger Christian, about how the film came to be.

Check out this series of vintage crime scene photographs superimposed over the modern day NY streets.

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about Trayvon Martin, black-on-black violence and American racism. I generally like to avoid politics on here if at all possible but Coates writes such good stuff that I want to spread the word.

Badass Digest’s RJ LaForce explores whether Wes Anderson can ever top Rushmore, the film that is largely considered to be his best. Badass Digest also has an interview with Brie Larson who, after her stints in United States of TaraScott Pilgrim vs. the World and 21 Jump Street, has pretty much cemented her position as one of my favourite people ever. She talks about her new movie Short Term 12 which tackles much more serious issues than the above mentioned films.

Anyone remotely familiar with the game development process knows how taxing it can be working for a AAA studio. Raphael van Lierop has created a studio, Hinterland, that is spread across the United States. The idea is that developers don’t have to uproot their families and can work in a comfortable, sustainable environment that isn’t going to suck the life out of them. There’s a great feature on Hinterland over at the Penny Arcade Report.

Remember how everyone lost their damn minds when Jessica Chobot was in Mass Effect 3? I do, and it was kind of silly. Anyway, she’s now working at Zombie Studios on their new horror game, Daylight. Polygon has a feature on Chobot along with a video featurette. Polygon does, in my opinion, the best longform video game writing of any online publication and their video features consistently knock it out of the park. Also I love the shots fired at Olivia Munn, blink and you’ll miss it.

V-v-v-v-videos

Check out Ben Affleck on Jimmy Fallon talking about getting cast as Batman and the internet backlash that followed.

That’s it from me, I have to go eat some soup now. See you all next week!

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Humpday Reading List 11/09/2013

Oh man, some stuff has happened in the last week, right? We have a new government here in Australia and a lot of people are unhappy about. Obviously not as many people than are happy with it, I guess, because…you know, democracy? Anyway this is our new Prime Minister:

I can see clearly now, Lorraine has gone. She was the worst.

Ok, so Dickwolves are back. I could go on about it here but MC Frontalot wrote a fairly comprehensive blog post about it on Google+ so just read that instead and that should fill you in on what’s what.

Christopher Sawula has written a guest post over on Play the Past about historical interpretation in the Assassin’s Creed series, especially the latest entry Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will feature famous historical pirates, including Blackbeard. Picture: Ubisoft.

Also on Play the Past (which I think I am starting to fall in love with) is a feature on the technologically deterministic nature of video game tech trees. Get on it.

Kill Screen reached out to a number of Jewish game designers – including Warren Spector – and asked them Is there a Jewish identity in videogames? 

I loved S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. It was the first Ukrainian video game I had ever played and it was unique among the first person shooters of its time with a combination of RPG and survival horror elements mixed it. Polygon has a feature on GSC Game World, the developers of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., that looks at the company’s collapse and what happened to the nearly 200 employees that found themselves out of a job.

Microsoft recently acquired Nokia for $7.82 billion in an attempt to weasel their way further into the smartphone market. The Financial Review interviewed Frank Nuovo, the man behind the designs of Nokia’s most popular phones, who says he knows why the company has failed and warns that Apple could be next if they don’t learn from Nokia’s mistakes.

Texas continues to try to limit evolution in school textbooks.

I understand the National Academy of Science’s strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that ‘creation science’ based on biblical principles should be incorporated into every biology book that is considered for adoption. Students should have the opportunity to use their critical thinking skills to weigh the evidence between evolution and ‘creation science.’

That quote was from one of the textbook reviewers. I suspect they don’t understand exactly what “evidence” is. I think this is the evidence they’re referring to?

Conclusive proof!

Conclusive proof!

Ars Technica have an exhaustive article about creating the ultimate creative content OS out of the best bits of Mac, Windows and Linux. Warning: it’s really long.

The Dissolve continues their Conversation series by discussing the merits and flaws of belated sequels.

Commander Video

Stop motion is kind of the coolest, and PBS Digital Studios have a nice 8 minute look into this ancient video art form.

Someone has used a Lego Mindstorm to create a home-made kindle scanner. This combines two of my favourite things: awesome robots and fighting DRM.

I’m going to leave you this week with an important message from Sarah Silverman, the NRA’s newest spokeswoman. Enjoy!

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Humpday Playlist 4/09/2013

Ah, the middle of the work week. For me that means writing this blog post, going to the gym, watching some TV and then gently weeping into my pillow until the Sandman comes to whisk me off to dream land. For you it probably means slogging through another eight hours so you can eventually go home and yell at your children.

Not this Sandman

So why not forget about your troubs for a while and focus your brain-pouch on this big ol’ list of links I’ve scrounged up for you. You can thank me later.

I have a fairly large blind spot in my right eye, I can ignore it most of the time but occasionally people or objects jump out of it and frighten me. Anyway, here are some things you can read with your eyes.

Let’s ease into things today with this feature from Polygon about Joseph White, the creator of Voxatron, who might just be creating the future of video games.

Also from Polygon is a feature on Video Game Championship Wrestling, a crazy show featuring video game characters beating the snot out of each other created using the apparently pretty robust character and storyline editors in WWE ’13.

I’ma Wario! I’ma gonna ween! / Photo: MikeLL

Ben Lewis-Evans has a blog post over on Gamasutra about dopamine, what it does to our brains and how it relates to video games. Cool stuff!

I always new there was something special about gin and tonics, my preferred summer (and autumn and winter and spring) drink, what I didn’t know was how important it was to British colonialism.

Lee Hutchinson over at Ars Technica is currently four days in to a week long trial of the nutritionally complete meal substitute, Soylent. The intro article (which contains links to the next four days worth of experiments) can be found here. I’m naturally super sceptical about these sort of things and often have to stop my eyeballs rolling right out of my head whenever anyone mentions “juice fasts” or “detoxes” or I see a #cleanfood hashtag. I’m currently reading the day two post and the side effects seem to be fairly similar to what you hear from a lot of people trying liquid meal replacements.

It was bad. These weren’t mere ha-ha toot kinds of emissions; this was hair-raising. It was room-clearing, horse-killing, World War I mustard gas-type gas. I migrated from room to room in the house like I was giving up territory to the Kaiser, my face fixed in an expression of horror as green hell-fumes trailed behind me, peeling paint and wilting plants. My wife, bless her heart, said nothing.

All I’m saying is I’m glad Lee Hutchinson is willing to suffer for my amusement.

OK here’s a quick list of a bunch of other stuff you could read, or not, I don’t really care:

  • The A.V. Club has the first of their Internet Film School series, this one is all about framing.
  • A beginner’s guide to the king of comics, Jack Kirby.
  • Shut Up & Sit Down‘s Lord Custard Smingleigh has a column on board game house rules.
  • Eve Online is one of the craziest MMOs out there and apparently they recently had the largest PVP battle in gaming history. I will never tire of reading about the crazy stuff people get up to in that game.
  • War on YouTube: how publishers are missing the boat of video coverage, and attacking their friends – The PA Report.

Pictures that move? What devilry is this?!

I’m going to start this video part off with this look into Richard Garriott‘s insane New York home. Dude has secret doors and Sputniks all over the place.

Then this interview with Mythbuster Jamie Hyneman.

Or how about an hour long interview with John Landis hosted by other Mythbuster Adam Savage. I assume this is awesome but I haven’t watched it because I’m going to see John Landis for the Melbourne Festival and want to stay fresh.

Finally I’ll leave you with presumably super high Patrick Stuart demonstrating his most powerful dramatic tool: the Quadruple Take.

See you next week, kids!

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Humpday Playlist 28/08/2013

Ok, it’s that time again to flip off your boss, down that cup of coffee and strap yourself in for the freshest, tastiest links you’ll find on the web this week.

Words. That you read.

From The Atlantic we have Bruce Scheier’s “The Real , Terrifying Reason Why British Authorities Detailed David Miranda”.

On a far sillier note, apparently a Canadian dentist is trying to clone John Lennon using his old teeth. For reals. Personally I think it would be better if we just cloned three more RIngo Starrs and we could finally have the ultimate rock supergroup (sorry Travelling Wilburys).

Like this, but three more of him. Photo: Schröder+Schömbs PR _ Brands | Media | Lifestyle / flickr

So Fukushima is in a bad way. In August this year, regulators announced that 300 tons of radioactive water had leaked from storage tanks into the Pacific. Benjamin Sovacool, over on The Conversation, suggests that it’s only a matter of time before we see similar disasters spring up around nuclear power plants. Oh and what’s Japan doing to stop any more contaminated water from entering the Pacific? Apparently they’re planning on building an underground, Game of Thronesian, ice wall to stop any more leaks.

Some more stuff from my buds over at The Conversation: are you a fan of Breaking Bad? Ever wondered exactly what Heisenberg’s blue rocks does to you chemically? Well wonder no more. Warning: there’s a pretty gross picture of meth-mouth in the article. They also have a great piece on the way politicians, and other men in the public eye, wield their wives and daughters like a deadly PR weapon in an attempt to make themselves look better.

If you haven’t seen the fantastic The World’s End yet then you’re a madman. The movie is fantastic and if you plan on seeing it then don’t click on these next few links. The first is from Badass Digest and looks at Simon Pegg’s Captain Kirk moment at the end of the movie. The second is from The Dissolve and is another entry in their The Conversation series where they discuss The World’s End and how it fits into the Cornetto Trilogy as a whole.

  • New Republic‘s Isaac Chotiner wrote about how Hollywood is in pretty bad shape with its focus on sequels, reboots and giant budgets.
  • People lost their mind about Ben Affleck taking on the role of Batman in the upcoming Man of Steel sequel. I wasn’t super sold on it but the A.V. Club rightfully points out that we should all just chill the eff out.
  • Swing back over to Badass Digest for a list of cinema’s worst bartenders. Because why not.

If video games are your thing Polygon have a look at what the next 30 years will look like for Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii owners. They also have a feature on the first Native American games company and how they want to change the way indigenous people are portrayed in games.

Once again a mainstream news organisation has run a story about a video games and violence after an 8-year-old shot and killed his elderly caregiver after playing a video game. And once again it takes a video game publication (this time the Penny Arcade Report) to actually discuss how and why an 8-year-old came to be in possession of a loaded handgun in the first place and why he was even playing such a violent, mature game. Unfortunately, once again, they are preaching to the choir. It would be nice of places like CNN, Fox News and other mainstream outlets would actually take the time to look at the real issues instead of finding easy scapegoats that make for snappy headlines.

All right, that’s it for today, there’s probably enough in here to last you a while. Enjoy the rest of your day and I leave you with this video of Chris Hadfield explaining how exactly you poop in space!

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Humpday Playlist 21/08/2013

“I did absolutely nothing and it was everything I thought it could be” / Photo: Legozilla, flickr

Another day, another opportunity to coast through life by reading all this cool stuff instead of doing your job.

Read this

Turkish archaeologists have uncovered small carved stones in a nearly 5,000 year-old burial. They believe them to be the earliest gaming tokens ever found.

Leigh Alexander continues to prove she’s the best ever in this piece about why gaming culture “sucks”.

The Dissolve‘s Nathan Rabin wrote an excellent compare/contrast on Sucker Punch and Spring Breakers, two movies I never really expect to be brought up in the same sentence, let alone have an entire feature dedicated to them.

Why y’all acting ‘spicious?

Also on The Dissolve is the latest in their “The Conversation” series. This week their looking at the pros and cons of director/actor team-ups.

Finally, Polygon has a feature on The Fullbright Company, the indie games studio responsible for Gone Home, one of the most critically well received games of the year.

Watch this

Check out this awesome time-lapse video of the Perseids meteor shower.

Aaron Paul’s The Bitchies are a thing now.

AND CHECK OUT THIS COOL PAINTING ROBOT!

 

Ok that’s it for today, folks. Enjoy the rest of your day and remember: don’t do what your boss says, they’re only trying to hold you back!

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Humpday Playlist – 14/08/2013

Lego Cthulhu is now one of my favourite Cthulhus / Photo: Norman Chan, http://www.tested.com/art/lego/457092-bricks-bay-carl-merriams-cthulhu-lego-moc/

Lego Cthulhu is now one of my favourite Cthulhus / Photo: Norman Chan, http://www.tested.com

Loosen up your ear-holes and moisten your peepers because I have a big ol’ list of links and vids to get you through the last few hours of another crappy Wednesday at your Soul Sucking Day Job™. I have literally spent every waking hour trawling the darkest, most horrible corners of the internet to bring you this list* so enjoy!

Linked In

  • Bricks by the Bay, a Lego convention held in Santa Clara, California, is the place to be if you love plastic dioramas of the Battle of Hoth or the Tower of Orthanc. Norman Chan from Tested covered the event and took a bunch of photos but one of my favourites was this custom made Lego Cthulhu. Read the story here.
  • Patrick Klepek has written a feature on collusion in competitive fighting game tournaments.
  • Researchers from John Hopkins and Princeton Universities have managed to 3D print a bionic ear. The researchers wrote:

As a proof of concept, we generated a bionic ear via 3D printing of a cell-seeded hydrogel matrix in the anatomic geometry of a human ear, along with an intertwined conducting polymer consisting of infused silver nanoparticles. This allowed for in vitro culturing of cartilage tissue around an inductive coil antenna in the ear, which subsequently enables readout of inductively-coupled signals from cochlea-shaped electrodes.

Indeed!

  • Polygon has a fantastic feature on the Adults Only rating for video games. This sort of stuff is fascinated, especially considering the number of games that have been flat-out banned in Australia while only receiving M ratings in the US. Also Polygon really knows what they’re doing when it comes to layout and design for their features. THIS IS HOW YOU DO ONLINE PUBLISHING, REST OF THE WORLD.

Tinnitus is a badge of honour

  • On the podcast front you should really be listening to The Thrilling Adventure Hour. It’s a comedy stage show in the style of old-timey radio. It’s funny and incredibly well written so click here, you know you want to.

The Talkies

Watch these things!

This next video has been out for a while, it’s the third in a three-part series on the “damsel in distress” trope found in video games. It’s definitely the best entry in the Tropes vs Women in Video Games series so far and well worth a look.

OK that’s it for now, I’m going to go back to watching episodes of Bunk and eating cereal in bed because I lost my self respect years ago.

*none of this is true.

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Humpday Playlist

Ok, I know, I’m the worst. It’s been forever since I’ve posted, there hasn’t been a podcast in months. I’m sorry I gave up so easily, I guess my ex-girlfriends were right when they said I have no stamina.

But whatever, I’m here now and I’m going to force the things I like onto you because that’s the kind of person I am. Also I get excited about the things I like and I want to share them with people. So, with that in mind I’d like to welcome you to what I hope will become a regular weekly thing that I do called the “Humpday Playlist”. Every Wednesday I’ll look over everything I’ve been listening to, reading, watching and playing and provide a list of stuff that I think is Super Cool©.

This is hardly a new idea, tonnes of places do exactly this sort of thing but I’ve been off the wagon for a while so I thought I’d ease myself into it. Be gentle.

Stuff these in your ear-holes

I don’t get a lot of time to listen to music these days. That’s not because I’m super busy with work or have a lot of social gatherings taking up my time, quite the opposite really. I probably have the most free time of anybody you know, unless you happen to know someone who’s three. The big “problem” – and it’s not a problem at all, this is a really dumb thing to complain about – is that I listen to too many podcast. I listen to them when I have breakfast, when I shower, when I’m at the gym, pretty much at any time that doesn’t require me to directly interact with other people and I still can’t keep on top of them. I finally cleared my unplayed podcast list yesterday morning only to look at my phone in the afternoon and find roughly 7 hours of new podcasts had downloaded while I was napping. But, in the brief time between these events I did manage to listen to some Fresh Beats.

K.Flay, one of my favourite rap-persons, released a new EP yesterday called What If It Is. I’m no music critic and I barely know my breakbeats from my…microphone controllers(?) but whatever, What If It Is is awesome and you should pay some money for it instead of pirating everything like some filthy criminal.

Actually that’s it, that’s all the music I’ve managed to listen to in the last week. Well I guess I should point you in the direction of all these damn podcasts that are eating my life. 

First up My Brother, My Brother and Me is an advice show for the modern era hosted by the three McElroy brothers: Travis, Justin and Griffin. They answer questions submitted by listeners as well as from Yahoo! Answers. They’re hilarious and most of the questions lead into deep riffs about anything ranging from proper dating etiquette to horse emotions. Check out their sampler, it’s good stuff.

I also listen to Sawbones: a Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine which is exactly what it sounds like. Dr Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin (again! What can I say, I like the McElroys. They do good work) explore just the weirdest, worst, grossest ways we’ve tried to fix people throughout history.

Finally, check out Comic Dorksit a show where a bunch of dudes talk about comics.

I have about 15 more podcasts I listen to on a regular basis but this should keep you busy for now.

A feast for your peepers

Comedian Chris Hardwick played the original Stacee Jaxx in the Rock of Ages stage show. While he was hosting a Comic-Con panel for Tom Cruise’s new movie, magic happened.

Rev3Games has a new video series hosted by Max Scoville called Max Scoville’s Study Hall. Each week they take a topic that relates to video games and make recommendations for other media that’s related to the topic for you to check out. I’ve got a tonne of music, movie and book recommendations from the show. You should check it out.

There’s a fantastic feature over on Polygon about blind games and accessibility and over at The Dissolve there’s a discussion about moviegoing in the digital age that’s well worth a look.

What now?

I think that’s about it for today. I decided to fire this blog back up a few days ago and this really just came together because I found myself with nothing else to do. Hopefully in the next week I’ll have a codified format for this sort of thing. Also expect a giant feature on digital board games in the next few days, maybe Friday.

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Ed’s top 10 games of 2012

The year of our lord (Our Lord?) two-thousand and twelve was an insane year for gaming.

Yes I know just about every year people say “this year was an insane year for gaming” but seriously, there were so many awesome games that came out last year that I couldn’t limit myself to the top five that Jack and I originally agreed to.

2012 was also a year in which a number of games managed to provoke significant emotional responses in me, something that games have struggled with in the past. I was surprised to find so many games where I actually cared about the fates of the characters I interacted with. Hopefully this is a sign that the industry is maturing and videogame storytelling is starting to evolve into something more complex.

Or maybe I’m just overly emotional. You be the judge!

Also I haven’t even had time to finish some of the bigger releases from last year so if there are any glaring omissions, I dunno…suck it up?

HERE IS MY TOP TENS!

10. Spec Ops: The Line

After the sandstorm things went south pretty quickly.

After the sandstorm things went south pretty quickly.

It’s an average third-person cover-based shooter at the best of times but what really elevates this game is its story. Borrowing heavily, and explicitly, from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Spec Ops explores what happens to soldiers when civilisation breaks down and there is no clear chain of command and no real accountability.

Spec Ops: The Line gives players choices without any indication of which one is the “good” choice and which is the “bad”. The fact is, in the situation you find yourself in, there are no good choices and everything you do has serious consequences.

There were moments in that game where I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, where I knew what I was doing was wrong but convinced myself, just like Walker did, that it was all for the greater good. Spec Ops succeeds because, unlike most military shooters out there, it doesn’t present the protagonist as an infallible hero. It forces you to witness the consequences of your actions and, through Walker’s descent into madness, drives home how war can makes villains of us all.

9. FTL: Faster Than Light

This is pretty much how the game always looks. You can move your crewmen around to different areas of the ship for added bonuses.

This is pretty much how the game always looks. You can move your crewmen around to different areas of the ship for added bonuses.

Part roguelike, part space sim, all fun. In FTL: Faster Than Light you take control of a ship and a small crew charged with delivering information vital to the federation. You jump from system to system desperately trying to upgrade your ship, take on more crew members, avoid the rebels and mostly just survive.

In all the time I’ve spent in FTL I have never once made it to the end. I don’t know what the apparently horrible and deadly end boss looks like. I don’t even know if there is a way to “win” FTL. All I know is that the time I have spent with the game has produced some of the most enjoyable gaming stories from last year.

Like the time I encountered a colony that was under attack and when I sent my crew to investigate they brought the only survivor back to my ship. Everything was going great until the survivor went space crazy and started attacking my crew. I had to hide everyone in the cockpit of my little ship while I vented the oxygen from the rest of the ship, sucking the crazy little guy out the airlock.

Or the time I was attacked by alien pirates who tried to teleport some of their crew onto my ship to sabotage my engines. It would have worked too if they hadn’t beamed their guys into a room currently occupied by my giant Rock crewman. They were smooshed under his rocky boot.

Also the soundtrack is amazing.

Really.

It’s so good.

8. Mark of the Ninja

Stealth games can be really hit-or-miss. You often spend a lot of your time wondering if you’re visible to enemies or if you’re moving slowly enough to avoid detection or if you can move just fast enough to make it to that next bit of cov- oh damn you’re dead.

Mark of the Ninja avoids all of that. You know exactly how visible you are at all times through clever use of light cues.

The game gives you all of the information you need to know. When you run, a ring forms around you showing you exactly how far the sound of your footsteps travel, all light sources cover a very specific area of the the level and you can even see the vision cones on your enemies.

Can you spot the Ninja? Thankfully those vision comes make it easy to plan the perfect time to strike.

Can you spot the Ninja? Thankfully those vision comes make it easy to plan the perfect time to strike.

This might sound like a bit too much but really all it does is make it easy for you to actually act like a ninja. You can sprint at an enemy only to jump at the last second to avoid alerting him to your footfalls, when you land behind him you can execute a quick stealth kill and then hide his body behind a convenient vent so that none of his buddies are alerted to your presence. Or you could hang down from a perch, Spider-Man style, and string a guard up by his neck as a warning to all his friends that they could be the next ones to go.

While the game makes it easy for you to instantly feel like a badass, it is far from a cakewalk. Each level presents more and more difficult challenges and you will have to carefully plan out how you will proceed to the next objective if you want any hope for survival.

I loved every second of my time with Mark of the Ninja. Play this damn game!

7. Sleeping Dogs

Do you get my point?! Hur hur hur

The hand-to-hand combat in Sleeping Dogs is very brutal. Do you get my point?! Hur hur hur.

Sleeping Dogs is one of the first open world games to really do hand-to-hand combat right. It borrows heavily from Rocksteady’s Batman games and allows you to string together brutal, bone-crunching combos that will make you feel like the meanest member of Hong Kong’s Triad.

The story itself is fairly standard undercover cop/triad gangster affair that was just interesting enough to hold my attention. If I ever return to Sleeping Dogs it will be because I will never, ever get tired of punching gang members in the face as I climb the ranks from lowly foot soldier to respected Red Pole.

SLEEPY DAWGS!

You collect different masks throughout the game that give you different special skills.

You collect different masks throughout the game that give you different special skills.

6. Hotline Miami

Indie games are repping hard on this list, and rightfully so. While a game like Spec Ops showed me a character’s descent into insanity, Hotline Miami made me feel like I was the one slowly going insane.

As I moved through each room, brutally murdering Russian mobsters, my top down view of the world would tilt, distort and flash. The music – which is excellent throughout – would shift and change as both myself and the main character were forced to kill more and more people for no apparent reason.

I don’t know if it is a good thing to be good at Hotline Miami. You get bonus points for stringing together kills, swapping out weapons and killing people in imaginative ways. A high score is more a testament to the players depravity than anything else.

At the end of each level you have to walk back out to your car, forcing you to wade through the piles of bodies and rivers of blood you have left in your wake.

I felt disturbed playing this game, almost sick, and that feeling stayed with me for a while after finishing the game.

For that, I think Hotline Miami should be applauded.

5. Mass Effect 3

People hated the ending of Mass Effect 3 and I totally understand why. I was angry too. I didn’t get to make the choices I wanted to make, I didn’t get the ending I wanted. I felt duped, tricked into thinking my decisions had any sort of weight.

But you know what, in that moment of anger and frustration all I could think was this is probably exactly what Shepherd would be thinking and feeling. We had worked so hard throughout the game to activate this super weapon that would save us all and it was all a waste of time.

I played the game as a paragon but ultimate chose the renegade ending: destroy the Reapers. In that moment of frustration I chose to stick to my original mission, flip the universe the bird and kill the sons-of-Bs that forced me to make this decision in the first place.

I think any game that can get that sort of an emotional reaction from their players has earned a spot on this list.

4. The Walking Dead

This game would have been much higher on my list if it weren’t for some glaring technical problems with the PC version and the fact that the gameplay itself is fairly average.

The Walking Dead is yet another game that succeeds because of its excellent storytelling and use of player choice.

Throughout the game’s five episodes I developed a strong connection to a number of characters, most notably Clementine, the little girl you promised to protect.

I don’t want to talk too much about the game for fear of spoilers but it delights in tugging on your heartstrings and I was near tears by the end of the final episode. Again, any game that can get that sort of an emotional reaction from a player has to be doing something right.

3. XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Taking cover is vital if you want your soldiers to survive more than a few missions.

Taking cover is vital if you want your soldiers to survive more than a few missions. PICTURE: Firaxis Games

I love turn based strategy games. I ESPECIALLY love turn based strategy games where you fight aliens and get to name the soldiers in your squad after your real life friends.

XCOM is another game that produces great stories. Each level is a map filled with creatures just waiting to rip your squad to shreds. They’ll succeed sometimes too, not everybody makes it back to the base alive.

Maybe you’ll use a medic to save a soldier from death only to find that soldier’s willpower is so low that he panics every single time he is fired upon, almost as if he had PTSD that’s triggered every time you put him in the field.

Maybe you’ll think you’ve got a mission in the bag, it’s all smooth sailing, you’ll get cocky and start running your guys up the map only to find them surrounded by aliens with no way of defending themselves until the next round.

You have to make tough choices in XCOM, there will always be too much to do and not enough time to do it in and you will always be letting somebody down.

It can be stressful and frustrating and incredible fun all at the same time.

2. Borderlands 2

I really enjoyed the art design in Borderlands. It's not the nicest looking game but it sure has its moments.

I really enjoyed the art design in Borderlands 2. It’s not the nicest looking game but it sure has its moments.

Borderlands 2 is dumb fun. I mean that in the best possible way. It’s funny and stupid and there’s a mission where you go into the sewers with some pizza to lure out these teenage ninjas that are almost-but-not-quite the Ninja Turtles. I mean, c’mon!

The shooting is fun and the RPG mechanics are handled well but really, the thing that kept me coming back to Borderlands 2 for over 40 hours was the great sense of humour and fun that permeates every part of the game.

Also it’s an amazing multiplayer game and really best played with a couple of friends so you can all experience the wonderful stupidity together.

1. Far Cry 3

Flaming arrows. The only way to clear out an outpost.

Flaming arrows. The only way to clear an outpost.

Far Cry’s story goes off the gangplank in the final third of the game and the weird “white guy takes on traditions of natives in order to save them” narrative is a little creepy but god damn if this game wasn’t the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a long time.

The moment-to-moment gameplay of Far Cry 3 is what kept me coming back again and again and again. Exploring the jungle, hunting wild animals and liberating outposts are made incredibly fun because of all the open-world craziness that can occur on your little island.

I remember flying over an enemy outpost on a hang glider only to look down and see chaos as several tigers were laying waste to some pirates. I landed my glider (badly) and hid on a hill watching through my camera’s telescopic lens as two pirates fell, then a tiger and another pirate until only one tiger and pirate remained. The final pirate managed to kill the tiger but as soon as he was alone I launched a flaming arrow into the grassy area he was standing in. He lit like a torch and I strolled in and secured the outpost.

These are the sorts of things that just happen in Far Cry 3. It wasn’t part of a story mission, it wasn’t a pre-planned sequence. I was just flying around, enjoying the view and this crazy thing just occurred.

Far Cry 3 is also one of the few games to come out in recent years where I have just stood and watch the sun rise. I played it on PC with most of the settings at maximum and it looked gorgeous. So gorgeous I think I’ll post another picture right…here.

Mmmm pretty.

Mmmm pretty.

Despite its story troubles, Far Cry 3 delivered a gameplay that was deeply satisfying, it also produced Vaas, the most memorable villain from last year.

PLAY THIS GAME!

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Jack’s top five games of 2012

Hello there friends!

2012 was an interesting year for video games, and also for the video game industry. Heavyweight THQ going out of business, Double Fine making all of the money (although apparently still not enough!) for their point-and-click adventure game and, subsequently, this whole Kickstarter thing going absolutely mental. I think this year was an encouraging indicator for the future of video games, and here are five of my favourites.

5. Kingdom Rush

Maybe it’s a generational thing – or maybe I’m just a borderline ADD weirdo – but I’m really bad at just standing around doing nothing, so iOS games are the first thing I turn to when I have to wait for a train or something. Kingdom Rush is a tower defense game with elaborate upgrade trees and adorable graphics. To me, there is nothing more satisfying in video games than when a plan comes together, and that’s the feeling I got when I perfectly set up my towers to funnel those silly troll men into the path of my fully upgraded artillery cannons, letting me just sit back and rake in those GPs. Feel the rush!

AGHHH THE RUSH!

4. Hotline Miami


Something about playing Hotline Miami made me feel just incredibly grimy. Maybe it was the crunchy techno music, or the horrific 8-bit violence, but it set me on the edge of my seat from the moment I picked up my controller. There were obvious parallels to the 2011 Ryan Gosling film Drive which I very much appreciated as well. The game appears to be a standard old-school top down shooter but after a clumsy death or two it soon becomes clear Hotline Miami is more of a reflex-based puzzle game. Most missions start with you in the entrance way to a house with your only goal being to kill all of the mobsters within. You can move the camera around, finding which baddies have guns and which ones you might be able to take by surprise, and you figure out the best way to approach each scenario. The solution, for me at least, most often turned out to be “find a sword and run around like a crazy person”, but I’m sure more rational human beings could find extreme satisfaction in systematically clearing out buildings full of bad guys.

3. The Walking Dead

You often have to make quick decisions in high pressure situations that don't always work out for the best.

You often have to make quick decisions in high pressure situations that don’t always work out for the best.

Undoubtedly the best story in any video game I’ve played, which is great because if you take away the story of The Walking Dead you’re left with a pretty boring point and click adventure game. Luckily that’s not how video games work and what I was left with was one of the most moving video game experiences of my life. Introducing real consequences for the choices we made, as well as avoiding the clear “Press A for good outcome, press B for bad outcome” many other choice-driven games fall victim to, resulted in my becoming deeply invested in Lee and the relationships he (and I) built with his revolving door of companions. The dramatic conclusion of the episodic series cracked my rough, thug-like exterior and squeezed a tear or two out of my eyeballs. An impressive feat for any form of storytelling, let alone a video game.

2. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

blops

I’ve written a pretty extensive review on Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 on this very website and my thoughts are by and large still the same. As the community grows and people become familiar with the maps, Black Ops 2 (and most Call of Duties before it) has become almost a sport with an active online community, a distinct metagame and tangible improvement that comes with practice. Even I, a lowly CoD noob, have experienced the pride that comes with getting that first “Merciless” medal for a 10 kill streak without dying. My favourite moment in my Black Ops 2 multiplayer experience was when I was running around like a crazy person with my shotgun, I threw a couple of flashbangs into a doorway, then dolphin dived straight through a window into a house filled with three enemies. I, of course, blinded myself on my own flashbangs but when my eyes cleared I saw I had managed to take down all the baddies with a couple of random shotgun blasts. Then I stepped on a landmine and died. But boy was I having fun!

1. Borderlands 2

Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah

Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah Rakkman!

The first Borderlands was not a perfect game. It was funny and the FPS/RPG combo with potential, but it was let down by a slew of technical shortcomings, lack of a story, and some compatibility problems. Despite all that, Borderlands was damn fun. I devoured all the DLC and managed to clock over 100 hours of game time. I had extremely high expectations for Borderlands 2 and thankfully Gearbox delivered. They improved on everything from the original, adding a genuinely interesting story, incredible voice acting and some truly hilarious moments. Borderlands 2 is my favourite game this year because it just felt like Gearbox listened to the fans and made a real effort to improve on all of their shortcomings. There’s something magical about their blend of first person shooting and an RPG levelling and loot system I doubt we’ll see in any other games, so I imagine I’ll have to wait for Borderlands 3 for that one. Thankfully though, Gearbox has proven the future of Borderlands is safe in their hands, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Honourable Mention: Spec Ops: The Line

spec ops

I’m gonna be honest, I bought Spec Ops: The Line about a week ago for a measly 10 dollars after seeing it crop up on many other top 10 lists. I knew going in the gameplay was a distant second to the incredible story and after bashing my head against the crushingly mediocre shooting sequences, I decided to bump the difficulty down to easy and fly through the game in a couple of sessions. Looking back on my experience this was probably, emotionally speaking, the wrong way to play this game and I’m still not sure I’ve fully recovered. Nolan North’s incredible voice acting skills are in full force as he voices your character’s descent into madness and documents the uncertainty of doing the “right” thing that must pop into the minds of many soldiers at some point. If you’re up for an interesting look at the horrors of war, I absolutely recommend this game but I’d wait until it is on sale before you do.

Honourable Mention: Spaceteam

I have to be honest again. I’ve played the iOS game Spaceteam only once and that one game lasted for a mere 9 minutes. Spaceteam is multiplayer only and I imagine the enjoyment you get from it is highly dependent on the quality of your crew (team?), but those 9 minutes was probably the most condensed fun I’ve had playing a video game in a long time. If my list was ranked according to fun units per minute, Spaceteam might be my top game of all time. Best of all it’s free! Now scrub the Psy-Flange! SCRUB THE PSY-FLANGE!

So there they are, my top five games of 2012. You should play them! Or do what you want, I’m not the boss of you.

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Halloween gaming

We’re approaching All Hallows’ Eve and there has never been a better time to close your blinds, turn out the lights and get into some spooky gaming.

There are hundreds of scary games you could dive into in order to celebrate this most American of holidays but there are a handful I would recommend above the others.

I have compiled them into a short list for you.

In no particular order.

Aren’t I thoughtful?

Alan Wake

The game oozes Lynchian charm. PICTURE: Remedy

The tale of a struggling thriller writer whose wife gets taken by a malevolent spirit in the fictional town of Bright Falls, Washington.

Alan Wake deals heavily in a light/dark motif. The enemies in the game are shrouded in darkness that needs to be dispelled with your torch before you can finish them off with more conventional weapons.

Areas flooded with light are also often checkpoints or safe havens where the creatures can’t get to you. You’ll find yourself running through the Pacific Northwest environment and sighing with relief every time you see a beam of light from a lamp post in the distance.

The game can begin to feel a little repetitive as you progress. You’re almost always exploring new environments but there are only so many different forested areas they can throw at you before it all starts to feel the same.

Thankfully the game runs at about 10-12 hours so you’ll probably reach the end before the repetitiveness really begins to bother you.

Also, once I finished playing Alan Wake I immediately wanted to mainline Twin Peaks and every Stephen King book straight into my eyeballs, so that’s something pretty special.

Dead Space

Shoot off limbs for maximum damage. PICTURE: EA

Dead Space relies heavily on monster closets and jump scares which can be pretty tedious if you let it get to you.

Hopefully it won’t really be a problem as you’ll be too busy being excited about playing what is essentially Event Horizon: The Game” to really care.

The combat in Dead Space is also pretty cool. You’re encouraged to “strategically dismember” any and all necromorphs you encounter. Doing so not only does more damage and conserves ammunition, it also looks super gross.

I should also make special mention of Dead Space‘s use of sound which is nothing short of amazing. The game knows exactly how to push your buttons, raise the hair on the back of your neck and generally creep you the hell out using nothing but sound. It goes a long way to creating an atmosphere of fear and danger that is vital to horror games.

Dead Island

An infection has spread across the fictional island of Banoi and turned most of the population into terrifying, hungry zombies. You play as either the rapper Sam B., Chinese spy Xian Mei, former football star Logan and former police officer Purna and are presented with a giant open world filled with zombies, survivors and bandits.

I couldn’t not mention Dead Island. It was one of my favourite flawed games of 2011 and probably didn’t get the attention it really deserved.

What really sets Dead Island apart is its combat. It’s a first-person game with RPG elements and with the analogue combat turned on your can use the analogue sticks to control your attacks in a way no other game does.

You can lift your club up high and bring it slamming down on a zombies head or you could target their arms and slash diagonally to try to cut them off with a cleaver. It’s a difficult system to get a hang of and can be problematic when you’re swarmed by more than a couple of zombies but it forces you to playing smarter and more carefully than you might otherwise play.

I’m generally pretty good when it comes to violence and gore in video games but Dead Island really takes it to the next level. The combat is brutal and right in your face and the zombies make horrible, guttural, bone rattling sounds as they are slowly and methodically beaten to death. You can even unlock a special move that lets you curb stomp prone zombies and cave their skulls it.

It really starts to get to you after a while, there’s only so many times you can see bits of bone and brain squish out from under your boot as you cut of the near-human cries of your probably limbless foe.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the fact I was disturbed by what I was doing is great. There are too many zombie games where you lop off heads without a second though. The pace of Dead Island, the brutal combat and the gore really do make you pause and think about the horror of your situation.

Also it’s the game that brought us this:

The Walking Dead

God damn this game. Just when you start to get comfortable with the people around you and get to know them a little better, that’s exactly when this game will kill them. There’s no debate, there’s nothing you can do. They’re dead and you just have to carry on.

Lee has a dark past you can choose to reveal or try to keep hidden. PICTURE: Telltale Games

The Walking Dead franchise has never been afraid to kill off characters left, right and centre and it’s as true in the video game as it is in the comic or television show.

The episodes are, so far, universally great and the writing is probably as good as you’ll find in any video game. However, where this game really shines is how it tracks every decision you make and carries them across through each episode.

Choices you make in the first episode may have significant ramifications in the third or fourth and can influence how characters interact with you.

I am struggling to remember a character in a video game I have felt more connected to than Clementine, the young girl you find hiding out in the tree house in her back yard. You become her friend and protector and I found myself getting anxious when it came to making decisions that might put her in danger.

It’s a great accomplishment but only one of the many reasons why you need to play this game.

An honourable mention should go to Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I’ve never played the game so I can’t say much about it but by all accounts it’s meant to be one of the scariest video games out there. So give it a whirl if you’re after some serious scares.

That about wraps it up for my Halloween gaming recommendations. Oh and if you were wondering, no it’s not just a happy accident most of these games are currently crazy cheap in Steam‘s holiday sale so there’s really no excuse for not playing at least one of them.

Go out and play some (spooky) games, guys.

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