Tag Archives: video games

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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Eclectic Dynamite Podcast 21-01-2013

teenage

It’s a crowded episode of the podcast this week as we introduce a third voice in the form of our bud, Matt.

We talk about Dead Island Riptide‘s gross special edition, Obama calling for research into violent media, boring hyperspace travel and the front page of the internet.

And of course our Top 3 featuring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and weird Japanese binocular soccar.

Music

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Themes Song (2012 TV series)

[audio http://traffic.libsyn.com/eclecticdynamite/ED22.mp3]

 

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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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Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Review

Chances are you already know if you are a fan of the Call of Duty formula. The Modern Warfare and Black Ops series value their ‘feel’ above almost anything else, and Black Ops 2 certainly delivers on that part.

The single-player campaigns of the Call of Duty series are far from the main draw but Treyarch‘s latest efforts are, if not the most enjoyable, definitely the most interesting installation yet.

The story follows two separate storylines: the first is set in the 1980’s where you play as Alex Mason – once again voiced by Sam Worthington, who only barely manages to suppress his Australian accent – the main character from the first Black Ops. It is this storyline is where you are introduced to Raul Menendez, an evil Nicaraguan drug lord with one eyeball and a thirst for vengeance! Or something.

Image

Cold War era horse battles. So rad.

The second storyline is told from the point of view of Alex Mason’s son, David, who sports the pretty excellent codename ‘Section’. This part of the campaign is set in 2025 and is largely dominated by futuristic weapons, robots, and even the occasional laser beam or two. It was actually really satisfying to be running around in the jungle with a crappy AK-47 in one mission, and then in the next be wearing an active camouflage suit with an assault rifle scope that can see through walls.

Perhaps the main hook of the single-player campaign, and the thing that compelled me to go back and play through missions a second or third time, were the various branching story lines. Player choice seems to be a major theme in games released this year and Black Ops 2 takes a crack at it with great success.

There are the examples you would expect: the ‘press A to kill this guy, press B to spare him’ moments but there are also some very subtle decision points, some of which I didn’t even realise I was making. I can’t get too deep into these without getting into pretty serious spoiler territory, but there was a point where I thought the scene was playing out fairly ‘on rails’, and when I tried to change the outcome it just sort of worked out the same way anyway. I kept playing through the game, and it wasn’t until the end that I saw my slight variation on what was supposed to happen dramatically changed the final moments of the story. I was genuinely surprised, and I haven’t felt like that about a video game in a very long time.

Image

Nothing like a bit of casual robot spider retina scanning to liven up an afternoon.

Many people come to Call of Duty every year for the multiplayer game. Each year the developer promises new and improved systems, revolutionising the way multiplayer feels and plays. Ultimately, it’s always more or less the same and this year’s instalment is no different.

The new feature for this year is the “Pick 10” system, where you have ten points that are used to select your loadout. Your primary weapon, attachments, perks, lethal grenades, and tactical grenades all take up one point each so, using the ten points as expected, you would end up with a pretty standard Call of Duty loadout. The game changer here is the “Wildcard” system. By spending one of your ten points you can get an extra perk, carry two primary weapons, get a third attachment and a variety of other interesting options. This boils down to giving you complete customisability over the loadout you bring into battle. You can carry a full six perks, but only bring a combat knife with you, or you can bring just your trusty combat axe and a handful of frag grenades. The system is interesting to play around with but I personally end up forgoing the Wildcards and bringing in the standard loadout almost every time.

Black Ops 2 also brings with it the lackluster return of unlock tokens. Every time you gain a level you gain access to a weapon or two and you also gain an unlock token. To use a weapon or perk, you must first spend an unlock token in order to equip it. This places a hard limit on the number of options you have when choosing your loadout, which seems to go against the grain of the highly customisable “Pick 10” system and I don’t really understand it. I would much prefer having access to all the guns and being able to pick and choose the one I liked best.

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Silly terrorists.

The other change to the multiplayer system is the new “killstreak” system. In previous games getting several kills in a row without dying allowed you to call in air support to help your team, order yourself a minigun, or drop a nuke on the battlefield. Black Ops 2 changes the “killstreak” concept to “pointstreaks”, where you get considerably less credit for a kill, and considerably more for capturing flags, securing hardpoints, or otherwise completing team objectives. I understand what they were trying to do but I can’t help feeling unsatisfied when I manage to kill five enemies in a row and still be some way off calling in an attack helicopter to tear up the enemy team.

As I mentioned before, Call of Duty is a franchise that values it’s “feel” extremely highly and Black Ops 2 is no exception. The polar opposite of the slower, vehicle-based combat of games like Battlefield 3 or Planetside 2, Black Ops 2 succeeds with fast-paced, hectic combat that rewards skill and reflexes more than the size of your tank. When I first started, as a “noob” if you will, I couldn’t help but feel like being good at Call of Duty boiled down to who spots who first. Flanking and getting the jump on your enemy is key to victory but being able to tactically hold down choke points and survive mismatched gunfights is supremely satisfying and ultimately is what keeps me coming back for more.

Black Ops 2 is not the best game in the franchise, but it’s trying to do new things; successfully in the single player, less so in the multiplayer, but well worth looking into if you haven’t already.

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