It is my job, as a columnist on a rotating weekend plinth, to have an occasional opinion about video games. Not just any opinion, though. I've won a Games Media Award, you know. And once you receive a perspex oblong from a profit-making industry event, it behooves you to have superior opinions. If I wrote a column called "Does anyone else think the last third of Bioshock just trailed off a bit?", you would be well within your rights to drag me into the streets and park a juicy man-queef on my tummy.
May contain a hand-drawn map of Dungeon Master.
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My first column for Eurogamer was published four weeks ago. It was designed to fix NPC dialogue in shooters, and it worked perfectly. Since that day, not one shooter has been released with unconvincing or repetitive barks. You'd think, with such a resounding success still ringing around the internet, I'd be allowed to rest. You can imagine my horror when I received an email on Monday asking what my next column was going to be about.
Each Saturday, one of our four regular columnists will be taking turns to fill the weekend opinion slot here on Eurogamer. Today it's Jon "Log" Blyth. You can find out more about the columnists in this editor's blog.
If you were in the Headstart week of Need for Speed World, in which early birds could tour the world a week early, you'll have experienced a discouraging sense of isolation. The first multiplayer race I tried to join was a matter of sitting in a lobby with a single, silent avatar chosen from the small and self-consciously macho collection available.
It's the 5th Century. Or maybe it's the 6th. Nobody can really be sure, and it doesn't matter - the legendary tales of King Arthur might as well have taken place in another universe. Wizards, warriors made of supernatural gas and magical swords knocking about - it's a rich, slightly stuffy slice of unhistory that's been completely owned and dominated for 35 years by a Monty Python movie. At least, in this moron's head - you might be more educated.
Some people love music, others love comic books. Some people love more than one thing, and how they fit it all in their heads I will never know. Me, I love listening to people talk. Sometimes a game sneaks its way into the middle of that and I'll play it, but great conversations can make me love an ostensibly dull game and poor dialogue can ruin what might otherwise be a great experience.
I've read a number of previews of Star Wars: The Old Republic. It'd be hard not to - people have been writing about it for over a year. Not to mention, I sat in a room at 2009's E3 and voted to kill some captain or other. But until yesterday, I still had no strong mental image of what the game would play like. That's not the fault of the writers - it's the fact that the particulars of what BioWare is doing are still in flux, and the developers refuse to talk about anything that's still in flux. Remember that sentence, you'll be hearing more of it later!
Civilization may be so wonderful that we're even prepared to tolerate its use of a "z", but it's hard to imagine building on something that was already so complete. Hard for us, anyway, but then we're not making it.
When Civilization IV came out - and I'm using the z spelling with the same counter-intuitive courtesy that allows me to refer to drag acts using "she" - it was difficult to say, "Hey! Everyone! This is the big new thing that makes Civ IV the one game in the series that'll make you guff up your lungs, in a way none of the others previously did!"
Pretend that you are a world famous artist, and that I am the King of France. Knowing your unique ability to capture the rawest essence of your subject, I have commissioned you to draw a 100ft tall portrait of me to celebrate my 70th birthday. The special day came - all too quickly, as they do in a man's later years - and you have unveiled your picture in front of a crowd of twirling courtesans and the very top levels of the French aristocracy. The room erupts into outrage: your drawing is a childish - and gigantic - sketch of a dog turd. Calmly, you explain yourself.
Playing a game like Dragonica - an unbearably cute, free-to-play, 2.5 dimensional side-scrolling MMO, with strong non-European teen appeal - you don't expect innovative storytelling. You expect fairy tales. Forces of darkness, once-defeated, and regathering power. It's such an over-used theme that it's rocketed past cliché and into Fantasy Truism, from teen-lit like Harry Potter to "adult" fantasy like Dragon Age; somewhere, something evil is bitterly nursing its wounds, and preparing its apocalyptic return. But that's OK - while the dark forces are gathering power, it gives our hero a chance to go through a series of training montages. And what is an MMO, if not an infinite training montage?
Things get distorted when you're at an E3 conference. One minute, Microsoft is making weird imaginary children feel guilty about not doing their homework. The next, Nintendo is introducing the Wii Thimble, for extreme virtual crochet. Then, up pops Sony, with an exclusive new Final Fantasy game, which won't be appearing anywhere else, anywhere. At the short-notice press conference called by Square Enix, that's the first thing Senior Vice President, Shinji Hashimoto wants to clear up.
As you may be aware, the Issue 14 update to City of Heroes included the Mission Architect, which opened the game to player-created missions.
I've just got back from an exciting four-hour holiday in Germany. I went to Frankfurt, where I was guided into a room full of televisions and allowed to play some of WiiWare's upcoming titles.
Until today, very little was known about the first major expansion pack for Unreal Tournament 3. So put on your tinted infogoggles, or prepare to be lightly fact-dazzled. It's free. It's a 800MB-1GB download. It's due for a simultaneous release on 5th March, for PS3 and PC. The PS3 version will introduce the split-screen action that literally dozens of Xbox 360 owners enjoyed, and a new mod-browser for PS3 will pipe-feed users with a convenient barrage of Epic-approved tweaks and mods that have been a fundamental part of the game's history for nearly twenty years.
It seemed like a nice job: to be given the opportunity to write a light-hearted piece on the first steps in the browser-based MMORPG RuneScape - an industry outsider that's quietly the Western world's second most successful MMO. Nip in, work out what everyone loves, hide my conclusions at the end of some amiable fluff, and phone my bank to tell them not to be shocked when millions of Eurogamer pounds fly into my account. I'll start with my guesses as to its popularity, then play it.
Since Baldur's Gate, BioWare has been on a worldwide genre tour. It took on the mighty, crap-spattered Star Wars franchise with almost unqualified success. It weaved a fantastical Far East adventure, blending martial arts with fairy-tale machinery. It created a completely new space-fi world with Mass Effect, and... well, it did Sonic Chronicles, too.
I had the same reaction, when I heard about Arkham Asylum, as I did when I heard about the Watchmen game. A defensive reflex, based on the mistaken assumption that this new game was going to be a baffling gamification of Grant Morrison's excellent 1989 graphic novel. Developer Rocksteady is understandably keen to distance itself from that assumption. Arkham Asylum draws from more than one Batman, but it's definitely a DC Batman. Despite a fashionably darker look, Arkham Asylum has its strongest links with the excellent early 90s cartoon, Batman: The Animated Series.
Hands up if you've seen much of the old military hospital comedy, M*A*S*H. You're probably around my age. Being as old as we are has its disadvantages. Forgetfulness and incontinence, for two - and it's terrible walking around having forgotten you've wet yourself - but we're slightly more likely to get the reference behind Section 8's bland title. One of M*A*S*H's long-standing characters was Corporal Maxwell Klinger. This hairy gentleman would constantly try to get discharged from the US Army under Section 8 - a provision which allowed mentally ill soldiers to be sent home. He'd demonstrate his insanity, mainly, by wearing a dress. Anyone in their thirties might be crushingly disappointed this isn't the world's first commercial cross-dressing shooter.
Of all the games at EA's Winter Showcase in Guildford this week, there wasn't much that bruised any expectations. We always knew that a salvo of spin-offs and expansions would inflate the Spore franchise into something infinitely more disturbing and vulgar than a creature with bell-ends for eyes. And it comes as no surprise that Dragon Age is shaping up to be another fantastic BioWare story, and a game that'll bring a furious itching disease to the entire skin of anyone with a hint of ADHD.
The last time we saw Project Origin was in Monolith's Seattle headquarters early last year. What was on display then was two scenes from very different levels. The first showed you fighting against Abominations - Armacham's failed attempts at creating a psychic army. They couldn't stand up straight, but what they lacked in spinal integrity they made up for in the ability to grease around the walls and pop up for a quick nibble on your face. They could flip themselves up the walls like over-perky pancakes, and fold over themselves in a slightly nauseating and undignified display. It was righteously grim.
Ryzom's had a difficult life; launched in the same year as WOW, the French science-fantasy MMO went ignored, except in reviews that tipped the thermostat somewhere between tepid and lukewarm. Since then, it's been killed, resurrected, gone from subscription-based to free, and the single server is now populated by a bunch of dedicated players and - if the chat is anything to go by - lots of people who come for a couple of weeks before leaving.
It seems appropriate, writing about a Total War game, to start off with a quote from Sun Tzu. Having pored through Wikiquote for a few more minutes than I'd intended - his Art of War really is bite-sized entertainment, even to flaky real-life pacifists like myself - I settled on "You cannot stop innovation". It's not the most colourful quote, but as Empire marks the biggest leap in innovation since the first Total War game, it seems more relevant than the strange stuff about building your enemies a golden bridge to retreat across. Golden bridges? That'd be really slow and expensive. Idiot.
They're not messing about. Graeme Devine is in charge of the storyline of this new branch to the Halo franchise, and he's bold as a tin cockerel when he's asked about the Halo Wars mission. "What Halo did for first-person shooters, Halo Wars is going to do for real-time strategy. I absolutely think that. Because we've made it from the ground up for 360, and we didn't have to think about keyboard and mouse, and worry about whether we're going to have to port it to the PC. This game plays better than any PC real-time strategy game with a controller."