Friday, September 2, 2011

Bastion

Bastion is an action-RPG from Supergiant Games, recently released on PC. Set in the world of Caelondia, after the 'Calamity' it allows you to control the 'Kid', a...kid, who wakes up after the Calamity has happened and finds himself in a strange and terrifying new world filled with all sorts of horrifying creatures. Oh, and the world is literally falling apart around him when it isn't appearing beneath the kids feet. 


This world-raising doesn't really do much apart from draw the eye to Bastions incredibly beautiful landscapes, but really, said landscapes are so fucking beautiful that having your sight drawn to them is a public service. It's for these amazing visuals that I bought Bastion in the first place and while your mileage may vary over whether or not you like them, I find they add a lot to Bastions particular 'feel'.



This feel is one of an almost bright and peppy end-of-the-world, with the falling of the world, the anger of the creatures and the destructiveness of your own character contrasted against the bright colours, often upbeat soundtrack and more optimistic elements of the story. There's an undercurrent of darkness to it all, which Bastion manages to handle reasonably well, though it doesn't always succeed in pulling itself up to the more thoughtful heights it seems to aspire to.

The actual game itself – something I'm sure you'd like to hear about – is a bit of a mixed bag, in that the default controls are complete pain (literally for me) and I haven't replayed the game yet with new controls. The fact that you can re-map the controls is a bonus, given that the original ones can be very difficult to use in the isometric view that Bastion uses. Falling off the world is going to be a common occurrence and it's going to be a frustrating one that isn't helped by the sections of the game that have holes appearing beneath you as an extra special challenge.



The rest of the gameplay is better though, you can carry two weapons at once except when you get that mega-battering-ram-thing; and it's fun in its own way to try and work out the best combination of close-combat to long-ranged weapon. The choices are varied enough to be interesting; with different types of weapons leading to fast-and-weak or slow-and-strong attacks, though there do seem to be a few too many weapons at times, with your choice going from interesting to almost brain-melting. The other options you have amount to the various special skills that you can use (only one at a time mind) ad the different drinks you carry around with you that buff your skills. There's also the option to carry statues of gods around, making the game harder, but leading to more XP for you. In short the gameplay of Bastion is pretty damned impressive in terms of content.



This isn't even counting the titular Bastion; a hub to which you return to after completing each level. At the end of each level you find a shard that allows you to construct more buildings, which are what allow you to swap out your weapons, powers, drinks, statues, etc...This holds the whole game together, and works remarkably well to give Bastion a sense of purpose that is sadly lacking in it's story.

It's not a bad story by any means; the narration that guides you through it is wonderfully well done and helps build the atmosphere of the overall game. It's just not as good as everyone seems to think it is and it isn't a bad thing that it isn't. Nifty choices near the end of the game aside, what makes Bastion work is everything but the story. The sound and art design, the combat and the enemies. It's a good game that stumbles ever so slightly when it aims for something with its story. Which is why it misses and merely ends up being a reasonable excuse to hit enemy creatures over the head with a big hammer.


It's not that the story is bad, or even all that out of place. It's just there are the elements of a story that strive for something more than an excuse to hit your enemies don't match up with the more immediate elements of the story. There are times when you begin to get a feel for the themes that Supergiant Games are trying to get across: the futility of hatred and war and how they're never ending cycles and these are made even more apparent by the choices you can make in-game. But at the end of the game I realised it still wasn't a reason. Why did the Kid go out and look for the Bastion? Because the player was told he would of course, there's a story to tell and it's being told in this [articular way.

For all my last-minute worries about the game, Bastion is really good, worth the fifteen dollars it costs to buy it from Steam or the Xbox Live Marketplace, worth ven more in fact. It's a great game, that does get you thinking a bit (and should be applauded for doing so) but doesn't really manage to back up the thoughts with the sort of plot-advancement that will stop you from being annoyed. Buy it anyway, the soundtrack is worth it alone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monday Thoughts - 29/08/2011

And...I'm back.

But not for long I imagine.

There's all-sorts of things that I'd kind-of-maybe like to talk about. I've finished the first part of my second semester for one thing and I have a few projects to show for it, but nothing that I want to ah...show...just yet.

My first post after almost a month and I'm back to my old habit of putting things off? Fuck yeah.

I suppose the fact that I did eventually get round to writing this post is a good sign, or at least I'll pretend that it's one, so humour me as I dredge up old internet links that I think will amuse you...Like this!

Why yes, I am a fan of SMBC.

Then there's the work these guys are doing:


You know what's cool? Apart from cyberpunk Paris? Knowing the places in those images. I dream of a game where I can wander through a virtual Paris and recognise the streets and landmarks, before I get into a giant-mecha-robot fight.

Don't you judge me.

And on the giant-mecha note; more Hawken:


Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Thoughts - 01/08/2011

Let's start of with something beautiful and great:


The only other thought I have is that at the moment, I really need to get off of playing Fallout: New Vegas, or my university assessments are going to go to hell...

I can't think of anything else...shit.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Thoughts

I'd could probably try and sell this on the basis of something other than the fact I'm a lazy hack and I don't want to write a blog post on a Sunday when a Monday will do just as well but...Hey, look what I did there? Yay for honesty!

Sadly this'll be a short post; next Monday I might go into the amusing story of how I managed to lose an entire weekend (an entire weekend and a Monday, even) that I could have spent working on uni stuff, or even just tidying my room. In any event, let me distract you fro  my shortcomings with a pretty video I found via Kotaku, enjoy:


Assassin's Creed Retro from Mitch Pecqueur on Vimeo.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Photo Change

I've gone and deleted my Photography page, (which means I can't link to it) since it was proving a real hassle to update, and didn't seem as easy to navigate as say, a flickr photostream. What's that? A link? I think you should click it!

Yeah, I'm posting about setting up a flickr account. How sad.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin


A Dance with Dragons is the fifth book in George R.R. Matins A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series. To describe it (this book and the series as a whole) as anything other than massive and ambitious, would be madness. Starting with A Game of Thrones and continuing through A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows; this is a story of betrayal, power, greed and lust. A really short of the previous books would be something along the lines of: “fucking brilliant.” Perhaps not the most erudite or even well reasoned statement I've ever made, but it should get the point across. I was looking forward to A Dance with Dragons (henceforth known as ADwD), now, did it deliver?

It's difficult to say really. AdwD feels very much like a continuation of a A Feast for Crows, but with a greater focus on movement. Not the often mindless movement of AffC, though it does veer in that direction often enough. But a more focussed movement that speaks of something big about to happen. In fact depending on how good a book you thought Feast was, Dance may or may not live up to all the hype surrounding it.

Which is perhaps unfair – Dance is a good book – often great even. With all the interesting characters that were missed out on in Feast returning and a real sense of plot movement gripping the story, especially near the end of the book. But it doesn't really manage to step away from being essentially half of the same story as Feast, with all the problems that entails; the first three-quarters of the book are extended road trips for lots of characters, with some nice intrigue at the Wall and in Mereen thrown in. The real plot movement is near the last quarter of the book, and takes the form of loads of cliffhangers. What makes this annoying is that this is a good story that G.R.R.M is telling here and if you've gotten this far – either in the last few months, years or decade – there's a lot to recommend it. The characters get more depth and development; exploring Danaerys and exposing her for the child she really is, I think gets the point across about the folly of her actions. Tyrion is as delightful as ever (I would have read an entire book on his ferry journey quite happily) and while Jon Snow can often be a bit too emo, he does manage to start pulling the Night's Watch into something resembling the future.

Then it all goes to glorious hell for each and everyone of them.

There other characters as well, some making more welcome returns than others. But what makes Dance so difficult to review is that while I quite liked Feast, this book is too indebted to it to really seem like a seperate book. Since Martin decided to split these two books by characters it makes a sort of sense, but there are times when I wondered whether a (brutal) edit could have cut these two books down to one. It's a strange sensation, not so much critiquing the story as the structure, and this I think is Dance's main flaw.

In the end, Dance is as good as Feast, better than Feast and dragged down by Feast. Depending on how long you've waited though it could be worse. It does show signs of improvement near the end, and they're not too little nor too late. But they are sadly almost all cliffhangers. A lot of the plot movement that takes place before these cliffhangers though does help to make Dance a very good book. It's set-up, much like Feast but far more interesting set-up,  which promises an explosive next book, but could have been better handled.



Monday, July 18, 2011

Dragon Age: Origins - The Review

Dragon Age: Origins is a computer-role-playing-game, developed by Bioware and originally released in 2009. It was advertised as the spiritual successor to Bioware's Baldurs Gate, a game that I haven't played, but which is seen as one of the best cRPGs ever made. I played Origins from December 2010 until May 2011, and while I have the Ultimate Edition released in 2010, I only played the main part of the game and those DLC quests that were worked into it. Thus, this review doesn't cover The Darkspawn Chronicles,  The Golems of Amgarrak, Leliana's Song or  The Witch Hunt. Conceivably, some of my complaints that are to come could be ignored because of this oversight. Then again, perhaps not.

One of the things that first attracted me to Dragon Age: Origins was the original concept art and very basic paragraph describing it as being inspired by George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. Released back in 2004, this wasn't even a sneak peak, but it was exciting enough for me to keep thinking about the game until more details were released in 2008. By that point however it had been a bit too long for me to buy the game immediately on release. I waited, read reviews and started to revise my opinion. It looked exciting, certainly, but it was starting to look more like a 'traditional' fantasy world, with gameplay that was only exciting in terms of how similar it was to Icewind Dale II. In the end I got it for Christmas and started to play it, an attempt at writing down my thoughts while playing it can be read, starting here.

This whole sordid story is important (to me at least) because it explains a lot of my reaction to Origins, namely how disappointed I was by it. While I realised before getting it that it was never going to be anything other than a traditional fantasy RPG, I was surprised at how pedestrian it was. So that I don't encumber this 'introduction' with unnecessary bile (that's for later!) let me just give a general overview of what opinion of Origins is: it could be so much better than it is.

The game starts off -obviously enough- with you choosing your characters origins. Your choices are sadly limited: three races -elf, dwarf or human- and three classes -rogue, warrior or mage- are all that you have. For dwarves the choices are even less, as you can't play as a mage; a choice on Bioware's part which makes the game that tiny bit more traditional and could have made the game more interesting if it hadn't been made. From those classes available to you, it's possible to specialise; shapeshifter, beserker, ranger or bard. More choices abound, but they don't add as much to the game as adding in more classes straight off the bat would have. Your attributes, talents and skills are also important, but there is the strange feeling of there being too few and at the same time too many skills and talents (or spells if you play a mage) to choose from. This I think is a problem with the user interface, which is truly horrific; in game a mess of buttons at the bottom of the screen does nothing to make using your talents or even moving and fighting, easy or enjoyable. From there you have no real 'branching' choices in terms of skills to use. There are 'branches' certainly, but they don't diverge, making the act of choosing a new skill incredibly dull.

Worse is that fighting is pretty much the only useful skill. A thief or a bard could be so much more interesting if they weren't just combat support classes and could be something more. While talking your way out of some quests is all very well and good, the fact that only your main character can do the talking is a hindrance -what's the point of giving Leliana extra charisma if she can't do the talking for you? While lock-picking and sneaking have there uses, they too are limited in application, your only choice in most cases being to fight your way through hordes of enemies. This is a poor comparison to Icewind Dale II, where your 6 characters can go off on their own and use their skills outside of combat. For better or for worse, Origins manages to feel far less 'open' than it might advertise itself as.

Apart from this depressing focus on combat (which isn't even as focussed as Icewind Dale II is, shockingly enough) Origins main problem is that it promises too much and fails to deliver. Perhaps its design hearkens back to Baldurs Gate too much? I never really got into that game game enough, barely playing past the introduction. Perhaps I didn't enjoy the story because I wasn't supposed to think about myself as much as I should have focussed on my party characters? Perhaps I would have enjoyed the world building more if I'd gotten into reading the codex?

These are the sorts of things in short, that ruined it for me. Little niggles that built up and up, before becoming sore points. The combat manages to be far too easy, and yet too repetitive to set the difficulty any higher; the characters while well written and voiced are un-engaging due to the nature of how you interact with them -talking in the world just didn't seem right to me, while the camp was what I'd feared the Normandy in Mass Effect would be, a stilted and unnatural way to start conversations- and the world building just doesn't work. It's far too disconnected to the game itself, for while reading the history of Fereldan may be interesting for some, it detracts from actually playing the game and discovering the world by doing that. I have better memories of watching the loading screen of Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and being fed tid-bits of information that way.

This brings us handily back full-circle to Origins main problem, that of disappointment. While I expected a game that didn't exactly break the boundaries of the fantasy genre, and perhaps had a rather conventional gameplay; but I didn't expect to be so shit so often.

It's not all bad; the writing is good, though the execution stands in the way of true greatness, with the hints of what could be an interesting story hidden in the cutscenes, and the best voice acting somehow left for those moments as well. But the voice acting is there, and even though I complain about the characters -in fact because I complain about the characters- I think it's fair to say they're far more interesting than I could have hoped for. Except for the Warden, a sadder sack of shit I've never met in a game. Where's the verve and depravity of Renegade Shephard? The nobility of the paragon? In wider game terms as easy as it may have been to limit the players options in terms of where to go, making an open world game a la Fallout: New Vegas would have helped the general graphical mess. So same-y are the various locations you'll visit, setting the game up so that you at least had some freedom, in movement terms past walking down corridors of trees, rocks or, well corridors, would have been a joy.

In the end Dragon Age: Origins is a weird game that I would dearly have liked to have enjoyed more, but however much I'd love to say it's worth your time, I'd have to give it the caveat of being a game that's harder to like than it is to dislike. Something shines through -I can't seem to find it in myself to slag it off completely- but that special something I feel, will change for everyone. A flawed game, that isn't a must buy, it's probably worth trying at some point. If you can find it for cheap.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Thoughts - 17/07/2011

Thinking is hard: thoughts will come on Monday instead!


So, the thinking is done, here come the various thoughts, this time, in bullet-point form! Don't I don't spoil you!

There's not actually much to think about: I've got various posts scheduled to appear, the first two that are actually written and scheduled, are reviews; one of Dragon Age: Origins, and the other of A Dance with Dragons. Now I just need to write the other stuff I have planned and post that. Like I should have done before I said I have various posts scheduled.

Here's a hint: I'll be talking about Fallout: New Vegas for sure.

I should also see about making slightly better links between the various Dragon Age pages I've set up. Fuck.

Uni starts again on Wednesday. This along with my current (temporary) job is going to be a test. I can keep photography up, but out-of-class modelling, drawing and writing may be slightly tougher. We'll see, hopefully I can get a blog schedule that I can actually keep to, then add in a drawing and photography schedule, then a writing schedule. This makes too much sense, it's bound to fail.

Jimi Hendrix, ladies and gentlemen.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie


Normally I like to start reviews with a list of adjective with which to describe the work I'm reviewing. It gives me a chance to string together wordw which might not otherwise make any sense together, then forget about them and leave the you trying to figure out what moment of a book might reasonably be called say, 'disgustingly erotic' or whatever it is I've decided to put to screen. In The Heroes cas, I am going to say one word: wile.



Vile in the best way possible of course; vile characters, vile setting and vile story; but what would you expect from a war story? If you expect heroes, then The Heroes is not the book for you. It's a story of cowards, of old-men, young boys, power hungry fools and anger. Most books hide their themese behind a pretty word and beatiful turn of phrase. Abercrombie presents to you a banquet of horror and suspense, garnished with disembowelment and an almost feverish dislike of his main characters. He's often compared to George R.R Martin in that he's more than happy to drag fantasy cliches down into the mud and beat them bloody. But to my mind he's much more cruel. Martin will happily kill a character, perhaps put him or her, through the emotional wringer but Abercrombie? It's a veritable parade of indignities and paon for everyone involved and it is fucking brilliant.

This is of course difficult to back up; in the past I've happily written that 'grim and gritty' fantasy isn't always my thing. So here's the cahnce to say which part of its: that fantasy where cliches are torn down ruthlessly with great writing.

Let's start with the second point: writing is very subjective, but Abercrombie manages to write interestingly, if not poetically, and move the plot along at a blistering pace, developing characters and making you fall for them. A strain of black humour helps as well. To the first point the characters of this book are flawed yet manage to fit neatly into conventional archetypes before they blow them apart and make them their own. The disgraced soldier searching for redemption is much darker than he first appears. The older warrior tired of war is as honest as he appears but also tricking himself. The traiterous bastard is...well a traiterous bastard. But the writing comes in and carries him and the other characters along, you can sympaphise with them, cheer for them, and when you want to curse them you realise that you really want to curse them. Turning villains into heroes is, if not easy, then popular, but heroes into villains? Much more interesting, even though no one is a hero.

There are problems; most of which become apparent near the end, when you discover the deeper meaning to everyones actions. Sadly this connection is far too similar to the ending of Joe Abercombies 'The First Law' trilogy. It feels more like laziness than any sort of homage or sly wink, and while the previous book – 'Best Served Cold' had an ending that managed to tie darkness with a real sense of relief, here it's a bit too dark. Impressive in the original trilogy, often moving into depressing here. A twist would be for characters to not go away worse off than they had been before, though some do get to change their lot, they're too minor (for the time being) to be of much interest. There's also the fact that you must have read the other books by Abercombie to get what is going on. He does a good job of making it stand-alone, but it's not good enough and if you didn't like the previous books then your unlikely to find anything of interest here. If you did like those books, this is probably far too late for you. If you like the sound of this book, read the others, they'll either make you puke or cheer, or puke and cheer.

Finally it must be said that this is the book that made me stay up until 4 in the morning on a work night reading it. I think that's reccomendation enough.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Super 8

The trailers for Super 8 were always a bit on the 'enigmatic' side. There's a group of kids making a film, a train crash, a monster, J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg. Nostalgia comes free of charge and is of course, a given.




The movie starts at the funeral of Joe Lamb's mother. It feels disjointed at first, introducing characters practically in media res. Before ending just as abruptly with a guest being dragged off by Joe's father, the sheriff's deputy without any explanation. We find out later in the movie that Joe's mother worked at the factory where the guest - one Louis Dainard - also worked. He missed a shift and she covered for him. The first sentence of this paragraph should give you a clue as to what happens next.

From this beginning the movie flows; we meet Joe and his friends as school ends for the summer break and Charles - one Joe's friends - bullies everyone else into helping him film a zombie movie for a competition. Joining them is Alice, Louis' daughter, who serves as a handy love interest and a leading lady for the film. They all go out to film and there the movie really gets going.


Super 8 is actually a bit slow up until this point. I found it worked alright as a set up for what comes next, but it didn't really allow any characters to be developed much beyond caricatures. There's the bullying Charles, who's obviously been spoiled too much; Preston and Martin, who have no memorable features; and Carey, the local pyromaniac. It's a poor choice, considering how well developed Joe and Alice, as well as Joe's father end up being. Admittedly Charles gets some late development, but the beginning of the movie doesn't clue you in to who these kids are. Though pretty good acting on their parts makes it alright.


But that's not what really matters - does the movie work as an E.T-esque film? Well I haven't seen E.T, but I wildly guess that yes, yes it does. It's suspenseful in all the right places, the characters manage to be engaging when the feel like it. And there's a light touch that makes it move remarkably fast. A lot is crammed into Super 8 and it doesn't feel bloated at all as the action drags you along.

It's a good movie overall, a bit of a let down in terms of character development, but overall a good diversion that actually manages to take itself seriously, and deserves to do so. Super 8 is a movie worthy of your time, even if it's only rented.