Thursday, January 31, 2008

Vagrant Story on PSP

I have been experimenting with playing PS1 games on the PSP, and so far it has been a joy. For times when I am away from a PS2 console, having a portable console that allows me to play a perfectly emulated Vagrant Story anywhere was something I didn't think possible and yet I was doing so yesterday in the tube. Obviously you will need to install a custom firmware (3.40 OE-A and above) on your PSP which can be tricky but not too difficult, as well as access to a couple of PS1 games. As for the games itself, thankfully it is just about hitting your local independent video games store, flea market, GameStation, CEX or worse eBay. Prices varies based on quality and rarity, but you can never go wrong with a preowned classic like Metal Gear Solid for £2.99 (GameStation price).

Vagrant Story in zoom screen mode where the top and bottom part are cropped

Once you have ripped your game to your PC, you will need to a program to convert your PS1 game to a PSP format, in which case a PS1->PSP application like IceTea is needed. IceTea, for example, allows you to select the compression level. Using the 'best compression' setting, I was able to get Vagrant Story's 700MB ISO size down to 116MB file size, which is impressive as the game contains bits of FMV. You can also create your custom icons (144x80 PNG) and background image (480x272 PNG) for when highlighting the game file in XMB. Dump the generated Eboot file into a folder inside the ms/PSP/GAME folder on your Memory Stick. PS1 game saves will automatically created upon booting the game and you can manage it on the XMB save utility just like normal PSP game saves.

And here it is in normal mode which contains no cropping. Sorry about the crap lighting.

PS1 games can be played via different screen modes, including original and zoomed (both 4:3), zoom (cropped) as well as fullscreen (squashed). Because of the lack of dual analog as well as L2 and R2 shoulder buttons on the PSP, you may find some games to be pretty difficult to play. Fortunately there aren't that many games that uses those buttons or the right analog nub (Metal Gear Solid for example does not use the right stick). Plus you can map the left analog nub to emulate the L2 and R2 triggers. In Vagrant Story's case, the game actually support for the right analog stick for freelook but fortunately Squaresoft also mapped the same function to the Start key. Performance wise, the game runs brilliantly with no stuttering framerates or sound issues.

Hope this mini-guide will help. I tried to keep technical stuff out, but seriously, converting a game is a very easy process. Now if you excuse me, I need to go hunting for a copy of the super rare PS1 port of Chrono Trigger.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Brilliant scheme, will abuse it

From 14 February, directional markings will be installed in several Jubilee Line platforms. These are designed to encourage Tube passengers to allow fellow travellers off the trains first before boarding. Makes sense and thereotically it is a simple yet brilliant idea. Even better for people like me whose journeys includes guessing where train doors will be when they stop at the platform by looking for signs of wear and tear on the yellow line, this scheme will be a boon to those who are keen to stay a step ahead - if only to get a seat in our cattle carriages.

via London Underground blog

Monday, January 28, 2008

Agreeing with Daily Mail, oh no

They still write bollocks, but today I find myself sadly agreeing with them that the use of Wiis as a tool in school P.E. classes is a waste of good judgement. Screw Wii Fit and DDR, the only way to get proper exercise is doing physical outdoor activities. It is cheaper too and nobody is sad enough to steal footballs.

Shut up Daily Mail with your one-hit wisdom. Go back to writing shit so we normal people can resume hating you. Not that they were right anyway, "2% more energy than playing on traditional" pads is clearly made up.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


So after rushing through Etna mode in Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness, guess which game I started on the PSP? Another strategy jRPG port. But I am so burnt out from Disgaea, that Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lion will have to take a back seat for now what with the release of turn based strategy title Advance Wars: Dark Conflict (Days of Ruin) yesterday (more on that later). A replay of a classic (Tactics) with its beautiful pencil-shaded animations deserves its full attention, not when I am too tired. Sucks to be my wallet right now, but I am sure I will revisit Tactics soon enough to justify the beating.

Oh, returned my PSP Slim and got a new one. Apparently the d-pad was faulty but I didn't realised it until I tried my mate's, where after a couple of minutes with his copy of Tekken going back to mine I found it not as responsive. The left part of the unit was squeaking too, but I must have missed that as I always play with headphones. ^_^" No new piano black in stock so I had to settle for ceramic white instead. I had my initial doubts on white, but right now I just find this lovely as the picture indicates - almost as pretty as my first choice, the Japan exclusive light blue version. The d-pad works perfectly here and there is no squeaking to be heard. Very glad to have noticed the problem. Q(^.^Q)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Team ICO's PS3 game tease

Are you excited as I am now? This solitary screenshot alone just sold me the PS3. Just waiting for a release date to save up.

via GAF

James Bond 22 gets Sci-fi B-movie title

Some of you may know that I am not a fan of Casino Royale, nor Daniel Craig's demented take on Britain's most famous fictional cold war spy. But at least I can take comfort with the fact that there has been no badly named James Bond films, yet. Almost all Bond films, good or bad, had a catchy title that rolls of your tongue perfectly. Goldeneye, Die Another Day, Diamonds are Forever, License to Kill and Live and Let Die are some of the Bond titles that I consider pretty classy.

Today the next Bond film title, previously known as Bond 22, has been revealed to be Quantum of Solace and will be a direct sequel of the awful Casino Royale I wasted 5 quid on. The title is based on a lesser known short story by Ian Fleming, though I am sure that the film will have almost no reference to the story (in the book Bond only appears as a background character) which was initially published by girl bible Cosmopolitan! In the film we will find Bond seeking revenge for the death of Vesper Lynd. Doesn't sounds like James Bond to me - in fact it sounds like the plot of another film I rather like. Yes, Bourne Supremacy. I predict another hit for MGM, but with many film goers likely to just blurt out "James Bond" for their tickets.

Mass Effect smeared by anti-gaming media

Surprise surprise, FOX News who shares the same parent company as The Times, recently aired a segment attacking Mass Effect for its alleged inclusion of full nudity (which it doesn't, not that it matters to me if it does! - we are not a bunch of old prudes here). Proving equally as ignorant as their British counterparts, the news anchor, Martha MacCallum acknowledge that the game receives an 'M' rating. But she insists that it is available to kids, forgetting to blame parents and stores for enforcements. The news anchor also ignores the fact of the parental control system available on the 360 and claims that kids can get around that if parents aren't strict enough.

As with The Times articles, this is just another excuse for some people to attempt to relinquish their parental responsibility on their own kids and just blame the industry. The anchor even admits that she saw nothing of graphic nature of the game, but continued to blame it. The segment also features an attack by giggling psychologists Cooper Lawrence, who admitted to never playing the game - yet claims that the game features full graphical nudity as fact. I could go on and on, but you just have to watch the segment to understand how frustrating it is to find a news channel that always claims to be unbiased (yeah right, like we ever bought into that!) reports lies as factual. It is sad.

A rebuttal by EA is available here. I am not normally a fan of EA, the company, but this time they really came off as passionate enough to defend their work and the industry after a series of smear attacks by the media. Cooper Lawrence, the psychologist who slandered the game but never played it has since saw her Amazon books rating gone downhill. Juvenile actions by juvenile gamers maybe, but so was her initial action.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Right wing hack prefers Hollyoaks to ICO

A hack writing for The Times, accused video games as highly addictive - the equivalent to Satan's Sudoku, and that she would never ever purchase a Xbox, PS2, GameCube and portable gaming consoles for her kids. Because apparently kids spend 5 hours a day staring at their DS and PSP, playing games that has no character development or plotlines, and it is the fault of the evil creators brains. While I agree that some games lack a decent storyline (e.g. Halo 3, Super Mario Galaxy), to say that she actually prefer her kids to watch hours of hours of repressive and downright trashy British soaps like Eastenders and Hollyoaks is downright amusing, or a desperation in her part to prove an invalid point. Like any other entertainment industry, video game are available with a wide variety of subjects - much like books and films, and not the black and white situation she accuses the industry of being in.

According to Ms. Turner, Hollyoaks is good for children...

Much like her other anti-video gaming Times buddy Emma Mahony, Janice Turner has taken a line that if her children ends up spending too much time playing video games, it is the fault of the industry. Never did she once, like her colleague, own up and admit that if their children play too much video games, or play the wrong video game - it is their own fault to supervise them as parents should. But then again, like many people nowadays, it is far easier to blame society for any ills their children could theoretically suffer from - rather than looking in the mirror. Yes too much gaming is not good, but to say that video gaming is the root of all evil isn't proper journalism - it is typical scaremongering. Why not sit down with your children and play with them or are you one of them technophobes who just can't accept change. Or is Hideo Kojima's intricate plots in Metal Gear Solid series too much to take in for such close-mindedness?

... but games like ICO, which features a storyline that encourages the player to think outside the box are like 'crack'

As a Eurogamer commentator perfectly summarised - this is yet another right wing hack one again proclaiming his or her preference for the 'good old days'.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles mini-review

The Umbrella Chronicles is a spin-off light-gun exclusive for the Wii. The title refers to a collection of stories that ties up the events behind the Umbrella Corporation by letting the player visit certain key events in Resident Evil Zero, Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3. The gameplay revolves around the Wiimote and Nunchank extension and operates in a similar fashion to Resident Evil 4: Wii edition. However the game is an on-rail shooter, therefore the freedom of exploration is very limited.

To be honest I haven't played a light gun title in years since the exhausting a certain The House of Dead (can't remember which one) in the now defunct Trocadero SEGAworld, so it was a surprise that I found this title to be pretty entertaining. The concept of playing light gun games on home consoles isn't entirely new, and the familiar Resident Evil settings didn't offer anything new but the gameplay does provide a unique opportunity in making a franchise title fun. Unlike normal Resident Evil games, the entire premise of The Umbrella Chronicles isn't meant to provide a survival horror experience. It is still a requirement to reach check points, but doing so in an 'arcadey' fashion did give me more of a chuckle than even Resident Evil 4 ever did. The gameplay is pretty shallow, and there is nothing new to be gained storyline wised, but at least it did offer me one entertaining evening a month ago. Graphically the game is very similar to GameCube Resident Evil remakes. It isn't anything special and is something to be expected of a quick Wii cash-in title like this.

With a price tag of £35, The Umbrella Chronicles doesn't really provide a whole lot of value. It may be fun, but overall it does lack substance. My advice: rent it.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Another Johnny Foreigner suspect in Maddy case

Curiously Team McCann today provided an e-fit sketch of the 'suspicious' man purportedly to have taken young Madeleine McCann nine months after she was allegedly kidnapped. I say curious because just months ago almost everyone on the Team McCann side (including the Tapas seven), with the help of their British press contacts, kept insisting that it was Robert Murat (and his girlfriend in Morocco) who took Madeleine McCann.

The British media, not wanting to pass up writing nasty stuff about some Johnny Foreigner, has jumped on this story claiming it to be the next breakthrough in the case while giving their usual tabloid-ish tired foul mouthed rant on the Portuguese police force. Ignoring the fact that the time the tourist saw the man was in April 2007, they have also speculated that the e-fit is of someone of foreign origin - but looking at it all I see is a long haired moustached guy who could very well be just about anyone long haired with a moustache... in Britain.

The man is alleged to have spoken with broken English, a significant lead into proving his guilt (it doesn't matter that he is in Portugal, a country which first language is NOT English). The foreigner is also alleged to have claimed to be collecting for a charity which I have to admit is a pretty suspicious thing. Lord knows I should have kept a watchful eye of that red nose idiot who came running down towards me demanding a quid for silly Comic Relief some years ago - I swore he was up to no good. Other leads that may as well proved his role in the kidnapping of Madeleine McCann was the fact that he was alone on the beach, once again you just have to hop down to Brighton seafront where you will find many loners contemplating their next offence.

So is the charitable guy a 'BEAST!' because he has a dodgy eye like former fall guy Robert Murat, or is it the long hair or the moustache? Or is it simply because he is foreign? The News of the World claims that this e-fit is serious and they have passed the picture to the Leicestershire police. God knows what they are doing, maybe they truly believe the suspect to be the McCann's family hairdresser.

In other none-news, the BBC is headlining their News 24 bulletins with news that the BA airplane has been... moved! Never mind that the people of Gaza has been denied the most basic human right of electricity, we have a video of a plane being moved!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cannon God Exaxxion review

During the recent revival of my interest in mangas (it comes and goes every few years) I started reading Cannon God Exaxxion (whatever), and let me warn you: It is a god awful manga series. No, it wasn't because of the self-censorship (though I kinda wished it was).

The truly awful things about Cannon God Exaxxion that I can personally think of while typing this are the series is filled with cliché characters, a plot that seems to be written by a Star Trek fanatic and awful (and I do mean awful) mecha designs. I hated it. While Gunsmith Cats had a tolerable plot, a cast of interesting and likeable characters as well as detailed art, Cannon God Exaxxion had all the opposite. It is like the perfect example of how not to write a mecha-based manga. Characters are two-dimensional and dialogues are corny and cheesy.

Coupled with a churlish storyline that seems to advertise that "collateral damage" is okay and foreigners are bad people who weasel their way into any societies; these says more about the author's political standing than anything. And while ecchi mangas like Ikkitousen or Tenjo Tengi can get away with juvenile fan service, the gratuitous nonsensical sexual scenes weren't as funny when superimposed to the supposedly serious storyline.

So while I admire Kenichi Sonada's attempt to interject some deep pseudo-social commentary into the storyline, failed badly he did. Unlike Ghost in the Shell where I would re-read it many times to understand the plot and gain a better understanding, here I found myself not caring if the reluctant hero achieved inner-peace with his morally ambiguity self. I just wanted to get to the end and see if the invading aliens do eventually murder his psychopathic grandfather and his cohort of immature but well endowed sex slaves. Except I didn't, because continuing would be a waste of my money and more importantly, my time.

Mecha fans should stay pleased with Neon Genesis Evangelion, Full Metal Panic and other generic mecha mangas. Do avoid, instead go read some of Sonada's better works like Gunsmith Cats Burst.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

ZOMG! Plane crash in Heathrow!!!

If the above headline would ever make BBC News 24 and CNN don't ever act surprise. Seriously, a plane crash landing at Heathrow airport is a pretty big deal - in Slough, West London. But sweet jesus, lay off the melodrama and let the investigators do their jobs. We do not need rolling news with interviews after interviews with so-called experts and a cabbie who 'dodged' death for what seems likely to be a mere plane failure. And to report live from a Scottish airport just because a couple of flights were cancelled? It is like Madeleine McCann all over again except it doesn't involve dodgy parents and people suddenly 'remembering stuff' months later.

This 'crash landing' is a none-event, a nothingness, a small blimp of error in the day that didn't even result in a single serious injury. It merely qualifies as a "and on with today's other news" bulletin.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

WGA's video games writer nominees

Another award nomination post here. The striking members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) has found time off not doing work by announcing the nominees for their first ever video games writing awards. If that makes sense to you as I am not aware that the video gaming industry actually hire any writers, at all. Like most awards these days in order to qualify for nominations you will have to be a member, in this case, of the WGA's New Media Caucus.

"Crash of the Titans," written by Christopher Mitchell for Sierra Entertainment

"Dead Head Fred," written by Dave Ellis and Adam Cogan for D3 Publisher

"The Simpsons Game," with lead writer Matt Selman, written by Tim Long and Matt Warburton, dialogue by Jeff Poliquin for Electronic Arts

"The Witcher," with lead story designer Artur Ganszyniec, dialogue by Sebastian Stepien, additional dialogue by Marcin Blacha and writers Sande Chen and Anne Toole for Atari

"World in Conflict," story design by Christofer Emgard, story consultant Larry Bond and script consultant Ed Zuckerman for Sierra Entertainment

Dunno about you but apart from The Witcher, I do not see this list as anything other than disappointing. Perhaps other developers don't hire WGA writers. Lucky them.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness review

PSP owners should consider themselves lucky. No matter how much DS sales 'kills' it, developers are still making games for it. Three Strategy RPG games has recently been released for it - all from major developers and publishers. Sure two are ports, but who cares? Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness are both so rare that re-releasing them makes so much sense (the other is Level-5's original IP Jeanne D'Arc). The fact that Disgaea in particular, fits in the portable mould so perfectly proves just how much justification this port of Nippon Ichi's flagship title is.

Did I say perfect port? Yes I did. There is absolutely zero slow downs, even during complex combos and special effects scenes. Load times are very minimal (1-2 seconds at most). It is more than just a port though. For one, as a bonus to PAL gamers, the previously deleted PS2 Japanese voice acting with English subtitles is now selectable. The English voice acting has also been re-recorded with Etna played by the voice actress who portrayed her in Disgaea 2. Afternoon of Darkness also features 16:9 aspect ratio giving a wide view over the battle field (no stretching fortunately). The port also contains a local multiplayer Ad-hoc mode, but I have not tested this. Bonus PSP exclusive characters such as Adell and Rozalin of Disgaea 2 are also included as bonus bosses in extra stages. The soundtrack is the more or less same (bar a few Atlus exclusive tracks) as the PS2 version with added clarity (probably due to me playing with headphones)

The game retains the same irreverent plot with excellent funny dialogues that made the PS2 game a cult favourite. Rather than adopting a similar serious storyline that the then-genre leaders Final Fantasy Tactics, part of the appeal to Disgaea was its childish concept within both storyline and gameplay. The story begins with Etna attempting to wake demon prince Laharl up through various weapons. Laharl rusing from his coffin learns that he has been sleeping for two years and that his father King Krichevskoy of the Netherworld has died. Because he was asleep, Laharl missed his chance to be heir to his father's throne. Recruiting his vassal Etna and defeating the demon Vyers whom Laharl disparaged as 'Mid-Boss', the dark prince vow to reclaim his father's throne for himself. The game follows Laharl and his companions which includes Angel-trainee Flonne, who was originally sent to assassinate King Krichevskoy, through 14 chapters.

Battle is grid-based with enemies strewed across the environment similar to any strategy RPG titles and turn based strategy titles like Advance Wars. Characters gain experience points through defeating enemies. New characters can be created but they start out at Level-1. This here is why Afternoon of Darkness is the definitive version.In the PS2 version I found the level difference to be a chore as I try to level-up newly created characters to reach the main party's average level. There is only so much time you can find to commit yourself to stare at the telly, but here as portable version I am able to put in 2 hours of grinding everyday on the Tube. So don't complain that commuting is an unproductive waste of time. Battles are short giving any seasoned RPG fan a chance to quickly play a few rounds while waiting for the girlfriend in a Selfridges's changing room.

Like the PS2 version, Afternoon of Darkness is a washed with tactical options that grows as the game progress. Winning battles are easy, but the tactical approach is highly important to beating the game proper. Tactics such as creating a chain by lifting characters after characters and throwing them across the screen one after another that can save the player crucial time isn't apparent at first until the player start taking understanding the gameplay rules and bending the mechanics to suit their needs. Casual gamers can easily enjoy the game while ignoring the vast gameplay opportunity available while hardcores will find the in-depth customisation an additional layer of addictiveness. Skills can be gained through creating new specific job characters and having them fight with your existing main characters.

The only issue I found with the game is the same issue that was in Hour of Darkness (and almost every other grid/isometric-based game) is the camera. Because the camera is at a fixed angle with four viewing points (rotatable through the shoulder buttons), at times players will be presented with a rude low-visibility of their characters. This is a problem in environments with varying vertical levels as well as those which contains plenty of walls and columns. Rotating tends to present the player with a better view but there is that small chance when it would be impossible to view your hidden character. Cut scenes are presented with cut out sprites with minimal animation. I was slightly disappointed by the lack of cutscenes from Makai Senki Disgaea but it isn't a huge loss.

Perhaps more significantly and as an added incentive to Disgaea: Hour of Darkness owners, is the inclusion of the bonus Etna mode. Etna mode is a hypothetical what-if mode where Etna murders Laharl. Here we follow Etna's quest to become the Beauty Queen Ultimate Overlord Etna of the Netherworld. As thus coupled with multiple endings, bonus features, stages and bosses replayability is far higher with this definitive version. RPG fans who missed out on the initial release of Hour of Darkness should take note of Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness and play it. I invested around 80 hours in the original game and there is no doubt that I would surpass that in the months to come with this, especially with the new features and Etna mode.

Rarely does a port of a not so old game deserves a rousing thumbs-up, but Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness certainly earned it.


Buy Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness from Play-Asia or Amazon UK.

BRIT Awards 2008 nominations

The Brit Awards nominations was announced last night. First I heard of it was today after reading Richard's blog. There has been virtually no coverage by the majority of the press. For example while glancing through today's free METRO paper I found no mention of the nominations, not even in the entertainment section. For some reason the dailies are hung-up over a dead princess and what her mother supposedly said to her. Bizarre, but maybe it is because no one takes the Brit Awards seriously any longer, especially when voting is none-democratic and are usually based on commercial rather than critical success.

Here are the list of nominees and like Richard I will be guessing who will win as well as who I think deserves to win. If there are none it means I know nought of all five nominated in their respective group. I don't listen to music as often as I used to, or would have liked to. :(

British Male Solo Artist
Jamie T
Mark Ronson
Newton Faulkner
Richard Hawley

British Female Solo Artist
Bat For Lashes
Kate Nash - will probably win
KT Tunstall - want to win
Leona Lewis
PJ Harvey

British Group
Arctic Monkeys
Editors - want to win
Girls Aloud
Kaiser Chiefs
Take That - will probably win

British Album
Arctic Monkeys - Favourite Worst Nightmare - will probably win
Leona Lewis - Spirit
Mark Ronson - Version
Mika - Life In Cartoon Motion
Take That - Beautiful World

British Breakthrough Act
Bat For Lashes
Kate Nash
Klaxons - want to win
Leona Lewis

British Live Act
Arctic Monkeys - will probably win
Kaiser Chiefs
Muse - want to win
Take That

British Single
Leona Lewis - 'Bleeding Love'
Mika - 'Grace Kelly'
Take That - 'Shine' - will probably win (though I prefer that song from the Stardust trailer)
Kaiser Chiefs - 'Ruby'
Sugababes - 'About You Now'
Mark Ronson ft. Amy Winehouse - 'Valerie'
Kate Nash - 'Foundations'
The Hoosiers - 'Worried About Ray'
James Blunt - '1973'
Mutya Buena - 'Real Girl'

International Male Solo Artist
Bruce Springsteen
Kanye West - will probably win
Michael Bublé
Rufus Wainwright

International Female Solo Artist
Alicia Keys
Kylie Minogue - want to win

International Group
Arcade Fire - want to win
Foo Fighters
Kings of Leon
White Stripes

International Album
Arcade Fire - Neon Bible - want to win
Eagles - Long Road out of Eden
Foo Fighters - Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace
Kings of Leon - Because of the Times
Kylie Minogue - X

Some old guy from The Beatles will also be receiving something.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mass Effect for (fairly) cheap

GAME's current offer of the week is pretty nice. Well not really, but at least a couple of good games are available for discount. Included is the porn-filled (according to a lying conservative blogger) Mass Effect for £30, BioShock (360) for £25 and Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters for fifteen quid. All are well received by critics and gamers alike so make sure you pick 'em up if you haven't already. I will have to pass Mass Effect until the inevitable PC port but Size Matters is currently on my to-play list.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

House cleaning dood!

After much internal debating I finally halved my games and DVD film collection. As many collectors would attest, it is nice having a huge collection but sometimes these can get out of hand. I just thought that there ought to be a boundary somewhere on whether one should keep their collection for the sake of keeping. Kudos to people with huge dens where they have thousands of games and films but unfortunately I do not have the space, nor the money and patience to keep up. So I learn to let go.

It is nice having the extra space for other shits. You know, like more games and DVDs... ;)

Been replaying Disgaea much lately thanks to the Etna mode on the PSP version. Wonderful port BTW with Japanese voice acting FTW. Expect a glowing review in the near future. Speaking of Disgaea, check out the intro from Disgaea 3:

Sweet Laharl, Etna and Flonne making cameos here. I feel so justified clearing out the games that I hardly ever touched anyway, making way for a future copy of Disgaea 3. Come on SCEE, with the dollar getting hammered do you still think it is okay we pay near double the Americans do???

Saturday, January 12, 2008

God of War: Chains of Olympus: Battle of Attica review

I finally got the chance to play the demo version of Ready at Dawn's God of War: Chains of Olympus. The demo is a little outdated now (having been released in October last year) and the developer has since continued pushing ahead with improvements towards gameplay as well as visuals. For example, aliasing and frame rates were visible (but not too distracting) problems in the demo but appears to have been fixed according to reviewers who played the latest built.

Anyway a couple of things first. First, I found that the controls to work surprisingly well with the analog pad used exclusively to control Kratos movement. I had issues with using the PSP's analog pad due to its location but being forced to use it here actually helped me get use to the placement that I may consider using the pad in racing games. Some might have expressed concern over the lack of right analog pad nub that was used in the PS2 games for dodging moves. Because the PSP lacks the necessary hardware to emulate the PS2's right analog stick, in order to dodge the player has to hold down both shoulder triggers and flick the left analog pad in the direction where the player wants Kratos to dodge. It takes some getting used to, but it isn't a huge loss as I never thought that moving my right thumb from the face buttons to the right analog stick was an intuitive enough. With the PSP, the right thumb can always stay close to all four face buttons. On the whole the controls works very well and I had no problem executing combo moves.

The demo consists of the 'Battle of Attica' level where Kratos battles invading Persian soldiers. There is a tutorial level where the player is taught with certain aspects of the controls. The first 'boss' of the game, a Basilisk who rudely interrupted a Cyclops by eating him, wasn't as easy as I thought. This was because I was still trying to get a hang on the controls (specifically the aforementioned dodge controls). But after I mastered the controls I managed to bring down the giant creature and continued with the adventure, button mashing Kratos's way through enemies and dodging incoming cannonballs and arrows to meet the Persian King boss. While technically more difficult than the first boss, having now got the controls right I defeated him with ease. This boss fight however is a compelling reason why QTE (Quick Time Events) should be destroyed from video gaming history, as it was the only feature I found annoying in both previous God of War games.

Anyway, the demo ended abruptly soon after which was a bummer, but at least they loaded it with a video commentary by the director. While the demo is short, it does offer an incredible insight on what Ready at Dawn are capable of, especially with the ridiculously good PS2-level visuals. Come March we will see just how much improvements they make. But seriously, they could just ship the game now and it would still be justifiable.

You can preorder God of War: Chains of Olympus here.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Amazon MP3 gets big four

I really do applaud Amazon's effort to shake up the music industry and get all four major music labels to sell DRM-free music tracks on their website. But what does it mean to us outside the US? Absolutely nothing. The service has yet to launch outside of North America so it means our Ipod-toting yuppie mates will still be buying their tunes from major DRM offenders Apple, or torrenting them. The sensible ones like us who will still be buying lossless CDs with nice art covers, as music downloads with no-DRM is still nothing if it is encoded in archaic lossy MP3 format.

First one to drop MP3 and offer sensibly priced DRM-free lossless legal downloads will get me to ditch CDs.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Darth Vader in Soul Calibur IV

Well there you have it, Soul Calibur IV like Soul Calibur II will contain console exclusive bonus characters. If I had a PS3, I would definitely get the PS3 version. But alas I will probably have to settle for C3PO with a broom stick when the inevitable Wii port hits. :(

PS3: Darth Vader
360: Yoda
Wii: C3PO?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Seeing red

This is what five months of maintenance neglect will bring on your harddrive as demonstrated on one of my harddrive's partition. Something tells me that I ought to allocate some time to defrag my harddrive, soon.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Video Games to look forward to

The year 2008 will be another great one for video gaming, especially with plenty of games finally arriving on the PS3 platform after years of hard development. Here are some that I will be watching out for this year, on hardwares I own. Sorry, no Dragon Quest IX here as I believe the title to be stuck in development hell after Level-5 were forced to revert the originally intended action RPG gameplay to turn-based. Expect it to be a 2009 title for English speaking nations.

Bangai-O Spirits (Treasure, DS)
Little is known about this title except that it is a multi-directional shooter made by portable king developer Treasure, and is a sequel to a N64/Dreamcast game. With four player multiplayer and level editor, the game will feature some puzzle based level designs. Make sure to check out these fantastic screenshots here.

echochrome (Sony Japan Studios, PSP)
echochrome is a puzzle game that I have been looking forward to since Sony unveiled it during last year's E3 press briefing. The PlayStation Network game is based on a rotating world taking cues from Oscar Reutersvard's impossible construction and involves the player creating the path of a mannequin by manipulating the camera's perspective. Confused? Watch the trailer here. echochrome is also set to debut on the PS3 as a PSN game.

Final Fantasy IV (Matrix Software/Square-Enix, DS)
After a positive impression with the Japanese version, I really couldn't wait for the localised version to hit Western shores. One of the best Japanese role playing games is about to get better, I can promise you that.

God of War: Chains of Olympus (Ready at Dawn, PSP)
If having a portable God of War isn't exciting enough, how about it being developed a studio founded by former developers of Naughty Dog (Uncharted) and Blizzard Entertainment (Warcraft)? That alone should be enough to pluck down for a PSP alone. Chains of Olympus is a prequel to the series and will chart everyone's favourite Spartan killer in visuals that are said to be on par with its PS2 cousins.

Nanostray 2 (Shin'en, DS)
The first Nanostray game was a masterpiece of old school gameplay design. Hampered only by the forced use of touchscreen to select weapons, Nanostray was a must for vertical shooter fans. Nanostray 2 looks set to arrive with improved visuals, as well as introducing horizontal side scrolling gameplay and shunning the dreadful touchscreen implementations. Fans of Gradius and Treasure's Ikaruga will do well in ordering this in advance, considering the long delays we may have to suffer due to Majesco's policy of limited print runs.

No More Heroes (Grasshopper Manufacture, Wii)
"Censored" or otherwise, no one should be put off from playing No More Heroes. The heavily stylised visuals combined with a sandbox style gameplay and open world is a huge departure from Suda 51's amazing but physically constrained killer7.

Odin Sphere (Vanillaware, PS2)
Like GrimGrimoire, Odin Sphere features beautifully hand drawn sprites and art work. Reviewers in other countries has praised its storyline as well as its action RPG combat system. Let us hope that we will also be getting bilingual Japanese/English voice acting as our North American cousins do.

Patapon (Sony Japan Studios, PSP)
Developed by the people behind LocoRoco, Patapon features a two-dimensional gameplay that requires the player to press the button to create a rhythm in order to control an army of minituare cutesy and adorable creature. The concept is similar to war drums used by past historical military.

Secret Agent Clank (High Impact Games, PSP)
Yay, another Ratchet & Clank platformer - this time by the former Insomniacs employers who also brought us Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters. As the title indicates, this is a spin-off title featuring Ratchet's sidekick Clank as an espionage agent (with tuxedo suit to and all) and will feature classic R&C style platforming and gun blazing, as well as Metal Gear Solid inspired sneaking gameplay.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (Atlus, PS2)
This Megaten game has received much critical acclaim in Japan and North America, where it even caught the attention of mainstream media. While at heart still a typical Megaten RPG, the game also involves the player to involve themselves in day to day school activities such as dating and video gaming(!). One surely not to be missed. Hopefully us PAL chums will also get the FES version.

Naturally PS3 and 360 owners will have plenty more to look forward to compared to cheap gamers like meself. The lucky bastards. Anyway not all I will get to play due to the fact that there is still a huge back catalogue from 2007 I've yet to touch (particularly on the PSP platform).

So what are you looking forward to playing this year? Metal Gear Solid 4? GTA IV? Little Big Planet? Super Smash Bros. Brawl? Do tell.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Confuse London tourists with this...

...alternative tube poster by Haberly Mead, who decided to spend a day whipping up this anagrammed version to the classic Tube map. Print some and distribute them to unsuspecting tourists. Download it before the irrational lawyers of Transport of London flex their muscle.

Sorry, slow news day.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Blu-Ray vs HD-DVD

This says it all:

Finally the format war is over. I can't see how Toshiba can climb/spin out of the grave they dug themselves into. I don't know about the rest of you but I've never seen a single HD-DVD player on sale here - or more importantly HD-DVD films. Because no one seems to be stocking them. It is a vicious catch-22 cycle.

Sony was clever in buying a major film studio as they knew it was all about content. I guess Ken Kutaragi was right after all by forcing Blu-Ray technology onto the PS3.

WipEout Pulse mini-review

WipEout Pulse is the eight Wipeout game to emerge from SCE Studio Liverpool (counting the N64 game developed when it was still known as Psygnosis) and is probably the best one, at least until the proper PS3 version emerge late this year or next year. It is the successor to the critically welcomed WipEout Pure. With two years to fine tune Pulse, you will find that latest Wipeout iteration has plenty of new content and most importantly, support for multiplayer via Infrastructure (online via wireless access point) in addition to Ad-Hoc (local wireless).

In addition to 12 circuits (24 tracks if you include reverse routes), a rather nice addition to the gameplay implemented is the new 'Mag-Strip' feature that allows ships to bind to tracks. This allows for tracks to feature loops and vertical drops, which gives a sensational high speed feeling. You can download new tracks and ships as well as customised ships from the Wipeout website, which should prolong replayability.

I won't bore you to death with the technical details of the game, those are best read at 'proper' gaming sites. You do suffer from load time issues when entering a race for the first time, so I guess SCE Studio Liverpool hasn't had time to take advantage of the PSP Slim's extra 32MB cache. But visually this is the best looking PSP game that I have had to honour to play. While it would look better with anti-aliasing filtering, the jaggies are not that noticeable during high speed racing, though at times they do stand-out. Ships are designed with detailed textures and suitable polygon count. The game does not suffer from slowdowns even during intense scenes.

Speaking of intensity, the A.I. ships are good. I spent a good one hour trying to get the hang of the controls and constantly getting my ass owned (didn't know I was playing it in 'hard' mode). It takes some getting used to because the analog pad control isn't as refined as I hoped. It is fortunate that mastering the controls on the d-pad was easy enough. Once you get the controls out of the way you will find racing an exhilarating event with places often swapping due to the intelligent A.I. ships as well as the return of the highly addictive Eliminator mode.

The soundtrack is made up of tracks by a variety of European electronica genre artists including Aphex Twin. This may disappoint some people, but part of the appeal of Wipeout has always been the electronic techno soundtrack. You can always pop in your favourite tracks (MP3 format) onto the memory stick and create a playlist if you prefer. Personally I am finding myself enjoying the soundtrack as it suits the very Tron-like psychedelic visual designs, but a couple of grindcore tracks didn't hurt.

As you would have probably guessed, I am loving my time with WipEout Pulse. It has finally displaced the two year old Mario Kart DS as my 'quick on the tube' portable racer of choice and that says a lot on the production quality, replayability and addictiveness of SCE Liverpool's latest evolutionary racer. Sure, it is the same old game we have all played a thousand times with not too many innovations, but what we have here is the definitive version and contains everything you could possibly want from a Wipeout game.


You can order WipEout Pulse from Amazon UK for a bargain bin price of only £18. Preorder for the US version is available here.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Indiana Jones feature

While a script by David Koepp doesn't inspire much confidence, I am still looking forward to the new Indiana Jones film coming this year. Yes growing up with Indiana Jones meant that I am a huge Indy fanboy. Though at a ripe old age of 65, Harrison Ford I think is still good enough to portray a bumbling Indy.

Anyway, Vanity Fair has a massive feature on the film production as well as interviews with the Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, the key people behind The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Also in the article is a picture of Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) inside what appears to be the government warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Very interesting. Plus the shot of the ever beautiful Cate Blanchett as Indiana Jones's Soviet nemesis is getting me even more excited. May can't come soon enough.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Sony PSP Slim & Lite review

The PlayStation Portable Slim & Lite (PSP-2000), dare I say it, is one hell of a lovely electronic product. Sure it doesn't seem to improve much from the original PSP (PSP-1000 now known informally as PSP Phat) hardware, but there are subtle key difference. The weight difference I really do like a lot. It's like having an iPhone thrown out from my jacket, which is only a good thing.

The PSP Slim is slimmer than the first variant, but only because Sony decided to carve out the two humps that used to adorn the backside on the original, which resulted in a reduction in batter size. The difference in thickness is barely noticeable and some may miss the bumps that allowed for prolonged comfortable gaming. I do hate the fact that the backside is now glossy, as I am no fan of these kind of finishes, especially when it is in 'piano black'. Like the DS Lite, the PSP and PSP Slim's finishes tends to scratch easily, offers less grip and are more prone to retaining smudges and finger prints. Keep a lint free cloth handy if you suffer from some form of obsessive disorder.

Further cost cutting measure is evident in the UMD slot. The original spring-loaded tray (that works similarly to those portable Sony MiniDisc players) has been replaced by manual UMD door, which in my opinion is a good thing. Personally I don't think having to manually pry open the slot is that bad a thing as having not to worry about a spring loosening is a huge plus in my books. Just open the tray, throw a UMD inside the compartment and close. The UMD doesn't rattle in its cage when I gave the PSP a good shake. It takes about 5-7 seconds to boot a game.

The face buttons are in the usual placement with an apparently improved analog pad. The d-pad has a nice 'clicky' feel to it and are well spaced. Like the DS Lite, the face button are not backlit - which could hamper nocturnal gamers. The industry standard miniUSB port on the top side now allows charging (but only via 'USB mode'), as well as other accessories like camera, GPS and 1seg tuner (Japanese only, not compatible with European DVB-H standard). The bottom side contains the headphone jack that allows you to output PSP/PS1 games, films etc. onto your big telly. I can see this as beneficial during prolonged gaming sessions. Unfortunately no TV-out cable is provided with a base pack PSP Slim, so you will be needing to buy this. It outputs in NTSC 480p resolution and supports either 16:9 and 4:3 tellies.

As usual what you get here is the exact same gorgeous and lovely 480x272 resolution LCD. I used to own Sony Clie PDAs with 480x320 screens and I am still wowed by the PSP's screen. The lack of extra digitizer layer used to power a touchscreen clearly allows for better colour reproduction and clarity. Watching films on this is a joy and the capability to output videos in 640x480 resolution onto a TV is like having a little Archos-like device. Very nice, especially when paired with a 4GB/8GB memory stick duo. Now if only Sony would hurry up and bring XviD and DivX support.

Not much has changed over the original PSP, but it is significantly cheaper now. While the size isn't friendly with your jeans pocket, the weight difference, TV-out and RAM upgrade in my opinion are worth ponying up for especially if you haven't already own a PSP. The RAM in particular has been upgraded from 32MB to 64MB which allows developers to cache game files to help speed up the loading in newer games. I didn't find battery to be an issue despite the smaller size (1200mAh vs 1800mAh) as I managed to play WipEout Pulse for a couple of hours and still had 50% of power left. Overall I recommended to those seeking to get into PSP gaming to try to obtain the Slim & Lite version.

With plenty of high profiled games out already plus new ones such as God of War: Chains of Olympus and Patapon due out soon, there is absolutely no reason not to own a PSP any longer. Sure the DS Lite still spanks it in terms of sales, but I see no excuses why someone should not own two portable consoles especially considering the strengths of each products. Bright sunny days ahead for mobile gamers.

The PSP Slim & Lite is available to purchase with free shipping from Amazon UK. None-EU based customers can import from Play-Asia.

04/01: Updated with extra pictures

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Wii Remote Jacket

So this was dropped by the postman today. I originally derided Nintendo's decision to spend millions of dollars making this when they can probably spend much less translating MOTHER 3. Well after an incident last month when a over enthusiastic (none-gamer) guest almost broke our Wii remote by slamming it onto the ceiling, I decided to place an order for two of these silicon Wii remote jacket. Honestly my impression on this product is that these are still useless and fugly. It is fat and makes the perfectly weighted Wii remote heavy, making gaming a chore. And to further prove my point on how much money Nintendo is wasting on these, included in the package is a four page user's manual on how to use the jacket!

Anyway people with common sense need not use this, but we will still force newbs and guests to use them.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Pictures of the London Eye New Year 2008 fireworks display

Started from Bond Street station. Most stores were closed by 5pm. Below is a deserted South Molton Street at 5pm:

So was Regent Street at 6:30pm. The Christmas lights were sponsored by Nokia in collaboration with Wieden & Kennedy ad agency. These lights titled 'Unity' were designed by United Visual Artists in anticipation to Nokia's soon to be new flagship store on 240 Regent Street. The lights are also interactive with pedestrians capable to manipulating them through the touchscreen display outside the Nokia store. This and South Molton Street were the best festival light displays in London this holiday season and easily beats past ugly efforts tied to overrated Pixar films and other tripe.

7:30pm at Trafalgar Square. Note that the fountains have been drained to prevent revellers from traditional New Year's soaking. No fun.

Images promoting the Olympics were beamed onto the Shell Centre on the South Bank. Again no fun. The crowd were entertained by BBC Radio 1. And when I meant entertained, I meant just Pete Tong mumbling a few "This is Pete Tong, and you are listening to Radio 1" and then playing his music of choice. Mind you Pete Tong has never been much of a talker, but the track list does seems uninspired last night.

Countdown finally began after four hours of painful standing:

A smoky Happy New Year fireworks display:

Heading back, the police were of no help at all shepherding us into Trafalgar Square where a huge crowd of party goers awaited us. Piss poor crowd control, the police spent more time stopping tired revellers from going home with fascist metal gates and chasing us back into the crowd, than preventing drunks from throwing beer bottles all over the place. Perhaps a review of your priorities next year.

Thankfully, got safely home at 3am.

Anyway the fireworks were fine, if a bit too clustered. They should have spaced them out as the smoke was awful even from the Embankment. Disappointed with part of the crowds who tried to stealth push their way through. Even more disappointed with the heavy handedness of the Met Police force who set up blockades after blockades and actually chasing, jumping, shouting and pushing revellers trying to get home.