black Archive

standard
May 19, 2014
Written by , Posted in My Gaming History

My Gaming History ‘Part 15’

When I heard on the grape vine Microsoft were going to compete for top spot against the mighty PlayStation 2, I just shrugged. I had spent time with a PC and although I enjoyed the experiences, there was nothing like switching on your console with your foot, picking up a pad, throwing one at your friend and having a split screen session. Despite all the efforts of PC purists steering me towards a console free existence in the past, they failed because unlike consoles PC’s have to deal with a great deal of shit, anything from the internet, retarded users, to foreign berks with a passion for leaving the equivalent of shit stains in your computer. A PC is forever in conflict with you, itself and other bellends thousands of miles from where you’re sitting.

What a pro hacker looks like

Invariably they fall down, computers usually, through no fault of their own, decide that it no longer likes playing your favourite game and instead hands you various screens of errors and colours which are as much fun as a kick in the groin.

Thinking of Microsoft stepping up to the plate against Sony was like finding out your granddad was going to enter sports day. No doubt he’d give it a good go, his egg and spoon technique may still be something special but his enthusiasm to keep up with the kids would be short lived as he falls to his knees during the sack race coughing and spitting, whilst the kids ride on his back like a wheezy old donkey.

The Xbox surprisingly turned out to be a great gaming companion. A friend of mine came over to my place shortly after launch, with the his new Xbox to show me a couple of games. Unfortunately for him I lived in a third story apartment and from his description over the phone, we would have to construct some sort of winch from the ground floor as the machine sounded gargantuan.

I told him to stop being such a wimp and when he arrived I buzzed him into the building. The heavy breathing and stomping of feet should have been my signal to go meet him half way and help him out but I think my curious nature got the better of me and would rather watch on, as he rounded the corner of the stairs to my front door, all red in the face.

What a cruel joke Microsoft had played, it was almost as though they purposefully designed the Xbox to be this large, so that once installed, it became a permanent fixture in the home. If you thought the 16bit machines like the Megadrive were pretty robust, the Xbox could have been used to keep bailiffs out of your home by simply placing it behind your front door, tying a rope to it and abseiling from a window.

How i imagined the Xbox came to Europe

It happened to be bit of a ‘frankenbox’ constructed by some bored engineers at Microsoft from some old Dell machines *shudder*. Nevertheless, these tech’s knew what they were doing and shortly after the release of the Playstation 2, Microsoft hit Europe hard. The Japanese didn’t take to Bill Gates gaming box as well as us, but it certainly did enough for everyone to take notice.

I’ve never really been loyal to any brand that had launched consoles, but over the years Sega had served me well in the past. Games selection is generally what draws me to a console and the Playstation had held my interest since launch, games were slightly more focused and less gimmicky and the sound was also impressive when wired through my Hi-Fi.

On paper the Xbox was packing heat, clocked at 733MHz from its proven Intel chip and with more RAM than the PS2, word on the street was that the FPS was overall better. The name was derived from the developers use of the Direct X graphics system being ran on an impressive Nvidia card. It was going to come down to the games selection in the end and if I could afford it or not.

What really did grab my interest was seeing Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2 running on the Xbox, I knew the game very well being that it was one of my favourite titles on the PS2. The game just ran better. Before the enthusiastic team at EA ruined the series by installing every high performance vehicle with nitrous, NFS was a very original, realistic-enuff racer with great tracks and innovation. I wasn’t all that fussed by the Underground series starting the boost craze because that is exactly what that scene is about, but I find that NOS element has hung around the more recent instalments like a fart under a blanket.

 

Get to the shops before they close

The original Xbox controller felt like you were holding a massive black Cornish pasty and probably made about as much sense to a Japanese person as a Cornish pasty, because of its size in proportion to their hands.

If you can hold a burger you can hold a controller. Sayōnara!

The staggered analogue sticks didn’t make much sense at first either. The slimmer more hand held shaped PlayStation controller did feel easier to use but one feature for me stood above the rest of all controllers thus far, the triggers. The Microsoft triggers just felt right, whether you were using them to accelerate into a crowd, or empty a magazine into a boss, the triggers gave you more precision and any gamer worth their salt would know that this counts for a lot.

Not so long after buying the box, Microsoft revised the UFO shaped peripheral for a smaller, more human proportioned version with a slight alteration in button layout. These weren’t cheap and so more often than not you’d visit a friend and be handed the big pasty because buying two new slimmer controllers was difficult. The black and white buttons were useful but I don’t think I ever quite got used to the layout of them, nevertheless this was another step in the right direction of the future of gaming precision.

Halo Combat Evolved really lead the way for Microsoft and it’s Xbox, it was certainly built for the machine and no doubt the controller design was in mind when in development. My first hands on experience of Halo was when I had eventually saved enough to allow me to buy an Xbox outright and therefore keep the PS2, as the on-going battle for ‘exclusive’ games did have a hold on me.

You play the game as a kind of cybernetically enhanced ‘Space Rambo’ who has to fight members of the Covenant, a bunch of alien creatures allied by belief in a common religion. When the humans try to run from a mad bombardment of aliens, they run into what looks like a huge doughnut in space, being American they couldn’t pass the opportunity to see if it was indeed the largest doughnut ever discovered and so they landed on the thing, also using it to try and escape their pursuers. It doesn’t work and so you have to almost single handily kill them all and escape the doughnut.

How the Halo may have looked when they first discovered it

If one things for sure, pistol whipping, executing and blowing up an alien race has become a very popular genre of game, Halo sold over five million copies worldwide and has had almost as many sequels as American Pie. Over time my enthusiasm has waned for the Halo series, I really enjoyed the original, the multitude of weaponry both human and alien, the varied vehicles and the enemy AI traits made for a very satisfying shooter. The smoothness of the controls, aided by the presence of a more forgiving gravity to our own, meant that some real precision could be achieved when in combat. The look and feel of the game inspired most FPS from there on. Personally though I can’t stand shooting aliens that bleed green goo. Laser weapons and plasma pistols are just not my cup of tea, I prefer hardened shooters, I come from the era of DOOM, Duke Nukem, Quake and Soldier of Fortune, so I like my shooters with some metal.

Master Chief this

Like a combination of Rambo, Matrix and Die Hard, Black was one of the most critically acclaimed shooters on the PS2 and Xbox. As a tactical espionage operative, you are fed information via the company network and sent to carry out top secret missions to ensure global security. This usually meant going to any given location, setting your weapon to fully auto and then decimating everything and everyone that stands in your way. The game play and world physics were phenomenal, gamers have since begged for a second installment but without much joy.

Back in the 90’s my best friend and I used to go behind the scenes of the Duke Nukem 3D files and replace the audio files of the weapons with our own recorded sounds. You don’t realise how important sound is in a game until you hear a 9mm pistol go “Blam” in your own dull monotone voice, or a machine gun go ‘DAH DA DAHDADAHDA!’. As hilarious as that was, it was such a relief to be able to revert back to the originals and makes you appreciate how much work is involved in getting it right.

Black sounded brilliant through a decent set of speakers, Criterions team wanted the game to sound reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster, the score of music and the weapons were all tailored to blend with each other when the shit went down. Sound engineers based weapon sounds from action movies like Die Hard and True lies to give each weapon its own ‘voice’ the effect was best experienced when in a gun battle between multiple enemies, the weapons literally harmonised with each other, creating a satisfying composition. Black received the ‘Best sound’ award at the 2006 BAFTA’s video games awards and so there was always a call for a sequel. Due to differences between Criterion and EA, it never happened. If you’re interested, the spiritual successor of Black was called Body Count and can be found on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it was never quite what the publishers/designers had hoped and sadly it meant that the Guildford branch of Codemasters shut down.

That’s it for this part, this was introduction of the original Xbox and I’ll go over some of the highlights for me in the next part. Also I’ll talk about how I became a criminal mastermind whilst stoned and how my friend unlocked a haven for nostalgia with a Splinter Cell save game file.

 

Mortal Mikey

CLICK HERE FOR PART 16!

standard
February 25, 2014
Written by , Posted in My Gaming History

My gaming history ‘Part 13’

“он здесь!”

“Bitte nicht schießen!”

“Non, s’il vous plaît, non!”

Who says you don’t learn anything playing video games? I remember all sorts of phrases from non-English speaking countries…albeit due to the fact terrorists and civilians alike are peppered with rounds from my over cautious, mainly inaccurate use of heavily modified weaponry.

Much like life itself, when video games were in their infancy, things were much easier to process and much less thought was required. Red was the enemy, green was the good guys, the blue bit was safe the yellow part wasn’t. Today games are ask you all sorts of deep and meaningful questions like, do you want to save your mum or the cat, or do you leave your partner under fire to save the hot girl in a mini skirt? Games now involve all kinds of interrogation about your personal character and can even give you a brief psychoanalysis at the end. Will you or won’t you destroy the town…or does this homeless guy deserve water or a bullet?. If you play video games daily you are asked these philosophical questions regularly, I’m surprised big developers haven’t tied this in already with their ludicrous micro transactions.

Micro Transactions explained

Perhaps they will develop a game in which you begin as just a law abiding citizen going about his/her day, a little like GTA but without the movie style script and screen play. You get up, have breakfast and go to the bank to find you have no money, your living arrangements are in jeopardy and the bailiffs are on their way, so you need to go to work.

You then have a choice, commute to work using public transport with the shrapnel you have in your pocket, or alternatively apply for a loan from said game publisher. You are then free to take the money and spend it on whatever you deem necessary to sort out these pressing issues. I can bet that nine times out of if the option was there, you’d spend the money on a 12 gauge Remington and as many shells as you could carry. The bailiffs would meet their maker on the doorstep of your home, which would ultimately lead to your capture or execution after a lengthy police chase, involving stealing your neighbours car and mounting pavements, hanging out of the window taking pot shots at pedestrians.

Everything starts off small, right now we just pay for extra clothes or weapons in a game, but give it time…

The PS2 in many gamers opinions still remains the ‘golden era’ of gaming. In short, there were many quality games, the hardware was sound and there were still no hidden costs. Before the big wigs came up with a battle plan to rape gamers wallets, the humble compact disc provided us with a wealth of gaming, out of the box.

Kazunori Yamauchi is the man behind the infamous Gran Turismo racing series, which has become a must have title in a game stack of anyone who calls themselves a console gamer. He could be considered the Steve Jobs of the virtual racing world as he has pioneered a breath-taking content rich product by setting insanely high standards for a small development team but thankfully without the misuse of foreign labour. Being a racing driver himself, it had always been his dream to create a racing game where you begin your career in a bog standard Honda shit box and after 140 hours of gruelling circuit racing, become the loneliest driver on the racetrack with a 1000BHP supercar that no computer driven vehicle could match.

The personal development in the game was its trick card. By beginning your career with a car that had as much power as an AIWA tape deck, when you can finally could afford a Toyota Supra you will have a learned the tracks inside and out and then the racing became all the more satisfying. All jokes aside, Yamauchi himself is not work shy. The first game started development in 1992 and wasn’t complete until 5 years later. When asked how difficult it was to create Gran Turismo, Yamauchi remarked:

“It took five years. In those five years, we could not see the end. I would wake up at work, go to sleep at work. It was getting cold, so I knew it must be winter. I estimate I was home only four days a year.”

Once the benchmark had been set, Yamauchi has strived for perfection ever since. By the time the PS2 had approached the end of its life, the fruits of his labour had come to being. Gran Turismo 4 was simply staggering on the PS2, there really couldn’t have been much more room for content or improvement on the old girl.

Forcing the PS2 to perform GT4 at 480p/1080i resolution, must have been like asking the remaining veterans of WWII to recreate the D-day landing in inflatable rafts, armed with Nerf guns, on a beach full of machine gun posts manned by Neo Nazi’s. It was said that GT4 was the cause of many deaths of PS2’s as the laser and hardware were pushed to the limit, it sometimes didn’t run at all on the slim version.

Even so, as the PS2 took its final bow, GT had become revered by gamers the world over, becoming one of the biggest selling video games ever, as well as receiving scores over 8.5 and nearing 10 from many game reviewers. For any gamer of my generation we understand just how important GT is, not to mention what we had endured in the past which will  just how much hard work had been put into it.

Who reading this remembers Lotus Espirit Challenge on the MegaDrive? It wasn’t all that long ago we were controlling 2D car sprites with only a handful of animations on what effectively was a rolling horizon of a track. Cars would often sound like a man humming noises through a paper bag and tyre screeches were just a repeated time stretched sample of a squeaky shoe. We’ve come a long way and we all owe a lot to Mr Yamauchi and his team, you can nit-pick all you want about the crash damage, the sometimes overly electronic engine sounds and the AI, but GT is a well-polished game that delivers a satisfying driving experience of cars you will never be able to afford.

Lotus Espirit Challenge could simulate rain, something Forza hasn’t done yet.

 

When the Crystal Maze ended back in the late nineties Richard O’Brian appeared as a ruthless contract killer, in the video game Hitman. Obviously bored of watching dozens of contestants fail at basic physical and mental challenges, he set about ridding the world of its mortals. I digress, but indeed Agent 47 looks like the eccentric 90s TV presenter but it has been very much confirmed that the game character was never based on Richard, post-game show appearance.

Times up bitch

“Agent 47 is in fact a clone, created in an asylum to develop into an adult and become an assassin. 47 meets his handler, Diana Burnwood. She assigns him to kill four criminal masterminds and then a doctor who is revealed to be the one who treated 47 at the asylum. The four criminal masterminds that 47 killed were part of the cloning experiment and that their deaths were ordered by Professor Wolfgang Ort-Meyer, the one behind the entire cloning process. Ort-Meyer planned 47’s escape, so he could have 47 kill the other four associates and use 47 for his own purposes. 47, with the help of a CIA agent named Smith, returns to the asylum and plans to kill his creator. Ort-Meyer, having prepared for 47’s return, sends his group of “Mr 48s” to kill 47. The 48s fail their duties and 47 confronts Ort-Meyer. 47 shoots Ort-Meyer, then snaps his neck, killing him.”

In short, 47 is one bad bald motherfucker and with the right person behind the controls, the game has the ability to look slick, professional and altogether satisfying. It is also one of those games which can only be played by people with a little more patience than your average COD player. Watching some people play Hitman is like watching a blind man swat bee’s, it usually ends up in a short flurry of excitement before an abrupt silence.

Rarely are games so satisfying in their results that the environments deserve patience but in the world of Hitman, you’re in control and as the game allows you to dictate the eventual outcome (which is often someone dying quickly and quietly) you don’t mind waiting. That isn’t to say that I enjoy garrotting drug lords with fiber wire in real life, but the way the story plays out like something from a comic book, you can’t help but enjoy the fact your character is both deadly but often subtle. So subtle in fact, there are opportunities in the game to swiftly and easily drop a poison tablet in a drink and walk out of the game environment wearing a chef’s outfit you found in a locker room. This will obtain you a professional rating, something that becomes increasingly difficult as you progress through the game and the reason I have devoted so much time to the series since release.

Not always sutble

First person shooters were abundant on the PS2 and there was something for everyone. From serious campaign war type sims to cartoon style romps. In terms of split screen, some of the Co-op fps titles were my favourite to date. The hardware was capable of having you and friend run riot without a much of glitch. Activision and EA battled it out with Call Of Duty and Medal Of Honour titles. A lot of the debate came down to personal preference though and still rolls on today. Weapon styles and load outs, game play physics and maps. It’s a hard thing to balance but Activision got it right many times with their WWII series of games, the flow of the game play meant that you could soon fall into the action and get into the zone, achieving that perfect kill ratio. But World War games have been around long before Sony introduced the PlayStation, the PC had dabbled in a few different FPS genres, it wasn’t long before developers started modernising the game environments in a bold move that has led the way of shooters for a number of years.

I’ve been enjoying laying down some history about the PS2, expect more of this in the next installment of the gaming history plus a part where I’ll talk about my time spent with PC gaming. Hope you enjoyed this, if you did, please share!!

 

Mortal Mikey

CLICK HERE FOR PART 14