My So-Called Second Life: 2009, Week 01 (When the Saints Go Marching In)

January 9, 2009 at 23:00 (Uncategorized)

It seems characteristically counter-intuitive for me to begin this chronicle of the year in video-games with an ending; thus.

Specifically, I’m talking about the last few hours of Nuts and Bolts, the belated third entry in what seems, against all the odds, to have become Rare’s most enduring franchise.  Even ten years ago the original Banjo and Kazooie felt to me like a Mario 64 clone, albeit a very charming one, but more of a good thing was enough, then.  And let’s start as straight as we mean to go on: perhaps it still is – I don’t know about an arm and a leg, but I’d gladly give £40 for another round of platforming action a la Super Mario Galaxy, another city for Burnout Paradise or a few new scenarios to claw my way through in Left 4 Dead.

In any event, if you’d asked me all that time ago if I could see myself playing Banjo and Kazooie at the grand old age of 24, a barely double-digit me would have sent you packing, so going in, despite my tiny past self, I didn’t expect anything more interesting than a nostalgic retread through some up-rezzed stomping grounds of yore.  What I got, ultimately, was a reinvention of the wheel; a vehicle-based platformer that somehow found a workable balance between its disparate parts.

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Kiss Kiss, Meow Meow

January 9, 2009 at 7:36 (cats, The Funs, Videos)

It’s well past bedtime and there’s plenty to come later today and through the weekend, not least the first real entry in the Great Game Diary, but I’ve noticed of late how very dense the front page has become, what with all of my most earnest efforts to “generate content” for you all – as they say, you know.  In the lingo.  Yes they do.

Anyway.  For my sins, and for all the walls of text I’ve bid you struggle through, I offer you this:

Dead Cat Calm

Honestly, it’s much less macabre than I make out.  Look at me decieving readers for +1 internet credibility!

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Game Over 1UP

January 7, 2009 at 7:47 (News, Video Games)

At this point, I think I might just turn to a life of crime.  For all intents and purposes, the great 1UP is dead.  Certainly the loudest of us, but also very likely the best of us, 1UP came to be an inspiration to many.  Its distinctive voice, its uniquely straightforward house style, its frank and formidable editors – how an institution like it has become could be so slap-dashedly disbanded I can’t profess to understand.

Is this the face of the economic crisis, at last?

Did Ziff do this?  I wonder.  Maybe I can blame the war on terror; hey, maybe Bush, why the hell not?  Osama must be so goddamned pleased about this, the bastard.

I’m honestly lost for words.  The 1UP podcasts meant more to me than I could possibly express.  Hell, they were friends – and now.   Now, who knows where they’ll land.

To Skip, to Ryan, to Philip and Nick, Jay Fresh, James Mielke, Anthony Galleigos, Matt, and to Shane, Shane above all others.  This is beyond my capacity to understand.  Maybe with more wine I will.  How that could possible be of help to you all, I’m afraid I fail to see.  May you all go on to better things together.  May the hippie enthusiast press live longer than it appears it has.  May this not be the end of it all, all that you’ve built.

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My So-Called Second Life: Week 00 (A Preamble)

January 5, 2009 at 21:25 (My So-Called Second Life, Video Games)

All’s been quiet on the Uncertain front for longer than I’d like.  There are a few Finest Fives about ready to roll out but they’re already belated enough that I wouldn’t be doing anyone a disservice by taking a little while longer to make sure my selections are just so.  There are a gang of reviews in varying states of readiness, not to mention an array of preview pieces and news articles long-since gone and, truthfully, all but forgotten.

It could be the post-holiday doldrums – maybe it is, at that – but I seem to have lost much of my enthusiasm for the tried-and-true variety of game journalism that’s been my stock-in-trade these past years.  I don’t doubt that there’s still a place for it; you need only point your browsers toward IGN or Gamespot to see that, assuredly, there remains a substantial audience for traditional, scored reviews and too-optimistic previews, yet the formula of that whole song and dance has sucked the fun right out of it.

I don’t mind being the guy who scored Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 higher than any other game this year – six months on I still find myself coming back to it, time and again, to try my hand at each of its sublime modes, to reclaim from some Friends list interloper at least third place on each of the integrated leaderboards.  I don’t find the fact that my Ace Gamez reviews of XBLA board-game Ticket to Ride and the PS3 port of the lacklustre Condemned 2 have affected the all-important Metacritic aggregates one way or the other.  The numbers were never the point; from the get-go I knew that I’d have nothing more to do with them once they’d been set loose into the great unknown.  Easy come, easy go, and so they were: so they have been.

The problem, then, isn’t the numbers – at least, it’s not just the numbers.  Their prominence certainly grates, the backwards pre-supposition of their importance, but the numbers aren’t a sickness: rather, they’re a symptom that speaks of a larger problem facing the enthusiast press.  The regimented way in which so many game journalists seem content to write their reviews – that’s the problem.  A checklist of largely arbitrary opinions on the pros and cons of a particular game may be the beginning of a opinion, but by itself, such an article is a worrying ways away from what should be the logical conclusion of the sort of thought we owe our favourite form of entertainment.

Thankfully, the internet isn’t devoid of honest-to-God game criticism.  Not so long ago, 1UP alumni Shawn Elliott stirred the pot some with a star-studded symposium on very much the same subject I’ve been addressing here.  I have high hopes that the project doesn’t flounder in the face of the staggering odds it’s surely set against, but we shall see.  In the meantime, there’s what’s left of Ziff Davis.  There’s Sore Thumbs, from ex-EGM kingpin Dan Hsu and his lovely assistant Crispin Boyer, there’s Giant Bomb, Gamespot’s greatest hits, and let’s not forget Gamasutra; then there’s N’Gai Croal from Newsweek’s Level Up, although updates have been sadly scare of late, and last, but last from least, there’s Stephen Totillo’s MTV blog, Multiplayer.

So.  In an attempt to re-invigorate the experience of writing about a subject I still hold dear, and with a particular tip of the hat to Totillo, that purveyor of refreshingly straightforward game criticism, let me introduce you, one and all, to My So-Called Second Life, an exclusive new feature I mean to publish here every Friday.  All pretenses otherwise aside, it’s going to be my game diary.  I’d commit to daily entries but readers, let’s be honest with ourselves: that’s not going to happen – I’ll only disappoint you.  Thus, week by week, expect a no-bullshit account of the most memorable moments of my last seven days of gaming.

These will not be reviews.  I will score nothing.  All I mean to do is offer a no-nonsense, pressureless perspective on the video-games I play, be they for fun or for work.  Inevitably, there may be recommendations, but My So-Called Second Life will be about the essential experience of being a core gamer; its sole currency the moments that stand out to me, make me question my conception of video-games as art and entertainment.  It will be about those things that make me proud to be a gamer.

What better way to bring in the new year?

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How the Amazons Killed Christmas

December 25, 2008 at 3:59 (News, Season's Bleatings)

Well, it’s Christmas alright.

Just got through wrapping the last few hit-and-run gifts I picked up in town today.  I know, I know: an actual shop.  I should know better by now, surely – and I do, largely, but there’s something to be said about the experience of an afternoon on the high street.  On the internet, you’ll find honest reviews and impressions and advice everywhere you look.  When it comes time to check out, you’ll have found exactly what you were looking for at a more reasonable price than you have any right to expect.  The thing of it is, though, that you’ll only ever find what you’re looking for.  I went into Stirling to fill in a few gift-giving blanks and came home weighed down by bags of bright ideas that I’d have been none the wiser for surfing through lists of bestsellers and recommendations on Amazon and Play.  For a few of my nearest, my dearest, Christmas morning will be all the better for today’s trip to town.

And for all that the internet gives, it’s worth remembering that it takes, too.  I can’t speak to how equal the measures are, but lately, at least, you don’t have to look hard to see how online shopping is hurting high street retail.  Strolling around the empty aisles of a soulless Woolworths earlier on, watching its remaining employees Scrooge around the store either because it was Christmas Eve or because they were losing their jobs (or because it was Christmas Eve and they were losing their jobs); you don’t have to look hard at all.  Woolies has always been a little of everything and not enough of anything, but it’s place in the high street of my mind is front and center.

All the run-down old stores in the arcade I used to love, gone.  All the seedy little haunts I hung around growing up, with nary a trace.  There’s no place for a second-hand bookstore with the sort of mark-ups owners are forced to levy just to stay in business when Amazon’s marketplace will gladly load you up with a mint copy of any old novel you can imagine for a fraction of the RRP and free postage to boot.  On one hand, I miss the musty, smokey smell of my old bookstores.  I miss the too-eager staff and the claustrophobic spaces and hunching over in whatever space I could find to read the back-cover blurb of a proudly named and coffee-stained Clive Barker.  All of these things, and so many other, but alas, there’s that nagging little question of convenience.

If I’m honest, I haven’t been to one of the very bookstores I like to claim as my own since since last Christmas.  Worse still, I turned my nose up at a book I suddenly realised I had to have today on the grounds that it’d be cheaper online – and what you know, it is.

It can be an absolute bitch, sometimes, to find out that you’re right.

Sincerely, though, I hope you all have a great Christmas.  Only remember: for every lovingly selected present you find under the tree in the morning, some poor soul is tearing the wrapping paper off a Russian doll of digital download codes.

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Le Festivitiesesies

December 16, 2008 at 17:28 (Hype, News)

It’s been quiet enough around these here parts that you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d lapsed back to the animal inside of me and taken to stalking the Hillfoots region for tasty tourist TV dinners.  Not so.  How on God’s greenish-brown earth I managed to let a month slip away with nary an update – for shame – I don’t know, but my drafts have languished too long in the ethereal WordPress backend, and my Uncertainites, you dear few, shouldn’t under any circumstance be made to stand for such ominous silence.

There’ve been video-game reviews falling out of my fingers like I don’t know what – I’ll spare you the usual self-congratulatory links until my LocoRoco 2 article goes live – and I’ve submitted a few freelance pieces to an assortment of enthusiast-press editors in the erstwhile.  I applied for a job based as far away from here as I can get without leaving the UK; counter-intuitively, I might add, as when all is said and do, I do rather enjoy it here.  So there was that.  Then there was Christmas, I say, as if the hard part was over.  I’ve still got presents to get and there are more decorations to be hung, but the tree’s up, at least, and a day window-shopping Amazon took care of most of my nearest and dearest’s gifts.  Excuso numero uno, however, has to be more work on the book.  It may actually be something; who’d have thunk it?

Anyway.  I mean for All Things to pick up some over the holidays.  First and foremost, it’s time for year-end Top Tens and the like.  There shall be talk of the best video games, of course, but also movies, TV shows and more.  Notable exceptions will likely include comics and music; I don’t know that I feel qualified to offer up my opinions on either of those media through 2008 – I’ve neither read nor heard enough for my particularly variety of judgements to be worth much to anyone.  Nonetheless, prepare for the good times to roll.

Roll up, roll up… down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A.

[Secret good times mode unlocked]


Soundtrack to this entry: Aimee Mann – Deathly (Live) *chuckles*

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Around the World With the NXE

November 19, 2008 at 17:21 (The Funs, Video Games) (, , , , , , )

Kotaku just unearthed an excellent little friend-with-benefits of the self-anointed New Xbox Experience in the form of this URL:

I’d link it all nice but the point isn’t to click it – resist temptation, fair Uncertainites; opt instead for the magic of CTRL-C, substituting “GAMERTAG” with your Live ID before advising your browser accordingly.  It all seems far too straightforward a system to have come from Microsoft, but the shiny new dashboard (more on that later, perhaps) is all about adjusting expectations.  The end product of the process above coughs up a handy transparent .png file for you to save and shortly abuse in Photshop or your graphics package of choice.

For your pleasure, a few for instances.  Not inappropriately, here’s the flagship Fenix:

Me and Marcus, Ain't It Grand
Me and Marcus, Ain’t It Grand

 Little known fact: avatars are backwards compatible with Amiga 500 games:

Shadow of the Niallalot
Shadow of the Niallalot
But we can do better than retro videogamers, surely.  Imagination shall be our only limit!
One Small Step for Avatars

One Small Step for Avatars

Nicely played, MS.  I am amused.

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All Your Basses Are Belong To Us

November 19, 2008 at 13:28 (Music, News, Reviews, Video Games) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

However misguided the R&B ambitions of Jack White and Alicia Keys’ Quantum of Solace may be, it’s been much too long, I fear, since I last indulged in such bombastic bass, and “Another Way to Die” fills that sweaty pit of sub-sound perfectly.

Still haven’t seen the movie, though.

So who saw this coming?

How Many Million Bicycles in Beijing?

How Many Million Bicycles in Beijing?

I’m enough of a dyed-in-the-wool Guns N’ Roses fan that this album already means more to me than the punchline I imagine much of the rest of the world will hear it as, but all the leaks have meant there are only five songs I haven’t already heard a hundred times over.  “There Was A Time” is still my favourite; I’m such an outright sucker for rock ballads I should be pelted with animal crackers until dead.


Two new reviews for you all to take a gander at.  Actually, come to think of it, six reviews, I suppose — the Puzzle Pack and the Power Pack collect together three PSN titles apiece.  The latter is decidedly the better of the pair, and while it’s great value for money – both are, but I’d sell my remaining grandparents for flOw – I can’t help but be a bit disappointed SCEE seem more intent on wringing a few more sales out of some middle of the road downloadable games than genuinely representing the unique strengths of the PlayStation Network.  Still.  A tenner and change makes for an incredible deal that’ll keep anyone with a PSP busy during what little downtime they have between the flood of triple-A console and PC releases.

Soundtrack to this entry: Donovan – Hurdy Gurdy Man

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Command & Cactuar: A Review of Multiwinia – Survival of the Flattest for the PC

November 16, 2008 at 23:36 (Reviews, Video Games) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Three like-minded undergrads meet at Imperial College London and hit it off.  In their love of retro games, Chris Delay, Mark Morris and Thomas Arundel share a passion that proves decisive when they band together to form Introversion Software.  Almost single-handedly, Chris cooks up a little hacker sim by the name of Uplink, while his collegiate compatriots get down to the business of selling their fledgling company’s quirky debut.  They appoint themselves “the last of the bedroom programmers” and invest in some CD-Rs and ink for their printers; they make and distribute the first copies of the game by hand.  They’re a dedicated, down-to-earth bunch of dreamers, and as such, it’s a pleasant surprise to say that they didn’t fall victim to that essentially British condition Top Gear so aptly ascribes as “ambitious, but rubbish”.  Within hours of its launch, Uplink had made back the developer’s paltry initial investment – and then some.  Enough, say, for Introversion Software to take to E3 2002 and drop £10k on showy speedboats and supercars.

The path Introversion Software took from those no-doubt hazy days to the more sobering state of the industry today hasn’t always been straightforward, taking in the bankruptcy of their then-publisher to the near-insolvency they faced themselves, not to mention a series of heartbreaking delays.  Their sophomore effort finally arrived in 2005, but despite critical acclaim and strong overnight sales, few gamers were willing to drop full retail price on an indie darling from a largely unknown quantity.  So few, in fact, that Introversion Software had to sign on for government benefits to sustain themselves through the six miserable months after their failure at retail.  But then: lo, Gabe Newell said, let there be Steam.  And there was Steam.  And it was good.  Valve’s groundbreaking distribution network made a modest success of Darwinia; it was the perfect platform for such a loving throwback to find its feet, and that it did, thanks in no small part to the modding community that blossomed around Introversion Software’s geometric RTS.


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This Blog Did Not Happen

November 11, 2008 at 7:24 (politics, Satire, The Funs, Video Games, Videos) (, )

I’ve promised several times not to make this very post, but.


A Lesson To Us All

The more attentive of you may have noticed Gears of War 2 in the neat little gamertag tracker on the sidebar.  Thusly: except for a few articles I’ve stashed in my drafts, expect very little for the immediate future.

That is all.


Soundtrack to this Entry: At The Drive-In – Relationship of Command

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