What a disappointment

You know, I’ve said it many times, but I have to say that the sheer stubborness of gamers (yes, I’m generalising) is quite breathtaking. You’ve got the EA haterz and the Nintendo loverz and, frankly, not a lot in between. I knew that September 16th was going to be a pain in the ass because, regardless of what was shown, this big surge of “OMFG BEST THING EVAR!!!11” was going to spread across the internet like a cancer.

Now, I happen to be someone who lost faith in Nintendo over a decade ago and have since looked at them and their actions very critically. Instead of eagerly chugging down any line of spin that Iwata or Miyamoto give, I choose to question it.

It seems clear that just because I don’t want to believe in fairies, Father Christmas or Nintendo Magic that I am wrong. Nope, it’s not that I’m expressing my own opinion. It’s not that it swims against the current. All negotiations are over. A decision must be made: Koffdrop is wrong. Oh, and he’s a fool, doesn’t know anything about gaming, has no sense of humour, yadda yadda yadda.

You know, if gamers (generalising again) could demonstrate just a hint of reason or maturity then you’d be such nicer people.

[sigh]

On a more uplifting note I stumbled across a fantastic website the other day. I’m subject to pretty strict rules about sharing data at work. These rules are often enforced by prohibiting internet activity such as using instant messengers. I’ve been scraping by with the browser based version of MSN but it only serves one medium. Meebo is the answer. It’s very early days but it covers the essentials – you can login, get your contacts and speak to them. This site is definitely one to watch.

And finally koffdrop.com will be levelling up! A site upgrade is likely to occur later on this week. Watch this space.

A word to the not-so-wise

If you come here with a closed mind then you will not enjoy your stay. If you cannot tolerate an alternative point of view then do not come here. If you feel you can browbeat my opinions into something you prefer the sound of then you’re in for nothing but disappointment.

If you have something constructive to say, say it. If you have nothing useful to say then head to one of those other, less challenging, places where everyone thinks the same things and finds the same things interesting.

Any further unnecesarily inflammatory comments will be deleted and details will be logged.

Koffdrop.com doesn’t march to the beat of your drum. Accept it or move on.

Have a nice day.

I prefer the fakes

With the world and their nintendog (do you see what I did there?) screaming about the Great Big Reveal and with me being known around these parts as a pretty vocal Nintendo cynic I think it only natural to give you my thoughts. Heck, this is my site, I don’t have to justify myself to the likes of you!

Firstly, it’s appearance wasn’t what I (or anybody?) was expecting. Nintendo’s clearly got a hardon for Apple right now and I guess we should have expected something like this when we saw that slab of plastic they showed us at E3. How could we all be so dumb? It makes perfect sense!

Another big deal is that, “OMFG! you turn it sideways and it’s a NES controller! GENIUS!”. Holy crap indeed. Talk about doing the unexpected eh? I mean, if it worked for the N-gage it’s going to work for Nintendo, right? I mean what’s the deal with focusing a big chunk of your next-gen do-or-die console planning on a 20 year old controller. A basic, fugly and just plain uncomfortable controller at that? What am I saying! It’s Nintendo – 90% of their selling strategy is to make you play their 20 year old games again. It makes perfect sense!

Oh, and It’s a 3D pointing device. You know something? My finger is a 3D pointing device too! I can see a lot of DS stylus control mentality crossing over into Nintendo’s new machine and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Nintendo produce big screen versions of Nintendogs, Kirby and Meteos to milk their IP and justify their design at the same time. It makes perfect sense!

But what about the games? Well, we know that Nintendo have this one covered in their typical fashion as all those old Nintendo games are going to be available for Revolution. Good news if you’ve ever felt that recent Nintendo consoles have suffered from a lack of support. And you like old games. That you can already get for free. Yes, well, ahem, as for new games – nope. Still no word. Oh, Iwata showed off a reconfigured version of the Gamecube’s Metroid Prime 2 with the controller. So that’s another old game on the new hardware. Jolly good!

So, allow me to present some possible Nintendo Revolution games that follow both their typical release strategy and would showcase their controller:

Super Mario Maestro ™
Princess Peach has been kidnapped and held prisoner in Ludwig Von Koopa’s music-o-tron! Oh noes! Mario must save her by using his virtual conductors baton. Wave your controller around and Mario waves his arms around JUST LIKE ANDRE PREVIN!

Lucasarts and Nintendo Present: Super Mario Jedi ™
Feel the force with Revolution! Fight lightsaber battles and collect mushrooms and stars by wielding your virtual sword around wildy and bastardised versions of mutually whored Lucas and Nintendo IPs. You can even play as Jar Jar!

Super Mario World Series Koopa-Snooker ™
Sporty Mario is back! He can dance! He can Strike! He can sink putts! He can ace his rivals! Now, Nintendo gives Mario time on the green baize and a 6-year contract promoting Embassy cigarettes! Use your amazing controller to aim the perfect shot, screw back and snooker your rivals. Don’t forget your spin!

Super Mario Kart: Back Seat Driver edition ™
ALL NEW! The legendary Super Mario Kart series returns for another bashing of the same 15 year old premise. But you don’t care! Now you can be WITH Mario and his friends actually IN the kart! Why control steering directly when you can virtually stand behind your driver and agressively point to areas on the road or Super Mario Map ™ and tell Mario that he should have taken that right turn you told him about.

Super Mario Minesweeper ™
Erm..

Well, you get the idea. I mean, why allow folks the means to play videogamings most recent stunning successes such as GTA when you can create a niche market within a niche market? It makes perfect sense!

And let’s not forget the fact that cunning old Iwata has hedged his bets by suggesting that expansions for the controller are a possibility. In other words, if they’ve screwed it up, they can fix it later. Oh and they can make special peripherals to go with Nintendo games (such as the tilt sensors in GBA games) that no third party can afford to do. Nintendo were right when they said they didn’t expect much 3rd party support. They won’t get it.

And finally, Iwata holds his Great White Hope aloft and it says only one thing to me. See what you think:


Nintendo: Fucking you up the ass since the 1980’s

Is ‘pronto’ a real word?

Oh yeah! Whilst the little kiddies get excited over some bits of plastic, a blue glow and some Japanese guy in a suit explaining how they’re going to change the world of gaming by giving us a controller full of niche ideas that won’t live beyond this generation let us mature gamers savour the real news that actually means something:

Sam and Max are back

That really is all you need to know. But we’re all hungry for news so lets have a bit more of it from this article at Adventure Gamers:

Telltale Games disclosed tonight what many adventure fans have been waiting to hear for over a year: Sam & Max is making a comeback.

The announcement came during a special event, “The Future of Digital Entertainment,” which took place in the San Francisco office of consulting firm AT Kearney. The evening started with presentations by Pixar Supervising Animator Alan Barillaro and AT Kearney Vice President John Ciacchella, focusing on the direction of the digital entertainment industry. Telltale principles Dan Connors, Kevin Bruner, and Troy Molander then took the floor to talk about Telltale’s corporate goals, development process, and market strategy. The presentation closed with the surprise announcement that Telltale has entered into an agreement with Sam & Max creator Steve Purcell to reintroduce the popular dog and rabbit team to the digital age.

The deal was inked only days ago, and few details are available as of now. Telltale stresses that the game will not be Sam & Max: Freelance Police, the LucasArts title whose highly-publicized 2004 cancellation was widely mourned by fans. New content will be developed, and the game will be implemented in an episodic format similar to that of Telltale’s Bone games. Purcell, who works at Pixar, says he will be as involved with the Sam & Max project as he can be.

“If there’s a better match, I don’t know who it is… I trust them,” Purcell said, when asked why he chose to work with Telltale. Purcell knows the Telltale team from their LucasArts days and is comfortable with their handling of the upcoming first Bone game, which is adapted from the well-known comic by Jeff Smith. When LucasArts’ hold on the Sam & Max rights ran out this spring, Purcell and Telltale had the freedom to move forward.

Telltale has positioned itself as a company intent on delivering high-quality, story-driven games to an audience hungry for interactivity. “Around a year ago, we left the bosom of the game industry because we saw opportunity,” Connors said of the team’s departure from LucasArts. According to Bruner, Telltale’s plan for licenses such as Bone and Sam & Max is “bigger than video games. It’s interactive entertainment.”

Adventure Gamers will provide more details about the Sam & Max project as they become available. For now, disillusioned fans can stop signing petitions and set aside the bitterness over all those false rumors. We spoke; they listened.

Quality doesn’t need gyroscopes. KnowwhatImean?

Gameboy Micro, Profit Maxo!

It’s out in Japan, it launches in the US and I couldn’t care less if you paid me. The masters of re-release have done it again and everyone’s going gaga for it.

Pay again for exactly the same technology! Play identical games on the same hardware that you already own! Feel like you were part of the eighties by getting the Famicom coloured one. Even though you don’t know what a Famicom is or what the word means!

At a retail of $99 the general consensus from those who know (such as the enlightened but harsh folks at QT3) is that it’s retailing for around $40 too much and is too small to use comfortably in adult hands.

That’s not my U2 iPod. I have a Creative Zen. They’re much better.

To be honest, if I was as shamelessly manipulative, money grabbing and keen to fleece my unnervingly loyal consumer base as Nintendo are then I’d do this too. I’m really not sure that we need a third generation of Gameboy Advance. Particularly one that offers nothing new and manages to make itself incompatible with a range of existing peripherals that work fine with the GBA and GBA SP due to it’s diminutive size.

There’s no need for this really. The issues of the original GBA (backlit and rather exposed screen and non-rechargeable battery) were solved in the GBA SP. The only advantage that the Micro offers is that, lo and behold, Nintendo have seen fit to allow you to plug your headphones directly into the unit without the need to buy an additional, Nintendo endorsed, peripheral. Cheeky bastards.

So, if you’re a kid with small hands who happens to know why red and gold represent Famicom colours and have a spare $99 this is the perfect gift for you. Even if you have a GBA and a GBA SP.

Knock yourselves out you mugs!

The Quest for Ultimate Dexterity

I have a lot of respect for the current generation GTA games. I think the attitude is good, the production values are exceptional and the design as solid as it gets. But I’m dismayed with the slapdash way that the carefully constructed PS2 versions of the game get ported to the PC.

It took the best part of a year for San Andreas to find it’s way out of PS2 exclusivity – something I’m certain has more to do with contracts than technical ability. Now, most code in games is moderately portable. In essence the data that makes up the game content just needs a new interpreter to run on a different platform. The graphics and other assets don’t need to be reproduced, just created with some foresight to make them more transportable. Converting games across platforms doesn’t mean starting from scratch – it’s still plenty of work, but if you plan ahead, it’s a lot less work than it might be.

So how did they manage to completely muck up the controls for the PC version?

Granted, there’s a lot of functions in San Andreas but the entire game was designed and executed to work on a PS2 controller. A device the features less pushable items on it’s surface than your typical PC keyboard. Getting the PC version to emulate the feel of control available in the PS2 game is probably a greater challenge than beating the game itself.

Surely this must have been noticed during the conversion process?

I’ve really enjoyed the PS2 version but found the loading times to be a pain. I also have the PC version so I have the option of eradicating the offending loading times. But then I’m left with an all but uncontrollable game.

My train of thought was that, if I could find a game controller with the same degree of functionality as the PS2 controller, I could map the controls for the PC game to it and get the same feel.

I didn’t have too much success finding something I was sure was going to give me just what I wanted so I approached the problem from a different angle – could I connect my PS2 controller to the PC? Yes! I could! And for a price of only £6.99 too. RESULT!

So, I’m getting closer to my goal.

Now, all I have to do is wade through the three or so full pages of controll mappings (on foot, in car etc) to my controller to emulate the controls of the PS2 version. Why didn’t the game support this as a preset control configuration?

Now, I’m lazy at heart. And slow. But I can use these two qualities to my advantage. I reasoned that I can’t be alone in my plight and that there must be more enterprising gamers than me out there that have tackled this problem already. So, I give up fighting with the controller setup screens and hit Google instead.

Whaddya know? By about the third result down I’ve found a user-written application and a config file to feed into it that is designed precisely to address the issues I’m having with the game.

I’ve now got the controls mapped out to emulate the oh-so-comfy PS2 controls on the PC whilst having the convenience of next-to-nothing loading times and optional mouse targetting for those tricky mission where aiming is critical.

I consider myself lucky that there’s such a big following for GTA as, quite frankly, being able to comfortably control a game that already had a decent control system shouldn’t be some epic quest.

Shame on you Rockstar.

Resistence is futile!

I think Sony must have it in for me.

They must have heard of my determination to hold off getting a PSP until well into 2006 (when the price may be a little less damaging and the second generation of games will have appeared) and told developers to tap into my gaming nerve.

I kid you not, when I saw thumbnails of the SSX PSP game below I thought that I was glancing at the PS2 version of the game. I can’t wait to see this moving!

SSX on PSP
SSX on PSP

And then they go and dish out the trailer and more screenshots for the PSP killer app that is Grand Theft Auto – Liberty City Stories. I learned that Rockstar Leeds (in conjunction with GTA grandfathers Rockstar North) dropped the Renderware engine from the game and built new technology from the ground up. I’m a little concerned that all the footage and screenshots that I’ve seen appear to be from cinematics or posed-for-camera style shots but I really can’t see how this game can fail to please.

GTA on PSP
GTA on PSP

Apparently, Burnout Legends is another stonker too. God help me if I see any of these titles actually moving in front of me – any sense of discipline will surely crumble. I think I’m turning into a chav gamer and graphics whore. What’s worse is that I think I like it.

Ghost Recon + X360 =

Not much to say, just look at those pixels!

I’m liking that draw distance in that first screenshot but the casual gamer in me can’t help but think “Wow, just imagine what the next GTA game might look like!!!1!”

Also, the explosion effects are fantastic, truly cinematic stuff. The most efficient way to give you a demonstration is to link to a 2 megabyte animated gif of some footage I found.

I know it’s not just about the graphics but, by gum, thems sure is purdy.

Shadow of the Colossus

First things first, as the eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed, there’s no wee picture on the right. In a post dedicated to the aforementioned game I feel that there’s simply no graphic that could do justice to the look of the game.

Secondly, you should realise I’m a big fan of the original Ico and will therefore be biased – even when I think I’m trying not to be.

So, the game. From what I’ve now seen and played of it I can say that it delivered on pretty much all counts. I think there’s room for improvement with the way camera control is handled and also player control. Everything else is just stunning.

The game opens in much the same way as the original Ico did. An engine-based custscene takes it’s time conveying the hero traversing wilds and forest on horseback. A delicate theme plays throughout. The touches that elevated Ico’s look and sense of reality are evident at this stage too. The hero comes to a small chasm so he manoeuvres his horse around until a confident run and jump can be performed. Elsewhere there is a close up of a forest scene with moisture dripping onto plant leaves, the leaves give way to the impact of the droplets as they fall. A remarkable amount of care and attention to a synthetic world. The intro ends as the hero comes to a mighty bridge, hundreds of feet long, that leads into a large temple-like structure. As the camera pulls away to a distance so far that we can no longer make out the hero or his horse the legend “Press Start” delicately fades in.

You start the in what I presume is the other end of the temple. Your mysterious significant other laid on the altar and your horse idly standing nearby. If you’re anything like me, you won’t be dashing straight into looking for goals and objectives. I’ve looked forward to getting the chance to savour what these people have produced and I intend to take my time and soak it up. You have control over the camera and I decided to get a good look at our hero. The hero doesn’t appear typically heroic. The hero posesses a genteel posture and less than rugged frame and has an almost androgynous appearance. Moving the camera rapidly invokes a motion-blur effect on the environment that also affects the frame rate. The hero is not affected by this motion blur and stays crisply portrayed throughout.

Time to push some buttons. Triangle makes you jump, no great shakes there. Square unleashes an attack. D-pad left and right swaps your weapons between bow and arrow and your sword. Pressing X calls your steed and reminds you instantly of calling Yorda in Ico. Holding the circle button raises your sword to the skies. In well lit areas the light will bounce off your sword and then give a kind of starburst effect off the blade. Moving the camera whilst the sword is held aloft affects how this starburst appears. The beams of the starburst contract and expand as your focus moves and they will eventually contract to a single, wide beam when you’re facing in the direction you need to proceed in. Whilst a compass with a marker or a column of light might serve the same purpose I have to admire how this information is all conveyed within the context of the game. No need for arbitrary maps with icons overlayed on them here! Subtle but effective.

Your horse is your companion, as Yorda was in Ico or as Epona was in Zelda: Ocarina of Time (to which endless comparisons will undoubtedly be made). I really can’t convey just how succesfully the team behind this game have made this entity seem like a living, independent being. Save for a few sharp angles and a slightly thining mane, this is a real horse. I won’t attempt to say any more on the matter as I don’t think anything I can say will do it justice. Pressing the jump button near the horse will allow you to mount it. Once atop the horse left and right pulls on the respective reign and allows you to influence the horses direction of travel. Pushing up will dig your heels in and pulling down will pull on the reigns giving the instruction to halt. The game clearly wants you to feel like you are controlling your hero, not your horse, when you are sat on it. The horse takes just a moment to react to the instructions given by the hero and retains it’s sense of being an independant creature and not something that you directly control.

It’s time to leave the temple. As you travel under the archway leading to the outside world you are greeted to an expansive plain. Here is where you can play giddy-up and learn how to focus on making sense of using the light to find your goals and get a better feel for riding and controlling your horse.

Sooner or later you’ll end up at the base of a largish rock wall. This is an excersise in training you the way to control your hero and getting him to jump, grip and climb walls and ledges. Importantly it shows how you can traverse moss-covered surfaces and walls. Once you’ve scaled this wall you’ll meet your first Colossus. He’s one of the guys you’ve seen in the pictures and videos of game footage and makes a fairly modest appearance – which I was quite surprised at. I really expected that the unveiling of your first nemesis would be quite a theatrical affair but it’s done with little fanfare other than the plodding of his feet and a camera-pan up to his head.

And now the game begins in earnest. Shining the sword is meant to help reveal the weak spot(s) of the Colossus but I found this had no discernable effect. I spent a good five minutes running away, getting the sword out, aiming the camera to see nothing change at all. Every now and again the beast would take an almighty swipe at me with his club – making the entire ground shake and debris fly. This also has the effect of unbalancing the hero and throwing him onto his back a few feet away. The hero receives damage (clearly depicted in a smallish status panel in the bottom right of the screen) that regenerates over time when this can happen. Other errors such as long drops or being trodden on won’t help your in your efforts either!

The encounter with the Colossus was accompanied throughout by a dramatic score. On the whole there’s a far greater audio presence in this game than in their last one. But then, the tone of the game is far more dramatic and grand. The audio is ideal – I couldn’t really say that there was anything I noticed in a positive or negative way other than the footsteps of the Colossus didn’t resonate as deeply or loudly as I might have expected. Whether this is them or the bass settings on my TV audio I don’t know yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it’s me, not them.

So, I spent some time dashing around the big guy and, for kicks, walked between his feet and ended up behind him. Swivelling the camera round I saw a weak spot! His shire-horse-like hairy shins had a blue area on it. I had to get to it now. Timing my jump with his footsteps I attached myself to his ankles and clambered up. The Colossus was walking all the time and the hero was flung wildly around as the monster took his strides. A grip meter is an integral game mechanic and portrayed by a diminishing disc near your health gauge. You can hold on for as long as you have the ability to do so (and holding down R1 too). When you run out of grip or release the R1 button you’ll drop off whatever it was you were attached to. Your grip meter takes about 15 / 20 seconds to return to maximum. So there’s the primary mechanic – travel from safe spot to safe spot before your grip runs out. I climbed up his ankle and hairy shin and prepared to attack the weak spot. Attacking whilst holding on involves holding down the square button to draw your sword and charge, you then execute an attack by releasing the button. As you would expect, the hero is depicted holding on to the shin by one hand, his legs supporting him and his other arm raised about to strike – all the time whilst your entire world is lumbering around creating chaos all about you.

Striking the spot creates a reaction from the Co
lossus, a scream and a pause as he lowers to one knee. Your environment has changed! You’re no longer clinging onto a hairy wall but crouching on a hairy platform as the creature kneels. Quickly, there’s time to release from the shin, run along to the back of the knee then jump onto a monstrous thigh. The beast is up again. The hero is climbing the back of his leg and onto it’s waist. No further progress upwards can be made from this point so the hero clambers hand-over-hand along to a large spinal plate sticking out the small of the creature’s back. It’s safe to stand unaided on this area and recover grip but the movement of the creature still forces the hero to lose balance constantly. Looking up, the rest of the journey is obvious. A mane of hair covers the head, shoulders and central back of the Coloussus. Climbing is straightforward and feels epic as you, like an ant, climb this monster. At the top of his head, another weak spot. Hold, release, STRIKE! Jets of black blood are released and the creature wails and shakes. The hero is thrown but his grip is secure. Another strike, more jet black liquid erupts and more of the creature’s health is lost. A simple horizontal bar across the top of the screen indicates half my job is done. But the hero has no more grip and is flung to the floor.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The creature falls, devastating the land around him and as he lays still, the dust still to settle around him, black streams of energy snake around the air, swirling around it and making their way to the hero’s sword where they are absorbed fully.

And with that, the gameplay ends. A short movie plays showcasing more footage from the game. The end.

On the whole, I’m totally satisfied with what I’ve seen and heard. As I stated earlier, the camera controls need a little work. Holding L1 fixes the camera in such a way so as to keep the hero and the Colossus on screen at once and can prove to be cause difficulties because, due to the sense of scale, you’ll see more a lot of chin, nostril and sky and not be able to determine where you are in your environment too well. Or maybe I just suck.

Another concern is what I saw of having to repeat the ascent of the colossus because the game design won’t allow you to stay at the crucial weak spot due to your grip running out. I don’t know whether this mechanic will be repeated for every giant but I can imagine it taking away a chunk of fun from the game if you end up having to repeat things too much. Perhaps later giants will change their stance and structure after your initial attack and create a need for a new path to be found as you head to it’s weak spot in future attempts.

The only other criticism I have is that the hardware of the PS2 may not be up to the vision of the game design. Certain events cause a noticable drop in frame rate (such as swinging the camera across an open plain invoking the motion blur effect or when huge chunks of dust and debris are created when a creature lands the swing of their club). These aren’t fatal by any means but they do serve to break that wonderful suspension of disbelief that the rest of the design works so incredibly hard to convey.

I remain thrilled and full of anticipation for the rest of the game and to see how cunning the design of the later encounters will be. I think the idea of having ‘living’ levels is a fabulous idea and a logistical and design nightmare. I’m convinced that I’ll be seeing some new styles of platfoming and cerebral challenges in the game and it’s that, as much as it’s stunning appearance that maintains my excitement.

Thanks for reading this far – I’ve deliberately made this as detailed an account as I can muster whilst working from memory. If you have any questions that I might be able to answer, feel free to ask. So long as they’re not begging for the game demo that is!