So yeah…it’s not you, it’s me…

It’s been a while. I got caught up in actually doing stuff and forgot you, dear readers. I am ashamed. Laid low by my own failures.

On the up side, I’ve finished chapter 1 of Bear With No Name. I have fine intentions of catching up on some blog posts. You are not forgotten…I’m just…absent minded.

Posted in Brain Gunge | Leave a comment

Not a Gaming Blog: More of a Puckish Rogue.

Full disclosure: 1) I am only about half way through the game; 2) I am a movie/game nerd in my 30s.

 

Saint’s Row. How you have grown!

I never really played #1. As a poor man’s GTA clone, I wasn’t interested. #2 Has entertained me. It was just irreverent and gratuitous enough to have a personality beyond its very familiar crime-lord-dominates-city motif. #3 Was the first one to really capture me.

In Saint’s Row The Third, you were tasked with helming the resurgence of the stumbling media empire which the Saints had become. It was a giant, colourful, sweary, brazen playground. The stunts and missions were bigger, more ridiculous than ever and holding it all together was a small cast of knowing, incredulous characters, who seemed as amazed and as excited by the stupid things they had to do as I was. I had a good time with #3. Sure, it has problems; not least that if you observe it with anything other than an utterly ironic head on your shoulders, then it’s a terrible, terrible game about violence, decimation, the objectification of women in particular, but everyone where available…pretty much everything awful about games.

The fourth game in the series is interesting for many of the ways in which it addresses some of those problems. But…and here’s the crux of the matter…who cares? If you’re looking for depth and subtlety, social conscience and progressive thinking, then you shouldn’t be playing any of these games.

You’re here to have fun.

Saint’s Row The Third was utterly dedicated to providing the player with a good time. More than any other game I could think of, it set out to wrangle as much entertainment from each moment as it could, but…somehow it still felt constrained. To use a metaphor specifically designed to needle my Big Gay Pals; it had come out to its friends and family, but it hadn’t yet bought the feather boa and the bumper sticker.

Well, Saint’s Row IV is parading down the street in its bright-tight-white undies and chaps. It’s waving its rainbow flag.

I get the impression that the developers have watched every game, movie and TV show of the last few years and written a list of things they enjoyed. Perhaps with the coming end of the generation of consoles, they felt freed to drop all pretence at being a realistic game, to thumb their nose once and for all at the accusations of GTA clone status. They have taken their list of “Things We Enjoyed” and squeezed as much as they possibly could into their game. I think every time anyone had an idea that they thought was funny, that they got to give it a go and see if anyone else laughed.

Let’s start with the references. The characters are constantly spouting lines from films and music…films and music that I know well. They know they’re doing it, too…the characters all seem to have grown up in the same universe as I did and know and love the same things. It’s fun to hang out with them, even if for no other reason then because of our shared cultural heritage. The characters are having just as much fun as I am. We geek out at the same times. It never feels like someone said “No, we need to be serious…gravitas, damnit!”

The references do not stop at the script, either. The plot is a hackey mashup of The Matrix and…well…something schlocky with aliens. It’s broad, glorious science-fantasy. It’s not apologetic about it either. It KNOWS it’s the Matrix and goes to town. Put your character in a long coat and watch the power-jump and landing animations and tell me they are not cribbed directly from Keanu’s performance.

The gameplay is a mashup, too. The guns and gangs feel just like the third game. The super-powered movement is straight out of [prototype] and the orb-collecting is pure Crackdown. The mini games make a return; the glorious opportunities to, for no readily good reason, get a tank and drive around blowing up EVERYTHING. Or if not a tank, then a flying robot-suit. Or just explosive wrecking balls thrown about with your telekinetic powers. For the most part they are translations of the games from #3, but there are some newcomers, not all of which I really enjoyed. However, finding one or two small games that don’t float my boat amidst such a raging torrent of fun is…to be expected.

The bottom line is, I think, that I get the strong impression that the developers are just like me. They know the same films and shows, they grew up with the same TV and music, they love the same geekiness and fandom. I cannot tell you how torn I was between having guns that look like Deckard’s sidearm from Bladerunner, or Captain Mal’s pistol from Firefly. WHO MAKES ANOTHER PERSON MAKE THAT CHOICE?!?!?! At least for the other pistols there was a clear winner in Han Solo’s laser gun. I cannot tell you how happy I was when, upon piloting a giant ship out of an even gianter ship, that the lead character shouts “Stay on target!”.

Am I getting this through to you? I love this game. I’m not sure I could ever defend it to a council of angry mothers, but it’s just so joyously silly, so proud of its loves and its heritage, so determined to make me have a good time, that I cannot deny it. It’s a celebration of everything the developers enjoy and you get to join in. No other game makes me laugh the same way. No other game satisfies my nerdity so regularly. No other game has me defusing a nuclear missile – in flight – to the swelling 90’s power of Aerosmith, then later engage in some super-powered  falling-over to Pomp & Circumstance. No other game has the main character react EXACTLY as I want them to when they are presented with a shiny new robot.

Get your tighty-whiteys on, buy your feather boa and get thee to Steelport.

Posted in This Is Not A Gaming Blog, Words & Stuff | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

All I know is my gut says “maybe”

And so; it begins.

Time for me to take some of my own advice before I succumb to artificial anxiety.

You see, unto every generation, a flame war is born. Especially since the console market has become such a rarefied atmosphere, whenever time comes for launch, there’s a huge scramble to have an argument about which does what better with how many numbers and will you just look at this widget! Come launch day you’ll be laying down hundreds of your hard-earned spondoolix for the latest shiny-joy-box and chances are good that you can only afford one. Both Sony and Microsoft want it to be theirs. This is obvious. This is natural.

It is bad for you.

There’s no way to judge which console will be better. No amount of rage fuelled invective rhetoric will finally decide whether the smart money should go to one machine over the other. Numbers alone are not enough to judge and at the moment that is almost all we have. As much as I – and others – would like to pretend that we can read meaning into those numbers, the fact is that unless you’re an engine architect, you just can’t.

So here’s the thing. Are you listening? You will probably want to disagree and add your arguments about why I’m wrong, why your choice of shiny-joy box is the best one, but I do not intend to join in the futile argument.

Here we go.

 

It doesn’t matter.

 

There. Take it in. Let it settle.

Both machines will be awesome. Whichever you chose, you will get a box full of modern magic and you will love it. Once you’ve made your choice, you will probably become rabid in its defence, because that’s human nature, but the guys who chose the other route are having just as good a time with their machine.

Not that I’m denying you the right to your opinion; I would never dare…I’d just like you to consider the idea that your fervently held belief…just…isn’t that important. You’re allowed to have a favourite, but so is everyone else. Personally, in the current generation, I prefer the Xbox (I have a PS3 also) for one major reason alone and it’s not the number of doodahs or widgets, it’s not the exclusives or the dashboard, its not the latest shiny redesign…it’s the controller. Just that. After an hour with the PS3 controller my hands feel cramped and uncomfortable, but I can play with the Xbox controller for hour after hour and never feel it. If you have smaller hands than I do and like the PS form, then that’s marvellous! I am glad that you’ve found a comfortable way to game. See how that works?

So relax. Don’t play the big companies’ marketing game. Both machines will be fabulous and ultimately your choice of favourite will probably come down to something relatively trivial compared to how many billion whatsits there are inside. It’s all good. When the next gen lands we will be awash in polygons and shaders and opportunities to relinquish our privacy. And we will love it, whichever flavour we buy.

Posted in Brain Gunge, This Is Not A Gaming Blog, Words & Stuff | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Comic with No Name issue 3!

Episode 2 here!

 

So! The moment – at last.

Page three and the first appearance of my main character, albeit in a rather…shrouded manner. I spent a great deal of time trying to work out the perfect dialogue, the ideal speech by which he might introduce himself to my readers, but in the end I decided to learn a couple of lessons…or perhaps reiterate them to myself.

The first worth discussing was one that I found the truth of before I even started page 1. It’s an old mantra, the origin of which I am unaware, that when working in a visual medium, it’s better and more engaging for the audience to be shown something, rather than told it.

My first drafts were full of expositional narration, a hangover from my prose writing style, which tends to be rather wordy. I had a moment of clarity when I realized that all that stuff that I was struggling to say in words could be displayed, hinted at, subtly disclosed in a few pictures and one or two carefully fashioned snippets of dialogue.

The second rule is a more general “less is more” principle. Not all the information has to be got out right away, not every question need be addressed.

With these two lessons under my belt and a conversation with my excellently awesome wife, I realized that I needed to cut out a load of the clever lines I had in mind and just go with the basics. I think it has made for a stronger page and a punchier final frame.

Posted in Comic, Jackanory, Pictures, Words & Stuff | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crying in Tombs

OK, so there have been some outstanding games of late. Similar to the twilight years of the last generation, almost every game released now is, one way or another, superb. The developers have had so much time and practice with the machines that they can squeeze every last flop from their now-dated hardware. A generation of refinement has advised the control schemes of every game and there seems to be less rush to publish than to there is impetus to try to do it right.

That’ll all change again when the next round of hardware comes out, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

I wish to contrast two superb titles.

Late last year we were treated to Far Cry 3, a beautiful, expansive, open world and free tactics shooter. There was a whole load of content to ruin through in as stealthy or incendiary manner as you might desire.

Then this year presented us with Tomb Raider, a reboot of the seminal classic. Gone were the crazy acrobatics and the pneumatic bra (although, to be fair, New Lara is still a very…idealised figure) and in came dirt and grime and a character arc from archaeology student to high-stakes combat-trapeze-artist.

Both games have a lot in common: Both take place on a remote, largely isolated, tropical island. Both focus on an every-day ‘Murcan teen, thrown into brutal, tribal violence and forced to survive. Both have back-story delivered by collectible snippet and a wealth of other bits and pieces to collect as you traverse their world. Both have an elegant combat system that allows for a stealthy or overt approach at the decision of the player (although in Tomb Raider, there is a definite tendency for it to…suggest…one method over another for any given encounter).

Vitally, also, both are really, really good. Really. Perhaps they’re not art, like Journey, or Unfinished Swan, but they are engrossing, occasionally brutal, thrill rides. Tomb Raider is a more focussed, driven experience, but when Far Cry 3 decides to grab you by the throat, it does so with assurance and aplomb. If you’ve played neither, then I recommend both.

But there’s one vital difference that came to light just recently. I decided to put Far Cry 3 back into my Xbox not long after playing through Tomb Raider and I realised that for all their similarities, I was having, I think, a more sustainably enjoyable time with FC3 than I had staring at Lara’s pert posterior. The reason for this is that, although the antagonists of both games are masculine cults of madmen (that’s a slight simplification, but it will suffice for illustration), the cast of FC3 have a sense of humour about it. The game is couched in quotes from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass and they are utterly appropriate. Every character you meet seems to have lost their mind to the brutal insanity of their island life and the lack of external contact has let their madness fester. They joke and they laugh and they enjoy their own little fantasy perspective on whatever seems to be happening to them that day. By contrast, the cast of Tomb Raider are dour and gloomy.

I’m not sure if it’s a British thing or not, but I find it much easier to believe in people with a sense of humour. It’s a natural human defence mechanism to make jokes, precisely because it makes things easier to bear. In the same way, you can slip into the madness of FC3 with a sort of glee, a relish for the insanity and its attendant freedom. Tomb Raider pits you against the madness and challenges you to survive it, rather than to succumb to it. Don’t get me wrong, Tomb Raider is excellent, engrossing, fun and all that…I just wish there’d been a comedy German, or a bad-guy with the spark and swagger of FC3’s Vaas.

Is it just me? Am I alone in finding that unrelenting dourness actually detracts from the believability and engagement of a story?

Posted in This Is Not A Gaming Blog, Words & Stuff | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Comic with No Name issue 2!

So that was page 1. Not bad, if I do say so myself. I had drawn the art before I really got around to layout, which is why the bottom half is a bit funky, but that’s ok…I don’t think it’s been rendered unreadable.

Come time for page 2 and I have only pre-drawn a couple of panels, so I take the chance to do layout first. In my shiny new copy of Manga Studio 5, I set about putting the page together as a set of shapes to go with the dialogue that I had previously prepared and the general flow of the story I wanted to tell on that page.

Now, I could have simply continued to draw directly in MS5, but truth be told, I have got SO used to drawing directly on my Samsung Note 10.1 at a 1:1 hand/image ratio that I found it remarkably tricky to re-calibrate myself to working on a graphics tablet separate to my monitor. One more reason to save up for a Cintiq, but that’s some way in the future…either that or a lottery win…

Anyway, I exported the layout onto my Note and used that image to define the shapes of the frames that I needed to draw. Once they were finished, I bribed the magic network-gnomes and they allowed me to get the images back into MS5 and into the layout.

I played about a bit with the background. There’s a spare frame sitting behind the story which does nothing except not-being-blank. I tried it on page 1 and rather liked the effect, so I did it again on page 2, but this time I made it night-sky blue with a scattering of pale star-like splats to give the whole page a night-timey feel.

So here’s page 2. I’m quite excited, because page 3 should see the introduction of our hero!

As always, comment, criticism, praise, money, contracts and the patronage of eager old ladies welcome.

Posted in Comic, Jackanory, Pictures, Words & Stuff | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Hellooooo out there…

Yeah, so I’ve been a bit quiet for a while. Sorry about that. Things and all; you understand.

Anyway, since my last post I’ve been playing with the new style and become rather enthused. It seems I can create images rather speedily and although they might not be the greatest works of art imaginable, the facility to draw more quickly has made the notion of writing my own graphic novel…no, I can’t do it, it’s a comic book…the notion of creating my own comic book much more realistic.

However, I soon realised that in order to draw such a thing, I needed to get my chops up a little in the area of making humans look like humans. That’s where I’ve been; studying facial structure and refining my own take on technique so that I can have characters more anthropomorphic than teddy-bears and monkeys under towels.

So when you notice that there’s no picture of a face in the page 1 which I will post below, it’s only slightly because I wasn’t confident at the time…there’s actually a stylistic reason too…honest. Her face is front and center on page 2, I promise.

So – the question arises…how to publish? There’s the online-comic option, but honestly I don’t think that really suits the style, or my temperament. I will investigate the Comixology self-publishing thingy and maybe a short print run that I could try to flog at conventions and such…but that’s all a long way off. I need more than two pages before it becomes an issue.

So, anyway…here, for your delectation, is page 1. As ever, comment and criticism is welcome…and contracts, praise and offers of business advice.

Posted in Comic, Jackanory, Pictures, Words & Stuff | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Try hard not to concentrate…

I’ve been having some success over the last few days with a new technique…perhaps more accurately a new lack-of-technique. I’ve always struggled with being too up tight in my art. I start off with a perfectly good sketch, then overwork the lines and destroy what life there was in them. It’s a perfectionist streak that has some merit and there are times when it works well, but I have always envied people who can create simple, messy, expressive work that seems to have more detail in it – due to the expression of the superfluous lines – than some far more detailed work.

Anyway, I sat down to doodle the other night and selected the wrong pen. Rather than just go to the right one, I started to play about with the huge, scrappy nib I had and came up with some fluid line work that I rather fell in love with.

After a bit of colour…

Revenge fantasy

Revenge fantasy

I was really taken with this and have tried a few more in the same style.

Fast & Lose Samurai sketch

Fast & Lose Samurai sketch

Underarm

Underarm

Furry hook

Furry hook

Think rucksack

Think rucksack

So there you go; a quick summary of a rather satisfying few days of art. This style seems fast enough to consider using for a comic, without sacrificing motion, emotion and life.

As ever, comment is totally welcomed.

Posted in Comic, Pictures | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Always the little stuff

*warning* Self-indulgent, depressive crap within. Only enter with proper protective clothing and eyewear.

 

Welcome to my emo side. I won’t post this stuff often, because in all honesty, who wants to read it, but those of you who have dealt with depression and anxiety will know that sometimes…it just needs to be got out of your head.

Big stuff is so easy to deal with. It sits in your brain demanding attention. It waves signs and shouts “YOU MUST DEAL WITH ME!” and so you do…because you must. That’s easy. It’s the little crap that always finally creeps up behind you and pokes you in the back. Today it was forgetting that pot-hole AGAIN *poke* It was seeing it too late AGAIN *poke* It was making a call on which side to steer to try to avoid hammering my suspension and making it wrong AGAIN *poke*

It’s the little stuff that you know proper people deal with effortlessly ALL THE TIME but you’re so busy dealing with the sign-waving behemoth of an issue that the little crap *poke* sneaks up *poke* and reminds you *poke* that you’re not really *poke* managing *poke* that *poke* well *poke*

My brain is a complete cunt.

Can I go home yet?

Posted in Brain Gunge | 4 Comments

Velvet Assassin

TINaGB Presents:

 

Unfairly Maligned Game of the Day #1

 

Catchy title, eh? It’s a knack. You need something that you can hash-tag effectively.

 

Velvet Assassin.

 

Stealth games, really, are not a genre. What they are is a lavish repackaging of logic and timing puzzles. If you add ‘action’ to the ‘stealth’ moniker, that just means that if you get the puzzle wrong, you have to play a combat mini-game to continue. The ultimate goal, generally, is to move your game-piece (Sam Fisher, Corvo Attano, that little metal racing car that’s got into the wrong box) from one side of the board to the other, avoiding or neutralizing obstacles of various types before they see you.

The secret to a good puzzle game, then, is a consistent set of rules which the player must apply in increasingly convoluted or exacting ways to achieve his or her goal.

 

Velvet Assassin is an entirely competent and challenging action stealth game.

 

It’s true that you’re not afforded the scope of acrobatics that, say, Sam Fisher enjoys in his adventures. You’re not going to be hanging upside-down from water pipes, or grabbing people around corners. The stealth kill mechanics are very simple; get close enough from behind and wait for the prompt to press the button. The shooting is perfunctory at best; it takes enough time between shots for any number of bad guys to put an end to you. The levels tend to be barely disguised puzzle-sections strung together.

They’re good puzzles though. I have found myself really enjoying the process of observation and execution, of steady progress through each of those puzzle sections. Rarely does the game force a shootout on you, so for the most part, you can play it as a pure puzzler; get it right, be unseen, or re-load the checkpoint and try something different. The mechanics of the sneaking are simple – there’s no cover button, for example – but they work consistently. Taking the tools in your arsenal and applying them to a silent run through a level is rewarding and challenging – just like a stealth game should be.

Also worthy of note is that it sprung a trap on me that I completely didn’t see coming and utterly fell into. That doesn’t happen terribly often. The designers laid a trap for a stealthy player and it worked perfectly on me. I love that.

So, while it might not break any genres, or forge new ground, it is a perfectly acceptable piece of stealth gameplay.

The packaging, of course, matters. Let’s not pretend that nice graphics and good art design do not help with the atmosphere and appeal of a game.

Here, too, I think the game is done a disservice by accepted wisdom. It’s not stunning, the animation is little but competent, but it manages to conjure a sort of smoky, noir atmosphere all of its own. There’s some nice texture and model work which looks great under the harsh, hazy lighting that drenches the levels in soft bloom and deep shadow. There’s a lovely reflection of the titular Assassin’s leather clad bottom when she climbs over a fence…

Anyway; the game is fine!  It’s not going to win any new converts to the genre, but if you’re already a fan of pure stealth runs through nicely designed puzzles, you could do a lot worse.

Posted in Brain Gunge, This Is Not A Gaming Blog, Words & Stuff | Tagged , , | Leave a comment