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Archive for Joe Martin

Should We Change Our Game Reviews?

Posted on 25th Apr 2009 at 12:35 by Joe Martin with 54 comments

This is a blog post I’ve been thinking of writing for a long time, but I’ve chosen not to get around to it until now because it hasn’t really been very relevant.

There’s not been that many good PC games coming out lately that have required an in-depth look at graphics. Well, not from me anyway. A good thing about being part of Dennis Publishing is that delegation is nearly always an option.

The crux of this blog post rests on one question; how useful is the graphics coverage we give in PC game reviews at the moment?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about then, well I guess that gives me an answer right there. You see, before I joined bit-tech the site had a policy of doing very in-depth graphic analysis for each and every PC game review that came along and console games were mainly ignored. Tim, Richard and co. would even graphically analyse new patches for games and game reviews would focus heavily on graphics.

Should We Change Our Game Reviews?

As far as I’m aware that started to change when my predecessor Ryan joined bit-tech. Console games started to get a bit more attention and the graphics coverage of specific games became less quantitative and more comparative – like in this Darkstar One review.

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Games I Own: Doom 3

Posted on 15th Apr 2009 at 17:40 by Joe Martin with 6 comments

Joe Martin
In response to my last Games I Own blogpost someone asked me when I was going to start blogging about some of the really bad games I own. Well, now I am. I don’t like Doom 3.

Or, rather, I don’t like much of Doom 3. The first half an hour or so of the game is pretty good, despite being pretty much a straight rip-off of Half-Life, and there are some bits that really make you jump later on…but the rest of it? Bleh.

There’s three main reasons I don’t like Doom 3. The first is that it’s endlessly repetitive – dark hallways go on forever, punctuated only by utterly redundant outside sections and oh, another scared scientist. Worse, it doesn’t even seem like there’s any variation to the game; all I can remember of it is fighting endless bloody imps.

The second reason I don’t like it is that the game as a whole is massively contrived and manufactured. There isn’t a single part of Doom 3 that stands out as being an example of where game design and concept meet; this is a high-tech science base that’s supposed to be utterly self-reliant yet even the well-lit areas are dismal and dim. Everyone moans that there should be duct tape somewhere in the base, but I’m more concerned by the poor lighting conditions even before the demons appear. And a marine should have more important things to do then go fetch eggheads, right? And why doesn’t a single scientist decide to follow the man with a gun, or at least mug him for his weapons?

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The Game That Made Me Cry

Posted on 6th Apr 2009 at 14:42 by Joe Martin with 24 comments

Joe Martin
Beyond Good and Evil is one of those games I have to actually restrain myself from talking about – and anyone who knows me will confirm that it’s very rare for me to be prevented from talking, so I guess that’s saying something. No pun intended.

Giving myself free reign for a minute or two though, Beyond Good and Evil is probably one of the best games I’ve ever played, though it bears the distinction of being one of the only games I can say that about but have only actually finished once. Unlike the other games on my list of favoured titles (Planescape, Sands of Time, etc), once is enough when it comes to Beyond Good and Evil. It also has one of my favourite game trailers ever.

Beyond Good and Evil has a more unique distinction though, one which is a whole lot more damning and which I can’t recall ever really writing about in detail before. Beyond Good and Evil is the only game that’s ever made me cry. I’ve got misty over a lot of games – but Beyond Good and Evil pushed me over that breach and made me actually start sobbing.

I’m going to explain why now, so if that idea interests you and you think you might be interested in playing Beyond Good and Evil at some point then I implore you not to read any further. There be spoilers beyond!

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Games I Own: The Thief Series

Posted on 27th Mar 2009 at 15:07 by Joe Martin with 12 comments

Joe Martin
First, a confession; I wasn’t going to write about Thief originally. I was actually trying to write a blog post about the gaming achievement I was most proud of, which for me was completing Bookworm in classic mode. In the course of writing that post I started talking about Thief though and before long the game was dominating the post. I love Thief.

I got introduced to Thief back when the first demo came out on a PC Gamer cover disc, though I actually only tried the demo as a matter of curiosity. Even back then the graphics were too ugly to attract my attention straight away.

When I got in to the demo though, which was the entire first level of the game, I was hooked. Not just hooked in the way that I played it three or four times either; I was physically addicted. I’m confident that, if someone put a gun to my head, I could play that level with my eyes shut. Lord Bafford’s Manor was permanently etched onto my brain with the kind of furious heat that only comes from eyes that burn from staring at a screen so long.

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Games I Own: Grim Fandango

Posted on 23rd Mar 2009 at 14:03 by Joe Martin with 11 comments

Joe Martin
Grim Fandango has three distinctions in my games library. Firstly, it’s one of my favourite games. Secondly, it’s one of the only 3D adventure games I really like (Escape from Monkey Island is a disgrace to the series, I reckon) and thirdly, it’s one of only a handful of games that I’d label as a romantic game.

Romance is, I think, something that isn’t explored enough in games – probably because of a weakness in the medium that doesn’t make it hugely capable of displaying that emotion. I can only think of a half-dozen games that actually deal with matters of the heart so openly and most of them are Leisure Suit Larry games! Despite it being a fairly small niche though, Grim Fandango stands head and shoulders above the masses as perhaps the most singularly romantic game I’ve ever played.

The story for the game is a masterpiece of noir fiction, set in a imaginative take on the Mexican afterlife and with players cast as unlikely hero, Manny Calvera, salesman for new souls. When somebody dies in the real world it’s Manny’s job to assess their soul and try to find them the quickest way to the true heaven. If someone has been good in their life then they can take a quick train through the afterlife straight to heaven. If they’ve been bad then they’ll be lucky if they’re even given a map, but it’s Manny’s job to help them as best he can.

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My Guilty Secret: The Games I Haven't Played

Posted on 17th Mar 2009 at 13:20 by Joe Martin with 30 comments

Joe Martin
I’ve got a guilty secret when it comes to gaming, several in fact, which I’ve carried for an awfully long time and have occasionally haunted parts of my professional life. There are times when I’ve confessed these things and the result has universally been one of shock and disappointment. Quite simply; there are games I haven’t played.

Well, obviously. There are lots of things I haven’t played; awful tat like Imagine: Petz and so on. What I’m explicitly talking about here though are the reputedly great games out there which I’m expected to have played, but haven’t. Things like Diablo 2, for example.

It doesn’t sound like a huge issue, but it actually is. There’s a huge assumption out there that as a games journalist I should have played every game, ever – or at the very least I should’ve played every game that’s scored a 7/10 or more. There’s a consensus among readers and peers that a qualification for being allowed to review something is that a familiarity with every game like it. How can I write a story about Tomb Raider: Underworld if I skipped from Tomb Raider 2 straight to Legend and never even finished the first two games?

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What Game Should I Play Next?

Posted on 9th Mar 2009 at 15:40 by Joe Martin with 57 comments

Joe Martin
Since bit-tech.net moved to the central Dennis offices in London, we’ve all had a real bitch of a commute. It takes two hours each way, meaning that I don’t get home now until 8PM at the earliest. The upside of this is that I’m getting a lot more reading done on the train on the way to work. The downside is that I’m at home less, so can’t do as much PC gaming.

The reduction in time is making me value my gaming time a lot more too – so I’m reluctant to just replay my old catalogue of games and I don’t want to go over previously-reviewed titles.

Thus, I wanted to put it out there to bit-tech.net readers and take suggestions on the matter; What game should I play next?

Seriously, I’ll take any suggestion as long as it is on PC and not something I’ve already revieed. Old or new, I’ll look through your suggestions, pick one, buy it, play it and do my next blog post on it. The more obscure the suggestion, the better.

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What I learned from Deus Ex

Posted on 2nd Mar 2009 at 14:16 by Joe Martin with 37 comments

Joe Martin
What did I learn from Deus Ex?someone asked me on the forums the other week. My answer? Tonnes.

The things that Warren Spector’s seminal FPS/RPG taught me can be broadly divided into three things; things it taught me about games, the world and myself. The very fact that I can definitely point to Deus Ex as something educational says an awful lot about the depth of the game itself and about how much I love it, by the way. When it comes to Deus Ex I’m fully willing to admit to being a totally biased fanboy.

Deus Ex taught me more about computer games than almost any game I’ve ever played and a huge amount of that is owed to the structured non-linearity of the game. If you’ve not played it (and I’ll accept no excuses) then you should know that although Deus Ex is a very linear game, it’s also very freeform. The storyline is best described as elastic as, although you’ll always go through the same levels in the same order, their content can differ hugely.

My favourite part of the game is the New York hotel your brother stays in, The ‘Ton.

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Presentation versus Graphics

Posted on 23rd Feb 2009 at 11:16 by Joe Martin with 1 comments

Joe Martin
Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about what exactly makes graphics in a game good and why it is that some of my favourite indie games look better than the latest games despite having lower polygon counts.

What exactly is the difference between good graphics and great presentation?

To put it simply and dryly, good graphics are the type of unneeded visual flair that cause jaws to drop and eyes to dry. It’s hard to specifically define because it’s both indistinct and ever-changing thanks to the nature of the business, but good graphics generally means high polygon counts, lots of explosions and loads of light sources. Everything should be dynamic and smooth.

Good presentation however is totally different. It’s a singularity of vision that works itself through an entire game, emanating from core to keyboard. It’s how the graphics are used and the way that elements of the story are told through visual cues.

For me, the difference between graphics and presentation can be illustrated through one simple comparison.

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Games I Own: The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain

Posted on 16th Feb 2009 at 15:09 by Joe Martin with 11 comments

Joe Martin
The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain is a game I should be ashamed of owning, but I’m not. You know why? Because it’s an enshrinement to my life as a gamer and it’s damned fun, that’s why.

Produced by Sierra Entertainment back in 1994, this was one of the games which came with my family's first PC. It was one of the dividing lines that marked my move from an Amiga user to PC gamer.

Apparently the third game in the series, the story revolves around the titular Dr. Brain, who manages to swap his brain with his lab rat. It’s up to you, at the direction of his rather useless niece, to restore the good Doctor’s intelligence – done mainly be solving strings of puzzles in one of ten different areas of his brain.

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