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I'm an Evil Basterd

Posted on 24th Sep 2009 at 10:16 by Joe Martin with 30 comments

Joe Martin
Those of you who follow the bit-tech blogs and podcasts with anything more than a cursory interest will know that my extra-curricular gaming habits lately have been…focused to say the least. I’ve been playing Baldur’s Gate exclusively, pausing only to rush through Kane and Lynch: Dead Men after a Michael Mann marathon left me wanting a certain type of adventure.

Baldur’s Gate, as I mentioned when I set myself the challenge, is my Everest. It’s the mountain I’m climbing to prove something to myself, namely that I have an attention span longer than – hey look, there’s a squirrel outside!

I’ve not really blogged about my time with the game since then – and for those of you who are curious, I’m still in Baldur’s Gate 1 and have completed all quests in the lower half of the world map. I’m a male, true neutral, half-elf conjurer called Jacob accompanied by Viconia, Imoen, Shar-teel, Jaheira and Khalid. I was tempted to go with a full-on, all woman band of adventurers, but I always had a soft spot for Khalid.

More to the point, I had a really horrible experience with the game yesterday.

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I’m So Sick Of World War II

Posted on 21st Sep 2009 at 11:46 by Joe Martin with 54 comments

Joe Martin
I don’t mean any disrespect by this by the way, but as far as computer and videogames go I have to say, I’m so bloody tired of World War II games!

Don’t get me wrong, they can be great. I thought Call of Duty 2 was a fantastic game, for example and that bit where you’re crawling through that pipe above the heads of Nazi soldiers is cemented into my head as a favourite. But that was five years ago and it feels like we’ve had nothing but re-runs since then. Not just in the FPS genre either, but with RTS’ too.

And they all have similarly bland names as well; Call of Duty, Men of Valour, Company of Heroes, Brothers in Arms, Order of War, Medal of Honour and the blandest of all, Men of War. It really is like the publishers have two wheels of words that they spin, connecting the result with ‘of’.

The frustrating thing is that, judged on their own merits, the games are often quite good. It’s just the quantity of them that I object to, along with the fact that they all re-use the same bland moments of cinema. I’ve stormed Omaha and sought cover in Normandy hedgerows so many times that I can’t visit France for fear that I’d shoot nearby German tourists on sheer reflex. It’s that old disconnect between the enjoyable mechanics of the game and the repetitive visuals. I’m not tired of shooting people, I’m just tired of doing it then and there.

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Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series

Posted on 15th Sep 2009 at 14:05 by Joe Martin with 11 comments

Joe Martin
The Prince of Persia series – by which I mean the Sands of Time trilogy and not either the older or newer games – are a run of games that I have a serious ambivalence with. Like the Monkey Island games, the Sands of Time saga includes both some of my favourite and some of my most hated games.

The Monkey Island game I hate is Escape from Monkey Island, by the way. That game is about as likable as Satan’s mother in law and just thinking about it makes me angry. Likewise, I hate one of the Prince of Persia games so much that I practice thinking about it in the early morning when I can’t be bothered to get out of bed – I hate it so much it gives me energy.

Let’s start with the good news though – The Sands of Time. The first game in the revitalised trilogy, SoT was the one which had the most input from franchise creator, Jordan Mechner – and it shows. Mechner is a truly interesting guy and is currently publishing his old journals from the time when he developed the older PoP games online, which makes for some good lunchtime reading.

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Games to play with your children

Posted on 3rd Sep 2009 at 15:16 by Joe Martin with 36 comments

Joe Martin
I don’t have children, but I do have a lot of younger siblings and nephews and nieces, and we've played a lot of computer games together. A lot of the experiences we’ve shared have been through the medium of joysticks and mouse clicks.

Looking back on that recently I’ve come to think that parents should definitely play computer games with their kids, even though a lot of parents are of the opinion that "games are bad for you" and "all games are violent". Absolute rubbish, every word of it.

Of course, some games are violent and there’s a huge amount of games out there which aren’t at all suitable for children – but violence, if handled responsibly, isn’t always bad and there are a lot of games that are good for kids. My parents had an inkling of this and I spent a lot of time playing either with my Dad or talking about it with him. It’s something I plan to do with my children too, heaven forbid, and something I reflect on every time I go into a shop and see a parent blindly buying Grand Theft Auto for their seven year old. Grrr.

This isn’t new thinking obviously – any number of child-rearing programs or handbooks will tell you it’s important to get involved and find experiences you can share with your children. The problem though is that if you’re not someone who’s ‘into PCs’ and your kid is then it can be hard going. Thus, here are some recommendations for games that are suitable for most children and which open themselves up to this kind of activity.

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Feedback on Custom PC's new games pages

Posted on 20th Aug 2009 at 08:29 by Joe Martin with 8 comments

Joe Martin
This blogpost was supposed to be about my adventures in Baldur’s Gate as a completionist wizard, but that plan was ruined by the fact that my copy of Throne of Bhaal has yet to arrive because of various mail-related issues and my refusal to start until I’ve got the entire collection. And also you might have noticed I'm in Cologne, Germany for the big GamesCom 2009 show.

So, instead I thought it would be a good chance to get some feedback on a little change I’ve introduced to the latest issue of Custom PC and which, if it goes down well, I’ll keep going. If you’ve got Issue 73 to hand (it's out in the shops today) then you can see what I’m talking about on pages 26 and 27 – the ‘Games Etc’ spread.

Basically, I’ve replaced the usual batch of four or five gaming news items with a hand-picked of really good free games from the last month which we think people will like. There’s some free flash adventure games there, some mods and some downloadable indie games – something for everyone and I’d like to do this every month instead of using that space for gaming news.

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What's your greatest gaming achievement?

Posted on 3rd Aug 2009 at 10:43 by Joe Martin with 48 comments

Joe Martin
It seems strange but some of my proudest moments are ones that I’ve lived through virtually. Some of the best things I’ve done are things that I’ve never really done – though I don’t mean that in the fantastical “I’ve saved planets and won wars” way that projects in-game experiences as being real.

Yes, I’ve made millions trading star dust and I’ve stormed castles and heroically held the line…but those aren’t the moments I’m proud of, not really. Instead, my greatest achievements in gaming recognise games as something I’ve actually done, not a virtual experience. My mental list of great achievements doesn’t include the time that I saved the world from an evil Vizier, but it does have space for the time that I fought through the climactic elevator battle in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time without dying.

I’m being careful here not to fall into the all-too-familiar trap of getting carried away with my own story by the way and I can still draw a distinction between my greatest gaming achievement and my greatest actual achievement. The time that I made it all the way to SinTower in a HardCorps run (i.e. all in one go) in SiN Episodes is a highlight, but it pales next to the first time I got published. There’s a Everything2 quote that comes to mind on this topic – “the most you ever dream of is not better than the least you ever accomplish.

Even so though, I’m at the moment readying myself to embark on something that could be a great achievement for me both in terms of gaming performance and personally. I’ve been building up to it for a fortnight.

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Games I have made

Posted on 9th Jul 2009 at 11:31 by Joe Martin with 7 comments

Joe Martin
I once heard that most music journalists are generally people who got into the business because they lacked the drive or ability to actually be a musician themselves. Likewise, I’ve heard it said that games journalists are probably people who lack the drive to actually make their own games.

For me, that’s pretty true and it’s bred within me a massive respect for game developers, because making computer games is damned difficult. Not only are there the technical issues of knowing how to code and how to actually make the game, there’s the management issues too. You have to know what makes a game good and, if you’re working as part of a team, you have to be able to keep a group of people focused on a single cohesive vision. You need a logical mind that knows how systems should function and what redundancies need to be built in for every eventuality.

Over the years I’ve tried my hand at making a number of different games, starting when I got a copy of AMOS for the Amiga 500+ we had at home and I started tweaking the example games that came with it. I didn’t get far, but I got a basic understanding.

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Games I Own: SiN and Sin Episodes

Posted on 29th Jun 2009 at 10:37 by Joe Martin with 12 comments

Joe Martin
I’ve always had a soft spot for the SiN games and it isn’t just because of the boobs in it. The original SiN was released around the same time as I started to move from being regular gamer to a real hardcore enthusiast. I’d been playing games most of my life, but it was around that time that I really started to get involved in games as a serious hobby.

That’s not to say that the original SiN was a great game though, far from it. It was buggier than a hobo’s mattress, uglier than the brown stains there-upon and cruder than the manners of the owner. It did however have an incredibly alluring and bountifully endowed villainess though, plus a lot of swearing and explosions and that was enough for my brother to cave in and buy it.

While the low-poly cleavage definitely helped sustain my attention in the game when I started playing it shortly after my brother the thing that really grabbed my interest was the branching storyline. Every time I played through the game it seemed different and I probably played it a good ten or so times (each time with God mode on though as it was a horrendously difficult game). Levels linked together intricately and by completing optional objectives early in the game you could end up visiting wholly new locations and exposing new plot lines later. One game might see you assaulting Elexis Sinclaire on her off-shore oil rig, or her underground geothermal plant, while others had you storm her house or follow her to an observatory.

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Who Should Review Monkey Island: Special Edition?

Posted on 16th Jun 2009 at 12:02 by Joe Martin with 36 comments

Joe Martin
Journalistic integrity is something we pride ourselves on here at bit-tech and we always try to make sure that our reviews are fair-minded, open and in-depth. Each of us at bit-tech and Custom PC magazine has a specialty and we always try to play to that expertise. Tim does graphics cards. Richard does motherboards and PSUs. I play games. Harry makes the coffee.

It’s this integrity that explains why you’ll never see me review a hardcore racing sim such as Forza or Race Pro; as a man who can’t even ride a bike, let alone ride a car, I have no right to talk about the flaws in a racing sim.

This integrity though does present one very big problem for us though and that is; who should review the upcoming swathe of Monkey Island games – both the newly announced episodes from Telltale Games and the Special Edition re-release from LucasArts proper?

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Would you like to play The Last Express with me?

Posted on 1st Jun 2009 at 11:37 by Joe Martin with 8 comments

Joe Martin
The Last Express is an old game, an interesting game and one I’ve been meaning to play for a number of years. I was finally spurred into action by the guys at Idle Thumbs, who rightly asserted that The Last Express is a perfect example of an evolutionary path in video games that just never panned out, mainly for financial reasons.

The Last Express is an adventure game by Jordan Mechner, who also made all of the good Prince of Persia games. The storyline for the game is set over three days and it’s all set right on the very eve of the first world war, with all the action and adventure taking place on a train that is travelling from Paris to Constantinople. The train is the famous Orient Express and as the journey begins there is a murder on board. Admittedly I know a lot of this only from what I’ve heard – I’m still playing the game for the first time at the moment.

So far then, The Last Express is just a normal game, but here’s the kicker – it’s all set in real-time. It's also a game I want to invite you to play with me.

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