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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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Games I Own: No One Lives Forever

Posted on 11th Feb 2009 at 09:24 by Joe Martin with 19 comments

Ah, No One Lives Forever. Definitely one of my favourite games ever and it has been ever since I played the singleplayer demo ages ago. The demo was three full levels long, which I remember thinking was unprecedentedly lengthy at the time.

Mostly though, I remember being wowed by one level in particular that takes place on a pilotless passenger plane, which you have to jump out of without a parachute. The aim of the next level is to grab a ‘chute before your freefall comes to an abrupt end.

Essentially Austin Powers: The Game, Monolith’s super-spy extravaganza is set in the middle of the sixties and casts players as Cate Archer – the only female operative in the secret Unity organisation. Also, after a string of assassinations from a group known only as HARM, the only operative actually left alive.

What makes NOLF such a great game, other than its length, is the sheer irreverence that it treats itself with. Everything is a stereotyped caricature of itself, from the leather cat-suited Cate, right through to the cycloptic Russian assassin, Volkov.

Games I Own: No One Lives Forever

To dismiss No One Lives Forever as nought but a humorous shooter though is to do it a great disservice, in my opinion. There’s so much more to the game than that.

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Games that break themselves: Hitman 2

Posted on 9th Feb 2009 at 06:58 by Joe Martin with 12 comments

Joe Martin
I bought a game last week – the Hitman Triple Pack. It’s got Hitman 2, Contracts and Blood Money in it, all for £15.

It’s an odd, old purchase admittedly, but the buying habits of game journos tend to be quite different from regular customers in my experience. I already get sent and get to play all the new games as they come out, so any money I spend in stores is dedicated to collecting older games I missed out on before.

Hitman 2 though is a game I have a turbulent and colourful history, mainly because of one aspect of its game design. I've tried to complete it four times now and each time I've given up when I got to the Japanese levels.

Playing Hitman 2 over the weekend, I again got to the second Japanese level (the one with the ninjas, where you have to infiltrate the castle) and I thought of giving up on it again.

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Games I Own: Call of Cthulhu

Posted on 5th Feb 2009 at 13:30 by Joe Martin with 4 comments

Joe Martin
Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of The Earth is one of my favourite games and I love it to bits. It’s tense, dark, truly and deeply frightening and possessed of the same permeating sense of atmosphere and macabre fiction as the HP Lovecraft novels it is based on. Created by Bethsoft, it really is great and there’s one chase sequence in particular that I’m sure was a major inspiration for Mirror’s Edge.

But, Call of Cthulhu is one of the worst games I’ve ever played. It’s frustrating and unrelenting, too difficult even at the best of times, with an inspirational chase-sequence that’s harder than Superman’s right hook and a story that both jumps the shark and leaves you hanging unresolvedly around.

The basic premise for the game is typical Lovecraftian horror, with players cast as a 1930s private eye who travels to Innsmouth to investigate a missing person. What at first seems to be a small American town drenched in depression and perpetual thunder, soon becomes something a lot more fearsome, with murders and dark sacrifices slowly coming to light.

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Games I Own: Baldur's Gate 1

Posted on 2nd Feb 2009 at 10:38 by Joe Martin with 9 comments

Joe Martin
There are four stacks I have in my assortment of computer games at home - two piles of DVD jewel cases, one stack of games in smaller CD cases and three or four small wallets of individual CDs. Badlur's Gate 1 is in the stack of CD cases and is one of only two games I own that have cardboard cases.

Before we go any further though, a clarification is in order; I don't actually own Baldur's Gate 1 (and its packaged expansion Tales of the Sword Coast) - they belong to my brother. I nabbed them from him when he stopped playing games as much as I did.

In fact, let's move from clarification to confession: I never really liked Baldur's Gate.

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