Category Archives: Game Review

Video Blogging & 2016 Game Awards

Happy New Year?

Well regardless of how you feel about the new year, and the festive season in general, I hate it. To me it’s a gigantic “end of term” report card. It’s a time to reflect on what you’ve done since the previous new year, and invariably bring forth a seasonal depression when you realize that actually, you’ve not done very much.

I’ve had a particularly dull year – enhanced by the fact that 2016 was pretty crappy all round. The media have really jumped on the doom and gloom bandwagon with celebrity deaths, unexpected election results, refugee crises, mass migration, cold war re-ignition and appalling devastation and terror in the name of religion. ūüôĀ

Well, I can’t fix any of that, but I have decided to contribute some of my measly knowledge to society in a more visual and all round proactive way. As well as increasing the frequency of the written stuff, I’ve already started to record some video.

My plan is simple, I have no particular focus for the videos, but they will be about code, and electronics, and technology, and recording my efforts to learn, and perhaps even teach, tech engineering from first principles. As always, if anyone finds this useful, its a bonus.

Right, on with the ceremony!

The OneLoneCoder Blog Video Game Awards 2016

Welcome to the inaugural OneLoneCoder Blog Video Game Awards! Here we award Javid’s to the best games I played during 2016. Note, that this may not necessarily be the year the game was released. Let’s introduce your incredibly enthusiastic host – Javidx9!!!

thejavidaward_lores

“Here, Have a Javid…”

Now without further ado, let’s get onto the awards! <insert generic fanfare>

Best Major Game

Also known as “AAA” titles, this category is for the big boys, millions of pounds spent on a media budget alone, and usually a very large file size!

Nominations

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Naughty Dog

Final Fantasy XV
Square Enix

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate
Ubisoft Quebec

Dirt Rally
Codemasters

And the Winner is…

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

“What a superb game. Not only is it engrossing to play, but it oozes game engine polish at every opportunity. The fact that the playing modality radically changes whilst you play and you don’t even notice is a testament to the sheer master-craft of its¬†designers. Only a game where people not playing can thoroughly enjoy watching it being played is truly worthy of a Javid. Well Done!” – Jx9

Best Minor Game

These games come from the lesser known developers or even “indy” developers. They will never gain huge acceptance, some people will think they’re just plain weird, but what do they know. Often the best games are the ones where they spent money on the game, and not on it’s marketing.

Nominations

Windlands
Psytec Games Ltd

The Witness
Thekla

Goat Simulator
Coffee Stain Studios

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
The Chinese Room

Elite Dangerous
Frontier Developments

And the Winner is…

The Witness

“It is rare that a game today¬†connects with me on so many levels. The Witness is a game hampered by its trailer and social networking as it can’t give away the secrets that lie within. The intelligent design of this intellectual and ‘explorational’ behemoth is without comparison, and I am certain¬†the developers sacrificed years of their lives fine tuning what I can only describe as not just the best game of 2016, but perhaps, just maybe, the greatest and deepest game I have ever played.” – Jx9

Special Mention Of The Year

This award goes to a game that may not be up for being the best or the worst, but there was something about it that just makes you think “yeah… it’s alright that”. This year’s special mention goes to Windlands.

“Perhaps it’s a gimmick, or a fleeting novelty, but the sensation of flying still puts a grin on my face every time I boot it up. Take a good run up, look sideways and jump. And DON’T LET GO!” – Jx9

Second Place Turd Of The Year

Automatically, according to the Javid Academy Rules, Destiny wins the First Place winner of this award, therefore to make this category more relevant, we select the runner up.

And the Winner is…

I Am Setsuna

“Oh. This was disappointing. You see, it’s not a bad game, just not a very interesting one. Indeed, it does channel a little nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of console role playing games, but playing it I can’t help asking for a little more, well, colour, depth, strategy, story, exploration, music, humour…, you know, like how they used to be!” – Jx9

 

So that’s all for 2016. Join me in the new year. I’m trying to get better at this!

Jx9

 

Review: Windlands – Sweat & Neck Ache and Totally Worth It

NOTE: No screenshots are contained in this review (because I’ve not figured out how to do it yet with the PSVR – look at some here www.windlands.com)

Well, today I’ve gave Windlands by Psytec Games Ltd a go. That’s not true actually. For the last 3 weeks I’ve been playing this exclusively. My last binge, World of Final Fantasy, got put on hold whilst I took a punt on something for my Playstation VR. I knew nothing about this game, but I wanted something to show my buddies at a Poker night that would demonstrate the PSVR in a manner they could get to grips with that was not a puzzle game, or “experience”. My poker buddies are a great bunch, really funny, but have such a narrow¬†taste in games, that if it does not begin with FI and end with FA (note: a banned word in my house) it doesn’t get a look in. Fortunately, I think I’ve a reputation among the bunch as not just being the geek, but a trusted geek, and when I asked the host if it was OK for me to bring the PSVR¬†round, he jumped at the chance – I needed to impress. I had Thumper, Tumble and the demo disc with DriveClub. The latter¬†might have been fun for a bit but would get a little predictable, and the other two were probably just too boring (though I think they’re great fun). Wanting to give the guys an experience they would never forget (phrasing) I hurriedly scanned the PlayStation store for something that looked vomit inducing, and most importantly – cheap.

Windlands it was then. It only had 12 ratings, but all five star. It was from a company I’d never heard of but seemed to be some sort of indy dev collective. I was attracted to the fact that I had to look for this – clearly the marketing budget was minimal. The elitist snob inside my gamebrain thought this was a good sign, as mere “regular” gamers would overlook a potential gem, and I’d have the scoop all to myself.

It downloaded fast and I thought I’d give it a little try before leaving for the poker game.

The VR buzz kicked in – “WARNING! THIS IS A FULL MOTION VR GAME!” floated in front of me. Then a load of options appeared that narrowed down how I wanted to consume this experience. Naturally I just X-mashed this until it went away and then it started. Well almost. Some frankly very poor voice acting introduced some cheesy dribble about, I don’t know, some robot and an island and crystals etc (x-mashing was not helping at this point).

I appeared in a room. I looked around and it’s a very static world. Though it tracked beautifully, there are no animations, just some dust floating about and a slightly lo-fi soundscape playing. Damn I thought, have I been duped? Has my gamebrain snob got this one wrong? I pressed a stick to walk forward – whaaaaaaat? What just happened? What was that sensation? I pushed a bit more, and immediately thought to myself that this might actually be the single most exhilarating experience of my entire life! I’d taken two steps forward in a clearly Unity engine static game world, but it felt like I’d just awoken in the f%^$ing Matrix! You see, I’d not had this with PSVR yet. I’d driven cars, flown space craft, stacked blocks, and err, thumped, err giant aztec space beetle head things, but now I was in a real game world! As per usual, the left stick moves your legs, and the right stick rotates your torso. In a very, rigid, segmented way. You see, to minimize the chance of involuntary dinner removal, it rotates your view in chunks (though the head rotation movement is smooth). Don’t like this, Game Options, Enable Smooth Rotate – Ow my Eyes – Don’t like this, Game Options, Disable Smooth Rotate – Ahh that’s better. Actually, the chunky turning movement is very clever. After a minute or so of chunking, I did not even notice it, and combined with the head movement you only need it for large turning maneuvers.

I walked towards the brightness and stepped outside and a giant (and I mean huge) robot tried to grab me and then walked off and sat down for¬†a sulk. I looked around and walked around a bit. I had the VR smile from ear to ear as the sensation of actually being in this artificial world was just great, it really was. Then I pressed the X button. I lept what felt like 20 meters into the air, in a really pleasing floaty way. It felt like I was on a roller coaster. This will truly be one of those game experiences I’ll never forget. I genuinely believed I’d just shot into the sky. Whilst in the air, I looked down and saw the ground coming rapidly towards me. I actually bent my knees as if to soften the blow. My vocabulary is simply not sufficient to describe the sensation. My biggest fear was that this feeling would wear off with more play, so I jumped sparingly. I took running jumps, and realized I could wall jump (a la Super Metroid). Soon I was bouncing all over, and I was still stood just outside of my original spawning point. With each leap my brain sent physical sensations to my stomach and limbs – I was feeling this world. And I’ve not felt sick once.

The game quickly gets its point across. You have to explore a complicated collection of ruins, forests, and mountains to collect crystals which unlock more areas to explore, and tablets, which really are just something to collect. These collectibles are are hidden in places that require dexterity in order to reach, so wall jumping and running is a must, but the most important item is the only tool you get – a pair of physics-y elasticated grappling hooks. Now the game has really started, and you will learn to use these hooks as an extension of your body. By default, you can only grip foliage (yup) which forces some thinking from the player in order to overcome obstacles. You will need to manipulate your momentum to swing between grappling points and effectively fly around the world. Please bear in mind how exciting just walking forward was! Swinging and flying is intense! You really feel it. I was pouring with sweat. The sensation of movement along with the reasonable yet genuine difficulty in getting to a high up location, coupled with the feeling of genuine loss when you mess it up and get sent back to your last checkpoint (of which there are few), is just superb. I was gripping the joypad so hard my hands were hurting – I MUST NOT LET GO, I MUST NOT MISS THIS JUMP! Brilliant.

I had to top playing after two hours, I was exhausted and my neck was sore from all the looking. I took off the headset and found myself facing completely away from my TV. I had a break for 20 minutes, and then dived straight back in, and it’s been like this for the last three weeks. It’s an addiction, such a fantastic experience from such a simple concept.

Windlands will take about 8 hours to beat on “Normal”. I don’t care though, it has replay value, and has built in speedrun leader-board challenges, which really do¬†make you try your hardest to optimize the most perfect route, and even exploit the odd glitch here and there. I firmly believe that this is a first generation VR masterpiece, and I hope it is a sign of how the genre will develop. It’s not just VR for the sake of it, it really exploits the medium¬†to provide a very natural interface to a gaming world. Well done Psytec Games Ltd, Well done.

My Poker buddies liked the demo where you headed a football.

World of Final Fantasy first 14 Hours and 6 Minutes impression

No Spoilers exist within this review!

woff_rev_title

So WoFF (World of Final Fantasy) has finally arrived. I like the abbreviation WoFF. To be honest, I wasn’t aware of this game’s existence until two months ago, but the second I saw the trailer, it ticked all the right boxes. I picked up the pre-order PS4 version (with the Sephiroth Summon – of course ūüôā ), and I’ve played 14 hours and 6 minutes of it so far, and what a remarkably compelling experience it has been.

First things first. I am a Final Fantasy fan. I started with FFVI, then played in this order VII, VIII, IX, X, I, IV, V, XII, II, III, Crisis Core, Dirge, Tactics, XIII, III-Remake. Despite that looking like some secret code predicting the apocalypse, it is in fact a representation of some¬†2000 hours of my life. To be fair FF isn’t always good. As this is the internet, and this is a FF post, it’s obligatory that I thrust my order of preference upon you. I like VII the most (it was the right game at the right time), and I despise XIII and VIII. The others are somewhere in between…

So when a new FF game is due out (and by the way,¬†there is a very imposing one due next month, yay) I usually don’t hesitate, I’m a fanboy after all. But next-gen RPGs have been a little naff in my opinion. Open world gaming has it’s place, but it does facilitate very lazy game development (re: cheap and quick).

For example, take a large but mostly empty map, break it into regions, in each region have a little hub, at each hub have a list of quests. Now tell the player to solve all the quests (kill “wibble” or Collect X “wibble” or Deliver X “wibble” or Defend “wibble” or Craft X “wibble” into a “mega-wibble”). At each hub, one specific quest will give you permission to visit the next hub, once a number that describes you is large enough. This approach to RPGs permits millions of quests and DLC, but it all just feels like incoherent time wasting (looking at you Destiny (in the bin)) – surely there is more to gaming than making numbers bigger? Admittedly that’s a hugely philosophical gaming theory bottomless pit there an definitely the subject of a future post.

I¬†scoured a few p/reviews online before its release. All very positive, but we both know that the true reviews are in the comments. “It looks crap – why have they done it in a cute style?” and “Its rubbish – you can’t even move the camera!”. Firstly, didn’t the universal population complain about any FF game that featured realistic characters? Secondly, other than XII, which other FF game do you have full camera control in? WoFF has adopted a graphical style in the vein of earlier FF games (ie the good ones) and you know what – it’s fantastic.

Big Dudes - Great!
Big Dudes – Great!
Little Dudes - Cute!
Little Dudes – Cute!

WoFF is without a doubt an absolute fan service game. It contains countless elements from across the entire FF franchise. It wraps it up in a nostalgic blanket of Active Time Battles fused with Pokemon and Ni No Kuni, and the best part is – WoFF understands it is a fan service game. At last, no angsty teenagers and gloomy rivalries, no quests to die and temples to respect. This game realizes there is no way to sensibly fuse all the FF content into a single experience so it does not really try. The main two protagonists are frequently breaking the fourth wall, and the supporting cast are equally bemused by what’s happening. It’s just downright fun. Now what makes it even better is combining it with nostalgia and the option to enjoy it all at your own pace.

So far its been quite linear, but it’s just been a great ride, with funny stories and character acting, engaging and thought provoking battles, and it offers a constant sense of achievement. If I’m feeling adventurous, it provides nooks and crannies to explore with tougher foes. Make no mistake – this game is all about the monster hunting and battling, but the environments are pleasantly distracting and absorbing that you don’t mind a bit of back tracking.

This all looks eerily familiar - and I like it!
This all looks eerily familiar – and I like it!

WoFF is really a giant menu. I know that sounds terrible but trust me here, it’s a menu that’s loads of fun to use. On the whole it’s a slick and polished experience. There are a couple of niggles regarding the modality of the buttons in different areas of the interface, but hey VII defaulted to ‘O’ being confirm!

Menu - See 14:06 hours
Menu – See 14:06 hours!

Take a look at the menu – blue with white borders and a little hand – it’s this attention to detail that makes WoFF great. They made the characters look like they’re out of Kingdom Hearts (an equally great game) and the monsters are FF legends. Cool, so what kind of skills development system does it use? Well taking all the best things from previous games it uses Materia and Sphere Grids! Great!

Yup, rectangular spheres
Yup, rectangular spheres

Combat is slick. They give you a fast forward and auto-command feature. Grinding (and you will need to grind) feels much less, well… grind-y. The combat works by collecting and growing creatures (past FF enemies). Each creature has a skill tree that you populate to provide commands and abilities to use in battle. You then merge creatures into “stacks”, which look ridiculous, but the final “merged” creature blob is¬†an amalgamation of¬†skills, abilities, defenses etc. This gives you phenomenally deep¬†control into how you battle. Collecting creatures requires specific tasks to be performed in battle, so no just ‘X’ mashing here. Actually it’s ‘Triangle’ to attack in WoFF but hey.

Battles look a little silly, but that's the point - this whole game is silly
Battles look a little silly, but that’s the point – this whole game is silly

At the end of each battle a pleasing number of progress bars fill up, levelling all your new friends as necessary. So in summary, you need to increase the count of creatures you have. You need to increase the power of each creature. You need to increase the number of things you find, and places you visit, by increasing the abilities available to you. Who said there’s anything wrong with just endlessly increasing numbers? Well there isn’t when between every number increase, there’s 10 minutes of interactive plot, 5 minutes of nostalgia, and, err, 30 minutes of utter awesomeness!* All delivered with a superb level of shine¬†and challenge to keep it slick and fun.

*Note: there is not usually 45 minutes between battles.

Is it good? Abso-F&^%&ing-yes if you know your Final Fantasy. It’s probably only OK if you’re really into monster collecting games (wow, that’s really a genre now). For the regular Joe, likely it’s not for you.

If you recognise this - HOW CAN YOU NOT HAVE THIS IN YOUR LIFE???
If you recognise this – HOW CAN YOU NOT HAVE THIS IN YOUR LIFE???

PlayStation VR – Day 0 First Impressions

Hello!

On October the 13th I went to work as normal, but in the back of my mind I new something exciting was happening in the gaming world. At around 11am, whilst sipping a coffee, I thought about seeing how the world was reacting to the ‘event’, and found myself ferociously scanning the internet trying to find if it was at all possible for me to take part.

Of course, I’m talking about the Sony PlayStation VR package. I should first highlight my experience of VR – I remember game shows in the early 90s that tried to be cool by having teams competing in virtual worlds. They wore big bright yellow and green head sets and took part in “virtual” battles. I’m hesitant to allow this to be called virtual reality, I’m sure there is¬†some mathematics that show reality can’t be represented in fewer than 60 flat shaded triangles. Since then VR has been the next big thing that never quite arrived, with one slightly naff implementation after another. Travel through time 20 years and I dabbled with Google’s cardboard. A nice toy, but you really can’t escape the feeling you have a phone sellotaped to your face. Reminded me of making stuff out of cereal boxes and toilet roll tubes when I’d live with my grandmother in the summer holidays.

Now I’ve watched the coverage of VR over the last two years, and read the extremely polarizing comments to be found online. Sure there is a degree of fanboy-ism and there are those that simply need numbers to be bigger in order to validate the world around them. But I’ve maintained that since Sony announced its Project Morpheus, that they would be the winners. Despite wherever you sit on the gaming spectrum, Sony have been developing things that humans USE for decades. They have a strong history in it too. And I mean USE, as in genuinely interact with the tangible. I don’t believe this is the case with HTC, or Facebook. So if any company was going to provide me with equipment to bolt to my face and distort my brain’s perception of my surroundings, I’d trust Sony to at least do it in a comfortable way.

Back to the coffee. I had no intention of buying a day one VR system. It was going to cost me ¬£380 (well, cost the bank ¬£380), and I had recently¬†purchased a rather spiffing 55″¬†TV. So I checked Amazon. None available. Tesco. None Available. Fill in the gaps… Argos. Available! Damn! This thing was in demand! Was there going to be a shortage? “Next in stock 14th November” “Next in stock 10th December”. Of course some websites were more than happy to take my money for one, with the promise of delivery tomorrow! In return for my soul and every number ever used to represent any facet of my existence. Yeah, no thanks. So I clicked through to Argos, where I happily added the PSVR to my cart. Now I have a few argos’s’s’s near where I live. Collecting from the store meant I’d get it sooner. It hadn’t dawned on my yet that little over half an hour ago, I had not even contemplated getting one of these things. I had VR fever! I had to own one! Now I’m assuming you don’t know me, but please have some blind faith when I tell you that this behavior is not like me at all. I’ve never purchased anything day one. I don’t care about technology fads. The prospect of not taking part in the rush was¬†terrible. I phoned Mrs Javidx9 and asked for her thoughts – “I don’t mind if it’s something YOU’LL enjoy, but don’t (click)” – excellent, she’s onboard. Right Argos check out, its just you and me – what, wait…, you’re now out of stock! What utter sadness. I felt both guilty and silly that I was actually upset by a very first world problem – I was not going to own a virtual reality headset on the day it came out.

Back to work then. Decided I’d try the Argos anyway on my way home, and the PC World and Currys on the same industrial estate. I felt pathetic, desperately wandering about in the miserable grayness of a rainy closing industrial unit. As I walked back to the car, I saw a Smyth’s Toy Shop. Well it’s worth a go I though – I didn’t even know if they sold games or not. It looked like Lego and bright pink tat from the outside. They had three VR units on the shelf.

Review Starts Here

Opening the box, you are presented with… another box, full of boxes. Admittedly the box alone must cost ¬£20. Its a sturdy thing with a ribbon to stop it opening too much, a white, thick, seamless holder of technology. There’s a bunch of wires, and an instruction manual, and thankfully a demo disc. It didn’t take very long to get installed. Frustratingly, it requires a separate power supply, and the HDMI splitter box does not seem to play nicely with my soundbar (YSP-2500), meaning I have to power everything up in a very precise sequence to see a picture on the TV (hopefully ironed out in a firmware upgrade? Sony? Are you listening?). The headset itself feels premium, and is very comfortable to wear. I affix the camera to the top of the TV, and strap Mrs Javidx9 into the headset and headphones and switch it on.

HER:”ooooh, it’s very dark” – ME:”it’s loading” – HER:”what will I see? will it be @~^%^¬£$!!! I don’t like it! Oh. My. God. It’s stuff around me. Blurgh I just looked down. Don’t look down. I’m not looking down again.” – ME:”well look up then, it’s just the menu screen” – “Blurgh I just looked up. I don’t like looking up…” The simple truth is, it just worked. She put it on her head, sat in front of the camera, and she was off in her own virtual reality.

It was my turn. Now I’m a seasoned developer. I’ve an academic background in perception and computer graphics. I was going to analyse this with the most technological thoroughness I could muster. Two hours later I removed the headset, and found myself facing the opposite corner of my living room. It was staggering. I recalled the first time I played a non-wireframe 3D game. I had been completely engrossed. Forget the numbers of the hardware involved. I had been transported across cities in the clouds, driven a Ferrari, piloted space craft, been to the bottom of the ocean, and watched a small girl play with matches on a boat. How or why it worked was not important to me, it just did, and it worked really really well. The experience had completely surpassed my expectations.

I was blown away by an “experience” called “Allumette“. It’s like a movie, it has no controls, you can’t interact with it, but you can lean and look around the scenes. I was in that world. I have no memory of thinking I’m wearing a headset. Just memories of astonishment and satisfaction. Working my way through the demo disc the feeling of technological achievement never subsided – though some of the titles are duds – Driveclub VR and Battlezone where a tad disappointing as they forgot to bring the fun, but everything felt solid, responsive and immersive. Scouring the PlayStation store I discovered VR Playroom. I’d seen the PS3 version of this with little robots running around, and I thought what the hell, she’ll like it. Those robots are now my friends. The playroom is a collection of mini-games designed to encourage localised semi-social interactivity. Screw all that, they have one mini-game which I can only describe as a VR Mario. You guide a little robot on a map collecting coins and swatting enemies. Par for the course. But I am also on that map, and I need to look around in order to find the hidden coins, pathways and other bonuses. It works very well, and I hope this leads the PSVR out of the world of tech demos into full blown games.

I’m under no illusion that this is a first generation mass virtual reality product, and yes it runs on slightly out dated hardware, and sometimes it even jumps around a little, but the whole package is just so remarkably well done, that you don’t care. For the first time in years I was playing the games rather than assessing them.

Should you get one? Yes.