Sunday, 22 March 2009

Podcasts: The Post 1UP Panoply

1UP got me listening to podcasts. I think it was E3 2007 and I had just got back into gaming and was hot for news from the show. They were running a crazy schedule, daily podcasts from the floor. From realizing 1UP Yours was 'quite good actually' though to my crack like addiction to GFW Radio, 1UP were responsible for popping my podcast cherry.

I was working in West London, and living out east by the sea. My drive to work was 2 hours on a good day, 4 hours on a bad day. Podcasts kept me going. When GFW was a day late, I'd be screwing. Fast forward to January 2009 – the axe drops at 1UP and the next thing you know, new podcasts are popping up like fucking mushrooms. It's a good time to be listening. Here's what I am listening to as I meander through the by-roads of deepest darkest Essex:

Rebel FM -
One of my 3 favorite shows (hint – they are at the op of the list), because the mix is pretty good. While it can wander into beard stroking territory at times, on air insanity is never far away. Phil Kolar anchors the podcast like the vet he is, Arthur Gies coats every body off but still comes of as a likeable fella, and Anthony Gallegos oscillates between howlingly funny stories and morose but insightful commentary. Reading it put like that, it may not seem too exciting, but I wait for this one every week for my Wednesday or Thursday commute. Always interesting, often funny, I really recommend it.
Best Bit so far: Episode 8: Chimp Attack

A Life Well Wasted -
Robert Ashley gets serious. He may sound like he smokes a pound of weed a week, but he offers meaningful and contemplative insight through his monthly one man show, 'A Life Well Wasted'. Eschewing the usual 'bods round a table talking shit' format, his editorial approach of interviewing several people one a single subject is a welcome change of pace. Best consumed in a evening cruise though the countryside, watching the sun set. Oh, the music is excellent too!
Best Bit so far: All of it.

Out of the Game -
Ha ha ha, my prayers are answered! If you don't know what Shawn Elliott, Jeff Green, Robert Ashley, Luke Smith and Ngai Crole on podcast that does not talk about games means, then little of what I write next will be able to capture what these heroes among nerds have managed to create. Existing on the perfect line between genius and stupidity, I thumped the crap out of my steering wheel and cheered at the finale of the 'butt hash' story. Woman looking at me in her review mirror thought I was a bit of a mentalist.
Best Bit so far: Episode 1: The spiritual successor to the off topic bits of GFW Radio

Giant Bombcast -
Had never heard of this until they appeared on the xmas special (and penultimate 2 part show) of 1UP Yours. I liked what I heard though. Now the Bombcast is my Tuesday staple. A solid four man crew run though game related subject matter in a pretty traditional format. Which is fine as long as it is done well. Which it is. The intro music is tight. The interval music not so much, but its not like it is that important. A solid performer.
Best Bit so far: The energy drink taste tests at the start of the show.

Geekbox -
Ryan Scott is a fucking soldier. Gathering the shattered remains of GFW, he forged the LAN party, which was shattered again by the 1UP cuts. Unperturbed, he started the Geekbox radio. It is less games related than most of the other podcasts I listen to, so I get to hear a lot about stuff I wouldn't actively seek out. I couldn't give a toss for Lost, have not seen Burn Notice (but am interested) and don't really read comics (uhhh, Preacher book 1 like 6 years ago maybe). In spite of this, the podcast is fascinating listening for me. The cast of Ryan Scott, Karen Chu, Andrew Fitch, Ryan Higgins and Greg Ford is a great balance. Special mention for Higgins taking to podcasting like a duck to water.
Best Bit so far: Fitch Hitch, aka the love life of Andrew Fitch

ListenUP -
Wow, the last 1UP Yours was emotional stuff. I felt bad for Garnett, and knew I'd miss hearing Shane. Then ListenUP started and it was almost as good. Had to giggle the first time Garnett accidentally called the show 1UP Yours again. The tried and tested format of good anchor (Garnett Lee), interesting cohorts in the reassuringly British sounding John Davies and ever enthusiastic David Ellis plus a truck load of booze still works well. While EP 4 (3/13/09) was a bit of a damp squib, I have every confidence it will come back to it's full potential again, just like Rocky Balboa. Now who for the 4th chair?
Best Bit so far: The last Xmas special was awesome. Wait, wrong show...

The Sports Anomaly -
I love the Sports Anomaly because it is loud, noisy, dumb and it does not really give a fuck. It is perfectly summed up by its intro music. It is second only to Motorhead in contributing to my deafness. I'm British by the way. This means I watch footie (sawkka) and rugby. Most of the time I haven't got a clue what they are going on about. It's still funny as hell. Zuniga, Ford, Fitch and Ellis run this shit. Bad technical issues, screaming into a microphone like a lunatic and the best way of taking a break in recording ever devised. Without this show I would not know who the hell Jim Mora is.
Best Bit so far: Playoffs? Are you kidding me? Playoffs?!

Retronauts -
Aside from the Anomaly above, the only other survivor of the 1UPocalypse. It's about old games. For me, it's a bit hit and miss. It's always knowledgeable, it's often arcane, so some I can really get into and others leave me dazed and confused. If you like old games you really should check it out. I enjoy it more when I've actually played the games they are discussing. Host Jeremy Parish is always entertaining, and the crew changes a bit but is generally solid.
Best Bit so far: The Music again – retro game music heaven

Good Grief -
The pairing of Tina Sanchez and Scott Sharkey seems to work well, though it's still early doors. I missed the Pilot, but have checked out the first few episodes. You have to appreciate any effort to switch up the format. Shows promise, I think it's going to grow into something special but it's not going to happen overnight. You have to admire Sharkey, who I would refer to as a true born bastard. If I could change anything it would be getting Tina to stop saying “Just Kidding” every time she says something funny!
Best Bit so far: The funny.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

On GTA4 – 6 months too late

So I finally finished GTA IV. It required an effort from me, but at the same time, I was really compelled to finish it. More compelled than I have been to play MGS4 anyway (at the top of my pile of shame).

I love GTA games. Yes, from back before they were 3D. But from GTA III on in particular. GTA III was the purchase that justified the PS2 to me. Having seen it round my mate Russ' house, I knew instantly it would be something special, and it did not disappoint. However, to me, GTA III pales when stood next to it's two hot sisters, Vice City and San Andreas. I actually played Vice City on PC, and cannot really remember why at the moment. I enjoyed the hell out of it though, and played it through twice. The fleshing out of the world, achieved by better voice actors, empire expanding, and the emotive 80's setting was far more compelling to me than the generic New York of GTA III. So Vice City was nice. But San Andreas had me by the balls.

I played and played and played that game. On PS2, then on PC. Completion of the story first time round meant an instant restart for a 100% (did not make it – damn pilot licenses). I played the PC version endlessly, and was even active in the Mod scene for a bit, skinning cars. I think the reason I loved San Andreas so much was the advance in atmosphere. It took what Vice City did in terms of setting a mood, a sense of time and place, and then took it to a whole new level. To me, it was near perfect. I played it like an RPG. I went for drives sometimes. I collected cars and stashed them at properties. It was my go to game from November 2004, for about 2 years.

So I was hot for GTA IV. I was on for the epic reveal thread, when the Internet ground to a halt. “New York” I thought to myself, “well, it's not what I thought it would be but fuck it, I'll take it.”

I picked the game up launch week, booked a week off work and settled in. Immediately things felt wrong. I sucked at driving. Hell, I even sucked at walking. The arcade style controls of San Andreas were gone, replaced by what Rockstar must have believed was a more realistic control system. To me, it felt like Niko had a fat suit on and had been hitting the Valiums. My longest play session was 3.5 hours in the first week, and this was never to be repeated. I felt bad. I wanted the spiritual sucessor to San Andreas, and while beautiful to look at, GTA IV never once tried to touvh my nuts. Huh. I loved the story, and the visuals, but the controls put me right off. Maybe my time with GTA on the PC had spoiled me, with the precision that mouse aim provides. I am not certain.

I finished GTA IV tonight. Hearing Ryan O'Donnell talk about it on Rebel FM, saying that he never took a taxi in the game astounded me. Because I struggled with the driving so much, I ended up taking cabs everywhere. Going back to the game now was quite an eye opener, especially playing it with someone who had not seen it before watching me play. I appreciated some of the details I had missed in my first block of time with it, blinded my my futile attempts to control my character in a semi realistic way.

I am glad I finished the game. The end story was a tad cheesy, but it is GTA so I guess that is par for the course. Overall, GTA IV will stand for me as an achievement in a technical sense, rather than as one of the greatest games. We all know the flaws (I accept that the control system is not flawed – the problem exists between the couch and the controller), and we know what it did well. I look forward to what comes next. This year, a Lost and Damned release on PS3 I would hope. Further in the future... well, here is my speculation. In GTA III the corrupt cop character of Ray splits town, telling you he'll see you in Vice City. At the end of GTA IV, Romain texts you on your phone, and mentions a trip to Vice City. Enough said.
1 line summary: The greatest technical achievement for videogames in 2008.

Monday, 23 February 2009

CallMeSarge Gaming Journal - 23rd Feb 2oo9

Monster Trucks Nitro

I am working up to a big post on CoH. This is not it.

THIS is probably one of the most pleasing sub £10 games I have purchased (perhaps beaten by PixelJunk Eden) and is the reason I have not completed Flower yet. Pollination can wait when there are physics based puzzles to solve with my monster truck!

Years ago a mate called Toby got me hooked on a game called Elastomania. You navigate your 2D motorcycle through a series of complex levels, collecting apples and finding a daisy that ends the level. Mastery of the finely balanced leaning mechanic was essential to progress, and it became a strange 'Pass the Keyboard' multi-player experience. I would occasionally wander through the house during a party to find some poor soul (usually the worse for wear) grinding away at one of the trickier later stages in the game. It was simple, homebrew, and totally addictive.

Monster Trucks Nitro, by Red Lynx, is a progression of that game (And obviously the Trials games too, but I played them less and I like the oldschool version, so segue a go go). The levels are time based, and herein lies the challenge. A bronze medal will unlock the next level (so far), but gold medals give you the shineys. In game bill boards hint at some kind of off-road formula one car – sweet!

The aesthetic feel and sound affects are spot on, and the blue monster truck with flames on it reminds me that as a child, I was truly convinced that my fathers choice not to invest in one of these for daily transport was a huge mistake. The gameplay puts a smile on my face – judging the balance just right as you launch your truck off a ramp, over a canyon, and on to a row of school buses confirms some deep, childish knowledge that despite what my fore brain is telling me, monster trucks are really fucking cool. Only one thing could improve the game for me. Ok two things. More levels. And a Bowler Wildcat.

1 Line Summary: More fun than Flower.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Cheesy Potatoes, Chocolate desserts, and whatcha been drinking.

OK, so I've written about games and the art of swearing without swearing, time to hit the food. I am a big fan of the English food writer, Nigel Slater. I think his approach to food is spot on, and here are some recipes from his Kitchen Diaries that I have cooked lately.

Cheese smothered potatoes. This is proper winter food, and ranks up there with Swiss Rosti to me as being one of the best ways to cook potatoes. Floury potatoes are essential, and being in the UK, I tend to favor the King Edward. Why wouldn't I? The Cheese is as important as the potatoes here. Taleggio smells strong but tastes mild, melts like mozzarella but is less stringy to my mind. Having acquired your cheese and potatoes, as well as onion, olive oil and garlic, you are good to go.

Slice the onion finely, slice the garlic finely, heat them gently in a frying pan with the olive oil. You want them to soften for 5 minutes. Whilst they are softening, slice your potatoes to 3mm thick slices. You can also slice the cheese now as it will save time later. I choose to cut the rinds away, you can do as you please. Put the potatoes in the pan with the onion, cover, and cook for 25 mins at the same low heat, turning once. They should be a light gold in parts, and soft to the point of a knife. Lay the sliced cheese over the spuds and cook for a further 3-5 mins so the cheese melts over the potatoes. Serve up. Whether as a main with a salad, or as a side to grilled meat (I love this with lamb), these potatoes will impress.

Sometimes we do eat out on valentines day, this year we decided to have a meal at home. The main course was grilled lamb, chickpea mash and spinach, washed down with a sparkling rosé, but I would like to tell you about the dessert. A home made chocolate dessert is a food of love, and I'd like to think that this one sealed my status as the Barry White of our kitchen.

You'll need 200g of dark chocolate, the best you can lay your hands on. Greene and Blacks 75% cocoa did it for me. 200g of caster sugar, some Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread, 3 eggs and some ramakins. Interesting aside – in my younger years, I was convinced that 'I know you got soul' was by Eric B and Ramakin. Fail.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over simmering water. Separate the eggs, put the yolks in a blender and the whites in a bowl. Add the sugar to the yolks and blitz till thick and creamy. Enlist the help of your significant other to whisk the whites till solid-esq and peaking like home made clouds. Fold the melted chocolate into the yolk mixture. Add two teaspoons of chocolate spread, in this case the afore mentioned Nutella. Fold the whites into the chocolate yolk mixture. Make sure no big drifts of white are left. Butter your ramakins, pour the mixture in, and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes. They look like a cross between souffles and cakes. Dust the top with icing sugar and serve warm from the oven. This recipe makes four, so you have two for the next day. Serve with pouring cream.

Have noticed I am drinking more this year. Don't worry, weekends only. I am a huge fan of bitter, especially from small regional brewers, but have decided to try and cut back a bit. So Larger is back on the menu, Corona and Heineken for preference. I love wine but as my partner is nearly teetotal, I rarely buy bottles as they don't get finished. I bought a bottle of vodka back from Moscow in December, and Bloody Marys have been prominent as a result. I have a 10 year bottle of single malt that gets visited occasionally, but Friday always seems to end with me, a can of coke, and my good friend Jack Daniels. It's funny, having a drink seems to make me play pool better – but it does not work for CoH!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

CallMeSarge Gaming Journal - 7th Feb 2009

Prince of Persia - PS3

Started it today, managed to put about 3 hours in. Initial impressions are good, took me a while to get adjusted to the 'automatic' nature of the controls – only one button to wall run – but I picked it up quickly. Exploring the world is the main hook here, and the inability to die does not bother me at all. The boss fights seem to be the biggest niggle so far, and one of them had me frustrated for about 10 minutes ( a long time to be fighting an 'invincible boss') until I figured out how to do what the game wanted me to do. So far there have been a couple of good boss battles and a couple of lame ones. Considering I picked it up for £10 from my buddy Russ, so far it seems money well spent. I don't spend as much time on the PS3 as I do on the PC, so it will be interesting to see how far through I get. At the moment, I feel motivated to try and hit the end, I guess the only thing that would stop me is a really hard boss battle with a stupid mechanic that I could not do. I'm not holding my breath.

The dialogue between the Prince and Elika is great, and the 'take it or leave it' approach Ubisoft has used to the back story is a good idea in my opinion. But there can't be that many people out there who are really hyped on Prince of Persia lore – can there?

1 Line Summary: A great hangover game (barring the bad boss battles)

Fallout 3 - PC

Continuing on with second character, and playing as Evil. Finished the Operation Anchorage content, and was less than impressed overall. Very combat focused, and not much in the way of the dark, messed up twists that are the standout moments of the main game. However then end of mission loot was well worth it to me (yes it IS all about the loot), and I will pick up the next to DLC packs as and when the become available – although I resent the fact I have to do it through GFW-Live. Why not Steam?

I am still enjoying the game, and I have probably played close to 100 hours now. I think I will play on until I have seen all I can see, I am still motivated to head out into the wastes and look for random stuff. I may post some spoilerfic thoughts on this later on – best let people play it themselves for the time being.

1 Line Summary: If the DLC was on PS3, those 100 hours would have been more comfortable.

Dawn of War II Multiplayer Beta - PC

I am just not getting on with it as well as I had hoped I would, though I feel this is more to do with me than the game. I loved DoW I, and bought all the expansions, which in turn led me to Company of Heroes.

DoW I was really all bout the compstomp for me. I play online in 3v3s and 4v4s regularly, but the mass blobbing and fast tech driven strats (Dark Crusade's Space Marine Fast Tech to Grey Knights and Chaplain anyone?) did not make it a heart pounding competitive experience. It was more about the satisfaction of building a huge army and sending them out to smash puny humies or lay waste to heretics. The best fun to be had (for me) was comp-stomping against the improved AI skirmish mods that came out, with a friend or 3 vent.

CoH Rocked my world though, and while I was never able to rise above level six (USA/Wehr/PE), 1v1 Automatch is one of the most intense multiplayer experiences I have ever had. A victory can make me smile all day, while a loss can make me do things I'll regret later (like playing 3 more games with the same faction and loosing 3 times). Anyway, so there are my Relic RTS credentials.

I get what DoW II is trying to do with the smaller battles and more intense gameplay, I just cannot tell what the hell is going on at the moment. Tech decisions seem so important that I am worries about upgrading until I see what my opponent is fielding. The VPs seem to drop really fast too, so matches tend to be defined (if not decided) in Tier 1. It is a multiplayer Beta after all, so everyone started from the same place – as a Soulstorm owner, a week early I might add. It just seems to miss some of the charm that DoW I had. In DoW I, the models seemed clear, if a little cartoonish. In DoW II, I find it much harder to differentiate between units. It gets a little easier when they start firing. I think I am going to reserve judgment, but I have to say initial impressions are leaving me a little under-whelmed. I have the feeling that my time playing DoW II will be limited to single player and compstomps – which may be no bad thing.

1 Line Summary: To soon to say, but I am not ecstatic.

Company of Heroes – PC

After some time with DoW II MP Beta, this is like coming home. Jumped on for some random 3v3 pickups, and really enjoyed it. I guess if I get to understand DoW II as well as I do CoH, maybe I will get into it in the same way. Still, an orbital bombardment is no V1 rocket, if you know what I mean...

Give me a yell if you see me in CoH – CallMeSarge or SonOfSarge.

1 Line Summary: Still the my favorite game of all time.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Origins of Mr Charles Foxtrot

While I had heard the term before, it sprang to regular usage in my life thanks to Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary. Pretty soon, it was in regular use in the production department I worked in. Tayler's inspired usage is still my favorite -

"If Charlies gonna dance the foxtrot, I am not gonna stand around wearing a dress."

Interested students of the topic can dig in to the history if they so desire, it's origins in Mongolia, it's prevalence in the Vietnam war, and it's place in the modern military parlance. I feel that it fits the office workspace well. Try it out some time. Perhaps you'll like it...