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.