All posts by Ash

Holidays and books

At 1am last night I finished work until the 13th of July. It would be an understatement to say that this makes me happy, but what makes me happier is knowing that I will be in France in a few days by the private pool in 35 degree sun, if the forecast is to be believed.

It’s going abroad that makes me realise how I spend way, way too much time on the internet. The weather isn’t particularly exciting to me if I’m honest, the idea of sitting around with nothing to do but read a good book or play on the DS is infinitely more interesting to me.

Even if it’s just a two day trip somewhere away from home, I get an excited buzz packing three or four books that I’ll never have enough time to read. It baffles me that I don’t get this feeling at home: I’ve had Simon Pegg’s autobiography, Nerd Do Well, since my birthday at the beginning of March and I’m still only about two thirds of the way through. I’ll have read it within an hour of arriving at our gîte.

If I’d thought this through, I would’ve asked for recommendations a few weeks back, but I’m an idiot. Thankfully, I still haven’t read Catch 22 or Down and out in Paris and London since I bought them about 5 years ago, so after I’ve read Ninteen Eighty-Four for the eight millionth time, I’ll start them. Or not.

In summary: Woo, Books! Yay, holiday!

Paper jam!

Apologies, I didn’t want to do a lazy entry today, but I have roughly 300 million things to do before we go away and very little time to do them. Still, it’s nice to see an explanation of the inner workings of a photocopier, right?

A post about indie games (AKA something nice on the internet)

These days you can’t go anywhere on the internet without happening across a game being developed by one man and his small terrier dog called Larry. It’s time for indie games to shine, apparently. Still, it’s nice when something good happens on the internet to reverse some of the monstrous shit that happens in the Youtube comments sections.

It’s great to see some of these games have a lot of success too: World of Goo is fantastic; Super Meat Boy made me want to throw my Xbox out of the window, but I didn’t because that wouldn’t have been enough to ease the frustration (in a good way); and I’ve made no secret of my love for Project Zomboid, which, incidentally, has a free demo available now, so you’ve got no excuse to not play on it.

David Rosen, one of the people behind the awesome Humble Indie Bundle (and Wolfire games), posted a link to a game that, despite being in pre-alpha (version 0.1) – pretty much the earliest playable stage a game can be at – is showing a lot of potential. Running With Rifles doesn’t sound like anything special – “Running with rifles is a 3D warfare PC-game with solid action/stealth/tactics flavor.” – but is somehow amazing fun. It’s also free to play at the moment, so I suggest you try it.

Lastly, I will leave you with this:

Indie Game: The Movie is a feature documentary about video games, their creators and the craft. The film follows the dramatic journeys of indie game developers as they create their games, and as they release those works, and themselves, to the world.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/25268139]

On familiar ground (Yet another post about Valve)

I’ve been struggling to think of something to write here all day, but for once it isn’t because there isn’t anything I want to write about; it’s because there is one thing I really want to write about that I’ve done before, and on more than one occasion: the Half-Life series.

The fact that I’m now writing this should make it quite obvious that I’m going to do it anyway, but it’s only because I need to get it off my chest. I also wrote that previous paragraph so you realise how I tried to avoid writing it, so don’t go rolling your eyes. I tried.

As anyone who follows me on Twitter will know, I spent a lot of time on Half-Life 2 yesterday. My memory tells me that it’s one of my favourite games, but it couldn’t back it up with any details, so playing through everything again was a brilliant refresher on why it’s such a special game. The Ravenholm chapter made me completely enamored with the game again, thanks to a terrifying(ly brilliant) atmosphere and absolutely inspired use of the physics engine for traps/puzzles.

I reached Nova Prospekt today and I’m still completely in awe of the game. Maybe it’s because due to other games doing it, but I always recalled the vehicle sections of the game as filler for large sections of the map, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. A lot of games have vehicle sections to mix things up and more often than not,  you will “become” the vehicle until that section is over, but Valve made sure this wasn’t the case; any damage suffered remains with you after you leave the vehicle, which, importantly, you can do at any time if you feel like exploring on foot. It felt strangely liberating and is still streets ahead of some games, even now – 7 years on. This applies to the facial animation system as well – seeing Alyx for the first time is still as incredible as it was the first time.

For reasons that escape me now, I decided to turn the original Half-Life after I’d been on the sequel for some time, and for the first time since I originally played it, it got it’s teeth into me. It’s obvious even now what made it an absolute masterpiece back in 1998 and you can see Valve’s potential seeping out everywhere; Even with a much more basic toolset they still managed to subtly feed you elements of the story and guide you through game using brilliantly designed maps.

I still feel strangely proud of myself after defeating the first “boss” you come across in the game, which is one of the reasons the game clicks with so many people – it makes you feel clever by using subtle hints as to how you solve sections of the game, as opposed to having an NPC explicitly tell you. Having you backtrack across parts of the map has another great effect: there’s an element of familiarity when you recognise where you are, but the area has often undergone a change to keep you on your toes.

There’s an obscene amount of anticipation for a new Half-Life game from the gaming community and while it’s fairly obvious that I’m eager for it to happen, especially after the last few days of being utterly obsessed with them, I would happily wait another few years if Valve can keep the quality at the same level as the previous two (and two thirds) titles. I just wish they’d at least announce that they’re making the bastard thing.

 

A Nice Day™

Hello. Did you see those shamelessly lazy posts I did yesterday? You didn’t? Oh. Well, that’s good. Let’s move on, shall we?

So, it was Father’s day yesterday. I had a lovely day and I’m not even a father, I’m not sure that’s even allowed now that I think about it, sorry dads! Rather predictably, I went to see my parents – mainly for my dad if I’m being honest – and we ate a bit of food and sat in the garden.

In a hilarious turn of events, my sister sat between me and my dad on the swinging hammock and snapped the wooden support it was hanging from, throwing my dad’s beer in the air and making us all slide into each other. It would have been the easiest £250 we ever made if someone had been filming it. Instead, it’s stuck in our brains where it will remain a worthless memory. Stupid brains.

It was a nice day though: My dad and I got to share our frustration at iTunes; my sister broke a chair and got the giggles; my mum pretended to ignore me for a while, after I mocked her for being on the phone for 40 minutes to me the other day; and my niece wore one of my nephew’s toys as a hat and danced around at the top of the stairs. Y’know, the usual.

It’s a shame that my girlfriend was stuck at stupid work earning stupid money, so we can pay the stupid mortgage. Whose bright idea was that, eh? Ours? Yeah, that sounds about right. Idiots.

Another dull update entry

This will be the second entry within a week that I forgot to do because I was too busy doing Things What I Should Be Doing. That really shouldn’t be something that I’m impressed with, should it?

I forgot how long the process of building a website can be when you’re starting completely from scratch. I have the design almost done, but the code I had written before wasn’t really up to the job and there was still all the “working” elements that needed figuring out – slideshows etc. That’s what I spent the vast majority of yesterday doing.

I genuinely enjoy building websites once the design is finished and I normally rush in before I’ve worked everything out. It’s not the best way of doing things and normally means I have to backtrack over some things at some point, but yesterday I used a basic WordPress installation to work out how I was going to build and implement all the complicated elements of the design before I started writing all the basic code. It was still mostly enjoyable, but getting very close to working something out and then realising it doesn’t work at all isn’t fun.

Still, work is underway now. I honestly don’t know why I had these periods where I get very little done; I enjoy doing this sort of work and having big gaps between doing it just means I forget really basic stuff, which makes it harder to actually get better. I’m a bit anxious about having to use Photoshop since it’s been so long since I’ve used it for a full design. I am an idiot.

Anyway, I don’t like writing these entries because they’re dull, so I’ll stop writing it. Right about now. No, wait. Now.

Origin: Why rivalling Steam is a bad idea

So, EA have launched Origin as a service to rival Steam, the digital distribution platform for games. As a company that likes money, preferably lots of it, their reasons for launching a rival service are hardly a secret, and it’s not really all that surprising that they’ve started removing some of their bigger games from Steam, but here are a few reasons why I think it’s a mistake.

First of all, the convenience. I’ve never been particularly reluctant to use Steam, even back when it started with Half-Life 2, but as the service expanded it actually became a convenient place to “store” games. Launching HL2 was a chore when you had to open an application to run an application, but when you have 150 games on an piece of software that runs in the background it isn’t annoying anymore.

Third-party publishers’ games appearing on the Steam store ensured its success. I launch Steam before I even know what I’m going to play on when using the PC, and if I could, I’d run all my games through Steam*. It’s become a games hub. Unless Origin (formerly “The EA store”) starts accepting third-party publishers (or more importantly, get them to choose Origin over Steam) then it will be like the early days of Steam forever. Or until every game is published by EA, but that might be a while off.

Secondly, the bar is too high. Steam launched eight years ago and is now unrecognisable from the version that originally launched. It’s easy to use, and has now become synonymous with the incredible sales that appear from time to time. How do you beat that? You probably don’t.

Now, I haven’t looked at the actual software for Origin yet, so it may be a joy to use, but based on previous EA Store sales I know that it won’t become irresistible to gamers who love a bargin. In fact, the whole ‘games hub’ aspect mentioned above ties in closely with the sales. I have to talk myself out of buying games sometimes, as I often want them so they’re in ‘the collection’.

Origin may add features that Steam doesn’t have, but in all honesty, I don’t see what they could add that Steam needs. Part of it’s brilliance is in it’s simplicity: the store and the library are the only two parts I ever use – one section for buying games, one section playing games. Sorted.

Finally, we don’t want a rival to Steam. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good, and while it’s often nice to have choice that isn’t what this is; Origin isn’t an optional piece of software for EA games, it’s essential for some (and no doubt, eventually all) of their games.

There will be people who won’t buy games because of this service. I don’t own that many EA games on PC and in all honesty, I’d be in no rush to buy any if it means messing around with an unnecessary application. I’m not stupid enough to boycott it though, it’s not much of a protest when a few million other people will go ahead and use it anyway.

That said, maybe EA have a few surprises in store. Third-party games would change things, however unlikely it is, and it’s very early days, so it’s definitely too early to guarantee it’s failure, especially for a company of EA’s size. And let’s face it, it can’t be any worse than Games for Windows Live.

* I’m aware that it’s possible to add games installed outside Steam, but that sort of defeats the objective.

A plan: holiday edition

Due to circumstances beyond my control (or laziness, I forget which) I haven’t managed to write an extra 14 entries here prior to our holiday in France. In fact, this is the entry for the 14th. Don’t panic, though, I have a plan!

The plan, brilliant in it’s simplicity, is to not update for 14 days. There. Brilliant, isn’t it? I’m not giving up though. I intend (read: hope) to write an entry while away and add an extra one of these every day when I got back, alongside my scheduled entries. Two a day! Imagine that!

If we arrive and I’m able to get access to the internet I’ll obviously be able to update this anyway, but I’m not holding out much hope of that. In fact, I’ll be quite disappointed; I’m looking forward to having a few weeks away from the internet and it’s distractions. Despite being on holiday, I’m hoping I can do something productive in that time, even if “productive” ends up meaning “finishing Catch-22.”