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Random bits of writing that we do and publish here.

Let’s whine about hats: TF2 is going too far

Let’s whine about hats: TF2 is going too far

[Insert ordinary praise for the game and a slow introduction here]

Have you listened to the developer commentary of TF2? As you’d expect from Valve, they’re clever and give you a pretty thorough look behind the curtains of the game. Unfortunately, some of it is out of date by now, and only serves as a reminder of earlier times. Times without paraphernalia better suited for games like Men of War.

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On Demos

On Demos

Demos are wonderful things, they give us a glimpse into what a game is like and, in turn, whether the game is worth purchasing or not. I used to live on demos in the olden days, they were my link to the gaming world. There have been some demos which stand out above the rest, they may have introduced me to a game series, a new genre or were the entrance to what would be one of my favourite games of all time. These are some of the demos which stick out in my mind, and always will.

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Goldeneye No Time For Sweetness

Goldeneye No Time For Sweetness

Mention the words GoldenEye to gamers of a certain age and you are likely to find them waffling on about how a little N64 title is still one of the best games in the world. To be honest, they wouldn’t be far wrong, I never owned an N64 or GoldenEye, but I played it enough with friends to appreciate the immense quality of the game.

I am eternally disappointed that there was never a PC version of the game released, and considering the current limbo that the rights to the game are in, I don’t expect to see a retail reimagining of it on the PC any time soon.

Don’t fret though if you are looking for a top quality Bond fix, GoldenEye Source is the mod to sort you out. You will have to make do with multiplayer, the guys behind the mod haven’t delved into the singleplayer side of things yet, but I have to say that what they have done with multiplayer is brilliant.

So it is pretty much N64 GoldenEye with more players, more and tweaked game modes and achievements. There have been some gameplay tweaks to make it more suitable to the PC, namely aiming, a key part of GoldenEye gunplay. No longer do you stop while you aim, instead you can aim and move at a slow speed. If you want to master GoldenEye Source then you need to aim, I learnt that lesson the hard way.

As the mod is only in  the fourth stage of Beta, it is not quite feature complete. There are still more characters and maps from the original game to be added, yet you won’t really notice they aren’t there, the quality of the maps in the mod is exceptional. Some have been expanded slightly to suit new game modes and the increase in player numbers, but the changes feel right and add to the atmosphere of the mod.

The new game modes are great additions to the multiplayer environment. In Live and Let Die, Baron Samedi rules the roost. True to form, he can only be killed outright with the Golden Gun, if he is killed with any other weapon he respawns stronger. It makes for a unique game mode, although one that is perhaps outdone by GunGame. Based on a Counter Strike Source mod, when you get a kill you get a new weapon, less accurate and less powerful than the previous one, until you are left running around with a knife trying to get the final kill. When everyone else has a gun it’s extremely tense, and that makes victory all the sweeter.

It may not quite match the original version of the game, but it is great fun in its own right. If the team working on the mod can one day get a singleplayer mode complete, that would be the icing on the cake. If you want classic multiplayer action, GoldenEye Source is what you should play.

Time for Games to Grow Up

Time for Games to Grow Up

I have been thinking about how gaming deals with serious real world issues recently, it stems from comments on this post talking about the next step for the Total War games. It is clear that many people want a modern setting for the series with World War Two being something you are all keen to see.

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Filling the (Dark) Void – Episode 2 – The Forest

Filling the (Dark) Void – Episode 2 – The Forest

At this point the rules have largely gone out the window.  If I want to make this good, I’m going to need the ability to ignore some of the little points, so I am.  It’s still mostly true to the game, certainly recognisable, but certain embellishments will have to be made.  The following takes place during Chapter 1 Episode 2: The Crash Site.

Somehow, we survived the crash. Ava woke me up with her soothing screeching, and the world slowly flopped into focus. For a moment I saw the figure of a man clawing at what remained of the nose of the plane, but he was gone by the time my eyes focused, a stifled scream being the only thing that proved to me that he hadn’t been a trick of the light.

My head settled and, as if to punish me for deigning to regain some composure, the plane shifted violently. It was at that moment, as the wreckage plummeted another twenty feet, that I noticed we had been strung up in the foliage of a tree. Then the wreckage collided with the ground, my head collided with the instrument panel in front of me, and everything went fuzzy for a little while.

Ava, being the same spry devil she always had been, managed to avoid both potential concussions and was waiting patiently for me to wake up. Apparently British women are unwilling to kick open mangled steel doors when there’s a half conscious American around. Still, I persevered and opened the door with only marginal noise-induced head trauma, something not exactly improved by the environment outside.

The island, or whatever the place was, didn’t look right. It was beautiful and green, bathed in sunlight and had a tropical rainforest sort of a vibe to it, but it was all wrong. It shouldn’t have been there, not the trees or the sun or even the island itself. It stood against every map I had ever seen, and even my grade-school understanding of geography. I should also mention that bright sunlight does not mesh well with a crippling headache, but being a man I chose to conceal this fact from Ava. Not that she seemed too bothered by the whole ordeal in general.

The view was spoiled a little, however, by the corpse a few feet from the door.

I knelt down and looked at the man. Logically, this would have been the man I thought I saw on the nose as I first came too, but he injuries didn’t seem to fit. I’m no doctor, but that sort of a fall would break bones, not leave huge tears in the flesh. Oddly, there was little blood, despite the severity of his wounds, almost as if he had been drained. I can’t be too certain of this, you understand, as I’m not really trained to stare at corpses. Looking at him long enough to determine if he was dead is about as far as I was willing to go.

Given his terminal condition, and our situation, we did the only intelligent thing and wandered into the forest for some clues as to where we were. Ava claimed she had spotted a village during our crash, although how she had managed to see anything during the stomach-churning spin is something I probably should have asked. The woman had a remarkably good internal compass, although I suppose that comes naturally if you’re born in an imperial power, lots of countries to get lost in after all.

The forest was hot but not as humid as I had expected. The paths between the trees, somewhat well worn and thankfully shaded, were wide enough to avoid that terrible feeling of oppression you can get from nature. If you’re in a suitably isolated place, alone, it can be hard not to feel as though the trees are sneaking up on you, closing in. It’s a foolish fear, and not one I needed at the time, especially as something else was closing in.

There was something in the forest somewhere making a weird sound. It was like a rusty bell being played through a ancient horn, a metallic growl that made the ground shake and myself wince. There was no way of accurately telling how close it was, but we didn’t want to hang around to try and work that out, so we ran.

We ran in what Ava assured me was the direction of the village, deeper into the forest. The shade was more than welcome now but the sun never seemed to be too far away, peeking between the leaves. Our panicked flight caused us to trip and stumble a few times, once almost fatally as we crossed an imposing ravine via a fallen tree, but we had no desire to see the source of that noise. Ultimately we reached a small drop, a point of no return, and stumbled down it.

On reflection, it was the perfect place to set a trap. Had my wits been a little less scrambled I might even have noticed that. As I didn’t notice, we were greeted by the business end of the most ludicrous assault rifle I have ever seen, slowly emerging from the vines at the base of a nearby tree. The man behind the weapon was dressed similarly to the corpse at the crash site, although my cursory glance of said corpse meant that I hadn’t really noticed what he was wearing at the time. Tight fatigues and a strange sort of gas mask. He looked military, perhaps special forces, but I didn’t know of any initiatives that he would have slotted into. He looked us over for a moment, lowered his weapon and ordered us to take cover.

I think his intention was to ensure the area was clear, whether to shoot us or interrogate us or merely introduce himself I cannot say. His sweep ended abruptly when a creature dropped from the canopy above, snapped his neck as one would a cocktail stick, and disappeared back into the brush. The light glinted off of the creature as it vanished, and I realised that it was no animal but a metal man.

My mind shot into overdrive. We’d crashed into some sort of secret war between the West and the Fascists, it was the only explanation. Everyone knew all-out war was brewing, and you’d have to be foolish to think that the intelligence agencies weren’t already taking shots at one another. I’d been briefed on some of the fascist super-weapons before I was let go, mostly fanciful occult nonsense that would never get off the ground, but nothing like this. I couldn’t tell if the metal man was merely a well-armoured soldier or some sort of automaton, but the agile nature of his decent from the canopy did point towards the latter. Had we managed to blunder into a black op, government soldiers sent to secretly undermine this new fascist super-soldier? It seemed plausible at the time.

Either way, getting to the village was our only course of action. We didn’t know where we were and we had no supplies so any form of civilisation was a blessing really. The soldier had been well armed, so Ava and I grabbed a ludicrous rifle each and continued our trek. We could hear the automaton moving around in the trees, sometimes even catching a glimpse of the sun bouncing off his metallic body, but he left us alone for the most part.

Until he dropped a boulder on us.

I’ll elaborate on that. The path led us through a small rock tunnel which he collapsed on us halfway through. We were separated but again unscathed, and by this point I was beginning to think that the luckiest and unluckiest days of my life had managed to coincide. All sorts of life-threatening events seemed to have been squashed into this one day, and yet I was surviving them all.

We continued on our separate paths to the village, the automaton’s shrill metallic laughter following me as he observed my movements. The forest opened out into a series of ruins at one point, vast stone structures that looked faintly familiar, crumbling into dust as the centuries ticked by. Navigating them made the journey considerably longer, and the odd bullet hole and weird scorching kept me constantly on edge. I moved steadily but never too swiftly, not wanting to give the automaton chance to get the drop on me.

Eventually I reached the entry to the village, a giant stone door in the shape of a leering beast. It was vaguely draconic, long sharp teeth and evil eyes glaring down at the rather elaborate entry way. The entire journey up the steps to the door seemed to be designed to draw maximum attention to the already conspicuous door, and it worked like a charm.

I reached the door and pushed it open, although quite how I managed it considering its size and apparent weight I cannot be sure. Perhaps it had well oiled hinges, or some form of counterweight. Then the shrill laughter struck again, and the automaton landed on my back.

It clawed at my back and neck, tearing at the skin. I tried to throw it off, or slam it into a nearby rock or the ground, but the damn thing moved so fast I wound up only hurting myself. It might even be fair to say that I did more damage to myself than it did, winding myself in a mistimed attempt to get the damned thing off me, ending up on the floor with it staring into my eyes.

It definitely wasn’t a man. At this range I could see that there was no room for a man inside such a form, so thin were the appendages and joints, the neck especially. One electric eye crackled in its head, arcing off the socket in a weirdly hypnotic sort of fashion. It chuckled at me directly from the throat, lacking a mouth, and its hands closed on my neck.

Then a gunshot, and the grip loosened. The automaton slumped onto my chest for a moment, before being dragged free a little too roughly, the slack fingers still grazing my skin a little. Ava flung the body onto the ground and helped me up, a traditional British one-liner accompanying the act. I had a cocky reply all prepared, you don’t get far in the armed forces nowadays without knowing how to deal with the wit of an allied nation, but we were both stopped short when we noticed the village.

It had been well hidden behind the stone door but now, in full view, sat the single biggest ziggurat I have ever seen, and into its very walls was built the village.

Filling a (Dark) Void – Episode 1 – Introduction

Filling a (Dark) Void – Episode 1 – Introduction

And we begin with the game’s introduction.  The opening tutorial doesn’t count, that’s just a tutorial, so we start at the moment we meet William Grey, protagonist and hero.  You have no idea how pleased I was that his name wasn’t a variation of “John Jackson”.  This fills the spot of the opening scene, up to the impact onto the island, wherein the game’s version kicks back in.  It’s written in the first person, told by Will Grey.

A word to the wise, if you’re planning on starting a freight haulage company, base it in Nassau. It’s beautiful, warm and there’s not much in the way of local law enforcement to double check every damn thing you’re contracted to carry. Hey, there’s a reason the pirates loved it all those years ago.

It’s also a good place to go if you just want to get away from the world, which God knows I did back when I was there just before the war. I’d had a bad couple of years, culminating in getting drummed out the Air Force. I won’t go into details, but considering the fact that everyone knew a war was brewing with the fascists, and that a fresh set of grunts was probably going to be very useful soon, it should suffice to say that it wasn’t a simple matter.

When you’ve been a pilot, the only thing you know how to do is fly. You could have been to an Ivy League school, born with a silver spoon in each orifice, but once they let you fly nothing else matters. When they take that away from you, or you make them take it away from you, you can’t help but find a way back, even freight haulage.

Don’t get me wrong, I like hauling crates around the world, but it’s stressful. Money is always tight, and breaking even is the best you can hope for. There’s always someone cheaper, with a shinier plane and blonde hair, ready to steal your customers, and even the most understanding bank will only extend credit so far. I suppose that is how it all began really.

It’s not good business to limit what you can and can’t carry, but I’ve always been wary of government contracts. From time to time I’d get approached by suspicious men in trench coats, or people in finely pressed suits that are precisely the wrong things to wear in the Nassau weather, and they’d always offer me a handsome sum of money to ferry a disproportionately small package for them. I always declined, but there’s only so long you can turn away paying customers before the wolves start knocking at your door.

The package was big this time, which was actually relaxing in a weird way, although the assertion that a special courier was required to oversee the whole thing seemed unusual. If they wanted whatever it was guarded then why didn’t they have the military ship it? The government never cease to confound, they even took out the contract under the guise of an obvious front company. No-one would name their company “Smith & Smith Exports”.

They delivered the package about an hour before the courier arrived, a perhaps to allow time to load it onto the plane where it would be safe from the fallout. Clearly, the government doesn’t understand the work ethic of the self-employed pilot. I had only just finished wheeling the crate from the gates to the plane when a black sedan pulled up behind me. It was polished to a shine, not a hint of rust, and the wheels crunched across the gravel in a mocking tone, as though no other vehicle matched up to this one car. It pulled to a stop and she got out.

Most men have ghosts from the past, but very few have them thrust upon them out of the blue with no conceivable means of escape.

She feigned ignorance, but Eva was never one to go into a situation blind. At the time I was too stunned to realise this, but in hindsight it should have been the first sign that something was wrong. She was as beautiful as I remembered her being from all those years ago, with that British twang adding a touch of the exotic to her. If a woman comes from far away it’s rather hard to resist her.

But that had been a long time ago, and now she was cold. Back then she had been vibrant and exciting, but I had hurt her and that warranted little more than a snide remark and an icy glance. She never was big on forgiveness, but I would have thought a couple of years might have at least taken some of the sting out of it.

We exchanged few words, her momentary display of surprise allowing the following exchange:



And that’s about all. I loaded the plane as quickly as possible, ignoring the telling looks from my friend and navigator (whose name I am leaving out of this record as a means of respect). I’m not sure where she went, but until we were ready to fly she was noticeably absent. Made things easier for me, I suppose.

We set off as soon as the plane was loaded, even thought it was getting dark and the weather was less than ideal. I could have postponed the flight, it was well within my rights as a pilot to do so, but the thought of a whole night of judgement from the ex was scarier than the prospect of flying into a storm, and harder to deal with. Besides, it was a simple trip, and a proper storm was exceedingly unlikely. I’d drop the crate (and the girl) off quickly and be back in Nassau with enough cash to pay off my debtors and have enough spare for a colourful drink.

It took karma about an hour to catch up with my hubris. The sun had finished setting by this point and, shock of shocks, I had flown right into a storm. Ordinarily I could have flown around it, or even turned back, but a combination of British Death Glares and disputed airspace meant that the only option was to plough straight through, into the Bermuda Triangle. In a thunder storm. At night.

I wasn’t a superstitious man at the time. The Bermuda Triangle’s mysterious powers didn’t seem particularly plausible at the time. Hell, the only evidence that anyone really bothered to use was the strange disappearance of the USS Cyclops, and with that sort of name I had expected it to have smashed into a rock or something. You don’t expect the captain of such a ship to have much in the way of depth perception. The other disappearances were just as easily attributed to human error as some paranormal phenomenon, especially when it came to the various aircraft that had vanished.

The storm went bad quickly, visibility becoming a serious issue. I was using the frequent lightning strikes to scout ahead, although the one advantage of flying into such a storm is that most pilots are intelligent enough to make a detour, leaving you a clear path. So it came as a shock when something sped past the cockpit at a fantastic speed.

It moved so fast that I barely caught more than a glimpse. It didn’t look like any aircraft I had ever seen before, and I didn’t spot anything I could identify as an engine. A black disc, somehow in flight. For a moment I assumed it to be a trick of the light, the lightning dazzling me and causing me to misidentify a stray reflection on the windscreen, but Eva shattered that illusion.

She squealed and turned to me for an answer, but before I could give one the engines gave an almighty stutter. Perhaps they’d been clogged by rainwater, or perhaps my constant failure to get the damn thing serviced had finally caught up with me, but for whatever reason, the engines had died. I tried in vain to restart them when the lightning struck again and out of the darkness loomed a spire of rock.

Evasive manoeuvres were futile at this point, but I tried anyway. I swung the plane to the left as best I could, gambling on the strength of the wind to give enough of a push to save our lives. It wasn’t enough. The turn was too sharp and into too much wind, the tail section swung round and smashed into the spire, shearing it off completely. The cargo and my friend disappeared into the darkness, along with two thirds of my aircraft, and what remained began to spin uncontrollably.

We pin-wheeled through the air for what felt like an eternity, the thick darkness being punctuated by thunder. I tried to counter the spin, but the lack of a tail section made the entire thing little more than a vain attempt at survival, having to do something because you feel you should be rather than actually having anything to do. It’s automatic, the human mind can’t accept a sudden and imminent death, it has to fight.

There was a final crack of thunder, and through the lightning and the nauseating spin I saw what looked to be an island directly ahead. We were going to hit it, and at this speed I wasn’t sure we could survive the impact.