The Most Expensive Game Ever (TM)

Richie Sambora, Guitar Hero
Richie Sambora, Guitar Hero

As, already mentioned in these hallowed pages for me the stand out game of 2008 for me was Guitar Hero World Tour.  The reasoning behind this in honesty has very little to do with the innovation on show in the game but comes down to the fact that I’ve enjoyed GHWT more than any other game this year.

The game mechanics are pretty much unchanged since GH3 (well, since Guitar Hero really), the newly implemented slide bar on the neck of the guitar is  the only innovation and is ignorable.  The vertical difficulty curve from GH3 has been dispensed with, though it has been replaced with something more akin to a difficulty scatter graph, this isn’t as much of a curb on progression as in previous iterations though now that the game difficulty level can be changed mid play-list (My sticking point was Today by The Smashing Pumpkins, damn near impossible on medium, probably just me though).

If innovation was important to a GH game to be honest we’d still all be playing Guitar Hero, what matters to a GH game is the music, World Tour is no exception to this with a whopping 86 tracks, all based on master recordings, placing it well above main rival Rock Band’s 58.  Quantity is not always everything, quality has to be considered and this is where GHWT potentially comes unstuck.  Musical taste is subjective and while Activision has attempted to provide something for everyone, inorder to cover all bases it is possible to spread yourself thin.  I’d say that this is avoided, however I pretty much fit the demographic to which the playlist is geared, which appears to be a punk-metal Rockabilly with one foot planted firmly in the eighties and one ear in Seattle around 1991.

I refer to GHWT as the expensive game ever, and at £150 for the full band set  up this is more than I’ve spent on consoles in the past, the price tag is not where it ends however, The Guitar Hero frachise always ends up costing me money as it represents a large influence on my music collection.  The month following a GH release will often see me spending hundreds of pounds on albums.  GH is responsible for me listening to Avenged Sevenfold, Dragonforce (so therefore ultimately responsible for the stain on my buddy Poki’s living room carpet), Creedance Clearwater Revival and Tool.  GH is also responsible for rediscovering bands just by looking at their music in a different way, The Eagles for example it wasn’t until I played Hotel California on GHWT that I asked myself, “What else have have they done?”  Similar can be said of The Smashing Pumpkins, a band which I missed the first time around, also The Pretenders, Cheap Trick and Pearl Jam.

While the music in GHWT tends to throw up a few unexpected suprises I’d say that most are worth persevering as there’s a hell of a lot of triple A tunes to be had, some of the more obscure tracks may even suprise you.

All of this  subject to personal taste, I’m sure not everyone thinks that Livin’ on a Prayer is the best song ever written, and that is why you all fail.

She bangs the DRM

He milks the pun
He milks the pun

Apple made what is supposedly their last appearance at the annual Macworld conference in San Francisco yesterday.  In the final day’s Key note speach Apple’s senior vice president of world-wide product marketing Phil Schiller (how does he fit that title on his office door?) announced that apple would be removing digital rights management from all music sold on itunes.  The move sees 8 million songs DRM free with immediate effect, with the final two million to be DRM free by the end of March.

The decision to remove DRM from itunes has long been on the mind of Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs, who was sadly unable to deliver his usual keynote speech due to serious illness.  In 2007 Jobs published an open letter, ‘Thoughts on music’ in which he called for major record labels to drop DRM.  It’s taken time but Jobs has achieved his aim with Sony BMG, Universal and Warner finally reaching an agreement.

Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies are in layman’s terms a means of controlling the usage of digital media by preventing access, copying or conversion to other formats by the end user, meaning that though a buyer has paid for  a product, they are not free to use that product in any way they wish.  With regard to itunes the music files are encrypted preventing play on any product other than itunes or the ipod.  Files can also be played on only five different PC systems which must be authorised by the account holder from which the music was purchased.

With the dropping of DRM Schiller also announced that the current price policy of one price for all would also be changing, introducing a two-tier pricing system with DRM free itunes tracks costing an additional 30 cents, it is so far unclear if an increase in price will also be seen in the UK where currently plus tracks cost the same 79p as older tracks.  Mark Mulligan, a director with market analysts Jupiter Research, reacted to this by saying the end of DRM in its current form was inevitable,  “Ultimately, what we’re going to end up with is a new form of DRM. The more you pay, the less DRM you get bolted onto your music. Premium music will be DRM free, the cheaper it gets, the more shackles are attached,”

Following the successful launch of Amazon’s DRM free download service it seemed inevitable that apple would be forced to react or lose market share, however I’m a little concerned that they seem to deam it necessary to charge extra for this service, while the new style tracks are a higher quality, the difference is only really audible on high end equipment, so therefore a moot point  with the average itunes user.  While no increase in price has been announced in the UK the charge to upgrade previously purchased tracks to the new format is twenty pence I can’t help but wonder if a 99 pence price point is being considered in the future, 30 pence higher than many tracks offered by Amazon (starting at 59 pence, with most priced at 69p).

While DRM may not be an issue to the average itunes user, that doesn’t mean that they will be unaffected by the issue, while it currently looks like the major record labels are through itunes taking a step in the right direction apple will have to take care not to price themselves out of a market which in 2009 as the high street suffers is only going to get larger and more competitive as consumers seek new music at lower prices.

More of 2008 in list-form.

One of us had to, and I thought I’d jump on the end of the year bandwagon.

2008 will for me be known as the year I stopped reading, apart from my usual cover to cover of The Hogfather in the run up to Xmas I can’t think of another new (or new to me) novel I read in 2008, there must have been one, but seriously I can’t think which.

2008 was also the year I re-discovered Heavy Metal, both the film and the genre.  In the first instance all thanks to a recent episode of South Park, and the latter just because every album I’ve heard this year has been pretty damned Awesome, also the fact that 2008 was another year without a new Green Day album (Unless you count Stop, Drop and Roll by the Foxboro Hot Tubs, which I don’t) led me down a darker more head-bangery route.

In Movies 2008 showed us all that Pan’s Labyrinth Wasn’t a fluke and when it comes to horror movies Spain is really where it’s at at the moment Rec and The Orphanage really push home everything that’s wrong with Hollywood horror movies and the current trend for SFX in creating what is essentially (Daily Mail Moment Warning) torture porn.  (Ban this sick filth.)

Gigs in 2008 were fewer and further between than I’d would’ve liked, but what are you gonna do?  This year was dominated by the fact that I finally went to see Bon Jovi (no, I’m not being ironic).  Bon Jovi was like a gateway to harder rock’s, the first hit my mum approves of but the rest is gonna cost me, sort of thing.  To finally see them live was akin to being ten years old again only with access to a hell of a lot of beer.  On that note my hero of the year award goes to Twickenham, the home of British Rugby, a fine venue for a gig, and sponsored by Greene King so therefore having the best gig beer tents ever.

Gaming in 2008 saw me first abandon my Xbox 360 in favor of PC gaming, then abandon my PC in favor of the Wii and DS, then abandon Nintendo and buy another 360 (the circle is now complete).  On all formats however RPG’s held sway.

Right.  Enough pre-amble, list time.

Movies.

  • Wall e (A Stanton)
  • The Orphanage (Technically 2007, but not released in the UK ’till 2008) (J A Bayona)
  • The Mist (F Darabont)

Games.

  • Guitar Hero World Tour (Activision)
  • Fable II (Lionhead)
  • The World Ends With You (Square Enix)

Albums.

  • Death Magnetic (Metallica)
  • Black Ice (AC/DC)
  • Along Came a Spider (Alice Cooper)

Disappointments.

  • The Kaiser Chiefs (Turns out they’re not all that great)
  • Living in a hotel (gets real old real fast)
  • Green Day (It’s been four years now FFS!)

Going Forward…

  • New Green Day album in 2009.
  • Blogging more, sorry Ralph-fans.
  • Fighting my crippling WOW addiction (just 20 more levels man.)

All the best for 2009 y’s all.

Eclectic light orchestra

I’m here to talk about music. While I’d like to think of myself as a child of the eighties, what this also entails is that I was a socially retarded young adult of the nineties. Between the age’s of 10 and 14 is the era in which I cobbled together what is for the most part still my opinion regarding what constitutes as great music.

The key factor that sets this era apart from all others was that I got my first record player, that’s right RECORD player, It’s from this era that my love of vinyl originates. After quickly getting bored with my own paltry collection of the time I quickly moved on to raiding my parents record collections. It was here I found some of what are still my favourite albums, Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, Led Zeppelin II and Houses of the Holy, Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy and, lest we forget 12 Gold Bars by Status Quo.

I’m not here today to give more praise to any of these albums, today I want to talk to you about the other Vinyl that had a profound influence on me, I’m here to talk about Now That’s What I Call Music 26.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Now series of compilation albums, started as a joint venture between publishers EMI and Universal in 1983 the series has gone on to sell over 100 million copies world wide and currently stands at volume 71.

God forbid, I’m in no way here to suggest that any of the Now series had the same effect on the music industry as Led Zeppelin II did, but to me Now 26 had a lasting effect that many other critically acclaimed albums haven’t.

Now 26 is responsible for a phenomenon which anyone who’s been with me in a pub with a jukebox will no doubt have witnessed first hand, the eclectic mix. The secret to any good eclectic mix of music is to make the changes as aggressive and constant as possible so that eventually the bumps start to resemble level road. By trying to shoe-horn four months of music into forty tracks the editors of Now 26 have created an album which lurches across tracks from artist as diverse as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Belinda Carlisle, Radiohead and Meatloaf, and that’s just one disc of a two disc album. The lunacy becomes so profound that it starts to resemble genius.

While the Now series is far from perfect (Robbie Williams is the most prolific contributor to the series with 29 entries.) I wish them well and hope they long continue allowing young listeners to hear a wide range of musical styles before finally settling on one to call their own.

Now 26 was released at the end of 1993 and marks what I now know to be my last few months in the musical wilderness, February of the following year Green Day released Dookie and the rest, as they say is history.

Assorted Mammals of the Old Republic

Hey droogs, guess who’s still alive.

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Boxart
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Boxart

Yeah, the economic down turn is bad, but the biggest drain on my pocket at the moment is the glut of triple A game titles around at the mo. I spent last week completing Fable II’s main plot, started playing Fallout 3, started up Guitar Hero World Tour (or as I like to call it “super arrgh I can’t do three things at once magical drum simulator”), my import copy of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia’s arrived, SSFII HDR comes out some time today and I still haven’t even considered giving time to Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge or Left 4 Dead yet!

Following my obituary for sonic the hedgehog a couple of weeks ago, and based on the recommendation of Chesterfield’s premier/only independent games retailer I decided I’d find time in my frantic gaming schedule to give Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood a rare opportunity to redeem it’s franchise.

Sonic Chronicles is a Role-playing game based on the popular sega franchise, and developed by the hand held division of Canadian company Bioware, better known for creating the Neverwinter Nights series, Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic.  Considering Bioware’s staggering back catalogue of RPG success going into SC:TDB I was quietly optimistic feeling that Sega had made the right decision to pass the game to a third party rather than leaving production with Sonic Team (Probably too busy making a hash of Sonic Unleashed at the time).

The game picks up sometime after Sonic and Friends have once again defeated Dr Robotnik(His name’s Robotnik.  Not Eggman!), Sonic is brought back following some much needed R ‘n’ R to find that the Chaos Emeralds have been stolen (again) and Knuckles has been Echidna-napped by an organisation referred to as the Marauders.  Sonic assembles his usual team of Mammalian cohorts, slaps on his Ricky Rocket-pants and saves the day via an unusual team member, a trip to another universe and a whole heap of ring collecting.

The challenge presented to Bioware in the production of SC:TDB is the need to keep a hell of a lot of people happy by creating a product which will not only be marketable to Sonic fans, but is also of a high enough quality to appease sceptics amongst their own fan base.  I feel to a degree at least they’ve pretty much cracked it.

The presentation of the game is exceptional with the majority of the game played in 3D across an Isometric plane, the locations themselves are well designed with re-creations of various classic Sonic stages such as Green Hill, Mystic Ruins and Angel Island.  The character design is of a usual high standard with few suprises as to the design of new characters fitting into the fifteen year old tried and tested formula, new protagonist Shade fits well into the rest of the characters, though expect a change of costume before her next appearance.

The game play utilises 100% touch screen control, much like Phantom Hourglass all field abilities are activated by tapping a context specific icon on screen.  During combat the game adopts a variation on the traditional JRPG style.  Protagonists line up at the bottom of the screen, antagonists at the top, the two factions then wait for their turn to batter each other until all of one side is defeated.  To add to this tried and tested formula, Bioware introduces a system similar to Elite Beat Agents/ Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! for activating special powers.  Pow moves use up Pow points when used much like Magic Points in a Final Fantasy game to activate the Power move however a small rhythm-action style puzzle needs to be completed involving tapping and dragging icons with the stylus, it offers a welcome variation to an otherwise humdrum activity.

As a warning to fans of Bioware do not come into Sonic Chronicles expecting the complex plots and sub-plots seen in Mass Effect or KOTOR, while the plot is relatively well written, this is a simpler game than many of Bioware’s other efforts, an RPG lite for a younger audience.  Don’t let this put you off, as while simple and with a low difficulty level that doesn’t mean that Sonic Chronicles isn’t a pleasure to play.  I managed to complete this game in under 15 hours, which I considered to be about right.  In terms of sub plots and side quests, there are some, though most of these aren’t really more than fetch and carry quests for NPC X.  Apparently there is a Bioware romantic sub-plot ( though without Mass Effect’s Alien Rumpo) between Sonic and Amy Rose, though to be honest I didn’t pursue this and have since found out about it through GameFaqs.

While Sonic Chronicles may not be to everyone’s taste I found it to be an amusing diversion, if somewhat easy to complete.  Though I maybe wouldn’t advise my peers to go out and buy it, I wouldn’t hate myself for giving it as a gift to a younger gamer.  It is a well polished adventure which goes someway to repairing the damage done by previous games to the franchise.  Repairs aided by the fact that it’s possible to complete the game without ever having to use Shadow.

I only hope that Sega takes note of this return to form, and doesn’ t do anything stupid with the next Sonic game, y’know like turning Sonic into some kind of lycanthropic hedgehog, man, chimp, thing.  Man, that would be stupid.

Chun-Li’s awesome thighs HD remix

The trailer for Capcom and Udon’s re-development of Super Street Fighter II has hit the internet.

Needs to be seen in HD for the full effect, even so, awwww Yeah!

The only cloud in my sky is there still hasn’t been an official release date set.

*Supplemental*

A date has been set, it misses my favouritest day of the week by a day, so expect me to be playing it next… Wednesday.

1914 to 1917.

Lending my support to Ado’s “Can it” campaign, behold as a laugh track very nearly ruins the greatest scene in British comedy history.

The thing about truley great British  situation comedy is that the situation around which the comedy is developed is so painfully tragic.  The example here is one of the best, though comedy from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s is full of it.

Blackadder goes forth was based in a trench during the great war, a situation which should not be funny, clever writing can make the situation funny, but great writing also never shies away from the true horror of the situation.  I think that the greatest line in comedy history is “We lived through it.  The great war, from 1914 to 1917.”  It’s the type of line which takes a moment’s pause to truly comprehend, I hope that if it was filmed infront of a live audience then they didn’t pause to realise the tragedy within this line, if the laugh track was added at a later date, then it was a huge production error which nearly robs the scene of its plausability as a valid comment on the futility and horror of war.