Past Rants, Raves & Views

It’s a game within a game

There’s so much that annoys me about Dragon Age: Origins. The unconvincing character models. The ludicrous blood spatter. The soft-focus shagging. Alistair.

Then again, I have spent most of Christmas playing it. Girlfriend went on holiday on Boxing Day, you see. Lots of time to myself. And with a shelf packed full of ostensibly more palatable offerings – Brutal Legend (still unopened), Assassin’s Creed 2 (just a couple more trophies needed for platinum, but if you think I’m hunting down 100 frigging feathers, even with a map right next to me, you just don’t know me very well), the relentless grind of MW2 multiplayer – why did I go back to Bioware’s flawed, stilted RPG?

Pre-Natal Nerves

CES brings the announcement that the most ambitious project in video gaming history will be released in November 2010

If you don't know about project Natal yet, you should probably crawl out from

under your rock. It's colossal. It's absolutely massive. This is being heralded as a new era in video game entertainment. It's motion controlled gaming with sophistication; think of it as the love-child of Nintendo Wii and Stephen Fry.

The 30fps motion detectors allows tracking of the full body (actually, four full bodies- iOrgy anyone?), including visually obscured areas, to the 360's beastly processor; conveying 30 real time posture changes to be realistically tracked to the screen every second. Hopefully this will result in slightly more active gaming than the wrist-strengthening Wii solution to motion control.

This potentially awesome system has very little information available to consumers at the moment, we expect the payload to land at E3. Hopefully there will be several fantastic developers on board, although we'd be silly to think that Microsoft's very capable production studio won't be heavily involved.

CES's announcement is one that will whet the appetite of gamers and open-minded entertainment enthusiasts everywhere. Let's pray that it lives up to the hype. It's only a few weeks since Christmas, but I'm already looking forward to Xmas 2010.

2010 - The Year of the Mobile

Welcome to the new decade. If by some strange scientific anomaly you have been mistakenly transported to the future, but are relatively competent with the use of the internet (amazingly! Seriously, well done you!), I have some disappointing news for you... although we've successfully managed to pour more information into this virtual space than actually existed in the world before its invention- we still don't have hovercars or houses on the moon. Yes, Kubrick was definitely out of shape with 2001: A Space Odyssey- awesome and confusing thought it is (much like the internet).

What we do have is a bunch of awesome little communication devices which let us do everything you can imagine out of the palm of our hand. Luckily for you, 2010 happens to be the year we expect to be revolutionary for the mobile phone. Here are just a few things we can't wait for- in order of awesomeness:

1) Flash Supporting Browsers

2) 4G Network Speeds

3) New iPhone

4) HTC Legend

5) Google Nexus One

6) Firefox Mobile

7) Voice Supported Everything

8 ) A Billion New Apps

9) Longer Lasting Batteries on Smartphones

10) Hoverboards

Phone News Dies a Festive Death, Thank Heavens for the N900!

I was looking very hard for just a scrap of phone news this week, in between the food and drink and hours of game-time with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (which I missed out on first time round) and the football too- of course. But there wasn't any! No new news about phones at all! So it is with great displeasure that I convey the only minute morsel of phone news that actually matters to emerge over the last week. Honestly, there's literally nothing else to say.

OK, so I might have been a little harsh to demote the wonderful news that the only Nokia worth having (in my extremely biased opinion) is finally coming to Vodafone to being pathetic. But seriously, it kind of is. Everyone knows that since the iPhone has become non-exclusive in the UK, that almost every handset available is destined to make an appearance at Vodafone at some time or another.

Snow in Games; Seasonal Memories

From sliding on the ice to shooting through walls of it, snow creeps into nearly every game

As I write this, it’s snowing heavily outside, and all is well with the world. Families are outside enjoying the climate, elderly couples are walking hand in hand through the ever growing blanket of snow, and children are giggling and laughing as they play with care-free abandon. Yep, there’s nothing like a heavy downfall of snow to wash away all the wrongs and problems of today’s landscape.

But this got me thinking. Firstly; why aren’t I out there enjoying it myself (ah yes, that restraining order), and secondly; what have been the fondest moments featuring snow in video games? Well, here are few that sprung to mind immediately:

Call of Duty 2 - Stalingrad

We’re in Russia, so there must be some snow. Yep, as the streets echoed with the distressing sound of gunfire and calls to arms, the snow casually fell all around. What made the snow so great in this early mission in COD2 was that it made the enemies easier to see, and therefore shoot; they were like little black ants running across the top of a cherry bakewell (I have no metaphor for the cherry, sorry).

Final Fantasy XIV Closed Beta now accepting applicants

Something that might have slipped under the radar with all the Christmas games news flooding out recently is that Square Enix have begun accepting applications for closed beta testers for their upcoming MMO Final Fantasy XIV.

Taking place in a land far, far away (as usual) called Hydaelyn, Final Fantasy XIV is currently looking at a release date mid to late 2010.

With flawless graphics and a fluid, fantastical storyline once again the core features of the new MMO, FF14 will embrace the dual-platform gaming of the previous MMO of the series, Final Fantasy XI.

Dead Space 2: Keep it Schtum

Is giving the previously silent hero of Dead Space a voice a necessary addition, or a pointless extra?

One problem with being a games reviewer is that you rarely get to spend enough time with the games you like. Before you’ve had chance to really dig into a game and get to know and love it (not on a critical level, but more on a personal level), another one is thrown under your nose- begging for attention. Also, as the big titles of the month are shared around, with reviewers getting their names down early for the biggest and best titles, a lot of the time you miss out on a game, as you’re reviewing another at the time. Yep, it’s a tough life being a games reviewer!

But luckily at this time of year - as the new games stop coming and the publishers take a breath as they prepare to dive into 2010- I get time to go through the games from the previous year (and further) and give them a jolly good play. One of these games that I missed first time around was Dead Space, the deep, dark and gritty space-based horror.

80s classic Paperboy is coming to the iPhone

Launch those papers and power-slide that bike, all on your iPhone

Everyone loves Paperboy. Its simple premise of throwing papers through windows, avoiding craters in the pavement (where did he live; Maplesville Road, Iraq?) and occasionally crashing into rabid dogs was a world wide hit, and an instant classic. Whether you were playing it on the Spectrum, the GameBoy, the Megadrive, or even on your PC, it still ticked all the right boxes that a game should; and now it’s coming to the iPhone.

Fans of the rag-chucker have been lobbying for ages, trying to get Paperboy an appearance on the iPhone. Well, thanks to Elite Systems, the UK based developer and electronic publisher of mobile and portable games, their wish has been granted.

In a recent interview with CGN, the UK based firm have said; "It's hoped that the

English-language versions of Paperboy will go live on App Stores on Friday 18 December 2009, or soon thereafter and non-English-language versions soon after that."

Although a trailer and a selection of screenshots are due to be released shortly, it’s probably pointless viewing them, as we all know what to expect for this ancient classic. There’s going to be a kid (or boy) on a bike, and he’s going to be delivering local news sheets (or papers) to the surrounding neighbourhood. Just a guess…..

Personally, I can’t wait for this little gem to hit the iPhone, and fingers crossed it’ll control as well as always. Eat paper, mad old man! Bosh!

Scott Tierney

Security in online gaming

With a recent spate of hacked accounts being emptied of valuable loot in the MMO World of Warcraft, how have companies ramped up the security of their login servers as well as the methods of authentication to stop the disease of hackers spreading?

Account security is something that is fairly close to my heart. Being an avid World of Warcraft player, my account is pretty much sacred and with two of my friends having been hacked within days of each other over the summer, when Blizzard announced that they would be merging game accounts with their Battle.net website, I was apprehensive.

And I was right to – another friend of mine lost access to his account the week after he merged.

We soon found out that it was not an isolated incident, with blogs on a particularly popular website dedicating posts to how security between the mergers must have been so bad, what with all the account hacking going on.

Increasing attempts to hijack other people’s accounts means that game companies must be vigilant in their methods to keep hold of loyal clients.

MMO game accounts are by far the most preyed upon of all online game accounts, with people looking for an underhand way of attaining items or various other achievements. Blizzard have

upped their security by implementing a Blizzard Authenticator system, where players can request an optional security feature in the form of a small device that can be attached to a keyring. Upon login, players are asked to input a code that is randomly generated every time by the attached Authenticator, thus adding another layer of safety.

A particular feature I like is the one that Runes of Magic utilises. On the login page, a floating keyboard is present in order for players to simply click their password in, bypassing the keyboard if players wish to and therefore foiling attempts to keylog their password. It’s a very simple yet devilishly clever method of countering the most common method of hijacking accounts.

I hope other games companies take note of various methods that the odd handful use to prevent account loss – otherwise the playerbase that they rely on so much may begin to dwindle, much like people taking out their money out of a bank whose shares are falling.

Paul Park

Bioshock 2: Overview of impressions

It looks like the much anticipated Bioshock 2 is going in the right direction; back down into the depths of our nightmares

We at Phonica can’t wait for Bioshock 2. We adored the first outing, with its supreme balance of chills, spills, design and action, and from what we’ve seen so far, the second instalment looks just as good. Let’s run through what we know, and try and get some answers to what we don’t.

Well, the first change 2K have made to Bioshock 2 is the character you play. In the first game, you played a helpless wash-up on Rapture’s shore, who had to struggle and fight his way out (or so it seemed) of the tormented underwater city. But in the second game, the tables have tuned. In the original Bioshock, the most deadly and terrifying enemy you could encounter was the dreaded Big Daddy. To take down one of these twisted hunks of mutated insanity, you had to use all of your guile and wisdom. But in Bioshock 2, you don’t have to worry about this, as you are a Big Daddy!

I was a victim of the Javelin glitch - a sufferer speaks

I'm not what you'd call hardcore... more obsessive-casual. I don't wake up and start gaming, with the possible exception of those Saturday mornings when I've got a reasonable window of at least an hour while the girlfriend sleeps off the tamazepam.

I also, I confess, don't follow the gaming news as much as I should. Blame global warming and illegal wars in the Middle East, if you like. It seems to me as though the world has quite enough news in it demanding my attention without having to care about whether there's yet another update to PSN firmware, this time offering me full Czech-language support.

What I'm trying to get to is that I knew nothing of the Javelin glitch until Sunday night, when I experienced it first-hand. And just in case you didn't either, here's the rub. If you've unlocked the Javelin missile in Modern Warfare 2, and you're killed while carrying it, you explode. Spectacularly. Effectively, this encourages you to take something of a suicide bomber approach to the game: you can score far more points by running into a crowd of enemies and taking them all with you than any reasonably skilled person could by, y'know, trying to play the game.

Feel the burn!

Tell you what, though... it wasn't half confusing. And strangel

Very rewarding.

Phones cheaper than cake; good or bad?

Should something like a mobile phone be sold for less than £10, or is this just the way of the world?

I was wandering around my local ASDA the other night, hunting down any sneaky bargains and generally killing time, when I came across a startling sight. There was a giant heap of boxed Samsung E1120’s, for a jaw dropping £10 each! OK, the E1120 is only the most basic of basic phones, and it’s on Orange PAYG (with £5 free talk time, mind!) but nonetheless, it’s still a fully functioning mobile phone for a tenner. That’s cheaper than some cakes!

A Giggle at Google's Googly Goggles

Google insults my Mum. A needlessly long retort to that, basically

I'm always excited when there's anything new and Google related on Android Market. Usually

the big bucks they throw at apps make them the biggest and best around. Maps is amazing (despite the fact they won't give the Brits navigation), Search by Voice is unnervingly accurate and Sky Map is built to bring out the star gazer in everyone. Great was my surprise then, to find that the God of all things search had managed to botch up a perfectly fantastic idea.

Google Goggles is just about the most stylish app Android has ever seen, not exactly difficult but impressive nonetheless. The idea behind it is that you can search for things by taking pictures of them. Fair enough. Pretty straightforward, seemingly innovative and probably useful, right? Wrong. Firstly, there's nothing straightforward about making a handheld device recognise almost anything in the world. Secondly, this had already been done on Android a little while back with a little known app called SnapTell. Thirdly, only a few minutes with this application makes you realise just how redundant it is to anyone with fingers or a voice- and with Goggle being a mobile phone app, usually the owner tends to have both.

Square Enix Stands up for Western Games - and a Free Japanese Lesson

Here’s a little Japanese lesson for you. In a recent TV interview, Square Enix boss Yoichi Wada said that he thinks Japanese gamers need to be more open minded when it comes to Western titles.

Western games are referred to as youge ??? whereas domestic games are simple called games ???. Wada’s argument is that the “you” prefix makes Western games seem somehow less than.

He might say that but then proper toilets that allow the user to sit down are known as youshiki ??, or Western style, which as anyone who’s tried to use a squat toilet will tell you are definitely more than.

It’s best not to refer to anything apart from the loo as youshiki or people will start to think you’re very strange.

Wada might also have another motive for promoting the cause of Western games in Japan: Square Enix publishes Modern Warfare 2 there.

[via Kotaku]

Ian Duncan

Aiming: The Invisible Art

We may take it for granted, but a lot of work goes into ensuring you can pull off that perfect headshot.

When playing a shooter, we don’t think about what we’re doing, as in a sense it just comes naturally. We aim the crosshairs, line them up with our targets heard (or genitals if we’re having a laugh) and fire. Poof! A head pops and we high-five the air in celebration. But how did that aim happen, and was it actually us that produced that epic shot?

Originally, in most FPS, aiming was left totally up to the player. There were no auto-aim features, no quick targeting options, and no help from the computer/console. If you missed the target, tough; you should have been a better shot. But these days, most shooters provide some form of help. There are varying degrees of help that are provided, which is most notably decided by the game’s developers. Some give you a little bit of guidance (Modern Warfare 2 features an auto-aim system via the left trigger), others practically do the aiming for you (Just Cause), it all depends on the type of game and the difficulty. Gears of War, for instance, just lets you get on with it; but that is one tough game!

But what do we prefer? Do we like being left to our own devices, to shoot wherever we please, or would we rather the game took occasional control, and spread some of the load? Well, it all depends on the game. For instance, if you’ve ever played Just Cause, you’ll know it’s almost impossible to shoot an enemy with the auto-aim feature off. No matter how hard you try, you’ll still just spray a splatter of bullets all over the place, and miss your intended target completely. But you’ll also know, from playing Just Cause, that with auto-aim engaged all sense of difficulty and challenge is lost, as you just press fire and leave the rest to CPU.

So would we rather have no auto-aim, like in the case of Gears of War or Half Life 2? These games thrive on the fact that it’s the player that does the hard work, and although both games require the player to pull-off shots that require great skill, the rewards for doing so are great. That said though, both GOW and HL2 have superb controls, making aiming and firing an easy pleasure. But if you compare that to the controls of say, Rogue Warrior, then it’s a totally different kettle of fish. Rogue Warrior fails miserably because its controls (mainly due to its appalling frame rate) are twitchy, delayed and unmanageable. When you’re trying to shoot an enemy from 6ft, let alone 60ft, it’s nearly impossible to get that killer shot in first time. So in that respect, a little bit of help would have been appreciated.

But in general, what we really want is a mix of both, like the style that Grand Theft Auto 4 provides. In GTA4, you can shoot without help, and achieve impressive results, but for those moments when needs must, auto-aim kicks in and lends a helpful hand. You still have to do the main aiming yourself, but the majority is done for you. It’s like an arm around the shoulder, guiding your aim in the right direction, but still allowing you to take the final, decisive shot.

So, next time you shoot an enemy in the chops, just give thanks to the hours of development work that has gone into crafting an aiming system that works correctly. It may not sound like much, but bad aiming can ruin a game, regardless of the excellence else-ware. Poof! Got another one!

Scott Tierney

Medal of Honour plans its triumphant return

No doubt one of the biggest influences in the success of the current head honcho of the FPS market: Modern Warfare 2, EA and EA DICE are planning the retaking of the throne with “the most authentic modern war experience” in its new title that is simply named Medal of Honor.

I remember back when I was LAN-ing it up with friends- messing about with the games on the computers there, and finding a game merely titled MOHAA.exe. The same night we ended up playing a good 30 hours of the campaign between the 6 of us and professing our love of the Medal of Honor series.

Over the next few years we’d play stuff like Rising Sun, Frontline, a bit of Pacific Assault and finally a little of Heroes 2. There is no argument that Medal of Honor paved the way for other FPS games to take up their challenge on EA. With most of its games set in the World War 2 era, playing as American soldiers battling to prevail against the waves of the German war machine, Medal of Honor was a breath of fresh air where games like Timesplitters and Bond shooters were all too present.

Android, the new symbian?

 PMUK Blog XperiaTM X10 Sensuous Black

Sony Ericsson's Xperia X10 has recently been announced with the awesome inclusion of the Android OS, but with multiple brands jumping on the bandwagon is Android treading a familiar and dangerous path?

Android operating systems are infiltrating the world's handsets. Starting quietly on the innocuous HTC, the monster OS is sneaking its way onto giant brands such as Samsung, Philips, Motorola and soon Sony Ericsson. The consolidation of multiple brands to a single OS has rarely been seen before and is a testament to the usability of the system. It's also a unified backing against the brilliant iPhone, whose exclusive operating system is showing no signs of migration and threatened to dominate the market before the multi-tasking Android made a case for itself as a serious contender. Placing Android alongside Palm's WebOS, there are seemingly no other platforms which present a decent alternative to the iPhone's utility and ease of use.

Activision's biggest launch ever continues to break records…

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 continues to destroy previous theatrical box office and video game sales records for worldwide sell through. The biggest entertainment launch in history set a new worldwide estimated five-day sell-through record of approximately $550 million, according to internal Activision estimates and continues to rack up the numbers.

T-Mobile sparks data security fears

T-Mobile has again hit the news as an undisclosed number of its UK subscribers that have unknowingly had their personal data sold on to third parties. In what looks like an inside job, It seems that unscrupulous employees have been collating details and selling them on to middlemen for unspecified sums of money. By selling on the data, it allowed other companies to call these people unsolicited, prior to their contracts finishing and offer them alternative deals on other networks.

Game publishing websites - why so awkward?

They look amazing, and feature some state of the art technology, but why do these game publishing websites have to be so awkward and fiddly!

At Phonica, we visit a lot of game websites, mainly scourging for news or updates, and sourcing new photos for the magazine. So when we’re in a hurry and pushing the limits of our deadlines, all we want is a nicely organized website that gives us what we want at the click of a mouse, without any hassle or faffing. But frustratingly, these easy-to-use sites are few and far between, as nearly every site we visit is a muddle of Flash graphics and overworked design. But are these sites, in general, a good thing and should we be encouraging new web design concepts rather than criticizing them?