Saturday, 28 February 2009

A week in the life of

Well I’ve had an interesting week; the main thing was the release of the Empire Total War Demo on Steam, so I’ve been playing that far too much given how little content there actually is. A while ago I mentioned that I would be going to see Rise Against and that happened on Thursday when they played the Carling Academy in Birmingham, and it was awesome. The last addition to my frankly fantastic week was going down to Oxford yesterday for an Ethics conference, which was equally awesome but in a very different way.

But first of all the Empire Total War Demo: I’ll do a full review of the game when it comes out, maybe next week, but probably the week after (my life starts getting a little busy around now, so I don’t know how much time I’ll have to play it), so this will be fairly brief. I know that, given the fact that I have not bought a videogame in literally years, I am not up to date with the latest graphics so I’m not a great judge of these things, but it looks really, really, really nice! I mean all the people don’t all look like really unresponsive clones; they are actually slightly individual and interact with each other in melee combat. You can also destroy buildings on the battle map; yay for physics engines. Leaving graphics behind because frankly they’re pretty unimportant compared to things like gameplay; the battles feel a lot more realistic that previous Total War games. This is probably partly due to the fact that a bunch of people standing in a line shooting one another is far easier to replicate that the slightly more riotous affairs of ancient and medieval combat, even so there seems to be a remarkable high casualty rate; far more than in real life as far as I know (although 18th Century warfare was a pretty bloody affair). The inclusion of naval warfare is completely fantastic and the best idea Sega has had regarding the whole franchise (and that is saying a lot). The naval battles are probably more realistic that the land battles (although I would sort of expect that). They have done the controls really well which means that it is pretty simple to get the basics of controlling a large number of ships, which means you can quickly get down to actually fighting rather than spending many pencil snapping hours trying to master which controls are locked to which keys and how the hell you avoid sitting in the water and giving the enemy firing practice.

The problem is that there in only one sea battle and one land battle, so once you’ve mastered the controls, marvelled at the graphics a little and thrashed the arse off the computer you have very little to do but sit there and kick the arse of the computer in a slightly different way. You may also have noticed that I didn’t mention the campaign game at all. That is because there isn’t any in the demo, which is really annoying because that’s mostly what I play the Total War games for; the battles are nice, but they only really support the main part of the game and the reason why the Total War series is so fantastic. Seems odd then that they would leave it out of the demo, but hey, I’m not a developer, so what do I know? I can still complain that it makes the demo too short however. Now before you inundate me with emails and comments about how it’s a demo so it’s unlikely to be very long let me just say that the demo it literally 2 hours worth of gameplay if you’re new to the franchise, if not It’s probably less than that. You can redo the battles ad nauseam but to be honest repetition of the same thing is not an extension of gameplay, it’s just pointless repetition, like beating a dead horse just slightly more entertaining. I suppose it does a pretty good job if wetting your appetite and making you more likely to go out and buy the game when it comes out in 5 days time. Given that it’s so short you should be able to play through it before then so why not all download it now and then you can pay your money to the faceless corporation on March 4th having been completely won over by it. Go on, off you go. It’s on steam so you have no excuse.

On the subject of corporations, well not really, but I had to try to link this together somehow, I was bombarded with a whole evening of socialist propaganda from a bunch of dirty, unwashed Americans. No I didn’t go to a rally, although there was one yesterday, but more on that later. I am of course referring to the Rise Against gig I went to which, despite the excess of hippies and liberal socialists, was absolutely fantastic. I’m not going to pretend than most of Rise Against is not just a series of power chords with the occasional hammer on; I think I mentioned their chronic lack of variety last time a talked about them. When you combine this with the fact that I find it completely I possible to get behind their message; I think PETA are idiots and I really hate socialism, it is a great testament to their live act that I really enjoyed the gig. Their songs are samey but they’re so energetic and Rise Against play them so well that it doesn’t really matter. It may be somewhat hypocritical of me to really disagree with their world view and still provide it with monetary support, but for me, all they are is entertainment (that was a joke for Rise Against fans).

Of course Rise Against were not the only band to play; they were supported by The Flobots and Anti-Flag; both of whom where distinctly average. If you combined Linkin Park and Rage Against the Machine and turned down the quality considerably, you would have The Flobots. They did have a couple of redeeming features though; they had a really good female violinist. Not only was she probably the best musician on the stage at any time during the evening, she was also by far the best looking. Then again the competition was pretty rubbish; if she wasn’t there I would be giving the award to one of the guitars. Another plus The Flobots had was that some of their lyrics were so painful that they almost made me burst out laughing; then again it was rap, which is just really bad poetry put to music, so I’m unlikely to be impressed. One of their songs was interesting; they had a sign with IRAQ on and every line only had words beginning with I R A and Q (well they weren’t all that strict on the last one…). It was an interesting idea, but to be honest it was never likely to work; there just aren’t enough words that make sense together in that way to make a song than isn’t painfully forced. The other support act was Anti-flag, who get the crowd going and were slightly less painful than The Flobots, but I’d probably not rush to buy any of their music.

Any attempt to lead on from that onto the ethics conference I went to yesterday in Oxford would be as forced as The Flobots lyrics, so I’ll just move on. Yesterday I went to Oxford (which is the most awesome place on the planet or at least in England) for an Ethics conference for A-level students. I mentioned earlier that there was a rally, which there was. It wasn’t much of a rally really; about 5 people standing around with banners one of whom was yelling inane nonsense into a megaphone. There were more police on the street than actual protesters; all told it was pretty pathetic. The conference itself was pretty interesting, but I won’t go into the details because to be honest it I doubt you would care and it would be far too intellectual for a Saturday morning. It was thought provoking and I enjoyed it and I got to go to Oxford so it was a pretty damn fantastic end to a very good week in my life.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Poor Bill Nye

To be honest, I have very little to talk about this week, so, as normal when I don’t have much to say, I went and looked around on the BBC website and then Reddit to see if I could steal a story from there and write about it. Thankfully Reddit provided me with a solution to my troubles!

Bill Nye was booed, actually booed, in Texas recently for making that laughable claim that the moon does not actually emit light, and merely reflects light. This appalling piece of science clearly offended members of the ‘moon is a small ball of burning gasses’ sect of retards down in Texas. Well actually it offended some Christians because Nye made the equally laughable claim that the statement in Genesis 1:16 that ‘God made two great lights -- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.’ Is in fact wrong, how silly of him. We all know that the bible is the infallible word of God and any apparent scientific truth which appears to contradict the bible is clearly false. Well that or we need to skilfully reinterpret the words of God to be contingent with reality, which is exactly what Jethro! (probably not of Jethro Tull fame) did. In a comment in the aforementioned news article he said: If Nye claimed that Genesis 1:16 said God created two "light sources," then Nye is wrong -- it says: "God made two great lights..." That the "lesser light" is reflected light, does not make it any less a "great light." Aside from the fact that he put a comma in where it’s not needed, he managed to misquote Nye; Nye never said ‘light sources’ and the article never actually claimed that he did, Jethro! completely lied to get his point across. His point is still wrong because the moon is a reflector, not a ‘light’. If everything that reflects light is a ‘light’ then, well everything that isn’t black is a reflector. Jethro! failed pretty hard there huh?

Back to the actual story instead of taking the piss out of people who comment on these news stories (because that is a little too close to home given that I’m writing a blog about the damn thing), not only was Nye booed, several people stormed out of the room in fury at Nye’s attempt to educate their children. One woman even yelled “we believe in God” on her way out, just in case we thought she was an extremely stupid atheist who didn’t like it when people insulted a book that she doesn’t believe is in any way important. I’m not even sure why she decided to yell that, I mean it’s not like you have to believe that every word in the bible is absolutely from the mouth of the Almighty Himself and therefore any science which contradicts it is the work of the Devil. Christ (if you’ll excuse the irony of my choice of profanity) if that were the case most people I know who are devout Christians would be burned at the stake for heresy.

This story really proves that people are stupid. It actually worries me that there are so many people out there who would choose to believe what it says in a book, which claims to be the word of God but cannot be proven as such, over science that is extremely well founded in reality. The fact that some people willingly choose to believe the creation myth of a random tribe from the Levant who happen to have survived long enough for their wacko religion to survive, over something that is scientifically proven is pretty worrying. You don’t even need to believe the bible is the direct word of God to be a Christian; most don’t, most Christians simply say the bible is a human attempt to understand God, rather that his dictated Word. Admittedly they’re deluding themselves (in my not-very-humble opinion), but at least they’re not failing as hard as the fundamentalists.

Most Christians today say that the Genesis stories are just that, stories. They don’t claim to make any statement about how the world was created, instead they simply teach people about the true nature of their God. The claim that Genesis is how it really happened is laughed at by most Christians let alone us cynical Atheists.

And now for something completely different; given that I have had the last week off I have been investigating a website called Loading Ready Run. It’s basically a bunch of people doing funny sketches and putting the videos on the net. I discovered them from the new videos on the Escapist website called Unskippable, which is done by the same people. You should all check it out. You should also check out Neutral Milk Hotel; they’re a band from the 90’s who probably kicked off the whole indie music thing in a big way. Their album ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea’ is pretty sweet. You should all listen to it.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

What double standards?

Recently, well last week, but I only do this once a week (thankfully) so I can get a little behind, there has been a lot of controversy over some comments made by people who work for the BBC. It feels a little like I’m going over the same ground here after my rant about the royal family saying racist things, but this is what’s been getting on my tits recently.

If you live under a rock (or maybe the in United States, or anywhere other than the UK for the matter) you won't know what I’m talking about and probably won't care and I think I used that line or something similar last time, ah well. Last week the news broke that Carol Thatcher (the daughter of Maggie… no comment) had referred to a black tennis player as a golliwog in a private conversation in the ‘green room’ after an episode of ‘the One Show’ for which she is a roving reporter. Ironically Joe Brand, who was part of this conversation, took offense and reported it to her boss. Weird how Joe Brand can be offended by that when she herself says some highly inappropriate things at her comedy shows. In any case some big cheese at the BBC demanded an apology from Carol Thatcher, which she gave, but it wasn’t good enough and she found herself out of a job.

Inevitably I think this is completely absurd; it was a private conversation and all we have is a single word quote with no note of context or tone. I think it’s pretty unlikely that Carol Thatcher was genuinely being racist; if she was she deserves to be sacked purely for being stupid enough to make it so obvious. It was probably little more than a terrible joke in very poor taste that went horrible wrong. I didn’t realise that it was BBC policy to sack people who make poor jokes; actually it might be a good idea to do that, it might mean that we have to suffer fewer horrifically poor sketch shows and sit coms.

The absurd thing is that the comments were in a private conversation and yet she is out of a job when Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross can deeply offend Manuel (Andrew Sachs) and get away with a few months suspension. Ok so the moron who allowed that to be broadcast was sacked for being a fuckwit, but even so I think Thatcher was treated a little harshly. Then again she is hardly a big celebrity who is hugely popular and gets millions of viewers watch her every week, unlike Ross and Brand.

Another example of blatant double standards by our beloved BBC was when Jeremy Clarkson called Gordon Brown ‘a one-eyed, Scottish idiot’ in a live show of Top Gear in Australia recently and got away with nothing more than an apology. Again it seems that the BBC has one policy for people who they consider expendable (like Thatcher) and another for people who they can’t afford to loose (like Clarkson, Ross and Brand). Who needs principles eh? I am not of course saying that Clarkson should be sacked; Gordon Brown is an idiot, although linking that with the ‘one-eyed’ comment was probably a little inappropriate. I’m sure Gordon has better thinks to do than worry about what a big-headed arrogant twat like Clarkson thinks of him; he’s too busy trying to save the world (and failing it must be added).

So the BBC has not come out of the last week or two very well. Sacking Thatcher was the wrong thing to do and their complete lack of consistency was highlighted by the fact that Clarkson got away scot free for something far worse (not that he should have been sacked either; we expect that sort of thing from Clarkson by now). I guess that’s television for you.

I know I probably don’t have many (if any) readers from Australia, but I feel I should extend my sincere condolences to anyone who has lost anyone or anything in the bushfires Down Under. I guess it would be in very poor taste to use this as a spring board to talk about something else, so I think I’d better end it there.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

LotR: BfME 2: some sort of Video Game

I don’t normally play that many video games, partly because I’m too cheap to shell out the kind of money you need to buy games let alone a console to play them on and partly because I have been using a computer that refuses to play games any more advanced that minesweeper, or maybe Tetris at a push. As a result of this the last video game I bought was Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II (henceforth to be known as bfme 2), which was released in 2006 and was still far to advanced to run on my Stone Age computer. As such I have only just got round to playing now that I have my beautiful new laptop, so I’m now going to do a very retrospective review of it because I feel like it.

The reason a bought it was that I loved the first game (bfme 1). I’m not exactly a gaming connoisseur, so I haven’t got much to compare it with, but it is certainly one of the best games I have every played. Which is why I was so disappointed with the sequel.

It seems that the monkeys at EA looked at their game and tried to list all the features of it that maked is different from your bog-standard Real Time Strategy (oh sorry did I forget to mention that bfme 1 and 2 are RTS’s?) and them rip all those bits out, making the game little more than an Age of Empires clone.

The first game incorporated an ‘open world’ aspect to the campaign game; you could choose were your armies should attack next. In the sequel they removed this bit, replacing it with a completely linear progression from one battleground to the next. Another great feature of the original campaign game was that you got to keep your army from one battle to the next, so you could build up a good army before the big important battles which were always joyfully difficult. In bfme 2 however you might as well just hurl your entire army at the enemy without a care for how many of them die because you know you won’t be seeing them again anyway.

The worst part is that they made the campaign game criminally short; it can be completed in a weekend, leaving you with nothing but samey skirmishes and a very poorly done turn based Total War-esc gimmicky thing that is completely pointless and extremely dull. The campaign game feels like it was originally meant to be an expansion pack that the developers decided they could make more money out of by releasing as part of a complete game

Another great thing about bfme 1 was that you could only build buildings in certain places on the map where you could set up camp. This lead to a territory control problem in the game, meaning that you couldn’t just put all your buildings and your entire base in one corner of the map and wait for the enemy to attack because you couldn’t get enough resources to build a good enough army. In bfme 2 they have removed this restriction so you can, well, do exactly what I just described. Similarly the larger camps in bfme 1 had walls that you could put soldiers on and fill all your enemies with arrow as they approached. In bfme 2 you can no longer put people on the walls, which can now be built anywhere and are about as useful as the British Government (i.e not at all for those who don’t understand satire…).

I suppose I should judge the game on its own merit rather than constantly compare it with its predecessor because we all know that sequel are hardly ever as good as the original. Not that this makes the game any better; the AI is still completely thick; half your soldiers will charge headlong at the enemy when they approach and get carved into several pieces because they failed to realised that they’re archers and that charged at Gandalf in the hope that they’ll scare him into running away. This problem could probably be solved by building walls, but they would only collapse as soon as the enemy coughed too near them. This problem was solved in the original by allowing you to attach infantry to archers to protect them against their suicidal nature… no wait I was supposed to be judging the game in its merits without reference to the original.

There is a rather gimmicky ‘create your own hero’ mechanic which (as the name suggests) allows you to create a hero, who will be exactly how you would like to be, or a character from another one of your favourite fantasy series or a complete joke. For the record I went for the latter, leaving me with an elf called ‘sexy’, a dwarf called ‘stumpy’ and a troll called ‘trolling’ oh the wit. In any case there is no obvious place to use these new characters unless you play online against everyone else’s ideal selves or play the skirmishes against the computer, which are just boring and completely pointless.

So overall; a shit game, wasn’t worth whatever I paid for it whenever I bought it and would not even be worth whatever it would cost you from Amazon (or any were else for the matter) now. Buy the original, it will cost you less and is a much better game. The most worrying thing about it I suppose is that the game was awarded Game of the Year by the blundering fuckwits who read ING in 2006. Must’ve been a slow year…