Thursday, September 30, 2004

Oh dear lord, no.

The Star Wars: Battlefront dreams have started. Not content with fighting the Battle of Hoth online, I've started dreaming about it now. A sure sign of a obsessive gaming compulsion that's likely to rival KOTOR and Baldur's Gate. That percentage is steadily creeping up. Perhaps up to 80% now, because the more I play this, the more I like it.

I think I've seen all the maps now, and most of them are pretty good, and a couple really stand out; Hoth, Endor, the two Bespin maps, the Naboo palace map. The Naboo palace map is architecturally gorgeous, literally like stepping into the films. Hoth is probably my favourite map. You might think ice fields would be a tad bland, but the key to Hoth are the use of vehicles, not the infantry actions. Last night defending the base I jumped into an anti-personnel turret guarding the western entrance to the base. It was nearly six minutes (and 20 kills, including two AT-STs) before the Imperials realised what was picking them off and sent an AT-AT to sort me out. I bailed just in time from the turret, and secured a Command Post before getting blasted by a Scout walker. We still lost the match, because people were flying off in Speeders without a gunner, but I topped out the kills list on the server, which was rather satisfying. In a later game on Hoth as the Imperials, I also had a very good run in an AT-ST, as I'd picked the Imperial Pilot class, which heals the vehicle you're in. So I wasn't taking much damage even though people were pummelling me in Speeders. I wandered over to the shield generator, and just kept hammering people as they spawned, which is a tad nasty, but the same thing happened to me the previous night, so I was just getting a little payback. I also nailed down the hanger for about five minutes, blasting the Speeders before people could use them, until a co-ordinated attack of people with missile launchers finally did me in.

The Endor level is rather good too - I've only played it as the Empire so far, and it's quite an intimidating experience being charged by half a dozen whooping Ewoks. Thankfully, they're rather low on hitpoints, and a standard trooper with the Blaster Rifle can take them out very easily if your aim is good enough. It's great fun zipping about on Speeder Bikes, though the level's a bit tight with all the trees to use the AT-STs on. The Imperials need the vehicles, though, since their white armour just makes you a big target in the woods, whilst the Rebels all have camouflage, making them much harder to spot.

The one other memorable moment of last night was being eaten by the Sarlacc on the Dune Sea level on Tatooine. I'll have to try not to get so close next time...

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

More Battlefront

I'm going to have to nudge that percentage I gave you yesterday up a few points. After a more extended play last night, and having seen a few more maps, I'm finding it really rather enjoyable. Games purists would argue that the game is horribly broken by the lack of balance between the forces on a couple of the maps, but I quite like the way one side is put completely at a disadvantage (usually in terms of vehicles), because it forces people to work together. I saw some pretty astounding defensive co-ordination last night from some people who were obviously from a Clan who've had a lot of practice on other online shooters.

They were on the Rebel side of the Battle Of Hoth, splitting up evenly to man the defensive turrets and the Snowspeeders, combining to neutralise the Imperial walkers are quickly as possible, whilst still taking time to help out with the infantry battle. The Battle Of Hoth should be a walkover for the Imperials, but here they really cleaned house, through some very intelligent play. It was a shame my connection to the server dropped after a couple of games, because it was a real learning experience and a joy to watch people that good play.

The servers I was on last night had much better players on than before, and that really enhances the experience. I was still pleasingly close to the top of the Server Scores, and got the DeadEye award a couple of times, which was nice. Though I did get the Traitor award once on Hoth for accidentally blowing up three of my team-mates (and myself) when a Thermal Detonator didn't go *quite* where I'd intended. I managed to get the Killing Spree award in the same game, however, again with a Thermal Detonator when I had five Rebels fortuitously spawn infront of me at a Command Post.

I even briefly tried a Clone Wars server. The overall experience isn't as good as on the Galactic Civil War servers, but still pretty interesting. The CIS rocket tank is pretty awesome, and playing as a Droideka is quite challenging. The droids are all very vulnerable to blaster fire, but the Droideka has a shield that renders it almost invincible, the catch being that you can only use it for a limited amount of time before it needs to recharge. The second catch is that you need to have deployed the Droideka to use it, meaning that your walking pace is painfully slow. You could get outrun by sloths. Seriously. This means that to get anywhere quickly across the level, you need to retract your weapons and roll, meaning you can go places quickly, but can't defend yourself. It takes some practice to play and get used to only using the shield intermittently, so that it's not deactivating at the critical moment in a firefight, and learning how to (literally) roll out of trouble. I'll probably stick to the Civil War servers more often than not, though.

This might eat more hours away from Sims 2 than I previously thought...

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Star Wars: Battlefront

As videogames go, this has 70% written all over it. It doesn't do anything new, the weapons are all blasters with no real character (just different firing rates and blast patterns), the one vehicle I had chance to try (the Rebel Snowspeeder) was practically uncontrollable, and the graphics engine isn't nearly as pretty or as smooth as Unreal Tournament 2004's. I had to turn everything down to minimum to get a frame rate out of it - BUT - I fought The Battle Of Hoth last night. As the Rebels. We lost, predictably, despite me personally taking down two AT-ATs with rockets and the defensive turrets. It's much more fun than Joint Operations - battles are tighter and faster, and the ability to take any Command Post on the map means that you have more tactical flexibility. The ability to see blaster fire also makes it a whole lot less likely that you're going to be taken out from halfway across the map without ever knowing what has hit you, which removes a big source of frustration from most other online shooters.

It's still early days, so no-one really seems to be co-ordinating their teamwork yet, but it's still easy enough to make a difference as just the one man on a 20 player server. I only had the time to try three maps (on two different servers because the first one, where I played on Tatooine, was like a slideshow), and the maps are okay without being special. Hoth is as featureless as you expect, turning it into a little bit of a turkey shoot for the guys in the Imperial vehicles, but even as a Rebel I was still second top of my server with 29 frags (just two behind the top player), plus I got the Deadeye award two games running for being the most accurate player. On the other map (a waterfront/pier map which I think is meant to be on Naboo) I came out on top with 41 frags and the least deaths with 16 (two of which were accidental from a team-mate; watch that crossfire, boys!). Obviously, your experience of the game is coloured by how well you're doing compared to everyone else, so coming out top is pretty satisfying.

Anyone who's clipped my head off in a Manta on UT2004 will know that I'm only an average FPS player, so I get the feeling that Battlefront is My First Online Shooter for a lot of people, because it's not often I hit the top of a server scoreboard. A lot of people are just standing still whilst firing - so they're either having frame rate problems or are new to the genre, because they're easy pickings for people with a bit of UT experience like me. People aren't really exploiting the thermal detonators very well yet either, using them on open ground, instead of using them to choke up Command Posts in buildings. I gave a couple of people camping in a Command Post hut on the Waterfront map a very nasty surprise by sneaking up in the blind spot of their turret, and chucking a couple of thermal detonators into the hut...

The standard Trooper class appears to be the best rounded - I don't like the blast cannon carried by the Dark Trooper (or the equivalent Bowcaster for the Wookiee) - it's the blaster equivalent of a shotgun, uses lots of ammo in one go and has a wide blast spread, meaning it's only really useful at point blank range, unlike the standard blast rifle, which is great at anything up to medium range. The Missile trooper class is essential for the Rebels, particularly against AT-ATs and AT-STs, though you need a group of half a dozen people with them co-ordinating to take vehicles out quickly - AT-ATs are incredibly tough. The sniper class is a bit rubbish; not enough ammo in a clip and the fire rate is actually a little too fast.

The game is undoubtedly a lot of fun. Its appeal is limited by the emphasis on recreating Star Wars battles, but I think even a Star Wars hater could get a measure of satisfaction out of it. It's not big (only 16 maps - though there will probably be expansion packs coming out), it's not clever (I've not tried the Single Player yet, but reports of the AI say that it's dumber than a bag of hammers), but there's some joy to be had running around as a Stormtrooper blasting Rebel Scum. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn't see that many Clone Wars servers knocking about - though I will give one a try in the near future. I can't see it gobbling away too many hours away from my Sims 2 obsession, but it's good enough to have a quick blast on if you don't want to settle down for the night on something.

Monday, September 27, 2004


After the worst of starts, my weekend was actually quite good. It all started so innocuously too; I accompanied the gang down to the Clubhouse at IBM Hursley to have a drink at lunch, and all was fine and dandy. Unusually, I hadn't left my glasses on the top of my PC case (as I usually do - my optician advised me not to wear them when using a computer, because I'm not completely short-sighted and it's more stressful on my eyes to wear them for up close work than not) and wore them on the way down to the Clubhouse. After about half an hour, they were starting to annoy me, so I put them in my coat pocket.

What happened next is a bit of a mystery. Somewhere between the Clubhouse and my desk, my glasses disappeared from my pocket, and because I don't wear them when I'm working I didn't notice until nearly 6pm, by which time the whole site is practically deserted. I retraced all my steps, and there's no sign of them, and because it's so late, I can't check if they've been handed in at Reception. Meaning that I have to drive home without my glasses. Forty miles. Down the M3. At rush hour. On a Friday night. Not the best of starts to a weekend, especially considering the glasses in question will cost over £170 to replace. (£129 for the frames, £42 for the anti-glare and anti-scratch coatings)

I checked at Reception this morning, and nothing has been handed in, meaning that they've probably been kidnapped by Hursley's large population of rebel squirrels. Still, at least I didn't crash the Coupé on the way home. (Though I did dream about crashing it for the last couple of nights - I hope that's not a premonition)

So on Saturday, I dig out my old pair of glasses (thankfully my prescription hasn't changed much, just the frames aren't quite so sexy) and Fleur and I swan off to pick up our Canadian friend Chris in Richmond. We all head off to Guildford for the afternoon (Lunch in Wagamama - the Noodle Soup with Chilli Beef is highly recommended) and to do some shopping (XIII for £9.99, minus a nice 10% discount thanks to my HMV Games card) before heading home for me to demo all my nicest games (Sims 2, KOTOR, Need For Speed Underground, amongst others) in order to persuade him to trade in his laptop and buy a new PC.

We then have dinner (a signature Boeuf Bourguignonne), Chris watches a film with Fleur, whilst I get my Sims 2 daughter to seduce two of the local teenage girls (Meadow and Tosha) to fulfill all of her Romance Aspiration Wants and get enough Aspiration Bonus points to get another Elixir of Life dispenser. By that point, it's getting towards midnight, and Fleur wants to go to bed.

I immediately de-camp into the front room with Chris, we crack out our laptops and get Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight up and running for a bit of head to head deathmatch. We both grab another glass of wine and duel on the Bespin map until around 3am (my second 3am finish in a row - I'd stayed up watching my Star Wars Trilogy DVDs on the Friday to relax after the self-inflicted annoyance of being stupid enough to lose my glasses), after a fairly closely fought contest (36-27 in my favour).

On Sunday we get up reasonably early (considering the late night) and I demo Chris a bit more of KOTOR before we go back into Richmond to meet up with Tanya (Chris's other half) who's just literally got back from Toronto, around 7am in the morning. We have lunch at a lovely little resteraunt called Brula's - where we had a three course lunch for less than £15 each, whereupon Chris and Tanya take the opportunity to drop the bombshell that they've just gotten engaged. So that's another Wedding we've got to look forward to (which will no doubt clash with the Farnborough Airshow - AGAIN). We drop Tanya back off at their flat so she can get some sleep (since she was kept awake for the whole journey by kids sitting behind her) and do a little shopping in Richmond. I manage to pick up a copy of Star Wars: Battlefront (which had been sold out in Guildford) as another comfort purchase (again with a nice 10% discount from HMV), plus a new Casio Databank watch from Argos to store all my phone numbers, as the strap had broken on my previous Databank watch.

We then head on home to have a relaxing evening (which I spend defragging the hard drives on my desktop and laptop) and an early night. If it hadn't started so badly, we would have been getting on for the perfect weekend.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

More Sims

The guys at Something Awful demonstrate just what you can do with The Sims 2 and a twisted mind.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Game Of The Year

The Sims 2. It gets my vote, anyway. I stuck in something between 10-12 hours on this at the weekend and it's simply one of the best games I've ever played. EA have a poor track record of milking cash cows and flogging dead horses, but what Maxis have done with The Sims 2 is astonishing. It's the same game as before, but with all the constant micromanagement removed, a whole lot more depth added, wrapped up in a superb graphics engine.

The Sims themselves are adorable. Cute, beautifully animated, and much more expressive and lively than in the previous game. They're far more customisable than before, and it's possible to create reasonable likenesses of your friends and family. There's a decent selection of clothing, too, and plenty of household items to lust after. The one thing I didn't like about the first game (it being impossible to interact with the NPCs like the Maid and Gardener other than firing them) has been corrected, meaning that it's now possible to hit on the hired help.

The six "Needs" that characterised the way that the Sims behaved in the first game are still there, but have been refined so that your Sims don't need to be constantly told to go to the toilet before they soil themselves - they're far more self reliant and intelligent, cutting down on the micromanagement that you need to do - which can only be a good thing. The astrological personalities are still the major drivers behind a Sim's behaviour, but Maxis have added in Wants and Fears, characterised by an aspiration, be that wanting a Family, or wanting Fortune, Romance or Knowledge. This individual aspiration manifests itself in short and long term Wants (such as wanting to sleep with another Sim, or to buy a particularly expensive painting) and Fears (such as having a flirt rejected, or having a family member die). The Wants and Fears add much needed clarity to the game, making it simple to know what your Sim wants to get out of life, rather than just grind your way up the career ladder (which is still present, only of less importance to the social aspects of the game).

The Wants and Fears change according to how much progress you make up the aspiration scale, and are dependent upon which kind of aspiration your Sim has. This gives you a fantastic variety of things to do - whilst the original could get a bit samey, this has lots of different things to do, since no two Sims will ever have the same Wants or Fears. Now that Sims age and die, there's a real need in the game to ensure that Sims carry on their line, with children taking on traits from their parents. It also makes you identify with your Sims that much more, and form genuine emotional attachments to them. I felt real sympathy for poor Fleur as she waddled around the house for a couple of days becoming increasingly pregnant with our second child, and I'm astonishingly protective of my teenaged daughter. My Sim-self has an all pervading fear of changing my newborn son's nappy though - who says that games can't be realistic?

There are now cutscenes to commemorate special events, like a teenager's first romantic kiss, an engagement and the birth of a child (this cutscene in particular is very clever). I can't overstate the quality of the character animation - it's a quantum leap beyond what No One Lives Forever brought to First Person Shooters. The animation is so beautifully observed and executed - the lifting weights animation on the workbench in particular is fantastic, with straining faces, quivering arms and groaning effort. The kissing animations are a tad racy to say the least - the Sims aren't shy at all when they're making out.

There's so much more I want to write about - the Aspiration rewards, the animated TV programs and the way aging has been implemented into the game, for example - but you're probably better off discovering it for yourself. I'm already about 14 hours in, and I'm still discovering new ways to interact with the Sims and new stuff to do. I've not even *touched* the Community aspect of the game yet, either, where you can pop into town for a Yoga session, go out for the evening or do the grocery shopping. Suffice to say that this is simply one of the best produced games since the golden days of LucasArts. Without question, it's a wonderful, beautiful game and deserves to sell more copies than the Bible, which knowing EA's marketing department, it will.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Spoilers Ahoy

If you've not completed Hordes Of The Underdark yet but have ambitions to do so, go away now. Otherwise I'm seriously going to spoil it for you.


Last chance now.

I managed to complete Hordes Of The Underdark last night, with about an hour's gaming time to spare. Shockingly, it doesn't end in a hugely anti-climatic battle, like most RPGs. Instead, you get to duke it out with an Archdevil in one of Waterdeep's courtyards, who does all sorts of nasty things like trying to turn your henchmen against you, and summoning lava and ice elementals to try and drain your hitpoints (making environmental resistance items pretty much compulsory). Once you have sufficiently beaten Mephistopheles to a pulp, he'll surrender and beg you not to kill him. "Please, your honor, spare my life" to which my Evil Ranger replied "There is no honor" and promptly killed him. Interestingly, you don't actually need to fight him at all, if you get his True Name a little earlier in the game from The Knower Of Names (at the cost of 500,000gp!), and you can simply banish him from Toril. I (or rather Thaeonia), however, wanted blood. After all, she proclaimed "This world is mine!" before she slaughtered him - as it's not exactly a wise thing to do, leaving an Archdevil at your back nursing a grudge...

Once the battle is over, it segues nicely into an epilogue that concludes the story and tells you what happened afterwards to all the characters involved. It's definitely going to be worth replaying with a neutral character and a good character, to see how these accounts change. Convincing Aribeth to stay evil once you rescue her spirit from Cania has pretty nasty consequences for Neverwinter (she goes off afterwards to haunt it and cause all sorts of mayhem), but it was nice to see happy endings for Sharwyn and Deekin. Obviously treating people differently or not doing certain actions, such as betraying The Seer or using a different second henchman instead of Sharwyn in the first chapter will alter the tales. It should be fun to experiment and find out just how mutable the ending is. I'd say it's a far more satisfactory ending to both of the previous single player campaigns.

In other news, this is possibly the greatest thing ever. Make sure you watch the Drums demo.

Though it's possibly not as great as The Sims 2, which should be waiting for me when I get home tonight. I'm going to get this pun in before everyone else does for my prediction of what it's going to be like: SIMSATIONAL!

Contradiction In Terms

Explain it to me. Just how are fake IDs legal? And people call me Mad And Wrong.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

It's in the post

Specifically, The Sims 2 is in the post. How excited am I?

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Oh man...

This is just too tempting. Must. Be. Strong.

Two things that REALLY annoy me

1) Drivers who give way when THEY have the right of way.

They think they're being polite. What they're actually doing is unnecessarily holding up traffic and increasing the likelihood of the driver being let through having an accident (making them liable for not obeying the right of way laws, to boot). If you have right of way, USE IT! If people on the road can't get out of side streets or from behind parked cars, that's THEIR problem.

2) Stupid environmental puzzles in RPGs.

I've nearly completed Hordes Of The Underdark now, getting to the same spot I did last time before I gave up/changed my hard drive. The Puzzler's Sepulchure is a lava filled room dotted with platforms that have levers to teleport you from one platform to another, and rotating arrows on the platforms to tell you which direction you will go when you pull the lever. Three of the platforms have second levers. At the opposite end of the lava pool is a doorway blocked off by lightning, in front of which are three 8-way rotatable gargoyle statues and yet another lever. Your only clue to solve the puzzle goes something like "Stone to Stone the stone must face, Lightning to lightning the lightning fades." Pretty fucking weak. How exactly are you meant to solve that by anything other than trial and error?

The solution, incidentally, is to use the floor levers on the lava platforms to light up the statues in blue (there being no indication at all that pulling the lever more than once changes the colour of the light) and have the three statues face the door, before pulling the final lever infront of the lightning filled doorway. The clue's pretty tenuous at best, and there are no real excuses for puzzles like this - it's simple time filler, frustrating and random time filler at that. It's within an hour of the end of the game - why bother putting it there at all? Why not just get straight to the conclusion? After sinking 15-20 hours into the campaign, who wants to be sat around frustrated for a couple of hours solving a puzzle by trial and error because you're not given an adequate enough a clue to solve it logically? I got the solution off GameFAQs this morning, because Sims 2 arrives on Friday, and I want to have the Neverwinter Nights trilogy of campaigns all completed beforehand, and puzzles like this one don't add anything to the experience of what's otherwise a very enjoyable game.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

It'll be shit

Scientists announce that the world's first Fly Eating Robot uses human excrement in order to attract its meals. Frighteningly, this is actually the first step towards producing a fully self-sufficient robot. I don't know what's more worrying - that we're building flesh eating robots, or that human shit is a vital component. Suddenly The Matrix looks a lot more benign...

Monday, September 13, 2004

Race Against Time

A more traditional blog entry today. I'm desperately trying to complete Hordes Of The Underdark before The Sims 2 arrives on Friday. I can see Sims 2 absolutely consuming most of my free time for the next month or two, so I really want to make sure I've gotten HOTU out of the way before I start on it.

I've gotten to the third (and final) chapter again with my Evil Ranger, who is still being faithfully followed by Deekin, despite her dastardly betrayal of the Seer at the tail end of Chapter Two. It's nice to see a game that actually goes to the effort of rewarding you for roleplaying an evil character - something that was almost impossible in Baldur's Gate - and it's pretty much true to say that Evil characters have more fun.

The sections of the game in the Underdark have quite a bit of variety, and there are a few nice puzzles and set pieces. The Beholder caves and the Dead Magic dungeon (whose primary resident is a very nasty Bebelith) are particular highlights. The third chapter is possibly the most bizarre of the three (though I won't spoil it here) with Dragons as barkeeps and armour eating Mimics, amongst other things. I'm fairly close to the final showdown with The Big Baddie, so I hope to have the game wrapped up in the next couple of evenings. It's easily the most interesting of the three NWN single player campaigns, and though it starts quite slowly (a fault with most of Bioware's games, if the truth be known) it's still worth trying out the new character kits for a couple of hours. With the campaign starting with a character level of 15, it's actually possible to start the game with a Level 5 Bard/Level 10 Red Dragon Disciple if you assign your skill points wisely. The ten levels in Red Dragon Disciple give you the extra melee muscle you need at the start of the game (as well as a lovely breath weapon), and the Bard song is still pretty handy. I'm tempted to experiment with a Pale Master as well, since there are still a few encounters with Undead in the game. The offer on Play for the Deluxe Edition of NWN and both expansion packs is definitely worth a crack for £18, if you've never tried your hand at an RPG.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Videogame Theory: Yes, but is it Art?

All too often you hear the question on videogames forums "Are videogames Art?" but rarely does the discourse answering it go beyond "Yes." or "Don't be so fucking stupid." The reason for this is because most people struggle to find a definition of "Art" that they can agree upon.

So let's define terms. What is "Art"? What makes the Mona Lisa "Art" and an advertising billboard showing off the new Renault Mégane's arse "Not Art"? It's not simply that critics like Brian Sewell will coo pretentiously about "form" or "colour palette" over one but not the other.

Art takes many forms; painting, sculpture, writing, cinema, theatre, collage, tapestry, to name but a few. Yet this doesn't help define what Art is. Art is not just a thing, Art is a purpose. Art is more than having an image or statue to look at. Art is making a unique statement, and Art is the consideration of that statement. Art makes you look at yourself, not just at the artist's work.

This is what makes the Mona Lisa "Art", rather than just a simple portrait. The Mona Lisa makes you think - it makes you ask questions. Why does she only have an enigmatic half-smile? Shouldn't she be happy and honoured to have her portrait taken by the greatest living artist of her time? Why does she not seem happy? What would I have to be feeling to make me look like that? Why has Da Vinci not shown her smiling anyway? What is he trying to say about his subject? Art is much more than simply looking at well composed images, or appreciating beautifully structured dialogue.

If you agree to the above definitions, it is clear that very few videogames could be classed as Art. It is difficult to find examples of games that make you question your own nature, rather than simply bombard you with stunning images.

So which videogames are Art? It will no doubt surprise many people, but in this humble correspondent's opinion, Doom is Art. Doom possesses a singular clarity of purpose - to frighten and thrill the player. Doom is horror. Doom is violence. Doom is fun. Fun? How can horror and violence be fun? Immediately cognitive dissonance sets in. The player is thrust into the utmost peril, surrounded by growling, snarling demonspawn baying for your blood. Your only tool is violence, and the swift application of that violence. The only way to save your life is to take that of others. Kill or be killed. Darwinism as a videogame.

Doom is intense, enthralling and exhilarating. Yet it still makes you question yourself. Why is the sensation of mortal danger thrilling? Why is the act of taking life exhilarating? Is the act of killing really fun? Could I actually take a life?

Doom is an exercise in power. Doom recognises the fact that we all want power to some degree, and makes us face our nature by giving us the ultimate power of control over life and death. Doom is Art.

Doom III on the other hand, is not Art. The simple reuse of themes with better presentation does not make Doom III Art. Without trying to say something new, something unique, Doom III is nothing more than a plaything with an astonishing graphics engine. Like the vast majority of videogames (and mainstream cinema) Doom III does not make a unique statement, making it more akin to Pop Art than Art. Despite the name, Pop Art is not truly Art. Pop Art is about creating iconic, striking images for mass consumption and profit. Pop Art bombards the senses without thought or reason, and with scant regard for analysis. Pop Art is emotive, yet does not need to be unique or singularly purposed. Pop Art regurgitates themes without trying anything new, simply presenting itself with greater panache and style. Summer film blockbusters are Pop Art. Videogames are Pop Art.

Instead of asking the question "Are videogames Art?" we should instead consider the question "If videogames are not Art, is that a bad thing?"

The primary purpose of videogames is to entertain. Art may be many things - unique, profound, thought provoking - but few people would consider it mass entertainment. If a medium's primary raison d'être is to provide entertainment for the masses, isn't that medium mutually exclusive to being Art? If so, how can the perception of that medium not having artistic merits be viewed as bad?

Like film or theatre, recent history suggests that videogames can be used to present Art, but that does not mean that ALL videogames or ALL films should try to be Art. Art is not the logical conclusion for all entertainment media. Art is not appreciated - or indeed wanted - by everyone. It should not be seen as the ultimate aim of every videogame produced. If a game provides joy, what does it matter if it is not Art? A few select games will be Art, and will be recognised and appreciated as such, but this is not to say that all other games have no value because they are not.

Before you even ask the question "Are videogames Art?" you should ask yourself the question "Do I understand Art?". Unless you can answer "Yes" to the latter, any answer to the former is ultimately futile.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


The last couple of nights I've been having very odd dreams. The most memorable part of each dream has been of brushing my teeth. Not an unusual action in itself, but it's not the act that is memorable - it was the result of that action. Namely an intense sense of pain, and spitting blood instead of toothpaste - as if the teeth themselves (not the gums) were bleeding.

Looking up the three main keywords from the dream on a Dream Dictionary gave the following results.

Brushing of teeth: "To dream that you are brushing your teeth, signifies your level of confidence, struggles and aggressiveness. You need to look out for yourself and your own interest."

Pain: "To dream that you are in pain, signifies that you are being too hard on yourself with regards to a situation that was out of your control."

Bleeding: "To dream that you are bleeding or losing blood, signifies that you are suffering from exhaustion or that you are feeling emotionally drained. It may also denote bitter confrontations between you and your friends. Your past actions have come back to haunt you."

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what *that* dream means, does it? Internet forums, eh? They fuck you up. Just say no, kids.

Right, I'm moving to Germany...

German Economics minister proclaims that beer is so healthy it should be on the NHS.

"People should be able to get prescriptions for beer through the national health system," he said.

Conclusive proof, if any more were needed, that Britain is backward-thinking in its approach to the public services.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

A final word on State

It's no great surprise that my post yesterday put a few noses out of joint. This whole thing has spiralled WAY out of proportion purely because two people couldn't agree, or agree to disagree.

I'd like to offer an olive branch and an apology to #state, because the majority of the people there don't deserve the label I branded with them last night. My harshest and most consistent critics (and you know who you are) may spend a lot their time there, but that doesn't give me the right to brand you all with a demon brush.

I have to accept a lot of the blame for the dreadfully undignified manner of my departure, but I hope that people will understand why I reacted in the way I did, and that it's not easy to run a website in the face of constant non-constructive criticism from people who know what they want, but are seemingly unable to put in the effort or take the responsibility upon themselves to achieve it.

The recrimination has been long, hard and bitter, and I'm sure SFE would like to make me the villain of the piece as much as I'd like to make it him. The sad truth of the matter is that we're all at fault - for letting the issue of personality get in the way of what's best for State.

I've stepped aside for several reasons - primarily because I don't want to do it anymore, but also because my ability to inspire and enthuse the forum appears to have waned. It's Forumism in action - the newer and more vigourous personalities step up to take over when the Old Guard comes off Watch. Pat and SFE have ideas on how State should be run, and it's their turn to try and make them into a reality.

I can't hold SFE a grudge (not for long, anyway - much as I found his method of forcing change distasteful) because he believes precisely the same thing I did when I secured the hosting deal for the new server 18 months ago - that His Way is the Best Way for State. I'm sure he will find that now he's been given the responsibility of trying to turn that vision into a reality is a lot harder than you first think. SFE's like me in a way - a strong, eloquent and abrasive personality (with the occasional dash of charm) and he's going to have critics, but I won't be one of them.

Despite the ignominous manner of the termination of my tenure in charge, both he and Pat have my full support and blessing to take State in any direction they want. Like Oskar and Jamie before me, I have no intention of interfering in how State evolves, no matter how much I may have done things differently.

The WikiSite idea floating around the forum at the moment is an interesting one, and appears to have a lot of support - the challenge for Pat and SFE (and the rest of the mods, of course) is maintaining that initial rush of support and enthusiasm beyond the first couple of weeks. If history is anything to go by, the "New Era" Honeymoon period on State is only a short one - make the most of it while you can.

Finally, I'd like to publically thank the people who contacted me last night via MSN, e-mail and forum PM to express their understanding, and their gratitude for what I've done for State in the last 18 months. It's nice to know that the blood, sweat, tears (and money) I've put into State during my time in charge hasn't gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

I hope now that we can draw a line under this whole unseemly mess and get on with enjoying State for what makes it special - a community of well informed and intelligent games lovers - because the vicious in-fighting of the last few days does nothing but damage that community and prevent people from wanting to join it. And none of us want that. Do we?

Hollywood Science

I heard about the plan by NASA to use Hollywood Stunt Pilots to execute a daring mid-air retrieval of the Genesis solar probe, that has been gathering particles from the solar wind for the last couple of years. They wanted to snag it's parachute in mid-air, because if it hit the ground it risked all the samples getting smashed and contaminated. I checked excitedly a few moments ago to see what had happened. The parachute failed to deploy. Oops!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Sold! To the Belgian lady who thankfully doesn't have anything to do with those nasty lawyers.

#state can rejoice. My reign of terror on State is over. I'd personally like to thank all the people on #state who've gone out of their way to make my life difficult by questioning and second-guessing my every decision over the last 18 months, and who over the last couple of days have managed to foster a completely unwelcoming atmosphere to anyone who'd like to express a little creativity, or actually contribute anything other than snide, vicious (and in some cases throughly unjustified) criticism to the forum and website or offer an opinion that differs from yours.

Well done. You won. You've finally managed to kill the website, and you've made my time in charge so utterly miserable that I just can't be bothered with you anymore. You've shouted so long and so hard that you've drowned out the rest of the forum telling them that no, they're not interested in a website, that no, we don't need any moderation, and no, that we don't need to write things because it's already been discussed on IRC and in the forum. Well, thank you for your wisdom and guidance, because I don't know what we ever would have done if we didn't have you to tell us that your opinions outweigh the other 360-odd people's on the forum. Sorry, but I'm not going to sit down and take abuse from people who just criticise and bitch without making any effort to actively change the forum to make it more like the wonderful utopia they keep telling us #state is.

Let me tell you a little secret. #state isn't State. Never has been, and probably never will be, because IRC isn't like a forum, which all of you seem to conveniently forget. You've formed yourself a nice little chattering cabal of elitist know-it-alls who think that somehow you're representative of the forum - well, sorry to break this to you, but you're wrong. You're no more representative of State than I am. The only difference between you and me is that I've invested time, money and a lot of effort into trying to improve State. All you've done is whine, whinge, criticise and try to pull apart things that other people might actually want.

You obviously think that you can run State better than I can, well, here's your chance. You've decided that State doesn't need a creative outlet or to give people the opportunity to practice their writing skills and maybe get into the industry we all love so much. No, you've decided that State just needs to be a place to talk about games. Well, time to start practicing what you preach, and now that I'm conveniently out of the way, maybe you can stop bitching long enough to actually do it.

If you can turn State into your moderation free paradise of games chat, I'll actually be pleased. I'll accept that I've been wrong over the last 18 months, and this pill sitting in my stomach will be slightly less bitter. But if I'm sitting here in six months time, and nothing has changed... well, don't expect me to be terribly tactful in my criticism. So, #state, Fuck You very much. Thanks for the memories.

Monday, September 06, 2004


That's what I was doing roughly every 30 minutes for about 8 hours, between 3am and 11am on Friday morning. BLEURGH - having a deeply unpleasant conversation on the porcelain telephone. I'll never have another one of Budgen's Chicken Jalfrezi's ever again.

To recouperate over the weekend, I spent most of the time I wasn't in bed replaying NWN: Hordes Of The Underdark, with a Neutral Evil Ranger (who is now "Epic" at Level 23). Hordes is unusual for one of Bioware's AD&D efforts, in that it's actually viable to play an evil character, and possibly even more rewarding than being good. I played through most of the first two chapters (I had previously gotten to the third chapter with my Blackguard character prior to my hard drive upgrade - the very reason why it remains uncompleted, in fact) and discovered quite a few new things. Enserric the Talking Longsword was a particularly good find. Hordes is probably the most engaging of the Neverwinter Nights games, with plenty of Beholder bashing, Illithid eviserating fun, and now with two henchmen to bring along, there's more of that Baldur's Gate party feeling back in the game. The Epic level feats and the new Prestige classes all add to the variety and longevity of the game and Deekin looks astoundingly good with wings. They don't appear to have any discernable affect on the game, they just twitch, flap a bit and look quite cool. I'm tempted to replay the game as a Sorceror/Red Dragon Disciple, now. It's definitely not for AD&D virgins, as some of the encounters are quite tough, especially for the first hour or two, but it's good fun and worth persisting with.

Thursday, September 02, 2004


A fairly decent online Blackjack game that doesn't require real cash. It doesn't allow you to split pairs or play more than one hand, which is a bit shabby (though splitting is a minefield if you don't know what you're doing), but it's good enough to practice your betting technique with at least.

My tips: Always double your stake after a loss, only double if you have 10 or 11 and then only if the dealer has less than a 6 showing, and never draw if the dealer shows a 6 or less and you have 12 or more. Follow these simple rules, and Blackjack is pretty much easy money.


A very interesting analysis of motorway ettiquette. Having spent around 10 hours of every working week on the M3 for the last five months, I can vouch for a lot of this behaviour.