Monday, November 26, 2007

Bark/Byte: A most productive weekend

This weekend has probably taken about five years off the length of my life, but it has to go down as one of the most enjoyable weekends I've had in years.

On Friday night I got the rare opportunity to be a dirty, drunken stop-out, as I was attending the Videogamer.com launch party, where I finally got to meet the people who I've been writing for over the last three years or so. I think my liver and kidneys have only just re-opened diplomatic relations with my brain, after taking exception to my decision to see what all the fuss over Vodka and Red Bull is about after I'd already drunk perhaps half a dozen pints of beer - that wasn't a pretty morning after; though at least I wasn't alone in that regard. Not so much The House of the Dead, rather The House of Sore Heads...

The edge did get taken off my hangover by playing Mass Effect for a couple of hours on Saturday on a FIFTY-FIVE INCH plasma screen. Spectacular is not the word. Or perhaps it is... at any rate, what I played was impressive enough to convince me that I need to acquire a 360 to play it - I think that will be my birthday present to myself in January. After driving home around a curiously quiet M25 mid-afternoon, I had a nap before putting on the glad rags to have dinner with an ex-colleague of Fleur. I managed a glass and a half of Cru Bourgeois and my liver didn't protest too much...

On Sunday I was up fairly early - 9.30 is early for me on a weekend, anyway - so spent the morning reading Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, which is a slightly bizarre cross between auto-biography and a novel - but in a good way. Vonnegut makes me ponder the question of what really makes good writing: words are just words, a sentence is a sentence, so what makes some writing good and some writing bad when it is all constructed of the same basic raw material? Vonnegut answers this most eloquently with his writing: it's not so much the style of writing as what is being said - is it interesting, does it make you care or want to read more? It doesn't matter if it's narrative or musing, unless you can connect to the message being conveyed, it doesn't matter how it's delivered. This is what Vonnegut manages to do brilliantly - he has a message, and puts it across in a really beautiful way.

After devouring the entirety of Timequake in little more than a morning, I spent my afternoon playing Unreal Tournament III, which I have to say I found a wee bit underwhelming.

Yes, it's graphically glorious - probably the prettiest game I own, thanks to SOME BASTARD STEALING MY COPY OF CRYSIS IN THE POST, the new Necris vehicles and hoverboard are awesome (I love camping enemy bases in Darkwalkers), the new maps I've tried seem pretty good, but there just seems to be something missing. I tried playing the new Warfare mode online, and it was laggy as hell, I had weird sound glitches and the game just didn't seem to flow as well as before. I'm not convinced about the Orb - it's almost like they've tried to combine Onslaught with Bombing Run, and I'm not convinced it works. The rest is just deathmatch and capture the flag, really - so I'm not impressed they dropped the Assault game mode again, either. The single player "campaign" is pretty ridiculous, too. Trying to hack a narrative around deathmatch and capture the flag levels really doesn't make much sense - it was more in keeping with the game style when you got to build your team and play through a tournament. This whole "battlefield respawners" thing and the backronym for FLaG (Field Lattice Generator) is ludicrous. I'm not sure I'll be bothering any more with the single player campaign, as I really don't give a monkeys whether the Necris slaughter all life on Earth or not... it just seems a bit too contrived. There are a few other things I don't like, as well: the arrow trails pointing you in the direction of the next node seems like a real step backwards. The best thing about Onslaught was that you could attack more than one node and the game gave you the freedom to go off on your own and sneak a capture while everyone else was fighting for the middle ground. Here it seems like they're trying to funnel people towards a particular direction, which gets rid of a lot of the tactical freedom you have. I could be really nasty and say that it's to make things easier for the console-'tards, but I'm not sure that's true - since most console-'tards are PC gamers as well; it's like they've designed in the functionality to the game so that you don't have to learn the maps anymore... Trying to make your game accessible and user-friendly is one thing, but leading players around by the nose with arrows and saying "this is how you should fight over the maps" is another thing entirely. The joy of online gaming is the unpredictability and randomness of it all - if you try and take that away with "user aids" you might as well just fight bots. Very sad, really... 7/10.

I followed that with a trip to the gym (shock, horror!), doing a full set of weights and a bit of cardio-work on the arc-trainer. And I didn't have a heart attack, which was nice. I should have had an early night after all that, but I didn't, of course. Instead I watched Top Gear (James May is increasingly my hero - which is getting rather worrying) and then played through MASQ another couple of times, finally finding the beach ending where you get to run off with Nikki and Andrew to start a new life (though Susan wasn't really pleased about that).

So, all in all, a packed and rewarding weekend. It's almost a relief to get back to work, so I can sit down and relax...
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