Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Tom and Me - Part Four: It's the end of the world as we know it

In early 2008 a viral marketing campaign began on the Internet, teasing information about a new Tom Clancy game. It suggested widespread destruction, a global conflict that would encompass all arms of the Clancy brand.
Excited didn’t quite cover it.
And so, in November 2008, Tom Clancy’s EndWar was released – a real-time strategy game where you took a God’s eye view of the battlefield, commanding your troops in World War III being fought between Russia, the United States and a unified European alliance.

The problem with RTS games on consoles is the controls. They are primarily designed for point and click PC gaming and while games such as Command and Conquer and Halo Wars have a had a good go at adapting controls for the gamepad, it has still been a little awkward.
EndWar’s answer is a stroke of genius. Almost the entire game can be controlled through voice commands. “Unit 1, attack Hostile 5!”; “Deploy gunships!”; “Unit 2, secure Alpha!” These are the sounds of Tom Clancy’s EndWar and it all works brilliantly. Not only are the controls effective, but the use of voice is also incredibly immersive, making you feel like the commanding officer overseeing his forces.

Unfortunately, sales-wise, EndWar didn’t perform and we’re unlikely to get a sequel. Indeed, its story has since been written out of canon by HAWX and Ghost Recon Future Soldier. But EndWar will remain as a great example of innovation and how real-time strategy can be achieved on console.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

NHL 13

It all began with EA Sports Double Header on the Sega Megadrive. EA Hockey and John Madden Football in one package that set the ball rolling on a 20 year journey across 4 consoles and, for me at least, eleven NHL games.
NHLPA 93 followed and while it didn’t have the official teams, it did have all the players and it also refined some of the gaming mechanics of the first game. 

Despite my love for it, I didn’t get another NHL game until NHL 2000 on the Sony PlayStation. I played this to death – working through five consecutive seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes. I rebought the game recently and it is so fast and arcadey it’s untrue! Still fun though.

NHL 2004 was the next one I bought on the PS2 and it was superb. Playing it now, it is too fast and too focussed on the big hits, but at the time we couldn’t imagine ice hockey games getting any better than this. Which is why I didn’t get another until the Xbox 360 came along and NHL 07 was unleashed on the world with the all-new Skill Stick. 

The Skill Stick allows you to control the player’s skates with the left stick and the hockey stick with the right. By the time you got the hang of it, it was evident there was no going back. Ice hockey videogaming had changed forever. THIS was the way to play. 
NHL 08 refined the Skill Stick controls and we still look back on it fondly – though it has to be said it was particularly easy to score. NHL 09 went the other way and was super hard to score, but a year later, NHL 10 found a happy medium between the two.
Since then, with NHL 11 and 12, the series has been treading water. Both are great games, but the changes have been minimal and it felt like we had hit the ceiling on what they can do with the series on the current consoles.
Then this happened:

NHL 13, for me, is the best in the series. The new True Performance skating engine creates realistic momentum affecting the players movement and turning circles in relation to their speed and the True Broadcast camera gives a superb presentation just like watching it on TV.
There are refinements across the board that have just come together to create a perfect simulation of the sport. Sure, there are a few slider adjustments you’ll want to make and if you’re using the True Broadcast camera then it’s a shame the fight cam is still in first person. The commentary – while improved – is still not up the same street as the 2K series of sports games, but these are just small niggles.
In NHL 13 you have to fight for every goal. Every lost turnover is a desperate occurrence and every goal a punch-the-air moment.
I’ve been saying this for 20 years, but they’ll surely never beat this year’s. Never.

Until NHL 14 of course.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Move

I know, I know. These blog updates are getting further and further apart. But any of you who have been keeping up with me on Twitter will know things have been a bit busy of late. Samantha and I have now moved into a flat together and things are going well.
My head is full of stuff I wouldn’t normally have to think about – bills, contracts, direct debits, cleaning, cooking, have I switched the oven off – the list goes on. But I’ve started to relax. We still have a list of things to work on and a few more things to get, but generally speaking, it’s fine.
Rather selfishly, one of my main concerns going into living together was how my own time and hobbies would be affected. I foolishly thought that it would be the end of everything. I’d no longer be going out with friends, playing video games or painting toy soldiers. Comicbooks! Throw them out!
And of course, none of that has happened. There are adjustments to be made and you’ve got to make sure all the really important things are out of the way first, but there’s still plenty of time to live the life you enjoy and have always led. In the first week I’ve put in a good 5+ hours of gaming, been to the cinema with a mate, prepped a model for painting and even had a game of Dreadfleet with Samantha. All without annoying her. Except when she thought I was cheating at Dreadfleet, (She did go onto win though, so everything was fine).
So, all is right with the world.
I still have to get the Internet installed and then acquire a laptop so I’ll be able to get back on the blogging. Until then, bear with me, there’s more to come – as soon as the bed is made and the kitchen floor is swept.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Games Day 2012

There are really only three reasons I don't mind getting up at 5am: Christmas Day, to catch a plane abroad and Games Day.

Games Day has become one of my favourite days of the year and this year's was my fifth.
Meeting up with the Meadowhall crew at 6am, we were picked up by the coach and arrived in record time at the LG Arena, Birmingham.

We may have had another hour to wait for the powers that be to let us in, but we were at the front of the queue.

Like some kind of ninja, my friend Tim (whom I had crossed paths with on Twitter and met previously at a Forge World event), made his way from the back of the queue to where I was. We passed the next hour talking about our plans for the day, what we were going to buy and hoped to see and also about how to juggle the hobby whilst living with long-suffering girlfriends.

(I encourage you to follow Tim on Twitter here, and check out his blog, where he has written a 3-part round-up of this year's event).

As the barriers lifted, we headed straight for the Forge World stands. After the diabolicle queues at last year's event, GW had moved the sales stands into the massive Hall 1. While there was still room to make the Forge World area bigger, it was still a far better system than we've seen previously.

My mind was focussed on getting the Games Day model. While I knew they would have plenty to go around, I didn't want to risk not getting one. This year's model - taken from the cover of 2nd Edition Warhammer 40,000 - is just the defining image of Warhammer from my childhood.

I secured the model as I joined the Forge World queue. It was here Tim and I got seperated in our bid to secure Book I of Forge World's Horus Heresy series. Neither of us were disappointed, though we would have to lug a heavy book around with us all day.

From here I took a walk around The Pavilion, taking in the great gaming tables and art competitions.

Moving through to the LG Arena I made a point to speak to Phill Kelly about how wonderful I thought Dreadfleet was. We had a brief discussion about the scenario types and then I went on my way as his table was crowded all day with people wanting to discuss the new Chaos Space Marines Codex.

I had a stroll around the Licensed Games area, the Golden Demon cabinets and took in the Armies on Parade. Here are a few pictures.

After lunch, I went back to the sales area and picked up my next Horus Heresy novel - Tales of Heresy - before checking out the ForgeWorld area and this fantastic set up depicting the battle for Istvaan III:

It was here I met up with Tim again and we shared a few thoughts on the day.

Afterwards, I made my way to the front of the stage ready for the Golden Demon and competition winners. And some amazing models there were too.

So what have we learned?

Games Workshop learned from last year's sales stand mistakes and improved matters immensely.

The quality of the painting on display both in Golden Demon and Armies on Parade continues to rise. Truly impressive.

And it was also apparent that Warhammer 40,000 is the main selling point for GW right now. Granted, Forge World were releasing Horus Heresy and the new Chaos marines were being shown - so it was bound to be very 40k focused. But I still though there could have been more from Warhammer Fantasy and The Lord of the Rings. I didn't mind myself, as I only play 40K - so far! - but if that was the otherway round, I'd have felt a little bit left out.

But all in all, this was another great GamesDay. Bring on next year's!