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Below Zero: 020

Below Zero: 019

Prince Of Persia: Sands of Time

Here’s the second of my WotR reviews. I think I might have done more stuff for them, but it’s probably lost to time…

Pop

There was a time when I was impressed by sexy animation alone - Saturday lunchtime to be exact - as I was playing the original Prince Of Persia as a prelude to a credit card-bending trip to Game.

What I can’t believe about Sands Of Time is how evocative it is of this original platforming masterpiece. From the first climb and jump (which is nicely presented with unobtrusive tutorial aspects) you know you’re The Prince. Or, in my case, MC Hammer. It’s the trousers.

So, there I am testing out the controls when all of a sudden the Hammer wall-rides 30 feet to a platform I’d barely noticed. Time to sit up and pay attention. And that’s what makes Prince of Persia so great. There are plenty of genuine attention-demanding moments in this game.

The cinematics, camera blurs and fixed views all bring out the vast scale of the environments, but there’s never a point where this daunts you. Need to get to a door four storeys up with only pigeon nests and light fittings to grab hold of? No probs. Hammer will probably slip in an extra backflip off the pigeon’s beak for good measure.

This is platforming goodness on a new scale. Everything from the past updated to the new. It never feels scripted, you never feel that you can’t grab hold of that ledge and you never feel like you’re playing a game.

And then there’s the combat. Ooooo, the lovely combat.

Initially, waving your sword about feels lacking in control - you don’t pick the combo for instance, you wave the stick in the general direction of where you want the kick-ass, leaving the fleet-footed 80s rapper to do his thing. But a few well placed text messages later and you’ve got the game Buffy The Vampire Slayer wished it was. I’m telling you now, there is no better combo than a 6-foot run up a wall, followed by a graceful backward flip with a mid-air slash and sand-sucking stab of death. Only takes three button presses, that.

So the sands, then… Yes, you can rewind time about 20 seconds - which makes every platforming mistake and fighting fuck-up a mere practice run for the crowd-pleasing display of joypad prowess that is to follow. Yes, you can slow down time as a whim for when you’re really showing off. Yes, you can stab enemies and force them into matrix-like bullet-time while the world around them continues at normal pace. Yes, you can do all of this whenever you want.

It’s a lovely, lovely feature and empowering to say the least. But it’s a minor thing compared to the goodness in this game’s heart. Everything about it oozes high production value and attention to detail. From the visionary moments at Save Points to the epic scale of the architecture. But, more importantly, for taking a cherished idea from yesteryear, supplying it with a new pair of baggy trousers, giving it a stern talking to about family responsibility (and how crap 80s rap really was), before throwing it out into the brave new world.

Lara Croft? You can’t touch this.

Metal Arms: Glitch in the System

A while back, Way of the Rodent, a short-lived ‘zine of sorts that blazed a glorious trail across the internet of the early ’00s launched a Kickstarter that unfortunately failed. Annnnyway, this lead me to save a couple of the reviews I did for them, which I’ll post here for posterity.

The guidelines for WotR reviews were: 500 words, and do what you want…

Metal Arms

I really, really like this game.

I like the way the intro has beeped-out swear words - for the same reason that I like the start of Four Weddings. I like the way the back-story is shown in flickering black and white, like some sort of piss-take of The Animatrix.

I like the tutorial and the way that two of the friendly bots carefully guide me through the usual double-jump and aiming malarkey, teasing, saying they’ll wait for me, egging me on, only to be blown to fuck at the first bridge.0

I like the levels and they way they subtlely encourage me to explore, begging me to point my little miner helmet and light into the darkest recesses of the designers mind, sniffing his drawers for that elusive secret chip - or four.

I like the way I can sneak up behind an enemy Mil, only to have him fart, right in my face. I like the fact I can repay such kindness by carefully blowing a couple of hot rounds into his right shoulder and watch him run around, screaming like a five-year-old girl.

No, really. He does.

I especially love the fact that, if I do this and Farty-Mil is in the middle of a big group of his mates, his rusty, panicking trigger finger will be glued to the spew hot-luvvin setting and my gaseous friend will scream around the level shooting the fuck out of all his mates. I like the mayhem this causes, even more.

I like the fact all my bot-mates are cute, that they say they’ll help me out, show me the way to the checkpoint, do what I tell them to and that they don’t run away in a fire-fight. I even like the fact that I nearly cried, proper-like, when in a panic I accidentally threw a core-charge into a group of eight of them that Id carried through all level only to be left knee-deep in springs, coils and the faint echo of a friendly scream.

I really like the guns the fact that they power up significantly and the way there’s a subtle technique to each of them. I like the fact I can snipe, from really high up, or wade through trenches, both arms active, leaving a wake of screaming Mils behind me. I really like the fact I can rivet the Mil in the turret-gun, mid double-jump, only to land in his seat and point the cannon at 10 of those Mil scum behind me same for that bastard Mil driving the six-wheeled buggy.

I love the platforming elements, the careful jumps, the use of scenery the sheer fucking panic that sets in when two Berserkers land on the same rickety walkway and I madly back-track, shooting everywhere but on target.

I like the fact that I’ve still not mentioned everything that’s great about this game, like the multiplayer or the speed chips and I’ve already hit 499 words.

Don’t like the fact I’ve not had more time to play it, though.

The Greatest Laptop Ever Made...

Marco Arment recently blogged about the best laptop ever made: the Retina Macbook Pro. That is, indeed, one of the best laptops Apple ever produced and it was good enough for me to replace my Powermac, a machine that served me amazingly well for years and a sku I wish Apple had given more love to. But it’s not the best laptop ever made.

The best laptop ever made is this:

Powerbook

The Titanium Powerbook G4.

In 2001 this machine was the fucking bomb. Running the first version of OSX, this bad boy gave me Unix on the go, with Photoshop, a permanent Bluetooth connection to my phone, meaning internet on the go, and THE nicest dev environment I’d ever used up to that point. It was the first insight into what life in a permanently internet connected world could be like, and I loved it.

At work it auto mounted NFS shares from our Solaris servers, at home it auto mounted drives from my home rolled NAS - amusingly enough, some of which was still hosted on my A1200 tower. Sure, the paint wore off it after a while, and the G4 never was as fast as claimed, but this really was the first machine that delivered everything we consider essential in a modern portable computer. And it was sexy as fuck.

Apple really should have been paying me, back then, as every time I pulled out this bad-boy, people lusted after OSX and sexy Apple HW. And logging into a mate’s router from the inside of a pub and mooching about through his machines was one hell of a tech demo.

I don’t use Apple HW for much anymore, but this laptop will always hold a special place in my heart. It was, quite simply, the best laptop ever produced.

The Thing

Paul Large, the ever amazing Art Director over at Ruffian Games, has put up some of the videos that were produced for The Thing, a collaboration between my old haunt - Ruffian Games - Microsoft & Universal Pictures.

I have mixed feelings when I watch these. I’d be lying if I said I was ever fully engaged in the project. I hated how we were being asked to make it, and I had absolutely no faith in Microsoft’s ability to, well, do fucking anything by this point. We were being shoved between junior producers that had barely scheduled lunch before working with us, and had a publisher side writer that spent longer arguing about the feelings of the NPCs than he did giving a single fuck about what the player might be thinking. It was rough and I was miserable, piss-whinging about it all the time. Although, we did get treated to a VIP jaunt around Universal Pictures in LA, which was a fucking hilarious day out…

As with anything to do with big companies, a lot comes down to politics. Despite having an EP over in Seattle who was extremely passionate about us, and what we were doing, he didn’t have enough capital inside MS to save it when the Xbone launch was a disaster. We got canned along with [practically] everything else that MS were doing at the time…

But the work that Ruffian did was easily the best we’d managed up to then, and there was a real enthusiasm and passion for the project. We all adored the license.

I learned a lot about how to tackle the design of a big project by watching the way Rich and the team carved things up. It was good, detailed work, and if we had of got it over the line I strongly believe it would have treated John Carpenter’s universe with the same reverence and attention to detail as Alien: Isolation did for the Alien franchise.

I moved to Finland to start up a little Ruffian satellite while this project was being worked on, so I missed the tail-end of the stuff that was produced in the studio. And I wasn’t there when the axe fell. It was a close call, the studio nearly went down, but it’s a credit to everyone there that it didn’t, and that it’s going from strength to strength.

AAA is brutal, even with the best of licenses. I honestly do not fucking miss it, not one little bit. But then, making games is brutal, even tiny projects on your own.

Below Zero: 018

Jack...

Jack

Back when I was living in Dundee, my girlfriend (at the time) and I decided to get a couple of cats. It wasn’t the ideal situation, given we lived in a tiny apartment, but we weren’t planning on staying there for long, and I was desperate to have some furry friends in the house.

We ended up with two; Jack and Stella. One boy. One girl. It was hard to believe they were brother and sister. Jack was twice her size. She was shy, he was a noisey brat. She was cute and timid, he was in your face and stealing anything that wasn’t glued down. And I loved them both.

Jack was always “my” cat, though. I’m not sure how that ended up being the case, but it was my lap he’d end up on, I was the one that scritched him “just right” and when my girlfriend and I split up, he was the one she wanted rid of.

He was loud, he was cheeky, and I’m fairly sure he wound her up on purpose.

For a long time it was just me and him. In true cat fashion he owned me, but I was able to train him not to wake me up at weekends, to shut up when Match of the Day was on, and to sit on my lap whenever he was asking for something. He never did learn not to walk on the kitchen counters, but he was sensible enough to jump off before I ever made it into the kitchen. The thumping sound as he landed on the floor when I got within a meter of the doorway always made me laugh.

He loved chicken madras, left-over Sunday roasts, would do anything for Dairylea, and nibbled on veg as long as it was covered in gravy. He killed everything that moved. Woke me up when he’d been rained on so I could dry him with a tea towel (bastard) and wouldn’t shut-up unless he got his 30 minutes of scritches, everyday, without fail.

In many ways he was perfect for me, half lazy, half bothered, sometimes a bit moody, but a soppy, furry bastard when he wanted to be.

He’s spent the last 4 years living at my Mum’s, with loads of land to roam and small mammals to kill. I’ve missed him terribly, but he’s been in the perfect place to relax and have fun, which I couldn’t really offer him from my apartment in Helsinki.

And now he’s gone.

I’m not sure I’ll have another connection with an animal like that. It was very much the right personality, at the right time, in the right place. And that’s fine. He was unique.

Sleep well, Jack, and thank you for deciding to live with me. You were the best cat.

Below Zero: 017

Trickle Down...

Interesting article here about Kansas’ experiment with tiny government, extreme devolution to the market, and “trickle down” economics. TL/DR; it didn’t work.