The Fourth Player http://thefourthplayer.com Video Games Podcast Mon, 22 Jan 2018 20:53:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.6.1 Mobile is Not a Dirty Word http://thefourthplayer.com/mobile-is-not-a-dirty-word/ http://thefourthplayer.com/mobile-is-not-a-dirty-word/#respond Tue, 29 Jul 2014 05:43:00 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=943  

I’ve been playing games for a good many years – about 34 of them, in fact. From the humble Game & Watch right up to the current gen of consoles, I’ve bashed my thumbs against many of their so called “buttons.” So when I say this next bit, it’s coming from someone who has a fair bit of video gaming experience behind them.

 

I’m getting really sick of reading comments begrudging the quality of mobile games.

 

Sure, Apple’s app store is flooded with games that wouldn’t have passed the fun test in the days when an Atari 2600 was considered high tech, but that is a result of what is a fairly open platform for developers of all shapes and sizes (I’m partial to 3.2 km wide octagonal ones myself). If you know where to look, there are many rich gaming experiences to be had on iOS. The touch screen of the iPad is extremely sensitive and responsive, and, when used correctly, can make for some unique experiences. Just about everyone these days is carrying around a smart phone, or as I like to call them, a powerful portable gaming device that is very occasionally used to talk to people who aren’t currently in earshot.

 

So why all the hate for mobile gaming? The suggestion that people who play games on Android or iOS are not “real gamers” is an absurd one. Anyone who plays a game is a gamer, and anyone who is anyone is real… do I need to draw a Venn diagram? No, I didn’t think so. I’ll listen to concerns about or debate over the quality of ANY game on ANY platform, but when a WHOLE PLATFORM is dismissed as being for people who aren’t “real gamers”, that gets on my nerves. There are poor quality games on all platforms, but there are also beautiful, challenging and downright fun experiences to be had if you drop your “real gamer” defenses for just a minute or two.

 

To make my point, I present 3 mobile games that are fine examples of games that “real gamers” (in the sense of those who usually claim to be one) would or should enjoy. These “Real gamers” seem to love their Call of Duty FPS games, which rely in part on twitch mechanics – that is, being able to control your gun reticule accurately enough to target swiftly moving enemies for long enough to “pop a cap” or two in their proverbial and/or literal arses. I wager that the following three games would initially make even the very best of FPS players feel like confused school children, yet, given half a chance, will then tap into their core gamer sensibilities and have them think twice before shunning the world of mobile gaming.

 

Game 1) Super Hexagon by Terry Cavanagh. This is probably one of the first iOS games that really got its hooks into me. Maybe the quintessential twitch action game, you play the part of a triangle on a non-stop ride outward ever outward, through a hexagonal maze of patterns both random and fixed. That you start off nice and slow is a great boon, as steering your triangle through the maze of walls is no easy task. Learning the patterns that repeat, how to navigate them safely and most importantly, how to recognize them in time are the keys to success. The movement system is fluid and nuanced, the ever so subtle inertia makes controlling your triangle a joy. The rapid fire restart mechanism after you crash is also a joy, because you will crash… a lot. But restarting is so painless that you probably won’t mind. With access to three of the six levels from the start, Hexagon, Hexagoner and Hexagonest, survive for 60 seconds on each level to unlock its Hyper version, for thicker and faster action. Visually simple but stunning, the colourful, rapidly moving and rotating vectorised graphics take some getting used to, but this game rewards patience and persistence like few other iOS games.

 

Super Hexagon_Image

Despite all my rage I am still just a small triangle in a hexagonal cage.

 

Game 2) Duet, by Kumobius. Now, Duet is not an FPS game, it is a rhythm action puzzler but it tests, and more importantly TRAINS, your twitch skills. You control two spheres, one red, one blue, and the only action you can perform is a rotation, the two spheres moving smoothly around a fixed center point. The touch screen of an iPad or mobile phone is quite well suited to games with a limited number of inputs, but let me assure you, by the time you get half way through the levels in Duet, you will be very glad that rotating clockwise or counter-clockwise is all you have to think about. The game starts off slow, with blocks streaming down toward your twinned spheres at a slow and steady pace as you rotate to avoid them. If you hit a block, you splat against it, and are rewound back to the start of the level. The splat remains as a reminder of your previous failures (and a useful visual clue), and as you progress the blocks come thicker, faster, they start moving from side to side and eventually they become [REDACTED]. [REDACTED] blocks are a real surprise, and will cause you much grief when you first encounter them, but as you continue to play, your ability to read what is happening and react to it improves steadily, and with enough persistence you will achieve all your goals. The set level mode is great fun and provides vital training for the endless mode, which sends you on an endless journey through increasingly difficult, randomly generated block layouts. You start with three hearts, losing one each time you crash, but the refill rate for hearts drops with each section you pass, so not crashing is the only real way to score big.

 

Game 3) Boson X by Mu & Heyo. This delightful game shares similarities to the two games above, while adding an extra layer to the control scheme. Here our protagonist is a very athletic scientist, who has somehow obtained funding to run through a deadly particle accelerator maze in the name of research. A 3rd person twitch runner, our scientist runs into the screen traversing the dangers of the accelerator, which inconveniently has huge sections missing and many traps in the form of unstable platforms, high voltage sparks and narrow gaps between very solid walls. Science is achieved by making contact with blue platforms (surprisingly, this is exactly the same way I performed my PhD research), and getting to 100% research on a stage unlocks the next. Jumps can be performed to the left or right, rotating around the circular maze. If the jump is held, the scientist can glide, which is handy for long jumps and also for landing on tiny platforms. Holding both left and right jump at the same time achieves a vertical leap. The final stage of Boson X is ridiculously difficult, making this the only one of the three I haven’t fully completed.

 

Boson X_Image

Science is blue. Trust me, I’m a doctor.

 

This is but a small selection of mobile games, hailing from a similar genre. There are myriad other genres with fine examples of mobile gaming.
If you consider yourself a “real gamer” and feel like bagging out mobile gaming as only for “casuals”, do yourself a favour and play some of these mobile games. I’m always happy to compare high scores!

 

– Stacey Borg (@DrCurlytek), The Fourth Player’s resident scientist.

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The Sound of Interaction http://thefourthplayer.com/the-sound-of-interaction/ http://thefourthplayer.com/the-sound-of-interaction/#respond Tue, 29 Jul 2014 04:32:58 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=989 1939’s Dark Victory was a moving story of a young socialite slowly dying of an inoperable brain tumour. Starring Bette Davis in the lead role, the final scene of the film is a powerful sequence with the actress slowly ascending a grand staircase as her vision begins to falter as a result of the tumour’s influence.

Knowing her performance would give her a very strong chance of winning a third Oscar, a longstanding rumour has it that prior to filming the scene, Davis asked director Edmund Goulding just who would be scoring the movie. Upon learning it would be famed film composer Max Steiner, Davis allegedly responded – “Well, either I am going up those stairs or Max Steiner is going up those stairs, but not the two of us together.”

Davis knew the power of Steiner’s work and feared his score, in this pivotal scene, may overshadow her own performance and cost her an Oscar. As it stands, Davis did go on to receive an Oscar nomination (she didn’t win) but so did Steiner for his compositions.

The fact of the matter is that music is a powerful and dramatic force. Davis knew this and so does Hollywood. For years, movies have made strong use of music to drive emotion in ways that on screen action simply cannot, and it has remained an incredibly versatile and powerful weapon in the film-maker’s arsenal.

But it’s not just cinema that benefits from a well composed score. After years of languishing in a kind of scratchy, electronic hell, videogames have been quick to take advantage of advances in audio and storage technology to start delivering the same powerful aural experiences that film audiences have grown accustomed to.

Whether it is thundering bass of a first person shooter, or the majestic sweep of historical strategy titles, videogames now deliver musical experiences on par with (and sometimes, even beyond) those experienced in cinema. The best of these are more than just music inserted for the simple purpose of checking a box, but tools the game designers can use to affect and direct player engagement and emotion.

Yet, game compositions remain criminally overlooked by a wide variety of the game playing public. While certain composers such as Marty O’Donnell (Halo) may achieve a measure of fame for their works, the musical assets of most games rarely register as a blip amongst the background noise of regular game discussion topics.

In recognition of this, the following is an attempt to list five of the better videogame soundtracks currently available. This is by no means a definitive list (though, by all means, keep your eyes on this website in the future for an attempt to identify and rank gaming’s greatest musical moments) but rather the highlighting of some of the more impressive titles available in this space. If you enjoy videogame soundtracks, the following should be considered near essential collections for your library.

NieR

If this was an attempt to list and rank the greatest gaming soundtracks of all time, it is difficult to envision a scenario where this game’s soundtrack wouldn’t proudly top the list. As with the game itself, NieR is an eclectic mix of soundscapes that near perfectly mesh with the strange and wondrous environments the player explores.

The main exploration theme for the game, Hills of Radiant Winds, provides a sweeping and energetic driving force for the player’s movement; the almost urgent sounding vocals compelling the player to explore what lies beyond the horizon.

In town the player is treated to soft, provincial ballads; variations of a central motif, namely the Song of the Ancients. As with Final Fantasy VIII’s Eyes on Me, variations of this theme feature prominently in the background culminating with a stunning rendition sung by two of the game’s characters (Devola and Popola) as a duet.

NieR’s soundtrack is a veritable smörgåsbord of aural delicacies, each as carefully prepared and presented as the last. Each track is a delight but it is the OST-only White-Note remix of Shadowlord that best captures its overall scope.

Journey

It’s not every day that a game soundtrack gets nominated for a Grammy. In fact, to date, it has only happened once – with Austin Wintory’s score for the simply sublime Journey. While scoring a game such as Journey was never going to be an easy task, the way Wintory was able to imbue the game’s desolate landscapes with such soul and beauty with each haunting line is a testament to the composer’s skill.

Sorrowful strings and subdued percussion provide the backbone of a grand and powerful medley of tunes that perfectly reflect the stark, lonely beauty of Journey’s world. They are a constant companion, evolving along with the player until the climactic finale. It is here the full majesty of Wintory’s work makes itself heard with the beautiful Apotheosis.

As stunning as the game’s conclusion is, it is I was Born for This that is the clear standout. The combination of mournful but proud vocals along with the strings that comprise much of the soundtrack produce a sound that perfectly sums up the sad but determined journey of protagonist. As the song expands – in lyrics cribbed from Joan of Arc – I was born for this. Do not pity me. I was born for this.

Katamari Damacy

The arrival of Katamari on the PS2 in 2004 took everyone by surprise. The quintessentially weird title stunned audiences with its whacky theme, defiantly simple visuals and its surprisingly addictive gameplay. But music too had a significant role to play with a soundtrack as gloriously zany as the game it supported.

Picking soundtrack highlights is far from an easy task. Each tune is its own gloriously self-indulgent expression of delight, each song a stand out in its own way. Attempting to describe just what composer Yū Miyake was able to achieve, not just with this, but with every Katamari Damacy soundtrack they touched, is akin to folly. You just have to listen.

Persona 3

The name Shoji Meguro may not be familiar to everyone but chances are his music is. As a long-standing composer for the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, his music has recently been garnering additional attention as a result of the recent surge in popularity of the Persona series (itself a member of the Shin Megami Tensei family).

It is the third instalment of the Persona series that arguably contains Meguro’s best work. It’s combination of hard rock, J-Pop and beautifully subtle piano pieces may seem like uneasy bed-fellows but the final work is above reproach.

Songs like Kimi No Kioku establish the youthful vibe of the series with upbeat tempos and poppy vocals.

Memories of the City is another obvious highlight of the soundtrack, a sorrowful piano driven ballad that captures the metropolitan feel of the series, tinged with more than a little sorrow.

It is a soundtrack that may rub a number of people the wrong way but even for those who don’t appreciate the music selection on its own, there should be no argument that the soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment for this strange JRPG about school children battling the forces of darkness.

Civlization IV

When compiling this list, priority was given to those soundtracks that were wholly original – making Civilization IV’s inclusion here a little out of the ordinary. Comprising of music throughout the ages, along with a handful of original compositions from artists Jeff Briggs, Mark Cromer, Michael Curran and Christopher Tin, Civilization IV is a singular work in its attempt to evoke the grand sense of history the series is famous for.

This is an incredibly solid soundtrack and one that budding musical historians will gain a lot from, but it is the inclusion of one song that truly elevates this soundtrack to one of the best in gaming – Christopher Tin’s Baba Yetu.

The first ever Grammy winning game tune, Baba Yetu is a musical masterpiece. The inclusion of Swahili lyrics sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir (the lyrics themselves are a translation of the Lord’s Prayer) is a master stroke, strongly referencing Africa’s history as the cradle of humanity. The majesty of the song Tin has created is hard to deny. It is a grand, sweeping piece that fills your ears and your heart. There can be no doubt, Babu Yetu is the greatest song every written for a computer game. Listen and hear for yourself.

Videogame music has come a very long way since the industry’s conception and in this time we’ve seen a great number of composers produce an equally great amount of music. When compiling this list there were so many soundtracks left out that could easily have replaced any of the above. Whether it is Petri Alenko’s evocative work for the Alan Wake soundtrack (just listen to Welcome to Bright Falls for evidence) or Jeff van Dyck’s masterful pieces in Rome: Total War, there is so much fantastic videogame music out there.

Feel I’ve missed some of your favourites (I will have, I missed a goodly number of mine)? Then please email in your suggestions at mail@thefourthplayer.com and let us know.

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Where’s My Perfect MMA Game? http://thefourthplayer.com/ea_mma/ http://thefourthplayer.com/ea_mma/#respond Tue, 01 Jul 2014 02:53:12 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=916  

EA Sports has just released its first foray with the UFC license, following their initial crack at developing an MMA simulation in 2010. With their latest venture into Mixed Martial Arts, EA Sports’ UFC has thrust itself firmly into the spotlight thanks to stunning in-game visuals aided by a decision to leave behind the ageing technology of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Following in the footsteps of THQ’s reign with the UFC licence and under the spotlight of a rabid and growing Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) audience, I had hoped EA Sports’ UFC would deliver on its promise to be a contender. I wanted the next big thing. Unfortunately it’s not.

 

People can be upset with EA Vancouver for being unable to create the perfect MMA game their publisher had promised. However, making the perfect MMA game is a puzzle no other development studio has been able to solve. Ignoring the “arcade” style MMA games from years ago, MMA audiences got their first taste of the UFC game franchise with THQ’s 2009 release, UFC Undisputed. This game was a brilliant first step. It entered a marketplace starved for an MMA game, comparable only to Crave Entertainment’s first offerings almost a decade prior.  Straight out of the gate, THQ’s Undisputed became the measuring stick for a simulated MMA experience.

 

The closest gamers could get to fighting sims was to play Fight Night or a WWE game.

The closest gamers could get to fighting sims was to play WWE or a Fight Night game.

 

Sure THQ’s Undisputed wasn’t perfect, but with follow-up releases in 2010 and 2012, the combined development studios of THQ Agoura and Yuke’s Osaka tweaked where possible. The franchise slowly improved, addressing things fight fans wanted to see in their game, including a deeper career mode experience and the inclusion of Pride FC.

 

My feelings about Undisputed’s imperfections saw me argue with friends, nit-picking irksome issues. As someone who has spent years training MMA and Brazilian Jujitsu, I felt I better understood the mechanics of what could make for a better MMA game. Similar frustrations return after spending time with EA Sports UFC. As a fan and practitioner, are my expectations too high? Was I silly in thinking that an established development team known for their sports games, with THQ’s Undisputed to build off, could do better?

 

For the uneducated, the sport of MMA looks like a mess of punching, kicking and wrestling. However, the truth of the sport is so much deeper and steeped in strategy. It’s the fluidity of movement, raw competition and the chance of flash knock outs, which draws fans. But the finesse is what sets it apart.

 

Why have MMA games been unable to master seminal aspects of the sport like ground game, transitions and submissions? EA’s failure to translate the finesse of the sport is demonstrated by their decision to forgo an intuitive control system in favour of a steep learning curve. In the process they have turned off new players and lost veteran fans of Undisputed simultaneously. Simulation doesn’t have to mean difficult.

 

For all their faults, UFC games both past and present retain a core simulation experience, which put fans into a virtual octagon. As simulation experiences deepen and rosters grow, EA Sports UFC includes the Women’s Bantamweight division. While Undisputed offered a robust career experience, features introduced between 2009, 2010 and Undisputed 3 felt like a two steps forward one step back. EA’s MMA and UFC games career modes are eerily similar to those in the Fight Night series, with EA Sports UFC incorporating The Ultimate Fighter show experience. Simulation extends to replicating the real world, which is why we play simulation games in the first place.

 

The successful emulation of a real-world MMA experience inevitably requires a realistic submission system. Even with Undisputed 2009, THQ had settled on a substandard solution, tweaked but not fixed in the following two releases. EA has similarly been unable to solve the problem despite both companies taking different approaches. THQ’s opted for frantic button mashing and thumbstick gymnastics. Onscreen, the battle looked nice, but from a user perspective, it handled poorly and reduced the experience to bad mini-games ruining the simulation experience. EA looked at how to create a submission mechanic, highlighting the intricacies of the transitions required to lock a move in perfect to get the tap.

 

Anyone who has spent time on the mat training BJJ knows that it is the truest form of mental and physical chess.

Anyone who has spent time on the mat training BJJ knows that it is the truest form of mental and physical chess.

 

The problem here is it takes a submission game that should be fluid and makes it a disjointed mess devoid of fun. Not to mention poorly explained. Again, EA has opted for a series of mini-games complicated and unintuitive control mechanics. Newer players will opt to stand back up after going to ground because the thought of trying your luck at pulling off or defending a submission is well, sort of shit. Youtubing a tutorial video for an integral part of a control system is reflective of a poorly designed simulation game.

 

I don’t have the answer for how to make a fluid and engaging submission system for an MMA game. Sadly, neither does EA Vancouver. Sure, their current solution is a disjointed mess, but I can see that there is something there; a germination of an idea for a fluid submission mechanic. To use an MMA analogy, it’s as if they have the idea’s back, but aren’t quite sure how to get both hooks in before securing the choke. With a little training, they’ll get there. Or like Yuke’s, get knocked out by the next contender.

 

– Ben Abbott

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Transformers 4 http://thefourthplayer.com/transformers-4/ http://thefourthplayer.com/transformers-4/#respond Mon, 30 Jun 2014 23:34:06 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=908  

No, just no. Despite seeing this film for free, I want a full cash refund. Or at the very least, compensation from Michael Bay for the near three hours lost witnessing him do the unspeakable; make an even worse Transformers film.

 

Despite time passing since I first saw Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, my disappointment in this film hasn’t subsided. Explaining to friends why I didn’t enjoy this film, I receive the same blank response; “well, what did you expect?”. But I wanted more, I say. After three strike-outs but Michael Bay Transformers films, dumb schlocky explosions at the expense of story shouldn’t be the default state. .

 

We live in a world where fans of 80’s cartoon and comics are not only a sizable chunk of the market, but are also the parents of the next generation of consuming kids who will cling to the their childhood cartoons in decades to come.

 

Audiences are smarter. They know what can and can’t be done within the constraints of modern technology. The illusions of CGI no longer wow us into ignoring plot holes and bad story telling. What did I expect? I expected better, I expected a renewed take on a beloved franchise that Michael Bay has turned into a mockery in its past two films.

 

Typically, criticism of Bay’s previous Transformers films has been leveled at Shia LaBeouf’s character Sam Witwicky (currently topping the polls for ‘character most desired to be stepped on by a giant robot’), or the token eye-candy female protagonists who exist solely for up-skirt camera pans. Classy stuff.

 

But don’t worry, the franchise’s standard level of inappropriate racial stereotyping is still present. Look no further than the Ken Watanabe voiced Drift, a shogun-looking Autobot. The question still remains: Why do robots have accents?!

 

With LaBouf and all the actors from the prior films gone, we have a new leading man; Mark Wahlberg as the down-on-his-luck country boy robot inventor Cade Yeager. Now MarkyMark, the man who once had his own funky bunch, is a much more manly character than LaBeouf’s Witwicky; looking much more at home holding an alien weapon. However, what he makes up for in manliness, he fails in over acting and delivering lines that seem more robotic than his giant Autobot buddies.

 

The over acting in this film is amazing!

The over acting in this film is amazing!

 

Outside of a terrible script, the forced dialogue, and Mark Wahlberg’s penchant for over acting, what has caused critics the world over to lambast the film? Let’s start from the beginning. The movie opens with wide beautiful vistas of the Arctic, where a research team have made an amazing find. This cinematography looks beautiful and fills you with hope for what will be the next 2 and a half hours of your life. Unfortunately, this style of filming ended there and was quickly replaced with poorly timed slow-mo and ground up angled shots at every available moment.

 

So many things don’t make sense in this movie – and that is saying something when you take into account viewers are already accepting of the whole ‘giant robots that turn into cars’ situation. Transformers 4 leads in only a few years after the third movie with the “Battle of Chicago” still fresh in everyone’s mind. Transformers are being hunted by CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), so the Steve Jobs-esque Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) can harness the left over parts to make his own Transformers.

 

Are you still following? Good. So Attinger wants to kill all Transformers. But we are not sure if his motivation is money based, or just a hate for aliens, as this seems to change every 10 minutes. However he is also colluding with another Transformer called Lockdown who has a gun for a head.

 

Lockdown just wants Optimus Prime. And when he gets him, will reward Attinger and Joyce with something called “The Seed”. This is a large bomb looking thing which will apparently turn everything within a very large radius into a metal Joyce has dubbed ‘Tranformium’. Yes, I wrote that correctly, TRANSFORMIUM. A substance which will help him build more of his own robots. The characters motivations sway back and forth so often that they become more an annoyance than anything else. Stanley Tucci is actually a shining light in this regard. As in the second half of the film, it is apparent that he realised how bad his lines are and just plays them in a way that makes him downright hilarious.

 

Much like when the announcement came for the Transformers: Fall of Cybertron game, we all got excited because the Dinobots were coming. Finally our favourite crazy dinosaur transformers from the cartoon series are coming back! Anticipation about their appearance was high. The dinosaur robots are introduced to us in the movie as ancient warriors captured and imprisoned long ago by Lockdown. These bad arse warriors, these beloved characters from our childhood, these characters supposedly revered warriors by the Autobots are quickly shot down when Optimus Prime sucker punches the leader Grimlock and then rides him into battle like a horse.

 

Ride Dino-pony, ride!

Ride Dino-pony, ride!

 

It would be wrong of me not to mention the product placement. Sure, this is now common place in movies, but in T4 it is so blatantly obvious it adds in a large part to the unintentional humour of this movie. At times it shifts the film into being an advertisement reserved for that moment before the trailers start as you are finding your seat in the cinema. I understand why product placement is in big budget movies, but this is the first time I can remember when a movie actively halted its flow so the main actor could pimp Bud Light. There is also a scene where Tucci’s character is drinking some sort of Chinese beverage during a break in action on a roof top. Now I don’t recognise the brand, but the way logo was conveniently displayed and the drawn out time the camera spent focused on the logo, it became obvious what they were doing. It’s impact removing the audience from the cinema experience.

 

A lot of people are liking it to what they imagine would happen if you gave a small child with an imagination, 2 transformer toys and a 250 million dollar budget. It makes me a little sad that this is going to be such a gigantic blockbuster hit as there are much more deserving films for you to pony up the cash to buy a ticket to.

 

It isn’t impossible for there to be a good transformers movie. The original 1986 Transformers film has everything; it was emotive, driven by action and scored to a rocking 80’s soundtrack. You know what it didn’t have? Michael Bay.

 

– Ben Abbott

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Netrunner Twitter Competition http://thefourthplayer.com/netrunner/ http://thefourthplayer.com/netrunner/#respond Mon, 23 Jun 2014 07:27:46 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=890

The competition has closed. Listen to episode 48 to see who won!

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22 Jump Street http://thefourthplayer.com/876/ http://thefourthplayer.com/876/#respond Thu, 19 Jun 2014 07:17:04 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=876 Great actors have convincingly played the fool in the past, Tom Hanks even won an Oscar for Forest Gump. But all of them should now bow down to Channing Tatum. In reprising his role as Jenko, Tatum is deserving of considerable praise for portraying one of the most convincing idiot man-children in the history of cinema.

 

For the uninitiated, 22 Jump Street is the sequel to 21 Jump Street – a film based on the late 80’s TV show starring Johnny Depp. The first film ended up being funnier than it deserved to be (considering its source material) and shocked a lot of people who had originally dismissed it. Like a prized boxer, the film hit you with a 1, 2 combo followed by a powerful upper cut that put you on your arse.

 

collegelife

Undercover cops, hetrosexual life partners and now college room-mates

 

This time around our main characters Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are back and have moved on from their old assignment as High School students, to being College Students. Imagine, if you can, all of the stereotypical jokes and situations that two 30 year old cops pretending to be College students could inspire. Most are likely to be present in this film. Now you would think these jokes would come across as stale, but here’s the thing, they don’t. What 22 Jump Street does, what many other comedies fail at, is making obvious and worn out jokes seem fresh.

 

Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have created a film that is self-aware and happy to poke fun at its content and stars. I normally hate films when they try to be “meta” like Harold and Kumar or the Scary Movie franchise but 22 Jump Street is different. The film skirts that very thin line where these old jokes are actually entertaining and adds to the comedy in a tongue-in-cheek way. It doesn’t acknowledge the audience during these self-aware moments and while they are plentiful, are not annoying.

 

Tatum and Hill push this film forward with genuinely funny laugh out loud moments. The guys are supported once again by Ice Cube, who is a standout in many scenes. The cameos by Nick Offerman and Queen Latifah are always enjoyable. And there is even a scene that throws back to the original film with Dave Franco and Rob Riggles now in jail, which is suitably hilarious on many levels.

 

ice_cube

It’s like a cube made of ice.

 

It seems all too common that a comedy has its best bits shown during the trailers leading up to release; A Million Ways To Die in the West and Neighbours being prime examples this year. It sucks as the viewer is given the impression the film is full of laughs, but the effect of the jokes are muted the more the potential viewer is exposed to them prior to viewing. The addition of Redband trailers online also goes a long way to ruin excellent jokes often hidden within a film. The trailer for 22 Jump Street, while hilarious doesn’t ruin the movie’s best gags. I’m buggered if I can figure out how, as the trailer hooked me after 1 viewing. I guess it really comes down to the movie’s pacing.

 

I knew this film was going to do well at the box office, and as it turns out it’s currently sitting pretty at #1 in the US. We managed to get into an advance screening in a large cinema filled with people of a variety of ethnicities and ages. Despite the varied audience, the cinema was quickly filled of laughter from all the audience… from slight chuckles to outright belly laughs. The pacing of the jokes were on point in a big way, and full credit to the screenwriter and cast for hitting each perfectly.

 

It’s currently June and at the midway point of the year, 22 Jump Street has set the bar for all other comedies to reach … and looking at what is due to come out for the remainder of 2014, I just can’t see anything beating it.

 

There are so many funny moments in this film. Where Anchorman 2 failed in terms of living up to the hype and expectations set by its original, 22 Jump St delivers in spades. Hey Rob Burgundy, instead of staying classy, say something cool like Channing Tatum.

 

twitter_chat

Yeah, so this happened.

 

– Ben Abbott

 

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Share and Share Alike http://thefourthplayer.com/share-and-share-alike/ Mon, 16 Jun 2014 12:25:03 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=853 Shared experiences validate us, we want to share our accomplishments in life, and this is also true of videogames. There was a time when in order to share our experiences in a videogame we needed a photograph of a screen as proof, or to invite friends into our homes to witness our triumphs, or help fool an age gate check.

With the advent of new technologies, sharing our stories while playing videogames has become more accessible, made possible by advanced and accessible tools. With the arrival of improved Internet connections worldwide, last console generation we welcomed online consoles into our homes. Boasting the ability to connect us to other likeminded communities through social media, the PlayStation 3 stumbled and fell awkwardly into misunderstanding the value of connectedness. It felt like watching a desperate friend commit social hara-kiri on a public stage, before being silently and mercifully euthanized.

Instead of providing the tools to communicate our experiences, our consoles were broadcasting meaningless achievements to our social media platforms, more often than not, without our knowledge. The experience left a bad taste in our collective mouths. What should have been an opportunity to share experiences had been reduced to spam, and many users opted out of social media integration within games.

With the tools, technology and audience, we have faith amazing experiences will be shared. And some shit ones.

With the tools, technology and audience, we have faith amazing experiences will be shared. And some shit ones.

The DualShock4’s SHARE functionality demonstrates a deeper understanding of how consumers want to share experiences in a videogame. The rise of the  generation demonstrates an insatiable hunger to create and consume long form video content featuring the games we play. Sometime about games. Sometimes about boobs. Sometimes about games and boobs. The inbuilt toolset of the PlayStation 4 means we are now all content creators, for better or worse. In order to succeed, Live From PlayStation requires a healthy blend of curated content and community engagement. Through this, we can hope users will self-moderate to produce content worthy of the tools and platform. The immediacy of live interaction and feedback from other users means Live from PlayStation offers a richer social sharing experience than the PlayStation 3, with the potential to reach a wider audience of likeminded people. After all, the purpose of SHARE is building virtual communities.

The PlayStation 4 equips users with the tools to broadcast content, but it is important we are mindful of what we stream. Live from PlayStation content is at best raw, and at worst, a hot mess. It ranges between low-fi video of a topless man necking chocolate milk in a room filled with cats, to the juvenile ramblings of tweens playing Call of Duty.

Sadly content being streamed is HD, just not quality.

Sadly content being streamed is HD, just not quality.

User generated content available on Live From PlayStation shouldn’t be defined as shared experiences, but as one-way communication with minor user interaction. Its users broadcast content to a relatively small install base of console owners. This isn’t story telling, it’s shouting information out an open widow. Hopefully as streaming content from consoles matures with its audience, the experience will become more collaborative and less painful to watch.

Part of the reason we love our new consoles and games is because of their potential. We buy into manipulated in-game screenshots, touched up pre-release trailers and concept art. We are complicit in the hype process and want to believe the potential will be reality. While we were duped into chain-letter-like social media sharing by our PlayStation 3, The PlayStation 4 has the tools to deliver on its promise and connect communities.

The only way streamed content will improve is through trial, error and engagement from the community. The PlayStation 4’s focus on SHARE is a brave step for consoles, and has the potential to redefine how we share experiences while playing videogames.

– Paul Houlihan @paulyhouly

This article was originally published in Official PlayStation Magazine Australia

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Xmen: Days of Future Past http://thefourthplayer.com/xmen-days-of-future-past/ Wed, 11 Jun 2014 05:50:07 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=846 Let me start this off by saying that I loves me a comic book movie.  Anyone who has listened to the podcast knows that as much as I try to fight and hide it, I’m a geek at heart. Yes, being on a video games podcast cemented that, but well … whatever.

 

I’ve seen all the films in the X-Men franchise, and I would like to think I am very forgiving of their faults.  I forgave X-Men: Last Stand for what they did to the Pheonix Saga; and even what they did to Deadpool in Wolverine Origins. OK, that’s a lie, I will never forgive the Deadpool thing.  But there is something about this movie that while being awesome in so many places, just didn’t seem to sit right with me.  Now I didn’t just rush into writing my piece about Days of Future Past, as I would of just “fanboy’ed” it.  I loved so much of what this film had, but I walked out of it not wishing I could see the next movie straight away. Hell, I didn’t even walk out wishing I was a superhero like I did leaving Man of Steel.  So I waited until I could really pinpoint what didn’t sit well; and it all begins and ends with the pacing of the film for me.

 

days-of-future-past

Wolverine was the right choice

The pacing of this film made it a struggle for not just me, but the others I went with. Following everything that was going on was difficult; which is bad when you know what is supposed to happen!  I don’t care that Bryan Singer’ n’ co deviated from the comic book, and made it Logan that went back instead if Kitty. For all those on the internet who moaned about it, let’s be honest for a minute. Right now Hugh Jackman is the man to put as the centre point of the film, and put bums in cinema seats. He is the strongest element in the X-Men movie franchise. Followed by James MacAvoy, Michael Fassbender and their older counter parts.

 

Funny side note: I once worked with a guy in Scotland who hooked up with Ian McKellen years ago in Edinburgh. Showing my ignorance, I had no idea at the time that Gandalf was gay… but then again I’m not the most astute individual.

 

cool_illustrated_poster_design_for_x-men__days_of_future_past

So many characters, so little time

The sheer number of characters is also likely to leave the uninitiated scratching their heads. With roles both returning and new, from future and past, sometimes with one actor, sometimes not, the film almost demands prior knowledge to decipher. Previous films in the franchise spent time developing characters and letting you in on their powers. Yet, this time around, characters are just thrown in where you have no real idea of their mutant ability and if you should care about them. Yes Bishop I am looking at you.  For me, they didn’t spend enough time in the initial version of the future for me to care.

 

Ignoring Wolverine and the ongoing development of the pre-existing relationship between Charles and Magneto, the standout for this film in turns of getting attached to a character, would have to be Quicksilver.  This was definitely one of the surprise highlights of the movie, providing some of its best scenes. From what I’d read and seen in advance of the movie, I had concerns about the potential handing of Quicksilver. Based purely on the knowledge that there were going to be two Quicksilvers (one for this film and one for the upcoming Avengers 2), I was worried about this film’s choice of actor. Oh how wrong I was.  His scenes were new, fresh and entertaining.  This movie isn’t supposed to be dark like a Nolan comic book film. Its needs bits that make the audience laugh, and Quicksilver provided that in spades.

 

Movies_X-Men__Days_of_Future_Past_056066_

Eye candy yes, solid character no.

Don’t get me wrong, Jennifer Lawrence is a good actor, and pretty to look at in her blue full body makeup, but way too much time was spent on her.  Give me some more Quicksilver scenes, or more scenes set in the future please.  While her scenes setup plot points, they could have been cut down and tightened to provide the same effect in a lot less time.

 

So following the comic book movie blueprint, there needs to some big climatic moments.  The end, set in past with the sports stadium, was rather impressive from a visual standpoint.  The film’s climax was a climactic moment, thanks to all our favourite characters dying. Yet, it’s jumping back and forth through time robbed the scene of much of its impact. You would think the death of Magento would be a massive WTF moment in the film, but it was just another thing that happened amongst the other deaths.

 

X-men-Apocalypse-Dracula

He is coming!

I know this review comes across as pretty negative. And sure, I am being overly critical of a “comic book film”.  But that’s because after the Dark Knight series, Man of Steel and the Avengers, these movies now get held to a higher standard.  Don’t get me wrong, I did like this movie, and will definitely watch it again on BluRay. But hands down for me, outside of teeing up the next film – X-Men: Apocalypse – is fixing up the mistake known as X-Men Last Stand by erasing it from the movie universe’s storyline.

 

One final thought regarding this film. It blows my mind that despite Hugh Jackman was going around telling people how much he wants it, we will likely never see Wolverine in an Avengers film.

 

– Ben Abbott

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Is Blizzard playing their cards right with Hearthstone? http://thefourthplayer.com/is-blizzard-playing-their-cards-right-with-hearthstone/ http://thefourthplayer.com/is-blizzard-playing-their-cards-right-with-hearthstone/#respond Thu, 05 Jun 2014 05:31:34 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=812 On the 23rd of February last year, Blizzard sent out the below teaser to games media outlets.

Hearthstone Invite

According to the invitation, “it’s not a sequel, expansion, or that rumored next-gen MMO, but it’s something we’re excited for you to get your hands on.”

These assurances could only do so much of course, and it wasn’t long before rumors of new IPs or even revivals of long-dead projects like Starcraft: Ghost were flying around the internet.

When the reveal of Hearthstone, a free-to-play card game based on the Warcraft franchise, finally came it was met with confusion on one side and cautious optimism on the other. After all, didn’t Blizzard already have a Warcraft TCG? Do their attempts to push the eSports aspect of the game have any merit? Why are they pushing the eSports aspect of the game so strongly? Is there really all that much potential in the digital card games market?

It has been just over a year and Blizzard’s “little something” has done quite well for them. Hearthstone reached its one millionth player while still in beta. This number quickly grew to over 10 million registered accounts following the game’s full release and given that this was before even the game’s iPad launch (where it quickly soared up the charts), it’s safe to say that there are a lot of self-proclaimed ‘Hearthstoners’ out there.

The eSports aspect of the game has similarly gone from awkward beginnings to a promisingly popular ends. The ESL and other eSports organizations have quickly jumped on the game’s potential and there are countless Youtubers, Theorycrafters and Livestreamers standing testament to the Hearthstone’s competitive potential.

Hearthstone, thanks to Blizzard's typical wizardy is rapidly destroying the spare time of all in its path.

Hearthstone, thanks to Blizzard’s typical wizardy, is rapidly destroying the spare time of all in its path.

Given that some market analysts have estimated the game is going bring in a “modest” $30 million in revenue for Activision-Blizzard over the next year, it’s probably safe to label Hearthstone a success and call it a day. That said, there’s definitely something interesting to be seen here when you look at this success not in comparison to other competitively-angled free-to-play games like League of Legends but other digital card games like Shadow Era and Magic: The Gathering.

According to Kyle Poole, lead developer of Shadow Era, “The main strengths [of Hearthstone] are obviously the WoW brand and the level of polish they have in the game.”

Shadow Era is one of several digital trading card games (Infinity Wars and Scrolls being two popular alternatives) that made their way into gamers hands long before Blizzard began preparing to enter the market with Hearthstone.

Like Heartstone, Shadow Era is free-to-play and offers competitive play across multiple platforms (PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android and web browser). The game’s website even directly describes Shadow Era as “most similar to the WoW TCG” and while Poole touched on this during our interview, he was quick to add that “it’s important for players to have more choices when it comes to what games to play, and as a game designer I love to see how the marketplace evolves with different ideas and combinations”.

The other big strength of Hearthstone is its accessibility. From the streamlined menus and charming visual details, Hearthstone is working to draw you in from the moment you launch it. The effort that Blizzard have put in here is something Poole can see and acknowledge the value it offers to more casual players. According to him, Shadow Era places a similar amount of value on being accessible. “Accommodating more casual players was also very important to the initial game design,” he states, “things like eliminating interrupts that required too much thinking on your opponent’s turn, and simplifying the rules allowed players who had never even played a ccg before to quickly pick up the game.”

The previously-mentioned eSports success of Hearthstone is another factor behind its success and while Shadow Era might lack some of the mainstream exposure that Hearthstone has behind it, there’s definitely still an eSports scene behind the game. Poole expressed enthusiasm for this side of the game saying “We also have a yearly world championship, and last year I was quite impressed by both the variety of heroes used, and the amazing strategic gameplay that was displayed.“

Earlier this year, I interviewed Julia Hiltscher of the Turtle Entertainment about the eSports scene surrounding Hearthstone. According to her, the appeal of the game comes down a couple of simple things that it does well. She says “[Hearthstone]’s main strength is accessibility coupled with a strong IP…the game itself is easy to understand, while still offering a level of complexity sufficient to keep longtime players interested.” She says, “I don’t think the game has any objective weaknesses, just the usual balancing problems that occur when you continuously add cards (which means new rules) to a competitive game.”

While players are quick to cry foul at Blizzard for balancing cards (the recent changes to ‘Unleash The Hounds’ are a good example of this), Hiltscher can see where Blizzard are coming from with the changes. She understands that “From the professional perspective of a game developer or organizer, it is always a high priority to listen to your top players, while keeping in mind that you can make the majority of your community really sad when you only listen to the top 1%.”

But enough about the game’s strengths, if we want to find out more about the weaknesses of Blizzard’s game we only need to look towards the community surrounding the most popular trading card game in the world – Magic: The Gathering.

MTG

Magic: The Gathering remains one of analogue gaming’s greatest success stories.

A poster-child for commercially successful card games, Magic: The Gathering has been around since 1993 and today it’s played professionally across the world. Magic was also one of the first card games to take steps into the digital realm with Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO) and more recently the Duels of the Planeswalkers (DOPT) series.

There’s definitely some interesting comparison to be had here, especially given the history surrounding the digitization of media. When records were invented, some musicians believed it would be the death of music and when as today’s eBook market began to take hold, similar worries were voiced by the booksellers of the world. What’s interesting then, is the lack of fear that Wizards of the Coast have towards the digital card games market.

In an interview with Games.On.Net, Wizards of the Coast see the emergence of games like Hearthstone as the result of the successes that they’ve made with MTGO and DOTP. When asked about how they compare to their competition, Aaron Forsythe says that “Blizzard is a heavy hitter in the industry…. I know that we couldn’t make an MMO as good as they could, but as far as trading card games go [sic] I am confident in the team”

HEX

The developers of Hex know better than most, just how agressively Wizards of the Coast attempt to protect their IP.

Although there’s probably an element of truth to this, Forsythe’s comments make an interesting contrast for the company’s recent legal actions against the developers of Kickstarter-funded digital card game, Hex: Shards of Fate. Although their lawsuit against Cryptozoic may be more focused on the mechanics of Hex rather than its digital format, their actions definitely make you wonder how far Wizards would go if they truly felt threatened by digital card games.

While Hearthstone might not be the only DCG to generate an eSports following, it’s one of the few to balance the meticulous demands of a competitive scene and the accessibility that comes with casual gaming. It’s a combination that’s already working wonders for Blizzard’s foray into free-to-play and if it’s popular enough, its commercial success could be the herald of a new age for the digital card gaming genre.

 

Article by Fergus Halliday

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Godzirrrrrah http://thefourthplayer.com/godzirrrrrah/ http://thefourthplayer.com/godzirrrrrah/#respond Sun, 25 May 2014 05:21:29 +0000 http://thefourthplayer.com/?p=791  

Now, unlike the majority of the internet loving movie masses, it seems I have not seen old Godzilla films outside of the one with Puff Daddy and the destruction of Madison Square Garden.  So, other than toys and old film posters, I didn’t really have much of an idea of what the true Godzilla was supposed to look like on the big screen, or how the films really play out.  Sure, you go in expecting a giant lizard stomping through a city, but what I witnessed was one of the most badass looking monsters I have seen on the big screen in a very long time cause pure havoc.

 

I should preface this write up by saying that I had watched all the trailers in the lead up, as after seeing the teaser trailer it was hard not to be sold as it looked dark and beautiful. However, by the time trailer #2 came around, what I thought the movie was going to be about took a sudden turn as a gigantic winged monster known as a MUTO appeared in the trailer.  Don’t get me wrong, I was a big fan of the “King of the Monsters” game on Arcade, and loved that there was more monsters than just Godzilla. But you know what would have been awesome? Not knowing that before I sat down.  This was a major plot twist from what I was expecting, and while not at the spoiler level as say a trailer telling me “Bruce Willis was actually a ghost”, it certainly took away from my experience … and from what I have read online, I am not the only one who thinks so.

Godzilla_2014

Cities burn in the midst of epic fights

So after watching the final released trailer, I knew that this movie is obviously about monsters beating on each other while the humans sort of looked on like knobs, and tried in vain to kill everything rather than sit back with a box of popcorn and enjoy the best fist fight since Peter Griffin took on the Chicken.  With Breaking Bad being heralded as the best thing on TV, Walter White and Jesse seem to be able to get starring roles in whatever they want at the moment. And, to be honest, while not at the level of Steven Segal in Executive Decision, Bryan Cranston didn’t stick around all that long. Furthermore, the whole storyline with the family just got in the way of monsters fighting.  By the three quarter mark of the film I was more emotionally invested in the MUTO’s relationship than I was in the reuniting family.  For a movie filled with giant monsters, the corniest aspect was the human element and their over the top stereotypes.

 

To what I’m sure is the ire of fictional insurance companies, cities seem to be getting destroyed at an alarming rate in movies at the moment and it’s no longer the traditional asteroid or “insert here” natural disaster you have to watch out for; it’s Superman and Zod, and the Jaegers and whatever the monsters were in Pacific Rim that are laying waste to city blocks.  What makes Godzilla stand out from these other 2 movies, and Pacific Rim is the closest in comparison, is that the destruction is both beautifully done both from a micro and a macro view.  There is no comedy in this destruction, it’s diverse, blatant and artfully done.  I did laugh though when after all was said and done, Godzilla was left standing tall with arm raised getting ready for the inevitable sequel, the humans were praising him as “King of the Monsters” … lest we forget all the shit that just got destroyed and the millions dead.  Oh and one person I saw the film with made a comment that the saddest part was the realisation that they had just destroyed his 2 favourite party locations, Hawaii and Las Vegas.

 

Godzilla_Halo_Drop

The Halo drop is a highlight

There is a lot to like about this movie.  As it sits nicely atop the box office charts and has been for the most part warmly embraced and not shitcanned by the internet, it seems obvious this outing by Warner Bros has seen a successful revamp in the franchise.  The cinematography is gorgeous in so many areas; a standout scene would have to be the halo drop towards the end of the film. And thankyou, just thankyou so very much, for making a film where the 3D was used in subtle ways to enhance scenes instead of being tacky and over the top.  For the most part I try and avoid movies in 3D, however sitting and watching the ash fall around people as they stand in the ruins of fallen buildings with the soft soundtrack playing in the background was both subtle and beautiful.

 

One of my only lasting impressions of the 1998 Godzilla was the beat heavy soundtrack, which seemed to have an aim at having a track appear on the billboard top 10.  This time around the film makers have chosen a different route, using instrumentals to build scenes and also at times pay homage to the original movies with the traditional Japanese Godzilla tune.  While a fan of Puff Daddy/Diddy/Sean Combs I may be, Alexandre Desplat’s score is more suited to this film as it doesn’t take over scenes, it strengthens them … which to be honest Pacific Rim could learn a lesson from if and when they decide to bankroll their sequel.

 

For all this film does right, walking out of the movie there was one main issue that stayed with me and in the end overshadowed my memory of the film … what was the reason behind Godzilla doing what he did.  Now I know that asking about the motivation behind a character’s action when the character is a gigantic lizard sounds terribly hipster, but I actually wanted to know why did he come out to hunt the MUTOs? Why did he then bugger off when he was done killing them? Why didn’t he stick around and munch on all the humans? And where exactly has he been all this time?!  With talk of the sequel being green-lit already, I hope my questions get answered in the next one.

 

Would I recommend this movie for others to watch? That’s an easy yes.  I love me a beautiful big budget movie that I can, for the most part, turn my brain off and watch the spectacle of some big time destruction, and mix in some giant monsters going at it. Really, what’s there not to love? When it comes out on BluRay, this is going to be a great movie for those hung over Sundays.  This is a movie franchise that lay dormant for years and has now come back into the world with a god almighty roar.

 

– Ben Abbott

 

 

 

 

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