Friday, September 16, 2011

News: It was fun but now bon voyage, and onwards to a new site

One of the most horrible things about me is that I leave a trail of blogs behind me as bad as villains leave a trail of dead. It's not that I intentionally do this, most of the time it's cause I lose interest, I grow tired, or I just don't have the time.

But sometimes, it's a positive thing, it's a change. Like this time, I'm not leaving the blogosphere of gaming forever. Nay, I'm moving over to a new place, a new site, somewhere I will continue doing what I did here.

The only difference now being - I have a partner in crime, a friend who's just as interested to speak her mind as I am, about my first love - video games.

So it is with bittersweetness I announce the closure of Junch for Gaming, and the opening of The Big Gap. Do visit, it's exactly the same as here, only now with two writers for twice the content.

Au revoir and good luck y'all.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Realm of the Mad God


'Ello there!

It's been awhile. Yes it has indeed. But I've come out from hiding (yes, that's exactly what I have been doing) to talk about Realm of the Mad God, which is maddeningly good. Maddening because you'll hate it. And good because you'll love it.

Yes that makes a lot of sense. Read on for more of this maddening writing (and game)!

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Realm of the Mad God is at its simplest an MMORPG. You traverse an 8-bit world as one of a whole slew of classes pounding the hurt on various monsters, collecting lots of loot, upgrading your character and then taking on the big overlord boss of the entire realm in an epic fashion: that is, the entire cohort of gamers on the server at one time gets transported to this big boss Oryx and everyone works together to take him down.

Here's where it gets interesting:

1. Realm of the Mad God is free to play in your browser (with non-compulsory micro-transactions). So maybe you were doing research for a thesis paper, or at work sending some emails, and feel like a little break. So jump straight into the game. Very convenient. Until you realize you've been playing for 5 hours straight OMFGWHEREHASMYTIMEGONESHITMUSTPLAYSOMEMORE

2. It's persistent, it's an RPG so you get to save your character. Your very own little being in this great big dangerous world that levels up the more you play, and the more loot you bestow on it.

3. Heck there's a lot of lewt. Every other monster is dropping this or that thing and shit, your inventory space is only 8 boxes big, so you can only carry 8 things. And the crazy thing is, in just a short 20 minutes, you'd have come across some of the game's best items and your inventory will be crammed with all sorts of goodies. And more keep pouring out! Aaargh not enough inventory space what do I do!??! Do I drop behind this top-tier staff for this other top-tier shield even though I don't play this class? But I don't want the asshole tagging along behind me to pick it up! I want it all!!!!


4. And that's not even the end of your worries. The game is crazy fast-paced, more akin to a twin stick bullet hell game than your classic dungeon-crawling RPG. Bullets are flying left right centre, and you're actually dodging it at a neck-breaking speed while dealing your own pew pews of death. Maybe you're level 19, about to hit 20 and carrying all this good gear, looking forward to taking on the big boss of doom when suddenly, a stray bullet hits you and your screen fades to black.

5. Oh no! WTF you died! And guess what, your entire character wipes. Yessiree, it's hardcore mode from Diablo 2. All that lewt, all that great treasures of the realm you hoard all gone. Your hard work getting to level 20 all gone! RAAAAAARGHHHHHHHHHHH mega-rage, and then you play again.

Then a realization hits you, that Realm of the Mad God is a truly maddening and sadistic game. There's a reason why there is only so much inventory and stash box space. You just won't have enough space to collect all the l33t gear (unless you pay for more space and I'm trying very hard to fight the temptation because heck, the convenience would really help). And on top of that, death is always just around the corner. Get your guard down just so you can lewt that poor sod who died before you and some monster's going to breathe down your neck and kill you. Think you're invincible with high level gear? Some monster better than you is going to kill you all the same. Want to play this top-tier class? You're going to have to get several lower level classes to 20 before you can. So you keep playing.


It's the classic RPG at its most distilled. There are no NPCs in this world, no shops to buy anything from. Everything you'll need, everything you'll want can either be gained from killing monsters or found when other players with too little inventory space drop stuff. Half the game is spent running around Nexus (the safe zone in the game), jammed to the rafters with other players, picking up dropped lewt bags left by other people who couldn't carry anymore. And the other half of the game is spent killing monsters for no real narrative reason at all.

Then combat is the simplest thing. You can press T and have your character continually fire a stream of bullets at the enemy, all you have to do is point your cursor at the enemy till its dead. And press space bar on occasion to use your class' special ability. The problem of course is that there'll be plenty more monsters pointing their bullets right back at you.

And in typical MMO fashion, XP is equally shared across all people fighting the same monsters. You don't even need to be in the same party; so long as you teleport to a group of players fighting high level monsters, you don't have to lift a finger to level up continually. It's brilliant, and sometimes you'll see these massive trains of players just wiping a realm clean. All these green numbers denoting the amount of XP you're gaining just continually climbing. Also means you don't have to play the game 24/7 in order to get to the highest level. In just 30 minutes or so, you should reach level 20 - if you haven't died yet.


Death is the worst though. It's the absolute worst. All your hard work leveling your character to 20, all your careful lewt collecting, all that wiped completely clean in an instant because you were careless with a stray bullet or failed to defend yourself from a huge swarm of high level monsters. It's sickening because there is nothing else to do in the game other than keep fighting (or grinding, for the cynical) so when you die, you start straight from level 1 and get right back out there. Only to die again.

In fact, the only way you can survive the meta-game of Realm of the Mad God is to not let it get to you. Not let it make you feel the most utter hatred for the game developers, not let it get to you that they sucked your life and soul for a measly little browser MMO that is somehow also seemingly one of the most compulsively brilliant games of the year. Damn... because after awhile, you'll know that all you're doing is the same thing over and over with little reprieve or enlightenment. There is no enlightenment, this is the role-playing gamer's personal hell and heck, they love it. I love it.

It certainly trains you to realize the transient nature of every RPG game, of loot-hoarding compulsions, of the pointlessness of fighting. It really all doesn't matter. But you keep coming back for more anyway.

Nice one Oryx. Well played. Sure, we can kill you over and over and keep farming your nice lewt. As long as you're keeping us in the realm forever, you win.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

News: Awesome blog update of awesomeness


Hello y'all. Been awhile since my last post. And I figured this would be an apt time to revive this wondrous blog to talk about several awesome things related to my adventures in this crazy thing we call gaming. This includes getting a new gaming rig, playing several awesome games, and most importantly, going to e3.

THAT'S RIGHT. GOING TO e3.

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I probably should talk about that last bit first, seeing as it is most likely the thing that has grabbed your attention. But nay, I'll get to that in a bit.

FIRST. I got myself a new computer. (I'll put up photos in soon)

Intel i7-2600 3.4Ghz
Sapphire ATI Radeon HD6950 2GB
Seasonic 660W Power
8GB DDR5
1TB HDD
23" LCD monitor

This purchase was most definitely motivated by the upcoming slew of releases planned. Getting ready for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Rage, and definitely Battlefield 3. Hopefully it'll last a good few years before upgrade. By then I'll get dual cards, and three monitors for ATI Eyefinity awesomeness.

My former gaming wonder The Beast, a notebook from Asus, is still more than capable currently but it has had trouble running Crysis 2 and Witcher 2. It is time to put it to greener pastures i.e. running my word processing (har har).

SECOND. Games I've been playing.

WITCHER 2


I'm not far enough to give an absolute final verdict, but of the fair bit I've played of this seriously epic long RPG - this may be for me, the RPG of the year. Bioware botched that up with Dragon Age 2 which left me very disappointed at the lacklustre scope and poor writing compared to the first. Taking David Gaider off the script was a stupid idea, and rushing the whole damn development to cash in was not right either. Dragon Age 2 could've been the magnus opus to build on the awesomeness that was DA, but whatever.

Whereas Dragon Age 2 was not taking enough risks and not giving its dialogue enough punch for us to care, Witcher 2 has cocks, cunts, and all manners of grit in their speech. Which is not to say that that's what it takes to impress me, but there is certainly a deeper level of maturity and naturalness to the dialogue. And that extends to the entire design of the world of Witcher 2. It friggin' lives and breathes. People walk about, you can talk to all of 'em, and they appropriately respond to you. Day and night cycle, houses can be entered, and there is just a rich variety of things to do and see. On top of the badassery that is Geralt.

Combat is no walk in the park even on Normal difficulty. There's a bit of Assassin's Creed in there in the need to time your attacks and be positioned correctly. No enemy is too easy, you always have to be on your toes and to me, that's what real combat should feel like. It reduces the grindy element too.

Needless to say, this is really great and everyone should be playing it. The graphics are really sparkly too.

Crysis 2


I finally got around to playing this properly. It didn't run so well on my notebook so I put it aside until I could get my PC. And boy, is this game actually pretty fun. Shooting games has been getting rather tired of late, but Crytek injected an element of brains into the proceedings by opening up multiple paths to an objective, vertical as well as horizontal gameplay, and firepower that packs decent punches. Yeah, all the suit powers are there, but it never feels like you're too imba, which is always important. Challenge in a game.

And shit, New York City burned to ashes is so morbidly beautiful. The graphics are really stellar in this as well. And all super shiny on my new computer! LOVE IT.

Dirt 3


I've always said that I'm not a big fan of racing games, and I'm just not that good at it. But in recent times, racing games have been reaching out to non-racing people like me more and more, and I'm increasingly coming to like the genre. Need for Speed started it with Most Wanted and then waned with Carbon and Underground, but brought it back with Hot Pursuit which is just a full-on awesome Michael Bay experience of racing. But now that I've got my new PC, I need a new kind of driving experience.

An immersive one. And Codemasters' new game is absolutely perfect for this. Switch to in-car view and tackle the rough terrain, intense weather, and aggressive opponents as if you were right there in the thick of the action. The graphics are mind-blowingly hyper-realistic and the driving hits the line perfectly between exciting simulation and heart-pumping arcade entertainment. Driving is challenging and not for the faint of the heart. And the Flashback feature that started in Race Driver: Grid and carried over to their newer titles is just the most genius thing a racing game can ever have. It stops you from restarting races over and over just to get it perfect. Instead you rewind time and keep going thereby minimizing disruption of flow. Like Prince of Persia. And boy, what a creative game title menu presentation.

THIRD. Going to e3

Yes siree. I think it's time I let on that I'm going to e3 in LA for Razer with a couple of my colleagues. For those who know me, or have been following my blog for sometime, you'll know that games are pretty much the greatest thing to me. And when I got to join Razer, I was over the moon that I was closer to games that I ever thought I'd be for a career. And now, I'm going to e3.

It's so unbelievably crazy that I have to control myself writing this and careful not to gush too much. Making the trip to e3 is an honor, a mecca to the holy place of games that I know I will savor every second of. I'm such a fanboy, but I don't care.

It's from the 7th to the 9th of June but I'll be leaving for LA from Singapore on the 4th. Haven't been to the States either since I was 7, and what I remember are recollections from my parents. This time I'll be going back armed with a hunger to do proper coverage on games, with photos to boot. I promise to try and bring back a chock full of info so it'll almost be like you guys were right there with me. Also going to represent Razer and make some exciting announcements and show off a line-up of sexy new products.

LOOKING FORWARD TO IT.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Review: Portal 2


This was a triumph... for gamers and gaming alike. That is all.

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Valve has gone off the grid for the longest time. Of course, not literally. They've released Left 4 Dead 2 most recently, and have been providing steady stream of content to TF2. But their last emotionally-riveting, high-octane other-world adventure in the Half-Life universe was in 2007. That's four long years we've been waiting.

In that time, Call of Duty had been released several times over, Minecraft stole the hearts and minds of many gamers, and Blizzard initiated world domination with Starcraft II. Then there was Bioshock, Dead Space, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age for people to turn to for their absorbing single-playering fix.

But everyone who appreciates games knows the sheer importance of the Half-Life franchise. Each release can be likened to a season of Lost that is fanatically anticipated and continually succeeds to tops its predecessor. And when it was revealed that the Portalverse, and everything Aperture Science had major tie-ins to Black Mesa and the world of our favorite mute hero Gordon Freeman, our minds melted at such holy revelations.


I hope I've managed to introduce you to the sheer significance that Portal 2 represents, for me personally at least. It's not only an exciting game in itself, but surely Valve's teaser for our most awaited title, the one that will change the world of gaming - the game they'll either call Half-Life 2: Episode 3 or Half-Life 3.

But let's look at Portal 2 as a standalone title.

Portal was a highly refreshing title back in '07, in a market of oversaturated hyper-testosterone shooters and short attention-spanned gameplay. I was afraid Portal 2 would suffer from sequel-litis, bog down what made the original title such a breath of fresh air - but instead of trying to broaden the world of Aperture Science which is a nigh impossible task given its narrow focus on the concept of science, test chambers and laboratories - Valve both metaphorically and literally deepened the world.

What do I mean by this?

Given the minimalistic approach of Portal with its small cast of two characters, GLaDOS and you, Portal 2 adds just two more to the mix, Wheatley and Cave Johnson - enough to be a catalyst to drive the plot forward whilst maintaining the Zen and solitary sensibilities of the Portalverse. Wheatley, voiced by Stephen Merchant is a powerhouse of comedy. His bumbling, moronic ways is such a stark contrast to the cold, intelligence of GLaDOS (voiced by the ever wondrous Ellen Mclain) that it works perfectly and brings a new dimension to the world of Aperture Science.


You will joyfully relish the chance to learn more about GLaDOS, her inception and of her even larger role in the world. Cave Johnson, voiced by a kickass J.K. Simmons reminiscent of his Jonah Jameson character in the Spiderman movie, is introduced as the CEO and founder to this mega-mysterious corporation. His left-behind audio recordings to motivate test subjects are profound relics to a bygone era of uninhibited pursuits for scientific progress, and how one man's dreams for humanity's greatness can have such widespread repercussions into the future. Valve's favored style of storytelling shines through here, minimizing exposition and emphasizing plot-reveals through gameplay. It's a bit like Bioshock also in that you're dropped in a world after it has gone to the dogs, is deserted, and all that is left, is for you to explore it and get a sense of what had gone on before through tapes and pictures.

All I can say is that the story, the writing is so much deeper, more riveting, and darkly funnier than Portal, and I have no doubt on that front alone, Portal 2 will garner many awards.

But more importantly, let's look at gameplay.

Portal 2 is all about shooting portals. Simple enough? Apparently so. And yet so deliciously challenging. In the same way that conducting and solving tests creates euphoria in the artificial intelligence in Aperture Science, you'll be pushed just enough so that it frustrates, but not so much that you want to turn off the game. And that's important - if a puzzle game makes you want to turn it off, that defeats the purpose entirely and as a game it would fail. But with Portal 2, you just want to keep trying until you succeed, lest you are beholden to the dripping poison that is GLaDOS' voice. Even more so, you just want to keep going to see how the fantastic story unfolds.


The puzzles are not overtly difficult. They pose enough of a challenge in the ways you need to think about solving them; the first answer that comes to mind is never always the right one but I can guarantee most people will get it. But it's amazing that Valve has managed to create a butter smooth difficulty curve that never feels too easy or too hard at any time. It's a testament to their endless gameplay testing over and over till they hit pitch perfect note for a puzzle; I'm sure they have it down to a science as it were - very scary, I just realized that Aperture Science's obsession for testing is just a reflection of Valve's. They must have their own test lab rats tucked away somewhere in Seattle.

As a whole, the game is definitely more challenging than the original Portal, which is a plus for content-hungry gamers. There are a few new obstacles, or ways to solve puzzles, in the multi-colored gels, faith plates, light bridges and tunnels. Now, instead of just shooting portals, you'll have to manipulate surfaces to do more, whether it's to jump further, run faster, or be able to shoot portals through surfaces that you were previously unable to. The faith plates, light bridges and tunnels offer new forms of transportation of self or objects. Safe to say, none of it are bloatware, definitely worthy additions that maintain the tight and fun nature of gameplay for Portal 2 so by the time you get to the final boss fight, everything you've experienced and learned up till then becomes a necessary tool in your arsenal.

Here are a couple of criticisms I have for the game. One, Valve favors a hunt-for-a-portal-shootable-surface instead of always laying out an entirely solvable puzzle in front of us. Of course, when we're in the test chambers, everything is self-contained. But when we traverse the parts of Aperture Science outside the labs, it's as if Valve's idea of a "puzzle" then is to look for an obscure, hidden wall that we can shoot a portal through otherwise we cannot progress.


Two, whilst the game clocks in at between 8 - 10 hours of gameplay, which is a decent length, 2/3rds of the way through, it feels slightly draggy and that's probably Valve's well-intentioned attempt to plump out the content by way of more puzzles; but perhaps there were one or two too many. This is because the story drops off for a bit, we hear nothing for an entire section before being brought back into the fold of narrative awesomeness. It's not a huge dealbreaker, just something that Valve could tighten up and the game would be perfect.

Graphically, it is clear the Source Engine cannot compete with the likes of CryEngine or the hotly anticipated upcoming Frostbite 2 engine. Then again, the Source Engine has never been the most shiny or glistening, but Valve manages time and time again to build immersive worlds dripping with charm and lore. The animations of Wheatley, GLaDOS, and the test labs that shift and transform according to the needs of the A.I. are so amazing, so life-like and natural it's almost like Valve hired some Pixar people to work on Portal 2. That's probably not true, but is my comparison for how great it all looks.

The other big thing with Portal 2 is the inclusion of cooperative gameplay. Two people can team up to take on new puzzles plumping out the amount of content you get in an awesome way. But for those used to solving puzzles on their own, cooperative puzzle-solving will be a challenge in itself. Sure, two brains should help to solve puzzles faster, but having another person along could be a hindrance to your efficiency, and it'll take patience and supporting one another to succeed. All to beloved GLaDOS' sneering judgment. The cooperative bots also have their own narrative which should be exciting - I've yet to play it fully myself. Will cover that in a separate post in due time.


In glorious conclusion, Portal 2 is that game. That game that isn't so high-brow that only puzzle snobs or gaming purists will get, and isn't so low-brow that it feels like yet another money-making scheme churned out by a huge game developer year after year. It's a game game. It's a gamer's game. It's a game built to be enjoyed, tickling you at the right times and poking you at others. It's a self-contained addiction with huge implications on a larger narrative that Valve appears to be perpetuating. It's a game that's so well-crafted that it can be viewed as a near-perfect model for game development. Take all of that and what you get is a masterpiece. This is a masterpiece. And when the extremely climactic ending rolls around, the music and the audio escalating, the euphoria you experience is not only because what you're playing is awesome, but that you are privileged to be playing such a game at all. And it'll convince you that your pursuit for utter gaming enjoyment is the right one.

Well done Valve, well done.

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Thinky stuff: If She Dies, You Die


I just came across this blog post this morning and I thought you should read it too. It's really quite good. The writer Jason Killingsworth, features editor for Edge, laments about the temporary separation from his wife. This leads to a discussion of how games like Enslaved and Ico are very good at emphasizing overtly or subtly the idea of bonding with that special someone in your life, about what it means to be married, and what it means to lose the person you love.

Read it. Good advice on marriage too.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

News: Draguns! Manshooting! And more Manshooting!


You know why I love games? It's not just the actual act of playing them, but it's the trailers and the various screenshots to get you hyped up before the actual game launch. It's like ohmygod-I'm-going-to-get-to-do-that? or ohmygod-that's-the-world-I'm-going-to-be-in?

No doubt there's a lot of value in the film business in affecting people emotionally, and engaging educationally, but no one can doubt the awesome hype that video games are now capable of. Just look at the Dead Island trailer I posted a little while ago.

Now MORE AWESOME TRAILERS below.

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Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim




I can't even find it in myself to make fun of this video. How can you make fun of shouting at dragons? How can you make fun of wide roaming vistas and beautiful graphics? How can you make fun of sneaking about catacombs and fighting large spiders?

You can't, you just can't. And boy, that music.

Crysis 2



I'm starting to think now that there's a serious glut of trailers being released about this game, a bit overwhelming if you ask me. But now I can say with certainty what the game is about. Some aliens attack New York and some dude in a suit has to kick ass. Old man talks. Black guy talks. More ass kicking.

But one thing I don't get... who the fuck is Alcatraz?!?

Battlefield 3



So EA wants to take on the big bad boy Activision with their own epic man-war-shootery. Yeah, their last game Bad Company 2 was really horrible, at least story-wise. Multiplayer was not too bad, but it couldn't really take on the Call of Duties.

But this BF3 trailer looks ... alright. I'm not particularly super excited because teasing us with some footage intended to say, "Hey check out how hyper realistic this game looks, with the falling soldier, the proning on top of a building with another building opposite exploding" has really all be done before. And they had to have a flash of some insurgent smacking us in the face.

I'm not complaining though. I like man-war-shootery games. Bring 'em all on.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

News: Dead Island screenshots


Hot on the heels of the popular Dead Island trailer, Techland has released some screenies of the game itself. Which is good. So people know what the game is really like.

See shiny shots fired off below.

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Apparently the game will have role-playing leanings, four player coop, so kinda' Left 4 Dead, kinda' Far Cry. All about scrounging around the island for supplies, whilst finding away to escape. And keeping true to some semblance of realism, there will be minimal firearms because that's not how real-world islands are like (apparently). So lots of melee combat, zombie head bashing. Sounds like fun.

Oh, and Techland are tag-teaming with Deep Silver. For those who don't know, Deep Silver did Sacred 2 which was a truly awesome RPG. So yeah, the role-playing bit could be pretty good. The graphics look positively shiny and keeping true to the mood they had in mind for the trailer.


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