The Evil Within – Preview

The weight of expectation on The Evil Within is certainly on some broad shoulders. Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami happens to own those shoulders.

Annouced two years ago and almost finally upon us, the game follows a modern day Police Detective, Sebastian Castellanos into a deeply disturbing psychotic environment filled with zombie like creatures, shifting environments, evil monsters and the pairing of a mysterious boy and his doctor.

the evil within preview 1Playing through the two demo levels I got the chance to experience, the atmosphere is certainly one reminiscint of the iconic survival horror of the PS1 era. Even at this early stage the classic over-the-shoulder view, dark colours and foggy outlines are effectively imposed here. As you walk in to the first level, you are almost paranoid of everything and desperate for supplies, smashing all the boxes you can and getting as little ammunition as is available. There are several other options you can use including a multi faceted crossbow.

In fact, that’s one thing that I was surprised by, the weapons. So far they are incredibly effective, almost too effective. The only thing that really stops you from going quite run-and-gun at this stage is the amount of ammo. Something that will change as the difficulty increases especially. Quite an interesting dynamic is the way that you can‘t fight off multiple enemies forever, or just simply mow them down in a haze of bullets.

Eventually you will get swamped and overrun. You can slow them down but until you take a flame to them, they’ll keep coming. You have to be precise with your shots to put the down in the first place and you have to be conservative. Your gun won’t always be on target, so no panic shooting. Melee will only buy you a bit more time. But the game employs some clever, and tense, devices to help you with dealing with the mobs. Plenty of objects are around that are easy to use as explosives, traps to set, corners and corridors to funnel them in to, but the best has to be the weapon wheel.

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The weapon selection wheel (think any Rockstar title of recent times) has quite nicely been implemented but unlike most games where it either pauses the game or continues it, it slows the action down, quite conveniently buying you some time to think, plan and execute you next moves.

The visuals of the monsters (known as The Haunted) are, to be honest, as you’d expect for a zombie monster horror. Everything is as gory as you’d also expect with blood, guts, flesh, and Shining-esque set pieces. However the star of the show already, by far is the audio.

From the first moment that you hear the opening bars of Clair De Lune echoing from the save points, you already know that you’re in for a scary ride. One of the things you notice when playing with headphones is how much the audio design is completely surround sound biased. The little sounds and the use of echoes and reverbs resonate in your ears and creep you out.

If one think has come along the furthest in the days of the PS1 survival era, it is sound options available to game developers and this game takes full advantage of that. At the games developmental stage, the audio is the biggest winner and the thing that needs improving the least.

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I must stress that this is an early stage, so there is definitely no criticism. This will be an incredibly atmospheric horror with many interesting subplots and twists along the way. But there will be some work needed along the way to make the visual and the weapon balancing just right, then it will certainly be a game to play with the lights off.

[author]

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Celebrate 5 Years Of Minecraft

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What can you say about the progression of Minecraft and the impact it has had on the video game industry over the past five years?

It’s spawned its own clothing lines, merchandise, been ported to every device under the sun, made stars out of YouTube gamers and has turned the industry upside down.

The procedurally generated sandbox survival game created by Notch has grown and grown and, as far as the game is concerned, shows no signs of stopping. New mini-game servers are launched all the time, people are still lapping up the content created by it and as an experience, it’s now a comfortable yet challenging old friend.

Normally with these kind of articles, we recount our experiences with the game, our favourite things that worked well and bits that didn’t. Except Minecraft isn’t a finite entity. It’s still going and new things are continually happening.

For me personally, and you can read many things that designers and industry folk have said about Minecraft, it is all about what the game does for you. There are people that use it for education, for PvP gaming, for a benchmark in their own games and even just laud it for inspiration (see Peter Molyneux).

But for me, it’s the ability to have your own deeply personal adventure. The world is your own randomly generated world. You do what you want in terms of building things, choosing your own path and your own story. You set how challenging its going to be for you and this kind of ‘create your own’ narrative is exactly what keeps me coming back to it. And whatever new things come or mad inventions are created, it always feels like a new experience.

You may have your own thoughts and memories on Minecraft, but as it’s five years old, I’m going to take you through five of my favourite things that Minecraft has done or created in that time:

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minecraft birthday 1Creepers

A completely accidental creation. During the original programming for the game Notch had accidentally created an exploding pig. He didn’t know this until said pig walked up to him and exploded. Then, the Creeper was born. It is the most wonderful and hilariously frightening creature to have graced video gaming and makes some damn fine records, if you know how.

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minecraft birthday 2The Far Lands (Or Bust?)

Back in its beta days, the game had an area known as the far lands. These are the furthest point from where you spawn. The game procedurally generates based on coding and mathematical formula, but it gets to such a point where the code breaks down. Like a signal degradation if you will. This creates the far lands, an area of crazy and random landscapes, completely strange block placement and a place where the rules of Minecraft no longer apply.

If you happen to go YouTube, you may have heard of a content producer called Kurt J Mac. Since 2011, this crazy guy has decided to walk to the far lands with his canine companion Wolfie, and has been producing steady episodes of this since all in the name of charity. Even when he accidentally lost Wolfie and certain Gallifreyan-esque mechanics were used to retrieve him, the show carried on. So far, just over $269,000 has been raised for the Childs Play Charity by this endeavour alone, including donations from Notch. That is good (to quote Kurt J Mac) ‘INDEED!’

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minecraft birthday 4Ultra Hardcore Mode

Sticking with the YouTube thing, this is a custom modded game mode that was so popular, Mojang built the ability to do it in to the game. Popularised and I dare say invented by the MindCrack gaming network, UHC is the ultimate in survival PvP multiplayer. Either solo, or in teams, you start at random points at the map with the aim of being the sole survivor. You play the game like survival but with rules in place such as no strip mining. The key thing here is that health regeneration is turned off so if you take damage, that damage will stick.

In the MindCrack rules, regeneration potions are banned too so that the only way you’re getting that health back is by a golden apple. Everything else is a scary free-for-all – you can put whatever modifiers to the rules that you like. The Hermitcraft’s UHC is currently making use of the newly implemented world border function to force people towards the middle or else face death. It makes for excellent viewing (MindCrack recently finished their 15th season of it) and if you can round up enough friends, it is definitely worth trying.

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minecraft birthday 3Mods

Well mods are going to come for any game aren’t they? Hell, I’ve had or seen mods for pretty much every PC game I’ve ever owned. But the Minecraft mods are so inventive, complex, easy, crazy, and impressive that they are at times new games in themselves. Not even counting the thousands of custom maps that have been created. The most well known modded pack is probably Feed The Beast, which is a collection of many mods thrown together. My personal favourite is the recent Attack of the B-Team mod pack. But there’s so many things like TerrafirmaCraft, Hexit, Skyblock, Agrarian Skies, CrackPack, Magic Farm, Life in the Woods… Too many to mention. These all contain mods with new biomes, new and better storage, more blocks and construction options and even technology.

The most impressive thing is, and anyone who’s massivly modded a game will know this, how well the base game actually copes. Yes there some glitches but for the level of modding that goes on, Minecraft is an excellent platform. And seeing as Mojang love this (they’ve even emplyed people from the mod community to work on the game) it makes for an excellent marriage.

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minecraft birthday 5Community

Gaming communities are well known for their supportiveness of a game. But the Minecraft community has become much more than that. It’s become much bigger than the gaming trolls of online FPS play and surpassed the sharing communities of forums past. It is a community that stretches the globe, enjoys and supports the people that make the content they watch. It encourages involvement and maybe that’s because the game isn’t about victory but about working together to create something better. The official MineCon convention has come from this desire to bring the community together, and gaming conventions themselves now hold panels featuring Minecraft personalities to help other with the game from redstone, to YouTube and even to just having a good laugh. It is a community, once you get past the trolls and the haters, that makes you want to get involved and play. Even from the production of content, the MindCrack community has produced some of the best personalities and content from gaming, pranking, building and even role play that not only inspires the community but makes many people come together to share their enjoyment of the game and the content.

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I’ve missed loads of course and we all have such specific personal memories of playing on Minecraft. Why not share yours with us? Tweet us or comment on Facebook. I’d personally love to hear your thoughts and stories!

Happy birthday Minecraft.

[author]

Why The next Nintendo Console Will Be Digital-Only

There’s a lot of rumours circulating that Nintendo are going to announce a new console at this years E3 in June.

I am going to come right out with a bold statement. This will be the first major console to ditch optical and disc media drives and go fully digital.

What we think we know right now is this:

  • There will be a console but no idea on hardware.
  • It could be called Fusion DS/Fusion Terminal if it is two separate consoles.
  • Nintendo filed for patents last year for a new type of controller with interchangeable buttons. [clear]

So why would I bet all the coins in the Mushroom Kingdom that Nintendo will go full digital? (Insert Tropic Thunder inspired one liner here)

Well because it is blatantly obvious. isn’t it? Nintendo has been subverting the competition throughout the entirety of the last generation of consoles. The Wii was the first motion controller, which was something nobody really wanted to touch. They used very dated technology, even for the time, which certainly limited the scope of portability for many companies. The WiiU could be considered a partial flop for going with a slightly updated console with a screen built in to the controller, something Sony use their portable console for. Even their portable consoles, the DS/3DS have gone against the emerging market of mobile gaming and not really changed in years.

 

But what has really convinced me was what Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata said in February, that the next console would be taking ‘cues’ from Apple’s iOS platform. So let me lay out my belief.

Pretty much every major Nintendo release on both consoles has been available digitally. Nintendo’s biggest aim has been to create a society around its networking accessibility and avatars. The Mii’s have been paramount to that. One of the first things that the Wii did well, which it honestly doesn’t get enough credit for, is its digital store.

The Nintendo e-shop has been in full swing since the off with apps and classic games and a heavy bias on back catalogue emulation, something that is decreasing now with the industry wide argument over backward compatibility.

For the Wii, backward compatibility was easy, because of the hardware used, and paramount because it was quite close to the Gamecube. The latter console is now thirteen years old and practically irrelevant. Unless there’s a huge motion control element in the new console design, then it’s unlikely the new console would be backward compatible to the original Wii games, and quite frankly, there’s no reason it should be.

The e-shop has been a great success on both consoles and even your local retailer probably stocks more game code cards for Nintendo than physical games now. The physical element of game distribution has long been a crux for publishers and an expensive problem, given the digital infrastructure we have now. Nintendo posting continuous losses may force them to take the brave action and cut out the physical all together.

But another reason could be pressure from publishers. Developing games for the Wii/WiiU has always been a tricky task because the majority of the market was Xbox/PS3. The lack of power the Wii had means that creating a Wii version of a game requires further work and more expense in the creation phase. Plus the heavily family orientated nature of the consoles limits what can be successfully ported financially.

So in order to attract more publishers, and even attract indie game creators, removing the physical and costly aspect of game distribution could be a good move. Something that (get ready for that all important claw back to a previous point) Apple has been incredibly successful at. The iOS Apple App store has given rise to a whole new approach to game creation, programming, and distribution has effectively revolutionised the market, as iTunes did before it. This was even before the iPhone became the primary smartphone of choice. Even Android and Google Play are following the same format for their phones/tablets/etc. Nintendo already have a fantastic, easy to use, well-stocked e-store.

Of course historically, Nintendo have never shied away from risks. As both Sony and Microsoft didn’t go down the digital only route, although slim console versions might, the door is open for Nintendo to pave the way forward like the rebels they’ve always been. They’ve done it before and innovation is arguably more important to them in their ethos than the entertainment hub mentality of the Xbox One or the more gaming orientated ethos of local rivals Sony.

Let’s face it, unless Nintendo announce they are making a super computer to rival the highest end Steam console then there is no way they are going to compete with the Xbox One or PS4. And why should they when they can do something different, grab that slightly different hole in the market and do it in the most cost effective way that they can.

So, I firmly believe that any console, handheld or otherwise, will be digital only. There will be no optical disc or cartridge-based drive on either. And I don’t think anyone will complain about it. In all honesty, Microsoft and Sony are not in a position to lose their disc drives yet and the consumer voiced their concerns when it was touted. Nintendo are in the best position, not only to experiment but also to see if such a model legitimately works. For Nintendo, I think it will.