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I've been keeping an eye on what's being hyped for release in the future and whilst most offerings end up being the sort of thing I'd glance at if a demo or free trial comes along, there's often a game or two in the midst of the release schedules that I pay attention to.

Right now, I've got my eye on Borderlands 2 and The Secret World in particular.

Pandora's Vault

The original Borderlands was an FPS with RPG elements and co-op play game that initially passed me by. I saw a friend play it at a Halloween LAN party a couple of years back and whilst I do like post-apocalytpic-esque settings and sniper rifles that set stuff on fire, it just didn't interest me all that much. I acquired a copy of the game on Steam eventually after various parties had waxed lyrically about it and after a bit of a rough start (I absolutely loathe the jumping mechanics in the game) I finally got the hang of the thing and decided that sniping skags in the mouth from half a kilometre away was where it's at.

Whilst it can get grindy trying to find decent weapons, the game is more fun in co-op mode than solo and there's plenty of entertainment to be had from the NPCs and antagonists even if the quests missions are the usual 'go here, pick up this item, kill that guy'. Whilst my interest in the game waxes and wanes, it's one of the more popular cross-platform games out there and when Gearbox announced a second game, there was much excitement.

The story continues where the first game left off with a new set of player characters (the original Vault-hunters are apparently lurking about as NPCs). Thusfar one of the new character types is the dwarfish 'Gunzerker' pictured above, going by the name of Salvador. It seems to be something of a cross between the berzerking close-range Berzerker and the gun specialist Soldier by going up close and personal with a pair of heavy guns. Another confirmed character is some sort of variant on the original Siren by the name of Maya, who won't have the Phasewalk ability. Further Power details haven't been released yet.

Gearbox has stated that the interactions between the players and the world have evolved, and that choices, time taken and actions performed will all have story-changing consequences. NPCs will react more, the characters will interplay (in the style of Left 4 Dead series characters) and the game equipment will be given a more differentiated look so you can tell roughly what sort of weapon it is without having to read the fine print on the stats. Screenshots so far hint at the iconic graphical style being retained and ramped up.

The game is slated for release sometime in 2012 on the PC, PS3 and the XBox 360. More information can be found here and there's a short trailer for it here.

Begin the Beta Tests

The Secret World, formerly known as Cabal and The World Online, is about to start sign-ups for beta testing and was recently one of the featured titles at Gamescom 2011. It's another FUncom game, which means I'm wary indeed: not about the storyline, which is in the safe hands of Ragnar Tørnquist, but about everything else.

The inital viral marketing for the game was quite successful with the message "Dark Days Are Coming" and a faked tourism webpage for Kingsmouth, one of the in-game locations. Pitched as a modern-day conspiracy/supernatural 'horror' MMORPG (yes, FC are trying to pimp the RPG aspect), there is much hype surrounding the fact that characters are not restricted by a class or level based system and that there are three mutually antagonistic factions they can choose from; the righteous crusading Templars, the corporate puppet masters of the Illuminati and the chaotic and mysterious Dragons. Set in various locations throughout the modern world (and perhaps the near future and near past as well), the game world focuses on battles for dominance between the three factions and at the same time in dealing with monsters, demons, parallel dimension entities and other weird stuff that the rest of humanity has no idea about.

There's plenty of screenshots and snippets of data about the game so far through the official website linked above, with interviews and community speculation about how the game play will work, and recently there has been a reveal about large scale PvP zones. Combat mechanics are unclear at this point.

Electronic Arts is going to be handling distribution of the game, which has caused some concern over a possible Origin requirement. Origin is horrid along the same lines as Games for Windows Live so I sincerely hope that this won't be the case. Still, I'll toss my hat into the ring for the beta testing because I like the premise and it'll be a long time before the World of Darkness MMO shows up or the Anarchy Online revamp hits.

EDIT: The latest TSW trailer has just been released and can be seen here:

Animations look dodgy but the setting is coming along nicely.
achtungexplosiv: (Default)

The gamer war of Consoles vs PCs has been around since the earliest days and that is a topic worthy of a post in itself. By the mid-90s, the cost of a console was peanuts compare to the cost of a PC that could run games and in general the two markets preferred a different spectrum of games. Of course, the PC gamers didn't want to lose out on anything tasty the consoles could produce and so Emulation was employed to allow software written for specialist consoles to be run on computers.

Software that Emulates game consoles in order to play ripped versions of the games on other formats, most commonly PCs, took off in the 16-bit days and was predominantly focused on the SNES, with other consoles such as the NES, Game Boy and Megadrive coming along fairly soon afterwards. A peripheral named the Super Magicom was built in order to rip the SNES game ROM files onto floppy discs that could then be read by the emulation software on a PC. All you needed was a reasonable joypad and you were set.

With the advent of home internet, acquiring the rom files to run through an emulator was child's play and it meant you could have access to a huge catalogue of excellent games (and a plethora of rubbish) for nothing without having to buy a new console either. Naturally, this is game piracy and there's been long-running wrangling of exactly what you are and are not allowed to copy, rip, emulate etc. Is having an emulator containing a ripped copy of the console's BIOS to play ripped copies of the games piracy when you actually own the console and the game in the first place? What about backups? As a SNES owner with at one point a considerable library of games, was I pirating by also having those games on an emulator on my PC?

Anyway, plenty of competing emulation programs popped up at the end of the 90s, each with their own way of organising everything from sprite layer display to save games. The biggest names included NESticle for the NES, (Kega) Fusion for the Megadrive and other Sega systems and as the next generation of consoles took off, emulators for the Playstation started to pop up as well. This was made easier by the fact that some fo the developers of the systems were making notes to allow for easy emulation later on; this most notably occurred with the Nintendo64 and lead to the likes of Project64.

For the SNES, the eventual winner in the race was the Snes9x series which had the best performance in terms of correctly replicating the S-SMP sound system, Mode 7 scaling and additional chipsets that were included in special game carts (such as the Super FX chip and it's successive iterations as seen in Starfox, and the DSP maths co-processor as seen in Super Mario Kart). I tried plenty of others in my time (an honorable mention goes to ZSNES) but in the end the most complete and least buggy version I found was Snes9x, and knowing the original cart versions of the games meant I was particularly keen-eyed/eared for emulation errors. Snes9x is still going strong today, in fact.

Snes9x Logo

Retro gaming and Smartphones

All of this brings me to here and now. I got myself a shiny new Android phone recently and in a frenzy of app hoarding I went after a good SNES emulator. I was pleasantly surprised to find several free versions available through the Market. After trying out the rather awful SNESlator Lite and discovering it didn't work with 90% of my ROM collection, I was pleased to uncover Snes9x EX. I'm still getting the hang of a touchscreen for the D-Pad controls but aside from that it's great. It runs fine with the games I've tested and whilst the sound reproduction could be better, a crappy mobile phone speaker isn't giving it a fair chance in the first place.

And now if you'll excuse me, Secret of Mana shall be keeping me sane on the tube ride home...


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May 2012

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