A bunch of videos will make up this post because my free time is going to be spent in the cyberpunk renaissance world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. When over a decade later a true successor is released to one of my favourite games of all time, I’m not about to make excuses.
Portal: No Escape, I discovered after watching, was directed by Dan Trachtenberg of The Totally Rad Show fame. I knew he directed here and there but this is the first I’d actually seen. And it’s stunning. The live-action short suggests that, if only they were helmed by people who really understand the source material, perhaps game-to-film projects would not be doomed to failure.
Continuing the Portal theme, this is perhaps my new favourite geeky proposal, in which our favourite passive-aggressive AI, GLaDOS, pops the question. “You can say no. I’m sure he’ll get over it. Eventually.” she intones. Interestingly, Valve helped out by recording his scripted dialogue in a session already booked with GLaDOS voice-actress Ellen McLain. What could the voice of Half-Life 2’s Overwatch have been doing there…
Finally, the creative advertising campaign for the Muppets continues its tradition of giving away virtually nothing about the actual film. The latest is a music video with OK Go covering The Muppets Show Theme, while riffing on their own inventive music videos. You may wish to ignore the somewhat tedious ending.
I ended up miles away with no idea where I was, covered in vomit.
-Adam describing either a Boomer attack or his average Friday night
Adam has spent a while trying to convince me to pick up Left 4 Dead, Valve’s apocalyptic zombie survival shooter. It’s less that I needed cajoling about the quality of the game — it is Valve after all — but rather that with four-player co-op as its backbone, I wanted to be assured there would be people with whom to play. Once Sparkie started pestering me as well, I swiftly realised there was nothing to worry about and jumped in. The game succeeds through its tempo, a mad rush of zombies is always followed by suitably edgy respite with staccato moments as the super-infected appear. These zombie specials each have their strengths, but it was the Witch (having read many review references with scant detail leaving me irrationally terrified) that I was anxious to meet. And what an introduction I had: spotting her in the boiler room, three simultaneously launched molotov cocktails and a hurtling fiery zombie later, I was left with a huge grin on my face. Particularly knowing next time will be completely different since the zombies do not spawn in pre-set locations but are rather controlled by the game’s AI director. Survival horror games are not normally my cup of tea, but this is something else.
Continuing my plugs for DRM-free music download stores, Amazon mp3 has finally launched in the UK. Hopefully this brand, coupled with bargain £3 albums from major artists, will finally draw the masses away from iTunes. Like 7digital they offer a small, tidy application to manage downloads. Interesting to note is that although the tracks are nominally encoded at 256kbps, a cursory glance at my downloads shows this is in fact VBR. At last. For those interested in what I bought, it was a perfect chance to pick up the debut album from LA rockers The Dreaming without an inflated import price tag. I’m a big fan of front man Christopher Hall who was the vocalist for Stabbing Westward.
Of all this year’s major gaming releases, Valve’s Orange Box is the only one to come without some sort of super-special ultra-limited edition box set. Even the title is bizarrely unassuming given the incredible value of its contents. For the price of a standard game this collection features three new titles: Half-Life 2: Episode Two at the core, accompanied by Portal and Team Fortress 2. And as if that alone were somehow deficient, they’ve thrown in the original Half-Life 2 and Episode One for free.
Most reviewers have suggested the astounding originality and humour of Portal justifies the cost alone (just look at the videos if you have not seen them), while TF2 provides frenetic multiplayer (Half-Life 2’s only weak point) with a Pixar-esque sheen. I am not actually going to discuss the games at all since I’m writing this from the BPP library and haven’t even got as far as installing my copy yet. Instead let’s go back to the box.
It is one of the sparsest products I have ever encountered, from its cryptic title requiring you to know what it is before you buy to the interior with no book, a single page insert which lists the controls and a second disc (yes this spans two fulls DVDs) that comes in a paper sleeve. So for a game guaranteed to make money by the truckload, why? The reason is this: Valve don’t want you to buy it. Or at least not that way.
The developer has spent the last few years challenging the traditional publishing and distribution model with its Steam platform, which allows you to download games directly from their servers. This much criticised system had severe problems to begin with but now operates almost alarmingly smoothly. It undoubtedly means they receive a higher portion of the revenue, but — and it’s a big one — like many, I still like to have a physical product. It leaves me with no concerns about reinstalling or switching computers and also means I have something to trade in or sell later. With Steam and similar systems, that becomes impossible.
Of course many readers will remember that I was more than happy to download the recent episodic Sam & Max games. However Telltale understood their audience’s desires and on completion of the first “season”, offered a boxed disc for a nominal P&P cost, filled with extras like a series of animated clips to watch on any DVD player. It is a trend I hope they continue with the forthcoming second season. I understand what Valve are trying to do, and it’s probably the future, but the obvious luddite that I am, I just prefer this one the old-fashioned way.
Meanwhile my dad pointed out this alternative style of World Clock, with some particularly disturbing numbers. And here’s an amusing hypothetical look at what Google might look like if it had to be optimised for Google.