Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Back From Play!

Actually we got back Sunday afternoon but I'm a slack blogger.

Play! was amazing. The renditions of the Halo score and Akira Yamaoka's "Theme of Laura" from Silent Hill 2 were both a little disappointing, but on the other hand the full choir performance of Nobuo Uematsu's "One-Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII and (surprisingly) the Castlevania suite were both outstanding. More impressive yet, the "Metal Gear Solid Main Theme" received a standing ovation.

Other notable moments included Jeremy Soule's fantastic score to Oblivion, and a suite of music from World of Warcraft. I've actually thought the WoW score was competent but totally derivative of Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings themes, but the audience seemed to love it, so what do I know?

I understand that the tour isn't surfacing again until a January performance in Fort Worth, but if you do hear of it coming near you it's well worth the time and money to see.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


Offline this weekend; the housemates and I, plus others, are piling into some sort of motor vehicle to trundle off to Sydney, where we'll be seeing Play! - music from videogames as performed by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

I've just discovered that Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka was at the 19 and 20 June concerts playing guitar live on stage, which makes it just suck that I'm going to today's one. But still, themes from Halo, Kingdom Hearts and Metal Gear Solid performed live by a full orchestra? Awesome.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Addressing Your Questions

Some people visit The Dust Forms Words from Google. And when they do, I get to see their search terms. It worries me that not all of these people have their questions answered by my site, so I'm going to take a quick moment to even the balance by solving your search-text problems.

reason for atlantica level in kh2
Square-Enix likes to cause you pain. No really, that's the reason. They found that hideous actress who they used for Ariel, listened to her screech out a few tracks, and just couldn't resist the temptation to use her on someone, like a small child with a powerful handgun.

ghostbuster commodore 64 walkthrough
Sweet Jeebers, man, how can you need a walkthrough to finish that game? You can fly through that thing like a 747 through a World Trade Center. But if you absolutely can't stand to take the time to have fun with possibly the greatest C64 game ever, then you're likely to be well served by GameFAQs.

ccg warcraft
Yeah, it's rubbish.

real live girls to marry dragon to kill and treasure to win, and dungeons to explore. free rpg games
That sounds like some game you're after there, Slim. Grinding and prostitution at a low low price is what I call a World of Warcraft killer. If they serve whiskey then it's the closest thing we're going to get to a MMOGing heaven. Let me know how that works out for you. Alternatively, you might just be looking for a copy of Seth Able's contemporary masterpiece Legend of the Red Dragon, in which case let's all take a minute to mourn the death of the BBS door game and its ilk. Violet, we miss ye.

how did king krichevskoy die
He didn't; at the end of the game in the Good Ending it's strongly hinted that he is alive, and is in fact Vyers. (Spoilers - oops, too late.) I know that doesn't make a lick of sense but in the context of the rest of Disgaea's plot it's the most lucid thing ever written. If you're not a fan of that theory, then the game initially tells you he died eating a black pretzel, but Etna's diary later reveals that his "death" occurred while sealing away Baal. Puzzle solved.

four feet more pereyda
Yeah, her blog used to be here; now it's gone. Once again the magic of the Wayback Machine saves the day. You too can experience just how dreary her writing style really was.

canisters lego star wars 2 through jungle land wastes
Jundland, dude, it's Jundland. Get it right. And I'm once again going to direct you to GameFAQs. How can anyone not yet have discovered the magic of that site?

why eledees
Why not? Although seriously it's almost certainly because "Elebits" was a registered trademark or copyrighted in Latveria or some obscure European third-world backwater and they decided to just stick the whole greater Eurostralian region with the dud name rather than manufacture two PAL boxes. Thanks, Konami.

Hope those pearls of wisdom enliven your life. Keep hitting my site with nonsense search terms, and I'll keep boring you to tears with what I laughingly refer to as my "wit".

Excite Truck Post-Mortem

Excite Truck is a racing game where you don’t have to worry about crashing, winning, or, for that matter, gravity. It throws all that rubbish out the window in order to get right down to making monster trucks fly through the air like poorly controlled rockets. It’s a formula that worked when I was five years old and it’s just as crazy-good today on the Wii.

The secret to Excite Truck’s success is twofold. Firstly, your success isn’t really decided by where you place at the end of a race – what’s more important is how crazy your trip through the course was. To “win” each race you have to finish within a fairly generous time limit, and you have to accumulate a certain amount of stars. You get a modicum of stars for placing first, second or third, but you’ll pick up the majority for maintaining high speeds, engaging in crazy drifts, ramming other trucks, and flying stupid distances through the air (preferably through a series of rings while turning multiple aerial 360s). If you crash or otherwise go badly off the track you’ll be placed right back on the road with your motor running, and if you screw up in a spectacular enough fashion you’ll even be awarded stars for your “mistake”.

The second aspect of Excite Truck’s awesomeness is the control scheme. You hold the wiimote sideways, like a pair of handlebars, and tilt left to go left and right to go right. Pressing on the D-pad engages your turbo (which is unlimited subject only to your truck overheating). Boosting just after you hit a jump will send you flying through the air; wiggling the handlebar left and right in mid-air will deliver some unlikely aerial doughnuts. You can also tilt forward or back in midair to control the length of your jumps and ensure that you hit the ground with all wheels squarely on the ground. That’s pretty much the extent of the controls, but they’re largely intuitive, they’re satisfying, and they tie right in to the sandbox sense of the fun that the game delivers.

The courses are simple but perfect for the action. You’ll be blasting through a rainbow of off-road terrain that ranges from the moors of Scotland and the fjords of Norway through to the mesas of Mexico and, if you’re very skilled, ultimately the eye-twisting surface of an alien planet. The basic format of each course offers a range of jumps, some straights to power down, and the occasional puddle or river to drive through (which cool down your truck and let you use more turbo). Trees commonly line the course, but if you want to go crazy and attempt to weave between them for a valuable shortcut then the game will reward you with stars based on exactly how crazy your tree-weaving turns out to be. Or you can just pick up one of the valuable boost power-ups hidden on the track which will let you just smash down any trees you hit. You can also set off a number of “geo-morphs” which have the effect of altering nearby terrain. Flat ground will deform into mammoth jump ramps, hills will turn into lakes, and valuable star-scoring air rings will appear tantalizingly overhead. Any trucks caught up in all this earthshaking will be appropriately tossed around in the air, which just makes all the existing aerial shenanigans even more insane.

The basic gameplay in Excite Truck is so good that you’ll be inclined to overlook that the graphics and audio were more than a little rushed in order to get the game out for the Wii launch window. The levels are easy on the eyes but nothing you’ll want to exclaim out loud about, and lots of motion blur is used to cover some of the lack of detail. The sound effects are very decent, including some that will be pumped out of the wiimote, but as with Twilight Princess it’s frustrating that you can’t set or mute the wiimote volume. The soundtrack is actually quite awful, consisting of a brutally short list of electric guitar tracks which would shame even Dynasty Warriors with their glaring inappropriateness. You can in theory make a custom soundtrack out of music stored on an SD card, but I confess that I haven’t ended up getting to try this – I just mute the music most of the time.

The game offers a split-screen two-player race mode which is absolutely as fun as you could possibly hope for. Unfortunately there’s no support for three or four players, and there’s no online play, all of which seem like disappointing omissions, particularly as it’s the sort of game where everyone who sees you play it will want to have a go.

Excite Truck is a racing game for people who don’t like racing games. It’s fun, it’s visceral, and it’s equally rewarding whether you’re a driving veteran or a first-time gamer. It’s something that could only have worked with the Wii control scheme, and given that quality titles on the Wii are still few and far between it’s something that all owners of the system owe it to themselves to try.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Gotta Catch 'Em All - Again

The plan is to be getting Pokemon: Diamond today, if it releases on schedule in Australia like it's supposed to. If I can indeed port over my GBA Pokemon then you can prepare to cower in fear before my mighty maxed-out Sceptile.

I guess this means I'm going to have to set things up so my DS can get online again, for the trading and bludgeoning and suchlike. More details to follow.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Elite Beat Agents Post-Mortem

If there’s one group of people in the world who know how to get funky on a dance floor, I’m sure we can all agree that it’s shadowy government organizations.

It only stands to reason. What would be the point in training elite federal assassins in gunplay, interrogation and infiltration if we didn’t also fully outfit them with some world-class powers of groove?

Luckily, you too can now live out the glamorous life of one of these disco agents provocateur through the surprisingly good medium of Elite Beat Agents for the DS. It’s the western adaptation of the wonderful Japanese title Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! and despite some dubious English-language design decisions it retains all of the original’s addictive gameplay and quirky charm.

Elite Beat Agents will see you leading a team of crack beatmasters into a range of harrowing international incidents with the aim of protecting democracy and overcoming terrorism. By “crack beatmasters” I mean the Elite Beat Agents themselves, who, Japanese version to the contrary, are absolutely not male cheerleaders – the fact that they aim to raise morale through synchronized dance just shows how elite they really are. “Harrowing international incidents” turn out be tasks such as helping a lost dog return home or aiding a salty sea dog in uncovering pirate treasure. And “protecting democracy and overcoming terrorism” mostly boils down to tapping coloured circles on the DS screen in time to the music. Actually, I lie, the game really has nothing to do with democracy or terrorism, although it does have a reasonable facsimile of the Hilton sisters, who in my mind are probably worth invading Afghanistan in order to bring to justice.

Each level will see you engaged in an improbable scenario and tasked with using sharp dance routines and popular music to save the day. There are 20 songs in the game, including titles such as “YMCA”, “Material Girl”, “Sk8er Boi” and “Jumping Jack Flash”, with the mix skewed sharply towards party classics and teen pop instead of hard rock or indy anthems. That’s a short jukebox compared to what the Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero franchises offer, but it’s still enough to offer you a reasonably lengthy play experience.

Each level starts with a short sequence introducing the story for the level, whether it be prompting a girl to get together with the boy of her dreams or helping a cat to save a baby from a dangerous construction site. Then you’ll be dumped into the song. Coloured dots will appear on the screen, surrounded by a rapidly closing-in circle. The trick is to tap the dots just as the circle hits them, which coincidentally will also match a beat in the song. Succeed, and your agents will bust some moves on the top screen, and the hero of the level’s scenario will meet with fate and fortune. Fail, and you’ll be tripping over your own toes while the story takes a sharp turn south.

The basic beat-tapping gameplay is both fun and addictive, and is further mixed up by the addition of slides that you must follow with your stylus and wheels that you need to spin in a circular motion. The easier difficulties are fairly tame, with only a small minority of beats requiring action, but as you move up to the hard and expert (Hard Rock) difficulties you’ll start hammering out some pretty insane rhythms. It’s unfortunate that in order to attempt hard you first need to defeat the normal difficulty, and to try expert you’ll need to beat hard. This means that a difficulty with a single song can keep a lot of the game’s content locked away from you, but ultimately the game is good enough that it’s worth persevering.

The stories that frame each level are delivered with a wealth of humour and charm. They’re told in the same manga-esque style as the Japanese version, and have the same kind of goofball logic. Many of the stories have different endings based on your performance, which makes replaying the same levels again and again (which you’ll be doing a lot of) much less irritating.

Multiplayer in Elite Beat Agents is well managed. Up to four players can take part in a session, with or without individual game cards. (Sessions that include at least one player without a card are limited to a choice of only five songs.) You can then divide up into two teams for versus play, or work together for a co-operative session. Co-op plays much like the versus in the original Guitar Hero, with the beats being divided up between the players. Versus gives everyone the same beats, but adds the option to unleash a devastating combo attack that leaves your opponent’s screen shaking and their targets shrunk to miniscule size. These modes aren’t perfect, but they provide a strong framework for enjoying Elite Beat Agents with friends, or for demonstrating it to those who haven’t played it yet.

It’s worth mentioning a frustration that I’ve experienced on the harder levels of the game, which I’m apparently not alone in experiencing. As the beats gets faster and the targets get smaller, the game seems to develop recognition problems in the lower right quadrant of the game screen. Occasionally taps which should be dead on target will just be ignored. At first I was worried this was a problem with my DS, but it’s turned up on multiple systems and on other people’s copies of the game. This makes some of the songs on Expert a lot more frustrating than they should be, but it’s unlikely to worry the majority of players the majority of the time.

If you’ve played, or even heard about, Osu! Tatake! Ouendan! and are wondering how the westernization stacks up, the answer is “pretty well”. The most noticeable change is the difficulty – Elite Beat Agents is significantly easier than Ouendan!. The music, obviously, now has an American bias, but in practice the tracks aren’t anywhere near as annoying as you may think, and many will leave you humming them for days. In terms of graphics and gameplay, Elite Beat Agents is actually a little better than its source. The agents do specific dances for specific songs (most notably for YMCA), and generally look a little more polished than the boys from Ouendan!. The beats seem generally better matched to the songs (although the sequence for “Canned Heat” is notably horrible), and all the bells and whistles from Ouendan! are present, right down to the Elite Beat Divas you’ll unlock for reaching the Hard Rock difficulty. Elite Beat Agents also throws in three bonus unlockable songs, which give you just that much more incentive to reach the higher difficulties.

All in all, Elite Beat Agents is not only one of the better DS titles available, it’s one of the better rhythm games on the market generally. If you think it sounds even remotely entertaining then it’s not to be missed, and like all good rhythm games you’ll find yourself returning to it again and again long after you think you’ve finished with it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Okami Post-Mortem

Okami is absolutely the best Zelda-clone ever made about a sun-goddess inhabiting the body of a wolf statue and using the magic power of calligraphy to beautify the natural envronment. Hands down.

I mean, there's no question. Even if you're a fan of one of those other goddess-wolf-calligraphy games that we see so many of these days, you're going to be forced to concede that Okami delivers far more than its competitors just in the realm of art style before you start getting into any of its gameplay innovations.

Nothing else looks like Okami. Where other games push for photorealism, Okami decides that the appropriate look for a videogame should be a mix of shadow-puppetry and traditional Japanese woodcuts. And then renders the whole thing in a kind of hallucinogenic cell-shaded 3D. Things don't appear as what they are so much as icons of what they are. People are vague suggestive shapes; scenery is rendered in the manner of flowing brushstrokes; monsters are malformed malevolent scribbles. The hand of the artist is visible in each and every image on screen.

All this artistic eccentricity flows right into the gameplay. You'll play as the sun goddess Amaterasu, who has taken command of a statue of legendarily heroic wolf Shiranui in order to combat an evil darkness spreading across Nippon. Amaterasu can use all of Shiranui's wolfy abilities, including sprinting, hole-digging and the rending of flesh, but more relevantly she also has the power of the Celestial Brush at her command.

By holding down a shoulder button, you can stop time, and turn the scene in front of you into a hand-drawn parchment. Then you can draw on it. For example, executing a straight horizontal-ish line across the scene will deliver a devastating slash which will overcome monsters, topple trees, and cleave stones. Drawing a circle in the air will bring forth the sun and turn day to night; the same circle on a plant will bring it into bloom; and if you add an extra line to the circle reminiscent of a fuse then you'll summon into being a mighty explosive to break down barriers and devastate your opponents.

Okami overcomes the bane of many games that use a drawing system - the symbols you'll be drawing are easy to handle and the game is intelligent in interpreting them. It matters not if your circle is drawn clockwise or anti-clockwise, or whether you start at the top or the bottom; slashes can be made on pretty much any plane except straight vertical and can go left-to-right or right-to-left, et cetera. (The bloom power is occasionally a little frustrating, but you'll rarely have any time pressure when using that one.) The fact that time stops when you're drawing is a huge help.

You don't start with all the brush techniques at once. Instead, you pick them up from various celestial beings as you go about your travels. In this way, the game is very similar to The Legend of Zelda, as you'll be picking up a new ability, using it to overcome a challenge, and then getting a new ability as a reward (rinse, repeat).

Your quest will regularly take you into caves and dungeons, but the developers seem not to have understood that the very best bit about what they've created lies on the overworld. Each new section of overworld you encounter is initially possessed by a creeping darkness that has turned the land into a barren wasteland. As you use your powers to perform various tasks in each section, the wasteland will be driven back until eventually the area is a paradise once more.

Your first task is usally to bring into bloom a sacred tree in each area, which sends a wave of rejuvenation running across the land, making the blight retreat to select pockets of nastiness. This all by itself is an incredibly cool and satisfying cutscene, as flowers and greenery rush across the landscape like an unstoppable tide.

Once you've made the area vaguely safe to traverse, you can then seek out the individual trouble points and use your abilities to fix them. Blighted grass can be healed by colouring it over with your rejuvenation power. Water can be made to flow by linking clean rivers to empty or blackened ones with lines of your brush. Animals can be fed with a variety of foodstuffs. Dead trees can be brought back to life with a touch of your brush. This gameplay is simple but deeply rewarding, as the results of your actions are instantly and integrally reflected in the landscape, which you'll be moving back and forth across as you complete your quest. Every item around you is a reminder of your challenges and successes.

The game would ultimately be a better game if it had stuck entirely to this overworld-rejuvenation gameplay, because the dungeons are ultimately deeply derivative of The Legend of Zelda and more than a little dull. They're reasonably well executed for what they are, but you'll be left feeling like you've played them a million times already in other games, where they were done better. Each one predictably culminates in a boss fight, which are at least rather well executed, if a little easy.

The plot is pretty poorly paced. The game opens promisingly, with an excellent narrative that binds your fate to that of the village drunkard on a quest to defeat the evil serpent-demon Orochi. However, twelve hours or so later, when you've defeated Orochi, you'll be thinking that that's a reasonably good place for the game to end, with most plot threads tied up - but you'll be wrong. The game springs a "but that's not all!" on you, and immediately flings you off on another quest just when you were thinking that you'd probably had enough of Okami. Myself, I was a bit disenchanted with all the dungeon crawling, and frustrated by the plot bait-and-switch, so as of this writing I haven't progressed very far into the second quest, and it's possible I never will.

If you love the 3D Legend of Zelda games and want more of the same gameplay in a very different-looking package, then Okami will be like a wonderful gift from the heavens. Even if you're not, you have to see this game to understand just how wonderful it looks. But if the Zelda gameplay wearies you, then you'll be disappointed that Okami didn't trust in its own innovation enough to abandon the rather tired Zelda formula.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sega Skeptical About Wii Prospects

Sega marketing VP Scott Steinberg riled Nintendo fanboys worldwide today when he told Reuters that he is "a little concerned about the creative depth of the Wii pool." He went on to add, "The Wii will start to look really dated in a couple years when developers get more value from the 360 and learn more and more about the PlayStation 3. [...] How much value can developers and creative folks get out of this wrist motion two years from now, or 5 years from now, or 10 years from now? How can they design products that aren't too derivative of what's already out there?"

It's a question that really betrays more about the speaker than it does about the topic. Sega's premium release list for the Wii currently checks in at a grand total of six games, only two of which are currently out. Sonic and the Secret Rings is the latest entry in a decade-and-a-half-old franchise, in which a poor Wii control scheme is the perfect companion to gameplay that betrays a complete lack of understanding of the concept of "fun". Nights: Journey of Dreams is the latest entry in a decade-and-a-half-old franchise, the controls and gameplay of which we're yet to hear much about.

Ghost Squad, you'll be happy to hear, is an original title (or at least a port of an original arcade title), but Alien Syndrome returns true to form by being (wait for it) the latest entry in a decade-and-a-half-old franchise. Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz, despite all indications, was actually rather fun, though not exactly original, but their last title, The Golden Compass, is a movie license, so its badness is a mostly foregone conclusion.

I think when Sega asks how developers can create Wii titles that aren't derivative of what's already out there, it's not a rhetorical question. They'd really like to know. Can somebody help them out?

On The Way: Dynasty Warriors Gundam

Is it just me, or does Dynasty Warriors: Gundam sound like the greatest idea in the history of gaming, ever? It's like some kind of horrible curse that game developers keep creating reasons for me to buy an XBox 360. Damn you, game developers! Damn your eyes!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

A Tale of Souls and Swords

My favourite fighting franchise makes its way to the next generation.

Someone must have felt that Ivy's wardrobe was too restrained last time around, because that's some totally ludicrous fashion that she's almost wearing. In any other case I'd suggest that it was a bit silly, but this is Soulcalibur, the franchise which can do no wrong. Dagnabbit, it looks like I'm going to have to buy a next-gen system that's not the Wii. By which I mean, of course, an XBox 360.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Stupid Feed

I've just realised that when I update old posts to fix their tags, Blogger re-publishes them to my Atom feed. If you read The Dust Forms Words via a feed, you should know that the last post before this one should have been The Sic-Bo Problem.

Does anyone know how I can fix this? Can I turn off my feed prior to editing and turn it back on, or does that cause even bigger problems?

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Sic-Bo Problem

So here's a puzzle:

Last night we went to the Melbourne Crown Casino, which is a labyrinth of neon madness the likes of which mankind was not meant to comprehend.

In the midst of the roulette, blackjack, pontoon and far-too-many poker machines, there is a little game that the Crown likes to call "Sic-Bo". The rules of Sic-Bo are simple - three six-sided dice are rolled, and you bet on what the result will be.

There are all sorts of complex bets you can make, but relevantly to our problem the bottom area of the betting table allows you to bet on the results of single dice. The numbers one through six are shown, and you can place your chips on any of these numbers.

If you bet on a number, and that number appears on any of the dice, the game pays 1 to 1. (That is, your $5 bet wins you a further $5.) If the number comes up on two dice, it pays 2 to 1 ($10 for your $5). And if all three dice show the number you bet on, it pays 12 to 1 ($5 yields $60).

This, I have to say, initially confused us. Those are good odds. I believe the phrase "money farm" was used. As we saw it, this was guaranteed returns, such that everything we knew and understood about casinos was turned upside down.

Here's how our reasoning went. If you place a $5 bet on each and every one of the six numbers, you couldn't lose money. In a case where all three of the dice show different numbers, you'd lose on half the numbers and win 1 to 1 on the others, thereby breaking even. Where you got a double and a single, that was the same total win as singles, so you were even. And on in the 1 in 36 occasions on which triples came up, you pocketed a profit. Rinse and repeat; increase your stake to make the money come in faster. There is no dice result on which the house doesn't pay out; cocked dice results in bets off but no loss to the player.

Using this logic we started doing all sorts of interesting maths that suggested we should immediately quit our jobs and just work the Sic-Bo tables 24/7, happily raking in buckets of cash while the other players looked on in an intoxicating mixture of awe and admiration.

So I have two questions. The first, which we have now solved, is in the case where we bet evenly on all six numbers, how does the house make its money? And the second question, which we haven't finished the numbers on yet, is does it make a difference if you instead just bet continually on a single number?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

At Convergence

So I'm at Convergence 2007, and I guess it's a pretty good convention. I mean, I haven't really been to any of the panels, or any of the scheduled programming, but my hotel room is nice. If by nice I mean "carpeted". Because it has carpet.

It's not the fault of the panels. Really, it's me. If I was publishing a book, or, um, publishing a book, then every last panel would be hitting right on target, and it would be like I was in some kind of book-publishing heaven where sweet nectar flows from every faucet. The wish to engage with science fiction on a level beyond "how to write it" is clearly a defect in my personality that can only be cured through the judicious application of electricity.

Non-concession entry at the gate was $260, which it is pleasing to know has funded free alcohol at each of several book launches. There's no gaming stream or media stream or masquerade, but I do have the distinct pleasure of standing around at these launches and picturing how much fun I would be having if I enjoyed champagne. In my mind I'm drinking champagne while surrounded by fine ladies and dancing a saucy jig. Yes sir, it sure is a noteworthy jig.

It turns out that bringing my DS was a good plan. (That's the only system I brought; as always, VG Cats turns out to be topical in this regard.) Getting to the Hard Rock difficulty in Elite Beat Agents unlocks not only the Elite Beat Divas but also this character who has the head of a cat, which I've been deploying in multiplayer to pwn fellow Elite Beaters right in the face. Good times.

Tonight I'm off to the Crown Casino in company. I'm making tentative enquiries as to exactly how much money one has to spend at the roulette table to unlock bonus content or at least some kind of Pokemon but as yet replies are slow in forthcoming.

Regular gaming related bloggings will resume once I'm off this merry-go-round of gambling and sub-par convention programming. Keep your RSS readers tuned for further details.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Little Birdy Live At The Venue

I just saw Little Birdy tonight live at The Venue, Erindale. Absolutely fantastic. They opened with After Dark (video below) which was totally made to be performed live (vastly better than the clip), and followed through with most every song from the Hollywood album plus some of their earlier stuff.

Support act Utility were incredible and worth the price of admission all by themselves (especially the drummer). They have a rather dodgy Myspace page, for those interested, which features all the things you despise Myspace for, including auto-loading music. Praise them for their art and forgive them for their near-terminal netiquette-illiteracy.

There was another support act, Gilf, whose pub-rock stylings didn't greatly enthuse me, but my escort for the night was impressed enough to buy an album. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Custom Robo Arena Post-Mortem

As juvenile as it seems, consistently replacing the words "custom robo" with "penis" really does make Custom Robo Arena a better game.

In the world of Custom Robo Arena, "custom robos" are a big thing. They're odd-looking and they fit in your pocket, although they get larger when called into action. Anyone who's anyone has one, and those without are really nothing more than second class citizens suitable only for cooking and the raising of children.

Luckily, the sullen red-headed stepchild that you'll be playing is part of the custom robo crowd. Havingly only just hit puberty, you haven't been operating your custom robo for long, but it turns out that you're preternaturally good at swinging your custom robo up and down virtually any holosseum you care to name. It's no surprise that on your first day at a new school you quickly makes friends with the first people you'll meet - a boy named Daniel and a girl named Liv.

Daniel suffers from something of an insecurity complex and is disproportionately impressed by your custom-robo-related prowess. He has a custom robo of his own, of course, but he's not particularly good with it, and in any case yours is larger and capable of tricky maneuvers. Liv, being a girl, does not have a custom robo, but it turns out she's full of useful suggestions for how you can use yours.

Before long you'll be deploying your custom robo in a range of unlikely situations, ranging from winning local tournaments to fighting evil crime syndicates. You'll be constantly plied with custom robo advice from authority figures such as your dad, your friends, and discarded adult reading material. Even the local teacher lends a hand, despite being regularly reprimanded by his wife for playing with his custom robo in front of the schoolchildren.

Using your custom robo is a pretty repetitive process; one custom robo engagement is much like another. Luckily the basic gameplay is fairly enjoyable and any given scenario normally ends with a satisfying finish. It probably won't take you long, though, to get tired of the game's one-track mind. Most any problem in the game can ultimately be solved with a prolonged session of custom robo waggling.

Between matches it's important to keep your custom robo clean and shiny. The game will provide you with a polishing cloth for just this purpose, which you can apply using the DS touch screen. If you don't regularly give your custom robo a good rub-down, you'll find that its battle readiness will quickly decrease, leading to sub-optimal performance and premature weapon misfires.

You can buy a large variety of customisations and accessories for your custom robo, but there's not much incentive to get any of them, because your custom robo works just fine straight out of the packaging. When it comes down to a custom-robo face off, it really isn't what you have equipped, but how you use it.

Between the unchanging gameplay and the lack of incentive to upgrade, you'll probably get quickly tired of the casual custom robo scene. That's when it's time to start moving in new social circles, and luckily if there's one thing the internet was made for, it's servicing your custom robo. A quick trip into cyberspace through the magic of Nintendo Wi-Fi will quickly connect you to a worldwide network of custom-robo enthusiasts, all of whom are eager to see what you're made of. Real life partners are significantly more exciting than computer generated ones, and it's here that you'll really get to demonstrate just what you can do with your custom robo.

Ultimately, Custom Robo Arena is quite obviously trying to be Pokemon-with-guns, but despite translating Pokemon's turn-based action into a real-time format, it never really succeeds in capturing any of the charm or addictiveness of its inspiration. There are many, many better DS games available, so if you're going to buy this, you'd better really, really love your custom robo.

Convergence 2007, Melbourne

By the way, I'll be part of the non-writer's-guild Canberra posse attending this year's national science fiction convention in Melbourne this coming weekend. I fly in Friday early afternoon and leave late Monday, and I'm staying at the Rydges for the intervening period. Guests include Megatokyo's Fred Gallagher, writer Isobel Carmody, and... well, me. (Note: I am not an officially sanctioned guest. Possibly because the organisers thought they couldn't get me.)

It's all taking place over the Greg's Birthday Long Weekend, a public holiday which I happen to share with Her Majesty the Queen. Celebrations will occur at some point on the weekend, likely accompanied by alcohol.

If you're also attending, drop me a comment.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Eledees Post-Mortem

If you've played Wii Sports, you've mastered Zelda, you're done with Excite Truck, and you're looking for something new to show off the potential of the Wii, then Eledees is DEFINITELY for you.

Eledees (known as Elebits in the US) is a game I got to see demonstrated at last year's Tokyo Game Show. I watched the Konami booth girls using the Wii remote to fling around heavy furniture, construction machinery, and the occasional house, and then went home to tell all and sundry how I'd just seen "Katamari with guns".

And I wasn't far wrong. Eledees takes most of the gameplay elements that worked so well in Katamari Damacy and its sequels and puts them into the context of a light-gun game. Some unfortunate design decisions and a lack of last-minute polish mean that it's ultimately not as good as any of the Katamari games, but as a novel and tactile use of the Wii control system it's definitely worth your time and money.

Eledees, for those not aware, are the nun-punchingly cute critters that live inside our electrical devices and make them work. Arriving on Earth from some kind of space-lightning-meteor many moons ago, Eledees have lived in harmony with humans for lo these many years. Unfortunately, something terribly vague has now happened, causing Eledees to strike en mass and hide under your couches, wardrobes and fine china instead of generating power like the subordinate slave race that they are.

It's (apparently) up to one exceptionally whiny kid named Kai to whip the no-good Eledees back into line with the aid of a trusty Capture Gun pilfered from his science-loving parents. The Capture Gun works a lot like the gravity gun from Half-Life 2, in that you'll be using it to pick up, rotate, shake, and otherwise zap the bejeezus out of absolutely anything that isn't nailed down (and some things that are).

Each stage is set within a fairly familiar domestic environment, starting with Kai's bedroom and ultimately working into the backyard, the city streets, and eventually a fairly over-the-top amusement park. You're given a time limit and tasked with capturing the heck out of the sundry Eledees hiding in the vicinity. Some Eledees are right there in plain sight, sound asleep and snoring gently, and you can zap 'em right there and then with your capture gun to add them to your collection. The majority, though, are hiding under or inside nearby items, so you'll be using your gun to pick up objects, shake them down for spare change, and eventually flick them out of your way with fairly explosive force.

Eledees come basically in two flavours. Some Eledees give you raw wattage when captured. Wattage counts towards the point total that you need to clear the level, so it's pretty valuable. Also, when your wattage reaches certain levels, items in the vicinity will power up, starting with the area's overhead lighting, and then moving on to things like microwaves, televisions and lawnmowers. You can switch on these powered items to trigger a flood of extra Eledees, which you'll want to quickly round up to add to your pool.

The other sort of Eledees will give you gun power. Your gun starts out at a pretty pathetic power quota each stage, but as you suck up power Eledees it levels up, giving you the ability to pick up progressively heavier items. Where at first you'll be straining to lift pizza boxes, it won't be long before you're shifting pianos, flipping bulldozers, and ultimately mucking about with the orbit of the moon.

The controls are mapped to a combination of the Wiimote and the nunchuk. You'll use the Wiimote like a light gun, hitting either button A or B to unleash your lightning-like capture stream. Zapping Eledees will add them to your captured collection, while hitting a movable object will lock the beam to the object. You can continue holding down A or B once you've locked onto an object to use the Wiimote to move the object around.

The Nunchuk uses the directional stick to facilitate your movement - up and down are forward and back, and left and right strafe. You can turn by aiming the Wiimote at the edges of the screen, which (by the way) works vastly better here than it ever did in Red Steel, although you'll still have some flaky moments. The nunchuk "shoulder buttons" let you crouch low to go toe-to-toe with ground-based Eledees, or stretch up to see over barriers and into drawers.

The basic gameplay of Eledees is fantastically good. Shooting Eledees and throwing around giant objects are visceral and rewarding experiences, and you'll be wanting more of both long after you've finished the game's 30 levels. Unfortunatley, Eledees throws some complications into the mix which work against many of its strong points.

For starters, some missions will arbitrarily challenge you to complete missions "quietly" or "without breaking things". These really amount to the same sort of gameplay - it means don't throw things around. Instead of cutting loose like some sort of gravity-gun-equipped-bull in a china shop, you'll have to gently lift items and then set them back into place. Luckily there aren't too many missions like this, because not only does it take the fun out of the best parts of the game design, but it's also ill suited to the controls.

Picking things up and throwing them around is easy, but you can also (in theory) rotate things by twisting the Wiimote left or right. In practice, you can really only turn things about forty degrees each way, because that's about as far as your wrist will go before your bones snap. As you have to pick things up in order to rotate them, and then put them down to allow your wrist to return to its normal position, rotating things in practice doesn't really work. It's fine for situations where the game asks you to turn doorknobs and taps, but when you need to turn a bin upside down to shake Eledees out it's just a pain.

Also, when you lock onto an object, the object will always remain as far away from you as it was when you zapped it, meaning if you want to bring an object closer to you you'll either have to back up, put it down, and walk forward again, or engage in some haphazard item-juggling with the Wiimote. The game blithely ignores this limitation by regularly tasking you to put one item inside another, or on top of another, or otherwise do something made difficult by the imprecise controls. When you hit the late-game level made almost entirely of these annoying puzzles you'll probably have a "Hulk smash" moment and end up just ripping the scenery apart with your grossly overpowered capture gun. What makes it doubly annoying is that it would have been very easy to set the D-pad on the Wiimote to allow you to draw in and push out captured objects.

The game ships with both a multiplayer mode and a level editor, which both seem initially promising but don't really pan out. The multiplayer mode lets up to four players share the same screen while competing to capture Eledees, but only Player 1 will get to control the camera angle and movement so it's not really a particularly fair fight. After a brief taste you'll probably wish that the possibilities of a split screen mode had been more thoroughly explored.

The level editor lets you play with a reasonably large number of objects, save levels, and share them with friends via WiiConnect, but ultimately the interface is fairly poor, and in any case the levels already included in the game are deep enough that you're unlikely to feel the need for additional challenges.

And the levels are deep - there's a staggering amount of different objects to toss around, about a zillion Eledees to find and capture, and a good number of bonus goals and objectives to complete, from finishing the occasionally devilishly hard Challenge missions to finding the three Pink Eledees hiding in each level.

Between levels you're shown what the developers laughingly refer to as a "story", involving Kai's quest to hunt the Eledees. The European release (redubbed to use the word Eledees instead of the US Elebits) features voice acting so awful that it will make you long for the masterful artistic talent of mid-80s anime dubs. Kai's voice in particular grates like nails on a chalkboard. The best bet is to skip these hideous outings and dive right into the gameplay.

Overall, Eledees is not without its faults (of which there are many), but as far as shooting-gallery-gravity-gun-sandbox games go, it's the clear leader in a field of one. It's a fantastic use of the potential of the Wii control system, and it's the sort of game that will leave all your friends wanting to have a go. As Wii releases continue to be more or less average for the foreseeable future, there's no good excuse to buy anything else for the system until you own this.

Friday, June 01, 2007

On The Way: Blue Charlie

I'm still working on writing up Blue Charlie into some sort of replicable format, but in the mean time here's a hastily improvised trailer to keep your appetite sharp.