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Christian. (That means that I know that Jesus is Lord!) Programmer. Gamer. Weak 3D artist. Geek.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Christians in Cyrodill: Moral questions of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

As a Christian gamer, I often end up getting entangled in lots of 'violence in videogames' debates and other equally (yawn) interesting topics.

That isn't what I want to discuss here.

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I wonder do I have a reputation of being exceptionally slow at completing/starting videogames?

I yearned for Final Fantasy XII for a long, long time and for some reason have still failed to start it - other, frankly, more fun looking games keep popping up and demanding me to complete them - Gears of War was very 'demanding' so I finished it three times.. :-) (Great times with my friend, Dan 'PhoenixKnight1' Richards..)

Anyway, recently, since my re-purchase of an Xbox 360, I've been playing 'The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion' again.

Whilst, this is a gorgeous, compelling and involving game - because I've gained a lot of the beginning achievement points the beginning of the game was quite hard for me to get through (OT: Is this a downside to the achievement system: 'if you don't get an achievement it's not worth doing'? A discussion for another time perhaps..)

But let me tell you of what happened in Oblivion tonight because this should make all 4 of my readers run out and buy it.. (Monkston, I know you already own it - just play it for goodness sake!)

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I had heard from a beggar in the centre of the city that recruiters for the Dark Brotherhood come in the middle of the night to those who murder someone.. that is those who kill anyone who doesn't attack you first.

Now, I know that murder is wrong. I will not condone murder in the real world - but this is a fictional game. We're not talking about people, we're talking about 3D models of people.

I understand that some people find it hard to understand that I don't see a problem in 'killing' something that represents a human being - but you cannot kill that which isn't alive remains my argument.


So, I went to a place where I knew a beggar sleeps every night and waited. I threw fireballs and shot arrows at her - and guards came to her rescue but even after their arrival I continued with my assault - until she died.

After this I went to prison and 'served my time'.

Why'd I do all this? Well, merely because I want to join the 'Dark Brotherhood' so I can see what happens - and also get the achievements..

However, on my way out of prison a strange character handed me a mysterious note describing what appeared to be an invitation to the Thieve's Guild - the guild that was just rumored to exist because it was secret!

Basically, in order to join the thieve's guild, I had to find someone in particular in the city and steal their diary from them whilst the person is asleep.


There's a catch though.. there are two other 'recruits' trying to steal the diary too.

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To cut a long story short I got to the apartment and found.. one of the other recruits had got there first!! She had the diary and was leaving the house just as I entered.. so what do I do??

Well, I pick-pocketed her of course.

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I can't think of any game where you can do all those things..

I love Oblivion.. TBC

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Blue Dragon vs. Eternal Sonata

Today, I tried out the demo to 'Eternal Sonata' (a.k.a 'Trusty Bell' in Japan) - a JRPG much in the same vein as 'Tales of Symphonia' and also gave the 'Blue Dragon' demo another run through.

My conclusion, is that whilst 'Blue Dragon' draws me in greatly with a promise of a very lengthy game, great artwork from Toriyama and direction from the Father of Final Fantasy, Sakaguchi, and music from the legendary Uematsu.. Despite this, I'm inclined to agree with James Mielke.

Blue Dragon is boring. Yes, boring.

It looks beautiful (though I agree with Edge magazine, that Toriyama's art doesn't work as well in 3D without cell-shading, his characters looked better-off in 'Dragon Quest VIII') and the cut-scenes are of exceptional quality (as is the whole graphical feel of the game - especially in HD) and whilst I enjoy it's complex battle system and the timing elements involved (If you haven't, you really should check out the demo on Xbox Live Marketplace) - it really does seem rather, well, dated.

Basically playing in a very similar fashion to an old 'Dragon Quest' or 'Final Fantasy' game from 15-20 years ago, with a few extra bells and whistles thrown in, 'Blue Dragon' doesn't offer that much in the innovation department. It's turn-based battles are very formulaic and don't give the player much of a scare or thrill, it all seems quite by-the-numbers.

Eternal Sonata, or what it really should be called, Tales of Chopin (j/k), is another tremendous looking JRPG. It's combat is nothing short of superb and I found myself experiencing something I hadn't felt in quite a long while in this genre - I was having fun?!

The battles, which take place in real-time, allow you to strategically position yourself near or far from your opponent. Hits to their back take away more HP than front attacks - but you have a limited amount of time in which to take your turn.

My problem with this game though is the 'World Map' areas.

Eternal Sonata looks amazing, it's vibrant, colourful, full of life.. It's like a videogame equivalent of Walt Disney's Fantasia.

So then why did the developer decide it was a good idea to position the camera in a 'Final Fantasy VII'-like manner? Whilst 'Blue Dragon' has a movable camera so that I can view all the locations from whichever angle I like, 'Eternal Sonata' decides to force me to view things from the perspective they want me to view it from.

Sonata took two steps forward with it's superbly fun battle system but another two steps back with it's camera.

The 'Eternal Sonata' demo is currently only available on the American and Japanese 360 marketplace - but well worth checking out.

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Ultimately, (and I may well change my mind) I feel like I would probably rather purchase 'Eternal Sonata' than 'Blue Dragon' - I don't think I quite have the will to battle through 3 discs of tedious fighting and generic looking characters to find out about something I genuinely don't care about. I think it's 90 hours long, is that right?

Sonata? 30 hours long and one disc. 1/3 of the length of BD but probably three times as much fun.

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My gripe with both games though is their lack of 480p non-widescreen support.

Don't developers understand that if you don't have a widescreen TV it probably means it's either old (at which point small text is not a good idea) or it's small (so big black borders at the top and bottom of the screen aren't really going to help the situation!) - I remember reading that 50% of PS3 owners are still playing in SD - I'm sure that the percentage of 360 owners in SD can't be that different?

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Right now though, I won't purchase either game on release. I really don't feel that versus such heavyweights like Halo 3, Fallout 3, Virtua Fighter 5, Bioshock (more on that in the next article) that Eternal Sonata or Blue Dragon are worth the £40 entry fee. £20? Certainly. Well then, I'll wait six months after their release and enjoy them all the more then..

David

Saturday, 4 August 2007

A genius progression for a band that continues to change

This is taken from my iTunes review of Silverchair's latest album, 'Young Modern':

"Let me be honest. I loved Diorama, Silverchair's last album, before that I loved Neon Ballroom.

I remember buying 'Tomorrow' on single on the day of release - I've been watching this band since the release of their first record.

But this? Young Modern?!

This is Silverchair as Silverchair should be.


Progressive, developing, growing and shaping their music in a structured fashion - I loved Diorama so much that I was actually kind of expecting to be disappointed by this new record.

But this is exactly the progression that I could have hoped the band post-Diorama might have become.

Favourite tracks include: Straight Lines, Waiting all Day, Those Thieving Birds/Strange Behaviour, If you Keep Losing Sleep, Reflections of a Sound etc.

Check this album out - I guarantee you won't regret it. Best album for me, for the last two years even pipping Pearl Jam's eponymous album."

You can listen to the record online at Silverchair's website http://www.chairpage.com.

David