Friday, 2 August 2013

Motion Gaming Becoming Emotional Gaming:

Contrary to a certain vocal crowd's opinion, the Kinect has been both a mildly critical, and hugely commercial success. The hardware itself, when first reviewed, received a lot of positive feedback outside of the complaints related to latency and the issue with space. The software on the other hand, wasn't so well received and generally hasn't lived up to the potential touted by Microsoft.

It is a interesting piece of hardware, one that has been well received by a very large audience, but one that still has its detractors who use its somewhat lacking software as the crux of their argument against it. This is all honest criticism, but it tends to then spill into being critique of the hardware (some justified), and then further into critique and skepticism of the potential of motion gaming.

Outside of the commercial success of the Wii and Kinect, motion gaming is still not fully accepted as a way to improve or diversify the experiences that we currently enjoy. Arguably, it took until Motion+ and Skyward Sword until Nintendo themselves were able to display how motion controls can be used to build an experience. There is no doubt that a lot of motion games have been massive hits, like the Wii Sports titles, but they haven't really show how motion gaming can improve or build on traditional gaming experiences.

What we have now, from a hardware maker perspective, a great way to sell to the mass market. But from a traditional gamer perspective, something which has yet to really prove itself in how it can create more immersive experiences. Still considered as "gimmicks", shrugged at, and from some of the more emotionally irrational; despised. And this is where we are right now, and this is where Kinect 2.0 enters with the Xbox One.

One of the common critiques of the Xbox One is that it comes with Kinect 2.0. There doesn't appear to be any separate bundle, and actually, it seems to have been made integral. As it stands, you will not be able to buy or use an Xbox One without Kinect 2.0. This has some speculate that it is the reason why the console is as expensive as it is, and the more paranoid will likely link it to Prism in some shape or form...

Perhaps some potential consumers would find this a more attractive deal if Kinect on its first outing, was supported by some top quality titles. But outside of Kinect Sports, Child of Eden and Gunslinger, the content which could justify it is pretty thin.

There are of course, the alternate applications. Like the voice element and how Kinect will be used to control your TV. But again, this console, from a traditional gamers' perspective, is a games console. And gaming is certainly what they want to see as being the focus, with the hardware and built in software existing to elevate the gaming experience. Due to this, it's important for Microsoft to show that Kinect 2.0 is a step up, and a step up which will be a benefit to games.

When looking at a lot of motion games, we tend to see how these games essentially use the body of the player to replace the controller. Instead of pressing a button, you are moving an arm. This, although creating a different way to play, isn't really creating new forms of gaming. It isn't allowing for things that were not possible before. Although Wii Sports allows you to play tennis, you have always been able to play virtual tennis. Perhaps you haven't been able to swing the virtual racket with your arm, but you have been instigating the same movement with the touch of a button. But, Microsoft did pitch "you are the controller", so it is doing what they said it would, but this is what they need to ditch for the Xbox One and Kinect 2.0 to really shine.

The new Kinect has been said to be able to recognise faces, track the bone structure of a person, and also work in a much smaller space. The latency has been reduced, and the accuracy increased. But more importantly, it's will be packaged with every Xbox One. So now, developers who want to use this technology can now be safe in the knowledge that the Xbox One audience is also the Kinect audience. Now is the time to experiment, and to feel more comfortable with taking a risk on Kinect integration. But this doesn't mean that hand movements, and gestures to trigger actions are what is to be expected of every game. It can be more than that.

We are entering a generation with more power being packed in the consoles, with greater AI being possible, along with more animations and variables. But all of this isn't too much when you consider that you will be essentially playing these experiences the same way that you have been through the last generation. And it is here where Kinect comes in.

The best way to help explain something, is to offer an example, so I will do just that:

You and your party of a standard RPG fare, a high-fantasy environment, are taking a brief respite to make your next move. In current RPG's, there may be a dialog exchange which results in a dialog tree and the decision itself, being what changes the game moving forward.

Taking one of the answers present, may also have some impact on your party depending on how the game is designed. This itself is still pretty rare in games, but we can still go further than that.

Let's consider that Kinect is tracking your face and body. Body language is a huge factor in how we communicate, the lack of it is one of the reasons why there are so many misinterpretation when having discussions purely through text with other people.

Anyway, the question is asked, but while you are choosing what to say, shrugs, sighs, tension through twitches can be picked up, interpreted and transferred to your party members. Perhaps a party member losses a bit of patience, judges your ability to lead. Maybe a little trust is lost. The shrug may even prompt another of your party to make the decision instead. A new dimension is added to dialog trees and making decisions. It is no more about just the choice, but the atmosphere around these choices and how your party members react to you.

Now, if the voice recognition is improved to a point where it can detect tone accurately, your angry cries have an impact on your companions too. They can fear you, lose respect. Alternatively, they'll react to your positive expressions, and support you further if you show appreciation to actions which they make.

This design can also be applied to any games which require a level of management, whether that be in conquering worlds or taking your football team through the season. Your emotions become just as important as your actions. You angry shouts as to why your forward didn't take a shot are now reacted too.

The times you laugh at in-game dialog will be heard and reacted to, out of place or not. You shake your head at questions and a real reaction is recorded. It takes your genuine emotion and inserts it into the game, with the game reacting to you as a person, and not solely to what you are allowed to do through detached button inputs. This how motion gaming could work, and how Kinect could be used.

All of this is nothing unless applied. And even though it may be possible, we likely won't be seeing much of it until later in the generation.

But regardless of when or if it happens, it is there as an opportunity to really change the way that we play. It can provide new experiences that we have not been able to have before. A new level of immersion where you as a person become more important to the game than you as the player character.

Now... if you add the Oculus Rift to this equation, it starts to be really exciting...

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Touchy Feely

It cannot be denied; Mobile Gaming has become a top tier time killer. Everywhere you look, you will see Joe commuter snipping binding, flinging poultry or halving produce. A brief two minute respite allows for a dip into a snippet of gaming which has been conveniently designed for that small window of time.

There is often debate over how influential Mobile Gaming will be in shaping the future of games as a whole. There is also debate over if Mobile Phones or Tablet Computers can be considered a gaming platform at all. Some dedicated Hand-Held (DS, 3DS, PSP, Tiger Electronics etc...) gamers will argue the differences for as long as there is an ear to listen...who am I kidding, it doesn't matter if anyone is listening...

Regardless of what is said about Mobile Games, the one constant is the two sides; some love them and some hate them. Maybe not always in those extremes, but for as many people who play them, there will always be a section of potential users that just seem to despise them.

Now, I'm not going to go into the games themselves. That's something else entirely from what I want to cover here. What I want to discuss is the method of input that is common with Mobile Games; Touch.

Unfortunately, a dislike for the games has also meant a dislike for the way that people play on Mobile Phones. As they both came into the mainstream at the same time (Touch and Mobile Games), it's difficult to separate a Mobile Game, from Touch controls. Because of this, Touch controls now carry a very negative stigma. They are the current Motion Controls if you will.

Some of the complaints are kinda justified, but misguided somewhat. Most are due to generalization. And believing that Touch controls mean Mobile Games, and that dislike for Mobile Games means that complaints are hurled towards the controls. Again, this is like Motion Controls.

There are some common complaints that I want to try and address. I won't say that I am speaking facts, but I am pretty confident that most of the issues that players have with Touch controls are simple misunderstandings.

I have decided to challenge three of the most common complaints that I here directed towards Touch, and address why I believe that it is a case of misdirected dislike for the often misunderstood form of input. 

1 - Imprecision

This is an issue that, well, isn't really and issue. Okay, so there can be some problems with it. So, let's take a comparison, to begin with, we'll use a PC. The basic interface, like Windows. When you point the cursor and click, the interaction is at the cursor you would expect. It is only misplaced if you misplace it. Now, this rings true with touch screens too. Nintendo knew of this with the DS, so they gave the user a stylus. But now, with most Mobile Phone screens, you will just use your finger or thumb, hopefully. This can lead to problems because your finger can be larger than the interactive elements of the interface. But, is this really the problem, the fact that you Touch?

If we look at the User Interface for MMO's, we see that they have been designed for use with a mouse to the most part. Some screen elements are very small, but that's okay due to the precision of the cursor. When playing a game using a controller, the interface is usually in listed elements for scrolling with directional buttons or D-Pad, and also case sensitive button wise. Buttons are active only when they have functionality. It works when you are limited to only around 8-10 buttons, or less.

A lot of touch based games, are still using UI that would be better suited to one of the above methods. It became the idea that to an extent, UI can be standardized for the most part. But PC to Console (and vice-versa) ports, would certainly suggest otherwise. Yeah, there are some games that are adapting, but we rarely see the same stretch of change that we see with other gaming platforms. The UI isn't being developed for Touch, if it was, then imprecision would be much less of a factor.

If we take a look at the upcoming PlayStation Vita, Sony chose a new interface to suit Touch commands much better. This is the step that needs to be taken. And this is not just applicable for the User Interface, this applies to all areas of interaction. If it is designed to cater for a finger or a thumb, rather than a cursor or controller, then it will be precise for a finger or thumb.

2 - Interaction

Now, this isn't a case of direct interaction being a problem, it's a case of indirect interaction being the problem. This is really about virtual control pads and buttons, they kinda suck. Or the simulation of a control set-up or layout on a Touch Screen. A virtual control pad is not the best way to implement Touch controls, and because of that, it shouldn't be a means of which Touch controls could be judged. That would be like asking you to browse a web page using a controller, or playing a racing game or fighting game with a keyboard. Sure, all of them can be done...the same with how you can play games with a virtual controller...

Similar to how the UI has been developed, the control methods for some games often just try and simulate a more traditional input method. But this is just a quick-fit, and it should not be used for how well the controls work. They should be judged on the experiences where the Touch based controls seem tailored for the game. Where the design is envisioned with the Touch Screen in mind.

The fact that a mouse and keyboard combination works poorly (or not so well...) with some games like some sports titles, and then also racing games or fighting games, does not take away from how well it works for FPS titles and RTS games. Now, I'm sure some will say "I can play those games fine with a Keyboard and Mouse", well, you could probably find a larger group of people say that can say they can play a Mobile Game with a virtual controller.

3 - Flexibility

A lot of the time, this complaint is due to what has been released already, rather than the potential. But it should be remembered, that these related issues that raise the complaints, are really the games and their design, not the limitation of the controls.

Touch controls offer instant interaction with the playing environment, as well as having some of the advantages of the other, more traditional control methods. Whatever you can do with a mouse and the cursor, you can do with your finger. Playing an RTS, you may want to drag a window over a group, this can be done with a Touch based interface. Accuracy when playing an FPS type game? A Touch interface can do this very well too if the elements have been designed with the finger in mind, like mentioned in my first point.

How about a controller? What can be taken from that comparison? Well, the controller is a tool that does nothing perfectly (bar maybe platform games) but everything good enough. But the fact that companies still release stuff like Joysticks, Steering Wheels and a plethora over Custom Controllers (Guitars, Dance Mats, Steel Battalion...) shows that yes, even the humble controller cannot do it all.

Will Touch controls ever be as flexible as the components on a controller? The stick, the D-Pad, the buttons, the triggers? Likely not, but that could depend on the games designed for it in the future, perhaps it will open up new genres. But even then, that doesn't remove flexibility completely. Plus, if you really, really want, you can still use that virtual controller...

So, how would I sum all of this up? Well, I think that at the moment, too many enthusiast gamers are looking at the games and associating the sometimes debatable quality, with the control method being used. This has actually been the complaint with Motion Gaming for most of it's life also. But it's not directly related to the controls, it's just how they are being applied. With this kinda of logic, and just flipping it over, you could say that all games that use a Keyboard and Mouse, or all games that use a Controller are all great games. And I think we can all see how untrue that would be.

With more and more developers becoming familiar with the devices that employ this method of input, the more games we see with it being utilized in the best way possible. But the Touch Screen as a gaming tool is still in the early days. Even though the DS had it, it was used as a secondary input on most games, rather than the primary, so even with that time taken into account, it still wasn't being used in the way that it is now.

The most disappointing part of it all, is that most of the complaints come from those who would call themselves gaming enthusiasts. Why would an enthusiast of any hobby, want to stop the branching of it's potential? They're just a new way to play.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Final Fantasy: I'll take a risk! I'll choose the average!

My PSP recently broke on me. We’ll, it was quite a while a when I think about it. Maybe even 6 months…time flies… Anyway, I bought a replacement for Christmas. It was necessary; I have a bunch of games and many that I have yet to finish. Some of which, I have yet to even play. But the PSP isn’t my focus, it’s the game that I’m looking to pick back up again. I’m going to play Final Fantasy.

I started a game on Final Fantasy almost a year ago. It was possibly even longer, likely even longer in fact. I do this kind of thing a lot.

My intention was to start a new; new characters, new experience. I got into the party select screen and pondered over who to choose. It’s a tough choice. For a game so primitive, it certainly knows how to get the gears turning even before the get go.

At first, I couldn’t see past choosing Warrior, Thief, Black Mage, White Mage. I considered the Monk, but I just couldn’t see his worth. The Red Mage is a different kind of beast though. This guy has plenty to offer on top of his snappy dress sense. So I pulled together a team of Warrior, Thief, Red Mage, Black Mage. I dropped the White Mage because although useful, they are boring in comparison.

As the story started to roll, I just kinda sunk inside myself. I couldn’t be bothered. I really didn’t want to start again. I was really pumped up before too. Even writing this I feel pumped to have a Red Mage on my team. But the reality is, is that I don’t think I have the motivation to start. I don’t believe that this is the fault of the game though, it’s purely me. I rarely replay stuff. And because of this, it really makes me believe in the value of multiplayer. I have played many multiplayer games over and over, but single player games are limited to a handful.

Even though my motivation took a hit, I still did want to play. I wanted to get back into it. It deserves it. The game is solid. So rather than ditch my entire plan, I just boot up my previous save. A save that has a team of Warrior, Thief, Black Mage, White Mage… I’m so boring.

I’m not too far in. My Warriors of Light are at level 28 and this is actually a smidge higher than what is needed. I didn’t do any leveling up thought. It’s all due to the Earth Cave. Now, this place isn’t tough, it’s just big and dull. It lasts forever, and it’s just a bore to navigate through. I hate any map that uses a spotlight of sorts, and this does just that. So it’s insult to injury, a big long injury.

I can’t complain too much though. This is an old game. To moan like that would make me a tool. But this game got me thinking back to the Legend of Zelda. That game, like Final Fantasy is just horrible. They’re good games, but they aren’t friendly at all. The narrative is near non-existent so it’s easy to get lost or stuck. If something like this was released now days, it wouldn’t be well received. Players get told how to move now. They get told, how to move.

These aren’t insights. I think they are well known. It’s just this characteristic actually became a benefit. Why? Well, usually a long layoff from playing a game means that it’s hard to pick up the story. Who does what, where do I go now and why. With this, it’s not the case. There isn’t really a story. I know I need to get Crystals. It even shows this in the menu screen. So this means that I can jump back in. There’s little to lose, so there’s little to have to pick up. It’s an odd positive.

Back to the actual game, and I find myself on the bottom floor of the cave. I was closer to finishing this area than I thought. Good!

I walked into a room or is it cave? Can it be a cave if it’s already in a cave? Is it a cavern? I’ll call it a room. RPG’s have rooms. The have chests and potions even though their actual names may differ from game to game. So room is fine for now. I walked into a room, and there was the Crystal and the Boss of the Earth Cave, the Lich. I was a little intimidated. I hadn’t played. I wasn’t sure how well I would cope. I didn’t know if my team would have the stones to see it through. Only time would tell, and not much time either.

The Lich does look like a real test. He’s about 7 times your size (as in mass…mass in a 2D sense…) and has a bare skull as its face. So no skin on his face. Or just no face. Or you could say skull like. He has some swirls of what I assume is magic around his person and he is draped in a long black cloak. Yeah, he’s not original. He looks like Death as he appears in, well, everything I guess. But regardless of his menacing appearance, I made light work of him. My team may have just been a tier too strong, but in 8 turns he was done. A combo of slashes and fire spells dropped him in no time. He didn’t pose a threat. No one was harmed.

After the battle, a minor cutscene plays and the Crystal is restored. Nice. And even nicer is the fact that there is a warp. One that means I do not have to walk through the cave.

Back on the surface and a whole new challenge presented itself; where did I leave my boat? I saved the game and started to wander around. I was thinking if there was a map screen. I’m sure there was. Perhaps I was confusing it with something else. I tried a few button combos but there was no map. What I did find though, is that I was able to be smart enough to press the reset combination even though I knew that’s what those buttons would do. Genius.

Luckily, I had just saved. If I hadn’t, I would likely have never played the game again. It would have been forever shelved. Shelved meaning crushed by my bare hands. Well, back to looking for my boat.

I did find it, but this wasn’t the end of the wandering. Now I needed to remember what to do next. As this wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, I just sailed around with the hopes of coming across where to go next. The layout was bringing back some memories and I popped into any villages that I came across in the hope of finding my goal.

Finally, I land the ship in an area that looks a little unwelcoming. There are trees almost immediately as you disembark. After the first couple of bouts, I knew that this was more like it. The bad guys were tougher. Perhaps I’m going the right way. I was.

After a sprawling forest, there was a small village. Inside the village is where I could find the sages. These old boys are the ones that can help me on my way. Speaking to them reminded me a little of what had happened before. And then I spoke to the trigger who mentioned of the awaking of the Fire Spirit. I can’t remember if it was Spirit, but it’s something like that. I was congratulated for my returning of the Earth Crystal and hinted towards having to kill the Fire Mistress. Convenient really.

So, I know where to go now. Well I don’t, but I at least know what to do. I have to kill someone. It’s not a novel goal in game terms, but it’s an honest one. Oh, and I now have a canoe!

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

A Walk Down Arcade Lane

I’ll be getting back to ARGO soon. I’m looking forward to it. But I have yet to have the time. I did have the time to venture into my local arcade though.

I haven’t been to the arcade for a while. The last time was about 2 months ago when I went and played a couple of rounds of Street Fighter IV. It wasn’t a complete success. I didn’t win any of the 3 matches that I played. Regardless, it was fun and I at least picked off one round per bout. I was happy with that as I haven’t played a fighter using a stick for quite a while, perhaps a year or so before this time. Even before that I hardly used one. Where I lived before there weren’t any arcades. I had also become accustomed to playing fighting games using a controller, specifically the DualShock.

Back to this recent trip. The arcade that is nearby is clean, and modern. It’s a nice atmosphere and there is a good mixture of games. The games are a pretty standard bunch, but a decent variety never the less. Just to give you an idea; Street Fighter IV, King of Fighter XIII, Tekken 6, Initial D, Lethal Enforcers 3, House of the Dead 4, Drum-Mania, Beat-Mania, King of Fighter 2002, Gundam vs, Warriors of Valour and a bunch more. Some rhythm, some card and some sport. Like I said, it’s a good mix.

I’m always happy that smoking is no longer allowed inside; it makes for a breathable atmosphere. Some other arcades still get away with it, but they are usually loaded with slots and horse racing. Anyway, I start by taking a tour around the place, have a scout around the machines and see the other guys playing. There is a reasonable amount of space and it isn’t completely packed out. Walking around isn’t a difficult task and I can take my time and spectate without burdening.

So it’s time to step up to the plate! I’m not looking for competition, I just want to play. First up is Lethal Enforcers 3. I don’t know why I chose to play this, perhaps it’s my desire to play Time Crisis. Before I played, I studied the flow of the game a little – which isn’t a complex – but there is a problem; the screen seems to be screwed. It’s showing a double image. It’s not a massive staggering of the images, but it’s certainly notable. Regardless of this, I pop in some coins and take a blast.

The game is simple enough but different for a Light Gun game in some aspects. I am to compete against my AI partner to try and amass the highest score. During the gameplay - bar the text that says I’m ‘leading’ - I don’t take any notice of this gaming element. I chose my character (I don’t think that there is a difference between the available options) and choose my AI buddy-come-rival. Or vice versa, which ever fits.

The main in-game mechanic that works as the game's core interactive feature is that of a shield. It’s basically the Time Crisis’ cover system on the go. It works, but the raising of the gun that triggers it can be either too sensitive, or unresponsive. Add that to the screen issues and it’s far from a fun play experience. It’s a shame really; it’s set up as a decent enough shooter, it’s just marred by hardware issues. I played and completed the first level and then lost my three lives on the second level and didn’t “CONTINUE” in the 9 seconds that they offered me.

One machine that I was eyeing up since I entered was King of Fighters XIII. I love the King of Fighters series. I love the characters and back stories. This was a game that I had been waiting to play for a long time. Playmore reworked the sprites and art direction for XII – a game I also never played – so I was longing to see how it looked on a crisp display. This was going to be my first jump back into KoF since XI, a game that I loved and believe had the strongest fighting system. Some purists may argue that that honour belongs to 2002 or even 98. But I loved XI, it was the one I found to be the most fun and the varied roster really offered a lot. Bar the last boss it’s the best to date…in my opinion that is. It’s the one I enjoy the most at any rate.

So here I am, on the back of playing my favourite entry into my second favourite fighting game series (Guilty Gear being my favourite). Normally I would be a little nervy because I wouldn’t know the caliber of my opponent. King of Fighters has a player base that is usually pretty dedicated and skilled. But in this case, the screen for the second player was broken. It displayed but it was distorted and unclear, an odd blessing perhaps…

Well anyway, here we go. I have been waiting an age for this. In go the coins and up pops the select. I won’t take too many risk with my selection and I go for a team that consists of Terry, K’ and Maxima. The colour select via a list is a cool alternative to pressing different buttons. I try to colour code my team to be red. My first match-up is the Hero Team (I’m unsure of the actual name in this version) which consists of Kyo, Benimaru and Daimon. Before the match started I twizzled the stick and drubbed the buttons to get the feel. I wasn’t liking the stick. Anyway, a combination of poor skill and move spamming AI made my excited and giddy persona drop to that of a man being marked by a storm cloud. I wasn’t happy. I KO’d one of the Hero Team. But that didn’t matter. It wasn’t a consolation. I couldn’t do any moves. I played like shit.

At this point, I rapidly jiggle the stick feigning control malfunctions to any onlookers. The head of the stick looked like it had been gnawed on anyway, so it helped support my act. But I had waited over 2 years to play the updated version of KoF that I wasn’t going to stop there. I dropped in another coin and selected a new team. This time I chose Kim, Ash and Kula. Kula is an odd choice, I’m not good with her and I can’t remember her moves. I dunno what to tell ya… I still picked the colours, nothing uniform, just whatever.

The fight gets underway and this time I’m having a bit more luck, but not much. My Kim is easily bested and deservedly so. I played like crap. I’m up against K’s team this time. K’ busted my ass. Now I had Ash. I like playing as Ash and it seemed so did the cabinet. I was able to pull of some moves and string some stuff together. I took down K’. It was at this stage that I really took a look and saw what Playmore had put together. Some of Ash’s animations are sublime. They have put in such a great effort to capture the characters in more ways than just stylizing the basic sprite, and Ash’s crouching weak punch really shows this. Anyway, Maxima settled me pretty quickly in the next round. The same light work was made of Kula. I won’t play again. I don’t want to be ridiculed by the machine anymore.

I had time for one last game and for this, I chose Virtual Tennis 3. I always seem to end up playing it at some point. It’s just an excellent game. And to play, I chose and excellent player; Federer. Or I cop-out and take the easy route. Take whichever reason you prefer.

My first match-up was against Blake. I only dropped one point in the first set in which I played some great base line shots. Or so I thought. I was proud of myself again. I gave a mental middle finger to King of Fighters. The second round I lost, and this just confirmed once more what was known since Super Tennis; I can only play at the bottom of the screen. But I won once we changed again. Now onto the second round!

This is a game that makes you look good while playing. It’s simple to pick up and rewarding to play. Each strike of the ball is delayed a fraction of a second to act as the impact, and this works wonderfully. It feels heavy when you strike, just as it should. You feel agile and responsive and truly feel like you are controlling the strokes and the player. I win through the second match with great pleasure and self-satisfaction. David Nalbandian would likely want to punch me in my smug face.

The next match, I play through the first game and lose, but I’m okay. I love how this game plays. But then I get a phone call. It’s time to go. But I’m happy to leave on this note; a high note of satisfaction. It felt like I could play good. The game made me look good. On the other hand, Kind of Fighters made me look like I had no fingers.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

It Cheats

I love Bejewelled. It’s great. I'm stepping away from ARGO for a moment because well, I play other games too. I’m not a huge Social gamer – as in gaming on Social Networks – but I enjoy playing a good game regardless of where it is. And Bejewelled is a good game in the very least.

Surprisingly, this is the first time that I have actually played the game. I never played it on a Mobile platform, the very platform that made it popular as far as I am aware. Perhaps I’m missing out, it may very well be the core version, one that allows the game to be played in the way that it is intended. If this is the case, then at some point I surely must give this a go.

When I say first time, I don’t mean ever. I have been playing it for some time now, a few months or so. Its entertainment value hasn’t dipped in this time. This may partially be due to how Pop-Cap has added a timer. It creates a goal with its limitation. It’s an excellent way to add challenge, but one that is finding its place in fewer games now days. This is partially due to the fact that a lot of high profile games are built in a different way. The challenge is not related to the time. It’s not needed.

This isn’t the first time I have played this type of Puzzle game. I was and am a big fan of Puzzle Quest which I played on the PSP. I have been told that this is the inferior version though. Well, regardless of that, it’s still an excellent game bar the fact that the computer cheats. The computer cheats in a lot of games, but in Puzzle Quests it starts greifing you. If it was a real person, it would likely have been the kid in school who says that he has done outlandish things; “My uncle used to train Hulk Hogan” or “I finished Super Mario Bros. without using jump”. General bullshit. Just like what this Puzzle Quest AI offers. Each lucky row it picks up, it’s like a “I’ve got a new N64” while you’re there with your SNES. Well the jokes on it if it doesn’t have an expansion pack.

Anyway, Puzzle Quest’s AI aside, it’s still a great game. This is partially due to the map like addition and RPG elements, but it’s the puzzle side of the game that brings you back. Who would have thought matching coloured blocks could be so much fun when playing Connect 4 is so boring. Actually, Connect 4 is okay, it’s one of the better board games if you can call it that. It’s no Master Mind, but hey what is?

Back to Bejewelled. It doesn’t have the AI scum, so that is something that doesn’t have to be dealt with. Instead, you are up against time. Something consistent and challenging and also, slightly soul destroying. Yes, Bejewelled for all its colours and varied audience can just sap the will out of a person.

Picture this; you have just seen your buddy grab a decent score. It’s a new week so yours is clear. Time to show them you’re in the competition this week. You get your Free Spin and bring home decent amount of coins. This is a great feature by the way Pop-Cap. You select +5 time, perhaps Random Jewel and then it’s a preference or availability. Multiplier if it’s free, perhaps Detonator if it isn’t. This I find is a decent set up. Ready to go!

When you start, it can go two ways; there’s either a few bunches that you can see straight away or one or two near the top. If this is the case, you’re fucked. We start matching and it’s going okay, time ends and we can throw down a 150K score. This is about my average. I’m no hero, but I would say I’m okay at the game. We go again, some decent momentum but finish around the same mark. This can happen and usually does happen a bunch of times. You could give up at this point and return at a later date, or you can keep going. The latter is the choice that shouldn’t be taken.

So you have decided to go again. At this point, your mouse control and click have become a little more erratic. Focusing on the jewels becomes a problem themselves; the more you concentrate the more it seems like your vision is fucking up. You see your score or have an instinct that you are doing shit, and take long pauses during play as you know you are defeated. When you do build up a rhythm, it’s one at a time; a row of three, a row of three, a row of three. You feel as though you have no skill. Still playing, and there’s nothing you can’t see anything to match up. Your hint pops up and points at a line that has a coin jewel as part of it or a multiplier. You can’t see the lines because of these jewels throw you off.

Play again. Your vision and coordination has gone to shit. A few rows and you try and find something by shakily moving the mouse around the grid to help focus your vision. Ah! At the top! Noooo! This is when you realize that just like Puzzle Quest any many EA Sports games, that this game, this friendly as a fat man game, cheats. It fucking cheats. You make a three at the top, the jewels drop and whoa, what a coincidence, another three. They dropped just the jewels I needed. How lucky, again, and again…just enough to keep ticking over. This happens until you break out. You get trapped by this cheating mechanism, and it locks you down. It’s not assistance at all. At this point you’re so pissed off that you might just let the time run out. Why not, you can’t win, not if you’re playing against time that cannot be controlled and the drops are only there to make sure that you can continue and nothing more. What’s the point?

The only thing that is worse than when this fucker cheats like this, is when it does this to fuck up your good scores. There you are, comboing the shit out of the ores and dropping points and special gems everywhere. And then it happens; only one line left and it’s at the top. At this point you may as well just throw your computer out of the nearest window and realize that everything is down to fate or cheaters or both. Bejewelled is both. It chooses what you can score, no skill, you are locked to what you will get when it loads up. Those special gems don’t do shit. I only choose the Detonator to make me feel like I can change fate. But then you are also competing against a cheater. It doesn’t matter. This is why Pop-Cap gives you a free spin.

So my vision is screwed. My mouse control is all messed up. My shoulders have dropped and I see someone above my score with about 200,000 more points than me. Great. I hate Bejewelled.

ARGO: Characters and Cut-Scenes

So here I am, ready to create. I choose Noblian after coming to my senses and realizing that the reason that I am interested in this MMO is because of the tech edge. I wanted Sci-Fi, something a little fresh. High Fantasy is so strong in MMOs it's almost hard to avoid. I have nothing against that, but it get's kinda tiring when one of your first few quests are kill 10 Goblins. I don't want to kill any more Goblins. That's not saying ARGO won't have any, chances are it will have a Goblin substitute. Perhaps they'll be a Gobin or something to that effect. Anyway, I can't see shit without a character, so It's about time I took a look.

As I mentioned before, the art direction looks a little strange in regards to how they are armoured. It looks like the A-Team outfitted them in the garage using lawnmower parts and bug zappers. But hey, the actual polish and quality is more than fair. They models look good. They are clean.

Not to break the trend, ARGO has pretty much what you would expect with it's classes. The usual are all there; The Paladin, Rogue, Hunter, Babarian type and so on, just some renaming to help them fit in. So for the Noblians, we have; Warrior, Protector, Scholar, Bomber, Explorer, Chaser, Paladin and Priest. They're pretty self explanatory and it is easy to see who is who bar a few exceptions. The Explorer seems to be a Hunter/Ranger of some kind, the Chaser is a Rogue and the bomber might be a Mage. I'm not sure. But see for yourself.

At this point, I notice that I can select "Previous Screen". This is pleasing, all the arseing around I did before choosing a Faction in the first place was a wasn't necessary. A fault of my own, but it still wouldn't have hurt to have information of some kind on the website. So anyway, I take full advantage of this as I should, and return to the "Previous Screen". The previous screen here being the Faction select screen. Now, this next thing kind of bothers me. I have to watch the cutscene again. The one before the Faction select. So it isn't "Previous Screen" at all. It should be called "Cutscene". No, not really, that would have been stupid. But it should have fucking said "Press ESC to Skip". That would have been some pretty useful information at this point.

Anyway, I'm back at the Faction select and this time choose Floresslah. Why not, let's see what the deal is. First is the cutscene, now the line-up. As expected, it's the same bunch just rejigged in some fancy armour. I wasn't really expecting the look that they were given. Not that it isn't original, I just expected something a little more generic. Instead it's like some kind of organic weaponry and armour. They have guns and stuff, but now they look a bit more natural looking, actually they just look like lasers. I don't like this look. I don't like the armour either. It looks like something from Hercules, the TV show with big Kev Sorbo. It's rubbery. Even though that wouldn't matter at all as it's not trying to convince me that it's real. It's a game. How can it look rubbery. I'm a twat.

Well, I'd finished looking and felt comfortable with my original choice. So I clicked the "Cutscene" button and watched a couple more before I was able to get to the character select screen. At this point I still didn't know that pressing Escape would skip it. This might be common PC or MMO knowledge, I don't know. But I wouldn't mind being told. Add text next time.

When I create my character in MMOs, I don't go specifically for a class. I have been Rogues, Paladins, Warriors, Priests and Mages. I even give the specialists a go if they are available. It's a similar story with the gender that I go for. It's not set, it just depends on what I feel comfortable with when I match the class to the race or faction.

After clicking through the available options, I decided to go for Explorer. At this point, I am still assuming that it's a Hunter/Ranger, perhaps I'm way off. But I like the idea, it looks kinda cool and I don't usually play as ranged classes. For this one, I opt for female. I don't always choose female, I go with what I think will fit. For example, the Night Elf Priest I made in World of Warcraft was a fella. That choice was partially due to the fact that female Avatars look like shit. But I was happy with that. My Rogue in Shariya on the other hand was female though. It suited better I thought. So for ARGO, it's female!

I like editors. I used to spend hours in the Capcom vs SNK 2 editor and that was only for colours. I would spend hours on hours changing every character and create a new colour set for them. Each one always ended up black and red though. But still, it was cool. I used the make kits on Pro Evolution Soccer too. Tweak the colours and design of created teams. Hours of fun! Because of this, I would say that I am a pro when it comes to editors, and ARGO's editor quite frankly rocks. It's great for an MMO. It really is quite robust and it offers plenty of options.

To begin, it's hair colour. I always choose silver. I'm an Anime fan so what do you expect. It looks Anime at least, in real life it just looks old. Still going through the colour selections and I opt for a pale skin tone that is pale. That's all there is, you can have a green tinge but the skin offerings are pretty slim. As usual I go for a purple iris and similar lip colour. Yep, I can choose that. As I said, the editor offers up some great stuff. There are some tattoos but I don't fancy any of those. So now I move onto the body. This again is pretty solid. I can change nose, lips, head. Mess with limb thicknesses and the rest. I make some minor adjustments, go for the not to tall, but taller than average height and set the hips. I'm happy. She looks great.

I look over to see if there is anything else and then click. It's time to go! Wait! Strangely, it offers the chance to choose a tunic. Your starting clothing. Too late. But because I am me, I can't have that. I need to see what I have missed. So I shut down the game and reload. Now, I didn't mention this earlier, but it took two attempts to create my character. Halfway through the first try I had a connection error. So this is going to be the 4th time of seeing the Noblian cutscene. And no, I still didn't know about using Escape.

I checked the tunics and to be honest, I could have been wearing a better one. The others (there are three) are much better than the one I have equipped. Mine looks like shit, she looks as if she...I don't know, it just looks shit. This bothers me, but I'm not going through all of that bollocks again. I'll stick with what I have even though it will bother me. Fuck it. I'm not going to put in the effort to do it again, I don't put in much effort to socialize with people, and that has a much higher importance that this character creation. My tolerance for others is something that I ignore improving, so why would I bother here. I fucking hate loud talkers! Jesus Christ these cutscenes have pissed me off! Just say Press Escape next time!!

Well, now I have a character that I am happy enough with. I called her Irisi. I usually go with Iris. But that was taken by someone. I will go with some take on Iris with female characters if the original option isn't available. So I don't mind this. Anyway, here is the pretty lady.

The next step now is the replace that clothing which I hope I can do pretty soon. Going by the averages, it shouldn't take long.

Well then, time for some Quests!