Thursday, 6 February 2014

Flappy Bird - Review

The following review is composed entirely of things I said out loud to my girlfriend when playing Flappy Bird on her phone during a train journey.

Fuck this bird.

So, am I right in thinking you have to tap to flap the bird, and get him through gaps in the pipes? OK.

The graphics are terrible. The bird looks like a fish, and those pipes are straight up stolen from Mario. No subtlety. Just ripped right out of the mushroom kingdom.

I am so hungry I might crack open your phone and eat the bird.

Oh, fuck off. I never hit that pipe. Broken collision detection.

I feel like I've played this before, but better.


What kind of bird flies like this? One flap and then a quick plummet to earth. It's a chicken. It must be a chicken.

If this was my phone, I would smash it, I am so angry at this stupid fucking fishchicken.

How the hell does anyone get a high-score of 50 on this? What degree of masochism facilitates such a thing?

It's compulsive, but then so is heroin, and I wouldn't want to be doing that either.

This a totally hollow experience. Like an Easter egg. But made from ashes.

I hate this bird more than I hate anyone. I hate it more than Robert Mugabe.

It saddens me that people will spend hours on this yet never play Drop7 or Punch Quest.


Never let me play this again.

Flappy Bird is out now on iOS and Android. If you like games, for the love of God download something else.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Starbound Diaries Part 2 - Involuntary Birdpersonslaughter

When we last left our hero Cornelius, he had ceased to exist. This put a dampener on several of his long-term plans.

Undeterred, I recreated Cornelius more or less as he was. Apparently the last patch to Starbound fixed the need to ever wipe characters again, so this should be the last time I have to painstaking craft a slightly balding simian. I gathered up my matter manipulator and beamed down to my newly generated world. On arrival, a few things are notably different. It's another forest biome, but with a much more muted colour palette, soft oranges and greens in place of busy pinks and blues. Cornelius' surroundings are now somewhat reminiscent of a leafy autumnal forest right here on earth. That's one difference. The other is the bird-woman standing directly in front of me.

This NPC bird-lady is an Avian, one of the races I eschewed to play as a big ape. She also seems to be friendly, which is handy as the only thing I have in my inventory to defend myself with is a broken sword, which does so little damage that I'd be better off arming myself with a CD-ROM of Broken Sword the point-and-click adventure game. I arm myself with it nevertheless.

"Hi, let's be friends!" she says, smiling and doing a small jump. I am instantly pleased. Think of the adventures we could have! A monkey-man and a bird-girl, tooling around and chopping down trees and such. It could be like Moonlighting in space. This pleased feeling lasts all of one second, coming to an end when two hooded, dagger-brandishing figures come darting onto the screen, their speech bubbles screeching "DEATH TO THE HERETIC".

Everybody panics. Bird-lady panics and falls into a dark hole. I panic because I don't know if these death monks are just hostile to me, or to bird-lady, or to both of us. This uncertainty is dispersed when one of them stabs me in the face. This makes me double-panic, and I start slashing my broken sword around at anything that comes near me. This makes the death monks panic and start jumping around, and I panic and start jumping around, and we all end up stabbing at each other at the bottom of the dark hole. It's a panic jamboree.

In the inevitable clusterfuck that follows, I manage to murder both the death monks. However, the bird-lady, in the grand tradition of bloody NPCS, is caught in the maelstrom of wild sword blows and perishes. This is not how this was supposed to go. We should have been friends, damn it. We should have been friends. Cornelius sheds a small tear, steals all the money from the dead bird-lady's purse, and walks on.

 I chop down a few trees and build a campfire and crafting table next to the scene of the triple-homicide I committed. Then I wander aimlessly to my right for a short while, still annoyed at having had the good fortune to find a friendly person on my new homeworld and then almost instantly accidentally merking them. I find a couple of treasure chests with some gold bars and some other crap that i don't even look at, I just hoover it all into my inventory. Then night falls and I begin to worry. Granted, I have a campfire now, so won't freeze to death, but I should probably build some form of shelter - some of the planets in Starbound have acid rain, and I don't want to find out this one does by having my face slough off during a light drizzle.

At my campfire, I start to work out where I can dig a hole. I dig a tiny, modest hole to give me some rudimentary protection from the elements and indigenous beasties, of which I am yet to encounter any but am certain are just waiting to violently make my acquaintance. Then, for the first time, I go to the left.

Not ten feet away from where I have dug a desperate little hobbit hole is a brick shack. Presumably it belonged to the bird-lady. It has a bed, and an armchair, and a bookcase, and a torch, and a roof. Compared to the hole I have dug it is the fucking Taj Mahal. Literally metres away.

I'm not cut out for this survivalist malarkey.

Stay tuned for our next instalment, where Cornelius squats in (and renovates) a dead woman's house and teaches fire crickets what pain is.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Starbound Diaries Part 1 - Dig for Victory

I recently delved into Starbound, an early-access game that mixes the dig-n-craft stylings of Minecraft and Terraria with planet-hopping exploration. Despite my normal reticence to indulge in games that focus on chopping down trees and building giant stone phalluses, I've found myself utterly hooked, partly because the procedurally generated worlds are so compelling, and partly because I'm a sucker for anything that has the word "spaceships" anywhere near it. Here, then, is the first entry in the Captain's Log (I assume that if you're alone on a spaceship, you're automatically the captain, or at the very least the bosun).

First things first - making a character to guide through this hostile universe. There are currently six playable races, all very imaginative and distinctive (except for humans, but their presence is pretty much mandatory). I was tempted by the notion of playing as a giant flower or a feudalist robot, but eventually plumped for an Apex, a race of monkey-men with awesome beards. I gave my wee spaceprimate a balding head and grey jacket with a fine purple stripe, so all that was left was to name him. After spending ten minutes poring through the IMDB pages of the Planet of the Apes films to find an obscure character to name him after, I decided that Cornelius was the coolest name anyway, and called him that. To hell with obscurantism.

Cornelius spawned on his little spaceship, having apparently escaped some kind of technocratic uprising on his homeworld. The ship itself is out of fuel, orbiting an unknown planet, and is basically a space-canoe. I took my matter manipulator (a big magnet-looking device for mining and tree chopping and... erm... matter manipulation) from my locker, stepped onto the teleporter pad, and beamed onto the planet below.

Within two minutes Cornelius fell into an acid pool and died.

Upon reconstitution, Cornelius and I  are somewhat more cautious and tentatively explore the surroundings. The procedural generation has spawned me a world that is both reassuringly natural and ever-so-slightly alien - trees with candyfloss-pink foliage stand tall over plains covered in blue grass (though, tragically, not bluegrass). There are bubbling acid pits, dank caves with long purple vines stretching into the unknown depths, and some alien creatures that look like a cross between a cow and a penis, and don't seem to like me at all.

I get the basics down. I make a crafting table, and a campfire. I take vines and wood and craft them lovingly into a hunter's longbow. I make bandages. Then I begin what will surely be my great masterwork, my pièce de résistance, my Sistine Chapel. I dig a great big fucking hole.

This is not my hole. My hole was nowhere near this grand.
This hole will not just be any hole. I have GRAND PLANS for this hole. This hole will be my base, my lair, the nerve centre of my future galaxy-spanning empire. I will line this hole with brick and wood, and one day re-line it in steel and glass. It is going to be the best hole. I dig it to a respectable starter size, and log out, contented.

When I log back in two days later, I make a grim discovery. There has been an update patch, improving the game and adding in many new features, as is the way with early-access games. This update has also wiped all characters. Cornelius is no more. He no longer exists. And that hole he had such plans for? Turns out he was digging his own grave the whole time.

Stay tuned for part two, in which Cornelius is reincarnated in a blaze of glory, and accidentally murders a bird-lady.

Friday, 17 January 2014


As is tradition, here is a hastily-compiled list of some games from last year.

BEST GAME I DIDNT PLAY – Super Mario 3D World
Mario as a cat. Looks alright. Come back to me when the Wii U is £150.

BEST UTTER ARSEHOLE – Trevor (Grand Theft Auto V)
Oh, Trevor, you scallywag! Always picking fights with bikers and flushing human remains down a caravan toilet. When will you learn?

I think that in ten years time, this game will be looked back on as a milestone in how and what games communicate narrative and mood to players. The design, mechanics, graphics and writing all contribute to the oppressive atmosphere, funnelling the player towards complicity and compromise, and an emotional experience quite unlike anything any other medium can deliver.

BEST GAME ABOUT GAMES – The Stanley Parable
The Stanley Parable differentiates itself from other walk-em-ups such as Dear Esther and Gone Home in a couple of key ways. One is that The Stanley Parable is extremely funny. The other is how the choices you make, rudimentary obey/disobey choices they may be, are totally crucial to the functioning of the game and the narrative. Dear Esther is a fine experience, but your actions have no real impact on what unfolds – it could easily be made into a film and still tell the same story. The Stanley Parable needs you to make a choice, and as such could ONLY be a videogame.

I have an old Nokia.

BEST SEA SHANTIES – Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
This game has the best collection of sea shanties of any game I've ever played. It should have been titled Assassin's Creed IV: Shanty Boys. However, it had surprisingly strong competition this year – it was an unexpected pleasure to find that Call of Duty: Ghosts has a hidden all-sea-shanty alternate soundtrack.


BEST GAME OF 2013 THAT WAS RELEASED IN 2012 – Crusader Kings II
This is certainly the game I played the most in 2013. For those not in the know, Crusader Kings II is a medieval grand strategy game where you play as a dynasty, taking control of your descendants over several centuries, which makes it one of the best story generators I've ever played. Experiences I've had in this game will stay with me for a long time, such as the murderous triumph of King Finn the Cruel of Ireland, or the time my friend Joel and I took the King of France prisoner and every few years kicked him in the balls and annexed half his territory. The various chunky expansion packs that Paradox have released over the course of 2013 have evolved CK2 into an insanely expansive and deep experience, to the point where it is basically the sequel to itself.

At last, a Zool for our times.

BEST DEATHS – Spelunky (technically a cheat, as the HD version was first released in 2012, but it was released for the PC in 2013 so it's fine)
In the last 24 hours, I have been killed 4 times by spikes, twice by those sodding bats, twice by my own bombs, once by a caveman, once by a tiki trap, once by a vengeful shopkeep, and once by a psychic fucking alien. I have never been so bad at a game I love so much.

BEST GAME EVER – Heroes of Might and Magic III

Friday, 10 January 2014

The Ten Lives of Johnny Law

I've been playing some Counter Strike: Global Offensive recently, and it is a very stressful kind of fun. For those who've never heard of Counter Strike, it began as a Half-Life mod in 1999, and currently has 3 different versions in the Steam Top 10 played games. A team of terrorists try to plant a bomb, and a team of counter-terrorists try to stop them. There are many variants and different game modes, but that is the core of the experience.

My favourite mode is Demolition, where the terrorists only have one bomb site rather than two, the maps are smaller, and getting a kill in a round gives you a new weapon that is harder to kill with than your last. I decided to document one such game – the brief and pointless ten lives of Sergeant Johnny Law, counter-terrorist, lawman, and idiot. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Everybody Loves Lists: 5 Dog-Killing Games I Have Played In The Last Week

I love dogs. So how come videogames are forcing me to kill so many?

Hotline Miami (2012, PC)

These dogs are nasty. In a game that moves at breakneck pace, the dogs are the fastest and meanest things around. Fists won't do, you need at least a melee weapon to put one down. After your first 50 runs on a level are thwarted by one, you will start to HATE them. After the next 50, you will be actively pleased whenever you kill one. This is what Hotline Miami does to you – it moves so fast that it bypasses rational thought, where concerns over your sickening ultraviolence would reside, and goes straight to the lizard-brain, the part of us that needs to see all threats neutralised now now NOW. And I assure you, the dogs are the number one threat.

Dishonored (2012, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

This one is a dog-hater's dream. First off, your base of of operations a pub called The Hound's Pit, which doubles as Dunwall's premier hotspot for dogfighting. Although you don't get to see any official dogfighting in the game, rest assured you will be engaging in plenty of impromptu dogfighting. The dogs that patrol with guards are sleek but vicious creatures, almost reptilian, and are notably anti-social and pro-ripping-your-throat-out. It’s interesting that in a game which gives you the option (and actively encourages you) to play non-lethally, dog kills don't count. You can merrily murder every dog you can find, and still walk away from the game with a “Clean Hands” achievement. All of which begs the question – what have dogs ever done to Arkane Studios?

Far Cry 3 (2012, Xbox 360/PS3/PC)

Jesus, the number of animals I have slaughtered in this game. I'm a one-man safari factory. There are scores of species of animals populating Rakyat island, and thanks to an essential crafting system the game encourages you to shoot every last one of them in the face. It's basically a Teddy Roosevelt simulator. As for the dogs, the game does go to great length to explain that any dogs you see are rabid, and therefore killing them is absolutely fine. I note it didn't make similar excuses for any of the endangered cassowaries I took out.

Heroes of Might & Magic 3 (1999, PC)

Well, they were Hellhounds. But Hellhounds are still hounds, I suppose. 

Mark of the Ninja (2012, Xbox 360/PC)

“Hounds Slumber” is the fancy name that Klei's excellent stealth game gives to smacking a dog in the back of the head. The thing is, if you're rubbish, you end up slashing at the dog seventeen times with your sword before it falls over. Even if this happens, the game still flashes up “Hound's Slumber”, as if you stabbing a dog repeatedly with a katana has merely made it faint dead away. “He's just sleeping”, you tell your delusional self. And on you blunder to murder more dogs. Such is the way of the ninja.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

PlayStation 4: The Re-EnPlaystationing

 Just before the start of Sony's massive press event unveiling the PS4 last night, I compiled a short list of things that, if they were announced, would make me a day-one system adopter.
  • Gitaroo Man 2
  • The return of the original PlayStation loading screen
  • New controller in the shape of a goose
  •  Backwards compatible with the PS3, PS2, PS1, N64 and Mega Drive
  • Console and controllers covered in conflict diamonds
  •  System cries like a wounded deer when turned off
  • Is crafted from Adamantium, weighs 7.4 tonnes
  • Something, anything, to suggest that The Last Guardian is still in development. ANYTHING.
  • David Cage not to be allowed to make any more public statements ever
Not only did Sony offer precisely none of these things, they summoned David Cage from whatever shadow dimension he resides in to shit on silent films for a bit. I'd have a minor rant about the ridiculous claims Cage made, but John Teti at the Gameological Society has already done a much better job of that than I ever could, so read that instead. You can imagine I wrote it, if you like.

Another thing Sony didn't offer was a look at the console they were supposedly launching. Sure, we got the new controller, which looks like a Dualshock but not quite finished yet, and we saw the Kinect-ish camera thing that will doubtless be shoehorned unnecessarily into every bloody game on the system, but we didn't get to see the PS4 itself. I realise this is probably because they haven't actually finalised the design of it yet, but is that OK? Is it really advisable to launch a console without anyone seeing it? If we don't see the hardware at work, doesn't cast some small doubt over the videos we're being assured are "PS4 gameplay"? What with the recent furore over Aliens: Colonial Marines undergoing a demake somewhere between preview video and release day, and Sony's own history with the PS3's launch promises, it seems like a lot for Sony to ask sceptical gamers to take on trust.

I don't want my concerns about not actually getting a glimpse of the PS4 to veer into tin foil hat territory - I'm sure the hardware is sorted, and it will be as powerful as ten wolves or whatever. I'm sure it will be capable of running games with all the polygons that David Cage could ever want. Where I do want to get paranoid is over Sony's idea of 'personalisation'. To simple folk like you and I, that means "making something your own through customisation". To Sony (and, lets be fair, Microsoft too), that means "burrowing into the deepest recesses of your brain to sell you things we hope you'll buy, whilst restricting your ability to make this your own through customisation". Since we didn't see the console, and Sony said “the living room is no longer the center of the PlayStation ecosystem—the gamer is", I would not be shocked if the PlayStation 4 is some kind of neural implant.

The plan is for the PS4 to pre-emptively download games it thinks you will like, so they are ready as soon as you even think their names. This troubles me, as I suspect it will recommend me an endless conveyor belt of shite, and then pout when I don't purchase it. I can see it refusing to load up other games, bringing up messages saying "PLAYSTATION DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHY YOU WILL NOT PLAY MEDAL OF HONOR. PLAYSTATION HAS DETERMINED YOU WILL ENJOY. PLAYSTATION HAS DETERMINED YOU MUST COMPLY."

In terms of games, there wasn't a great deal that called out to me. Driveclub looked like a very pretty realistic driving game, and Killzone: Fallen Thingy looked like a standard manshoot, and neither of those things interest me that much. Knack looks to continue the hallowed trend of gearing up a 90's-style mascot platformer and sending it out to die at launch. Watchdogs looked great, and that puppet thing that Media Molecule showed looked as intriguing as it was baffling, but that was about it for me. I feel like I should like the look of Johnathan Blow's The Witness, but I've already played Myst once and didn't enjoy it.

So all in all I still feel like I'm in the dark about the PS4. There was nothing to grab me by the throat, but nothing that really kicked me in the groin either. I'm not sure how I feel about them trying to turn the PS4 into HAL 9000, but as long as it doesn't automatically purchase things for me I suppose I could live with it.