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Games To Play Over Christmas

Its that time of year once more – time for websites and blogs to do their obligatory top ten Christmas movies list. The same old movies getting mentioned over and over – year after year. And the debate over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not continues…

I thought I’d try to avoid all of that this year and go a different route. I’m going to take a look at some Christmas games instead. Now, pretty much all of these games are linked to Christmas. But one of them just feels right to play around the festive season even if it has nothing to do with Christmas directly. Anyway, lets crack on with it.

Christmas Lemmings

Christmas Lemmings

Or Holiday Lemmings is from DMA Design (who would later become Rockstar Games) comes this charming action/puzzle game that I remember losing hundreds of hours on. Lemmings was a great franchise with multiple titles in the series.

The goal was simple, guide you lemmings to the exit… that’s it. While to goal may have been simple, the journey was fraught with obstacles you would have to avoid or get through using the many talents of your lemmings. With skills such as building, bashing, mining, blocking and even exploding. As you progress, the levels get harder and harder while your lemming controlling skills are pushed to the limit.

This Christmas spin-off maintains the classic, simple and addictive gameplay of the franchise and just gives it a Christmas paint job. The lemmings now wear little Santa suits complete with hats, the levels are also Christmasy with open fires, multi-coloured lights and snow… lots and lots of snow. A great little game that will have you hooked after playing a handful of levels and soon have you pulling your hair out in frustration – only for you to have ‘one more go’.

Christmas Nights into Dreams

Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams

I think this one is required by law to be included on any Christmas gaming list. This is one of Sega’s most beloved gamed released for its Saturn console. Paying as Claris or Elliot who can transform into the titular Nights with his/her flying ability which can be used around levels to collect orbs. Grab enough orbs in the given time limit and move onto the next level. The flying is really well done and gives a great sense of freedom despite being played on a 2D plane and while the game sounds rather dull – its incredibly addictive and fun once you get used to the flight controls.

The Christmas version was originally released as a two level add-on included in some Saturn bundles released in December of 1996, given away for free with copies of Daytona USA Championship Circuit Edition and even on editions of Sega Saturn Magazine and Next Generation Magazine. The game is given a slightly altered story for Christmas and of course, a graphical makeover. The Christmas theme could be enjoyed at any time of the year – but if you played the game on specific dates, you’d unlock added bonuses as the console’s internal clock would be used to know when you were playing. Try playing on New Year’s Day, April Fool’s Day or even Christmas Day for example…

The game takes some getting used to but once you do – you’re in for a wonderful time with this ‘unusual’ action/platforming title. Well worth checking out.

Duke: Nuclear Winter

Duke Nuclear Winter

An expansion pack to one of the greatest FPS games ever made. I love me some Duke Nukem… mostly. Lets not mention ‘THAT‘ game on this blog. But the third game in the Duke franchise was fucking brilliant. Coming off the back of the success of Doom and the meteoric rise of the FPS genre. Duke Nukem 3D was loud, brash, misogynistic and damn funny to boot. Shooting literal police pigs in the face with a shotgun has never been so much fun. Duke’s quips and persona are stuff of gaming legend – even if he did ‘borrow’ some of his lines from other places.

There were several expansions released for the original Duke Nukem 3D and Duke: Nuclear Winter is just one of them. So in this one – Santa Claus has been captured and brainwashed aliens and its up to Duke to ‘kill those alien bastards’ and save Santa.

Not one of the better Duke Nukem 3D expansions I admit – in fact, lets be honest… it pretty bad. A lot of the levels are just re-dressed ones from the base game only with a Christmas theme. Though there are a few all new levels – just not enough of them.

Die Hard Trilogy

Die Hard Trilogy

Yes, Die Hard IS a Christmas movie (stop arguing about it) and so is this game… well two thirds of it is anyway. As the title suggests, this one is based on (what used to be) the Die Hard trilogy of moives. This one is actually three separate games in a single bundle and all three are different genres and gameplay styles. All three games are action packed and great fun.

Like the moives the game(s) are based on, only the first two are set around Christmas. Die Hard (obviously) based on the movie is a third person shooter where you make your way to the top of Nakatomi Plaza killing hundreds of terrorists and rescuing hostages – okay so the Christmas theme is non existent on this one… but its Die Hard ergo Christmas. Die Hard 2: Die Harder is an on-rails FPS that is set at Christmas. The opening level starts outside the airport and its snowing. It then moves inside and there are Christmas decorations up and even Christmas trees… its Christmas!

This is a great collection of games, all three of them. A must for any Die Hard fan and I’d suggest giving Die Hard 2: Die Harder a play around Christmas time as there is no better way to show ‘good will to all men’ than shooting a fuck-load of them at an airport at Christmas.

Batman Returns

Batman Returns SNES

One of the best scrolling beat em’ ups of the 16-bit era on the SNES. Sadly this is a dying genre – where it was once one of the biggest gaming trends of the 90s. These game were always simple fare, keep moving (usually) right while punching and kicking bad guys until they fall over. But this one offered a few nice surprises along the way to keep the formula fresh.

No prizes for guessing what this game is based on. Batman Returns was the distinctly dark and brooding sequel to the Tim Burton classic Batman. This game follows the movie pretty damn well sometimes exceptionally so, including the Christmas setting. Its the little touches and details that make this one so much fun from grabbing bad guys and throwing them into the background causing damage to that awesome detail at the end of the first level with the clown and the “you missed” scene taken directly from the flick.

The graphics are bold and capture Tim Burton’s style perfectly. The cut scenes throughout that use digitised images mixed with hand drawn graphics are very convincing. Plus the gameplay itself is top-notch stuff. Watch the film and enjoy the game afterwards. Always gets me in the Christmas mood.

Skyrim

Skyrim

So this is the game that not directly linked to Christmas… but it sure feels like it while you play it. A massive open world RPG that offers a ridiculous level of gameplay set in a fantasy Tolkien-esque world full of rich and varied detail.

As mentioned, Skyrim is not set at Christmas – nor does it have anything to do with Christmas at all. But it is the game’s setting that gives it a snowy/Christmas feeling. Just go walking around the city of Winterhold or Windhelm. Go and explore the many caves, towns, villages found around the northern part of the Skyrim map and get that Christmas feeling inside as you traverse through snowy mountains all while sitting in the comfort and warmth of your home.

There is just so damn much to do in Skyrim that you can spend hours and hours doing nothing but explore the vast map. And while it has no connection to Christmas itself – there is just something about it that gives off a festive feeling that makes me want to play the game around this time of year.

Saints Row IV: How The Saints Save Christmas

Saints Row IV How the Saints Save Christmas

A slice of DLC from a game that was as brilliant as it was disappointing. I loved and loathed Saints Row IV in equal measure as its not a bad game at all – but it is a bad Saints Row game. Yet it also featured some truly fun and enjoyable gameplay.

The main game has nothing to do with Christmas – but this piece of DLC is a short but fun mission pack where Santa has to be rescued from the in-game simulation. Full of nods and references to Christmas movies and literature plus it has that distinctive Saints Row humour that is as childish as it is brilliant.

It’ll only take a around and hour to get through this DLC, a little longer if you really want to explore and get the most out of it though. All the Christmas tropes are present here and played up to with great effect. Worth a go if you want a little fun and a few laughs with your Christmas.

James Pond II: Codename RoboCod

James Pond II - Codename Robocod

A.K.A Super James Pond. This charming platformer is a sequel to a game a lot of people didn’t know existed. What do you get when you cross a gill-bearing aquatic craniate with Robocop?

So you get to play as James Pond, super secret agent… that’s a fish. Picking up where the first game left off as Pond’s arch nemesis – Dr Maybe retreats to the North Pole and takes over Santa’s workshop. Dr Maybe holds Santa’s workers and the big guy himself hostage. Pond is equipped with a robotic suit that gives him strength, agility and the ability to stretch his midsection enabling him to reach higher areas which he’ll need to use as he makes his way through 50 platforming levels to save Santa and his workers.

Platforming games were everywhere in the early 90s and this was one of the better ones. This was basic stuff, make your way from the start of the level to the end, jump on enemies heads, collect items for points. Being set in the North Pole and saving Santa as your main mission makes this game heavy on the Christmas theme… oh and the remix/up-beat Robocop theme tune is pretty damn sweet too.

Cannon Soccer

Cannon Soccer

So this one was never a full game, but in fact a demo/promo for an up-coming game from developer Sensible Software – Cannon Fodder. Mixing their enormously popular Sensible Soccer with Cannon Fodder to create a one-off mash up.

For those not in the know Sensible Soccer was a (wait for it…) soccer game and Cannon Fodder was an OTT shooter so a prefect blend right? You control a small squad of soldiers and have to guide your men through the levels killing bad guys along the way. Using guns, grenades and missiles to take on enemy soldiers, buildings and helicopters. Cannon Fodder is a non-stop, darkly humorous action game. This demo for the main event had you controlling a small squad and starting in a snowy battle zone with a ‘Merry Christmas’ message, but when you move south through the map, you soon find yourself on a football pitch. Now you have to defend yourself against gun-toting football payers. Progress further into the map and you’ll find yourself in yet another Sensible Software game – Mega Lo Mania.

The Christmas theme in this one is pretty low. Aside from the snowy setting and initial ‘Merry Christmas’ message, it has nothing to do with Christmas at all. But its still, a fun little demo to play around the festive season. Almost forgot, Cannon Fodder is notoriously difficult. This may only be a two level demo, but you’ll be spending hours on it trying to finish them.

Batman: Arkham Origins

Batman Arkham Origins

Second time Batman is on this list and probably the least liked of the Batman: Arkham franchise… until Batman: Arkham Knight was released anyway. The only series of games that truly captured the feeling of being the Batman correctly.

An origin story exploring the relationship between Batman and Captain James Gordon… oh and some other character called the Joker. Its Christmas Eve and there’s a jailbreak at Blackgate Penitentiary led by Black Mask. Batman is left to fight Killer Croc and he learns that Black Mask has hired eight of the world’s deadliest assassins to kill Batman for a $50 million bounty. Along the way, Batman crosses paths with the Penguin, Deathstroke, Electrocutioner and the Riddler among others.

This one didn’t receive much love when it was originally released – but I personally found it massively enjoyable. The Christmas setting looks gorgeous and offers a great contrast with the gothic graphical style of Gotham City… really put me in mind of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns movie. The game also featured some of the best predator sections in the Batman: Arkham series as well as introducing the ‘detective vision’ crime scenes where you had to piece together clues to discover what happened. Really worth playing over the Christmas season.

Special Delivery: Santa’s Christmas Chaos

Special Delivery Santa_s Christmas Chaos

Okay so I’m going very obscure with my final pick. A mostly unknown game I played plenty of as a kid on my Commodore 64. I believe it also holds the distinction of being the very first game where you get to play as Santa.

Pretty simple stuff, the game is split into three different sections. First you control Santa and his sleigh as he tries to collect falling Christmas presents dropped by his helpers – you also have to avoid gifts dropped by the Devil… cos the Devil is Christmasy right? The second section has you climbing down the chimney having to doge fireballs and falling snow. The the third and final section is set in the house itself. Here you have to negotiate the rooms of the house and leave the presents under the Christmas tree, find the key and leave through the front door. You will fail if you wake any of the sleepwalking children. Rinse and repeat to get a high-score.

This is very basic and simple stuff compared to today’s games – but it really holds some fond memories for me. I loved this game when I was a kid and always played it around Christmas time. It was a fun little title and still good fun to play today too if you fancy a trip down nostalgia lane.


Well there you have it folks. A few games to get you in the Christmas mood worth having some fun with. And I think this will be the last article from me in 2017 (unless something big happens in the world of games or movies in the next few weeks) as I’ve written a lot this year and need to switch off my laptop and unplug until 2018.

I’d just like to finish up by saying thank you to any and all that have been reading my rants over through the year and wish you all a Merry Christmas. Have a good un’ folks and I’ll be writing more in 2018… see you then.

Merry Christmas.png

 

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Star Wars: The Last Micro-Transaction?

So this is just a little follow up on my previous Micro-transactions/DLC article from a week ago. In particular the backlash EA had been receiving from the micro-transactions they included in Star Wars Battlefront II. Just hours before the official release of the game – EA made the following statement on Twitter

EA statement

So there you so, the general manager of Dice who developed the game making the decision to remove the micro-transactions… except they haven’t – not really.

I’ve been reading up on this whole debacle and many sites are ‘celebrating a win’ for gamers due to EA/Dice removing the much hated micro-transactions. The bigger picture reveals there is nothing to celebrate at all, we gamers have ‘won’ nothing. But before I get to that, lets look at why EA feel the need to make gamers happy.

There have been boycotts over the game resulting in Star Wars Battlefront II selling around 60% less than the previous game in the franchise from 2015. There has been so much bad press in relation to this game with its micro-transactions that its seriously affecting sales. So its good that EA removed them right?

The thing is Dice nor EA made the decision to remove them. That call came from much higher up. Reports are saying that it was Bob Iger, Disney’s chief executive who made the call and ordered EA to remove the micro-transactions from the game… but why? It has nothing to do with keeping gamers happy. If you pay attention to the previous statement, they have only removed the micro-transactions temporarily...

“The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date.”

The micro-transactions will be back, only after more games have been sold making it possible for more people to buy the micro-transactions after Christmas when more units are likely to be sold. The reason Disney made EA pull them is for damage control and nothing more. There is a new Star Wars film due out very soon and the release of Star Wars Battlefront II was meant to be part of the film’s publicity – there is even some DLC for the game coming out that ties in directly to the movie. For those not in the know, Disney own the Star Wars franchise and the bad press the game is getting, the low sales are not the sort of thing they want to have promote their new film.

The Last Jedi.jpg

So gamers have not ‘won’ anything, all we have done is force a major film studio to put some damage control in place. This is nothing to do with making gamers happy and all to do with making the Star Wars brand look good.

Are Micro-Transactions And DLC, Killing Gaming?

There has been a bit of a gaming backlash recently in regards to games being released and then offering things like micro-transactions and DLC. So much so that there has even been a petition started to regulate micro-transactions specifically to have them fall under the same laws as gambling.

Now, there is a difference between micro-transactions and DLC content. But here in this article, I’m going to try to explain why I feel both are a bad thing for gaming and why they need to be stopped. In regards to micro-transactions, there have been two big offenders recently that have hit the gaming headlines for all the wrong reasons. MiddleearthShadow of War and Star Wars: Battlefront II. So much so that when EA tried to defend micro-transactions in Star Wars: Battlefront II recently via Reddit, it became the most despised post EVER with over 680,000 down-votes so far and still counting.

Micro-Transactions

South Park MT

First things, first. Micro-transactions are gambling as you have no idea what you will get in these loot boxes that you have to pay real money for. You could get an amazing 5 star, super rare item/character that is well worth the money you pay… or you could get something much less impressive. If you are paying real world cash for an item that you have no idea what you will receive – that is a gamble, it is gambling. Also, have you noticed how opening a loot box in a game is never a simple affair? They are always accompanied by sound effects, animations, flashing lights, etc – you know the same kind of things slot machines offer to entice people to play? But its not just the fact that these thing are a form of gambling that is the problem – its also the fact that they can give players an item/character that could provide them an edge over other players. Now if someone unlocks new abilities and upgrades through playing the game fairly, through their own skills then fine, I have no problem with that at all. But if you can just spend cash to get ‘better’ at a game giving you and advantage over others – then that’s a problem and by definition that is ‘pay to win’ in a big budget, high priced game.

I am strongly against micro-transactions in fully priced games. I mean, you go out and spend around £50 ($60) for a AAA, big budget game or even more for special editions… and then they try to entice you to buy ‘loot boxes’ within said game to unlock items in the game you have already paid for. AAA, big budget games should never have micro-transactions. These companies already make millions up on millions in profit from the sales – so micro-transactions are insulting to us gamers. Now there is a very different corner of the gaming world that rely on micro-transactions. Those ‘free to play’ games you can download and play without spending a penny. These games need micro-transaction because their games are ‘free’ – I get that. But big budget games? No, not at all. ‘Loot boxes’ within major game releases should never be a part of the game… ever. And its not just a matter of spending real world money to gain items within a game – its also a fact that doing so means missing out on gameplay of the game itself.

Shadow or War MT

In MiddleearthShadow of War  – you can pay to unlock orcs. But capturing orcs is a major point of the gameplay – its also one of the better aspects of the game too. It kind of like buying the new Forza game but then paying to have the races completed for you. Why would you do that? These things are a cancer of gaming and the fact that the recent fallout from Star Wars: Battlefront II is making gaming headlines – I hope this is the turning point, the era where gamers just get so sick of micro-transactions in gaming that future publishers/developers take serious notes and realise we do not want them.

One of the major reasons why Star Wars: Battlefront II is getting the bad press is due to the unlocking of characters. The aforementioned Reddit began with this:

 Seriously? I paid 80$ to have Vader locked?

This is a joke. I’ll be contacting EA support for a refund… I can’t even playing fucking Darth Vader?!?!? Disgusting. This age of “micro-transactions” has gone WAY too far. Leave it to EA though to stretch the boundaries.

Yeah, you can understand the upset right, paying $80 for a game only to have one of the most iconic characters of the franchise locked away?

Vader Battlefront II

Now, the way you unlock characters in the game is via micro-transactions to gain in-game currency to then buy locked characters… or you can grind away playing the game over and over to gain in-game currency without spending any more cash. It sounds ‘fair’ right? Well not if you just handed over $80 for a single game. Plus there is also the fact that it had been worked out that you’d need to grind away playing Star Wars: Battlefront II for 40 hours just to unlock ONE character. You want both Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Battlefront II? That’ll be 80 hours of your life thanks. Some games don’t even have a 40 hour gameplay campaign… so how does having to play for 40 hours for ONE character make any sense?

Now to be fair, EA have recently lowered the amount of in-game currency required to unlock the characters, so no need to play for 40 hours any more right? Well no – because along with reducing the cost of the characters, they have also reduced the amount of in-game cash you earn by 75%. They publicly announced the reduction of the cost of the characters to make themselves look like they have been listening to the negative feedback – but kept the drop in game currency quiet, creating an illusion. They’ve given with one hand and taken away with the other.

I like unlockables in game though, I like getting rewarded for the hard work I put into the game. Getting a new level, character or something else that adds to the gameplay is fantastic. But there is a way to handle them and a way not to. EA’s approach in regards to locking characters in Star Wars: Battlefront II is both a great idea – but also poison to the game itself. Why are they not learning for the past?

GoldenEye

GoldenEye on the N64 is a perfect example of just how to reward players. Aside for being one of the best and most influential FPS on consoles ever –  it was also one of the most rewarding games ever created in terms of unlockables. From its extensive and hugely fun ‘cheats’ menu that added extra gameplay value with its ‘big head’ and ‘paintball’ modes to the extra hidden levels and characters you got for completing the game on various difficulty settings. Then to top the whole thing off, complete the game on its most hardest setting, and you unlocked a difficulty customisation mode where you could tailor the game in numerous ways. GoldenEye was the game that kept on giving and you didn’t have to pay extra for any of this, you didn’t have to grind away for 40 hours to unlock one character. So why could developers get it right two decades ago in 1997, but miss the point of unlockables today? Yes giving us players things to unlock is awesome – but you need to get the balance right and including micro-transactions along with stupidly long unlocking methods is a dark path that no one wants to venture down.

DLC

Food DLC

Okay, so this one is a little more tricky to handle than micro-transactions because while I can see zero point in micro-transactions for AAA games – I do understand DLC… but I still feel that its not needed in gaming.

Look, I’m an old timey gamer. I go back to the Atari 2600 days and I’ve been a gamer ever since. I’ve seen this industry grow, die, grow again. I’ve been massively impressed with just how games have evolved over the years – from the simplicity of Pong to the complexity of the games we have today. Cinematic stories to be engrossed in, engaging characters, in-depth gameplay. Its been a crazy roller-coaster ride and one I still enjoy. But when I was a young gamer growing up, we didn’t have DLC – you brought a full game and you got a full game, crazy I know. Anyone remember Combat on the Atari 2600? 27 games in one… okay so they were all variations of the same theme, but we did get 27 ‘different’ games back then built into one game. That would be sold as DLC now.

DLC is something I both enjoy and loathe at the same time, that’s because the quality of DLC varies so damn much its hard to paint it all with the same brush. I can give examples of both amazing DLC along side some absolute trash DLC… sometimes within the very same game.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is a great pick here. From the awesome DLC that was Shivering Isles which offered an in-depth piece of story expansion which featured an all new main quest along with numerous side-quests to complete. Then the same game offered the now infamous Horse Armor. DLC is and always has been very uneven and sadly for every great piece of DLC – there’s dozens of crap ones. Some companies put little to zero effort into their DLCs just because they know the game will be massively popular regardless. By ways of an example: I got the season pass for Batman: Arkham Knight for free and even though I didn’t pay for it – I still felt I was robbed due to how lacklustre the whole package was. A handful of small gameplay expansions that last around 6-8 minutes each and the cosmetics of different costume skins – I almost forgot the shitty Riddler races that no one liked in the main game anyway. It was a beyond terrible DLC package and the only reason the developers Rocksteady shat it out was because they knew it would sell given the popularity of the Batman: Arkham franchise.

Assassin's Creed II.jpg

There there are other bad examples of DLC where developers purposely withhold content for the sole reason to get players to fork out more cash to play it. I recall when I first played Assassin’s Creed II and loving the hell out of it, enjoying the engrossing story along the way… but then there were two parts of the game where it missed out on the plot. Two chunks of the game and the story just missing. It was later revealed that these missing parts would be relased as DLCs. The first being Battle of Forlì and the second was Bonfire of the Vanities. Two big pieces of the plot just removed that you had to pay for later to find out what happened. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is another game guilty of exactly the same thing. The plot is ticking along nicely, then you get to a specific point and there’s a gap in the story… and of course this was released later as a piece of DLC via The Missing Link. They even had the balls to rub it in your face that something was missing with the title of the DLC itself. How about Mortal Kombat X? Made a big deal that you can play as one of the original characters – Goro… but you then find out that to play as Goro, you have to pay extra for the privilege and even more so, it turns out that Goro was already on the disc you’ve paid for but just locked away by the developers to squeeze out more cash from you. Things like this, extra characters, costumes and similar are the bane of the DLC world. Remember playing games and unlocking characters/levels/costumes or having to quickly insert a code via the joy-pad to unlock secrets? Now, you have to pay extra to get stuff like this.

How DLC Started.jpg

Try to imagine if they did this with other forms of media. So you’ve just gone out and brought the latest Blu-ray of a film you’ve been looking forward to watching. You get it home and thrust the disc into your player, sit back in your favourite comfy chair and relax as you watch your film… only about half way through you notice there is a big chunk of the film missing or a character blocked behind a big black box – and then a message pops up on screen asking for for credit card details to ‘unlock’ the missing scenes or characters. We just wouldn’t put up with this shit in films or books, etc… so why do we do so with games?

Now the reason I wrote this article to begin with was due to a conversation I was having on a gaming forum where the subject of DLC was brought up. Without boring you with the details, basically someone said that DLC is (and I quote) “a requirement in gaming” because game companies “don’t make much money from the sale of the games alone”. They also said that “game prices have remained pretty much the same for the last 20 odd years” or so while “game development costs have continued to grow and grow”. Now, that all sounds pretty fair right? If games have remained the same cost for over two decades while development costs have increased – that says a lot about why DLC exists… except its not that black & white is it?

GoldenEye cart

You see 20 odd years ago we were (mainly) playing games on cartridges as digital media was still in its infancy. Just going back to GoldenEye for a second, it would have set you back around $60-$70 back in 1997. A new game now will damage your wallet for around the same today… but it’ll most probably be on a Blu-ray disc and not a cartridge because cartridge games are more expensive to manufacture and that expense had to be passed onto the consumer. Notice how Nintendo Switch games are more expensive than the same game on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One? Because the SD cards Nintendo use are more expensive to produce.

So that is one reason why game prices have not increased much (or at all) over the last 20 years… because they are cheaper to make now… unless you own a Switch. And if you don’t like that reasoning, then the games industry as a whole has exploded in the last 20 years too. Where once selling a couple of million units was considered a success – today, that would be seen on as a flop as more people now buy games than ever before and this too has helped keep the cost of games down because more are being sold. Then just to finish this point, my retort to companies don’t make much money from games – I’ll just go back to Star Wars: Battlefront II‘s publisher EA for a second. Their net worth as of 2017 is 1.210 billion dollars with 7.718 billion in total assets and an operating income of 1.224 billion dollars… yeah I can see they are struggling to make money. I bet their CEO struggles to put food on he table right?

I also used another line of defence to demonstrate my opinion that DLC is not needed in gaming via the use of a certain gaming company. One that is both guilty of offering micro-transactions and DLC but also made a hugely successful game with zero paid for DLC at all. A company that is both a prime example of why we don’t need DLC in gaming but also gave us some of the best DLC ever.

Rockstar logo

Rockstar are one of my all time favourite game developers/publishers. It has been recently announced that the eagerly awaited Red Dead Redemption II will feature micro-transactions. Bad Rockstar… except this was not their decision as it came from higher up with their parent company Take-Two. The mighty Grand Theft Auto V also featured micro-transactions via their Shark Cards for the multiplayer aspect of the game… again a decision from Take-Two not Rockstar themselves. I’ve already said my bit on micro-transactions and I hope they die a fast and painful death soon and with all the bad press they are getting right now – maybe Take-Two will reverse their micro-transactions decision with RDR II?

To get back to the point of DLC, Rockstar have given us three pieces of simply awesome DLC from their games. Grand Theft Auto IV‘s The Lost and DamnedThe Ballad of Gay Tony DLCs were fantastic. Giving fans a continuation of the main story along with new gameplay features and mechanics. They were pretty big too adding dozens of hours of gameplay value. Then there was Red Dead Redemption‘s Undead Nightmare – which similarly to the GTA IV DLCs gave players a whole new story with new gameplay features and mechanics along with hours and hours of gameplay. These DLC were well worth the money.

Now let’s take a look the biggest game Rockstar has developed so far and the biggest selling game of all time – Grand Theft Auto V.

GTA V.jpg

More than 800 million dollars in worldwide revenue, equating to approximately 11.21 million units sold in less than 24 hours of being released. Sales totalling $2,079,480,000 by March 2015 and around 52 million copies sold since its release in 2013… again these figures were accurate as of March 2015. The game is still selling now (hence why it still holds a decent price) and how much paid for DLC does GTA V have? None, yet it’s online portion has continually been updated with FREE content for several years now… FREE content. Some of that FREE content even carries over to the single player game… for FREE.

Yeah you can bring up Shark Cards if you wish and I’ll rebuttal with this…
They are not a necessity, anyone can play GTA: Online without spending anything and still get all the FREE DLC in both multi and single player. Also, GTA: Online didn’t exist when GTA V was first released and making 800 million dollars in the first 24 hours alone. So you can’t blame Shark Cards for that – it made its money on the game it was at the time. GTA V has been the  most profitable game made so far and not a single piece of paid for DLC either… but loads of FREE DLCs and updates adding more content.

So please get out of here with all that ‘games are too expensive to produce and they don’t make profit’ when GTA V broke sales records in 24 hours, made more profit than any other game so far, gets continually updated with FREE content and features no paid for DLC. So if the most expensive game so far to be produced can bring in that kind of money in 24 hours alone with no paid for DLC or micro-transactions… then why can’t other games? Some people are still screaming for some story based DLC for GTA V – but here is the main point… it doesn’t ‘need’ it. Its a game that is 100% complete upon release (not including the online aspect), just how games used to be. Buy a game and get a full game.

No More DLC

DLC is most definitely not a requirement of gaming and if developers put all of the games out there from the get go like GTA V being 100% complete from day one, maybe they could see better sales minus the micro-transactions, DLC and other withheld content. You know, just what gaming used to be like. What a great future of gaming that could be… just like the past.

What If, In Red Dead Redemption II…?

Yeah I got another one of those darn Red Dead Redemption II articles – but hey, I’m really excited for this game and can’t wait to get my hands on it. And the release of the second trailer a while back is not helping much as ideas for the plot keep popping into my head.

Given the mass amount of detail Rockstar like to cram into their game worlds, I’m sure Red Dead Redemption II will be no different – I mean, they even added swinging horse-bollocks… they really have, check out the trailer closely. Actual horse-balls physics!

But there is one detail in the previous game that some people overlooked and its a detail I hope plays a bigger part in this sequel… err, prequel. And seeing as Red Dead Redemption II is a prequel – that means that my idea could work out too. Okay so for those not in the know despite the ‘II’ in the title of the game, Red Dead Redemption II is not a sequel but a prequel – even more so, it not really a II either.

Red Dead Revolver

Red Dead Revolver was the first game in the franchise and released in 2004 by Rockstar for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. It told the story of bounty hunter Red Harlow (above) who uncovers the plot that killed his parents and extracts his revenge. This was followed by Red Dead Redemption for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2010. Where we play as John Marston trying to atone (or get redemption) for his past life as a gang-member – making this game the second in the series and Red Dead Redemption II the third… but its a prequel so technically its the second or could it even be the first?

See, we don’t actually know just how far back in the timeline of the series Red Dead Redemption II will go. Five years, ten, twenty, more? Which brings me to the aforementioned little detail in Red Dead Redemption that many people overlook or just did not know about. There has always been some sort of debate as to whether Revolver is even part of the Redemption series at all as many people claim that Redemption is in fact a reboot to the Red Dead franchise and exists in its own separate universe. Except that’s not true…

Red Harlow

That right there is Red Harlow from Revolver in Redemption – he is in the game. Now before everyone jumps in with ‘that’s only in the multiplayer’, yes that is very true. Numerous Revolver characters including Annie Stoakes, Shadow Wolf, Ugly Chris and even Red Harlow himself are playable in Redemption… but only as part of the multiplayer aspect and not the main story. So that really does not count does it?

You know how I talked about the level of detail Rockstar put into their games (horse-plums people!)? Well Redemption has a ton of tiny details too and one of them was being able to just wander over to a campsite in the dessert, sit down and listen to stories told by strangers. And who was the subject of some of those stories?

“You heard of that Red Harlow fella?

Red Harlow and his adventures, the events of Revolver are mentioned within the main story of Redemption more than once. That video is just one of the numerous stories told and more than one of them mentions Red Harlow by name. So there you have it, solid proof that Red Harlow and the events of Revolver happened and do exist within the main story of Redemption. So what does this all mean?

Well people are getting all excited about the prospect of John Marston returning as the new game is a prequel, me? I’m really not all that bothered if John returns or not, yeah it’ll be nice to see him and all that – but what if another character returns, what if Red Harlow is a part of the Redemption II story line? It is possible, it could happen right?

For me, I’d much rather see Red back over John… or what about both?

RedJohn

Given we don’t know exactly how far back Redemption II will go, its kind of hard to work out the timeline. But the main events of Revolver were set sometime in the 1800’s, I’ve not played the game for years so if anyone can come up with a more accurate date, it’ll be much appreciated – but I’m not even sure if an exact date was mentioned. While Redemption was set in 1911 with John being born in 1873, making him around 37-38 years old during the events of the game. So it is possible the two existed in the same place at the same time… depending on exactly when the events Revolver occurred. A younger John Marston could have interacted with an older Red Harlow and that could be a part of Redemption II‘s story even if its set 20 years before Redemption. A 17-18 year old John and a 50 year old Red? If Billy The Kid could be an outlaw by the age of 18 (and he was), then so could John Marston.

Red Dead Redepmtion 2 Image 7

The more I think about this, the more it makes sense. Redemption II could be the game that officially links the previous two games together… with added horse-nards!

 

I Have Such Sights To Show You: The Hellraiser Game We Never Got

As part of my Halloween/Hellraiser 30th anniversary celebrations, as well as doing a retrospective of every film in the franchise – I’m also taking a look at the unreleased Hellraiser game that never saw the light of day.

Now there is very little known about this game (and trust me, I’ve looked), but other sites have covered it… yet I found some rather large inaccuracies with the story – which I’ll cover later. There are no in game images to show as the game was nowhere near finished when the plug was pulled. The closest thing I found was a supposed title screen…

Hellraiser Title

Please excuse the poor quality, but this was the best I could find. This image is said to be the title screen for the game which was to be released on the NES in 1990 – I have no idea if it is genuine or not, but there it is anyway. And in case you are wondering, the featured image at the very top is just a fan-made/home-brew project, not from the game itself.

Anyway, I guess I’d better cover what the Hellraiser NES game was all about first?

It was going to be a rather ambitious game that used an updated version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine to put the player into a first person viewpoint. You play a character stuck inside the infamous puzzle box, where you could manipulate it from the inside as you tried to solve the box and escape. However, solving the box would not only free you but also the Cenobites inside it. So when outside of the box, you’d then have to solve it again to defeat the Cenobites trapping them back inside.

Color Dreams

It was being developed by a company called Color Dreams – who became quite (in)famous for creating unlicensed Nintendo games on the NES. You see, for a game to be released on a Nintendo console, the developers/publishers had to pay Nintendo a fee so the game could be officially licensed by Nintendo. But some companies didn’t want to pay that fee, so they created unlicensed Nintendo games that bypassed the 10NES lockout chip (or CIC) and released games without Nintendo’s ‘approval’… naughty, naughty.

Supposedly, Dan Lawton (one of the founders of Color Dreams) was a big Hellraiser fan and paid around $50,000 for the Hellraiser game rights. It has been reported that Lawton found that the NES could not handle the improved Wolfenstein 3D engine for the game so he asked engineer, Ron Risley to create a new type of cartridge. This ‘super cartridge’ could hold more RAM than a standard NES cartridge as well as feature a faster Z80 processor and all sorts of other gubbins that pushed its cost much higher than that of a normal NES cartridge. It would’ve been too expensive to manufacture and purchase back in 1990 (estimated around $100 for one game!), coupled with the fact it wouldn’t have been licensed by Nintendo as many retailers refused to stock those games. This is probably why the game never saw the light of day.

Of course it also could be that the game was never being developed at all and all this is just unsubstantiated rumour… But there is a problem with that theory and that problem is that there was a Hellraiser game advertised in gaming magazines of the day. Publications such as Electronic Gaming MonthlyGamePro, and even the mighty Nintendo Power featured ads like this…

Hellraiser Ad 2

This ad boasts about the previously mentioned ‘super cartridge’ with “our advanced technology that pushed the NES further than ever before”. In fact, if you can make it out – it says something like “16-bit performance on the 8-bit Nintendo system”. It also mentions basic gameplay features such as “opening doorways to the dark-realm”, “solve puzzles of the Lament Configuration” and even the “Cenobites”.

Hellraiser Ad 1.jpg

This ad is a bit more ‘in your face’ and easier to read. “Over one million worlds”, “The largest game yet for Nintendo” and “Over one hundred demons to escape from”. Sounds impressive for a NES game – but also note the mention of the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive) and the Atari Lynx too? There was even a number you could’ve called to pre-order the game.

So there was most definitely a Hellraiser game being developed for the NES – but I have serious doubts that it is the game that was mentioned earlier in this very article or the same one other sites have been reporting on. This is where you guys ask “why?”. Well, I said earlier that there are some rather large inaccuracies with the whole thing and here they are.

First, who the hell (no pun intended) would honestly think that the 8-bit NES could handle the Wolfenstein 3D engine in 1990? I don’t care how ‘super’ your cartridge is. I’m no game developer, but even I could tell you that the NES just didn’t have the processing power to do FPS/3D graphics like that in 1990. When Wolfenstein 3D was released, it changed gaming, it was revolutionary and all of that was down to the game engine and just how magically impressive it was. Seriously, go and read up on just how game changing the Wolfenstein 3D engine was for the time – that’s an interesting read in itself.

One of the most advanced NES games in 1990 was Super Mario Bros. 3 and it looked like this…

Super Mario Bros 3

That was cutting edge for the NES in 1990 and Wolfenstein 3D looked like this…

Wolfenstein 3D

Yeah, quite a visual difference. And remember, its claimed that the Hellraiser game was using an advanced version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine too, so it would’ve looked even better!

Then there is an even bigger problem with this story. The Hellraiser game was said to be released in 1900 using an advanced version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine… Wolfenstein 3D wasn’t released until 1992. So how could the 1990 Hellraiser game be using a game engine that simply did not yet exist, never mind a more advanced version of it? Something just does not add up here does it?

There’s got to be some confusion with this whole story. There was a Hellraiser game being developed by Color Dreams – the magazine ads prove as much, but there is no way it was one using the Wolfenstein 3D engine because it didn’t exist in 1990 when the game was said to be released. Unless developer Color Dreams had access to a time machine – its just not possible.

Now there are various Hellraiser NES roms that can be found on the interwebs and even YouTube videos claiming to be this unreleased NES game, but none of them are genuine and are most probably fan-made efforts and mods. That is because the Hellraiser game being developed by Color Dreams was not even close to being completed when it was dropped. You see, I found a more accurate quote from Dan Lawton about the game.

“The hardware was done, and the artwork was 20% done, there was no programming. It was a 45 degree down angle view, with a maze of stone and walls and pits”.

There was no programming for the game itself, just some artwork for the graphics (maybe that previous title screen?) and the hardware for the ‘super cartridge’… there was no actual Hellraiser game as there was no programming done. So all the roms you may find and the YouTube videos of the game are not genuine at all. Also note Lawton’s description of the game, particularly the viewpoint? “A 45 degree down angle view” or to  put it more simply, an isometric view… which is something the NES could definitely handle.

If you were to do an interwebs search for ‘unreleased Hellraiser NES game’, you’ll find several articles and even YouTube videos reporting exactly what I stated above. That there was a NES Hellraiser game being developed by Color Dreams for a 1990 release that used an advanced version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine. So to finish up, where did this whole Wolfenstein 3D engine powered Hellraiser game for the NES in 1990 come from?

Well I think I can answer that too. You see, developer Color Dreams went through various name changes through the 90s. From being named Color Dreams, they then formed Bunch Games and in 1991, they changed their name to Wisdom Tree and under this name, they developed and published numerous religious/bible based games. They even hold the distinction of making the only unlicensed SNES game to ever be released. And it is this game where I think the rumour of a Wolfenstein 3D engine powered Hellraiser game started…

Noahs Ark

Super Noah’s Ark 3D – or Super 3D Noah’s Ark as many places erroneously call it was that unlicensed SNES game I mentioned before and for those not in the know, it was basically a Wolfenstein 3D rip-off given a biblical graphical makeover…

Noah Screen

Just like Wolfenstein 3D, Super Noah’s Ark 3D was also a FPS game, they both had a similar ‘chapter’ level set up, they both have the same/similar HUD design just with different graphics. For all intents and purposes – they are the exact same game just with different graphics and story, they even feature some of the exact same map designs. Oh yeah, and they are both powered by an advanced version of the Wolfenstein 3D engine.

Rumour has it that id Software who developed Wolfenstein 3D were so annoyed at the censorship Nintendo forced on the SNES version of the game that they willingly gave Wisdom Tree the source code for Wolfenstein 3D for them to purposely make an unofficial/unlicensed clone to mock Nintendo. But then I’ve also found articles that state Wisdom Tree simply purchased the license to use the Wolfenstein 3D engine from id Software. I’ll let you chose which of those two you believe.

Anyway, I think what we have here is a case of crossed wires and unsubstantiated rumours. There was a Hellraiser game being developed for the NES in 1990 – but there is no way it was being built around the then non-existent Wolfenstein 3D engine. The Hellraiser game from 1990 was going to be an isometric puzzle game and not a 3D FPS. I also think the whole Hellraiser game using the Wolfenstein 3D engine came from some misinformation given out by a rather famous and popular internet reviewer, who – when they covered Super Noah’s Ark 3D stated that the game started out as a Hellraiser game, then things just escalated from there.

At least let me put it this way: I have only found slight information that the game was going to be an isometric puzzle game to be released in 1990. Yet I found nothing suggesting that a Hellraiser game using the Wolfenstein 3D engine was ever in development.

Hellraiser 8bit 2

So there you have it, the unreleased/unfinished Hellraiser game. Hopefully, I’ve cleared the air a little over exactly what this game was going to be and what it never was.

If you haven’t already – please check out my Hellraiser movie retrospective as part of my Halloween/Hellraiser 30th anniversary celebrations.

I Love Me Some RollerCoaster Tycoon – But This Guy? Dayum!

RollerCoaster Tycoon and RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 are quite simply the greatest theme park/management games ever created. Originally released in 1999 from Chris Sawyer and they still stand the test of time today. I did a quick overview of the game right here. I recently re-brought the first three games via Steam with all the added content and I’m currently re-playing through them. According to my Steam account – so far I’ve racked up over 100 hours and that is just on the first game… and I’m nowhere near close to finishing every scenario either.

I thought 100+ hours was a decent amount of time to put into the game… until I found out some guy has spent ten years, that’s TEN YEARS creating his ultimate mega-park.

Mega park.jpg

The above image is the work of one man – Sebastian Brendgen. Just to put things into perspective, the map is 254×254 tiles and that’s 64,516 individual tiles. If you know anything about the RollerCoaster Tycoon games, then you’s know that each and every single one of these tiles has to be placed and decorated yourself… that’s a hell of a lot of work.

Most of my theme parks end up being a mess of rides and attractions, and to be honest – I don’t really plan ahead and just build on instinct as the park grows. I just build because its fun. But what Sebastian did with his mega-park was very carefully pre-plan everything.

“At first I liked the gameplay very much, Later on, I don’t think it was a game anymore to me. It was more like a picture or an art.”

Sebastian used the modding tool OpenRCT2 to help him create his park. Its a tool that removes some of the restrictions the base game has, offers better building controls as well as add some new scenery and attractions.

The park grew and grew and Sebastian began to split it into various themed sections. Pirate Land, Middle Ages, Mountain Top, Mars and even a section based on Tron – he even created a parking lot!

Pirate Zone

His ideas would change and quite often, Sebastian had to destroy and rebuild rides and coasters and even entire sections in order get everything just right. A lot of the attractions in his park are based on real ones he has experienced first hand living in Germany. By the time his park was finished, it contained 255 rides and shops 34 of which are coasters and was averaging around 8,000 peeps in his park at any one time.

“It took me so long and I wasted so many thoughts on it. But I’m really proud of myself that I stuck to it and brought it that far.”

A decade is a hell of a lot of time to spend on any one game… never mind one map. I doff my hat in respect to you Mr Sebastian Brendgen – the king of RollerCoaster Tycoon.

Red Dead Redemption II – 2nd Trailer

Well its finally here. Forget a big build up, lets just get right to it…

This is a little follow on from my previous Red Dead Redemption II article and here I’m just going to offer my thoughts on what this new trailer shows us (after watching it several times).

First impressions… I looks efing’ gorgeous. The vistas and scenery, the character models, the lip syncing, etc. It all looks incredibly detailed and to be honest, after Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto V –  I’d expect nothing less either. Also, its now Red Dead Redemption II and not 2.

Vista.JPG

The trailer synopsis, according to Rockstar themselves reads:

“The story of outlaw Arthur Morgan and the Van der Linde gang as they rob, fight, and steal their way across the vast and rugged heart of America in order to survive.”

Morgan Horse

So looks like we’re playing as this Arthur Morgan character or at least he is one of the characters you play as. I’m still confident there is more to be revealed when it comes to playable characters and I also think the multi-character mechanic from Grand Theft Auto V will make a return. Mainly as you are connected to the Van der Linde gang which is the gang that previous protagonist, John Marston was involved with in the events before Red Dead Redemption… which would also cement in place what many people thought from the start – that this game will be a prequel. It also could mean the return of John Marston as a playable character. Plus Dutch appears in the trailer and if you’ve completed the previous game – then you know this means it has to be a prequel.

No John Marston though… not yet anyway. But I think this could be Abigail Marston…

Abigail

She was a member of Dutch’s gang and the character models look very similar between the two games… except for the obvious quality difference. And I think when she says “You’re the only one of these fools that I trust.” That she’s talking to an off camera John.

Morgan seems to be a complete, unrelenting asshole. There’s a part in the trailer where he threatens the son of a grieving mother still in mourning over the death of her husband… the he was most probably responsible for. He seems like a very different character to John Marston who was actively trying to become a better man.

Morgan

Morgan seems like he relishes being the bad guy, so quite a contrast from the previous game. Its also point blank pointed out that he is a wanted man so it seems you’ll definitely be playing on the wrong side of the law this time around… at least as Morgan anyway.

We get to see some interesting action in the trailer too. A train heist, bank robbery, all sorts of fisticuffs and gun-play, alligators and the return of the wild horse breaking… I didn’t see any wild flower collecting – which is a good thing. But the wildlife is back and more varied than before too, so hunting will be a part of the game again. I also noted the use of a bow & arrow hinting that ‘injuns’ could be a part of the game. There is also a variety of places to explore including snowy mountains, swamp land, forests and of course – classic western towns.

Duo

There’s still much more for Rockstar to reveal in regards to Red Dead Redemption II I’m sure of that, and we’ll see more trailers over the next few months that’ll reveal more characters and plot and hopefully some actual gameplay footage.

Fire

Its looking good, very, very good indeed. Still no confirmed release date though, just that ‘Spring 2018’ rough time-frame. But I can wait. Looking forward to playing as a complete bad-ass, outlaw, cowboy and causing some wild west havoc.