Tuesday, 6 October 2015

20 YEARS OF THE PLAYSTATION; A personal view

If June 23rd 1996 marked the start of the World Wrestling 'Attitude' era - so that year marked a change in our gameplay.
At the 'King Of The Ring' that year there was a blimp in the arena that advertised the Sega Saturn - we knew about the Sega Megadrive but a Saturn - what was that?

Quite simply there were no magazines as such to tell us about the way consoles were changing. No Playstation magazine - not until 1997 when PSN came out. Today, it is the Playstation Official Magazine.

Even E3 was unknown unlike today when every reveal is met with bated breath. So we were unaware that Sega had announced it's new Saturn and that Sony had entered the market with the cheaper Playstation.

I cannot compare the two consoles because we only saw what the Playstation could do. My son-in-law bought one and the kids loved playing 'Wipeout' and 'Tekken'. No longer was the screen filled with two dimensional characters and scrolling scenery - the console world had brought depth to the field with a three dimensional feel.

I think that we bought our Playstation from the local Virgin Megastore and it didn't cost us an arm and a leg. At the time Lara Croft and Jill Valentine were making their debuts via 'Tomb Raider' and 'Resident Evil'. My sons also went for Acclaim's wrestling game 'Warzone' and (so the story goes) I got hold of 'Ridge Racer'.

The Playstation slimmed down and became the PSOne. However, gamewise those years were dominated by the Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, Grand Theft Auto and GTA:London, racing and wrestling games. Every game brought something new to get excited about.

And if we weren't on the console then the wife was with her 'Devil Dice' game.

November 2000 saw the launch of the Playstation 2 and we were amongst the lucky few who managed to get hold of one. It was a revolutionary little black box that boasted a DVD player and the ability to play both the PSOne games as well as the new games for the new console. With it came a new franchise in the shape of 'Devil May Cry'. Gameplay and graphics improved and with it came more Tomb Raider games; the underrated 'Resident Evil: Codename Veronica X' - and in our house racing and wrestling games.

In 2015 the slimline Playstation 2 still lives though it is my wife Sandra who plays 'Age Of Empires 2' and 'Devil Dice'.

In 2007 after long delays over problems with the blu-ray system the PS3 arrived on the market. With it came rumours of the 'ring of death'. Hearsay made us doubt the new Playstation so we switched to the new Xbox 360 - by this time the boys had moved on. The eldest son had moved out and only the youngest was around.

When the dust settled I got hold of a PS3 - and with it came the ability to play the games that I wanted to play. 'Gears Of War' or 'Uncharted' ; 'Forza' or ' Killzone' it didn't really matter as I had both consoles. Other games like 'Grand Theft Auto' were across both consoles anyway - but I did begin to 'hate' exclusivity as it felt as though my freedom of choice of console had been taken away.

To get the Day One Playstation 4 with the new 'Killzone' game in 2013 was something else. I didn't rush off to the midnight launch at our local Game - just picked it up the next morning. I had made the decision to stay safe with the Sony Playstation as I had more of  an affinity with those consoles (although I didn't keep the faith with the PS3 at first). Microsoft had suffered bunches of U-turns and seemed unsure what the new Xbox One could or couldn't do with variations on the tense ( would/should etc).

The one thing I knew about the PS4 was that it was, primarily, a games console. The fact that Microsoft released their console a week early made me feel that it was a bit rushed. The PS4 has an inbuilt memory for game saves - the Xbox One doesn't. The 360 had a cloud alternative so that a game can be played on another console - that didn't always work - so I had misgivings about the Xone because it relied on the cloud. But I love 'Forza' and 'Titanfall' so the inevitable happened.

Most of my game time is on the PS4 - and the gaming world has changed visually in both depth and scope. Play the PSOne version of 'Silent Hill' on the PS2 and you can see the differences but the experience is equally enjoyable.

In reality the Playstation has fulfilled it's part in my life - my sons have Playstations as do my grandchildren - it has occupied 20 years of our lives. We have raced, wrestled and shot at each other - or tagged and teamed up against others.

The Playstation, as it stands now, is a great platform for both players and developers.

Monday, 28 September 2015


Recently Phil Spencer of Xbox gave an interview with Gamespot and a piece about it can be found at www.exlgaming.com

Most of what he had to say is true - too much time is spent by gamers who argue about which console (or piece of plastic) is better rather than discussing the games themselves.

As Phil Spencer says console wars have raged since the time consoles began - but this is about expensive pieces of plastic. His job is to make the gamer proud of what the Xbox has to offer and give them an enjoyable experience.

To my mind the Xbox One was rushed out to beat Sony's Playstation 4 and with it came a bunch of defects that have yet to be fixed. I can play certain online games if I change the settings but if I do that then I lose out on other games and have to change those settings back again.

Also the Xbox One has no save data on the hard drive - so that is wandering lonely in a cloud somewhere. I have two games that just sit and 'sync' all the time but never load. Xbox customer care do not have a solution to this.

In fact Xbox customer care know about both the cloud and server issues so I am not alone in this. So, Phil Spencer, who wants gamers to have an enjoyable experience, needs to take a look at the problems and iron out the defects to make gamers proud.

In a recent survey I stated that I would never recommend the Xbox One to anyone is based on my experiences that one year on have yet to be resolved.

And, yes I know that many Xbox One owners will say that they don't have problems with their console but customer care does say something different. Loyalty to a brand is great just the same as we all do with a certain type of game. They say that a particular long running game is dead because it no longer delivers in the way it began. The developers continue in a certain direction because that is what is best for business - it is the same with consoles - even if they get it wrong they are all reliant on that loyal fan. Why? Because they know that their product will sell despite the naysayers.

Now the very experience that Phil Spencer would like me to have I do get from the Playstaion 4 and my Xbox 360.

The 360 is one of the first black Xbox consoles (the one before those with the in-built wi-fi) and is fitted with a wi-fi attachment. Never had a problem with it - never had the need to upgrade it. So I expected the same with the Xbox One. I still play on the 360 - quite a lot - because it is an excellent machine even though there is online lag from time to time. Let's face it no console is perfect - if it was then we wouldn't have anything to complain about.

So, yes, games are important as well.

As gamers we do dwell on what is wrong with a console. Last time around it was the Playstation 3 that was getting it in the next. All the rumours of the 'ring of death' and blu-ray problems but they got there, eventually.

I do not agree though with exclusivity. I find that it takes away my right to choose. If I want to play Forza titles or Gears Of War - or the new 'Rise Of The Tomb Raider' I have to have an Xbox One (though Tomb Raider will be on the 360 so that is not a problem). At the same time I might want to play 'Uncharted' series for which I would need a PS4 or Bayonetta 2 which can only be played on the Wii. But the Xbox and the PS4 are rivals and competitors who play out the game of my console is bigger and better than your console - and expect gamers like me to choose sides - then blame the gamers for doing the same.

I'm not so sure that I would want to wait for 'Backward Compatability' as I do not want to lose my 360 save data to disappear into some distant cloud.

To conclude I am not a 'fan' and way beyond being a 'boy' but I do enjoy a good gaming experience and that is one with good connectivity and a memory that can be accessed from the hard drive. I have two that does what it says on the tin and another that is close but still a wannabe. I know someone, though, who has the power to make me want to feel proud that I own that third console.

Saturday, 26 September 2015


In 2009 Platinum Games for Sega brought a new kind of heroine to the gaming world. While most action play games are very samey 'Bayonetta' proved to be something else.
The director was 'Devil May Cry' creator Hideki Kamiya.
Players of 'Devil May Cry 4' may recognise some of the characters that turn up in 'Bayonetta'. But it appears more in style than intent.
Bayonetta, who bore a striking resemblence to the then American Senator, Sarah Palin, was voiced by Hellena Taylor.
The character of Bayonetta wakes up 500 years into the future with no memories. As the game progresses some memories begin to surface and she begins to realise that she is one half of the balance between light and darkness.
The action takes place in a city in Europe called Vigrid. Bayonetta is armed with four guns called Parsley, Rosemary, Sage and Thyme - collectively known as Scarborough Fair. (Kamiya likes English Folk Music).
Where this game differed from it's ilk is that it was a totally fresh concept. In part it was a movie that involved the player in making all the right decisions and solving problems.
Add to that that Bayonetta moves through three realms - that of light, darkness and inferno as though drifting through parallel worlds. To be honest I had never played a game like this.
For those that liked to get on with the gameplay then the prologue and subsequent cut scenes may have seemed overlong - but the reality is that this was a combo that worked.
If you like 'Devil May Cry' then you'll like 'Bayonetta'. The difference is that you have to think and use everything in your arsenal to get through each level.
Just to add a spoiler - the end isn't and even when the credits roll there are new challenges to face - now you wouldn't want to finish a game and not collect all the unlockables.
However, I did have one misgiving. This game is so different to others that there is the fear that it could disappear into obscurity.
'Bayonetta' on original release was available for both the Xbox 360 and PS3. 
A sequal did arrive with 'Bayonetta 2' only to come out on the Wii.
This piece is revised from the original 2009 piece that I wrote from a blog 'Open Range'

Wednesday, 23 September 2015


Forza 6 is a celebration of 10 years of Turn 10's racing game.

To celebrate there are old favourite tracks from Forza 5 and new ones as you race around the streets of Rio de Janeiro; or the circuits at Daytona, Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. The Texan Circuit Of The Americas makes it's debut while Hockenheim, Brands Hatch and Sonoma (formerly Infinion) make a welcome return. Sadly, no Suzuka or New York but then there are plenty of the 'old' club circuits to race.

Cars too, cover the spectrum of Forza gaming and a DLC has the cars from Fast & Furious together with a 'barn find' from the Storm Island dlc on Forza Horizon 2.

The opening sections to the game are as played on the beta except that the first showcase event around The Brickyard is unlocked during the next series.

The career mode consists of 5 volumes divided into a series of 3 types of races and 6 types of car to choose from - so each volume has to be played twice. These games are enhanced by the use of mods - players of the Beta will have encountered these. There are 'crew mods' which means that grip and power aspects can be improved and enhanced; others give the opportunity to gain xp for, say cornering or drafting; while a third choice of card dares you to drive and win with a manual transmission or weight added. Win with a card from all three will give the player the 'Modified' achievement.

Unlike previous Forza games events like Autocross are not part of the career mode as such - but have become 'unlocked' Showcase challenges. Again, in this mode is a nod to previous Forza games where the opponents are those AI drivers met like J.Rossi from Forzas 2, 3, and 4. While main events are against drivatars as before.

Overall Forza 6 brings it's own challenges with night and wet weather driving - so far not seen the two combined (that would be a real challenge). And the graphics are far better than those seen in Forza 5.

The game is almost perfect definately a 9.5/10.
The issues I have is one minor one - and that is the cars in front drive through puddles like they don't exist so don't aquaplane (nor brake) whereas the player does.
The major problem is with timing - come off the track; hit another car or cut a corner the player gets penalised and that's fair enough. But a clean time is also penalised. A check on the scoreboard showed a 'triangle' beside a time that put me in 25,000 odd place but I had beaten the time of a guy who was in 560 place (no penalty triangle against his name). So there seems to be a glitch in the scoring system.

Despite that I rate this game but then I am a touch biased as I like to play Forza.

Thursday, 17 September 2015


This was the question posed by the BBC's Horizon series last night.

The programme began with the usual display of headlines that included one of someone who went on a killing spree after playing an undefined 'Call Of Duty'. Only the night before Devon Moore was highlighted as he killed three policemen and drove off in a police car - he had been playing 'Grand Theft Auto'.

The tone seemed to be set as psychiatrists etc were wheeled out to demonstrate how this part and that part of the brain was affected by violent video games to the point that it was some kind of addiction that made gamers immune to violence.

After a quick five minutes with video game journalists who defended the industry to the extent that the genuine remarks were drowned,

So having begun the programme with a virtual prosecution it was time for the defence to show that the naysayers evidence were only part of the picture. They showed that those self-same parts of the brain had a knock on effect that affected other parts of the brain that countered the first instincts.

Finally, there was a neat little computer game that required the player to keep a car on the road but, at the same time, various signs would pop up requiring the gamer to press a button when certain coloured shapes flashed up. This was demonstrated at helping to multi-task and a device that I did think was helpful - but all the things it was designed for can be found in 'Forza Horizon'.

What the programme did reveal was that those aged from school age to 35 are in the minority - while those who are older make up the rest. 

The above is a rough summary of the programme but the result was a sort of inconclusive result.

The real problem is that there is, was and always will be a blame culture. Back in the 'fifties it was American comics since then heavy metal, violent movies and 'Dungeons and Dragons' have been highlighted as the cause of murder to campus killings to suicide. As humans we need to blame something that we don't understand - and when challenged the accuser admits to never have played the game, seen the movie or know who the heavy metal group are.

Nor does playing games like 'Devil May Cry', 'Streetfighter', 'Titanfall' or 'Call Of Duty' make anyone immune to the violence around them. The media has already done that - years of famine with starving or dead children thrust in our face (never adults - just wounded ones). The constant pictures of ruined empty cities with earnest reporters trying to stress some story passes many because we've seen it all before. Citing games as the cause just doesn't hold water. Games are an escape from the very reality that some games portray - but that escape does not mean that no one cares.

Recently, YouTube had a thing called 'Elders Re-Act to 'Call Of Duty:Advanced Warfare' - not very flattering to these over sixties who sat around with controllers not quite what to do. In the 'Horizon' programme they introduced a bunch of over sixties to console gaming for the first time. They had great fun playing 'Sonic Racing' - and a shame that it took up a short piece of the programme because it highlighted something that I know very well. For these older people it was shown that their brain function was enhanced.

Back in 1999 (9th August to be precise) I had a stroke that left me with a weak left side and memory loss - and that loss included some short term loss as well. I was told that amongst the things that I would never do again was drive. So come 2000 while I was doing rehab I was asked if I had a games console - my son had one and it was suggested that if I could use it then it would serve as an aid for hand and eye co-ordination. There was also an aid to something else - the controls themselves - I had to remember what the buttons did. Scary at the time - had to keep asking what does the square button do? Oh, right I should have used the back bumper/trigger - and so on but after a while I was able to master 'Tomb Raider' and 'WWF: Raw Is War' on the Playstation One but racing games eluded me.

Today I play 'Titanfall', 'Call Of Duty'games online in multiplayer. An area where I first took up the gun with 'Modern Warfare 3'. But while I play most nights it is more thereputic than addictive. I can play racing games like 'Need For Speed' and the 'Forza' series. 

Ten years after that stroke and being told that there was stuff that I couldn't do - I bought a car and I now drive. Never underestimate the power of that controller or the game that is played - it isn't a cure all - but gaming does have positive benefits - and a pity that the Horizon programme didn't cover these aspects fully.

Sunday, 13 September 2015


EXL Gaming is a new website that is all about games and gaming across all platforms. Plenty of reviews of console games from people who have played them - so less hype and more practical information.

EXL Gaming also have various Facebook groups - 'Titanfall' and 'Call Of Duty' are just a couple of sites but there are several more. The groups that I have looked at are great fun and a community within itself.

Worth taking a look at.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

FORZA 6 (demo)

If I need one reason to hang on to my Xbox One then Forza 6 has to be it.

I have played the Forza games from number 2 and the real reason that I bought an Xbox One was so that I could play Forza 5 and Forza Horizon 2. The Forza series is probably the best racing game that I have played and I've played a few.

Having seen the trailer I was intrigued by some of the new gameplays available - like driving in the rain. That had been done in 'Project Cars' but that game left me cold.

Racing through Rio in the 2017 Ford GT comes as the opening race and here I encountered my first taste of speed. This is not Forza as I know it - the speed is faster thereby forcing faster reaction when braking and cornering. To say that I wasn't prepared is an understatement - I managed first place but had to replay just to improve my time. I'm a bit like Britt in 'The Magnificent Seven' that way - I compete with myself.

The next scenario is a qualifying series of three races. Before that you get to choose your first car as in Forza Horizon 2 and race around a track very much in the manner of many first races which manages to lull the player into a mood of self-confidence.

The next race is set at night on the Yas Marina raceway and it is easy to get distracted by the scenery with the lights changing colour. Here you pick up your first mod pack. Yas Marina at night is raced on a cooling track which means that the tyres will lose traction. The first mod pack can boost your earnings or move your starting place higher or, best of all, a crew mod that gives your tyres that extra grip.

With two races down you get invited to an extra race - nothing like a bit of speedway in an Indycar on the Brickyard at Indianapolis. This is where it gets manic - this makes that opener around Rio seem like a walk in the park. This has real speed and it is so easy to misjudge - but this is Forza at it's best.

To the final race and it is Sebring in the rain. Rain that runs up the windscreen while the wipers work hard to keep the vision clear. Of course, the view can be changed but looking out through the windscreen is like driving through the real thing. Watch for the puddles and try to avoid otherwise you will be off the track - aquaplaning into a wall and watching 24 cars pass you by (that was not my experience but it can happen).

So with the qualifying rounds completed the demo opens up 'Rivals' mode at the start menu.

The game itself will boast about 460 cars and many race tracks around the world (but I haven't seen any for Japan like Suzuka which was missing in Forza 5). As for the races - there are 5 volumes to this game and they, in turn, have sub-divisions.

I pre-ordered my Forza 6 game back when it was first announced - so looking forward to the UK release date of 15th September (though I do believe that the USA will get it a couple of days before on the 11th).

The developers Turn 10 (for Microsoft) are celebrating 10 years of Forza - happy anniversary.