Celes Leonhart blogged
Feb 23, 13 5:30pm

Fans are poisonous. The average, majority fan is so fickle and short-sighted, they stand to halt artistic vision and experimental game design and leave us in an endless wheel of regurgitated styles and templates.

This thought stems immediately from Capcom published, Ninja Theory developed, franchise reboot DmC. A fair fan of the previous titles and owner of all four, I wouldn’t call myself a Dante Must Die kind of guy but hack-n-slash has its kicks. What most stood out within the series for me though was the first title: the game was hauntingly atmospheric and was clearly influenced by its history as a Resident Evil title. As a kid I found the puppets and inanimate-turned-animate objects strictly terrifying, and even now a real sense of claustrophobia can envelope me as I get locked in room faced with having to eliminate all enemies first. This is what the series should be recognised for; but instead the series regresses to standard, anime-dramatic, eastern affair.

The second game does enough damage that the third struggles to climb back up, though it does a good job and is more reminiscent of the first than the sequel. Four comes out and the game attempts to overcome the stalemate of repetition: it introduces a new protagonist with a new fighting style to stir the pot a little bit, but isn’t confident enough to walk away from fan favourite Dante and he features for nearly half the game too. As a next generation sequel, it’s not enough. The graphics sure are pretty but it does little to define itself as anything new and it becomes a matter of fan-service cameos and continuity tied. You only have to look at a franchise like Metal Gear Solid and see how that series’ seventh generation entry changes on such a drastic scale without abandoning the core of the game. The gameplay of DMC4 is undoubtedly solid, but it loses any real flavour - yes, Devil May Cry 5 would have been fine, but it would have got in the way of DmC, and that’s what’s important.

There were two significant points made at the announcement of DmC: one was that Dante (and consequently the entire game - but no one cared about that so much as his hair) faced a complete redesign as a reboot to the series, and the other was that western Ninja Theory was to helm the next title.

What should have been a focus point of discussion was whether or not Ninja Theory was established and talented enough to carry such an important title on their shoulders. As much as DmC is a series reboot, it must be faithful, most of all to the gameplay which the games pioneered as a genre. And this would be a fair point of debate: though with only a limited back-catalogue behind them, Ninja Theory had proven a fair grasp of high octane, hack-n-slash combat in for the form of early Playstation 3 title Heavenly Sword. That combined with their strong story-telling of Enslaved stood to suggest Ninja Theory could bring real maturity and development to the franchise.

It even then came to knowledge that the game would feature a reduced FPS, capped at 30, and while it was a point worth being vocal on, it definitely did not instigate the most noise. Instead, all anyone wanted to talk was Dante’s hair. Known for his long, white, swept hair (which would be distinctly “emo” anyway if for another colour), earthquakes hit the fanbase when his hair turned instead to a shorter, fringed, black style. Despite still maintaining a distinctive red (and black) coat, and replacing whatever top Dante featured for each game with a white vest , it was taken that Dante had become the Edward Cullen of video games. Let me just put both of these generation designs side by side:

Now this simple redesign - contextually understandable in presenting a much younger, immature Dante - was pure blasphemy to the hardcore audience of the series, and universally rejected. It led to comments like this “NO! he looks emo... come on...you know 90% of us hate this emo goth trash!” and “I will boycott the game if they do not fix this issue. 95% or more are unhappy with this change. Who is with me?” and this was on a big scale.

You only have to look across to developers like Bioware where fan power is becoming far too apparent. Backlash to their Mass Effect trilogy’s ending led to several free content updates and DLCs to try and appeal to those seemingly wounded by the ending they didn’t want. Whether you’re a fan of the ending or not, it was the intended product; you can’t bully film directors to change their endings or characters’ deaths, even in an on-going series. Fred Weasley won’t be brought back despite millions of people crying their eyes out about it. If feedback was considered and constructive, it can be an incredibly useful tool, but when even Bioware writers are describing fan feedback as “increasingly toxic” and are purposely trying to avoid it, we’ve reached a point where fan input is more danger than it’s worth.

Pulling back to the point, DmC is fantastic. It’s respectful to the franchise while bringing a whole new vision; it’s visually wonderful and eclectic, myriad colours shaking up the monotony of gothic fantasy. The script is lightyears ahead in strength, with the characters suddenly relatable with genuine responses and passages of dialogue, with a plot that draws you through despite its familiarity. The sales have been decent so hopefully its initial reaction didn’t hinder it too harshly, but looking forward, fans like these are cancer to game development. Capcom handed over one of their flagship titles to a relatively unproven developer to great results, and we need an industry where developers are willing to take risks like this rather than get stuck in a rut of conformity and emulation.

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Celes Leonhart blogged
Feb 15, 13 2:17pm

Totally posting this here because there isn't a collective profile for the game.

Despite all the praise - which was nothing compared to the numerous Game of the Year Awards it now boasts - I was in no rush to play The Walking Dead. Already a fan of Telltale Games, I knew the developer’s style: humourous, witty, traditional. Their games are fun offerings to pass the time, but nothing on any grand scale of achievement. That was my assumption of The Walking Dead, and I would scoop it up in a Steam sale one day, arrogant and smug, and tell everyone I enjoyed it, which I certainly would. But one day it was my Twitter feed that finally made me click; my usual regulars were buried beneath a sea of “#ForClementine” hashtags, retweets from Telltale. Nothing out of the usual for Twitter-savvy developers, but it was the content preceding these messages: tears, heart-break, desperation. People were crushed, but would do anything #ForClementine, and I needed to find out why.

Enter Episode 1. Immediately endearing, but the pace starts slow. I’m a prisoner in the back of a police car, on the way to jail for a crime I’m not even sure I did, and neither is the officer taking me. I’m caught off my feet; casually used to picking discussion at my own will, I’ve suddenly got a very prompt timer and only one chance to pick. I panic, pick the wrong answer and even Lee, the protagonist, seems nervous in his reply. I even miss replying all together. You can tell Telltale’s strength in character design already, with the officer pouncing on my weary tone, and I know looking forward, there are consequences to what I say, with no rewind. I forget how long the car journey is even taking, captivated in the free conversation, when my response is halted by a sudden realisation: there’s a wanderer in the road right in front of us, in the middle of the motorway. My fingers slam option 1, or 2, or anything to warn the driver, and I scream obscenities (in real life) as my car crashes straight through him and off the road in terror. My heart is beating. This is no usual Telltale game, and they’ve got complete control of my emotions within two minutes of the game starting.

Season One of the Walking Dead is as much the story of protagonist Lee as it is of his young companion Clementine. Accidentally stumbling into her home, the rest of the game follows his commitment to keep her safe and free her from danger. Desperate to find out if her parents are okay, Lee, Clementine and the rest of the companions found along the way head to Savannah with the main group motive of getting a boat out of town, with several hiccups holding them back.

You meet a lot of different characters en-route, some easy to hate with more completely lovable. Every character is entirely unique and who you like will be entirely preference. What you’re never prepared for is how harsh this game really is though. No one is safe, everyone expendable dependant on your decisions. There is death in this game, and it is heart-wrenching. No matter what the circumstance, Clementine comes first, and you keep going.

The game’s pace is dictated by two major styles of gameplay, which are to be expected from a traditional-styled adventure game. The game slows to a halt when given an opportunity to investigate, you’re given the freedom to talk to who you wish as much as they’ve got dialogue for, to wander the area looking for clues and items and otherwise do some puzzle solving. Don’t be mistaken: you will need to look for batteries to fix a radio, you do need to work out how to distract the zombies outside with the tools you have inside. Those elements are still crucial to progress, but are never dull; the script is written so tightly, where each character so individual you’re purposely opening all avenues of discussion. For those less interested in the lore or hidden bits of information, a segment that takes me twenty minutes can quite easily take faster players five.

In contrast, the timed sections are the real gut-punches. Admittedly a few may seem like inconsequential conversations, but will usually have direct effects on later events. Beside those are the action-based timed segments, where you’re forced to make life and death decisions in the heat of the moment, zombies pouring out of the streets at you - do you save a child or your closest friend? Do you leave someone injured or take them knowing they’re dead weight? While the game is littered with subtle implications of your actions that ripple throughout, more urgent are these decisions, shaping the story entirely to who you are as a person, or at least how you choose to play. With such urgency and pressure mounting on you it’s so easy to make a decision you at once regret, but it’s what you made at the time, and the characters of the story will often reflect some of the feelings you’re personally mounting. You’re going to piss a lot of people off no matter how much good you do. That’s not to say it’s all decision based - there is a lot of zombie gouging and shoot outs, too.

Fans of the show might be understandably wary. The game sports a comic aesthetic more in line with the books, entirely cel-shaded. The visuals are sometimes a little bit clunky, with models occasionally not resembling actual human bodies and with some layers seeming to glitch or ghost around a character. It’s not perfect, but it certainly has its own charm which makes it easy to forgive. It doesn’t hinder the terror and the game balances with a fair amount of humour and optimism that are conveyed well.

This strength is further embodied in the fantastic voice acting, especially for certain characters. Hand in hand with the writing, the fear in Clementine’s voice is enough to bring you to tears, and even hearts of steel will be challenged not to tear up by the end of the game. Lee’s VA does an equally terrific job with one of the most compelling protagonists in games there is. For the most part, everyone is portrayed wonderfully, with a strong range: Kenny’s turn from optimistic joker to scarred and sorrowful is gradual and convincing, as is everyone else. The score does similarly well in tormenting emotions, and is done justice loud through a good set.

The game does have its flaws though. Poor menu design led to my final episode save being deleted and having to back-track through a part of Episode 4 to maintain my developed history. It’s also frustrating when a selection of choices doesn’t necessarily have what you’d actually say. Some of the episodes are questionable in nature; it can range from an hour and a half of loose ties to a four hour frenzy of excitement. It also meanders slightly at points, as much fun as Episode 2 is, it deviates from the over-arcing story quite substantially. Despite that, its pacing remains strong and you get out of each episode what you need from it.

One of the strongest factors of the game is its replayability. Even now, writing this, fresh off of completing it the day before, I am desperate to play it again. To make different decisions. To side with different people. To experience a completely different journey, even if some of the emotional potency is diluted the second time round. (I’m sure I’ll cry again anyway.)

The Walking Dead is a game that steals your heart and runs with it; it features such an enthralling cast it’s hard to say goodbye to some of them, but the star of the show is ultimately Clementine. Where other games would find this style of narrative a burden, in this case she’s the reason you do anything, and the reason you become so emotionally involved. Self-survival becomes irrelevant and you really would do anything #ForClementine.

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Celes Leonhart blogged
Oct 23, 12 12:27am

The worst thing about being a fan of Nic Cage is having to actually watch him act. In films. Starring Nic Cage.

People that claim Cage has never given a good performance nor been in a good film are wrong, especially recently: excellent performances are not limited to the completely left-field, tear-broking and everyone's favourite father in Kick Ass; modern day and entirely not Italian but still Don of gangware Lord of War's Lord of War; melancholic and entirely worthless husband but still relateable weatherman in Weatherman and who-knows-what-you-could-call-him insane script-writer in Adaptation, pseudo-sequel to the equally as bizarre Being John Malkavich. The trick to these roles is that they are just that: roles. Nothing there is alike, in any way; they uncover characteristics you couldn't even begin to associate with Nic Cage and he's rewarded with new found respect each time. And then, sadly, he chooses to play himself for the consecutive eighteen films and you either i) forget he exists, or ii) remember he's completely insane and sidestep every Nic Cage adventure to the best of your ability, even when all of your friends reckon Season of the Witch looks like a great romp to watch on their birthday, when you've already blacklisted it purely on the basis it stars a combination of Stephen Graham in a film with Americans and Ron Perlman without horns.

I do this quite well, I'd say, though I hear once in a while Nic Cage in Nic Cage: The Movie actually a lot better than had been expected, and is worth checking out. Then I find out the film is called Drive Angry as opposed to Drive Angrily and think again. The problem with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is I have to watch it. It is compulsory for a number of reasons. For starters, I'm a comic-book film junkie and I'm that person single-handedly funding the over-saturation of superhero films, and am content knowing I saw The Spirit at the cinema and proudly own it on blu-ray. Another is that I somehow managed to enjoy the first one (probably when I was twelve or something) and I'm excited to see where it goes now. Add to that that I will always have a soft-spot for Cage and optimism that the next film might be another gem. The main reason, though, is Crank is AWESOME. But then I actually watched Spirit of Vengeance and I'm suddenly thankful that plans fell through and Nic Cage is not Aragorn, and Mickey Rourke turned out to be The Wrestler; and that being wary of anything Nic Cage might star in is entirely justified.

You might think from those last few lines that I wasn't a fan of the 2011 sequel, but the honest truth is two days after watching the film I still have no idea whether or not I liked it. Despite being of the Marvel Knights family – reserved for the more mature Marvel Studio outputs – it's childishly stupid at points, and from the get-go I know Idris Elba is going to be my favourite character despite his hilariously bad role. It's hard to comment on Cage's performance in a negative tone when besides the aforementioned Elba, it's probably the worst accumulated cast seen since The Room and the child who seemed oddly to be avoiding as much dialogue as possible gives a standout performance, but it's almost like the film is self-aware of how bad it is. Part way through the film when Cage has finally welcomed the demon inside of him out, he's in a half-way position between Rider and Blaze, riding down the street on his signature bike, manically laughing. It lasts a few minutes purely of Cage giving his best impressions of the actors in Stroke Awareness TV ads while the Ghost attempts to physically break out of his face. It's like a montage acknowledging itself and how bad it really is. Another signature moment is near the start at the Ghost Rider's first appearance, where he longingly stares at one thug, leaning in for a moment of intimacy you'd expect from a film on the calibre of Love Actually but seems to last twice as long. The King of Freak Out peaks, though, when he throws one thug against the wall in interrogation, but purely uses acting skills to shit the information out of him.

When I asked a colleague her opinion of the film, she told me she couldn't understand the camera angles and the plot wasn't good enough to carry it. She's right: the plot isn't good at all, and all I remember from it pretty much is that it involves the son of Satan. I have no idea why or what importance he holds. I do know Idris Elba was French and drank wine in every scene, though. Her other criticism was one of my favourite aspects of the film though – the camera work. It's possible I knew what to expect following Crank, but the team of Neveldine/Taylor come out with the most exciting, quirky style that just makes the film a joy to watch. Statham embodied it in Crank with his ruthless energy, but even more it's Cage's craziness that really grasps the style by the balls and runs away giggling (literally, most of the time). The film isn't strong by a long-shot with dreadful genuine acting from the rest of the cast, a flimsy plot and generally hardly anything worth the investment, but I had a thrill through most of it, and I have no idea why. Probably Nic Cage.

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Celes Leonhart blogged
Oct 17, 12 4:34pm

I'm punching aliens in the face. I'm drawing penises on a whiteboard. I'm taking a slash. I'm playing billiards. I'm taking the secret throne elevator down to the Duke Cave where a personal call from the President is awaiting me. I'm single-handedly destroying an alien mothership all the while avoiding an air assault. I'm getting a blowjob from twins while I'm self-aware I'm in a game that took 14 years to develop as I play that same game on the television in front of me.

Within the course of the introduction and the first stage, I'm already in love with Duke Nukem Forever.

When the first major footage leaked amidst the demise of 3D Realms, long since we'd seen anything of the title, I was in awe: I thought the animations looked as beautiful as the graphics did, while the gameplay looked like unbelievable fun. Fun. Not intense, heart-tugging crusades through war-torn Madeupistan but the pure joy that comes from getting to blow everything up. I'd grown up with Duke, maybe not as much as others, but I had; between Duke Nukem 3D, the side-scrolling Manhattan Project (which was a lot of fun) and the Playstation spin-offs, Duke had earned a fan. But I had grown up and stopped caring and it was only the arrival of this little taster that reminded me how much I'd wanted this game without even realising it. But too, how I was never going to play it.

Then Gearbox swooped in, saved the day, finally finished development and released the game to the wild – as well as to universal panning. Crushed were my dreams, away my wallet was put and I meandered onwards waiting for Time Splitters 4 instead without giving a look back. Duke would keep popping up on Steam half-price but I'd bite my tongue and persevere until one day in a seasonal catalogue sale it was only £6, and I thought it was criminal to not support. I downloaded and installed. And then it sat there, and sat there; so put off by peer reviews and the fear of disappointment I refused to open it.

Today, over a year on since its release, I am much less attached. Bored and in need of a game to play, Duke stood from my Steam list and again, downloads and installations were made. With no expectations, it launched.

*bleep* yeah, Duke Nukem.

So yes, I have only played the first two levels. Maybe it peaked already. Maybe it just gets worse. But I have played two levels, and I've had a lot of fun. The game feels nostalgic. As I walk around my suite, I feel like I'm playing Half-Life again; interacting with random things and exploring everything before shit hits the fan, because it will. And yes, when I say nostalgic, I know it's a sweet way of covering up that the game feels clunky. It baffles me that something that looks so fantastic in general has such a bad Duke model himself; the entire structure is completely rigid as you slide left and right, and it looks hilariously bad. Enjoying myself, I decided to check the punching animations too: I smashed the mirror. I punched the punching bag, and got rewarded with Ego. I went to the corner of the room and played a pinball machine, completely missing the first hit: “Balls of fail!” the game rings. Two minutes later I'm in a Find the Object puzzle scenario, except I have to drive an RC monster truck around a small room to retrieve said object, jumping over ramps of other small vehicles...I have completely forgotten about how bad my character model is. By the end of the first actual level, I've faced my second traditional boss – the alien mothership I mentioned earlier as it destroys half the city. This game knows scale and though I know really, the boss was pretty easy, I'm still excited.

From what I've played, I get some of the criticisms. The game doesn't seem sure of its own identity. It's an old game in a new world it was never meant for, and attempting to borrow from the new only hinders it. It's definitely missing that immediate satisfaction that came with Duke 3D and games like Doom. But in the same sense, I don't know what a lot of people expected; complaints about immature humour and misogynistic viewpoints...did nobody play the previous titles? Considering how much it was slated and how low my expectations were, I've found some things hilarious. As each twin popped out of nowhere in the BJ scene, each time I giggled like a little kid; I know it's pathetic, unintelligent humour, but it caught me off guard, and it's funny. Even just the little bits like the loading screen warning you to “avoid bullets” when in danger, this isn't a game trying to make any enemies and sit on its throne of “You weren't there man!” but just to make you smile.

I know Duke Nukem Forever isn't a masterpiece, or even a particularly great game. But it's littered with wonderful little touches, mini-games and scenic interactions, that I've never seen from another game. It's funny. It's fun. It doesn't take itself seriously, and it's definitely one of the most refreshing games I've played recently. Shame on me for taking so long, really.

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Celes Leonhart blogged
Sep 13, 09 5:52am

“Just my luck” he said. “Just my luck.” What the horrible news my friend had just received, exactly, escapes me – I probably wouldn't be guessing too far away to make the assumption it was related to some Modern Warfare connection problem, though. It was just his luck – his luck alone; nobody else could compare the severity of a minor occasional necessity to /reconnect a server. Truth be told, there was nothing distinctive in this event at all: it stood side by side with every other time someone had said the same thing – with all the times even I had said it – but this time I lost concentration, complained, and received the inspiration for this here blog.

Pointless sayings. Stupid sayings. The kind of phrases where you don't even consider each word individually; they come as a package, unmeddled with. Sometimes these phrases don't make much sense as they are, let alone in their regular context. Even the phrases that are completely legitimate yet still so saturated in common speech that they're a bore to hear but always tipping the tongue to be said. I'll take my titular example further than just moaning; I (probably) wouldn't be mistaken in stating that everyone has said this saying at some point. Everyone. With that established, two of three words have quickly been judged pointless; in sheer irony (here I go) it's certainly not just your luck, it's apparently everyone else's too. And with the second part and finale of the excellent analysis: when does casual misfortune ever have anything to do with luck? You drop your cup, you forget your keys having reached the door, you can't join a server; half of the time (statistically proven) the situation has zero relevance to being unlucky.

So I'm probably inflating a near non-existent issue, but this is ignoring the scale and extent:

“God only knows,” “God only” officially said as one word and typically said by atheists.
“Who'd have guessed” – I don't know, David Blaine maybe.
“I could care less.” Then do so.
“I couldn't care less,” yet make the effort of this witty retort.
“You've gotta be kidding me;” can't argue with that assessment.
“All I'm saying is” which seems the most redundant introduction possible.
“At the end of the day” never experiences its evaluation at the end of the day, and the time has never changed anything.
“At this point in time” for specific clarification.
“Been there, done that”: no clever summary to follow, but who can genuinely say this doesn't the slightest bit upset them?
“Basically,” basically.
“The truth hurts,” which will never be a justification.
“To be perfectly honest” is a fortunate confirmation which wills me to believe the speaker much more than I previously did. Being honest.

Despite the list barely even started, with the possible extent of this paragraph essentially being pretty limitless I'll finish with everybody's favourite: “literally.” No explanation necessary.

Concluding my 3am effort, I'll drop a point to make something out of an otherwise objective-less rant: maybe we should all make a more reasonable effort to deter the everyday expressions, we should try and throw our vocabulary on shuffle, break the conformity and aim for a little spice of originality. “Chances are,” I was about to start this sentence, this little piece of writing is laced with the exact thing I've spent my early Saturday morning objecting to. I'd imagine that proves the point.

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