The Dunedin edition: Game Junkie heads south

Those of you in New Zealand would have heard about the terrible winter weather that hit Christchurch overnight on Sunday (and moved it’s way up the country) so imagine my surprise on Monday morning when we woke up and found more than a foot of snow everywhere. It was like a winter wonderland – but in Christchurch.

It was exciting in one respect because we were able to make a snow man, play snowball fights and took our son taboggoning – down the hill at the end of our street, which was just surreal. I hear it was the second coldest day in Christchurch – minus 1.9deg = since about 1915. However, it was also not that great for us as we were due to head to Dunedin on Monday night to check out some residential colleges at Otago University for our teenage daughter.

I thought out quick trip was scuppered (we’d been planning it for weeks and I had to be back at work on Thursday) until about 2pm we made the decision to pack light and fast and head south – so we did. A quick chat to the neighbour to see if they’d feed the cat and we were on the road. Surprisingly, once we got about 30km out of Christchurch the roads were clear and snow-free. That said, we decided that by the time we got to Oamaru, which is about an hour and a quarter out of Dunedin, we’d call it a night and found a cabin at a camping ground and head to Dunedin in the morning.We had the heat pump working overboard in the room, keeping us toasty warm.

Today dawned bright and frosty in Oamaru and after a rather very average breakfast McMuffin from McDonalds we headed to Dunedin. The climb into the city over the hill was extremely slow, thanks to the ice and grit on the road but we got there in one piece and spent all day looking at residential colleges. I had an average coffee at the Otago Museum cafe but a much better one at the restaurant for dinner. Tomorrow, I want to check out some of the coffee spots in the inner city that I’ve had recommended to me.

Tomorrow, we’re  looking at doing the Cadbury chocolate factory tour – you get a bag of chocolate during the tour apparently so I’m going to see how much I can stuff in my mouth before being told off (just joking: I won’t really do that) – then we’ll hit road, Christchurch-bound, by 4pm at the latest, just in case they decide to close the road again.

At the moment, I’m sitting in a gorgeous cottage in Dunedin’s Broad Bay, a glass of riesling on the table beside me, a home-made cheese scone in my belly and am about to play Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D. Can life get any better than this?

I don’t think so.


Well Played podcast #8: the cold weather edition

As it has been in much of the South Island today, it was jolly miserable in Christchurch so perfect weather to catch up with fellow gaming writers Julie Gray (@GamecultureNZ), Siobhan Keogh (@SiobhanKeoghNZ) and Aylon Herbet ( @Aylon133) on the Well Played podcast, which you can find here . Our usual partner in crime Chris Leggett (@Leggetron) couldn’t make it this week.

I had very little to say today as I haven’t done much gaming this week  but we chatted about Path of Exile, a New Zealand-developed RPG from Auckland gaming studio Grinding Gear Games, Julie chats about taking part in the beta test of Call of Duty Elite, Siobhan talks about XBLA game Bastion and we talk about underrated indie games like those great ones you’ll find on XBLA and PSN.

Check it out if you want to listen to gaming podcast with a distinctive Kiwi flavour.



Game Junkie chews the fat with Glenn “Wammo” Williams

Yesterday, during my radio slot with Glenn “Wammo” Williams we discussed those games that were absolute beauties that every gamer should play  – but sadly, probably hasn’t, meaning not enough people played them to make them a real commercial success. Great games, with lots of innovation, but just didn’t find favour.

You probably know some of the games I mentioned: Psychonauts, Child of Eden, Shadows of the Damned, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – all games that have received critical acclaim from journalists but just didn’t sell that well – and I’m perplexed about that.  Perhaps it’s through a lack of marketing on the part of the publisher or maybe the gaming writers really didn’t know what they were talking about. I find it unfathomable that games like Duke Nukem Forever sell better than games like Child of Eden and Shadows of the Damned in the United States – but then, realistically does that come as any surprise to anyone?

I’d be interested to hear from anyone on games they think every gamer should play – but probably hasn’t! Give us your list of games we all must play at least once!

Gamewise, I’ve been playing a few games lately. I’m making my way through American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns, and you know what? I’m actually enjoying the whackiness of it. You’ll find teapots with legs that shoot fireballs, gooey slug-like things, cages full of ducks (or are they dodos?), and all sorts of crazy goings on. It’s a mix of platforming and combat, with my favourite weapon so far the pepper grinder, which is used to not only shoot enemies but “pepper” flying pig snouts. See what I mean about it being whacky?

I’m also playing a wee bit of Child of Eden, the psychedelic “shooter” from Rez creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi. It’s a Kinect game – one of the very few good ones around. If you’ve got the chance to play it, give it a whirl. I’m also playing Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Cars 2, both games based on movies. They’re both pretty average – the Transformers one especially.


Well Played podcast: where I ramble a bit about games I’ve been playing

In an effort to spread the influence of me around the ethersphere (not sure if that’s a word), over the weekend I took part in the Well Played podcast, a gaming audio tour de force featuring four other New Zealand gaming journalists – NZ Gamer’s Aylon Herbet, Game Culture’s  Julie Gray, Siobhan Keogh and former Game Console editor Chris Leggett – where we discuss all things pertinent in the gaming universe, with an New Zealand accent.

Topics discussed this week included  Thatgamecompany’s new PlayStation 3 game Journey,  which is in public beta at the moment and really is delightful, I talk about my time with Shadows of The Damned, Alice: Madness Returns and Kinect-enabled Child of Eden, we ask whether a good game is good enough these days and there are some gaming gripes at the end. I didn’t really have a gripe: I just complained about my poor internet connection.

This was my third attempt to join with the podcast after technical difficulties thwarted the previous two tries but all went well this time – although I’m sure I ramble a lot. In fact, I’m sure I ramble a lot – and my nasally voice will soon get on your nerves as it does on mine. For some reason, recording equipment always manages to  pick up the part of my voice I hate the most.

Have a listen and let me know what you think.

The Tuesday usual: Game Junkie chews the fat with Radio Wammo

Apologies for the infrequency of posts over the past week but I’ve only just managed to get my internet connection working properly after a week of “on again, off again” broadband.

Long story short but it seems that, somehow, my router’s VPI and VCI settings had changed to the wrong ones, meaning that my username and password wasn’t authenticating with my ISP. It seems sorted now, so fingers crossed. Hopefully it means that I can join in the Well Played podcast with some of my fellow (Auckland) game journos this Sunday.

Today, being Tuesday, is Kiwi FM day where I discuss all things gaming with announcer extraordinaire Glenn “Wammo” Williams. We chatted about why video games based on movies are usually so terrible today, why they are so hit and miss.

I said it’s because development companies have so little time to actually complete the game that it’s usually just a rushed mess released to coincide with a blockbuster movie release. Case in point was the game based on the first Transformers movie, Terminator Salvation and Enter Matrix, the game based on the Matrix movies. Those games were pretty bad.

We both agreed that probably the best game based on a movie – and it was loosely based on a movie – was Westwood’s Blade Runner, a four-CD game that came out in 1997 but still plays well today, even if the graphics look a little pants at times. I loved that game. I still do. It captured the feel of the movie so wonderfully (they need to do a remake using modern technology. I’d buy it day one).

Wammo said he loved the old Commodore 64 game Days of Thunder, based on the Tom Cruise movie of the same name. I asked if that meant he was a closet Tom Cruise fan – he laughed and muttered something. You’ll hear it on the video. I think he said he’s a great fan of Tom Cruise.

It’s a rubbish day outside, so get a warm drink, rug up and have a watch. As always, please, please, please leave some feedback if you like what you see or don’t  (I sound desperate don’t I?).

The Tuesday usual: Game Junkie chews the fat with Radio Wammo

Yes, it’s Tuesday so you know the drill: that’s the day that I talk all things gaming with Kiwi FM’s resident tech god Glenn “Wammo”  Williams.

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve being doing a more chatty segment, talking about game-related news rather than doing straight game reviews – and it seems to be working well (well, I think it’s working well but I don’t know what listeners/viewers think about the segment. Drop a comment and give your opinion).

Today, we talked about the Gears of War 3 leak that has apparently made its way onto torrent sites around the world. I just don’t understand why people do this sort of thing: upload not-yet-finished games onto torrent sites. Doesn’t it just ultimately penalise those of us gamers who get their games from legitimate sources in that publishers contemplate even more restrictive copy protection measures?

Anyway, Microsoft has said that the build that has been leaked isn’t a final build and isn’t indicative of the quality of the final game. Word is that it’s the single player campaign and much of the online component.

We also briefly discussed the new Kinect game Child of Eden from famed Japanese game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi (the man behind Rez and Lumines). I described Child of Eden to someone as “Rez on crack” and it’s a mix of rhythm game with shooter, I guess. I’ll be posting a review in the next couple of weeks.

Enjoy the segment. Remember, feedback on what works and what doesn’t will make the segment stronger.

I’m spending the rest of today writing up my Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (Nintendo 3DS) review, which is proving more difficult than I first imagined, and my Fear 3 (sorry I’m not writing it F.3.A.R. as it just looks plain stupid) review (I’m also doing this one for the great folks at NZ PC World).

Should NZ have its own classification labels on games?

Late last week, Stuff ran this story about the NZ Office of Film and Literature Classification suggesting that New Zealand had its own labels for all video games rather than just R-rated titles.

Under current legislation only games that contain restricted material have to be submitted to the OFLC, so if  a game is rated G, M, or PG then in Australia then it doesn’t need to be submitted to the OFLC for classification.

I wrote a blog about the OFLC’s  suggestion here, and said that I was kind of in favour of what the OFLC was proposing – but after talking to Sidhe Interactive managing director Mario Wynands on Thursday about the issue, I’ve changed my mind. I’m not sure requiring publishers to submit all games for classification is actually the right thing to do. Not for gamers and definitely not for small publishers.

Here’s what Mario had to say.

“While I support ratings standards and the work that the OFLC has done to date, I believe that requiring the OFLC to rate every title would limit the number of games released in New Zealand. “There are a couple of key reasons for this. “Certainly the additional costs cited for publishers would be a barrier, but the actual logistics of organising and liaising with the OFLC from overseas is going to be an additional disincentive.

“Publishers currently generally already have to deal with the ESRB (NA), PEGI (Europe), USK (Germany), CERO (Japan), and the Australian Classification Review board, each with different standards, submission requirements, response timeframes and costs. Preparing and managing an additional submission to the OFLC at the same critical stage of the project may not be worth either the time or the effort (much less both combined) compared to the small size of the market, especially for smaller publishers or independent self-publishing developers.

“As NZ is a relatively small market, publishers benefit from being able to leverage the benefits of aligning packaging, shipping, advertising and classification submissions with Australia, using NZ as an incremental revenue opportunity. Introducing additional packaging, advertising, and classification restrictions/requirements on top of what is already in place may drive up the cost and hassle factor further.

“To give a sense of the market, even top-selling games in New Zealand mostly only reach “thousands” rather than “tens of thousands” of copies, and runs of custom packaging and marketing materials that small become prohibitively expensive.

“The OFLC, to my knowledge, only has limited resources available for games ratings and currently only deals with a very small number of games out of the overall volume released here. I would question whether this would be able to be effectively ramped up to deal with an exponentially greater volume in a manner which did not produce either a backlog of products waiting for classification or a drop in standards of assessment.

“To be honest, I think the bigger issue is the existing usage of classifications in New Zealand. Parents aren’t well informed or choose to ignore classifications because their child is “mature enough” (supplying their kid with an age-inappropriate game is actually a crime), and I imagine the enforcement/standards at retail is inconsistent given the lack of policing of the issue.

“We should work out where the standards currently are, where we want them to go, how the market can be better educated, and how the law will be better enforced before we worry about or change how the games themselves are going to be rated.”

Mario has a point: perhaps more effort should be spent on actually educating parents who willingly buy R-rated games for their underage children (and it happens: I know of friends of my son who are allowed to play games such as God of War – and they’re aged 12), rather than forcing publishers to submit every game for classification.

What do you think?