Pick Up Quick! Developer interview: Tackling litter one piece at a time on the PlayStation

Pick Up Quick! features Tahunanui Beach in Nelson.

Those of you that have combed through the vast amount of user-generated content in PlayStation’s Dreams may have come across Pick Up Quick!, a game launched by Sustainable Coastlines and designed to tackle the problem of litter on New Zealand beaches and encourage players to combat the issue in real life.

Tokahaki Point on Kapiti Island and Tāhunanui Beach in Nelson were recreated in Dreams by North Canterbury school administrator Stacey Bartlett [25] and is one of first partnerships of its kind with British-based Dreams creator Media Molecule.

The aim of Pick Up Quick! is to hunt and collect as much discarded rubbish as you can within a 45 second time limit then the game compares what you collected with data gathered from real-life rubbish collection from the beaches. By mid-September, it had been played more than 3000 times in more than 50 countries, including the United States, Spain, Scotland, Canada and Singapore.

Studio director at Media Molecule Siobhan Reddy says what Stacey had achieved with Dreams was incredible. “She’s a talented creator. We’ve seen some pretty wonderful creations within Dreams and this is right up there. The community aspect of gameplay that encourages education and understanding is really impressive.”

How much litter you pick up in 45 seconds is compared to real-time collection data.

“We’ve featured it [Pick Up Quick!] on the global Dreams homepage; it shows what’s possible so we’re hoping it encourages people to get creative as well as think about their environmental impact – wherever they are.”

Thanks to PlayStation NZ, I got the chance to talk to Stacey about making the game and to Camden Howitt, co-founder of Sustainable Coastlines and the Litter Intelligence programme.

Stacey, how did you become involved in the project? Had you had any experience with Dreams – or any modeling software or game creation tools – before starting this project? 

Pick Up Quick! creator Stacey Bartlett used Dreams on the PlayStation 4 to create the game.

I was approached by PlayStation New Zealand to create Pick Up Quick!, as they were looking for a New Zealand Dreams creator and Media Molecule recommended me based on my previous Dreams work.  I have always enjoyed creating things, although I didn’t have much game development experience until Dreams was released. I was able to partake in the Dreams beta and early access, and I learned a lot about creating games in that time. 

How did the design process for the game work? Did you brainstorm about what you wanted, or did it develop fairly naturally?

I was given a brief for the game, and from there I created a design document, as well as some rough concept sketches for how I wanted the game to look. I relied on my plan a lot – I find it easier to write things down first and work from there rather than make things up as I go.

I played the Tahunanui Beach level and I recognised the distinctive seawall straight away. How easy was it to craft the real-world beaches into the game – and how long did it take until you were happy with it?

Tahunanui Beach was fun to create, as I was able to use Google Maps extensively as a reference to cover all the different angles. The challenge came in the nit-picky things – for example the waves. I spent a lot of time tweaking the animation to get it just right! I can’t say for sure how long they took me to create as it’s a bit of a blur now, but it was a fair few hours. 

How cool was it to have input from Dreams creator Media Molecule and for them to feature it on their Dreams homepage?

Very cool! I admire Media Molecule a lot, and to see them featuring something I made is quite surreal!

Camden, tell me about how this collaboration first came about? How did Media Molecule become involved?

We worked with PlayStation’s help to get the game off the ground. After approaching Stacey, our incredible creator who was super on board with the concept, PlayStation assisted in the coordination of Media Molecule who helped Stacey along the way with any design questions she had. It’s been such an exciting project for everyone, to have international support for our cause from the likes of Media Molecule was fantastic.

What’s the main aim with Pick Up Quick: What do you hope it will achieve? And are you confident that people will become more litter-aware on our beaches after playing the game or that young players will help their parents become more aware of litter on beaches?
We want to help young people to look at the issue in their area, and solve it. Us New Zealanders love our beaches but we’re a bit disconnected in some ways from the fact that we are polluting them. The aim here is to inform young players around what the issues are on our beaches. Despite our “clean and green” image, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

Pick Up Quick! is available through Dreams on the PlayStation 4.

Pick Up Quick! in action. This is Nelson’s Tahunanui Beach.

Yakuza 6: The Song of Life: Farewell, Kiryu-san, my old friend

My love of Sega’s Yakuza series has been well-documented on this site. If you haven’t read my last blog post on why I think the series is so great  (and, for goodness sake, why not?), you can find it here but the Yakuza games hold a special place in my heart.

First appearing on the PlayStation 2, the Yakuza games chronicle the life of former (but now disgraced) Yakuza, Kazuma Kiryu. I’ve seen Kiryu grow as a character through the series and while in Yakuza 6, he might be a little older (younger foes constantly refer to him as old man before they inevitably get their arses handed to them on a plate), he might have a little more grey around the temples, but he still carries the presence of a Yakuza  (he was Fourth Chairman, after all), despite insisting to people he is just a civilian.

Yakuza 6 (PlayStation 4 only) focuses on Kiryu returning to Kamurocho after spending time in prison for past crimes, hoping to live out the rest of his days in peace in the orphanage he founded,  with Haruka, the young girl he fostered it’s kind of complicated). On his return, he finds that Haruka is missing and while searching for her in Kamurocho, learns she is in a coma after a hit and run – and she has a new born son. Kiryu return to Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima to find out what happened to Haruka.

While it’s not crucial to have played previous Yakuza games before (there is a good video run down in the main menu that will get you up to date) and Yakuza 6 is probably the most accessible of the series, I feel for a series like this it’s always good to have played at least one other game as you’ll be aware of the backstory and have been introduced to keyl characters such as like Makoto Date, Kiryu’s arch-nemesis Goro Majima, and Kiryu’s once best friend Nishikiyama.

While previous Yakuza games tended to stick to the one location, Kamurocho, Yakuza 6 ventures forth to Onomichi Jingaicho in Hiroshima. Having a new location really adds depth to the game’s narrative, and there’s an interesting dynamic on display as a big city Yakuza gets to grips with how things are in the provinces. Like previous Yakuza games, the towns are jammed pack with restaurants, entertainment venues, convenience stores and bars. As is common throughout Japan, there are lots and lots of vending machines in Yakuza 6, too.

 

Combat has always been an important part of the Yakuza series. In earlier games, Kiryu could mix between four different styles, each one different to the other . Things are slightly different in Yakuza 6 (gone are the variety of fighting styles), but ultimately, combat centres around Kiryu building up his  “heat” meter, which he can then activate (with the R2 button) and unleash a variety of punches and kicks with delivers powerful finishing moves. I thought some of the finishes in Yakuza 0 and Kiwami were over-the-top but in Yakuza 6 they take things to a whole new level.

New to Yakuza 6, is the clan battles, which has Kiryu ordering fighters he has recruited to help fight other street gangs. It’s view from the top-down perspective with Kiryu (you) ordering colleagues who to attack. It has a very strategy game feel to it, with different strength units.

Another thing the series has always been known for is its off-the-wall side missions and Yakuza 6 does not disappoint. To be honest,  they’re the type of quests that you’d only find in a Japanese game. Many of them are just head-scratchingly bonkers but they make you smile and don’t feel out-of-place.

One, for example, sees Kiryu dressing up as Onomichi Jingaicho’s  mascot Ono (which has a head of an orange with a bowl of ramen noodles as a hat) because the normal person who played the mascot just didn’t turn up. Another mission sees him having to stop and sing lullabies to Haruka’s baby son – who he is carrying around with him at times  – while he scours Onomichi Jingaicho after hours in search of baby formula. Speaking of babies, a nice touch is that when Kiryu encounters rivals on the street and it initiates a random fight, if he’s holding the baby, there’s a cut scene showing him handing the infant to a bystander before he launches into the fight. It’s those little details that are reasons why I just can’t get enough of Kazuma Kiryu and the Yakuza games.

There will be some who are put off by the off-the-wall side quests and the countless cut scenes with lines of dialogue that help move the story forward, but for me, that’s all part of what makes the series so great. Visually and technically, Yakuza 6 is  the best of the lot with amazing attention to detail when it comes to facial features of characters and the details of the environments. I also like the fat that (apart from the original Yakuza) the audio is Japanese with English subtitles: It just adds even more atmosphere to the game.

Yakuza 6 is said to be the last game of the series featuring Kazuma Kiryu, w hich will be a shame, but what is also a shame is that the Yakuza series isn’t as popular as it should be in the West: It’s a series that deserves more attention from gamers thanks to its deep narrative and strong character development. I can’t recommend the series highly enough but if you’re still on the fence, Sega has released a timed demo of Yakuza 6 that might whet your appetite.

Sayonara, Kiryu-san, it’s been a pleasure knowing you.

Thanks to Five Eight Distribution for the review copy of Yakuza 6: The Song of Life which was redeemed via digital distribution. 

 

 

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy media kit

Uncharted 4 (PlayStation 4) was one of my favourite games of last year: I always like the action that Naughty Dog crafted into the games featuring the likeable rogue Nathan Drake and its Indiana Jones-style of adventuring.

One of the new characters introduced in Uncharted 2,  was Chloe Frazer, a fellow treasure hunter.

In The Lost Legacy, the standalone campaign (which, I’m guessing, means you don’t need Uncharted 4 to play it – but it’ll certainly help with back story), Chloe is on a quest for a famed Indian artifact: The Golden Tusk of Ganesh. In order to find it – and keep it out of the hands of a ruthless war profiteer – she enlist the help of former paramilitary leader turned gun-for-hire Nadine Ross. The pair venture deep into the mountains of India’s Western Ghats to find the ruins of the Hoysala Empire and recover the legendary Golden Tusk of Ganesh.

The Lost Legacy is out next Wednesday (August 23) and will set you back $NZ69.95 (It’s PlayStation 4 only). Any impressions of the game are embargoed until tomorrow but I’m allowed to share photos of the media kit that PlayStation NZ sent me. PlayStation have always excelled at media kits when it comes to its marquee titles – and the one for The Lost Legacy doesn’t disappoint.

Look out for some impressions on The Lost Legacy next week – and details on how to win a copy of the game, thanks to PlayStation NZ.

 

No Man’s Sky: How many zeroes are in quintillion?

I have to say when I first heard about No Man’s Sky, a game from British development studio Hello Games, I really didn’t know what to expect – and I wasn’t that excited about it.

All it seemed to be was visit a procedurally generated planet, scan lifeforms, get back in your ship then fly to the next planet. Rinse and repeat.

Well, the more I’ve seen of No Man’s Sky, though, the more intrigued I’m becoming and my thinking has changed about it. Sure, it’s still all about exploration and naming the lifeforms you find (I can guarantee there will be a few creatures named after body parts – and I’m not talking about arms and legs) – but it does look as if there’s a bit more to do than what we originally thought.

There’s clearly a lot of people who thought the same as me as PlayStation is releasing four game play trailers before the game comes out in August that showcase the four key things you can do in the game: Explore, trade, fight and survive. The first video, Explore, is up above.

Did you know No Man’s SKy has 18 quintillion planets? EIGHTEEN QUINTILLION PLANETS!!! How many zeroes is in a quintillion?

Look, I see No Man’s Sky going one of two ways: It’s either going crash and burn (into one of its procedurally generated planets) and people will be really confused or be amazing and we’ll all happily be exploring planets until the end of time.

We’ll know in August when it comes out.

 

E3: The big guns come out to play

Day two of the E3 press conferences before the show proper and Microsoft and PlayStation held their press events. I woke up at 4.25am to watch the Microsoft one and I liked some of the announcements, especially the Project Scorpio console (although I’m tossing up now whether to save for a Project Scorpio console or save for one of the soon-to-be released AMD RX480 graphics cards (and probably a new motherboard to put it in).

Microsoft’s biggest cheers definitely came for the two consoles that had been rumoured but no-one really knew much about. There’s the Xbox One S, which is 40 per cent smaller than the launch Xbox One, has an internal power supply and it supports 4K Ultra HD, there’s the new console called at the moment Project Scorpio which promises “6 Teraflops”of GPU power. There’s a new Elite controller and you can customise your own one-of a kind Xbox One wireless controller but as far as Microsoft’s games went: I thought they were OK but not outstanding. I do like the cross play feature where someone with a game on Xbox One can play someone who is playing the same game on a Windows 10 laptop/PC.

Microsoft had Halo Wars 2 (I loved the first game), Dead Rising 4, Gears of War 4, Rare’s Seas of Thieves (which looks great), Forza Horizon 3 (which is set in Australia!), Recore,  Final Fantasy XV, Minecraft Realms (it was good to see famed developer John Carmack wearing a Samsung GearVR headset for this demo) and The Division Underground. All solid games but nothing really earth-shattering, in my view. That said, indie title We Happy Few looks genuinely interesting as did PlayDead’s Inside (the same developers that created Limbo).

Update: Thinking about things overnight, Xbox has scored a major win in hardware side of things by announcing Project Scorpio.  Yes, it’s 18 months or so until the console will be released (I suspect it’ll be revealed middle of next year sometime) but I’d say announcing Scorpio will really put the heat on Sony and it’s PlayStation Neo console which, I think, is due for release late this year. Microsoft are really gunning to win the console wars and build the “most powerful console ever” and looking at its speaks, it is indeed a powerful machine. It’ll be interesting to see whether Microsoft’s announcement yesterday has PlayStation worried about its Neo.

As far as games go (and let’s face it, that’s why people buy consoles/play PCs), though, for me, Sony won the battle, if there is such a thing. I love both consoles but personally, I felt that PlayStation’s games seemed a little fresher, a little more exciting.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a much older (but a bit of a dick towards his son) Kratos in the God of War reboot, The Last Guardian which seems to have been in development for decades finally got a release date, Horizon Zero Dawn looks incredible, Hideo Kojima’s new game Death Stranding which featured a naked Norman Reedus (from Walking Dead fame) wondering why he’s on a beach,  there was a very Last of Us-esque game called Days Gone which features zombies in an apocalyptic setting, Detroit Become Human (the next game from David Cage) and then there was the PS VR stuff which, frankly, made my eyes pop. I was even enthralled with the Call of Duty VR stuff that I didn’t know was actually Call of Duty until near the end (oh, and I’d easily buy a copy of Infinite Warfare just for the remastered version of Modern Warfare which has, without a doubt, the best COD mission ever in All Ghillied Up). Oh, and there’s a Batman Arkham VR game [breathe, breathe]

PlayStation has a new PS4 coming out called the Neo but nothing was show at its press event. I wonder whether PlayStation will reveal more at the Tokyo Games Show?

Looks, there’s something for fans of both consoles but for me, if I had to pick a console which had the strongest line up of games coming out, I’d put my money on PlayStation. I also liked how most of PlayStation’s press event was game footage and trailers rather than people standing on stage talking.

This is not an exhaustive list of every game announced but just those that caught my attention. Anyway, enough words. Here’s some moving pictures. Enjoy.

 

God of War (PS4):

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4):

Infinite Warfare (ship assault):

Days Gone (PS4):

Halo Wars 2 (Xbox One):

We Happy Few (Xbox One):

Gears of War 4 (Xbox One):

 

Thoughts on what PlayStation and Xbox showed today?

“I feel like I could … take on the world!”

Update: After I wrote this yesterday, a member of the Facebook group I’m a member of A Streak of Geek posted it, talking about his love for the old Lucasarts games. Reading it made me realise that I’ve also played Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Dig, Loom and Ron Gilbert’s The Cave. How could I forget that I played those. Thanks Peter from A Streak of Geek for reminding me!)

For some strange reason, I never played the original Day of the Tentacle.

Day of the Tentacle Remastered_20160330194408I say strange because I played some of Lucasart’s other great point-and-click adventure games: Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, The Secret of Monkey Island (I still own disc copies of Grim and Full Throttle)  but DOTT passed me by. I’m not sure why that was but I’m making up for that now, thanks to Double Fine’s remastered DOTT on PlayStation 4, PC, PS Vita and Mac.

I pre-ordered the game on PS4 ($23, I think) solely so I could download it onto my PS Vita as well – and the point-and-click game play is perfectly suited to the smaller form factor of Sony’s handheld, and while some of the text might be a little harder to read with my ageing eyes than on a 55-inch TV, Day of the Tentacle just feels right on the Vita.

DOTT has players control the three main characters – Bernard, Laverne and Hoagie – as they attempt to stop Purple Tentacle who drank some toxic sludge behind the mansion of Dr Fred Edison. The game involves different time periods and the solving of puzzles to try to thwart Purple Tentacle.

 

Players interact with items in the gameworld using actions such as “use”,  “pick up”, “open” in an attempt to solve the game’s puzzles.

Like other remastered Lucasart’s games, you can either play it in the new remastered graphic style, which looks really nice,  or – at the touch of a button on the Vita and a press of the touch pad on the PS4 controller – it reverts to the game’s pixellated art style. I found myself flicking back and forth between the two styles, but it really shows how much work Double Fine put into modernising the game’s visuals.

Here’s some video from the PS4 version (no spoilers, I don’t think). The first one shows Bernard in the game’s opening moments exploring Dr Edison’s mansion  while the other shows Hoagie exploring the time period he finds himself trapped in after one of Dr Edison’s Chrono-johns malfunctions

Some of the puzzles are stumping me but I can see me spending a lot of time with Day of the Tentacle Remastered, and that’s a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Metal Gear Solid V: Did I make a mistake buying this game?

MGS5Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the game of the moment, it seems, getting rave reviews from critics and fans of the series alike, but here’s a confession: In the two hours or so I’ve played it of it, I can’t get into it, and I’m actually starting to regret buying it. I kind of wish I’d bought Avalanche’s Mad Max instead.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have a strong history of playing the MGS series that is taking over here. The only MGS game I’ve played was MGSIV, and I didn’t like that much either. The Phantom Pain just isn’t capturing my attention. I don’t think about it every waking moment. In fact, I’ve played Tearaway Unfolded, a PS4-exclusive, than MGSV: The Phantom Pain.

I don’t know why the game’s not impacting on me. Maybe I was swept away with the hype surrounding the game, convincing me to buy it and be Big Boss. Maybe I was captivated game play I’d seen that made it look really, really great and I just had to have it. I don’t know what it is but at the moment, I almost have to force myself to play it, to justify the money that I paid for it.

I’ve heard that the first two to three hours will be make or break as to whether you’ll like it – is that right? – so maybe I have to grit my teeth and persevere until I get access to Mother Base and the ability to fulton things. I guess in a game that can give you 40+ hours of game play it’s going to have a slow start, right?

The first hour was totally confusing (Hideo Kojima has a wild imagination, that’s for sure), and to be honest, half the time I had no idea what was going on (I’ve just come across some zombie-like soldiers called the Skulls – this is also confusing the hell out of me). When I’d finished the prologue I was still none the wiser as to what had just happened.

So, have I made the right decision with MGSV and should I stick with it? Will it get better?  Or do I cut my losses, try and sell it and pick up something like Mad Max? I’ve also got Tearaway Unfolded, Forza 6 and Until Dawn to play.

I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments section.

*I’m going to continue playing MGSV and see whether I get hooked. I’ll keep you posted!

Xbox and PlayStation bring the games to E3 2015

Firstly, I guess I’m sitting at two for three when it comes to pre-E3 predictions then, given that my three most anticipated games for E3 2015  were Mass Effect 4, a new Hitman game and Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

OK, the Mass Effect reveal didn’t show game play footage but hey, EA has still announced it, as has SquareEnix with the latest game in the Hitman series featuring old baldy, Agent 47. All I need now if for SquareEnix to showcase the new Deus Ex game and I’ll be a happy man.

I was thinking earlier today about how I was going to cover today’s press events from Xbox and Sony: Would I write it up, game by game, announcement by announcement, giving my opinion on everything? Or would I just let the trailers speak for themselves?

I’ve decided that I’ll let the visuals speak for themselves. I’m not going to do these “Xbox/Sony Won E3” write-ups that inevitably appear after E3’s pre-show events.Frankly, they’re pointless (and I probably did them in the past).

Do you want to know who won? Gamers won, that’s who. Let’s stop this “X won E3!”bullshit. There was plenty there for Xbox gamers, plenty there for PlayStation gamers. Gamers won.

Tomorrow, I believe there is a dedicated PC gaming event so I’ll watch that as I’m sooooo close to plonking down close to $NZ600 on a new nVidia Geforce GTXC970 GPU so I want to see what I can do with it.

I got up at 4.15am to watch the Xbox press event and it had games like Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5 Guardians, a compilation of 30 games from British developer Rare, backward compatibility with Xbox 360 games (I’m guessing it’s some form of emulation where you’ll have to download a digital version of the game, even if you own a disc copy), a rather impressive game from New Zealand development studio Aurora 44 (where are they based? Call me! Lets talk!) called Ashen (which had a real Shadow of the Colossus/Journey feel to it), a game from another Keewee Dean “Rocket” Hall called Ion, a rather impressive demo of Hololens and Minecraft (although, I’m sceptical about Hololens until it’s actually at retail and we can see it in real-world conditions) and a re-mastered version of the original Gears of War, as well as Gears of War 4.

It was a solid showing. I’ve got trailers for some of them below.

Gears of War 4: 

Halo 5 Guardians: 

Ashen: 

Ion: 

Sony

From what I’ve heard about Sony’s press event, it seemed to be full of fan service (I didn’t watch it. I was working) and no doubt wooed the crowd by finally showing The Last Guardian, a game that seems to have been written off as vaporware after around eight years in development.

Among the games Sony announced were: a remake Final Fantasy 7 and that Shenmue 3 was in the works, a new game (not a FPS) from Killzone developer Guerilla Games called Horizon: Zero Dawn, No Mans Sky (which looks fantastic but, if I’m being honest, I still have no idea what you do apart from fly around and discover other planets), a new Hitman game, a game that looks genuinely interesting called Firewatch, Dreams from Little Big Planet developer Media Molecule,  and, not surprisingly, an extended look at Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

The Last Guardian: 

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End: 

Dreams: 

No Man’s Sky: 

Firewatch: 

Hitman: 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you liked from Sony & Microsoft.

Grim Fandango Remastered has made me so, so very happy

Update: I thought I’d document any glitches or bugs I’ve encountered playing Grim Fandango Remastered and I encountered my first two last night playing on my Macbook.

It was fairly early into the game where Manny is talking to a balloon artist at a parade near his office and I noticed the shadows cast by two skeleton pigeons were above the ground and flickering. The disappeared when I switched to Original mode.

The second glitch was when I tried to get Manny back into his office from the street and he was stuck on a audio loop from the conversation with the balloon artist. After a few moments clicking and moving around it righted itself.

I’ve made no secret over the years that along with games like Full Throttle, System Shock 2 and Blade Runner, Grim Fandango is one of my most loved games of all time.

Set amongst a backdrop of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, the game tells the story of Manny Calavera, a travel agent working the afterlife. Sadly, it didn’t sell very well when it was first released, I’m told, which is a shame.

In fact, I’m sure that I bored readers of a video game blog that I did for a New Zealand news website a couple of years ago to tears with my continuous ramblings about how much I loved Grim Fandango and how I wished the game was re-created for modern platforms. Note the photo below of my original disc versions of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2.

Hard to find: I still have disc copies of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2. No, I won't sell them to you.

Hard to find: I still have disc copies of Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Blade Runner and System Shock 2. No, I won’t sell them to you.

Grim Fandango comes from game developer Tim Schaefer and was released in 1998, an era when LucasArts was the king of adventure games and 16-bit operating systems were all the rage, but that means that it isn’t exactly easy to get running on modern OSs like Windows 8 or Windows 7. In fact, trying to get the game to run on a current PC is a nightmare.

Grim Fandango’s minimum specs are Windows 95/ME/2000/XP, a Pentium 133 CPU and 64MB of Ram so trying to get it to work on modern operating systems – both Windows and Mac – is, frankly, a hassle that requires a few hoops and you having to jump through them. You have to use a program like Residual VM to run the install files that you’ve copied from the install CDs – yes, CDs – because modern PCs with their 64-bit operating systems won’t run the stock installer from the game.

Modern PCs also created some inadvertent game play issues for Grim Fandango, as well. If I recall correctly, there was one puzzle involving a conveyor belt under the ocean that couldn’t be completed on a modern PC unless you disabled some of the CPU cores: Multiple core CPUs made the conveyor belt spin too fast!

After years of tinkering and file copying to get Grim Fandango to work on my Win8.1 PC and Macbook Pro, my wish has been granted with the released of Grim Fandango Remastered, a new version of the game which is exactly what it says on the box: A Remaster not a re-imagining.

So what has Tim Schaefer and his company Double Fine done with Grim Fandango to Remaster it? The character models are now sharper and more defined, textures are now high resolution, the lighting is now more atmospheric (venetian blinds cast shadows on characters when they walk in front of them), the audio has been remastered, the musical score has been re-recorded by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, and the control scheme has been revamped (meaning you don’t have to use the tank controls if you don’t want to. The name tank controls came from the fact that in the original game, Manny Calavera could move forwards, backwards, left and right using the arrow keys within the environment. He did this little shuffle on his feet while he turned left or right, too. Essentially, he moved like a tank does).

The changes to the game are cosmetic. It’s not a complete re-build of the game so if you’re expecting an adventure game with photo-realistic graphics and 7.1 channel audio, then look somewhere else.  Grim Fandango Remastered looks and feels like the original game but with a new control scheme that makes it so much more enjoyable to play.

During the game you can swap between the remastered and the original graphics and essentially the only difference is the character models. The backgrounds are essentially the same, apart from now having higher resolution textures and the game keeps the original 4: 3 aspect ration. You can stretch the 4:3 ration to 16:9 but I wouldn’t: It just looks wrong.

A nice touch is the developers commentary that you can listen to at certain points. It gives a nice insight into the thought processes behind the game and why certain decisions were made (for better or for worse).

One thing that might annoy newcomers to Grim Fandango is its puzzles: They don’t hold your hand and there’s no hint system to help you if you’ve got stuck on a particular section. Some of the puzzles are actually quite obscure and don’t really make a lot of sense so you’ll need to do some lateral thinking (or search for a walkthrough if you really get stuck).   Seriously, though, some of the puzzles are down right confusing so you have been been warned.

Advanced lighting: Grim Fandango Remastered now looks more film noir thanks to the new lighting.

Advanced lighting: Grim Fandango Remastered now looks more film noir thanks to the new lighting.

The game also doesn’t have an auto-save, something that is a given in this modern age and one omission that I wish was included in this remaster. Don’t forget to save your progress regularly if you play it or else you’ll face having to replay sections.

For me, Grim Fandango Remastered remains a classic and while I may be clouded by the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, I didn’t hesitate much to drop the NZ20 or so on buying it. The reason I initially hesitated was I mulled over whether I should get the game seeing as I had the original happily running on my Macbook. What swayed me was that it was only $20, which is four coffees from a cafe, and it meant I didn’t have to muck around with Residual VM to get it running. I don’t regret buying it.

While Grim Fandango Remastered is a piece of adventure gaming history, it creates something of a conundrum for gamers. On the one hand, if you already own the original you might have trouble justifying buying it again, even with the changed control scheme and touched up graphics. But on the other, if you have yet to play this classic and have always wanted to, here is the chance – but the old-school mechanics and puzzles might frustrate younger gamers.

Personally, I think it’s worth it, even if you own the original. Grim Fandango Remastered keeps what made the original game so great while tweaking it just enough to make it worth playing again. Here’s hoping it sells enough to convince Schafer and everyone else involved that a re-master is required of Full Throttle.

Here’s hoping.

Fez review: Weird and mesmerising but a must-play

Fez: a game that started out on consoles and PC but seems perfectly suited to the handheld format.

Fez: a game that started out on consoles and PC but seems perfectly suited to the handheld format.

Say what you like about Fez creator Phil Fish (who spectacularly quit the game development industry last year and cancelled Fez 2 after a Twitter spat), indie game Fez is one of those games that is a delight to play, not only because of its twisted perspective but thanks to its 16-bit graphics style and some innovative game play features.

Fez was one of my most favoured games of 2012 and with the move to the PS Vita, I think it’s perfectly suited to the handheld.

The game sees main character Gomez in a flat 2D world but after stumbling across a giant gold polyhedron suddenly finds he can view the world in 3D. However, the polyhedron is shattered, the 32 cubes it’s made up from scattered about the game world and it’s up to Gomez to find them all, bringing order back to the world.

At first, Fez seems a simple 2D/3D puzzle game where the player guide’s a pixelated hero from place to place, collecting the shards from the exploded polyhedron, but then in an instant, thanks to the ability to rotate the game world 90 degrees creating a 3D playspace, the game opens up new possibilities to tackle problems.

But how?, I hear you ask. Like this: being able to change perspective on-the-fly using the Vita’s left and right shoulder buttons means suddenly a platform that was moments ago out of reach is now accessible. It’s mind-boggling and means that jumps that were seemingly unreachable before are suddenly much closer when you rotate perspective.  In a world punctuated by waterfalls, lighthouses, shacks and precarious drops, and where entering one door can lead to a completely different dimension, a change in perspective can literally mean the difference between one step closer to a wayward cube and a drop to the depths below.

Fez is a game that can be mesmerising and confusing at the same time, and often that confusion can lead to some frustration, especially when you get lost and aren’t really sure where you should go next. Some of the puzzles, too, might see you scratching your head (there’s one with a bell early on) and heading online for a walk through to help you solve them.

Minor frustrations aside, Fez was one of my most loved games when it came out on console and PC and now that it’s out on Vita, I can see it being one of my most loved and most played on Sony’s handheld. Fez + PS Vita = a gaming partnership worth discovering.