Category Archives: Gaming

Game Review: ‘Gone Home’

gonehome_1600x900 I’m not really into games that take gazillions of hours to complete. I just don’t have the time to dedicate to sessions, and when I come back I have lost track a bit of where I was and in some extremes how to even play the game. As an aside on that, it was interesting to stumble across a site dedicated to telling you just how long it takes to beat various games.

Some stumbling around checking out what was new on Steam for Mac led me to find ‘Gone Home’.

From the site:

June 7, 1995. 1:15 AM.

You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something’s not right. Where is everyone? And what’s happened here?

Gone home is an interactive exploration simulator. Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there. Open any drawer and door. Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues. Uncover the events of one family’s lives by investigating what they’ve left behind.

Go home again.

The trailer gives more of a flavour:

In short, you play Kaitlin, the elder sister of the family. You arrive home from a year-long trip abroad, and get back a bit earlier than planned. There’s a big storm. And no-one is home. Your parents are gone, and so is your sister (Sam). More ominously, there is a note from Sam pleading with you not to go looking for answers as to where she is. The answer phone messages upon entering the house don’t exactly help with the sensation of feeling ill at ease.

To say much much more on the plot would make this review a little bit spoiler-ridden. The beauty of the game is really not knowing what to expect when exploring the house. It’s old and creepy, and as you explore you find out much more about the family, both the history and clues as to what has actually happened. The exploration triggers audio logs from Sam’s journal and it is the quite frankly exceptional voice acting which adds real atmosphere and power to the story being told.

This is not a game that is difficult, but that’s not really the point. It’s billed as a ‘story exploration game’ and that’s exactly what it is. You gain access to additional areas of the house as the game goes on in a somewhat linear fashion. There are no puzzles as such in the game – it’s just a case of finding the information you need each time to progress.

There’s a ‘teenage story’ at the core of this game (although there are multiple sub-stories being told), brought to life by the voice journals. The setting of the game in 1995 works well to draw empathy from the player. The house is full of VHS tapes, binders, filing cabinets, old typewriters, vinyl records and so on, all invoking the time period. There’s a great amount of attention to detail to the art direction, music and feel to the house going on.

It’s a short game. It will only take a few hours to get through it. However, it’s less of a game, and more of an emotional story-telling experience. The ending, and the events leading up to it, are told excellently. Again, I’m not going to say much more on that: You need to experience it for yourself.

Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux.
Developer: The Fullbright Company.

Migrating to a new Xbox 360

I have had an Xbox 360 for a very long time now. I started out with the 20 GB model which suffered the almost obligatory Red Ring Of Death and I took full advantage of the extended warranty which had been issued due to that exact problem!

Over time, the 20 GB storage has proved to not be enough. Various improvements to the 360 offering have made this happen:

  1. LIVE ARCADE SIZE RESTRICTIONS: The size limit for downloaded games was 50 MB per game on launch. It now sits at 350 MB! Plus the number of titles being released, including ‘homebrew’ has escalated.
  2. MORE MULTIMEDIA: Video rental is now in full force on the 360. They take up a lot of space, particularly if in HD format.
  3. INSTALL TO HARD DRIVE: The ability to install games from DVD to the hard drive did not exist when the console was originally launched. It is now there! A game could take up to 3-4 GB of space and this is a significant chunk of the original 360’s 20 GB hard drive!

It is perhaps also worth remembering that one of the SKU bundles for the 360 did not even have a hard drive!

Good fortune has led me to be in the possession of a shiny new black Xbox 360! Now, deep down, it is doing exactly the same thing as my original console but there are some very noticable differences:

  1. LOTS OF SPACE: The obvious one really, isn’t it?
  2. QUIET: This one was not hard to notice given that the original 360 sounded like a jet turbine. Now it is possible to hear the DVD drive whirring around from across the room.
  3. THE EJECT BUTTON IS CUTE: Wait, what?! This caught me by surprise. When you touch the eject button on the console it makes a little chiming noise. It’s great!

I purchased the Hard Drive Transfer Kit from Amazon UK. This works as simply as you can imagine. Connect one end to the new console and the other to your old hard drive. The dashboard then does the rest (although it took about 15 seconds to realise the cable was there) and migrates the items of your choosing.

One caveat here. I made the mistake of ‘recovering’ my gamer profile on the new 360 before performing the transfer. This proved to be a waste of time because my profile was then overwritten by the one on the old hard drive. Plus, because I had performed the recovery process, it was then marked as out of date so I had to do it again! I didn’t lose any data but it did waste time as everything needed to be downloaded from Microsoft’s servers again.

I’m loving the new console so far. It now matches my other kit (funny how things change: most of my AV stuff used to be white), doesn’t damage hearing and no more worries (yet) about hard drive space!

New Xbox Experience

The New Xbox Experience is now live. And very impressive it is too. That is my new Mii^W^W^W sorry, avatar, on the left.

The whole update just oozes polish. Very much in the style of Apple with panes swooshing all over the place, and CD-rack style collections of games and options. The opening movie seems designed to say, “Yes, well, Nintendo did the cute avatars first, but check THIS out”.

The avatars are stunningly put together and animated. Lots of cute little touches like headbutting the screen should you rotate them back then forward again. And of course they wave and generally dash about. It will be very interesting when more games start to take advantage of them.

I tried out the “Install game to hard disk” feature with Fallout 3. Painless, and although there wasn’t a huge increase in speed afterwads, I could play the game without the aircraft taking off DVD drive noises. Excellent.

Of course, now I have pretty much zero hard disk space, so the 120 Gb Hard Drive Expansion is looking mighty appealing. Predictably, Amazon are sold out now.

Movie trailers from the past!

Microsoft have finally released the UK Video Store for the 360, as reported by Kotaku.

There are some recent titles there, as well as old, and one of the old ones is Superman III. For some (well, mostly geeky) reasons I enjoyed this film as a child, but it has NOT aged well.

Check out the embedded trailer. Not only does it look OLD (1983!), notice how the trailer SPOILS THE ENTIRE PLOT OF THE FILM:

End of a virtual era – Scott Hartman leaves SOE

Several years back, and several stone heavier (very much pre-Judo) I was very much into EverQuest. Despite everything being much healthier now, I do sometimes look back at those times with some nostalgia.

(It is amusing seeing World of Warcraft players have the exact same debates, rants and severe social issues as EQ though. Nothing changes!)

Now, one of the lead developers (and subsequently producer of EverQuest 2), has called it a day.

Brings those memories flooding back! It will be an interesting blog to keep an eye on. It is a huge development feat to keep that sort of game running, and one I am always interesting in learning about. Server farms, large databases, fast responses, network traffic etc.