What a bumper time for games it is, and on 9th November the latest of my all time favourite racing games Forza Horizon arrived on the Xbox, The games have always had a large free roaming area to collect, drive, race and photograph some fantastic cars. Each generation gets more jaw dropping as it pushes the limits of what can be done with the graphics, sounds physics. Number 4 in the series was set in the UK, building on a huge map that merged many of key locations and and cities into a manageable terrain. Number 5 has moved to Mexico and even more stunning scenes await there. The game is bundled into Microsoft Xbox Game Pass, but being a fan I bought the full version and all the expansions, knowing full well that I will be playing this on and off for years.
The beauty of Forza Horizon is that “where we are going we don’t need roads”. There are roads and tracks and you can just stick to those but you can also tear across the landscape in even the most unsuitable car possible. This may seem at odds with the precision feel of the driving simulation but it always manages to walk that line between arcade lunacy and pure driving simulator. Why would you go tearing around the scenery, well its for the views like this.
The scenery alters across many different biomes, the time of day and weather also make for great variations and the game itself switches between spring, summer, autumn and winter every week.
Also of note is the radio stations, prerecorded play lists of rock, dance, classical music that have wonderful DJ voice overs that often refer back to things that are happening such as event s just raced or about to come up. It is enjoyable to just pick a car, and casually (or otherwise) drive around the place seeing the sites and smoking up the tunes.
A feature of Forza that I always share and enthuse about is the custom paint and decals for the cars. The game has managed to preserve artwork with each generation of the game so effort in creating these is not wasted. I use the decals as a demonstration of in game advertising and support with both my martial art and my Reconfigure books represented, along with a stylised predator face based on the Wii Mii version. These designs appear with my car in other peoples games and can also be downloaded, though there are some much better painters doing some great work to check out.
There are cars from 3 wheelers to high end supercars, over 500 different models and all hyper detailed in and out. There are drag races, giant leaps and even houses to buy.
There are lots of online multiplayer angles to join in on, but I really enjoy driving against the Drivatars of friends and family. Here, a single player race is populated by names and cars of people you know driving to some degree in the way they would drive if they were there. This degree of personalisation is always great fun.
If you are looking at these shots and saying, oh it all looks too shiny to be real though, I saw this vehicle parked outside a London train station in a recent (and long time since I have been out) trip.
I have already blasted through many of the races and levels, the last game was one of the few I have level capped and “prestiged” on. That really just comes with lots of time more than any particular skill, though doing well in races, performing superb stunts, drifting, speeding and crashing the scenery all ramp up the levels more quickly.
It is also great that I can play this on PC and on Xbox Series X but also now its available as a cloud game. Its juts a pity that our communication infrastructure on the train lines is not up to using that, but its still good if other members of the family are playing something else at home.
Just over two weeks ago I was sitting waiting for my Xbox Series X to arrive on launch day. It got held up for some reason and for a tense moment or seven I thought I might have fell into the over booking of orders trap. The good news though it arrived the following day and here it is.
Installation and setup was super simple and I left the One X attached too. However I had already moved lots of the key large games that were due a X/S upgrade onto a removable USB drive to save needing to do quite so much downloading, network transfer was an option too but I thought things would be at least playable more quickly. On logging onto the new box the profile and all its favourites and colours etc re-appear making it completely like the older box. Next gen gaming is now very like phone upgrades with the excitement of taking the thing out of the box, logging on and seeing …. oh its exactly the same. The best way to see and feel the different is to dive into an X/S enhanced game, get some ray tracing going as in my last post.
Microsoft has a smart delivery label on some games indicating they know to patch to the fancier version on the Series X. However, for a Series X version to work it has to be on the internal 1Tb internal drive or the 1Tb extension cart (which I also felt obliged to get). So I set about asking all of the 60-100gb games on the USB drive to make their way over to the fast internal drive. That is not an overly speedy process and for obvious reasons is kind of a one at a time gig. I had booked off the rest of the week to use up 2020 holiday and immerse myself in the new console but some of that the was going to be sat sipping in a progress bar.
Whilst I waited it was great timing the Harmonix (of Rockband fame) had released their DJ music mixing game/experience the day before. I had already played it on the One X but now could spark it up (from the USB as it is not “enhanced”) and just get on with enjoying the console. This game is disc flipping brilliant! An array of tunes, from 60’s country to modern EDM are available to put into your set. 4 platters let you drop parts of those tunes onto the decks, e.g drums from one, vocals from another. As you progress you get to mix and match all sorts of elements, fading in new parts, hitting beat markers for scores, muting, looping and adding custom instrument sections. The whole thing keeps everything in time and tune and synch in a really impressive and entertaining way. Most DJ stuff is usually dance music but as with my little mashup below there are some old 80’s tunes too. It won’t win any prizes but, rather like rockbound it makes you feel a musical god when you are doing it. You can play it as a game to progress, hit marks and styles or just tootle around. I have played with a lot of music games and to be able to just put stuff together and it sound right is such a buzz. We don’t all have the musical ability to do these things but it does make you want to do more. This filled all the time I was waiting for things to transfer and I had a blast, and am still. playing it of course 🙂
Once on of the One X versions of a mega game had moved across I launched them. It was Dirt 5 the new mad Codemasters racing game. Duly it announced with a new message that a better version was available did I want to upgrade. Hell yes ! The original was something like 60Gb so I was expecting some smart delivery of a few GB more of textures, instead I got a 70Gb full download. It seems smart delivery is not a delta, but the full thing re downloaded in a new package. This meant the transferring of over a terabyte of games to the USB drive from the One X and then transferring from that to the Series X SSD, hours worth or transfer, was in fact… pointless as far as I could see. I killed all the other transfers and just went to the network to get it to download new version. In this case I started with the launch of Call of Duty Black ops whatever number it is and carried on playing Fuser! I even entered something into a monthly task competition.
Once it had downloaded I launched into Call of Duty Black Ops in the single player story mode. I was constantly amazed by how fast and slick it was, how many great scenes there were visually. I also enjoyed the story and the temporal jumps. I mean I should as Reconfigure starting chapter is form the middle of the book :). It was also set in my era. A very different time for American presidents, though Reagan was previously a hollywood actor, and wanted to create space based defence systems. Interesting to be working for him though.
I played the entire campaign through that day. To be able to a) finish a game and b) do it in one sitting is not to say it is too short or anything. The ability to block time off, enjoy and dive in made this like a fantastic boxed set on Netflix. There is of course the multiplayer, but I have to be in teh frame of mind to get a constant beating in that by all the kids.
Another really nice touch was this easter egg (which took a bit of figuring out to get to, ut not too much 🙂 ) As well as some 80’s games to play, really old eight bit glories there was this terminal.
Typing on the diplayed keyboard it was clearly a proper version text based operating system from back in the good old days. I listed and changed directories (not sure many modern players will have a clue about that, but they can always look it up on the fancy inter webs). It turns out it has full versions of Zork I, II, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and a few others. I couldn’t;t use the keyboard on the Xbox app, only the slow and annoying onscreen key board, but that was actually part of the fun. I tried one of the games and saved a game, left the console and went back to see if it loaded it, it did! In the middle of the kick ass, next gen first person shooter there was a good old fashioned text based adventure from my youth, utterly brilliant and not the only flashback this month.
There were a stack of other games I have then dived into. In teh house we were already playing Watchdogs:Legion on the previous Xbox, but it was a really nice upgrade to be able to see London in all its next gen (and own futuristic dystopia).
However, The real stand out game has been Assassins Creed : Valhalla. The free-roaming of a beautiful looking saxon Britain it truly eye meltingly lovely. Unlike Call of Duty its an almost never ending set of things to do or complete, constantly attracted way from one task to do another or just to go sight seeing. I particularly liked that over in East Anglia, where I am from, a full version of Burgh Castle exists. The roman walls still stand there today and was a childhood haunt out on the edge of the broads.
Admist all the lovely views there were a few unusual things too. I went to sort out a real work delivery of food and my controller timed out I was met with this amusing error message.
Also I unlocked fishing, of course it has fishing. As I tweeted recently.
I also played this for a while too, one I specifically bought after getting the console.
It is as mad and weird as its predecessors, will not be to everyone’s taste but it has made me laugh a lot. The new fighting system is more turn based, but you get used to it.
I have updated a stack of other games, Mortal Kombat:Ultimate was the biggest mess as I tried the moving from the USB drive again as it has lots of standalone pieces, I ended up deleting it all and starting again. Fifa got me confused too as it kept not installing much of an update, only to realise it was not actually available in the new shiny version yet, it just never told me and the X/S icon would relaunch the original One X version every time.
The only other fly in the ointment is that our 3 years old super snazzy high end Samsung TV does not cope with the new 120 hz ability of the Xbox. I also had to double check how to enable full HDR on the HDMI ports as it was not automatically doing that either. All done now though and it all works.
What no PS5? Well, once it all quietens down I will investigate getting one of those, but the Xbox, with its Game Pass Ultimate that covers the PC’s too is just too much ecosystem to ignore as a primary gaming system.
I mentioned I was relieving my childhood, well I also finally signed up to yet another video service – Britbox, as it was bundled for 6 months free on out BT broadband. I had pondered if I wanted old box sets of BBC and other channels shows, the lure of Spitting Image reborn too was tempting. However what finally did it was Blake’s 7, this was such a formative show for me, for career, interests and the sort of Sci-fi that I really like, and also write. Yes its all a bit set wobbly, occasionally long winded and cheesy, but I love it. Avon in the foreground below, played by the late Paul Darrow, as I have written often, is probably one of the reasons I became a techie/programmer. That’s turned out OK it would seem 🙂
Driver: San Francisco came out a few days ago and as a fan of all things cars, and in particular the original version it was a must get game. I still remember the buzz of seeing those original camera angles and seeing the hubcaps fly off as the old american car lurched around the corner, great attention to detail back then. I was concerned, having played the demo, that the weird astral projection jumping around cars element was going to detract from the good honest car chasing, burnout, doughnut, drifting and jumping that was after the point of the game.
I was also interested in what opportunities there were to use the film director side. Driver was one of the first games I remember having the power to edit the replays from your driving. Driver SF has included this feature and it just keeps recording as you play. At any point you jump to film director where you can change camer cuts, make slo-mo replays etc. it is not completely full featured but it does let you start to explore making a car sequence.
Where Ubisoft fall down though is with their web interface for the results of the game. Yes they have put in the ability to send to facebook and twitter as you play, which is nice an forward thinking but if you start to publish your driving masterpieces it all gets a bit clunky. Unlike Dirt3 which pushes clips you make straight to youtube this game seeks to make a portal that you visit to collate all your info and film clips. The trouble is you cant do much with them. The short videos you make are player with the flovision player and the layout doesn’t seem to work very well if you have more than 3 videos. Each video has a great download button, which gives you a non-descript raw data file. My Mac with all its codecs, perian etc had no idea what to do with it. So the video above was just a screen cap one from the website. I am sure they are going to improve that over time. Though there was not answer on the ubisoft forum or response on a facebook request so who knows if they know.
So here is a game that I really like, had some great fun driving around a mirror world version of San Fran, in real branded cars doing loopy stunts, the I get to the more creative side of things that could offer so much so quickly and get stopped in my tracks. Well you can’t have everything.
One very cool plot point though, (not really a spoiler) is that the original, and irritatingly hard at the time, training level for Driver has been included. It is also linked to a retro reference with an iconic film car and it opening up was a very cool aha moment that more games should have.
The other brilliant film references are a set of movie chases that you gradually unlock. They are nods to some of the best car chases ever on film and the things I grew up watching. Bullit, The French Connection, Starsky and Hutch etc. I was hammering around the jumps in SF shouting I am Steve McQueen. This caused some consternation with predlet 2.0 as he said “no dad it’s Lightning Mcqueen”.
Anyway, if you were brought up on old car chase movies, and like racing games… well this is worth a go. If you want to make machinima, just wait until they decide to offer some more features I would suggest. So those 210 miles of road will just have to be a more personal experience too.
There is a link to my Driver SF page including a few more clips but I am not sure how many you get to store
With the E3 conference in full swing bringing us heaps of great game announcements it is interesting to different rapidly emerging technologies start to combine and cause interesting opportunities and problems.
Project Natal from Microsoft has been renamed to Kinect. Its a soon to arrive add on to the 360 that does some very clever things to detect people and their body movements. It is way past the WiiMote, which Sony have gone closer too with their magic wand Move device (a glowing ball on a stick).
All the Kinect demos and release film showed variations of gameplay that require your entire body to be the controller for the game. In exercise, sports and dance games this makes a great deal of a difference. Knowing where limbs are rather than dance mats has great scope. Though it does lead to an ergonomic problem of needing space around you in your living room/games room.
In driving games such as Forza3 they showed how you sit with your arms outstretched holding an imaginary wheel. This looks like it will be painful, I suppose there is nothing to stop us holding on to some sort of device as I suspect prolonged play will get tricky. What is great is the head tracking though. Being able to look into a corner and the view changes.
There is also a leap and drive towards 3D. The TV’s are starting to appear in stores, Sky is broadcasting the world cup in 3D too. This again is interesting because of our need to have to wear overlay spectacles (in most cases at the moment) in order to experience the effect. Games are starting to be “3d enabled” or be built to take advantage of the 3D tv. So we have a slight crossover here. Kinetic relieves us of our controls, free to move about, but the TV is re-enforcing the need to sit in the right place and wear a device in order to experience it correctly.
So what happens when the large comfortable, easy fit glasses of passively watched 3d TV meet an energetic bounce around body controlled Kinetic game on the 360.
I am sure we will end up with a range of sports glasses and attachments to help play the various games, but it is something to think about.
I am really looking forward to the blend of 3d visuals with gesture controls and the creative process of building in virtual worlds, with the addition of being able to print out and create through 3d printers new peripherals to hold onto and enhance the experiences.
I recently got some time on the new avatar based quiz games on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 Home. Both of these are significant in bringing console casual gaming to a wider audience. They also have a slightly different flavour in how the Avatar represents you in the game.
First up is Buzz on Ps3 Home. Something to do in Home is always going to be interesting. There have been some great events, the ARG Xi but they are only fleeting, or like Xi very involving but run for a short time.
Buzz takes the multiple 4 question format that has appeared on the consoles and even in a schools edition and drops it into Home.
It has always had a TV game show format, but in many ways that is dropped in this version. You do go to the Buzz studio and there are hints of TV, but essentially you and all the other players use their avatar position to decide on an answer to a question. It is very Crackerjack “Runaround Now”.
There is a dynamic that if you don’t know the answer you can sort of “ask the audience” except the audience are the other players. In Second Life terms this would be the green dot effect. Flock to the crowd as they may just be right.
There is very little ability to see you avatar or those of others as most of the camera work is based on the buttons of th game as above.
However sometimes it zooms into the right answer and you may see yourself and have time for a little dance.
I am in there somewhere with Blue (as still not allowed green) Spikey hair.
The other quiz fest is on Xbox Live and called 1 vs 100. This goes for an even more TV game show theme and pits you against the crowd to out average everyone.
You are dropped into a 30 minute game. You NXE avatar taking pride of place in a booth
The screen shows the questions and answers, but unlike Buzz it is read out by a hosts voice. This makes it feel more connected I think.
Also as you answer you get to level up and earn streak points that convert into tokens that let you skip a question every now and then.
It is designed to be a live game show experience too. At scheduled times there is a real live game show host (Taking it into the territory of those late night phone in quiz shows, but hopefully not to tacky 🙂 ). The really live shows have prizes so that makes it more intriguing.
So Buzz has what seems to be user generated quizzes, is quite quiet and the expression of the avatar is lost into using position, but giving an interesting wisdom of crowds dynamic.
1 Vs 100 puts your avatar in a little booth, but you do see the others playing and it feels you are in competition. No doubt party play and other friend features will come into play as it grows. It is a long game (30 mins) to schedule into the day but it feels more exciting I have to say.
A welcome (and free so far) edition to both consoles I have to say.