Age of Empires II: HD Edition

I don’t just play games on the PS3 you know.  I dabble with iOS games and PC games.  In fact one of my long time favourite gaming franchises has to be the Age of Empires series.

I have many fond memories from round about the turn of the millennium playing online matches with friends and strangers alike over dial-up on the MSN Gaming Zone.  Those were the days!

Age of Empires II

In many respects, Age of Empires II was the perfect real-time strategy game.  The perfect historical setting, great single player campaigns, and the game play that was simple enough to pick up, but took ages to truly master.  In fact, there were so many units, different terrain, and strategies you could employ, there was more depth than you realised.

There was only one problem though.  The game was built on an old graphical subsystem (pre-DirectX) and soon ran into compatibility issues with modern operating systems a few years down the line.

Then there was Age of Empires III.  For me it was a bit of a let-down.  Everything from the time period, to the slow game play, and the high computer spec requirements.  More recently there was Age of Empires Online- classic Age of Kings gameplay but the game was more of a MMORPG than RTS.

What I really wanted was Age of Kings II.  What was my idea for Age of Kings II?  The same time period as Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, but improved graphics, more civilisations, and new campaigns but with the same great Age of Kings game play.

I’ll therefore admit that Age of Empires II: HD Edition came as a bit of a  shock, but I completely understand why the developers have gone for this option.  Sure, the graphics are a bit dated by today’s standards, but the game play is brilliant, and the game behaves and functions much as it always has.

For me, the main improvements are: population cap increased to 500, improved water graphics, higher resolution monitor support, and Steam integration.  Classic Age of Empires- a game we can now play for the next decade.  Raise your goblet to the king of real-time strategy games!

2011 is another great year for gaming

I’ve got to get my skates on.  I’m still wading through Red Dead Redemption which I’m still loving (but it’s huge!) and that’s not to mention Undead Nightmare that I’ve yet to touch.

Meanwhile PixelJunk Shooter 2 is going in the sin bin.  Permanently.  So for now I’m just going to highlight a few select games that are going to be epic this year and what I’ll be hoping to play:

Portal 2

As I write this, the game is on its way in the post.  I wasn’t originally going to buy it until it had come down in price, but it’s been a combination of not wanting to stumble across any spoilers, the fact the game is three times larger than the original, everyone’s freaking out about how good it is and that the PS3 version is the definitive version… of course I’ve had to jump on the bandwagon and offer up a few notes to the guys at Valve in exchange for a copy of the game.  I couldn’t resist.

inFamous 2

This one’s going to be a pre-order as I absolutely loved the first game.  That alone justifies its inclusion on this list.  Let’s just say that improved graphics, storyline, new abilities, and tons more gameplay sweeten the deal?  Access to Uncharted 3’s multiplayer beta seals the deal!

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

If I could only choose to buy one game this year, it would be Uncharted 3.  From Uncharted’s humble origins in 2007, to worldwide anticipation in 2011- each game simply oozes quality.  Beyond simply being ‘just another franchise’, so much love, blood, sweat and tears go into creating each game that they’ve become more than just games, they’re masterpieces (my opinion).

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Why 3D is not the future of video

In the final days of 2010 I have managed to see my first 3D film: Tron Legacy.  The experience has confirmed what I had already come to suspect, that 3D in its current incarnation is not the future of video, be it cinema, TV programmes, or video games.

That’s quite a bold statement to make, but I’ll gently walk you through what’s been buzzing around in my head for months.  Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: films, TV programmes, video games have traditionally been displayed in 2D.  As human beings, we see in 3D.


So why hasn’t this bothered us before?  Well, the human brain is a remarkable thing.  We may not be able to number-crunch as well as computers, but the brain is able to make sense out of our chaotic and often unpredictable environment.  As we look at a 2D photograph or video, we’re able to interpret what we see and ‘convert’ it into 3D in our minds.

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A peripheral too far?

Now don’t get me wrong, I like a good peripheral as much as the next person but seriously, another one?  As well as the standard PS3 console with controller, I have two additional controllers for multiplayer, a PlayStation Eye, the obligatory bluetooth headset and a bluetooth chat pad that clips onto whatever controller you’re using.  So now I’m to fork out for a PlayStation Move controller and possibly the ‘Nav controller’?

Of course though, if you want any kind of offline multiplayer experiences with your shiny new toy you’re going to have to buy multiple controllers.  You’re not too bad if you plump for the ‘PlayStation Move Starter Pack‘ that Amazon is selling for £39.99.  Which isn’t bad value considering you get the move controller, a PlayStation Eye, and a starter disc.  What I find incredible though, is that for someone like me who already owns the PlayStation Eye, the standalone Move controller still retails for £38.  Unbelievable.

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My Sony E3 2010 keynote digest

E3 has come around again so soon (it appears), or am I just getting older?  Bah, humbug.  Anyhow, after Sony’s kitchen-sink-approach to keynotes and surprises I’ll only highlight in brief a few items that have piqued my interest:

PlayStation Move

Speaking of the devil, the Move has finally been priced and dated which ‘moves’ it out of the vapourware category.  Should be an interesting direction to take the PS3, but who exactly is it aimed at?  If it’s mainly children, then they’ve already got the Wii, and for parents the Wii is a heck of a lot cheaper.  This concerns me.

I’ll qualify the above with a caveat though: the PlayStation has the best tech in this area now.  Way more accurate (1:1 tracking) than anything the Wii can offer with better graphics and sound to boot, and more tactile than the Xbox 360’s Project Natal Kinect product.  I’m sorry, but waving your arms about can be hit and miss whilst gaming whether you’re a seasoned gamer or a casual one.  That’s just the way it is.

Killzone 3

The graphics should be spectacular, and it has support for PlayStation Move.

3D gaming has arrived

This isn’t really a big deal for me, as I don’t buy into the whole 3D spiel just yet.  However I can’t argue with the fact that this is potentially another exciting avenue for the PS3 (and gaming in general) to be going down.

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Back on the streets with Burnout Paradise

I have to admit that I’ve had a fairly intense love/hate relationship with the whole Burnout franchise.  When times were good, Burnout was a sumptuous slice of gaming heaven.  When times were bad, Burnout was just another game I couldn’t be bothered playing.  It all started with the original Burnout on the PS2.  If I recall, I thought at the time that it was a steaming pile of… well, rubbish.  Burnout 2: Point of Impact though, changed everything.  In my mind it was perfect: the graphics were the best I’d seen in a racing game since Gran Turismo and the gameplay was spot-on.

I dabbled with Burnout 3: Takedown on the original Xbox and found it to be great fun, but the gaming experience didn’t feel as pure as its predecessor.  After that, I totally skipped the next instalments in the series, Burnout: Revenge and Burnout: Dominator (which was not even developed by Criterion).  You see, Burnout had got rid of the gameplay feature that gave its name; the burnout.  In Burnout 2: Point of impact, you could drain your boost meter without stopping which would cause the meter to refill, meaning that as long as you didn’t crash, you could chain as many boosts together as you wanted.  It melted your eyes.

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Measuring Difficulty in Games

How do you measure difficulty levels in games? Can you measure them?  I suppose what I’m really asking is who says what games are classified as being: difficult, tricky, mildly taxing, relatively easy or a cake walk?  I hope by now you’ve figured out that it’s really each and every single one of us.  It’s totally subjective.

Some will have you believe that game difficulty is measured solely on consensus of opinion by the hardcore gamers.  A good example is Modern Warfare 2.  Consensus of opinion says that it is easier than it’s predecessor.  I’ve found it quite challenging on normal settings thank you very much!  I’ve often found myself holed down in a relatively safe spot before hearing a loud THWACK and either seeing another inspiring quote or reading the sage words of advice such as ‘vehicles on fire may explode’ and  ‘it might be an idea to stay way from grenades going off’ from what I call the game’s hindsight detector.

Ok, so I ad-libbed those pieces of advice.  But what I’m trying to get at is that sometimes before I knew it, I had died more times than Bill Murray in the space of a minute!  The Gulag level springs to mind, for instance.  This may sound like I’m complaining, but I’m not.  In this case, the controls are spot-on, gameplay is realistic, and the challenge is set at such a level that the appetite to try just one more time never diminishes.  I’m looking forward to another run through of the game on hardened and veteran.

I can say that Modern Warfare 2 has been the most challenging game I’ve come across for quite some time.  Looking at other games I can say that yes, Uncharted 2 is easier than the first game, Burnout Paradise really is easy, Arkham Asylum’s main story is easy enough but the challenge rooms are tough and Assassin’s Creed II is easy.  But those are just my words which may seem empty if your experiences have differed.  I’m only speaking for myself here.  The bit I love about this topic though, is that everyone’s opinion is valid.

Does anyone want to share some of their experiences with different games?  The only people I don’t want to hear from are unemployed teenagers who do a 9 till 6 shift gaming.  I just can’t compete with that.  😉