Hey there, readers! It's been almost a year since my last post on here, because I'm a complete and utter prat who keeps forgetting that this domain name even exists. Still, never mind, I'm here now, eh?
What's brought me back into the fold, you may ask? Well, it's the hotly anticipated release of Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 on the PC (and various other platforms, but I do 99% of my gaming on a PC, so the PC version is what we're talking about here.)
For those unaware, back in 2007 Namco released a new edition in their venerable Pac-Man franchise. The focus was more on high-scores and competition between friends rather than completing mazes, and the game was incredibly well received by many, myself included. The frenetic pace and the gameplay changes surrounding the concept of only eating half of the maze at a time and having optimal paths to do so made going for higher and higher scores very addictive.
In 2010 it was followed by Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (and a DX+ update on Steam) which improved on the formula some more by adding the concept of "collecting" ghosts in a train - ghosts would be sleeping at various parts of the maze and would wake up when Pac-Man flew by. You could then chomp on a power pellet and go straight on down to snack town. Take a look at this video of me playing it if you're not sure how that works in practice:
As you can see, very different to the original Pac-Man, but also much more fun.
The sequel, imaginatively titled Pac-Man Championship Edition 2, was released at the start of September. It's basically more or less the same, but they have tweaked the concept a bit - contact with a ghost is no longer instant death as it was previously, now you can bump into a ghost a few times which will "anger" it and make it chase you around the maze, which can be used tactically if you're skilled enough (I'm not.)
The ghost "trains" that build up over the course of each round are now only munchable if you eat the head ghost, and Pac-Man will then automatically eat the rest of the ghosts, and as if that wasn't complicated enough, when you eat a power pellet the trains now speed up instead of slow down, but follow preset "escape routes" which are highlighted on the maze so you can "head them off at the pass."
There are a few other spanners in the works, too - sometimes you'll come across a "runaway" power pellet or fruit - these will actively try and get away from you as you approach, but with careful decision making and blazing your way around corners you can easily catch up.
Another new addition is boss battles. In these, you have a set amount of time to complete a set number of mazes, and each time a massive ghost behind the maze bumps his noggin on it which triggers the appearance of a couple of extra life power-ups and the fruit/power pellet that you need to get to the next maze.
There are also updates to the "bomb" system from the original game. In the original, you could press Space and (if you had some) a bomb would go off which would send all of the ghosts back to their house and you could carry on your merry way. This was excellent when things got a bit too hair-raising. Now, though, the bomb does the same thing but moves Pac-Man back to his start point. This adds a tactical element whereby you can instantly get to the "reset" fruit by using a bomb.
It's fun enough, I suppose - but I have to admit I don't like it. Take a look at my video below, and I'll run you through some of the things that I really don't like.
The first thing that really winds me up about the sequel is that the fruit power-ups needed to reset the maze are "out of the way" and you have to move up or down into the space to eat it. Doing so resets the maze, and puts Pac-Man back in the place above the fruit ready to go again (see 0:14 in the video). This makes sense, of course, but I just can't gel with it - if you look at the original game up there, Pac-Man never changes direction or moves without your say so, which makes for a much more fluid experience.
In the sequel, his position gets reset whenever the maze resets, and also whenever you eat a ghost train (more on that in a second) and it completely screws with my forward planning.
My other major complaint with the game is the way everything goes a bit haywire when you eat a ghost train. Take a look at 0:40 onwards in the video. When you eat the head of a ghost, the view changes to a sort of "3D camera" and the player loses control of Pac-Man. Pac-Man will snake his way around corners with gay abandon munching on ghosts and then when he's finished, control is returned to you but suddenly you're not where you were and you completely lose your bearings.
To make matters worse, the other major problem I have with this new train system is that while Pac-Man is eating a train, if another train passes through the same area (see 0:44 in the video) Pac-Man completely ignores it rather than chowing down on that too. This seems really odd to me, and just adds to the feeling of disorientation that the game gives me.
That's nothing though compared to what happens when you eat the final train on the maze. Skip ahead to 0:51 on the video and you'll see what happens when you do this. The camera goes absolutely bonkers and you lose sight of the maze altogether as Pac-Man goes flying off seemingly into space.
When he returns, he's out back on the maze, directly above the fruit that you need to eat to reset the maze - you have to move down into it, which then triggers the same reset that normally occurs. However, if you don't do anything, Pac-Man literally just stays there waiting for your command.
In my opinion, which isn't worth much admittedly, these changes to the core gameplay are great on paper but the execution just flat out doesn't work - the game wrestles control of Pac-Man away from you far too many times and you just come away feeling like you don't know what's going on. Pac-Man should never come to a complete stop once you start him off unless you run him into a wall, it's fundamental. Interestingly, the game also includes a "brake" button which stops Pac-Man dead in his tracks and can be used to avoid a ghost encounter if you need to. This is probably useful in some of the later mazes, but I've not had to use it yet and again it seems like it's making the game more complex than it really needs to be.
Using the bombs in this game also destroys any flow, as it moves you back to your start point where you stay still waiting for instructions.
The boss battles (not featured in the video) aren't particularly well thought out, they're not so much boss battles as timed rounds with some "defeat a boss" animation frippery thrown on top.
Other than this laundry list of complaints, I can't really think of much else to criticise. The graphics, sound and control scheme are all excellent (although I may just be imagining it, but I'm sure in this game Pac-Man will move "back" a bit to make a turn if you're a bit late pressing the key, which again makes it very hard to control properly - I can see I've passed the turning, so I'm already holding the turn key for the next junction, don't move me back to the one I've missed!)
I'm still unconvinced that this game is an improvement on Championship Edition DX+, but I'll give it some more time - I may warm up to it after a while.
I've been programming these computer-ma-whatsits since the tender age of 6, when my Dad brought home from work a Sinclair Spectrum 48K.
Well, I say that, but my time with that machine was somewhat limited as I had two brothers living at home then as well, Bob and Mike, and they were even more interested in this alien bit of kit than I was, both of them being nearly 10 years older than I was.
Nevertheless, that lovely old squidgeboard was my introduction to the world of computer programming. 48K Sinclair BASIC isn't exactly a powerhouse of a language, but it was more than enough for my tiny brain.
I never really managed to do anything particularly great with it though - it was only after I'd migrated to the Commodore Amiga that I started really digging my teeth into the biscuit that was creating my own computer programs. Initially I used AMOS BASIC, followed by AMOS Professional, and ended up using Blitz Basic 2.
Using AMOS/AMOS Pro, I created a number of games for the Amiga that I released on Aminet in the mid-to-late 90s. At the time, I was a subscriber to Amiga Format, and they ran a seemingly popular "Reader Games" segment - kind of like Readers' Wives, but (certainly the first couple of times) making myself look more of a tit. Naturally I submitted my games for review in this magazine section.
I present these reviews to you now, for you to make up your own mind. They're in the order of publication.
Amiga Format #97 (May 1997) - Alien Pong Trilogy (no, I don't know either)
Amiga Format #102 (October 1997) - Alien Pong Trilogy 2 (Pong Harder?)
Amiga Format #103 (November 1997) - Shoot Out (I still like this idea)
Amiga Format #107 (February 1998) - Shoot Out 2 (I like my sequels)
Amiga Format #135 (April 2000) - Shoot Out 2000 (Why 2K? Let's run this into the ground!)
Amiga Format ceased publication after the following issue, #136. Obviously this was nothing to do with me, but I still feel a little bit guilty.
This is going to be a bit of a weird review, primarily because I've been to The Silverton many times before and although the quality of their food has gone downhill in recent times (but don't get me wrong - it's still good stuff) I've never felt compelled to write a review of the place until now, and this isn't going to be a glowing report.
The Silverton Hotel opened relatively recently by Shrewsbury's standards and shortly after opening acquired something of a reputation for their food - quality I can attest to, at the time they were serving arguably the best steaks in the town.
It has now changed hands from the original management team and, based on my experiences this week, is a far cry from its former glory.
Kit (friend, colleague and extreme BeEx lurker) and I visited The Silverton on a whim on Tuesday lunchtime for a spot of "posh" lunch.
We both chose "The Famous Silverton Beef Burger", although I felt compelled to check if the burger was served with cheese on it (I have an aversion to the stuff, nyurk) - I'm glad I did, as despite it not mentioning it on the menu, it was indeed cheesed-up to the nines. I requested they not put cheese on mine, and we waited.
About 15 minutes later, the waitress came over to our table and apologised to me, stating that the chef had put cheese on my burger, and asked if I was allergic. I'm not, fortunately (we didn't have another 15 minutes to wait for a fresh burger to be made) so I asked the chef to simply remove the cheese from the burger.
As it happens, it was all very nice and the rest of the time passed without incident. Although I did note that pepper had been put into the salt shaker, and vice versa.
Last night, after being cruelly* denied a table at the new Smoke Stop BBQ restaurant on the outskirts of town, Jem and I went to the Silverton instead and decided to take advantage of their Two Steaks For £30 deal (which after 7pm is actually £35, but that's still fine) - two steaks and a bottle of house wine, can't be bad.
The waitress didn't impress me right from the start. We gave over our drinks orders ("A coke" for Jem and "A pint of coke, with no ice" for myself) for her to then ask if we wanted ice with our drinks.
Then came time for our food order to be taken. Jem ordered "a sirloin steak, rare" while I decided to go with "a ribeye steak, medium rare, with peppercorn sauce."
Amazingly, the waitress then asked how we wanted our steaks cooked and whether we wanted any sauces. We repeated our requests, and when she read them back to us, said "So, that's a sore lion steak, rare with no sauce, and a reeb-eye steak, medium rare with peppercorn sauce."
I managed not to laugh at her pronunciation, but alarm bells were ringing. Still, I then ordered a bottle of house white as part of the deal, and thought no more of it.
I then asked the waitress if it would be possible to have a side order of onion rings - which, to be fair, weren't on the menu (although the menu had no side dishes listed at all which I found a little odd) - she went off to check and later informed me that onion rings were not available. As they weren't on the menu, I'll let this one slide, even though they're not exactly difficult to make...
A short while later, the bartender (who, up until now had been minding his own business in the bar area) came over with our wine, in an ice bucket with two glasses. Jem is currently doing #DryJuly, and we already had Cokes, so I asked the waiter to just leave the bottle as we'd be taking it home.
To my amazement, despite acknowledging what I'd said, he proceeded to put everything on our table and even said he'd leave the bottle in the ice so that it would stay chilled.
It was at this point that I started to wonder if the words that had been tumbling out of my mouth all evening were in the English language.
The food then arrived. Jem's sore lion steak was severely overcooked given her request, and my ree-bye was cooked correctly but tasted incredibly bland. My peppercorn sauce was also so chock full of peppercorns that I literally could not dunk my chips in to the damn stuff.
At the end of our meals, we decided not to risk asking about dessert - I couldn't face the prospect of having to repeat a conversation about ice cream flavours with the waitress - so we just went home, although Jem couldn't resist getting in a complaint about how her steak was overcooked.
That's about it - I'll give them another chance, they're very local and are usually very good, but it will have to be much improved next time.
Arthur C. Clarke once said, "Two possibilities exist. Either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying."
It's always been one of my favourite quotations, so it's rather fitting that it gets a prominent place (right at the start of the intro sequence) to a reimagining of one of my favourite games.
X-COM: UFO Defense (or, to give it its European name, UFO: Enemy Unknown) was developed by the Gollop brothers, Julian and Nick and was released in 1993 by Microprose to an unwitting audience.
The Shrewsbury Flower Show is in full swing, and Alex and I decided to take a brief trip into town to check out the crowds, have lunch and perhaps go for a bit of a walk while we were at it.
Unfortunately, the walk didn't really happen (we had to get back to the car before our parking ticket expired!) but lunch happened, and I'm really rather glad it did.
It's been a long time coming (four years almost to the day, in fact) but the final instalment of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy is here at last.
Christopher Nolan's film-making chops find themselves under even greater scrutiny this time around - we've all been waiting for this epic conclusion since we saw Batman ride away into the light on the Batpod, but has he delivered?
Note: This is a pretty long review, but should be almost completely spoiler-free.
I took a trip over to Shifnal recently with Alex, to a restaurant called Henri's. Situated on Church Street in the town, with an outside seating area and a (small) car park, it seems well placed for passing trade and the general aesthetic was nice. The menu offered a pretty good choice of starters and main courses, and a specials board was brought around which had a number of dishes on.
Crackdown could quite easily be compared to the Grand Theft Auto series of games - it offers an entire city to use and abuse as you see fit, a decent number of vehicles to drive or destroy, and it's packed full of criminals and cops.
The similarities end there, however. For Crackdown isn't a story-driven game in the same way that the 3D GTA games were, nor is the emphasis on committing whatever crimes are necessary to take you to the top. In Crackdown, you play the part of a genetically enhanced super-cop, created to combat three criminal gangs that are in control of the city and reclaim the streets on behalf of your masters, The Agency.