Monday, 29 January 2007

New Year, New Gaming

This weekend marked the fourth anniversary of Island Gamers, the gaming community I co-founded for residents of the Isle of Wight, which is where I live. Over the last four years the community has grown to a userbase of almost 500 registered Isle of Wight gamers.

Only a handful of those gamers seem to get actively involved in the community, which is somewhat disappointing but then this is
the internet we're talking about here.

So I was suprised to see so many new faces at this weekend's LAN. It's been over six months since we held our last gaming event - the longest we've ever waited between events. Going into the LAN, staff morale was low and we all had the feeling that this would be the last PC LAN, if not the last event ever that IG would be organising.

Thankfully, now we're out the other side we're all feeling much more positive. We managed to drum up almost 30 paying attendees, all of whom seemed to have enjoyed themselves immensely. We had a lot of positive feedback and a lot of questions about the next event. The next event that we thought we probably wouldn't be organising. So there you have it, IG is back from the dead and it makes me happy!

I thoroughly enjoyed the LAN. There was a shift in gaming toward consoles and there were quite a few attendees with both a PC and an XBox 360, myself included. I enjoyed my first ever LAN co-op Rainbow Six: Vegas game, which was a lot of fun even without a headset, which I stupidly left at home!

Going back to PC FPSes was strange. It's been maybe six months since I last properly played an FPS with a mouse and keyboard and the sensation I felt when jacking into my first game of UT2K4 this weekend was strange. It felt so wierd to be controlling with a mouse again, and took me a good few minutes to settle back into it. And you know what? It felt good. Really good. My biggest struggle with console gaming was the transition from mouse to thumbstick, and going back to PC again I realise why. It just feels so much better to shoot stuff with a mouse.

I pretty much sucked at UT for most of the LAN, though I did come second in the 1v1 tournament to the highly seasoned Dor1to, who's still in fine form. A pat on the back to Darkangelus though, who almost sent me out in the semis until I clawed my way back in the last 10 seconds to go for a draw and sudden death which I won by the skin of my teeth.

We had the local newspaper round for some photos, so it looks like we might be getting some free press again. The reporter looked most interested in the Wii, which took pride of place on the projector at the front of the hall. I think everyone had a go on it at some point, and it really did bring people together. I can see where Ninty's going with it now and I'm happy to say that the Wii has found its niche.

It was my Wii, by the way. It finally arrived two months after I renewed my pre-order. I've not had a whole lot of time to play with it, but Wii sports really is as fun as everyone says. I've barely dipped into Zelda, I spent 45 minutes trying to catch my first fish to get that damned cat to follow me, and I failed miserably. I must be doing something wrong.

I'm still waiting for Worms on XBLA. I played the very first iteration of the series on the Amiga and really got into it after Worms: Director's Cut on the A1200. I skipped the PC 2D worms, but did dip into Worms 3D a little. The XBLA version looks set to be straightforward 2D action, with great presentation and all the old-skool weapons that one would expect. I'm itching to spend my 1200 points and to get worming with my friends from IG.

Having said that, I'm getting a little frustrated with the infrequent Arcade updates. There are so many games we've all been hearing about that are due for release "anytime now", but with ony one Wednesday update per week, I'm left disappointed every time I see another 80s arcade game (which I could quite happily play on MAME illegally, thank you) or something equally silly like another expansion pack for Lumines. Then I wait another week only to be disappointed again. Ugh. More updates and faster QA please, Microsoft!

I think I've written enough for this update. If you couldn't tell, I'm quite excited about gaming right now, and this year is off to a great start!

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Christmas Gaming

Wowsers, I spent a LOT of time playing games over the last three weeks. Haven't played so many games so solidly for a long time - the 360 really has turned me back into a gamer.

But before I go into detail about that, let's talk about the Wii. I still have my pre-order, and I still have no idea when I'll actually get the console. After playing on one for the first time over christmas, I'm not really all that excited either.

Wii Sports is great fun. The movements you perform with the remote are translated to screen with an unexpected high level of accuracy. Bowling, tennis and baseball were a lot of fun and really show off what the Wii is going to be capable of in the future.

I didn't want to see Zelda (spoilers), so the only other game I got to play was Rayman. Some of the game ideas were okay, some were laugh-out-loud funny, but the majority were just "meh".
Playing it, I was reminded of the Olympic joystick-waggler games of old.

And overall, the Wii feels old. I'm worried about the controller, it wasn't easy to use and it was very finicky at times, with cursors going AWOL and jerky motion problems. And I still have a problem with the overall level of the graphics in all of the games. After being used to the 360
connected to my VGA projector with a VGA cable and running in 1024x768, seeing the Wii running over a shockingly bad composite cable complete with the saturation problems and general fuzziness that one expects from such a setup I couldn't help but be disappointed. Low poly models and low-res textures simply serve to make matters worse.

Come on Nintendo, let's see those
real Wii games released. Mario and Metroid already look great in screenshots. They needed to be out now, not in six months' time.

In other news, I
completed Dead Rising, Rainbow Six: Vegas and Oblivion on the 360 this week. At least as far as single-player storylines go. I'm still working on the achievements for Oblivion with just the Dark Brotherhood and the Thieves guild storylines to go. I'm a little concerned about how many of the achievements for Vegas and Gears centre around the Online portions. I really don't have much time to dedicate to playing hundreds of matches of shooters online, especially when it's hard to find a quick match most of the time.

I guess I'll just have to buy more 360 games. Oh the sweet, sweet points.