Saturday, February 20, 2010


I'm in Nigeria for the g-nigeria event. People are tweeting right now about it, so get stuck in using the #gnigeria tag if you want to take part.
You can always browse the archives, too.
If you want to download the presentations from the event, please visit the main website. We will link the presentations from the agenda pages.

As always, contact if you have any questions.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Lion Man

Not sure how many, if any of you, watch the Lion Man on Sky (at least, it's Sky in the UK).
This dude, Craig Busch (tee hee) runs a wildlife sanctuary for big cats. He also seems to keep a bunch of deer, but they're never mentioned, so I can only assume they're only there for catfood.

Anyway, he has bengal tigers, white tigers, white lions, barbary lions, and some other cats too.
You can learn more about them at the Zion Park website.
The baby tigers are ridiculously cute (I just grabbed this pic of the 'nets).

Anyway, at the of an episode, it said 'dedicated to Dalu', so I wondered what happened. turns out, he was mauled by a tiger and killed. But that's not all. Craig's mum was bought in a couple of years back to refinance the park, and soon after, sacked Craig. Weird.

Full story is over at Wikianswers. One of those "too strange to make it up" ones.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quick side by side DA:O comparison

Gamespot have kindly put together a comparison of the graphics for DA:O across PS3/Xbox/PC.

It's actually a little misleading, because they've restricted the PC to 720p, which seems completely pointless. Why would you set it lower than necessary? I run it at 1920x1200, 8x anti aliasing, with everything else set at max. (I've got a fairly kick-ass graphics card)

I've been a bit naughty, and stolen a couple of images, but it shows the key differences. The PC version adds better textures (note the sacks) and also extra elements (note the chest). But check out the full article over at Gamespot for more info and details.


Dragon Age: Origins

Man alive. This game makes me shout and yell and want to break things. The AI is incredibly dumb.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

If I can use a simile (or maybe a metaphor, I can never tell) for a moment, If Dragon Age were a trading card game, Origins would be a starter pack. DLC is booster packs, and things like Awakenings are expansion packs. It's pretty clumsy, I know, but there we are.

So, they've essentially built a core world with a pretty decent game engine, pretty graphics and so forth, and they've got grand plans to release DLC for the next 2 years or so, to supplement it. Now, if they get it right, it could be awesome. If they balls it up, well, then so be it. So far, though, it's looking good. Ish.

First things first, what are the bad points? Well, the cut/speaking scenes are pretty bland. People just stand and stare. And the eyes are pretty lifeless. Voice acting is not great. They conjured up a bunch of pretty impressive voice talent, including Commander Janeway from Voyager, Claudia Black (who's turning up everywhere these days), Tim Curry and more. But it's like they've asked them to deliver everything as blandly as possible. Which is weird, because they all do fantastic jobs in other games.
Plus, there's this dude:
He used to be on Grange Hill. I always liked him. Except that his voice is SO distinctive that it annoys me. I don't know why.

I should point out that I'm playing on PC. And here's why. I hear that combat is pretty rubbish on consoles. Also, the graphics are miserable/washed out/low quality. Plus, no mouse. Having played the PC version quite a bit, I now understand that the console would be terrible. The ability to spin the mousewheel and get a tactical overview of combat is essential. You can't do this in the console. Ergo, the console version is not good.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. It's called 'Origins' for a reason. Depending on your class (rogue, warrior, mage) and race (elf//dwarf/human), you'll get a wildly different starting game. If you're anything like me, and like to poke in every dank corner of every map, then this can give up to 15 hours of gameplay just for your character. If you're prepared to skip through many of the talking bits, you can probably halve that, and if you just want to get to the 'main game', it could probably be done in 4 or so. However, of all the talking bits, the "origin" parts seem to be the most interesting, and therefore worth the time. Later on, when you're talking to generic merchant 15, you'll be pushing that escape key often. Subtitles will help.

Also, amusingly, after combat, you get covered in blood. This can make for some (possibly unintentioanlly) hilarious cutscenes, as you trade pleasantries with a noble and yet you're covered in blood. I can't find a good picture right now, so I'll grab a screenshot later, but here's a quick example of the general effect:

Each class has 4 specialisations (rogue can be bard, assassin, etc), and you'll meet some companions who cover off the main categories (bard, assassin, shapeshifter, warrior, etc) and, of course, a dog.
At any time, you can have 3 other people in your group, and they'll have different reactions to different things. Sten, the big tank, doesn't like it when you're nice. If you waste time being good, he'll get upset.

So, then, what about the combat? Well, it's a bit mixed. I don't want to ruin the story, but it shouldn't come as any great surprise that you're selected for greatness by a group called the Grey Wardens, who operate above the law, giving you the excuse you need to act however you like. However, the first warden you meet, Alistair, is a dick. And also not very good at fighting. So I was left thinking the combat mechanics were rubbish.

Until you leave the first village, Lothering, you're pretty much on rails, and stuck with Alistair for the majority of the time, which is disappointing. The dog makes a better tank, and the dog is crap. Maybe I was misusing him, and he's better for skirmishing the enemy, but given you can only take 4 people out, he seems like a complete waste of space. Anyway, mileage may vary. You might love him (but I bet you don't).

In fact, Alistair actually caused me to give up on this game initially. I was really really bored once I got to Lothering for the first time. I didn't really get where it was going, and it all seemed way too linear. A friend encouraged me to get back into it, and also grab the DLC to which I was entitled, and I'm glad he did. Once you get past Lothering, the game really opens up. More party members, more freedom to explore and so on.

Back to combat, though. It's good. I like a lot of the ideas they have. For example, skills/spells cost stamina/mana. So far, so good. But armour has a fatigue rating expressed as a percentage, which directly affects the cost of the ability. So if you're wearing around that gives you a total of 20% fatigue, and the ability would normally cost 10 points, it costs 12. It means you really do think about what armour to use, instead of just picking the thing with the highest protection.

And there are a bunch of skills which you can toggle on and off like, say, Powerful Swings, which does more damage per blow with two handed weapons, at the cost of accuracy and defence. However, they have a 'maintenance cost', meaning that to keep the mode active, you're always down some stamina points. It's clever, and I like it. It might exist elsewhere, but it's still well implemented. And you can often have multiple skills active (a mage might have shield and spell boost, for example).

Ok, so, seriously, combat. There are 'tactics', which let you set up some really quite complex actions. You have a bunch of objects, conditions and actions. So, you might say "when ally drops below 50% health, cast heal". Or "when in melee combat with more than 1 person, cast knockback". You get the idea. It's extremely comprehensive. Next, you'll be pausing. A lot. Which is no bad thing. But back to my starting point. The AI is bloody annoying. It quite often does what it wants, despite what you've told it. So, you might set up an archer to fire at someone, only to find they've been attacked in melee, switched to their sword, and not bothered to switch back. or you moved them somewhere, and now they're facing away from the battle, not targetting anyone. Or you move a mage out of the main ruck, and they run right back in and die. Of course, you can force them to hold position, but that's a group setting, meaning your melee characters won't advance to attack other targets without explicit instruction. Equally annoying. So, I spent a lot of screaming at the screen, because someone's just spent 30 seconds doing nothing as another party member dies.

In general, though, the combat flows really nicely. I never seem to have enough mana or stamina, but there are potions and mushrooms for that. I just stumbled across spell combinations, too, where you can combine two different spells for a bigger effect. I won't spoil anything for you, but there are some pretty sweet ones. It really encourages experimentation.

I'll be reviewing the DLC, since I can't find any decent reviews of it anywhere (by which I mean, sites other than IGN).

So, yeah, in general, a nice engine, suffering from some blandish character graphics, with a nice combat system, despite some AI weirdness. The story itself is pretty cool. And, if you get it on PC, a good few hours of distraction.

Here's a nice German video that gives a pretty decent overview of the combat, with subtitles.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Dragon Age

That's a pretty bold title, actually. Not sure if I'll get to all 3 games in a single post.
So, here goes.

I saw that Mass Effect 2 was coming out. Also, that it was going to be on PC. I did some reading, and it became apparent that the graphics would be better on PC, so I took the plunge, and pre-ordered it. In the meantime, though, I realised that my multiple savegames from the Xbox would not be any use, so I grabbed ME1 from Steam for a tenner, and started playing.

Whilst playing through ME1 again (it's still very good, both graphically and game-playably), Mass Effect 2 launched. I wanted to get a whole playthrough done on the first one so I could import a character, but in the end, after Virmire on ME1, I fired up ME2.

First things first, it's quite different, whilst still being almost the same. Most noticable from the get-go is the different inventory. Instead of heaps of weapons (like, say, other RPGs), and carrying tens of items in your inventory, you have very few weapons, with very fixed upgrades. Each mission (more or less) provides a handful of upgrades, from new weapons, to weapon upgrades (+damage, +other stuff), power upgrades, health, etc.

After an initial disappointment (I love lewts) I have to say, it works quite well. But, with a finite amount of cash, it's impossible to buy everything on your first playthrough (unless I really got something wrong). You'll need to import a character to get the cash boost. Fortunately, you can import an ME2 character after your first playthrough.

Next, the characters. In the first one, you found someone you liked, and used them all the time. In fact, there were achievements for doing a playthrough using mostly one character or another. In this one, instead, each character has loyalty, and a reason for adventuring with them. Which works really nicely.

The character skills are cool, too. They work well (except squad ammo, which they'll constantly activate, even when it's counter-productive. Grrr).

The worlds are fun, the chatter is good, and the chance to be nasty or nice is still there, with some occasionally funny results. The end is pretty bonkers, although the bit through the Omega 4 relay reminded me of Reaver space in Firefly (or maybe Serenity). Which is actually no bad thing.

The music is epic. The weapons are fun. The powers are entertaining. Just the level cap is a bit of a shame. I played through on veteran, and did all the missions I could find (basically, scanned all the planets) and made it to level 27. Since the level cap is 30, reasons to play through again are limited. That being said, I started a new playthrough on insanity, and I'm taking a proper beating, even though I hit level 30 in under an hour.

I guess I need to visit a wiki and get all the upgrades, but god-damn, those YMIR mechs are brutal.

Anyway, one thing that became clear was that it's almost impossible to get full renegade without importing an ME1 character. I did every bad thing I could find, from telling the Volus to charge, to turning down romances, but I was still short (and that's with the relevant power maxed, too). And on a replay, you lose your points. Maxing Paragon appears to be much easier - after only a handful of missions on my replay, it's nearly full.

Anyway, the point is, I need to go back and play ME1 to the end to get an importable character, I guess. Danger Shepard needs validation.

Dragon age? I'll write about it next time.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Removing an entire site from Google

Yesterday I was asked how to remove an entire site that you own from Google listings.
I knew I'd seen this somewhere before, but was clicking around and couldn't find it.
I spoke to the amazing John Mueller, who showed me the way.

Please note that if you don't own the site, this will not work. This is only for sites that you own, and can edit
So, here's how to do it.
  1. Add a robots.txt file to your web server that contains something like
    User-agent: * 
    Disallow: /
  2. Register and verify your site on Google Webmaster Tools.
  3. Pick the site you want to remove from the dashboard.
  4. Click "site configuration"
  5. Click "crawler access"
  6. Click "remove URL"
  7. Click "New removal request"
  8. Click "Your entire site"
  9. Enter your website
  10. Relax

The removal tool is also available through other means, but if you don't take that route, you'll only be able to remove one page at a time, which isn't ideal if you've got a whole directory or even site indexed in error.

Anyway, hope that was useful!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bayonetta, Crow 77

So, you're trying to beat the Alfheim in Chapter 6 to get Umbran Crow 77, right?
You need to finish the Alfheim and then pick up the crow as you leave.

But, to beat it, you need 7 torture attacks against a bunch of pretty brutal enemies.
How do you do it?

Well, it took me nearly 3 hours of retrying before I managed it, and a lot of frustration. To save you some of the same misery, here's how I did it.

Part 1: Preparation.

1) Finish hard mode first to get the bazillions, or play 100 chapters to get the Sai-fun. Both of these are pretty useful. The Bazillions and Sai-fun are both pretty good against joys. They stun lock them nicely.

2) Kill the first round quickly a few times to get practice against the dogs and joys. Don't even try for the torture attacks. Just get a handle on how they move, how they attack, and what you need to do.

3) Use the fact that most off-screen enemies won't attack you. After the first round, keep everyone off screen as much as possible while you charge something nasty.

4) Keep going until you're comfortable killing them all without taking damage. Again, don't worry about the torture attacks at this stage.

5) You will need the following equipment to make life easier.
Gaze of despair (enrages opponents), eternal testimony (keeps 2 magic blocks filled), and Selena's light (enables witch time when you're hit).

6) You also really want a full magic bar (all three slots available).

Part 2: Doing it

Ok, so, you've managed to kill them all without taking the hits - how do you clock up the torture attacks? Remember, for the torture attacks to actually count, you need to kill the creature with the attack. Just taking some health off it isn't enough.

1) Put on the gaze and eternal testimony. These guys are on fire. You can activate witch time, and soften them up, but there's a chance witch time will disable, and you'll lose a health bar trying to hit them. So, we're not going to touch them with regular attacks.
Dodge and taunt (hold left bumper, don't just press it) until you have a couple of full bars. Double-torture the ardor. Now, dodge and taunt the rest, and kill them until you have only one weak enemy left. Then dodge and taunt him until you have 3 full magic slots. Now, UNEQUIP THE GAZE and equip Selena's light. This is pretty important.

2) Then, make sure you have Shuruga or Pillow Talk equipped and active, move to the middle of the arena, and perform the torture attack. This should put you on 5/7.

3) As soon as you've killed him, press and hold punch to start charging Shuruga (or Pillowtalk, if you have it). Note that you can start charging the sword almost immediately (although you can't switch weapon, so that's why you need to make sure the sword is equipped before you make that final torture attack).

4) Hopefully, you're standing close to the Ardor (sword guy). He should attack you pretty quickly. Dodge it. Unleash the full charge. With a bit of luck, you'll take a dog and the ardor down to half health each.

5) Torture attack the ardor, and the weakened dog. Remember, you started round 2 with 2 full bars, so you should just run towards them and do it.

6) You have all the torture attacks. Beat the final dog to death. I find it easiest to get close to them and dodge their biting attack. A friend prefers to make them charge him and gets them when they're stunned.

7) Joys appear. If you're still running at 3 health bars, take them down as normal.
If not, run to the edge of the arena, and spin the camera so they're all off-screen. Charge the sword. When you're fully charged, start dodging towards the centre. Release the charge, which should seriously hurt one or two. Then, switch to bazillions or sai fun and take them down.

As I said, it took me about 3 hours to beat them, but once I'd worked out this strategy, it took only 2 tries. The most important thing for me was practicing against the dogs and joys a bit, so I knew what to expect.

Hopefully that'll help you. Please leave comments if you have thoughts or advice.