Some things I've learned....

(1) An Engineer can do with 10 cent what a fool can do with a Euro.

(2) "Puff" - unimportant; insignificant; unworthy of study by engineering students; waste of time

(3) It's better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you're stupid than to open it and prove them right!

(4) Blockwork people and concrete people can never work on the same site... Apparently they don't like each other....

(5) It's official; I'm fantastic!

Saturday 18 October 2008

AVGN: Dracula

The Nerd starts off his double Halloween special with a review of a couple of Dracula games. No prizes for guessing if they're good or bad!!

Now playing Bioshock on PS3. Oh yeah....

~The Damo

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed - Review

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (SWTFU) promised to give gamers are truly unique experience set in the Star Wars universe, by putting the power of the force at our fingertips in a never before seen way. Has it delivered? The simple answer is Yes and No.

SWTFU follows the story of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice – Starkiller – during the period of time between Episodes III and IV. The story is without a doubt one of the games strongest assets, which fits well into the canon – if stretching it just a little – but still leaving the player with a satisfying finale and a worthy respect for the games protagonist. Starkiller’s journey fits across 9 stages, from Felcuia to Bespin and even the under construction Death Star. As with all Star Wars games nowadays you are faced with the standard “Light or Dark” choice close to the games end. The twists seem believable and the actions of the cast feel real, certainly showing that there is some originality left in the Star Wars name.

The levels themselves are quite enjoyable in my opinion. The are quite long and expansive though they do force you down one specific direction. The design is fantastic in some places and lacking in others. That’s not to imply that the levels get worse as you go on, it’s just that some areas feel like they had more thought put into them than others. For example moving through the Sarlaac on Felucia is certainly interesting, whereas the Bespin seems rather bland and ultimately uninspired, with no memorable moments.

The game does have its moments though. My best memory is the segment where you have to pull a Star Destroyer out of the sky using the force. The boss fights are ok aswell, though they can feel very straightforward (but not repetitive if you know what I mean). The problem with the boss fights is that when you reduce your opponent to a low health, you then trigger a quick-time event, which will continue to loop even if you get wrong, meaning there’s no consequence to hitting the right button. The actual action that occurs during a quicktime event is quite impressive, and is definitely the most entertaining part to watch in a boss fight. Having said all that the boss fights are real battles of the force, with the challenge only becoming more of a battle as you raise your difficulty level.

Using the Force is fun, I mean come on, who doesn’t like picking up a helpless stormtrooper and fling him miles into the sky. Or how about leaping in the air, raining sith lightning down on the people below. The combination of using the force with your close combat attacks works well, with a good variety of combos. Coupled with the variations of force powers using the Force has never been so much fun. Going with the new manipulation of the force was the much hyped molecular matter programming, which was designed to make materials react realistically to the conditions, for example wood splintering where its cut, or metal bending according to the reactions its put under as opposed to the game being pre-programmed to respond in a certain way. This technology was very evident in the Prologue but didn’t seem to feature as much as I thought it would as the game progressed. It’s quite possible that the tech was simply too expensive to impliment into the whole game. The only times the tech is seen is when you really have to use it (like bending metal panels so you can jump on them or force pushing your way through a door). The levels are a physics fun house, but just not as much as we intitially expected.

Naturally giving you all this power would make killing stormtroopers and co a little easy, but the game appropriately confronts you with enemies that have means to at least temporarily resist the force or are simply to large for a force push to knock them over. These enemies require you to change tactics, meaning you don’t need to resolve to the same old combos for success. Further incentive to vary the combos is that you’re rewarded for style. You get more points the better style you use. When you achieve a certain number of points you level up, allowing you to upgrade force powers, combos etc. You can also pick up upgrades in the form of Jedi Holocrons, aswell as new lightsaber colours, crystals and robes. The main problem here is that when you obtain new upgrades you have to open a menu to carry them out. And there’s a bleedin’ load screen in between!! This seems totally unneccesary and evidence of shoddy design. The game isn’t without its glitches either. I’ve gotten stuck on terrain, or was half floating of the ground during an in-game cutscene and there is sound clipping left right and centre. Boss fights can be a pain in this repect aswell, as during the first fight he stood protected by a force shield indefinitely, not letting me land any blows or nothing.

If you’re a Star Wars fan, certainly give this game a look. The story is interesting enough to at least give it one playthrough, and collect holocrons adds a little replay value. The lack of Trophy support is pretty inexcusable, especially considering the PS3 was the lead platform.
Ultimately though, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed is a good experience, which just about gets by even with all its technical glitches. It’s hard to shake of the feeling that Lucasarts have put out such an unpolished game, but they know it’ll sell…because it’s Star Wars.

Graphics: 8

Gameplay: 7

Sound: 5

Longevity: 6

Presentation: 7

Extras/Unlockables: 6

Overall: 6.5

~The Damo

Monday 13 October 2008

The LittleBigPreview

11 days to go. That's all that's left to the release of one of the most anticipated games this year - LittleBigPlanet. Never before have I seen anyone - and by anyone I mean Media Molecule - look to have gotten it so right.

LBP is unique in the sense that theoretically the game can never end, with the slogan "Play, Create, Share" defining the aspects of the game. LBP puts you in control of Sackboy (or Sackgirl if it takes your fancy) and will allow you to not only customise your Sackcharacter, but also to create your own levels or even modify those that come with the game. This level of creation in a game is something unique to the console experience, it is far more than a map editor which allows you to rearrange predetermined items - here you can make your OWN items and share them with the world.

Combining this incredible experience with lovable cute characters is the driving force behind LBP. Further down in the blog you can see images of how Sony and Media Molecule have exploited this cuteness by re-incarnating Sony's mascots in Sackcharacter style. All the customisations and creations give this title limitless possibilities, which is a dream for an engineering student such as myself.

The genius behind the design is that the tools are simple, easy-to-use, and with practice can be combined into designs that rival those created by the game makers themselves. All the levels and items in the game are made using these tools, further bridging the gap between the limits of the developers and the gamers - something which has yet to be accomplished save for MODS.

All the final details will come in the final review, including my thoughts on the gameplay and full range of creation tools. Until then, here's a host of media from the game, including the Sony mascots I mentioned earlier:

Dream/In Love Trailer:

Sackzilla Trailer:

Pirates & Ninjas:

Making Fun:

And these two are well worth the look - complete with Crocodile Hunter style narration!!!
SackPeople Documentary 1:

SackPeople Documentary 2:

And the Mascots:

Kratos from God of War

Nariko from Heavenly Sword

Helghast Troopers from Killzone and Killzone 2

Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid Series

Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII

With more likely to be announced such as Nathan Drake from Uncharted and Nathan Hale from Resistance: Fall of Man and Resistance 2.

Grinds My Gears returns soon!!!!

~The Damo

Friday 3 October 2008

Bioshock Preview

Last year's Game of the Year (well at least that's what most people say anyway) is finally coming to Sony's PS3 this month. The developers have stated that it will not exceed the graphics found on the Xbox360 version but the game will feature a new and exclusive difficulty mode entitled "Survivor - Where every bullet counts" and add-on downloadable content which require you to use the skills learned throughout the game's story.

So what is Bioshock???

Bioshock is a shooter, though by no means is it a regular run of the mill shooter. I'm not going to talk too much about why it's different - I'll be saving that for the review. What I can say though is Bioshock stretches the boundaries of freedom of play in a game. The fictional city of Rapture was designed with open world freedom in mind, thus eliminating the fatal flaw of modern shooters where it's all running and gunning down corridors. What's also special about Bioshock is the plasmids, which are special powers that can shock people, set them on fire, lift them up and throw them and so on. The combination of using different plasmids in different situations coupled with the various weapons and customisations means that no two players will experience the game identically.

After downloading the 1.8GB demo from the PS Store and playing through it I can certainly say I'm quite impressed. The visuals are great, the atmosphere is astounding and above all it's fun. The details on everything will come in the review but here is the breakdown of the demo:

The demo begins with you (Jack) sitting in the seat of a plane smoking a cigarette looking at a picture of what I assume is himself and his parents. (This is the 1960's remember). Suddenly, the plane crashes and the screen is mirky from the water, a handbag sinks past your eyes and as you scramble upwards you can see the carnage around you. A wall of fire surrounds the area and directs you towards a lighthouse. Inside is dark and as you go inside the door shuts.

You are then directed to a capsule which leads you down to the city of Rapture, built entirely underwater. A presentation is shown on the way down, telling you about Rapture and why it was built. As your sphere emerges up into the "Welcome Area" (I guess) you are momentarily trapped in the sphere with a splicer (one of the enemies) trying to attack you. It's here you're brought in contact with Atlas, who communicates with you via a radio. He guides you out of the area and towards you're first plasmid "Electro Bolt". As you inject yourself, your hands begin to shake, with bolts of electricity crawling up your vains and arching from one hand to the next, your vision blurs and you fall over the railing to the floor below.

Here, in a sort of dazed state, you see some other splicers who examine your body and are then introduced to the eerie Little Sisters and Big Daddies (more next paragraph). As you awake and leave the room is suddenly very apparent that something is very wrong with Rapture. When you enter the "Kashmir Restaurant" you can see a huge sign saying "Happy New Year 1959" and can hear a couple arguing on the floor below, something about who owns the "Adam" - more on Adam in the final review. Killing the man out front prompts the wife to come out to see why he's not talking. You can also pick up and audio diary from a woman celebrating New Years when there is possibly some sort of explosion. The woman has clearly had too much too drink, prompting "Wait - I'm bleeding...." before the message ends.

Leaving this area you are then properly introduced to the Little Sisters. These little girls - if you could call them that - have some kind of ability which lets them harvest the DNA of the dead. Shortly after entering this room the Sister is attacked by a splicer, wanting to steal her Adam. Here, the Big Daddy comes crashing through, killing the splicer mercilessly. The Big Daddies protect the Sisters, so if you want their Adam you have to kill the Daddy first.

The demo ends with the lockdown confrontation before you enter the Medical Pavillion. The encounter lets you practice with the two plasmids available - Electro Bolt and Incinerate - and the three weapons you pick up - the Wrench, the Revolver and the Machine Gun. The closing part of this piece has you trapped in a room where Andrew Ryan - the creator of Rapture - tries to have you killed - or at least that what it seems like to me anyway.

So there you have the preview, Bioshock is currently set for release in Europe for October 17th, so the final review will be some time after that. Until then, here's a few gameplay videos from the PS3 version of the final product:

~The Damo

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Top Ten - Engineering Projects!!

I figured that given I'm an engineering student and all that, and that my blog has the word "Engineer" in its name, I should at least once in a while do something Engineering related. So what better than a Top Ten of my all time absolutely most favourite engineering projects ever???

When I was putting this list together I made the decision very early on that the list would comprise of projects under construction already aswell as projects which have/were only proposed/imagined. So here we go:

10. X-Seed 4000 - Tokyo and Tsui Tower - outside Ulaan Bataar
I've put both of these in tenth place because at the core they both plan to do the same thing. Build HUGE F**KING....YOKES.... that would literally accomodate the population of an entire city. I mean these things are like what we see in science fiction movies/shows. They get on the list for their shear scale. The X-Seed is the tallest building ever imagined that has blueprints (4000 metres by the way). IF we're really lucky, and we behave ourselves, we MIGHT just see these buildings in our life times.... after when pigs fly, the Klingons invade, I get a date, Liverpool win the Premiership, I buy an Xbox, Final Fantasy 5000 is made, Ireland uses up all its peat, I find Dara O Briain funny and I'm declared the sexiest man alive.

9. Pyramid City - Tokyo
The plan, at the very least, is to build a self contained city in a giant...and I mean GIANT pyramid which would sit somewhere in Tokyo Bay (I believe anyway). It's earned a place on the list solely on its ambition, but I find the likelihood that we'll ever see it in the flesh to be less than impossible.

8. Gibraltar Bridge - Gibraltar??
Strangely enough this is the only project I have on this list that isn't a high rise structure. The Gibraltar Bridge while ambitious is a project who's benefits are very evident. Coupled with the innovative design of combining bridge styles aswell as the shear scale of the project, the Gibraltar Bridge is certainly one to look out for in the future.

7. Sky City - Tokyo
My first experience of Sky City was on Discovering Channel on "Extreme Engineering" and at the time I thought it was simply incredible. And it is, but I can only give it position number 7, simply because there are projects in circulation now that are simply more ambitious. I must say however that of all the buildings "proposed", Sky City most definitely looks to be the one that has been planned out the most. All it needs is planning permission....:P

6. Hyder Tower - Dubai
I don't know too much about this tower and as far as I know it is completely in the conception phase of design. To the left of it is the Burj Dubai and to the right in the distance is the Al-Burj. There's not much I need to say....just look at it....

5. Al Burj - Dubai
While still only in the design phase, should it be built, Al Burj looks set to be one of the most magnificent high rise structures ever imagined. Where modern high rise buildings tend to taper off as they get higher, the design of Al-Burj looks to be so solid that one can't help but admire the vision.

4. Burj Dubai - Dubai
Currently the world's tallest man made structure... and it's still not finished. Set to top off at around 900m high, Burj Dubai is certainly a site to behold. As incredible as Burj Dubai is, and for all the world records it (broke and) set for engineering and construction, it only reaches number 4 on my list.

3. Taipei 101 - Taiwan
The highest position on this list of a building that is actually complete, Taipei 101 set a new standard for high rise buildings. The pendulum idea which resists the buildings sway in the breeze is an ingenious solution. As well as the classy design, Taipei well deserves its position here.

2. The Illinois - Chicago
A building that was no doubt beyond its time, the Illinois would have stood over a mile high, indeed its other name is in fact "Mile High City". While constructing the Illinois would have been beyond Frank Lloyd Wright's America, it is only now that the construction is a possibility... a true sign that it was ahead of its time.

1. Dubai City Tower - Dubai
Unfortunately I don't really know a whole lot about this one. It's only recently been proposed but at 2.4 kilometers high this is certainly one of the most incredible (and viable) engineering projects I've ever seen. As you've seen from this list already, Dubai is the place to be for engineering right now and as ambitious as this structure sounds, I've no doubt that they will pull it off! (NOTE: it is quite possible that Dubai City Tower is actually Hyder Tower in position 6. however due to the lack of solid information on both projects, particularly Hyder Tower, I can only assume they are two seperate projects)

As I mentioned above, right now Dubai and (to be more general) the Middle-East, is the capital of modern 21st century Engineering. Given the buildings currently under construction, as well as countless projects that I haven't even mentioned, and all the other projects in the design phase, Dubai will most certainly be the home of the skies for decades to come.

In past centuries, engineering - and indeed architecture - has left the marks which shaped those time periods in the history books. After the 20th century was scarred by conflict and war, the outlook for the 21st is promising, especially with so many things being built for people to leave their mark on the planet, showing prosperity and a desire to achieve greater and greater things, further bridging the gap between the impossible and our imaginations...

~The Damo