Current Status

Hey. Just thought I give a quick post letting any potential reader what's going on with me at the moment.

At present, I am waiting on The Escapist to approve my second review, this one of Time Gentlemen, Please!, which I have a whopping great ad for on the right of the screen. Seriously, you can't miss it. Anyway, I've been waiting on The Escapist for about a month and a half now, which is getting rather frustrating, and I've sent a couple of 'reminder' e-mails asking why they've been taking so long.

I've also been working a a whole new series of reviews, this time of the PS2 Ratchet and Clank games. I'm not doing the PS3 titles, as I don't actually have a PS3, which is fair enough, really.

However, I've finally landed a job at the new PoundLand store that's opening in Worthing, so I'll have much less free time to scribble down words and present it as a serious piece of literature. Probably. Stupid job.

Anyway, that's what's been going on in my life. How about you? Everything all right on your end?

Well, that's nice.

I'm a Published Writer! - UPDATED 22/08

I'd like to tell you how honoured I am that I have now become a published writer, as my review of Ben There, Dan That! has been used as a Featured Review on The Escapist.

Thankfully, now that they've apologized and fixed the errors they introduced thanks to their editing, I actually can! I've actually printed off the e-mail they sent me, claiming that I'm 'passionate about my reviews', which made me very happy indeed. The fact that I was slightly drunk at the time is completely irrelevant.

You can read the review here. Enjoy!

Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please! (Reviews)

Deja Vu?

Sort of. I'm trying to get this used as a Featured Review on The Escapist, and when I submitted the original version of my review, I asked for feedback. Which I got. As a result, I rewrote about 80% of the review to incorporate this feedback, resulting in a much improved and better flowing piece.

For the record, there were three comments.
1) Is this one game or two?
2) Are you writing from a checklist?
3) What's the plot of the games?

I'm just copy-pasting this from The Escapist, so this one'll include pictures. I normally remove these from the reviews I post here, but I honestly can't be arsed this time.

I first heard about Ben There, Dan That! in an article in PCGamer UK, where one of the game's authors wrote an interesting article about its creation. I never bothered to actually try the game, but after playing MI:SE recently, I developed a taste for classic adventure gaming, and during my searches for good free games, stumbled upon Ben There, Dan That! by Zombie Cow Studios. Once I'd finished that, I immediately went and bought its sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please!. If this were a just and righteous universe, you would all do the same.
Please don't ask me to go back the way I came. PLEASE.
Please don't ask me to go back the way I came. PLEASE.

Ben There, Dan That!, like the recent Tales of Monkey Island, opens at the tail-end of an adventure staring the two title characters, Ben and Dan. Tragically, Dan has managed to end up deadified, and having completed a whole load of off-screen adventures, the player-controlled Ben has finally gotten him all ready for resurrection. All that remains is to stick a firework up Dan's bumhole and shoot him along an incredibly long piece of twine over a bottomless gorge and into a shack full of corpse-reanimating equipment. But that's far from the end of their adventures.

Upon returning home after a funky title sequence, the pair settle in to watch Magnum PI. Or they would, had Ben not been forced to use the aerial in his attempt to bring Dan back from the dead. A makeshift antenna to stick out the window is hastily made, and the pair are promptly zapped aboard an alien ship full of doorways leading to parallel universes. In order to return home, the two have to venture forth into these alternate worlds and find the two pieces of a yin-yang, which will open up the door back to their own world. Along the way you'll kill a Priest, cause a miniature Death Star to fry a dinosaur, travel through the rear end of a cow and absorb a man with a sponge.

If any of this sounds offensive to you, chances are that this series are not for you. Which is a real shame, as it's brilliant. The sheer amount of charm the central characters exude more then compensates for any distasteful actions they, and by extension you, take. These may be some of the most offensive adult games you'll have played, but they're also absolutely hilarious, far more so then many other so-called 'comedy' titles released in the last few years.

One of the major factors crucial to this is the writing. Having to get past a Priest by killing him would seem cruel, even offensive if taken straight. Doing so by not only whacking him over the head with his own bible, but then expressing a forlorn hope that he's just sleeping (when really, you're not fooling anyone, not even yourself), and then developing that action even further, turning the act of inadvertently killing people while trying to get things from them into a running joke, takes a LOT of balls. Thankfully the writers manage it with aplomb, and that's not even the worst they have to throw at us. The darkest side of humour is evident throughout the game, but because everything is played for laughs, it's actually surprisingly difficult to become offended at the actions taken by Ben and Dan. The blank expressions permanently worn by the pair, coupled with the dry comments offered by the two really endear them to you, and it's hard to hate such a pair of lovable scamps, even if they do swear a tad too often.

Also taking a large amount of the edge off of things are the graphics. While you'll inevitably think the two leads seem incredibly basic, they quickly grow on you, and you'll find that their oddly distinct animations make them hard to hate, even as they inadvertently kill someone via the gift of toilet cakes. And while the characters may not be particular highlights, the backgrounds are the real stars of the show. The parallel universe angle means that there are several different versions of the London skyline, all lovingly rendered with jaded angles and straight lines. It's a wonderful throwback to classic LucasArts games without being generic, as other games made in the same vein can end up being.

Fear not! We shall have no need for such useless items!
Fear not! We shall have no need for such useless items!

I mention LucasArts adventures for a reason. One of the highlights of those games were the puzzles, something Ben There, Dan That! does relatively well with. The tried-and-tested 'pick up everything not bolted down and combine it all with everything else' technique will show just how much care has gone into the game, as almost every combination possible has a custom response. Trying to use a crowbar with a dinosaur will warrant a 'I'm not Gordon Freeman!' comment, while trying it on a PC will warrant a concern that that'll crash the computer. Unfortunately while these responses are funny, there's no real hints or tips as to what to do in any given situation, and it can be a bit hard to get into the frame of mind the designers had while making the game. Once you do stumble upon the answer though, it all makes a wonderous kind of sense.

Another point against Ben There, Dan That! is the music. Or, rather, the lack thereof. While the theme tune is certainly funky, it's also pretty much the only piece of music you'll hear throughout the game, aside from the lift music that crops up in a horrifically long elevator sequence. There's background ambience in certain places, such as keyboard tapping in a software development office or the blurred-out commentary of the big game in a pub (or, rather, bar), and you'll get a little musical flourish whenever you unlock a new universe to explore, but that's about as sophisticated as it gets. The developers weren't able to afford to have someone score the game, which is a shame, as it really could have enhanced the game a great deal.

In the end though, these negative points don't really do that much to damage Ben There, Dan That!. It's still an entertaining game, and you'll have hours of fun with it, but compared to its sequel, you get the feeling that it could have been just that little bit better.

Time Gentlemen, Please! opens up with a recap of the events of Ben There, Dan That!, and immediately impresses with a full-on attention grabbing musical piece and fantastic artwork accompanying the text. From there, the game only gets better, as Ben and Dan try to find the setting of their previous adventure in the hopes of utilising some left-over technology to undo the inadvertent mass destruction of the entire world. Finding a way back in time, they attempt to stop coathangers from being invented, but in the process wind up allowing Hitler to take over the world with the aid of an army of cloned Dinosaurs. If such a thing is possible, the game only gets weirder from there.

As we've come to expect from sequels, the game looks even better then its prequel, not just in the higher resolution artwork, but also thanks to the additional new-fangled flashy effects. A great example of this is the opening sequence - the rain coming down over a now devastated London (accidentally brought about by the lead character's actions, naturally) looks absolutely stunning, and really push the AGS engine used by both games to new limits. Thankfully Ben and Dan both look the same as they did before, although they now have more then one expression, which is used to great comic effect at times.

Also much improved are the puzzles, which now have a much more imaginative flair about them, making use of an old-school text-based adventure game, ageing or de-ageing inventory items and even altering the very fabric of time itself. If any of the puzzles seem too hard, dialogue from the lead characters will often nudge you in the right direction, drawing your attention to items that can be picked up or nudging you about certain things you should try. It's a sort of in-game hint system that you can't turn off, and though sometimes you'll already know that you should do something, more often then not you'll appreciate being told that you should use a different inventory item instead of the one you're currently trying to use, or that Dan is capable of doing something that Ben is not. That said though, sometimes this hint system will fail you and you'll be left wondering what you've missed, and given how much bigger this game is compared to its prequel, this can mean a lot of running around trying to find that one item. Fortunately there's a new map included which lets you zip around the world, but even so, it's a shame they haven't managed to completely overcome the genre's biggest problem.


The final item on the checklist is music, and this too is much improved over the first game, in that there actually is some. From the remastered theme tune to the party mix that plays during the stone-age disco, there's a surprising amount of mileage to the soundtrack, especially so given that most games made using the AGS engine are relatively simple, featuring rather basic tunes or stuff ripped from different sources. You can even alter how loud it is in the options menu, something very few, if any, AGS games have at all. As a result the whole feel of the game is incredibly professional.

These games really do push the boundaries of adventure games, both in content and in style. They're ludicrously adult, frequently absurd and gleefully over-the-top. And they're both some of the best games I've played in years. I cannot recommend them enough. Go and play them, you simple-minded fools. Where else will you see a battle-mech striding Hitler in command of an army of cloned dinosaurs? Nowhere, that's where.

The first game, Ben There, Dan That!, is absolutely free, so you've got no excuse not to at least try it. The second game, Time Gentlemen, Please!, isn't free, but it's only £2.99 (around £3.35 including VAT, which the website shockingly didn't mention you'd need to pay!), which is around $5ish. If you do the math, that's WAY less then the Monkey Island remake, and they'll last you as long, if not longer. Go and play them already, I want to see a third one.

Addendum: At the request of the Ben (of Ben & Dan fame, folks!), I'm adding a score for Metacritic. Three out of... Nah, kidding. 9/10 for Ben There, Dan That! and 10/10 for Time Gentlemen, Please!.

Screenies from the Zombie-Cow website and Thanks guys!

Okami Wii (Review)

Another day, another review. I'm trying to get through the fairly large number I originally posted on that wonderous forum of legend. This one's quite short, mostly because it feels extremely similar to a Zelda game and when you've played something so often, you tend to forget about the most obvious things. I should probably go back and rewrite this, beefing it up a little, but eh, whatever.

When I went into Okami, I wasn't all that sure what I was going to get. I hadn't done a lot of research beforehand, and even if I had, I doubt it really would have prepared me for what I was to encounter. Simply saying it's pretty steeped in Japanese culture, for example, really doesn't get across just how different it is from most games.

Okami is very Japanese. It doesn't so much embrace the culture as take a photograph and wear it as a mask, claiming that this is it's real face. The character designs, the levels, the dialogue, the menus, the gameplay, everything is as Japanese as you can get without going over there and ordering a round of sake. And this, I feel, is it's biggest flaw, because as you're starting the game, it's just overwhelming. There's no respite, save for a wacky 'sidekick' of the American persuasion, and even he seems to be a Japanese version of a spunky partner. There's so much to take in all at once, you can't simply ignore it - you have to embrace it. Once you do so though, there's a brilliant game lurking underneath.

Rather then play as the standard action hero #4,562, you actually play the reincarnation of a god, taking the form of a White Wolf. As such, you don't use weapons in the standard fare. Your basic attack is a simple headbutt, while your major assaults will be made by using a paintbrush to 'paint' the attack you wish to use. Again, it's a lot to take in at first, and it will confuse you to begin with, but once you get the hang of it, you'll start to really enjoy the different style of gameplay.

The most important aspect of any game like this is the combat, and it works fairly well, though there's a few minor niggles. Holding B to ready your brush and then moving the remote while pressing A to actually paint your move works great once you get the hang of it, though making the B button a toggle rather then a holding option would have made things a bit easier on the hand. Also, sometimes the game has trouble recognising some of the moves you make, and the close combat, which requires you to shake your remote to do the headbutt move, is a very finicky tactic I have yet to master, despite playing the game for hours.

Graphically, the cell shading looks good at first, but after a while the odd character designs and interesting application of the art style will cause people to rethink their stance. Unlike other games using similar techniques (Zelda: Wind Waker is the obvious example), this game does actually seem to age, and it hasn't done so as well as it could have done. The low resolution, presumably carried over from the original PS2 version of the game, certainly doesn't help the cause, and the odd cases of pop-up, where plants and animals suddenly appear about a meter in front of you while on the move, are more jarring then anything else.

The plot, while having a very Japanese twist, is little more then 'the bad guys were sealed up in the past, seal has been broken, go beat them back again' fare that many games have, but there's enough charm and personality behind it to keep you going, even if it is just to see where the supposed village hero pops up next, and he's a cliché himself. The people who inhabit the villages and fields you visit all have a personality, and you never mind helping them, out with the problems they have, but after a while it'll dawn on you that these are little more than the fetch quests of old. It's never enough to make you stop playing, but there's a distinct feeling of deja vu through a fair bit of the game.

Oddly, the game seem custom made for the Wii, even though the console wasn't out when the game was first released. There may be a few problems, and the actual gameplay itself may not be as revolutionary as it claims to be, but in the end there's a great game buried here. It's just a shame there's so much Japanese smothering it.

Ben There, Dan That! and Time Gentlemen, Please! (Review)

Another review, this time of two games. As the first paragraph says, I was craving more adventure-game goodness after the slight disappointment of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (which, again, was severly hampered by the poor control scheme), and I somehow stumbled upon Ben There, Dan That!, which I loved.

As the games
are made by a small indie developer, they ask people to spread the word. I decided to do so by writing a review which I submitted to be a featured review on The Escapist. I haven't heard back, so I don't think it'll actually amount to anything, but the Ben from 'Dan and Ben' was thankful nonetheless. Nice to be appreciated, even if it's just for praising something awesome.

I first heard about Ben There, Done That in an article in PCGamer UK, where one of the game's authors wrote an interesting article about its creation. I never bothered to actually try the game, but after playing the recent Monkey Island remake, I developed a taste for classic adventure gaming, and during my searches for good free games, stumbled upon Zombie Cow Studios and their two adventure titles, Ben There, Done That and it's sequel, Time Gentlemen, Please!

The games follow the escapades of two characters, paradoxically called Ben and Dan after the pair primarily responsible for making the games, and details their various misadventures through time, space and parallel dimensions, all with a very twisted sense of style and humour along the way. Not only do they alter the very fabric of reality, they also reboot a robot, stuff a kitten down an exhaust tube, cause a miniature Death Star to fry a dinosaur, help a videogame Hitler to escape a prison cell, travel through the rear end of a cow and cause a man to be repeatedly shot... in the cock.

If any of this sounds offensive to you, chances are that these games are not for you. Which is a real shame, as they're brilliant. The sheer amount of charm the central characters exude more then compensates for any distasteful actions they, and by extension you, take. These may be some of the most offensive adult games you'll have played, but they're also absolutely hilarious, far more so then many other so-called 'comedy' titles released in the last few years.

One of the major factors crucial to this is the writing. Having to get past a Priest by killing him would seem cruel, even offensive if taken straight. Doing so by not only whacking him over the head with his own bible, but then expressing a forlorn hope that he's just sleeping (when really, you're not fooling anyone, not even yourself), and then developing that action even further by turning the act of inadvertently killing people while trying to get things from them into a running joke takes a LOT of balls. Thankfully the writers manage it with aplomb, and that's not even the worst they have to throw at us. The darkest side of humour is evident throughout the game, but because everything is played for laughs, it's actually surprisingly difficult to become offended at the actions taken by Ben and Dan. The cheeky grins and dry comments offered by the two really endear them to you, and it's hard to hate a pair of lovable scamps, even if they do swear a tad too often.

Also taking a large amount of the edge off of things are the graphics. While the two leads both starts as something seeming incredibly basic, they very quickly grow on you, and you'll find that their oddly distinct animations make them hard to hate, even as they inadvertently poison someone via the gift of toilet cakes. While the characters may look basic though, the backgrounds are almost works of art, featuring the most insane images being lovingly rendered at jaded angles and straight lines. It's a wonderful throwback to games such as Day of the Tentacle, though with the additional of new-fangled flashy effects, TGP! frequently manages to look even better. A great example of this is the opening sequence - the rain coming down over a now devastated London (accidentally brought about by the lead character's actions, naturally) looks absolutely stunning, and really push the AGS engine used by both games to new limits.

One of the other aspects of the games is the puzzles, often the make-or-break factor of adventure games. Fortunately they have a twisted sense of logic behind them, even if they are deliciously freakish at times. BTDT is a tad hard in places, but given enough time, even the most obscure barriers can be overcome, if only through the time old method of 'pick up everything not bolted down and combine it all with everything else'. TGP! features similar puzzles, but the dialogue from the lead characters will often nudge you in the right direction, drawing your attention to items that can be picked up or nudging you about certain things you should try. It's a sort of in-game hint system that you can't turn off, and though you'll occasionally know that you should do something, more often then not you'll appreciate being told to try a different inventory item instead of the one you're currently attempting to use, or that the other character is capable of doing something that the current one is not.

Musically the games both feature a surprisingly rich score, featuring an appropriately rocking theme tune. The majority of the music is upbeat and, while not exactly memorably, certainly fitting with the locations. Again, it's better in the second game then the first, but only just. Both titles have an impressive amount of mileage to them, which is especially surprising given that most AGS games are relatively simple, featuring rather basic tunes or stuff ripped from different sources. The music here is all new, all fresh and all awesome.

These games really do push the boundaries of adventure games, both in content and in style. They're ludicrously adult, frequently absurd and gleefully over-the-top. And they're both some of the best games I've played in years. I cannot recommend them enough. Go and play them, you simple-minded fools. Where else will you see a battle-mech striding Hitler in command of an army of cloned dinosaurs? Nowhere, that's where.

The first game, Been There, Dan That, is absolutely free, so you've got no excuses WHATSOEVER. The second game, Time Gentlemen, Please!, is not, but it's only £2.99 (£3.35 including VAT, which the boys shockingly didn't mention you'd need to pay..!), which is around $5ish. If you do the math, that's WAY less then the Monkey Island remake, and at about 3-5 hours each, they'll last you as long, if not longer then LucasArt's effort. Go and get them already, I want to see a third one.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (Review)

I'd really hoped that this review would get more attention then it actually did. It's one of the few negative ones out there, as I mention at the end of it. Stupid nostalgia, clouding everyone's judgement...

One note - I was playing the PC version of the game, and it was £6.99 on Steam. It also represented the first time I'd paid money for a brand-new game in quite some time. What can I say? I'm a massive cheapskate.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

And so LucasArts goes full circle. Having been reduced from a once well known and respected company to becoming second only to EA for franchise-murdering, they've decided to try their hand at starting over and remaking one of their most beloved classics. Only they haven't, really. Just splashed a bunch of paint over it and hoped we wouldn't notice.

I'm going to mention the positives first, because they're what I paid my £6.99 for. The most impressive feature, right from the off, is the new graphics, which look stunning. The backgrounds are nothing short of beautiful, and the character redesigns all fit the characters perfectly. The music is also fantastic, and the tunes have never sounded better. Having the game being fully voiced is also a major boon, and the characters really do benefit from this, making the dialogue come alive in places. Finally, it's quite possibly the most faithful remake anyone has ever made, with absolutely no changes to the script or story whatsoever. For better or worse, this is exactly the same game people first played back in 1990.

Right. That's that over with - let's start nit-picking.

One of the major problems I have with the game is the fact that, aside from the voices, it doesn't make use of any of the advances made in adventure games over the 20-odd years since the original was released. This was presumably a concious decision to make the game as faithful as possible, but in the end the stupid idea to create the Special Edition on top of the original creates more problems then nostalgia can overcome.

As a result of the game essentially being built upon the old SCUMM engine, the characters which looked so good in screenshots fall apart whenever they move, because they all have a limited number of frames for each particular action. As a result, their movements all look stiff and unrealistic, making the game seem like a particularly well-made fan game. You'll adjust to Guybrush's movements pretty quickly since they're the best ones, but it's the other characters that cause concern. Take the pirate swinging from the chandelier at the SCUMM bar. A few more frames would have made the animation look much better, but instead the whole thing just feels flat and rushed.

The dialogue also suffers from a similar problem - while the lines are all well delivered, there can be a brief pause between lines lasting anything up to two seconds. The dialogue's simply being delivered faster then the game thinks it should be, much like games translated from other languages. And, rather stupidly, you cannot skip lines of dialogue in the new version, despite it being an option in the original. This is an utterly inexcusable omission, particularly since the target audience of the game will be people who have played the original and may want to skip certain sections of dialogue. This will likely become a problem as you learn the art of sword-fighting, and get tired of hearing the same lines over and over - the only way to skip them is to switch to the classic view and then press the period button. If they could include the option in the old version of the game, why not the new one?

The most shocking oversight though is that the new interface, where you have to press different keyboard buttons to bring up both command or inventory screens, is incredibly fiddly to use. If you want to use an item in your inventory with someone or something, you have to press a button to bring up the command menu, press another button to select give/use, then a third button to bring up the inventory, a fourth button to select an item, and then a fifth button to actually use the item. While this may work well for the XBox version of the game, when it comes to the PC version, this is a ludicrously tedious way of doing things, and compared to most other adventure games these days, it just seems overtly complicated.

A good example of this is freeing Otis from jail at the end of the first act, where you transfer grog between gradually melting mugs. Because you have to keep bringing up different screens, you end up going through the above-mentioned process several times in quick succession, making the whole process even more convoluted then it was originally, which even the most ardent fan of the series will find hard to overlook. While it helps having the same keyboard shortcuts as the original (S for Push and Y for Pull*, for example), it's not an acceptable replacement for a flawed control scheme.

While being able to flip between old and new editions of the game is a nice idea, I can almost guarantee that the feature will hardly ever be used, and even when it is, it'll mostly be to compare the two versions. If the developers hadn't included this feature and instead just created a new engine for the remake, a huge number of the problems I have with the game could have been avoided.

Sadly, this is a textbook case of how not to do a remake. Other such games, like Bionic Commando: Rearmed, only changed the basics such as graphics, leaving the core gameplay aspects untouched. With this title, they've updated things that didn't need to be altered, and they did so in such a way as to make the game more complicated as a result. All of which means, as much as I want to, I simply can't recommend this.

Addendum: Out of curiosity, I figured I'd have a look at other reviews to see what others thought of this. Amazingly, I could only find one other review that mentioned the awkward control scheme, along with the other problems I picked up on. Nostalgia really is more powerful then I thought.

*S for Shove and Y for Yank. I'm really showing my age by knowing that.

MySims Racing (Review)

Yep, it's another review. This one starts the trend of me writing shorter reviews, though it sure as hell didn't feel short at the time. But then again, they never do, do they?

Minor note - this is a review of the Wii game. I don't technically own a DS, so haven't been able to try that version. Not that I'd want to - I don't think the DS does racing games very well. Adventures or RPGs though...

MySims Racing

The first and most important thing to remember about the MySims series is that it's made by EA, which explains a great deal. Taking an idea and running it into the ground is hardly a fresh concept with the company, after all. But they seemed to have grasped that just releasing the same thing a hundred times over isn't winning them many friends, so the MySims series features different types of games that happen to use the same cutesy graphics and oddly likeable characters.

The MySims series has been going for a few years now, and it's changed from its original design of 'The Sims, but cuter' to being 'Every other game, but cuter'. MySims Kingdom was a RTS with no battles, MySims Party was a minigame collection, and now we have MySims Racing, which doesn't even try to disguise the fact that it desperately wants to be Mario Kart with a plot.

Right from the off, the first hurdle any racing game has to overcome is the gameplay one. There's a lot of kart-based racing games out there, only most of which are trying to be Mario Kart. MySims Racing actually manages to pull off the hard feat of being almost, if not as much fun as Nintendo's premier multiplayer series. The primary aspect of the game, the titular 'racing' part, is honed down to a fine tee, with power-ups not dissimilar to Mario Kart (although much more fair - there's no Blue Shell equivalent, so you'll rarely be punished for daring to be in first place), vehicles which handle extremely well and a series of tracks complete with shortcuts and boost pads, just like every other kart game ever.

The actual physics of the cars is surprisingly tight, with unlockable parts for your vehicles, which let you customize it's handling, top speed, acceleration and weight. All these factors play a key part in gameplay - having a heavier car will means you can steer better and bash into others, while being smaller means you can zip ahead much quicker and maintain a faster pace. As you unlock newer parts, you'll be able to improve some of your vehicle's stats, but will have to lower others. It's a fine balancing act, and it adds a bit of tactical depth to the game.

That said, customization is the norm in these sort of games, so rather then getting genuinely useful parts for your cars, you generally unlock extras instead, such as different types of headlamps, or oddly random items that go on your bonnet (and completely block your view). While some of these items are quite fun, the majority are twee and will never be used, rendering them pointless. Having choice is all well and good, but what's the point if most of the choices are rubbish?

One of the other major features of the game, and the one that'll decide whether you win races or lose them, is the boost system that lets you grab air, collect jewels or just drift round corners to build up a boost bar. It'll take you a while to get used to it, but once you do, you'll find the majority of the game doesn't pose you with any major challenges, and you'll be getting gold medals with only two or three attempts.

For single players, there's actually a pretty well thought out campaign, which has you racing around tracks trying to collect a certain number of items or pass through a series of gates within a time limit, as well as the standard races and time trials. The plot, which is entirely forgettable, will barely cross your mind as you skim across the town map, accepting missions from the townsfolk and try to get gold medals on each one. Compared to Mario Kart's 'here's all the tracks we've made, go race around them a bunch' style of play, MySims is definitely the better game for solo players.

Multiplayer wise, the game is also great fun. There's a wide variety of characters to choose from, each having their own vehicle (Fire Chief Ginny, for example, has a Fire Truck, while the King has a very regal-looking car), the tracks are nicely varied and there's no cheap attacks - winning is mostly down to skill, no luck. If you have your own character on a different machine, you can store it in the remote and bring it over to another Wii, which is a nice touch, but it doesn't excuse the biggest failing - there's no online aspect to the game at all. Considering how much fun online play is in Mario Kart, it's disappointing that MySims Racing doesn't even try anything similar.

Overall, this is actually a pretty solid title, and though I'm a little loathe to admit it, I prefer it to Mario Kart - in the single player aspect of things. The lack on online multiplayer really does hinder the game, but if you've got some friends who don't mind coming over, you'll have a lot of fun with this title.

Opposing Force and Blue Shift (Review)

And on our left, we have another review. Well, technically reviews, but hush. This is probably the most altered review I have, since it received a fair few comments pointing out potential improvements I could make. The original review had a few awkward starts to paragraphs ('As well as', for example) and also included me essentially rephrasing the quote from the Blue Shift Unlocked team right after the quote itself. Oops. I also included a few more paragraphs, giving a bit more back-story to Half-Life and expanding on the new allies in OpForce, and finally the addendum at the end of the whole thing.

It's much better as a result. Honest.

Back in 1998, Valve released what is considered by many as the greatest game ever. Half-Life was, and indeed still is, an impressive title that featured an excellently realized story, friendly characters you actually cared about, a variety of challenging enemies and an interesting mixture of weapons. Valve's decision to never leave the First Person perspective meant that you literally controlled the protagonist, Gordon Freeman, all the way through the game, which in hindsight is a decision that would change the way games were played.

While in previous titles games would often use cutscenes to convey the story, here you didn't have that luxury, instead living through the events as they happened, barely able to pause for breath. As a result, you not only felt a surprisingly deep connection with the lead character, you really felt for the other characters who were caught up in the desperate struggle to survive as well. The game revolutionised the FPS genre, and had many fans desperate for more. Fortunately, more was exactly what they got.

Opposing Force

Opposing Force is one of three official add-ons for Half-Life (the others being Blue Shift and Decay, the latter of which was never officially released on the PC, though did make it eventually in the form of a fan-made port), all of which were made by Gearbox Software. They were also responsible for a significant amount of work on Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, though their name doesn't actually appear on the box. Opposing Force was their first release though, and while their subsequent work may have varied in quality somewhat, it's particularly impressive how they echoed Valve by making their début title an excellent one.

Rather then follow the established tradition of continuing the adventures of the lead character from the original game, as most other game expansions of the time did, OpForce instead focuses on a different character entirely, one Corporal Adrian Shepard, who would be considered one of the bad guys in the first game. The other twist is that is takes place at the same time as the original game, and you can even catch a glimpse of Gordon Freeman at times.

While playing through as a US Marine killing scientists and guards may be fun, it'd also be very easy, given your arsenal, which has been expanded to include several new military weapons, such as a Sniper Rifle and a SAW. So as well as a new alien race, Race X, there are also new human enemies, the Black Ops, who are there to clean up the Marines, who have failed themselves to clean up the original Xen aliens. Told in this summarised format it may seem a little complicated, but in the context of the game it's told well and makes sense.

The gameplay is essentially the same as Half-Life, but since HL was one of the best games of its kind, it's hard to fault the expansion for being more of the same with a few minor improvements, which is what its target audience wanted. There are a few new features, such as the ability to climb ropes and use other soldiers for different purposes, but for the most part it's still the same old game - the majority of the models are the same and the voice actors from the original are all dragged back to record new lines, so it really does feel like you're back in Black Mesa.

Since you're a Corporal now, it'd only make sense that you have others under your command. While in the original Half-Life you could only have the one security guard tag along with you on occasion, here you can command squads of up to four other soldiers, each of whom have their uses. The medic can be used to heal you or other squad members, the engineer can cut through doors and everyone can shoot at the bad guys, though with varying levels of success depending on which weapon they carry. Keeping these guys alive isn't as much of a trial as it was in the original game, as they can better look after themselves, allowing you to focus on the enemy rather then keeping them safe. It adds a more tactical feel to fights whenever you encounter them, and helps to make the game feel more fresh.

It's not just the soldiers who have variety - there's also Otis, a new addition to the Black Mesa Security Team. Essentially a more entertaining version of the already existing security guards, Otis is shorter, fatter and more amusing then normal, and packs a Desert Eagle as opposed to his colleagues simple pistol. While his presence is certainly appreciated, mostly thanks to his improved fire-power, it's also a curiosity, as almost all the lines he has are just sillier versions of what his partner says. Essentially, he's a comical character in an otherwise serious game, which is just as bizarre as it sounds. You could almost imagine his team-mate actually existing, but Otis seems more a cliché then anything else, and doesn't quite work as well as he could have. A more serious character would have been more appropriate, but it's a small flaw in an otherwise impressive diamond.

With hindsight, it's not too much a leap of the imagination to say that Race X is an advanced invasion force for the Combine, but at the time no-one at Gearbox knew what Valve had planned, and it's a shame that Valve have subsequently claimed that the two (or three) mods that Gearbox produced are not canon, as this really is an excellent piece of work that raises the bar on what an expansion should be, and it's one that every Half-Life fan should try.

Blue Shift

Blue Shift is the second add-on for Half-Life produced by Gearbox Software, and was originally intended to accompany the Dreamcast port of Half-Life. In the end though, that port was cancelled (even though it was essentially finished, as a leaked version of the game revealed), and Blue Shift was eventually given a stand-alone release for reasons of laziness.

As the developers of the Blue Shift Unlocked mod would later say: The BSP map file format was a little different than the standard PC format. Gearbox never converted it back to the PC format, instead opting to use their modified version of the Half-Life engine when they released it for the PC. This meant that the Blue Shift maps were not compatible with the normal Half-Life engine.

As a result of this, the whole package feels like it deserves more respect then it's actually earned. If Blue Shift had been released as a mod, this might have been more favourably received and looked at in a better light, but instead it was a stand-alone title, and so falls short on several counts.

One of the main reasons is the fact that it does little new from the original Half-Life. While a change to the armour system is interesting, it amounts to little more then a return to the old 'collecting armour shards' system that Half-Life had moved beyond. The only other real change is the fact that you now have to escort a scientist, Doctor Rosenburg, through the last third of the game, which is handled as well as it could be within the limits of the engine. But escort quests have never been appreciated by players, and this is no exception.

The rest of the game essentially plays out like the original Half-Life, only in new locations. While there's nothing technically wrong with this, it's literally more of the same, and having been spoiled by Opposing Force, players had come to expect more. While the levels are designed well (with the exception of a sole misaligned texture), there's nothing special or particularly unique about them, and they could have come from almost any well-made fan mod. There's no new weapons this time round, for example, and after being spoiled with the increased armoury in OpForce, this came as something of a let-down, though it's easily explained - you're a security guard, you've no need for anything more advanced then a pistol. There's no mention of the Race X enemies either, and this can't really be explained, except to say that Blue Shift was developed for a medium that didn't include OpForce (the Dreamcast port of Half-Life), and there was no need to include anything from it. While it makes sense from a technical point of view, it definitely left fans feeling cold.

The voice actors return once again, but there's something slightly off about them, as if they're almost being dragged back and forced to do their lines. They're recognisably the same people, but there's a certain something in their voice that means they don't quite match up to the extremely high quality of the original Half-Life, which is a shame. The new security guard lines make the character sound bored (which, given the situation in which they're used, may actually be appropriate), the typical scientists just sound condescending and the man playing Rosenburg is the only one who seems to put any energy into his lines, but unfortunately you'll get tired of his constant 'let's go!' tone rather quickly.

The main draw of the game, ironically, isn't the add-on itself but the HD pack included, which updates the majority of the models from the original Half-Life, Opposing Force and Blue Shift to the higher definition versions made for the Dreamcast port. The change really is impressive, and though it's rendered obsolete by fan-made models being even better, at the time is was a massive step up in quality and I'm sure tempted many a player to replay the games. For me the most impressive change was the shotgun, which also had the sounds for it changed - it went from a lousy 'pew' to a massive 'BOOM!' making it incredibly satisfying.

While there's nothing technically wrong with Blue Shift, it was simply marketed wrong. If it had been properly converted into a standard mod rather then a stand-alone title I'm sure more people would have looked on it favourably. Ultimately though, it wasn't, and people didn't.


I chose to review these two mods because I started a thread in another forum* asking for games to review. Someone suggested Opposing Force, so I said 'How about I do that and Blue Shift?', and then promptly did so without even waiting for an answer. As mentioned, Gearbox did make a third add-on for Half-Life. entitled Decay, though given that it was a co-op mod developed for the PS2 version of Half-Life, this was never officially released for the PC. Never underestimate the fans though - they eventually ported it themselves.

The style of add-on that Gearbox perfected led to some impressive fan mods following a similar story-telling technique - allowing the player to take control of another character who has to survive the events of the whole Black Mesa disaster. A few of these that I would recommend are Case Closed, Cleaner's Adventures (which I'm working on an English patch for), Escape (Part 1, Part 2), Operation: Nova, Residual Point, Visitors and HL Zombie Edition.

*Yep, the same small-knit forum I mention in my other posts.

Sam & Max - Insolence and Paranoia (Comic)

Been a while since I last posted. Not for lack of writing stuff, though. Just plain ol' idleness. I've written a bunch of reviews, not all of which are positive, but before I get to those, I thought I'd share this Sam & Max comic I made using the Telltale comic maker, which is still available at their website here. I basically made about seven different parts, copy=pasted them into Paint Shop Pro and then saved the resulting image. If I wasn't afraid of sounding like a self-important philistine, I'd say it was way better then most of the crap everyone else makes (it totally is though). Enjoy.

Sam and Max - Insolence and Paranoia

The Legend of Zelda - Chronicles of Time (Article)

The Legend of Zelda games have one of the most confusing timelines in video game history - if they even have one at all. Nintendo haven't given us one, and the best they've given us Miyamoto saying that Ocarina of Time is at the very beginning of it all. Besides that, there's not a whole lot to go on. Some games are definately sequels to others - Majora's Mask is a sqeuel to Ocarina, for example, or Phantom Hourglass comes right after Wind Waker. Coupled together with some theories from Zelda Legends, I came up with my own timeline. Even if it's completely different from what you think, it's an interesting read.

Note that this was written before Phantom Hourglass came out, so there's no mention of it, Twilight Princess or the forthcoming (at time of writing) Spirit Tracks. Placing them into the timeline isn't too difficult though - PH goes right after WW, Spirit Tracks can (temporarily) go after PH, and TP can fit in several places, but I'm gonna go with between the Minish Cap and Wind Waker.

Remember - this is merely my personal opinion, and is in no way conclusive. If Nintendo decide to give out a timeline and it's totally different then mine, I'll concede to their wisdom (it is their franchise, after all), but until they do, this is the order I'll play the games in if (or, indeed, when) I decide to do so again.

According to legend, at the beginning of time the golden goddesses Din, Nayru and Farore create the world of Hyrule and all the life forms in it. Before departing for the heavens, they leave behind their gift to the world: the Triforce, three golden triangles that can grant their holder's greatest wish. A Golden Land begins to flourish around the Triforce's hiding-place, and the Triforce beckons to people from the outside world, in hopes of finding somebody worthy of its power.

The Hylia, the chosen people of the goddesses, settle in various parts of the world, passing on their knowledge and magical lore to many people. 1000 years after the goddesses visit, the kingdom of Hyrule is founded in the small land south of Death Mountain. The Triforce is possibly used by these ancient people.

Over time, great sages, including Rauru, the Sage of Light, realize that the Triforce poses a hazard if it falls into the wrong hands. They hide the Triforce in the Golden Land, and seal the entrance. The Triforce now rests in the Temple of Light in the middle of the Sacred Realm, and the entrance to the Sacred Realm is sealed by the Master Sword, which rests in the Temple of Time in the kingdom of Hyrule. After this has been done, the sages begin compiling the Book of Mudora, which chronicles all the legends and myths in Hyrule. It is finally completed almost 1000 years later.

By this time, after being so preoccupied with the Book of Mundora, not even the Sages know where the Triforce is hidden. Lust for the Triforce's power is strong, and the people of Hyrule, suspicious that one group or another is hiding the Triforce, attack each other. Hyrule is engulfed by a fierce civil war.

The very first Link and Zelda are born in Hyrule. To escape the fires of the war, Link's mother takes him to the forbidden forest, where she dies from injuries sustained while fleeing. Following her dying wish, the Great Deku Tree takes him in, and he is raised a Kokiri.

After many years, the King of Hyrule manages to cease the fighting, and a time of peace takes effect as the King attempts to unite Hyrule. Ganondorf, the King of the Gerudo thieves, secretly continues to search for the Triforce.

Events of Ocarina of Time - Link, now a young boy, leaves the Kokiri Forest on a quest to stop Ganondorf's plot to enter the Sacred Realm. Link opens the entrance to the Sacred Realm by drawing the Master Sword, but his spirit is sealed away for seven years until he is old enough to be the Hero of Time. Meanwhile, Ganondorf and his band of thieves enter the Sacred Realm. Ganondorf gains the Triforce of Power, and uses it to become Mandrag Ganon, King of the Enchanted Thieves. The Triforce of Wisdom goes to Princess Zelda, and the Triforce of Courage goes to Link. As Ganon builds his power, Hyrule is consumed by a great darkness.

While Link sleeps, Ganon takes the opportunity to conquer Hyrule and set himself up as the Evil King of Hyrule. Upon awakening seven years later, Link claims his birthright as the Hero of Time. Freeing the Sages, he defeats Ganondorf. Ganondorf transforms into Ganon, but Link holds Ganon off long enough for the Sages to seal him in the Sacred Realm. Zelda sends Link back in time, hoping to alter the timeline and prevent Ganondorf's rule.

Having travelled back to the point where he first meets Zelda, Link warns her of Ganon's intentions and successfully prevents him from entering the Sacred Realm and gaining the Triforce. Having saved Hyrule, Link departs to find his beloved friend Navi, taking the Triforce of Courage with him and leaving the Triforce of Wisdom with Zelda. When he leaves Hyrule however, the Triforce of Courage splits apart and is scattered all over Hyrule. It is hidden carefully away in numerous treasure chests.

Events of Majora's Mask - In the midst of his journey, Link encounters a skull-mask wearing child, and after losing his Ocarina to the child, chases him into the parallel world of Termina. He discovers that the moon is going to crash into the world in three days time, but after recovering the Ocarina of Time, Link finds that he can jump back to the point of time when he first appeared in Termina. Using this ability, he saves Termina from the moon and from the power of Majora's Mask, the entity that the child who stole his Ocarina was wearing. After this, Link continues on his search for Navi.

While Link is away, the King of Hyrule orders the tainted Golden Land sealed, but Ganon's army attacks the castle. As the Knights defend the Sages from Ganon's monsters, the Seven Sages seal Ganon inside the Golden Land. This battle comes to be known as the Imprisoning War in later centuries.

During this new period of peace, another great evil by the name of Vaati besieged the land of Hyrule. Vaati could bend the wind to his will and used this to kidnap any beautiful girls who caught his fancy. Many knights from the castle and other brave men set out to subdue the sorcerer and rescue the girls, but each one fell in turn to Vaati's awesome power. Just when all hope was lost, a lone young boy, travelling with little but a sword at his side, given to him by the mystical race called the Picori, appeared and mystically trapped the evil sorcerer inside the blade of his sword. The people were so grateful to the young boy and the Picori who empowered him that they began to hold a great festival in their honour once a year. However, as time passed, the Picori soon became nothing more then a legend.

Events of Four Swords Adventures - Hundereds of years later, the current Princess Zelda of Hyrule, along with her great companion Link, were out playing in the woods when they stumbled upon a holy shrine. Inside they found the sword which contained Vaati and, not knowing the danger of their actions, released him. Vaati, enraged at being caged for so long, kidnapped the Princess and sealed Link inside the shrine. A mysterious voice appeared and prompted Link to take hold of the sword. Upon doing so, his body shattered into four pieces, each forming a complete copy of him. With this, the four Links reopened the shrine and rescued Princess Zelda, defeating Vaati once again. Once the task was completed, the four Links returned to one, and he replaced the sword in the shrine.

Events of The Minish Cap - Several years passed, and the time came for the yearly celebration of the Picori. This year, however, was different, for it was rumored that 'just once in every one hundred years, a secret door opens and the Picori come to visit', and this was the hundred year celebration. To commemorate the occasion, a sword-fighting tournament was held, and the champion was a man who used the name of Vaati, believing it to empower him after Zelda's ordeal. Although he defeats his challengers with ease, not a single person knows the shadowy figure. As Link races to deliver Vaati with with his prize - a sword - Vaati casts a vast spell upon the castle and turns everyone within to stone.

Somehow, Link avoids sharing this fate, and vows to restore Princess Zelda and the others to normal. Revisiting the shrine to reclaim the mysterious sword, he also meets a talking hat by the name of Ezlo. Ezlo grants Link the power to shrink in size, which allows Link to meet the Picori, where he discovers that Vaati is in fact a wayward Picori. Using this knowledge, Link is able to defeat Vaati and restore the castle to normal.

Hundreds of years pass, and Ganon's power is returned to him. He kills the descendants of the seven sages, allowing him to escape from the Dark World back into Hyrule. He covers Hyrule with darkness, and kills the sages who were giving the Master Sword its power. Ganon builds a tower and an army in preparation to take over Hyrule. The people wait for the Hero of Time to return, but he never does.

Ganon's army attacks Hyrule Castle. In their last desperate hour, the people of Hyrule pray to the gods. The gods decide to bury Hyrule under torrential rains. The people of Hyrule are ordered to take refuge on mountaintops. The Master Sword forms a seal freezing Hyrule in time, and keeping Ganon's power sealed away. Hyrule, along with the doorway to the Picori, is buried at the bottom of the ocean, and life begins anew on islands formed from Hyrule's mountaintops. A piece of the Triforce of Wisdom is given to the descendants of the Royal Family, and they are charged with guarding it. The King remains below, waiting for a day when Hyrule can be revived, charged with finding a hero in case Ganon is revived.

On Outset Island, Link, a boy unrelated to the Hero of Time is born. A girl is also born to a great female pirate captain, and is named Tetra. 10 years later, Ganon is revived once again, and is able to make a portal leading to the surface world. Taking over the Forsaken Fortress, he sends his servants over the ocean in search of the missing pieces of the Triforce.

Events of The Wind Waker - Link celebrates his coming-of-age, but his younger sister Aryll is kidnapped by one of Ganondorf's servants, confusing her for Tetra. Asking for help from Tetra's pirates, Link tries to invade the Forsaken Fortress, but is thrown from the tower. A mysterious boat rescues him, and leads him on a quest to get the Master Sword, the only blade that can defeat Ganon. After collecting three pearls, and passing the test of the gods, a portal appears, leading to the frozen world of Hyrule beneath the waves. Link takes the Master Sword from Hyrule Castle, but this releases the seal, unfreezing Hyrule and releasing Ganon's full power. Link saves his sister with the help of the pirates, but the Master Sword has no effect on Ganondorf. Tetra, the young female captain of the pirates, and Link are rescued and taken to Hyrule. There, the King of Hyrule reveals that Tetra is actually Princess Zelda, and gives her the rest of the Triforce of Wisdom. The King was the guiding force behind the boat. He leads Link on a quest to return the power of evil's bane to the Master Sword, and to find the hidden Triforce of Courage shards.

Armed with these weapons, Link arrives back in Hyrule to discover that Zelda has been kidnapped. Breaking Ganon's barrier around Hyrule Castle, he climbs Ganon's Tower. At the top, Ganondorf is able to steal the other two pieces of the Triforce from Link and Zelda. But before he can touch the united Triforce, the King touches it and wishes for Hyrule to be buried under the waves for good. Link and Zelda defeat Ganondorf, turning him to stone when Link sticks the Master Sword in his head. But Hyrule is buried under water, and Link and Tetra must now find a new land to call Hyrule.

All does not end well, however. After a great deal of time, Ganon is revived. Since the Triforce was buried with Hyrule, Ganon finds all the pieces and claims them for himself. But he is sealed away in the Dark World when seven new sages are found. Several years after a new Link and Zelda are born, many disasters suddenly plague the new Hyrule.

Events of A Link To The Past - Agahnim appears in Hyrule, stops the disasters, and is made one of the King's top advisers. He secretly overthrows the King, and begins sending the descendants of the Sages into the Dark World, in a plot to free Ganon. Zelda contacts Link, the Legendary Hero, telepathically. Link fights Agahnim, but Agahnim is able to break the Seven Sages' Seal. Link goes on to save all of the maidens from the Dark World. He completely destroys Ganon, and claims the united Triforce. Link uses the Triforce to do much good.

Events of Link's Awakening - The people of Hyrule fear what evils may arise from Ganon's ashes. Ever diligent, Link leaves on a journey of enlightenment, that he might better protect Hyrule. After several months, Link's journey now complete, he begins sailing back to Hyrule. However, a sudden squall destroys his ship, and Link drifts to the island of Koholint. There he defeats Nightmares to gather together eight Instruments and wake the Wind Fish. Koholint Island disappears, and Link is left once again with the flotsam of his ship. He drifts back to Hyrule, and the united Triforce is placed in the Hyrule Castle. As it rests, it watches over Hyrule.

Centuries later, Twinrova masterminds a plot to revive Ganon. By sending Onox to Holodrum and Veran to Labrynna, she plans to light the three flames of Sorrow, Destruction, and Despair. This would bring Ganon's spirit back from the beyond, and then Princess Zelda's body would be used to revive Ganon.

Events of Oracle Of Sages and Oracle Of Ages - The Triforce sends the generation's Link on a mission to Holodrum. There, Link is able to defeat Onox, saving Din, the Oracle of Seasons, but nonetheless the Flame of Destruction is lit. After the Triforce sends Link to Labrynna, he prevents Veran from destroying the land, but cannot prevent the Flames of Sorrow and Despair from being lit. Princess Zelda travels alone to Labrynna to help Link. Twinrova kidnaps her, planning to use her pure body to revive Ganon. Link rescues Zelda by defeating Twinrova, but Twinrova sacrifices herself to revive the Evil King. Link defeats Ganon, but Ganon is not banished from the world. After Ganon's defeat, the King of Hyrule uses the Triforce to keep the peace and unite Hyrule.

Before he dies, he hides the Triforce of Courage, and seals it away with a complex magical key. After his death, his son inherits only part of the Triforce. An evil wizard, working with the prince, puts the prince's younger sister, named Zelda, to sleep for refusing to tell them where the rest of the Triforce is. The wizard dies casting this spell, and nobody can wake up Zelda. The prince decrees that every princess in the royal line from then on shall be named Zelda, so this tragedy would not be forgotten.

Many years pass, and Ganon's ashes wake up from their slumber. The world is thrown into an Age of Chaos. Ganon sets himself up as Prince of Darkness, and begins building an army of monsters. At this time, a new Link and Zelda are born.

Events of The Legend Of Zelda - Ganon's army invades Hyrule and steals the Triforce of Power. The current Zelda splits the Triforce of Wisdom and hides the pieces in eight Underworld labyrinths, and Ganon kidnaps her. Impa, Zelda's nursemaid, is sent to find a brave man to fight Ganon. She is almost captured by Ganon's henchmen, but Link saves the day. Link travels through eight underworld labyrinths to reunite the Triforce of Wisdom. Entering Death Mountain and finding the Silver Arrows, he defeats Ganon and takes the Triforce of Power from his ashes.

Events of The Adventure Of Link - Though Link defeated Ganon, Hyrule does not have peace. Ganon's monsters roam the land, and Ganon's ashes can be revived if Link is sacrificed, and his blood sprinkled on the ashes. Link approaches his 16th birthday, and one day the Triforce symbol appears on his hand. Concerned, he goes to see Impa, who tells him about the ancient Princess Zelda, who is still under the sleeping spell. Link recovers the Triforce of Courage from the Great Palace in the Valley of Death, and with the united Triforce awakens Zelda from her ancient sleeping spell, finally bringing peace to Hyrule.

So that's Ocarina Of Time, Majora's Mask, Four Swords (All incarnations), The Minish Cap, Twilight Princess, The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks, A Link To The Past, Link's Awakening, Oracle Of Sages, Oracle Of Ages, The (original) Legend Of Zelda and Link's Adventure if you want to give it a play. Have fun, and if possible play the Neverwinter Nights versions of the last two - it's a bit more fun and a LOT prettier. The Legend Of Zelda and Link's Adventure. Note that the latter is not yet finished, but probably will be by the time you finish all the others! Also, if you decide to play, you'll probably want this character, and don't forget to check out the notes at the bottom of the page. Thanks to Neverwinter Vault (not linked - it's already got three of the damn things) for those files, and trust me - they're great fun! Also, if you finish every single game and still want more, check out Zelda Classic for another remake of the original Zelda with support for hundereds of fan quests...

Babes, Bullets, Bombs (Article)

Having gone through my old back-up discs (again), I found my old website, which I'd presumably backed up for prestige or something. One of the features of this site was a Bond Week where I basically posted a different article relating to the Bond series on each weekday. This was one of them.

This is actually a rewrite of the original version of the article, because the original was literally three paragraphs. When I remade the site, I also redid the some of the articles, in order to improve their quality. This is probably the one that benefited the most from this. It was (re)written in 2004, before the Casino Royale film was announced, which explains why Vesper Lynd isn't mentioned.

Ever since Ursula Andress emerged from the sea in the Dr No, the Bond Women have played a major role in Bond films. Along there with the gadgets and the locations, the women are another one of those elements that you have to come expect from a Bond film.

Starting with the very first Bond Girl, Honey Ryder set the standard for the girls who would follow in her footsteps. Despite having her voice dubbed for the film, Ursula Andress made such a striking appearance in Dr No that she not only became an international start but also sent bikini sales soaring after her 'emergence from the sea'. The truth behind the shot was that Ursula had gashed her knee badly on some coral just prior to the shoot and her knee had become badly swollen. Thankfully the film-makers were able to cover the injuries with make up, allowing the scene to go ahead.

Moving on to From Russia With Love, the innocent and naive Tatiana Romanova is played beautifully by Daniela Bianchi, who was a novice actress and former Miss Rome. In a role which required a huge amount of passion, her performance is sincere and totally credible and she remains one of the more memorable of the Bond Women. Although she was actress of the moment, she surprisingly retired from acting only a few years after her success in the film, although she did appear in the Bond spoof Operation Kid Brother. During filming, Daniela was injured in a car crash on the way to the set. Sean Connery, in a car immediately behind her, dragged her from the wreckage. Her face was badly swollen and she was unable to film for two weeks, but her performance on-screen made the wait worthwhile.

Pussy Galore does not appear until well into the story, however the audience's introduction to her is memorable and sets the scene for a wonderful performance by former Avengers star Honor Blackman. Although the lesbian tendancies of Goldfinger's novel were only insinuated in the film version, Blackman plays the role with such passion that it seems much more then that. The mature presence of Blackman (37 at the time of filming, making her the oldest Bond Girl) added immeasurably to ensuring that Pussy Galore became one of the most memorable of all 007's lovers. Additionally, the name became part of the international lexicon and remains so today.

Dominique, or 'Domino' to her friends, is a beautiful, but somewhat morose young woman who serves as the primary Bond Girl for Thunderball, although she does prove herself invaluable by personally killing Largo, the film's villain and her 'jailer'. Claudine Auger, a former Miss France, was an inspired choice for the role of Domino, one of the more complex of the 007 heroines. Auger was not only a stunning beauty, but she satisfactorily conveyed the inner sadness of a pampered, but unloved, young woman caught in a seemingly inescapable web of deceit and danger. Like several other Bond actresses from the earlier films, Auger was dubbed for the final cut.

You Only Live Twice provided audiences with the first 'real' death of a Bond Girl - although several had perished during the course of Goldfinger, the audience barely had time to notice Bond had conquered them before they died. That changed with Aki, who was a 'New Generation' Japanese Secret Service agent. Akiko Wakabayashi played the role with infectious charm, and when she dies it's a genuine shock to the audience, who have grown to like the courageous and resouceful young woman. Interestingly, Akiko was to play the role of Kissy Suzuki, before the director became convinced she was more suitable for the role of Aki. Kissy, unlike Aki, refuses to bed 007 while the mission is in progress - an act which seems all the more strange when the pair are supposed to be on their honeymoon - but is eager to succumb to Bond's charms once the film is over. Mie Hama plays the role of Kissy with considerable charm and the fact that she appears primarily in a bikini provided the publicity department with ample opportunity to capitalize on her stunning figure. Of note is the fact that the name of the character is not mentioned once throughout the entire film.

The enchanting Diana Rigg gave a performance in On Her Majesty's Secret Service which completely silenced those who had criticized the Bond films for having 'bimbos' as conquests. The character of Tracy Di Vicenzo is wonderfully written, drawing almost completely from Ian Fleming's novel and allowing Bond to become involved with an interesting, three-dimensional woman who is intelligent, courageous and humorous. Given her previous experience on The Avengers, Diana truly makes the part her own and it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the part. Tracy is a truly complex character, alternating between a suicidal, love-starved spoiled rich girl and a daring, vivacious adventurer. For once, Bond has truly met his equal in every way imaginable, and the love scenes between the two are moving, adding huge emotional impact to the daring, down-beat climax.

Diamonds Are Forever provides the series with one of the worst examples of Bond Girls, and the character of Tiffany Case helped create the unjustified impression that Bond women's IQs measured less then their bra sizes. When Bond first meets Tiffany, she is hard-edged and intriguing, as befitting a professional smuggler. Unfortunately, this aspect of her personality disappears later in the film, when she becomes naive and easily manipulated by Bond and others. It's difficult to fault Jill St John's performance, as she is playing the role as written. To her credit, she still maintains periodic moments of sensuality. Yet Tiffany Case (named after the diamond store where her unwed mother game birth to her) is a weak leading lady when compared to her predecessors, and her exaggerated ineptitude makes it difficult to accept her as a worthy adversary or lover for James Bond.

A new Bond meant a new direction for the next Bond girl. Like her mother before her, the beautiful and virginal Solitaire is treated like a personal possession. Her unique ability to use tarot cards to predict the future makes her a valuable asset, and one who is largely kept against her will. Although seduced by Bond, a genuine affection builds between the couple, which is largely due to the abilities of the two actors. Jane Seymour made her big screen debut with Live And Let Die and acquits herself admirably, although her talents are somewhat diluted by the script, which makes Solitaire appear to be little more then a glorified Lois Lane. She is the typical helpless female who excels only in getting captured and making the hero risk life and limb to rescue her, although it is to Seymour's credit that the audience doesn't seem to notice this as much as it should.

Regretably, The Man With the Golden Gun focuses on the wrong woman. Of the two women in the film whom Bond seduces, it's Andrea Anders who becomes the sacrificial lamb, something which really should have gone to the other lady in the limelight, Mary Goodnight. The character of Anders is an intriguing and realistic presence in an otherwise outlandish film. The haunted mistress of the film's villain, Anders in willing to risk her life to escape his clutches. Maud Adams gives a strong performance as the tragic woman, bringing a real sense of conviction, not to mention fear, to the role. By comparison, Mary Goodnight, played by Britt Ekland, is portrayed as someone so inept that she makes Inspector Clouseau seem like Sherlock Holmes. The running joke in the film is that Mary's romantic encounters with 007 are never consummated due to various encounters. Britt Eckland performs gamely, but no actress could bring dignity to the role. Interestingly, Maud Adams has the distinction of being the only actress to date to play major characters in 2 Bond films - she also played the title role in Octopussy.

The impact made by Barbara Bach's stunning visual performance as Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me makes the audience forget her rather shaky Russian accent. Despite having the traditional trappings of the buxom Bond woman, Anya is indeed a new breed of heroine for the series. She is 007's equal in terms of intellect, courage and delf-sufficiency. Given all her attributes, it's no wonder Bond is virtually a one-woman man during the course of the entire mission. The powerful emotion she portrays when she is informed of her lovers demise, and the horrid realisation that it was Bond, to whom she has become close, who killed him, remains testament to the almost-perfect portrayal Bach gives. She remains to this day one of the most beautiful women to ever grace a Bond film.

Bond is spoilt for choice in Moonraker, although only one of his conquests make much of an impact. The character of Corinne Dufour, played with understated charm by French actress Corinne Clery, Corinne is personal assistant/pilot for the main villain. 007 seduces the beautiful girl and persuades her to allow him to photograph secret papers. For her betrayal, she pays a terrible price - a pack of Dobermans are unleashed on her and she is torn to shreds (out of view, thankfully) in a truly harrowing and suspenseful sequence. Although she has little screen time, Corinne makes a substantial impact of audiences, leaving them reeling when she dies. Manuela, the field agent assigned to Rio and assigned to work with Bond, makes it clear from the start that she mixes business with pleasure and, after becoming romantic with Bond almost immediately upon his arrival, the pair investigate a warehouse, during which Manuela - who is obviously more skilled in the boudoir then in the field - barely puts up a token resistance and has to be rescued by Bond. The character makes little impact on audiences and seems to hark back to a time when Bond's women were little more then living dolls. Finally, the main conquest of the film, Dr Holly Goodhead, is intelligently written and Lois Chiles is most satisfactory in the part. Although, refreshingly, it is she who initially treats 007 as a one-night stand, the character is bland and remains one of the least memorable of Bond's on-screen lovers.

For Your Eyes Only starts with a wonderfully shot scene in which Bond pays respects to his late wife from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, an intriguing start to a film which has one of the most fascinating women in a Bond film yet. Melina Havelock, played beautifully by French actress Carole Bouquet, impresses Bond when they first meet by being a strong-willed, courageous woman who is not hesitant about using her proficiency with a crossbow to eliminate her enemies and she plays a vital role in the destruction of the film's villain. Carole plays Melina with genuine conviction, making her character a haunted woman with a mission of vengeance. She and Bond don't even share a romantic moment until the last sequence of the film - an unusual situation for 007, but a scenario that makes the plot much more convincing.

Returning for her second Bond film, Maud Adams plays the title role of Octopussy, one of the best films of Roger Moore's career. Octopussy is already familiar with Bond, having allowed her father to commit suicide rather then face the scandal of a high-profile court martial on charges of theft and murder, and the two become closer still as the film progresses, eventually becoming lovers about halfway through the film. She also demonstrates considerable skill when dealing with the villans of the film, matching them every step of the way. Maud is one of the most accomplished actresses to appear in a Bond film, and exudes considerable chemistry with Moore. With this role, she ensures her status as one of the most memorable of Bond's ladies.

Although A View To A Kill has some very strong characters, Stacey Sutton is not one of them. On the few occasions when Tanya Roberts isn't screaming for help or being chased, her deliverance of lines elicit more laughs then credibility. Despite her stunning screen presence, Tanya can't bring much to the role. Much more effective is Grace Jones in the role of May Day. A humourless but highly sexual woman who relishes dressing in outlandish clothing, she possesses extraordinary strength and is more then efficient in the art of murder. May Day is one of the most original and interesting characters to appear during this era of Bond films, and Grace steals most of the scenes in which she appears - including a very funny one in which she beds Bond but ensures it is she who is on top.

With a new actor playing Bond came a new style to the films, and The Living Daylights proves this with the character of Kara Milovy. A beautiful and talented Czech cellist, Kara is unwittingly betrayed by the one she loves and is tossed around almost like a ragdoll before finally making a stand. Kara is one of the more interesting and believable of Bond's women, being innocent yet brave and fiercely self-sufficient. The role is played with considerable skill by the wonderful Maryan d'Abo, who proved to be a very appropriate leading lady for Timothy Dalton's more serious interpretation of 007.

Although License To Kill was arguably the most controversial of the Bond films, one thing that isn't is the performances of the two leading ladies. Lupe Lamora is the 'kept' woman of the film's villain, and, like Domino from Thunderball, is tired of behind held a virtual captive in the luxurious surroundings of her lover's estate. Model Talisa Soto gives an impressive performance in what could have been a clichéd, one-dimensional plot. Her beauty is accentuated by the eye-popping gowns and dresses she wears throughout the film, a look that makes Pam Bouvier seem her complete opposite. One of the most intriguing of Bond's ladies, Pam is a tough-as-nails courageous freelance pilot who works periodically for the CIA. Although the screenwriters can't resist having her eventually fall madly in love with Bond, her pouting jealousy of 007's involvement with Lupe is the only false note in her characterization. She is excellently played by model/actress Carey Lowell, who brings a refreshing cynicism to her role which ensures that this Bond girl is far more then just an ornament for 007.

Another new Bond and another change of direction for the series. This time the role of Goldeneye's Bond Girl fell to two very different women. The first refreshingly flied in the face of political correctness, and the character of Xenia Onatopp harkend back to the glory days of Bond villainesses. Larger then life and played with enormous zeal by Famke Janssen, Xenia stands out in every respect. A ravishing beauty, she combines her love for S&M sex with her penchant for murder. The scenes between Xenia and Bond are very well written and feature the type of double entrendres that were so much a part of the Connery era, all of which is in complete contrast to Natalya Simonova, who is very much a heroine for the 1990s: independent, courageous and cynical, and she is played very capably by the popular Swedish actress and singer Izabella Scorupco. Of particular note is the scene where she questions what Bond does for a living, which is one of the most moving and memorable of the series.

Tomorrow Never Dies provides Bond with two more beautiful women, although they're both on his side this time. Teri Hatcher was a truly inspired choice for the limited, but very important role of the tragic Paris Carver. She looks absolutely stunning and is attired in glamorous outfits which accentuate the sensuality of her scenes with Pierce Brosnan. Their love scene, in which Bond tenderly disrobes her, is one of the most truly erotic sequences of any of the films, aided by the fact that Bond genuinely cares for this woman. His despair over discovering her body is an unusually moving moment and accentuates his compassion in a very emotional way. Paris is one of the more tragic of Bond's women because it is solely because of his actions that she is murdered. Wai Lin, on the other hand, is very much a Bond heroine in that she is completely independent, fearless and perfectly capable of defending herself. She is played with considerable charm by Michelle Yeoh, one of the Orient's biggest box-office sensations. She performs an amazing array of stunts for the film, has a quiet, unassuming demeanour and commands the screen in the action sequences she features in.

Again, Bond is provided with two women in The World Is Not Enough. Bond first encounters Christmas Jones, a Doctor of Atomic Physics, at a Kazakhstan test facility. Despite her intellectual prowess, Christmas - like most Bond girls - is quite resourceful, this time in the art of nuclear weapons, which proves pivotal. Although Denise Richards is really too young to realistically portray a nuclear weapons expert, she succeeds in avoiding the unintentional laughs one might have expected. Elektra King, on the other hand, is a highly sexual woman with a ruthless edge, and is the most intriguing female lead character to appear in a Bond film since Octopussy. Sophie Marceau plays the complicated role with admirable skill, managing to make Elektra alternately appealing and appalling.

Finally, Die Another Day has a very intentional homage to Ursula Andress' famous entrance as Honey in Dr. No, with Jinx rising Venus-like from the Caribbean, clad in a bikini very reminiscent of that worn by Ms. Andress forty years earlier. The impact is equally impressive. In the tradition of all Bond women, Jinx is sexually aggressive and uses Bond for her pleasure every bit as much as he uses her. Halle Berry radiates considerable chemistry with Pierce Brosnan, and the intensity of their love scenes provides a genuine air of eroticism that pushes the envelope back by Bond standards. Miranda Frost, meanwhile, lives up to her name and barely give Bond time to breath before turning on him. In the past, the results have been mixed when young actresses were cast in prominent roles in a Bond film. However, Rosamund Pike brings a sophistication and maturity to the role that makes her an alluring screen presence.

The women have undergone numerous changes throughout the years, from the independent women like Honey Ryder and Pussy Galore to the "stereotypical blond" like Stacey Sutton and Mary Goodnight. However as it started in Dr. No, this has come full circle with the current films offering more independent and authoritive women who are a match for 007 like Natalya Simonova and Wai Lin.

There are of course even some women who can meet 007 on his level and exceed it, like Xenia Onatopp and Jinx. Like many elements in the Bond films, the women are dependant on the changing times, trends and attitudes of current audiences with the producers hoping to stay on top of these complex patterns. One thing can be sure though, there will all ways be an abundance of beautiful, sexy, intelligent and gorgeous women who hold the title of "Bond Women" past, present and future.

Tweaking with the Site

Just finished tweaking around with the site. Wasn't altogether happy about how small and cramped the central post section was, so I've increased the width of it and the title bar. I forget the exact figures, but it feels less like a default 'blog' and more like an actual 'site' now.

I'm not sure how this will work on different resolutions - I'm about to try it now. If anyone out there ever bothers visiting this site, bear with me.

EDIT: Ok, tweaked it a little more and I've found a good compromise, I think. Now not only does it look much better then it did before, but it'll actually fit on 1204x768 resolutions. So to all my family members who are too cheap to pick up a decent monitor - you're welcome.

Strong Bad's Cool Games for Attractive People (Review)

Having started this site and re-reading my previous musings and such, I've felt inspired to write more. But I had no idea what to write about. So on that fabled forum of yesteryear, I started a new thread and basically said 'Tell me to Write a Game Review'. The idea was that people would give me a game, and I would go off and write a review about it. Some people took it seriously, some didn't, and some told me to review something that wasn't even out yet (and me forgetting that I was his beta tester for said game - oops!). The ones who did take it seriously, however, gave me some good suggestions. Here's the first one I finished.

Strong Bad's Cool Games for Attractive People

Before the games were announced, I hadn't visited HomestarRunner.Com for years. It had been a site I'd somehow stumbled upon during one of my ambles across the internet, and I'd very much enjoyed the cynical, zany and frequently random humour of Strong Bad's E-Mails. So while I wasn't all that familiar with the character, I knew roughly what I was letting myself in for when I bought the first episode, Homestar Ruiner.

Oddly enough, the game surpassed my expectations and surprised me with its flexibility. Controlling the title character of Strong Bad, the player has to travel around the fictional land of Free Country USA, in an attempt to achieve various goals depending on which episode you're playing. In one your main goal is simply to give another character a long overdue pummelling. In another you're trying to depose a corrupt King of Town (or just 'The of Town', as Strong Bad says he will call him from now on) after he enforces a new, totally unfair e-Mail tax. Another game has you trying to make an epic movie with a budget of mothballs. And so on.

One of the major factors of the games is the humour, and how it would translate to a series of flash cartoons to a fully fledged video game series. Fortunately the games are hilarious, with frequently random acts of violence, bizarre insults and ludicrous characters all helping to keep the entertainment value high. The zany sense of self-parody the game has helps to keep people going, just to see what the characters will say or do next.

The characters themselves are, for lack of a better word, morons. But lovable morons. Even Strong Bad himself, a strange Mexican wrestling mask-wearing bully, is shown to be a few marbles short of a happy meal. He may think he's the smartest and most handsome of the inhabitants of Free Country USA, but that's only because everyone else is so absurdly mad.

They're also pretty well characterised. These people (for lack of a better word) have existed for years in the cartoons of the original site, and their personalities, quirks, flaws and alter-egos are all used to good effect in this series. Strong Sad is a depressed resigned-to-his-fate punching bag for his brother, Marzipan is an eco-friendly pushover, Coach Z is an idiotic failure at everything he tries and The Cheat... well, he's The Cheat. What else can I say?

Graphically, the game is a bit of an oddball. While faithful to the cartoons, it also seems like a throwback to the early days of 3D gaming, with it's bright colourful palette and cell-shading techniques showing off the basic geometry that makes up Free Country USA. Then again, if Telltale Games had updated the graphics to anything else the fans wouldn't have liked it one bit, but there's a fine line between pleasing existing fans and drawing new ones in.

Which leads to the biggest problem with these games. It's that horrible cliché - 'it's for the fans'. As I am constantly reminded at the end of every Zero Punctuation video, fans are clinging, complaining dipshits* who will never, ever be grateful for any concession you make. In this case, by making a series of games for the fans, Telltale have made it solely for them. It's not something an average gamer is going to try, simply because they're not going to feel as welcome.

In fact, at times the series almost seems to works at driving away people who aren't familiar with the original website - Episode 4, 'Dangeresque 3', is a perfect example of this. While a very funny in-joke, referencing a long-standing project of Strong Bad's from the website, players new to the series will have no idea what's going on and, if anything, won't want to find out.Of course it's hard to imagine a series based on a popular website being anything else, but even so, maybe a little more effort could have gone into letting new players in on the joke, given just how funny that joke is in places.

The other problem is the randomness of some of the puzzles. While most of them are solvable, there's a couple that don't make a lot of sense, as I'm finding out due to a recent replay of the series. Fortunately the new Hint System, which has now become almost a standard in adventure games, does a lot to alleviate this and stop players running off to GameFAQs, but at times the sheer randomness of the puzzles defies logic. How on earth would you know to make Homestar use an onion as a performance enhancer? Even a fan of the series like me had no idea that would work.

Some of the requirements for the optional Awesomeness meter and hidden trophies are also completely random and make little to no sense, though given that they're entirely optional it's a little more forgiveable. But even so, I'd challenge anyone to max out their awesomeness rating without visiting the Telltale Games website and find out how. A little randomness in a game is welcome, but not to the point where it's impossible to get everything without cheating.

At the end of the day though, the main question is 'Are these games fun?', and the answer to that question is yes. If you're into silly, slightly dark and utterly random humour, then there's a lot to like about these games. And with the new SD card storage system, it's actually possible to download all five games onto your Wii without having to delete some of your other channels. So now's as good a time as any to give 'em a try.

*I think that's the first time I've actually sworn on this site. Surprised it took me so long, really.

Explaining the Combine (Article)

In that forum of yore, someone asked a bunch of questions about Half-Life 2. I answered them in this exact manner, as there were a couple of posts before mine and I felt a reminder would be useful. There were also a few follow-up posts that went slightly off-topic which I'm including as well. Bear in mind that this was written before Episode 2 came out, and there was still some speculation as to what would appear in it. I don't know if there is any in this Q&A session, but just in case, I felt it necessary to warn you.

Half-Life 2 didn't have an ending. It just stopped.

You asked questions. Let's answer them as best as is humanly possible, and then let's insult everyone else for saying anything different. Y'know, like everyone always does on the interweb. Onward!

"What the hell are the Combine?" - For this, I shall summarize the blurb found upon Wikipedia's rather excellent page upon the subject. Sadly, it proves rock_nog slightly wrong, but I'm sure he doesn't mind. Not that I care.

The Combine is a vast empire spanning multiple parallel universes, which expands its empire by conquering and enslaving populated worlds. By genetically altering the most intelligent races, the Combine (Pronounced COM-bine, with the emphasis on the first part of the word) create advanced soldiers adapted for individual worlds, allowing for the easy destruction of rebellion factions.

Prior to conquering Earth, the Combine had previously tried to enslave the as-yet un-named race which human beings refer to as the Xen race. This race were defeated by the Combine on an entirely different world to Xen, but managed to flee to their final retreat - a dimensional transit bottleneck, or an area of continual contention. This area, which subsequently 'bled' into our dimension, was known as Xen.

Following the death of the supreme being of this race, known as Nihilanth, at the hands of Gordon Freeman, the Combine were able to use the massive portal storm to invade Earth. This resulted in what has since come to be known as the Seven Hour War. Dr Wallace Breen, the former administrator of the Black Mesa Research Facility, was able to negotiate a surrender on Earth's behalf, and as a result was appointed administrator of the Combine's forces on Earth – also known as the Overwatch.

"What the hell is going on in the background?" - I'm not sure what you mean by this one. If you mean the background of the game, then essentially Gordon Freeman, having 'arrived' in City 17 and subsequently going on to destroy countless Combine forces, inspires many of the City's remaining inhabitants to rise up against their oppressors, while the Combine try to track Freeman down and kill him.

"Who are the benefactors? Is this some implied other-dimensional stupid ass [s***]? Or Xenfags?" - The benefactors are the Combine. That's just what Dr Breen calls them. Interestingly, he only properly refers to them as 'The Combine' once, near the end of the game. There are a couple of theories behind this - either that's what he really thinks of them and can't be bothered to hide his feelings anymore, or it's just a slip of the tongue caused by the heat of the moment.

"Alright. So I didn't play ep1-3 or lost coast, but I might. Should I? Would it provide any additional story info? Is a sequel planned?" - Yes, you should. Just remember what they are - short. Lost Coast gives you nothing plot-wise, it's just a setting they cut out during development and then subsequently felt would be a good place to try out HDR lighting while giving fans a bit more HL2. Episodes I, II and III, once finished (only Episode I is currently out. Episode II's release date has slipped to around the end of the year. Don't even ask about Episode III), should reveal a whole lot more plot.

As for sequels, well. These HL2 Episodes as, essentially, Half-Life 3. Gabe Newell, uber-god regarding all things Half-Life, has admitted that a more correct title for these episodes should have been 'Half-Life 3: Episode One', etc, but whatever. A proper Half-Life 3 does seem likely, however nothing's been confirmed. There will be an Episode IV, but it'll be developed outside of Valve and will start a new story arc, so if there's going to be a proper sequel, chances are Valve will start work on it after Half-Life 2 Episode III - Not inspired by Star Wars.

"Not actually a question, but what the hell is up with that ending?" - It's not an ending. Half-Life 2 didn't have one. It just stopped. If you're referring to the boss, well... it's not really an end boss, is it?

If you play the original Max Payne, I think that's the perfect end-boss. Yes, there's a ruddy great chopper you have to take down. But do you kill it with continuous gunfire? No, you [dislodge an aerial mast and] swat it down. Challenging, but logical. Me likey. But in Half-Life 2, you don't really get a boss. A part of me actually likes that. 'This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper', as is said. You just have to stop Breen, which you do. Right?

As for Ep1, I've never liked destroying Striders or Gunships, because they fall back into the old 'shoot them until they fall down' category. Controlling the rockets is always fun (except when they keep getting shot down, grr), but it just feels sort-of routine. But that's just me, I guess.

The next episodes should be on a more epic scale. Ep1 was dealing with the fallout, Ep2 is escaping to the countryside and Ep3... well, I've no idea, but it's bound to be interesting. We're moving away from City17, so at the very least we'll get different locations, which'll be good.


No-one knows who the G-Man is. That's probably not even his name. There are theories, but nothing's been confirmed. I like the one that he's a member of an incredibly ancient race, older then the Combine, who seek their destruction, and who realizes that Gordon is the one who can do that. One thing is for certain - he is NOT Gordon from the future. Totally.

[As for where the name came from...] It's the filename of the model - gman.mdl - which is where the name came from. Some people thought it was short for 'Government Man', but the events of HL2 kinda disprove that. Truth is, we just don't know. And honestly, if we do find out, it'll spoil the magic. So I don't ever want to.