Major site upgrade on the way.

8 October 2009

Apologies for the lack of articles in the last week or so, but I've been hard at work on giving Nana's Paradox a pretty major overhaul. The site is rapidly outgrowing Blogger and so I'm doing something about it now rather than wait until a point where it's beyond managing.

You can check out the WIP at the new domain and please do let me know what you think so far.

I'm also very interested in getting some other interested writers on board for the new site so if you have an interest in games and writing drop me a line.


Left 4 Dead 2 has new 'Versus' game mode.

Left 4 Dead 2 Scavenge ModeLast night Valve unveiled a new Versus mode called 'Scavenge' which will be included in the upcoming Left 4 Dead 2. The new mode has been designed to provide "quicker, even more frantic game play" than Left 4 Dead's current vanilla Versus mode according to Valve.

The new mode still pits a team of survivors against a team of infected, but in this mode the survivors need to acquire 16 cans of gasoline which are dotted around the maps to power up a generator. The opposing team of infected have to stop the survivors and/or destroy the cans of gasoline.

The game mode lasts for 3 rounds and the winners are the team who collected the most cans of gasoline. In the event of a tie, the winner is the team which acquired the cans in the quickest time. Each round is timed and collecting a gasoline can adds 20 seconds onto the clock.

Dispensing a can of gasoline into a generator takes about the same amount of time that it takes to heal a team mate and early reports indicate that generators camping by the infected team is a sound (perhaps frustrating?) tactic. The new Spitter infected is also highly valuable on this map as he can make gasoline cans explode in a Survivors arms with a well timed shot.

Left 4 Dead 2

Survivors can also shoot gas cans but this isn't a total disaster as they do respawn if destroyed.

So far the mode seems to offer extremely quick and frantic game play which requires quite a different kind of strategy to the current Versus offering and I'm very much looking forward to trying this mode come November.


(Xbox 360) Cave to test overseas interest - Mushihimesama Futari 1.5 will be region free.

1 October 2009

Mushihimesama Futari for 360
Japanese manic shooter specialist Cave has announced that their upcoming shooter Mushihime-sama Futari Version 1.5 will be released region free on the Xbox 360.

The move follows extensive requests from Cave fans globally who miss out on many of Caves conversions due to the titles being region locked and a lack of publishers outside of Japan interested in localizing the games.

The game will be released in Japan on November 26th and you can pre-order your copy from Play Asia right now.

If enough people pre-order the game, there’s a good chance Cave may re-consider their region locking policy permanently (ESPGaluda II anyone?) and it’s even possible we may also see region free re-releases of games such as Death Smiles and DDP DOJ.

Mushi will be region free.

Alongside the regular release there will also be a limited edition which will include the OST and you will also be able to buy a limited edition Arcade Stick if you’re feeling particularly flush!
Mushihimesama Arcade Stick

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Review: Zombie Apocalypse (360/PS3).

30 September 2009

More zooombiees!
Zombie Apocalypse is a twin stock shooter similar in play to the classic arcade game Smash TV; except instead of a game show you are stuck in the middle of gaming’s latest love affair: a zombie outbreak.

Indeed if you’d never seen the game before but imagined Smash TV with a Left 4 Dead style, you’d pretty much nail exactly what Konami’s Zombie Apocalypse is about and looks like in one foul swoop.

The game can be played solo or co-operatively with up to 4 players (either locally or over your respective network), although be warned that its wise to pick and choose your networked games carefully if you are not the host; lag is very noticeable and ultimately deadly in the fast paced world of Zombie Apocalypse.

You start the day by picking one of 4 characters; Zoey, Bill, Francis or Louis. Ok, ok that’s not quite true but it could be as the 4 characters and much of the games style are clearly influenced by Valves brilliant FPS.

The basic premise of the game is to survive through 55 nights of the Zombie Apocalypse. The 55 nights take place in 7 different locations; each filled with a variety of hazards which can be used to despatch the undead horde in conjunction with your 11 weapon pick ups.

The hazards vary from garbage shredders to helicopter blades and fireworks shops; and all of them reduce the zombies to even larger piles of bloody mess than your standard weapon load out. The only downside to these attractions is that the action is so fast and frantic you rarely get time to really appreciate the carnage they cause.

As you progress through the game you will eventually open up an additional 7 game modes to put your zombie killing skills to the test. My favourite of these modes was Turbo (which unsurprisingly speeds up the action somewhat) and 7 Days of Hell which essentially just continuously throws thousands of zombies at you until you either kill them all or your thumbs bleed.

Zombie Apocalypse is a fun game and well worth the cost (800 MS points and £7.99 on PSN) if you are a fan of arcade shooters and provided you accept that what’s on offer is nothing new.

There are better twin stick shooters and for some people the amount of zombie games is becoming a bit tiring. Me? I’m still not quite done with the undead just yet and I’m thoroughly enjoying Konami’s zombie blaster despite its unoriginality.


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Crash Course suffers Crash Landing.

Left 4 Dead Crash Course
Left 4 Dead’s latest update Crash Course arrived yesterday, but despite Valve’s best efforts it seems to have plagued the game with numerous issues.

Servers went missing, many users were reporting pings in excess of 500 and the achievements don’t seem to be working very well either, with many either not activating or disappearing after they have been earnt. The map itself also has its fair share of bugs.

Valve also decided eradicate the server variable mp_gamemode and replace it with sv_gametype. This change alone managed to break a fair few servers (including our own 22g servers – the change managed to completely bork our campaign menu).

All this is a real shame because at its core the Crash Course campaign is a great piece of mapping and does provide an ideal 30 minute Versus environment.

Still I’m sure Valve is working on it and I’m looking forward to playing with some more once the various issues are ironed out.

And don’t forget until October the 2nd you can grab the PC edition of Left 4 Dead from Steam for half the normal price (£12.49), or even grab four copies for £37.49 if your mates need a bit of encouragement to join you!

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Sex, Women and Video Games: what does it all say about us?

29 September 2009

Alison Carroll modelling as Lara Croft.
I’ve just driven recklessly through the city streets with the Police hot on my tail, but finally it seems I’ve lost them. I can no longer hear the wail of their sirens and in the top of my screen I can see the stars flashing as my wanted level disappears.

My health is low but I’ve no need to panic; the street I’m now cruising down is known for its prostitutes and my ride is certainly hot enough to attract them over.

A minute later and I’m parked under a large billboard in one of the darker areas of the neighbourhood. The working woman clambers out from her seat and over to mine. She begins to pleasure my character and once she’s finished I pay her; albeit automatically and represented only by my on screen funds depleting.

Her work done, she gets out of the car and starts to walk off in search of more custom. But I don’t want to pay for my health boost. I pull out my gun and shoot her before picking up my money from her blood stained corpse.

The game is of course Grand Theft Auto IV and it certainly stands up as one of the most interesting examples of how both sex and women can be treated in the digital world of video games.

What’s particularly interesting about this scenario is I don’t have the option to not pay the working girl for her services and I can’t rob her either; the only way I can get my money back from her is to violently murder her.

Prostitutes first appeared in the GTA series of games in 2001 when the series made its transition to 3 dimensions. The game was deservedly a smash hit but came under intense criticism from many (primarily non-gamer) institutions because of its violent content. By far the number one compliant was the ability empowered to the player to kill prostitutes.

You are not required to kill the prostitutes and indeed nothing in the game prompts you too either. But whilst the game may not deliberately draw your attention to this kind of behaviour, you are rewarded for this action.

I do find it rather disturbing at the sheer volume of videos and articles you can find about prostitute killing in the GTA games.

Try Googling about the subject and then take a quick look at some of the links available:

“GTA IV prostitutes: How do you kill yours?”

“Where can I kill prostitutes in GTA IV?”

Clearly there are a demographic out there who not only want to participate in the act but find it so entertaining that they spend significant additional time finding new and improved ways to kill them. And of course, make videos to broadcast their achievements.

This raises many interesting questions, not least of which is whether there is, or even can be, morality in this completely virtual environment? It’s is after all a game; no actual person is harmed in any way, unless of course you want to factor in the potential mind of the gamer who is playing.

Now I’m not writing here to condemn; but I am interested in what this type of action says about us as gamers. Picture for a moment the following scenario:

You’re playing GTA IV as per my opening example. Except this time you are giving a detailed, no holds barred running commentary to your Mother. Would you feel comfortable? And do you think she would feel negatively about you or indifferent?

Sex and violence in video games is nothing new although it is an area which (at least in terms of the combination of the two) is touched upon very rarely. One of the earliest and perhaps most well known examples occurs in the Atari 2600 game Custer’s Revenge.

The Cover Art for Custer's Revenge.

Custers Revenge Cover Art

Released in 1982 by Mystique, Custer’s Revenge places you in control of a Wild West era General wearing only a hat, bandana and boots. Custer has an oversized appendage which is visibly erect and his goal is to avoid incoming arrows and make it across the screen to where a naked Native American woman (named ‘Revenge’) is tied to a crude wooden pole.

Once there successfully, the General proceeds to rape her and the action starts all over again only with increased difficulty. At its release and to this present day, the game was universally panned both for being poor and for the nature of its content (and rightly so), but is this crude depiction of the rape of a woman actually any worse than the murder of one that sells sex?

The graphics are not as crude as the gameplay premise.

Custers Revenge Gameplay Screenshot

Within the world of GTA IV, the act of sex and violence is not the primary feature of the game playing experience, unlike a game like Custer’s Revenge. But at the same time would we accept GTA IV had we been given the option not to pay the working girl? Is her murder really considered more acceptable than taking the health boost by force? It seems in this instance at least, gamers are saying yes.

Sex within games is not always portrayed violently; but the manner in which it’s commonly used is perhaps questionable. We all know the common term ‘sex sells’ and there’s no doubt this is true, but within the world video games (and more so I would suggest than any other medium) it should perhaps be changed to ‘scantily clad women sell games’.

This is partly based on the long held assumption that most gamers are male despite the fact that recent statistics show that round 30% of all gamers are now female. I suspect it is also due to the high proportion of male developers in the industry but that is somewhat speculative on my part.

My first memories of sex being used to sell games came at quite a young age when I first saw the advert for a game called Barbarian (known as Death Sword in the USA). The game was a one on one fighting game where players fought with swords and despite a lack of rating or any content warning, you could also decapitate the enemy player.

The cover and advertising for the game used well known Page 3 and adult magazine star Maria Whittaker dressed in an extremely skimpy bikini. I’d be lying if I said at the time the advertising alone didn’t make me want the game! Thankfully it was for its time a rather fine game despite the controversy.

Maria Whittaker stars on the cover of Barbarian.

Maria Whittaker stars on the cover of Barbarian.

I was not so lucky with my second experience however. Dinamic’s Game Over was a shooter released for a number of 8-bit computers by Imagine. The cover art was by Oliver Frey (well known for his superb artwork that adorned magazines of the day such as Zzap! 64 and Crash) and featured a scantily clad woman whose nipple was exposed.

The game wasn’t that great but the controversy surrounding it however made me want it. This rather tame image (at least by today’s standards) caused so much of an uproar that Frey had to redo the image to remove the offending nipple and even then some retailers placed stickers over that area on the box.

Game Over's controversial nipple.

The Game Over Nipple.

Back then gaming probably was dominated far more by those of the male gender but despite the increase in female gamers, the portrayal of scantily clad women has risen significantly and not just in the advertising.

Female games characters are now commonly portrayed in scant clothing, with visible knickers and large bouncing busts; Tecmo’s Dead or Alive games perhaps the perfect example.

Indeed their upcoming Playstation 3 game Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 features a female player controlled character where you can shake the SIXAXIS controller to move her breasts and the video advertising released for the game showcases this feature prominently.

Shake, shake - shake, shake it baby!

Player controlled boobs - the future?

Whilst even at 33 I’m as partial to sexy characters as the next man; I’m not really sure I want my partner watching me play a game where I can move the females breasts with my joypad. I mean, what image of myself would I be portraying by engaging in such a pointless act? Are male gamers and developers really that sexually frustrated? And if they are, wouldn’t pornography be more fulfilling?

These days there are a fair few games which feature female heroines; a situation predominantly inspired by the commercial success of Core Design’s Tomb Raider.

Originally released in 1996 for the Sega Saturn and then shortly afterwards for the Sony Playstation and PC; Tomb Raider was a 3D adventure game starring female adventurer Lara Croft.

Lara Croft is best described as the female equivalent of Indiana Jones. Strong, agile and beautiful, Lara is a character who was originally designed to appeal to both male and female gamers alike. During Tomb Raiders final design, Lara’s assets (ok, ok, her breasts) were due to be enhanced by 150% to emphasise her femininity. Apparently a ‘slip of the mouse’ occurred and this figure increased to 250%, something that the original designer Toby Gard later expressed some disdain.

Tomb Raider was a great game and huge hit and Lara with her ‘extended’ assets became a cultural icon. Numerous sequels followed, two movies were made and Lara even had her own official models. The most famous of these models was Nell McAndrew who was famously sacked after posing naked in Playboy magazine as Lara without the permission of Eidos.

Despite Lara’s appeal to some female gamers as a strong female character; many felt that her breasts were just too big and finally in 2005 the developers reduced the size from DD cup to a rather more modest C.

Such was the impact of Lara in popular culture, the story made The Times newspaper and the whole issue still managed to upset some female groups. “It doesn’t make it easier to be a girl in today’s culture,” Deanne Jade, principal of The National Centre of Eating Disorders, said. “Why don’t they make her podgy?”

At the time Matt Gorman (brand manager for Tomb Raider) was quoted as saying “The days of selling Lara as boobs and guns are over.” Somehow though I doubt that’s completely true; perhaps what he really meant is that they will start to try and make decent Tomb Raider games again (which to be fair, I guess they did).

Whilst few, there are some examples of developers trying to maturely portray sex within video games. Take for example Mass Effect, which features a consensual sex scene as part of the main characters development. It’s handled maturely and integrated perfectly into the story rather than simply being a rather degenerate sideshow like the one which can be found in Sony’s God of War.

Despite its mature handling, the scene in Mass Effect still caused an absolute flood of media uproar. This was largely due to the significant distortion of the facts being reported on popular news channels and these themselves were caused largely by Kevin McCullough’s accusations that the game allowed virtual rape with people and species of all genders.

It makes you wonder why games developers even bother trying to tackle sex within games at all given this kind of negative press although in a rather bizarre twist, noted game hater Jack Thompson actually ended up defending Mass Effect at the time. Tis' truly a funny world.

Are the majority of these reactions are caused by gaming’s prior offerings, be it the infamous Hot Coffee mod for Vice City or the prostitute killing in GTA IV? Or is it more how these offerings are presented to us; after all I don’t recall much outrage when Leisure Suit Larry first released despite the highly sexual content. Maybe games simply need to be more upfront about the content.

Would Hot Coffee have been more universally acceptable if it wasn't sneaked in?

GTA Got Coffee Mod.

Whilst gaming as a media format is now advanced enough to tackle sex in a mature manner; it is perhaps us the gamers that hinder its development.

Scantily clad women with large breasts do seem to make many of us more likely to buy games as does any mention of something controversial; and whilst this trend continues I believe it will always be difficult for developers to get a more realistic design and approach to sex and sexual themes accepted by the majority.

Using Lesbians to sell a game? Not according to the developer; these are just two women who chose to become lovers. Erm...

Fear Effect 2 Warning: contains Lesbians.

What worries me is the message we also send out about ourselves and our hobby due to the nature of some of this content. Where exactly are the boundaries? Why are we happy to kill a sex worker but not to display an act of love in an intimate fashion?

Heavy Rain will be the next big hitter to try and tackle sex in an adult manner but whilst I wish it luck I can’t help but think it’s doomed to fail in this respect, at least where the non-gamer is concerned.

Ultimately games need more sex and less sexual violence; but in a pastime that thrives on competition and destruction perhaps there really isn’t really any room for love.

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Review: Halo 3 ODST (360).

25 September 2009

Halo 3 ODST
Bungie’s latest offering from the Halo universe is finally with us; dropping in it seems to a tidal wave of both hype and criticism. Any new Halo game is bound to cause a commotion amongst the fans but this time the critics are also making their voices heard, pointing primarily towards the high price and relatively short campaign on offer. So what’s the truth behind Halo 3: ODST and is it worth the full price Microsoft is asking?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of years, I’m sure you’re well aware of the basic premise of ODST. Originally planned as an expansion pack for Halo 3 (called Recon), ODST follows the story of a squad of Orbital Shock Drop Troopers who are deployed on a mission to assault a Covenant Assault Carrier which is attacking New Mombasa.

The troopers unfortunately make their combat drop just as the Covenant carrier jumps into slipspace (during events which also occurred in Halo 2 where the Master Chief and Keyes follow the Covenant carrier into slipspace aboard the In Amber Clad) and the resulting shockwave scatters the ODST’s pods all over New Mombasa.

You initially control The Rookie approximately six hours after the failed drop. Having obviously been unconscious and trapped in your pod for some time, you set about trying to track down your ODST squad mates.

The city in which the Rookie finds himself searching essentially acts as a kind of hub world to the main levels which are are based around actions already undertaken by the other ODST’s in the previous 6 hours (whom you play in the retelling of these events).

Having been used to the extremely linear worlds of the previous Halo games; I initially found the city hub somewhat off putting, but once I got used to the concept and to using the map (another Halo first) downloaded to your visor, it actually proved to be a great way to deliver this story and shows just how willing Bungie are to try new things even though they already had a winning formula.

It’s interesting how you grow increasing empathy towards the Rookie too, as you realise that so much has occurred during the 6 hours he’s been out of it.

His story is deliberately pitched in such a way that you’ll feel more and more isolated playing the Rookie the more you progress; its as though the battles have already been fought and now your left here alone, wandering the streets at night trying to avoid the Covenant and stay alive. This is an extremely powerful story telling mechanic and is one of the things I liked best about the game.

Of course the biggest revelation originally about this game was the lack of any appearence by Master Chief himself. You are no longer cast as the all powerful super Spartan but are instead very much human, albeit a highly trained one. From the players perspective this changes several game play traits; you can’t jump as high, you no longer have a rechargeable shield and you can no longer dual wield.

These changes essentially mean you are much frailer than the Master Chief and a more restrained approach has to be taken when in combat. Charge in to a pack of Covenant on your own and the chances are you won’t be returning victorious. Instead you need to think about your approach; evaluate each situation independently and decide either the best way to take out your foes or perhaps even sneak around them.

Again this style of play is quite a departure from the previous Halo games, and yet whilst it is slightly different it still retains the essence of the Halo experience. In some ways this is Bungies greatest triumph; because this transfer of responsibility not only shows us as players just how much more there is to this world than the Chief himself, but also how flexible this universe they have created can be.

The graphics have not improved a great deal since Halo 3 and the facial details in particular stand out as dated; particularly ‘Dare’ who I’m sure must have been modelled on Rene Russo having a bad make up day. The skyscapes have improved however and certainly the night time vistas add some weighty ambience.

Clocking in at around 6 hours ODST’s campaign is a lot of fun from start to finish, and fans of the Halo universe will only be disappointed when it ends.

ODST also ships with two other key game modes; the traditional Halo multiplayer (which comes on a separate disc and as well as few new maps also includes all of the previous Halo 3 DLC) and Firefight.

Sgt Johnson in Firefight

The majority of you will already know what to expect from the traditional multiplayer and in truth there is little new here worth evaluating. What is new however is Firefight, a new co-operative game mode similar to the Horde mode in Gears of War 2 and Left 4 Dead's Survival mode.

Firefight places you and 3 other players against ever increasing numbers of Covenant. Players share a stock of lives and each round introduces new challenges as the enemy waves become bigger and gain advantages through the activation of various skulls. The Firefight levels are large and offer a pure Halo combat experience; with four friends this mode is an absolute blast!

Firefight's biggest downfall is its lack of online matchmaking; and if you lack a large online friends list or often game at different times to all your mates then grabbing a game may be difficult which is shame as the mode is such good fun.

Its very hard to rate Halo: ODST; the score in many ways depends greatly on several factors, but specifically how big a Halo fan you are, how many of your friends are available when you play Firefight (or even if you intend to play multiplayer at all) and of course the price you paid for the game (there are however stores online where you can secure up to a 25% discount on the RRP).

With a retail of £39.99 here in the UK ($60 USA), ODST commands the price of a full price game when in reality it doesn’t offer the hours you’d expect from a title priced in this bracket, especially if you are only buying for the single player experience. There’s no doubting the quality of the overall package; what’s here is highly playable and genuinely adds to the Halo universe rather than damaging it.

But I just can’t justify the price; ODST needs to retail for about £10 less to make it anywhere near good value. Bungie have not helped themselves by originally announcing this title as an expansion pack because in essence they’ve told us exactly what ODST is before trying to pull the wool over our eyes.

And that’s a great shame because Halo 3: OSDT deserves to shine for its great game play and the brave new direction Bungie have taken the Halo franchise too, but I can’t help but feeling too many people will feel bitter about the pricing and this is reflected in the score.


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