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  1. Hitman: Steve Gaynor Edition

    While watching this superbunnyhop video on the 'failure' of Hitman I was reminded of something I'm sure I'd forgotten - that the game was originally scheduled to be released in two big instalments, rather than six episodes. The first would have been everything up to and including Marrakesh; the second everything after; $35 each or $60 for both. It's an intriguing reminder of what could have been. It's an interesting video - food for thought, though I don't agree with all of it. One thing I do think it gets right is the difficulty of marketing difficult, unusual stealth games to a mass market audience via a publisher who is expecting astronomical sales. Hitman is a big franchise - they've made movies out of it! - but the latest game isn't an easy one to explain in terms outside of 'surly man with guns'. I mean, I know what it's about because I'm old and I remember Blood Money and all that - but I think I would get easily flummoxed trying to explain it to a teenager. The game's brief popularity amongst streamers probably did them an enormous favour in that regard. It's only once you see someone playing it that you really start to understand what's going on here.
  2. Hitman: Steve Gaynor Edition

    Several months later and this is still one of the main games I'm playing. I've cleared all the opportunities (and done all the goofy trophy stuff) in all the missions apart from Colorado and Hokkaido. I still have some Mastery to build up, but I'm happy to leave that to give me a reason to come back in future. And man, there's still so much to do - I was staggered to pick a contract at random one time and find myself in a new version of Sapienza, where they were shooting a movie in front of the house - I've not even looked at these alternate campaigns outside of the main story. All this makes me feel a little exhausted to learn that IO Interactive have just released a GOTY edition of the game, which includes all the content released so far plus a new campaign (set in reworked versions of the existing maps) and a grab-bag of new costumes and weapons. You can either buy the whole thing or pay about $15 for the upgrade, if you have previously bought the game. This upgrade seems to have received a fairly muted response, which makes me feel a little sorry for the devs since this is their first package as an independent studio. I've not seen a review of the new stuff anywhere, so I'd be interested to hear if anyone has given it a try. Given how much I'm enjoying the game I might pick it up at some point, but I'm in no hurry at the moment. More exciting for me at least is the news that Elusive Targets are coming back next week. Worth noting you don't need the GOTY edition to play them, but they will only be available for people who missed them the first time around - if you attempted and failed, you don't get a second bite of the cherry. They've also said that they'll have more to show regarding properly new Hitman stuff next year. I wonder if they'll build upon the first season, or whether they'll abandon the episodic model altogether. I wonder if it worked out well for them; I feel like the initial response to Paris and Sapienza was euphoric, with the rest of the maps receiving a slightly more muted reaction. Perhaps a lot of people felt like they had their fill with those episodes. A quick glance at the PSN trophies for Hokkaido shows that only 11% of players ever finished that map - I guess that seems low. But that figure includes everyone who has ever downloaded the game (after they game the first one or two levels away free) is that a big number? I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens…
  3. Recently completed video games

    I finished Beyond Good and Evil (via the PS3 HD edition). This is such an odd, interesting game in the Ubisoft back catalogue. A year ago, I don’t think anyone could have predicted that the sequel to what is now a fairly obscure cult classic from 2003 would be announced as potentially one of the biggest and most ambitious games they will ever make. And yet here we are. Encountered today, it seems like one of the better examples of that early 2000s tendency where video games were starting to develop a ‘mature’ identity, while largely still defining themselves by old mechanics and adolescent tropes. So we had Shadow the Hedgehog, Jak and Daxter 2, the death of Lara Croft, and so on. In this case we get a game with a cute art style, anthropomorphic characters, and whimsical dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in a kids TV show, alongside a storyline set in a corporate dystopia that deals in some seriously dark conspiracy theories. Though aspects of it feel dated, the combination of a groovy European sensibility with an anti-authoritarian, pro-diversity message still feels fresh. But though it steps away from relentless violence as a way of solving every problem, it can’t entirely answer the questions it throws up at every juncture. You play as Jade, a young woman who lives in a lighthouse on a faraway planet, Hillys, with her uncle, a pig man named Pey’j. Jade’s world is under constant attack from an alien race, a vaguely Geiger-esque bunch called the Domz who’ve been kidnapping the locals for some nefarious purpose. They’re supposed to be defended by the Alpha Section, a local corporate military force — except the soldiers always seem to show up conveniently late to intervene in the attacks. Jade picks up her camera and goes to join a local band of rebels who have devoted themselves to finding out the truth about the invasion. In most games this would simply involve annihilating everything in your path. The solution in Beyond Good and Evil is charmingly old-fashioned: the rebels are publishing a secret newsletter, and Jade’s role is to sneak into suspicious locations and send back photographic evidence. (You point and shoot the camera manually, from a first-person perspective; a delightful side-quest involves taking pictures of the local wildlife.) There’s some combat — Jade is pretty handy with a quarterstaff — but it’s limited in scope. The game owes a good deal to the 3D Zelda games, especially in the way that players will divide their time between exploring a small open world, sneaking through long, complex, multi-layered levels. But unlike Wind Waker (to which it owes the most) the game is far smaller in scope. The overworld is tiny, there's not much to discover off the beaten track, and there's only one or two meaningful upgrades that change the way you play. The dark stuff, though, is pretty dark: I'm fascinated by a comment I read somewhere by Michel Ancel to the effect that the events of 9/11 were a key influence on the shape of this game. I don't know quite what to make of that. The whole thing seems shot through with a deeply cynical distrust of authority: media, politicians, the military. Nobody and nothing can be trusted. It's that conspiracy theory mindset -- Metal Gear again -- but without the cinematic hooks that keep Kojima tethered, albeit on a distant orbit. By the end I kind of felt like the game was done with the world as much as I was done with the game; as if the game wanted to destroy itself, wanted to do away with all its own characters; but couldn't, because it was a big budget video game published in 2003, and not an art movie. It's all very strange. I'm not sure it's the timeless classic I've sometimes seen it described as, but it's certainly worth a look for anyone interested in a unique, offbeat Zelda clone.
  4. Nintendo 3DS

    So I've now finished all three of the campaigns for Fire Emblem: Fates. (I'm also pretty sure I've done all the DLC maps, because I'm an idiot.) It took me something like 200 hours. Birthright I did on Hard, the other two on Normal. Permadeath on throughout. I regret it somewhat! Okay, I don't regret it that much. But I'm not sure I can recommend it, either. FE: Fates is clearly a very good version of what was already a very good game in Awakening. I still find these games immensely satisfying and charming to play. I think they are maybe my favourite portable game experiences ever, in fact. The presentation on 3DS is outstanding; even if they rerelease some of these games on Switch, I'm not sure it'll be the same,. I'm not sure I would want to see these games in HD, if that makes sense: they already feel perfectly scaled to the capabilities of the 3DS. But I also think the variety across these three campaigns was somewhat oversold. I'm not sure I could honestly recommend playing more than one of them, unless you really like Fire Emblem. There's just too much of 'haven't I seen this before?' in the maps and situations, even if they are sometimes presented in a slightly different format. So my recommendation would be: play Conquest, then if you really liked it and want more, play Revelations. I like Conquest because I think the cast of characters is just more fun (the Hoshidans are a rather self-serious bunch by comparison) and because the mission design is a little more challenging. You can still grind for XP if you really want to, but in Conquest you really have to think about how you want to invest in your team in each chapter. That's a huge part of the Fire Emblem experience for me - it's not so much about the permadeath (I am one of those maniacs who compulsively smashes restart if anyone dies) - it's about building a team which feels like it is uniquely your own. Revelations adds some neat mechanical variations which mix things up a bit, and it lets you play with the best of both casts - and you can make them smooch, which is obviously very important in healing the Nohrian/Hoshidan divide. To be honest, the story isn't great in any of the campaigns, but Revelations probably has the most satisfying ending (and best endgame levels) out of any of them. I wonder what the next full-fat FE game on the Switch will look like. It'll have to be in a new engine, I think, and I wonder if it'll crib some of the open world aspects from Shadows of Valentia/BotW/SMOdyssey. My main hope is that the plot is a bit more character-driven than Fates. The question of how to unite the actual plot of the game with the character-smooching aspect seems to me to be the biggest question that the 3DS games have raised thus far...
  5. The Nintendo Wii U is Great Thread

    It's a bit of a shame that they're closing this, though I guess it was inevitable ever since the Switch launched without it. I imagine it was quite costly to develop and maintain, and I can't quite picture the business case that would allow it to survive. I'm pretty sure they've said that nothing will be 'broken' for any games - it would just be as if you were playing them offline, I guess. I've seen people on Twitter saying that Affordable Space Adventures uses Miiverse integration for something very special late on in the game. I've played the game but never got far enough to discover it. ZombiU and the port of Deus Ex had some interesting online features whereby you could encounter other players in the game for the former, and in the latter you could leave Dark Souls-esque messages (even in audio form!) in places on the map. I don't know if those were tied to Miiverse, though. I suspect they were. Shovel Knight on Wii U also has a thing whereby you could leave messages and hints to other players on specific screens; the messages actually appeared in game, though you had to switch to a separate menu to see them, which rather takes you out of the experience. There's Mario Maker but the Miiverse integration in that wasn't especially useful because there was no way to get directly into a level from the UI. Apparently online course sharing will still work, though you won't be able to comment on levels any more. There's the Tingle bottles in Wind Waker HD. I can't remember what they do. You could share videos from Mario Kart 8 but the interface for it was kind of a fudge and I think they might have turned that part off already. I think the loss of the drawings by other players in games like Splatoon and SM3DW will be the biggest cultural loss. You couldn't really say that that they added a great deal to the games, as such - but they were nice. And some of them were amazingly good. The forum aspect was also really useful for specialist games like Fire Emblem and Monster Hunter for asking (or answering) specialist questions about the game which wouldn't really fit anywhere other than, like, GameFAQs. Oh, and as slow as it is, Miiverse on the 3DS is actually quite useful as one of the few dependable ways to get screenshots out of any game which doesn't support saving them directly to the SD card. You can even save up to three screenshots while you're offline, and then post them to your account when you get back online. I presume this feature will be totally gone now. Boo.
  6. Important If True 26: Get Hype

    Jake's app ideas were so good (all of them). The only app I want is a version of the personal AI concierge that Facebook et al are trying to create that actually works -- the one which will call your cable provider for you to re-negotiate your package, or call your energy company to give them a meter reading; or just find and book any kind of service while reading and responding to my calendar in a sane way. Basically something that will super-efficiently navigate the pointlessly arcane customer service systems of the modern world where other companies (or local government) haven't been willing or able to invest in bringing their user experience up to date. Of course at the moment this kind of thing is, AFAIK, essentially reliant on outsourcing your 'life admin' to a call centre employee, or someone on the gig economy. Somehow neither of those is especially appealing to me, but I would be okay with a robot doing it? Though the amount of data I'd have to trust Facebook (or whoever) to hold about me in return for such a thing is kind of terrifying to contemplate. But it would be so helpful! I don't want to call anyone!
  7. Game of Thrones (TV show)

    Finished the latest run last night. I think on balance I liked it a little more than s6, and though I don't disagree with a lot of the criticisms I've read about it, the show as a whole still holds some appeal for me. After all, the ways in which it is bad have been true for some time now. I think perhaps my expectations are just lower than ever before. Nothing about it was especially shocking, but it's gripping enough while I'm watching it, and as very expensive low art it continues to have its moments. There's a welcome edge of finality to this season but the whole thing still feels vaguely interminable. I know they've said the next season will be the last, at least before the spinoffs begin, but I can't quite believe they'll stop making it as long as the ratings are on a steadily upward trend. It's amazing to me that this show is continuing to attract new viewers in such numbers, even at this late stage. Where are all these people coming from? And what do they want to see? I think those questions might perhaps provide some answers to the recent change in vibe/direction over the past few seasons.
  8. No Man's Sky

    I'm pretty sure it's the latter – you're still a little person in a little spaceship, but you have infinite resources and can't be killed, so you can just swap into whatever ship you want on the fly, etc. But you still have to warp from place to place. And you have to charge your engines, I think. Hmm. I'm kind of reluctant to touch that mode because I worry it'll curb my (already slightly curbed) enthusiasm for the main game mode. It's probably asking a lot, but I wish the game would give players a reason to chop and change between the new game modes; perhaps let them pass resources or planet references from one save to another, in a very limited fashion to prevent exploits? But that would probably be an absolute nightmare to develop. In other news, Kotaku had a lovely story recently about a group of 5000 (!) players who decided to 'colonise' a particular galaxy. I'm still not really sure how this worked in terms of asymmetric multiplayer but it's a fascinating example of a community arising within a game that wasn't really ever intended to support such a thing.
  9. Other podcasts

    I second this – I know I've enthused here about that podcast before, but the recent episodes have indeed been something really special compared to some of the earlier ones that are specifically about American politics. As a general thing, I also really like the fact that I know next to nothing about any of the presenters, and that the podcast is entirely free from cruft – no introductions, no framing at all, nothing addressed to the audience – not even 'hi, you're listening to...' – they just get on with it. Almost every podcast would be better starting similarly in media res, IMO. You can always put the cruft elsewhere!
  10. Half-Life 2: Episode 3

    That's a really interesting little artefact. Much as I'd love another Half-Life, I've never really spent much time thinking about a serious sequel to the DLC episodes – to be honest, those games were never really about the explicit plot for me – but it's interesting to think about what could have been. I can pretty much guarantee that somebody is going to write something speculating that all of this is an extended metaphor for the experience of trying to make Half-Life 3 at Valve. I'm not a fan of biographical readings, but certainly that last paragraph seems tinged with a genuine sadness. Oh, and my favourite line:
  11. No Man's Sky

    I think I'm back on the Sky-train (do you see what I did there?) after the 1.3 update, after having set it aside for a while. It is really impressive how much has been added and overhauled. That said, some of it feels like expansion for its own sake. I'm not convinced that the game needed more resources and crafting materials for players to worry about collecting, let alone a second currency. Inventory management still feels like a bit of a faff, and new features like stackable objects and dedicated slots for tech upgrades work in strange ways (items stack, but not automatically; why are my old upgrades in my inventory and not in tech slots?). The sheer range of new things to craft has become quite intimidating. At the moment all my upgrades still feel pitifully weak. I want a freighter, but it feels like it'll take forever for me to get anywhere close to affording one. And yes, the old fundamental problems remain. Every time my nose is down and I'm chipping away at some rock with my terrible mining laser I'm thinking: this isn't very good. The way that minerals and items are colour coded still gives me a headache trying to unpick it; there's so little meaningful differentiation between different varieties of red/yellow/blue stuff. I don't understand why they've made it more difficult to craft/gather certain things – why do I now need an advanced laser to mine certain minerals when I didn't need one before? Why is that good? I don't see why they've made that stuff more complicated when there would be so much to gain from making it simpler. I've been thinking more about the nature of the story as well. The nature of the game means it can't really have 'characters' in the conventional sense, and so they've opted for an expansive, vague, abstract, post-singularity fable; and that's fine, but the game doesn't know how to marry the grand scale of this with the actuality of its own small-scale mechanics (mining, scanning, shooting spaceships). What little I've experienced of the story so far might actually work better in the context of the creative mode, where the player is free from the tedious constraints of fuel and life support and shields, and perhaps more at liberty to think about the nature of what they're doing – something like what we've seen with David O'Reilly's Everything, perhaps. (A version of NMS that 'plays itself' – just surfing around planets like a screensaver – would be amazing.) I realised I've mostly only had critical things to say thus far, and yet I was reminded while playing again last night of what a singular experience this is. It still looks and sounds and plays like nothing else, and it really does look extraordinary at times. I still like the basic experience of pottering about in space with some late Pink Floyd albums on Spotify. I think these refinements will be enough to keep me occupied for quite some time. I'm intrigued again.
  12. Hitman: Steve Gaynor Edition

    I feel like I might be the last person in the world to start playing this game, but I am, after picking up the GOTY edition on disc for about £20. It is, obviously, outstanding. It's the only game since MGSV to tickle the worst of my completionist urges. I am a little disappointed to have missed all the Elusive Contracts, but there's still an unbelievable amount of content in this bundle. If anybody is holding off on it for that reason, I wouldn't worry about it. I've put at least 15 or 20 hours into the training missions and Paris alone; I've not even started on Sapienza yet, but I will soon. The only thing I'm not so happy about is the speed at which I've been able to unlock all the mastery levels for Paris -- and that's only after doing about half the challenges, all the opportunities, and finishing maybe three or four escalations. I've got all the 'cheevos for that chapter, too, so…there's nothing left to get? It would be nice if they could patch in some more rewards but equally it's fine if they don't. I mean, I can see from looking at my trophy percentages that it's only a tiny fraction of players who will ever bother to max out their mastery. I sort of hate this modern dependence on doing the thing to tick the box or to make the numbers go up -- but it does feel good to make a number go up…
  13. Baby Driver (Boss Baby Successor)

    There's a great interview with Edgar Wright on a recent episode of Adam Buxton's podcast where he tells a totally incredible story that, to my knowledge, he's never told anywhere else. A long time ago, before he was directing films, one of Wright's first jobs in TV was as a researcher on a short-lived British show called Beadle's Hot Shots; this was one of those clip shows where people would send in their home movies in exchange for cash. His job was to watch all the video tapes that came in and pick the best ones. But in this interview, Wright admitted that at least half the clips they screened, he secretly made himself, and 'submitted' as someone else. He got them to send the cheques to his dad. I thought about this story when I saw that sequence of Baby (I won't call him Miles) at his music-making desk. The stuff with the cassettes struck me as maybe the most earnest moment in the film. Interesting that it's tapes, too, and not a computer; I thought of Wright's earliest attempts at films, made with VCR 'crash' editing. Lot of crashing in this film. Also interesting that Baby's never seen using a computer, even though his collection of iPods suggests he must have had one once. Perhaps vinyl records and drum machines just make for better visuals than even a vintage iMac could match. The sight of that big old iPod box did something to my heart, though. I liked this movie. It has actually given me a lot to think about, which I wasn't expecting. I thought it was a little slow in parts, especially the early moments between Baby and Deb. Perhaps that's mostly because Debora's character is a little under-developed. The last half hour is dynamite, but the ending is a strange sort of fudge. (I suppose it is implausible that Baby would get out of prison after five years of parole, but it's probably also one of the least implausible things in this movie. Do people still rob banks??) We've had versions of Baby Driver before. I can imagine a version of this movie from the 70s which would end with Baby and Debora going out in a hail of bullets. In the 80s, somebody would be so impressed by Baby's tapes that at the end he'd be propelled into a new career as a pop music idol. In the 90s, this would be Natural Born Killers. And in the 00s, the twist is that the whole movie is the visualised internal psychodrama of a Baby who was crippled as a child in that car accident (his real parents survived; his dad is Kevin Spacey and Debora is his mum). You could also read this film as being a sort of parable about the true nature of the millennial generation. They are tied into jobs they can't escape, but they tend to be really good at those jobs. They're under-appreciated by the Baby Boomers who are pulling all the strings, but they also get scorned by the older Gen X-ers who see them as pretentious, self-regarding, and somehow also too safe. They are happy to do creative work with little expectation of getting paid for it. And, for all the contemptuous rhetoric about 'snowflakes' and 'safe spaces', they get shit done in a way that balances their own dreams with an idea of what is good for society. …there's a thinkpiece in this somewhere, I just know it.
  14. Movie/TV recommendations

    I watched Dressed to Kill (1980) over the weekend. I find something strangely magnetic in Brian De Palma's movies. Here, as so often with his stuff, the plot is some truly wild pulp nonsense; but the directing here is outrageously good. On the other hand… I don't know that a more generous reading is possible. I think a lot of it is probably indefensible. But taken as one long bad (very, very bad) dream of late 70s/early 80s public anxieties about gender, reworked through a hybrid of Vertigo and Psycho, it's fascinating.
  15. Nintendo 3DS

    So, uh...after twiddling my thumbs over whether or not to buy one in my last post, I bought a New 3DS XL in the Momazon Prime day sale. It wasn't a huge discount (£150) but I haven't seen it so cheap elsewhere. I still play 3DS games enough for it to be worthwhile: I'm still finishing the third campaign of Fire Emblem: Fates (don't look at me like that) and I want to get around to Majora's Mask and Shadows of Valentia at some point this year. And then there's Metroid, and Pikmin. I might even pick up FE: Warriors, if the port isn't awful. In a rush of enthusiasm I downloaded a bunch of demos from the eshop, one of which was for Etrian Odyssey IV. I have no experience at all with this series, but man, that's a really interesting little-big game. I haven't played a first-person dungeon crawler since maybe Eye of the Beholder on the PC but the combination of thoughtful turn-based combat with exploration and drawing a little map on the lower screen seems so clever and compelling. Plus it can be had from the EU eshop for a little over £7 (with a My Nintendo discount) which seems absurdly cheap. Oh and the other benefit of buying a new console is that my girlfriend has inherited my old 3DS. I pressed it into her hands with my copy of Luigi's Mansion 2 and I've barely seen her since...