Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pancake Day

Often forgotten is the fact that this is a Christian festival, celebrated the day before the 40-day lent period. The lent period, being the long fast before the easter season.

But who cares about that? Yummy pancakes are usually the main attraction; and Shrove Tuesday (pancake day) gives Christians the opportunity to indulge themselves beforehand.

Most commonly, they are lemon and sugar coated. However there is a wide variety of variations on this with the Americans often adding chocolate, syrup and the like. Enjoy your pancakes!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Champions League round-up.

An entertaining week of Champions League football has come to a close. And, let's cut a long story short - with one exception it has not been a great week for British clubs.

Firstly, you've got Rangers being held at home 2-2 by Villarreal. And, it could have been worse had they not pulled of a late recovery to equalize in the last few minutes. Though they aren't quite out, the 2 away goals and home advantage obviously make the Spanish favorites to go through.

And then you have England's finest, Liverpool, being defeated 1-0 away to
Benfica. Not a disastrous result, but not a good result either. Lack of an away goal could prove costly to Liverpool in the second-leg.

But the worst result of the week comes courtesy of the mighty Chelsea. Mighty in the Premiership perhaps, but not against Barcelona where they came unstuck being beaten 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Okay, so they were unlucky to have a player sent off early which made it very difficult for them against a dangerous Barcelona team. But the 2-1 defeat leaves them in the weakest position of all British clubs.

All that is left to savor therefore, is Arsenal's historic 1-0 win in Madrid. A first for any British club. In sharp contrast to their Premiership form, they produced a commanding performance that merited perhaps more goals. As things stand, you can't write off Real completely.

Still, hats off to them for giving one reason to be cheerful in an otherwise disappointing showing from Britain's finest. Rule Britannia hey? Well maybe not this week.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Why buy Video Games?

I don't know, I think compiling my top 10 has rekindled my interest in video games. So much so that I actually went and pursued a snes emulator for the PC.

Needless to say, ZSNES is the best snes emulator and once downloaded I had an endless library of old SNES games available to download in a matter of seconds. Starting with Chrono Trigger, Secret of Manor and then Final Fantasy 3. Within a matter of minutes three of the best RPG's ever made had been restored by the ZSNES emulator - all pretty much identical to the console counterparts albeit with different controls. And better still, the hundreds of downloads available were all FREE.

The number of emulators available on the Internet now is very large. N64, Playstation and Saturn emulators are the most recent and can run on the more high powered PC's. After ZSNES, I tried an N64 emulator on the PC to see how the N64 games would come off. The PC was capable of running the most recent PC games, so I figured it should be able to manage N64 stuff.

Project 64 was the emulator of choice. Once downloaded, I needed a title to draw comparison with. Zelda - Ocarina of Time, was the game of choice. The download for this was naturally a little longer than the SNES Roms, running into a couple of minutes. Once downloaded and extracted the moment of truth had arrived.

I loaded the emulator and then began the game. The horse began to gallop and the gentle music began. Ocarina of Time was now running on the PC and seemed no different from the N64. With the game began, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the PC had no problems reproducing the 3d environments. The only thing I had noted was that textures weren't quite as detailed but this was only very slight. Overall, it was nearly a perfect coversion, with no slow-downs.

A conversion of Goldeneye, however was less impressive. Almost immediately it was apparent that the textures were less detailed. Although the 3d environments were reproduced well enough, pop-ups occurred and the faster-paced action of the game meant it was prone to slow downs. Sure, the game was playable but was a little short of a perfect conversion.

All in all though, the PC did a reasonable enough job at reproducing most N64 titles. Overcoming the few disadvantages of some of the graphical handling and controls you have yourself a library of hundreds of N64 titles available for nothing.

When the SNES was at its peak, games would go for (wait for it) up to £60. That is correct, £60 for a video game! The average price was around £30-40 with the more sought after games like Donkey Kong Country hitting the price peaks when newly released. Needless to say, an enquiry was later launched into Nintendo's pricing policies for this and they were found guilty of over-pricing there SNES titles in the UK. So, they were duly reduced to more like £20-30.

It made me wonder though, why bother buying these games when they are newly released and at their most expensive? Why not wait for the titles to become old so that they will be available cheaper or, better still, for nothing at all on a PC emulator. Granted you will still need a PC to run emulators, but the savings will surely add up in the long run.

The latest technology and games will always be expensive. And, many of the old games are often seen as better. So save yourself the money and download a few emulators to play the best games of all for nothing.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Video Games aren't so Bad

Video games have often been criticised for various reasons. Most notably on content and value. But are they really that bad?

Firstly, on the area of content. Games such as Mortal Combat and Doom have been slated for containing gore and encouraging violence. Inevitably as games have become increasingly realistic the games industry caved in and accepted the need for age ratings to give an indication of content. However, little evidence actually exists that proves the games do indeed make people more violent.

Secondly, video games have been criticised for putting people off reading and lacking in educational value. However, more recent studies carried out suggest that computer games can actually provide for academic simulation. As this BBC article explains:


Simulator games like Theme Park and SimCity can indeed develop strategic planning skills along with other elements such as problem solving. For example it is easy to see how games such as Theme Park, which is close to being a business simulator, can develop business skills. Firstly, you have to decide what to spend money on and the best ways to make your park profitable. Secondly, then decide on best park layout etc. Added to this the need to make other strategic decisions such as stock ordering, staff negotiations etc and you can see how the game can develop skills.

Another thing not mentioned is the fact that some video games are text based, especially RPG's (Role Playing Games). That is, they contain a large amount of text within them that the player has to read to follow the plot. Good examples are the Final Fantasy series whereby there is a significant amount of text based character interaction. It is in many ways, just like reading an interactive story. So the suggestion that video games stop people from reading seems somewhat untrue.

Other studies have shed light on how video games can improve sight skills. Again an article from the BBC:


To quote:

"Although video game playing may seem to be rather mindless, it is capable of radically altering visual attentional processing."

Action games therefore, such as Half-Life which require more running around and avoiding the badies also have more value than originally believed. In light of such evidence it would seem that the general public might need to review its perception of video games created largely by the poor publicity surrounding some more violent games. Certainly other activities are desirable, but the playing of video games is not nearly so terrible.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Greatest Video Games Ever!

This is a very subjective subject. Many attempts have been made to list the top 100 and best 10 video games of all time. But of course, when put to players it all comes down to personal preference. Fans of RPG's may put a large number of RPG's in their top 10's. Action game fans may do the same and so on. So I present to you the 10 best video games I have ever played, bearing in mind that I doubt I have even played 1% of all the titles available. Most of my gaming experience is from the 16bit era though I have played quite a few more recent titles along with 8 bit games.

10.) Command & Conquer - Red Alert (PC)

A snazzy title, sequel to the original Command & Conquer which started a new era for strategy games. Enables you to take control of either the Allied or Soviet forces and takes you through two quite compelling stories (with great video motioning sequences) from the two different perspectives as they they fight each other in a major war for control over Europe.

Essentially, the game gives you control over a wide variety of military units (tanks, helicopters, ships etc) that can be built as you collect more resources (either ore or gemstone). In the multi-player game, the battles are decided by which player is the first to completely remove the other player's military bases. Similar to Dune in some respects but with a compelling soundtrack and playability I rank it the 10th best game I have ever played.

9.) Championship Manager 3 (PC)

Not an amazing game graphically or sound wise although the match sound effects are quite good. So what makes this game good?

Well, essentially when it was released it really gave the Championship manager series a shake up with its huge array of player and team data providing a challenging and realistic management simulator. The number of options available really provides you with the challenges real coaches face.

With a wide variety of national leagues and teams to play with, from the super rich clubs challenging at the top to the super poor clubs struggling for survival, this game has infinite replayability value. Added to this the playability value and this must be regarded as a classic in the series.

8.) Super Mario Kart (SNES)

Nintendo come up with some very original concepts and undoubtedly this was one of the most original. Putting 8 Mario characters in racing karts and having them race over a wide variety of tracks (with numerous obstacles) in racing tournaments proved to a stroke of magic.

Furthermore, the game also comes with a legendary battle mode whereby the 8 drivers can fight each other with a variety of weapons in one-on-one combat also proved to be a very innovative addition. The game is tremendous fun and also makes good use of the consoles mode 7 capabilities. Undoubtedly a Nintendo classic.

7.) Super Mario World (SNES)

The SNES version of Super Mario World is the best Mario game I have played (excluding the 64 version which I haven't played). The game introduces the character of Yoshi for the first time and also enables Mario to fly with the cape. These additions, along with the wonderfully crafted worlds, hidden levels and bonuses really make this a special game.

The game also has some very nice graphics for a 16 bit console game and some catchy music. This, along with the gameplay make it one of the best games I have ever played.

6.) Civilization 2 (PC)

I could just say the Civilization series but pick me to choose one and I would have to go for the second. I haven't played the most recent addition and the 3rd I feel has some flaws.

The whole concept of the Civilization catches the imagination a bit, and Civilization 2 takes the gameplay from the original and enhances it with considerably better graphics and sound along with new game units and concepts.

Few games give you the number of options that this does. Wage war, trade, develop relations with other civilizations or build up your civilization's economy and infrastructure with city improvements and settlers. These are just some of the choices you have to manipulate your way through the game to a successful conclusion. Undoubtedly a great game.

5.) Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

A rare gem. Set new standards for RPG's and has one of the most compelling story lines for a game - ever. This combined with super music and graphical effects make it one of the greatest games I have ever played.

A very difficult and long journey, you set out with just the one character but eventually this grows to a huge team of characters you use to develop and fight with to bring the game to a conclusion. Only problem with it is that the ending sequence is cut short due to a glitch in imported versions!

4.) Tetris (Gameboy)

Probably the most widely played game of all time and regarded by many to be the greatest game. Curious really, for this is not a game which boasts incredible graphics or sounds. It is simplicity that counts and the concept of organizing a load of falling blocks into a straight wall in order to clock up a high score has proven to be arguably one of the finest in gaming history. Coupled with the most portable system (the Gameboy) and this is perhaps the most playable game ever made. No puzzle game has surpassed it nor do I suspect ever will.

3.) Zelda - Ocarina of Time (N64)

Regarded by many to be the greatest game ever. And with its fully fledged 3D world and storyline to boot it's not difficult to see why. Some games amaze you, and this is one of them. Might of been higher if I had actually played it right through to completion rather than up to the Shadow Temple.

2.) Zelda - a Link to the Past (SNES)

So, if Ocarina of Time is so good why is this better? Well firstly I have actually played this through to completion. Secondly, I thought the story line and game were a bit more dramatic than the aforementioned. Thirdly, I noted quite a few of the ideas from this game were taken through to Ocarina of Time. Fourthly, you also have some special boots in this game that let you run quickly - not something Ocarina had ;-)

1.) Half-Life (PC)

So, this gets first place. Not universally acclaimed as the best ever perhaps but my favorite personally. My first experience of this game came with a relatively low spec PC which meant that it ran slow and was in inferior graphics mode.

A few years later, however, and on a high end machine with fast gameplay I really appreciated what a masterpiece this was. Great story line that keeps you gripped throughout, coupled with really scary graphical effects and sound create a game that you feel you just have to play through until fully completed. From fighting marines, to dodging helicopters this game gives you a real experience!

(above) Are you not amazed by this?

Transformed the genre and still holds up today in comparison to more recent titles like its sequel and Halo. The greatest game I have ever played.

So, those are my personal favorites. But, is it possible to ascertain exactly which is the greatest game with a general consensus? A good page I found which kept many top 10 lists tries to do this:


Overall, essentially the best game is Mario 64 as it makes most appearances on the lists. Though Tetris is very close with one less and two of my favorites a Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time also up there. Half Life makes a few appearances but 2nd is the highest it manages on any of the lists. Broken down mathematically,with 10 points for first and 1 for 10, and you have interesting conclusions:


1.) Mario 64
2.) Tetris
3.) Ocarina of Time
4.) Link to the Past
5.) Super Metroid
6.) Super Mario Bros
7.) Goldeneye 007
8.) Doom
9.) Final Fantasy VII
10.) Super Mario Bros 3

So, again Mario 64 is JUST ahead of Tetris as the greatest game ever made. Whichever way you look at it there is obviously a consensus that Mario 64, Tetris and the two Zeldas are the top 4 games ever made (no Half-Life though!).

(above) The greatest game ever made - must go and play it!

Other obvious conclusions that can be drawn are the large number of PC games that make it in. Interestingly, it is some way ahead of the consoles on the tables. The Super Nes also proves its worth, an under-rated console.

Also evident is that Nintendo games make by far the most appearances on the lists. Proving that they are the world's greatest games publisher.