top spin 4 review

Vintage Agassi
Image is (still) Everything.

I confess. I don’t think I had ever been more eager to buy a game than Top Spin 4.   Considering the fact that I had played every installment of the series (from it’s Microsoft roots to the current Sports2K publisher) I had a lot of high hopes riding on the latest incarnation.

First the bad :  The game has definitely been ‘tweaked’  in an attempt to attract new fans to the game.  It is not exactly being dumbed down as I had read on game sites, but you’ll notice a lot of ‘tips’ during gameplay.

The game now has a lot of indicators such as where the ball will land, ‘powerbars’ to let you know how to gauge one’s shot and even a comment to tell you about how the timing of the shot had been after executing the shot.  Personally, I think these are great additions…in theory. But fails as a whole because you would end up becoming obsessed to hitting that perfect shot and start wondering what the hell went wrong when you hit anything less than perfect.  Also, it’s fucking distracting when you are playing on the opposite court.

Yes. You can now play on the opposite court.  This is a really important feature that I’m not entirely sure Top Spin 3 had.  Case in point, when playing the game with four players, the two at the near court would have such a huge advantage over the players on the far end. Depth perception is a total bummer in all tennis games…but it is also what makes tennis games so fun to play, in my humble opinion.

Another thing that reeaaaaaallllly bugged the hell outta me is this irritating sound *tuk* sound made during option selection.  Then again, it could be my lousy TV causing this though.

Phew, with all that is being said…now, lets look at the positives of the game.

I love this game.  No, I fucking love this game.

The most immediate thing you’d notice (that is if you play a lot of Top Spin) is that the game is so much smoother now. Game loading is a fraction of what TS3 had been and the graphics… in the words of The Lonely Island, I jizzed in my pants.

Casual fans may not notice the little things, but hot damn…they have outdone themselves this time by capturing the little quirks of individual tennis players.  Roger Federer’s stance is so uncanny to what he does in real life to Nadal’s way of holding his racquet when he waits for the ball to be served….mind-blowing.

There is even a  triva box to tell you how long the rally was, and how long had it had been since I lost a point (Yes, I am awesome in normal mode) A huge kudos to the game developers on this.  (That being said, how come they remove a simple action gesture like…bouncing the ball before serving, I cannot  understand..but that’s the fanboy in me being paranoid about the game.)

Speaking of players, while the fantasy of getting to have every single famous player in one game remains as such, the game does boast of an impressive roster of Tennis legends such as Ivan Lendel, Boris “Boom Boom” Becker, Pete Sampras and not one, but TWO Andre Agassi (who’s my personal idol..all two of them)

The flamboyant Las Vegas Showman is in the game as the current baldie as well as the mullet haired luminous self.  A big shame is that due to sponsorship issues, we won’t get to see his vintage Nike outfits (he currently dons Adidas)

And while we’re on the topic of outfits, being the Nike Slut as I am, I am sooooo amazed by the details of the players.  Although I had only played two games, I was actually drooling over Federer’s 2009 US Open top which is so realistic in its details.

(And while we’re on the topic of details. Fuck Me sideways.  They even had Nadal’s $427,000 Richard Mille in the game.)

Great Details: check out the Richard Mille on Nada's right wrist!!!

But, the developers should really follow the way of PES/Winning 11 and include updates for player’s outfits. Now, THAT would really make the game really awesome.

IF you realise I’ve only been focusing on the asthetics of the game, it’s really because the gameplay may need further improvement in the AI department.  At my first attempt at playing the game on Normal mode, my Agassi demolished Lendel with a white wash (6-0,6-0) on Clay (which I must say, looks even more awesome than its already impressive prequel)

My second game using Federer vs Sampras was much more interesting. While I am still playing at normal mode, Sampras clearly was way more aggressive than Lendel’s baseline tactics.  I even lost a game. *gasp!*

I can’t wait to get back to playing more of the game right now, and the only reason why I even had time to type this lengthy review is only because I had to let my mum watch TV.

All in all, Top Spin 4 has retained the crown of the best tennis game out there in the market.  I cannot wait to test it out with human players, where the gameplay would be completely different.

Who knows, I may even write out another review for this awesome game.

So, watch this space, folks.

My rating (if you still can’t tell) : 9 out of 10. Almost perfect.

(Note : I do not have the Playstation Move, so I would have zero idea what gameplay that would be possibly like)

Saving the world one gibbering Investigator at a time

That skirt contains eldritch wonders
HE’S ALL OUT OF GUM

Zeboyd Games made this little oddball of a game last year for XBL, and now they’re appealing for donations to bring it to the PC. Anyone interested in contributing should proceed here.

I guess this will probably send the Cthulhu purists into a shrieking rage as they reach for their SAN check dice, seeing yet another attempt to supposedly bastardize the horror pedigree of the Mythos by trivializing it as much as possible. All I can say is I like wacky and novel attempts to play on familiar geek tropes, and this is hardly on the level of Hello Cthulhu if we’re talking about levels of inanity. I can’t say how the game(s) are since I’ve never played them, but for someone to put in the coding effort requires at least something akin to a minor labour of love.

Skyrim Watch, Part 1

Skyrim in-game screenshot
Here be dragons

The first in-game screenshots of Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has been revealed and the “Creation Engine” looks fantastic. I’m a longtime Elder Scrolls fan and Skyrim is probably my most anticipated game of the year.

Thoughts on some of the info tidbits:

  • No class selection – that’s a very good thing, in my opinion. This way your style of play shapes your character and not vice versa.
  • 18 total skills – streamlining the available skills is probably a good thing, though we’ll have to see what’s been cut out.
  • Dragons – officially in an Elder Scrolls for the first time (apart from the Dragonlings in Daggerfall), fantastic!
  • ‘Developers promise combat is more “dynamic and tactical” than before. Focus was on improving combat and the feel of weapons in your hands.’ – cue taken from the Deadly Reflex and Unnecessary Violence mods for Oblivion I guess? Both are recommended, by the way.
  • Dual wielding – YES.
  • Improvements to AI and quest system – depends. The Oblivion Radiant AI turned out to be a little underwhelming. I certainly hope the development team achieves everything they aim for.
  • Other graphical and cosmetic improvements – hardly the most important factor for me, but the screenshots are looking good so far.
  • Level scaling – unfortunately it’s not going away, but at least the Fallout 3 scheme will be used which is more tolerable. In any case, I’m modders will come to the rescue yet again.

The little poem on the back cover of the February issue of Game Informer translated from the “Tongue of the Dragons”:

Dragonborn Dragonborn
By his honor is sworn
To keep evil forever at bay
And the fiercest foes rout
When they hear triumph’s shout
Dragonborn for hunger blessing we pray

And the scrolls have fortold
Of black wings in the cold
That when brothers wage war come unfurled
Alduin, bane of kings
Ancient shadow unbound
With a hunger to swallow the world

Video teaser:

I am properly pumped up!

Screen shot and information taken from Video Games Blogger.

Irregular Oblivioning: Foundations

Before you begin any serious usage of mods, you will need a few resources that will enable some other mods you will be installing.

  • Oblivion Script Extender (OBSE)
    The OBSE is an amazing piece of software. It hooks into the Oblivion executable and provides new scripting functions while keeping things rock-solid. If you don’t understand what that mean, just know that the OBSE enabled the creation of much more complex mods than what would otherwise be realistically possible. Note that D2D users and No-CD crack users are out of luck. Installation is simple, just follow the instructions in the readme file.
  • Pluggy
    This is a multifunction OBSE plugin, and adds more scripting functions.
  • Common Oblivion (Cobl)
    Cobl adds lore-friendly races, books, ingredients by itself, but its true value comes from it being designed as a shared resource for modders. It doesn’t come in an OMOD unfortunately, so read the installation instructions carefully. I have just the Core ESM/ESPs installed. Salmo the Baker is nice but unstable for some users, you’ll have to test it for yourself.

I’ll be doing game play tweaks next.

Irregular Oblivioning: The Essentials

The Elder Scrolls IV - Oblivion

I’ve been a fan of the Elder Scrolls series since the Arena days and apart from the action adventure Redguard I’ve played them all (never did finish Arena or Daggerfall though, pesky bugs…).

The series really took off with Morrowind. While the main quest was OK, if a bit formulaic, the excellent plugins feature and the Construction Set were what really made the game shine, and almost instantly a huge community sprung up around Morrowind modding.

Oblivion continued the fine tradition of extensibility. I started playing it earlier this year, as I did not have a PC capable of running it. I did not even bother to finish the main quest as I did with Morrowind before downloading and using user-created mods.

I’ll be writing about a series of posts about the Oblivion mods I’m using mostly for my future reference, but I’m hoping somebody else will find them useful too.

And remember, whatever you want to change in-game, somebody’s probably already done it.

In this first post, I’ll be doing through files that I consider musts for every Oblivion on PC player (Xbox 360 and PS3 Oblivion can’t use user-created content, sorry).

Before everything else, make sure you have the last official patch (v1.2.0416 at the time of writing). You should ideally get the Shivering Isles expansion as it adds a few scripting functions. Well you should get it anyway, as the quest is actually more interesting than the Main Quest.

First up, you want, nay, need Timeslip’s Oblivion Mod Manager. As its name imples, it manages your mods. But more than that, it handles OMOD files which are specially packed mods. This utility can easily add or remove mods, warn of file conflicts and most importantly, mod authors can provide an installation script which allows one to, say, install optional parts of the mod. Always prefer OMOD if that option is available from the author or perhaps a third-party, and its usually worth it to make your own OMOD if not. And for the mod authors who are not yet providing OMODs officially, what are you waiting for? Get to it. Follow the instructions!

Even fully patched up, Oblivion has bugs. Modders to the rescue though. Grab the Unofficial Oblivion Patch. You will want the Shivering Isles and Official Mods patches too if you have them. Bethsoft should be paying these guys for what they do. OMODs are available.

You will want one of the UI mods too Out of the box Oblivion looks like a console game. Everything’s just so…big. And clumsy. Modders to the rescue, again. BTmod was the gold standard for a long time, but its been superseded by the excellent DarNified UI. It’s what Oblivion PC should have been. Personally I’m using DarkUI’d DarN. Both DarN UIs comes in delectable OMODs.

Now grab the Better Oblivion Sorting Software, fomerly known as the FCOMhelper. Official description: ‘A simple program for mod users to quickly optimise load ordering of ESP/ESM files in their Oblivion load-order.’ MS Visual C++ Runtime 2008 is a requirement.

With these mods you will still be getting the Vanilla Oblivion experience. Next up, foundations.

MAME Starter Guide

MAME

Note (Jan 2011): this guide is pretty much outdated. I might write an update soon.

What is MAME? It is an emulator intended to document the hardware of arcade games systems. Of course, for most average users it is the side-effect of being able to play more than 3000 unique games that’s the important thing.

Well, that’s all well and good, you say, but how do I start? I’m glad you asked.

First, you will need to download MAME itself. If you run Windows, you can download the official release which is run off the command line, but I would recommend Mame32, which has a really nice GUI. For Mac OS X folks it’ll have to be MAME OS X (not very imaginative, yes) or SDLMAME, which is also the best option for Unix/Linux systems.

Next, you will need the ROM images*.

You can download some freely available ROMs to test. Place the downloaded ROM files into the roms folder where you unzipped MAME to.

To obtain more, Pleasuredome is the best way if you can work BitTorrent. The total size of the ROMs stand at almost 16 gigs currently, and so might take a while. The MAME ROM torrents are ratio-free but please do not abuse the ratio. Some games require CHDs which are compressed hard drive images, but these are generally not worth it as most PCs are too slow to emulate these games properly.

Or if you prefer, you can request for one of the Lazarus guys to burn you a copy. Read the instructions carefully, and note that I have never used their services.

That’s really all you need to start playing. You will probably want to grab the “Extras” torrent from Pleasuredome too. Lots of niceties such as screen captures and photos of the cabinets.

Additional stuff to grab:

* downloading of ROMs is illegal in most cases. You are downloading at your own risk.