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User Journal

Journal Journal: Best Foakleys? 5

Surely someone around here knows where's the best slightly-reputable site to buy some knockoffs of the Oakley M2 XLs. I want to try them out for a while and see how they feel on my head. The sites I've found so far are registered straight outta China. Oakley has successfully driven the fakes off eBay and Amazon... the problem is, I'm not going to drop two hundred bucks on some glasses that might give me a headache, like most glasses do.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Apple ID being used for harassment and ID theft 9

Apple is now actively, willingly, and deliberately aiding in online harassment and identity theft against me. They refuse to destroy an Apple ID which has been created with my email address, to which I do not have the answers to the "secret questions". They will not permit me to proceed any further without having an attorney.

What do I do now? Who do I call for relief? I can't afford a legal battle with Apple. I don't have an attorney on retainer.ï

User Journal

Journal Journal: Vroom.

Finally, I got my A8 Quattro up to the point where I could get it smogged. Registration and rubber to follow imminently. Crap, this thing is quick.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Games of the Year 2015

Another year, another journal post listing the best, the worst and the indifferent of the games I've played this year. I haven't actually done a count, but my sense is that I've not quite played so many games this year as I have in years past (despite my disposable income levels having rallied substantially from the low-point they hit in 2013). That's partly down to long hours at work and some home-life pressures leaving less time for gaming. It's also down to the fact that games seem to have grown a lot this year; gone are the days when you could blast through a campaign in 6-8 hours. Just as the corridor-shooter came to be the staple of games during the last console generation, this generation's flavour seems to be the 40+ hour open world game.

What this means is that there are a few big releases this year, such as Star Wars Battlefront, Until Dawn and Mad Max, which I just haven't gotten around to playing. I've also probably sampled a smaller portion of the minor releases than I would in the past and have largely skipped the indie-scene entirely (though I don't seem to have missed much). I didn't buy a single Wii-U game over the course of 2015; neither Splatoon nor Mario Maker appealed to me and while the new Fatal Frame looked interesting, poor reviews and the hoops Nintendo make you jump through to purchase it (a tiny, over-priced physical release and a download release which almost entirely fills the Wii-U's storage drive, plus the fact most external passport drives don't work on the Wii-U without supplementary power) meant that I skipped it.

As in previous years, my main gaming platform has been the PC. The consoles are very much only used for exclusives this time around; my sense is that the PS4 had better releases in the first half of the year, while the XB1 had a better Christmas line-up. I've also played a few Vita games; that platform never really came to life, but nor does it show any signs of actually dying any time soon.

On the whole, I think this has been a fairly good year for games. That's not to say there haven't been disappointments, but we are clearly now at the point in a console cycle where the market matures and games get more polished and better developed, as the "shiny new hardware" thrill of the first year wears off. On which note, I both think and hope that this is the last year in which we see continued development for the last-gen consoles. Declining sales numbers for them would suggest that they are dying as serious commercial propositions for most developers and it would be good if games no longer had to be shackled to their obsolete technology. Of particular note this year has been an uptick in high quality Japanese games; Bloodborne and Metal Gear Solid 5 would appear to imply at least some level of recovery for a regional industry that has been some fairly ugly places in recent years.

And so, with no further ado, on with the top-10 countdown:

10) Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance - (PS4) - A return to form for the series after the disappointing Disgaea D2. The essence of the series isn't much changed, but this is slicker, better executed and simply more interesting than the last couple of installments in the series. A lot of previous niggles and frustration around the game's balance and interface have been worked out.

9) Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin - (PC, also PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and 360) - I was skeptical of this, expecting a quick and dirty cash grab. In reality, it is a significantly improved version of Dark Souls 2, which remedies many of the pacing and difficulty curve levels assosicated with the issue, as well as bundling in the well-crafted DLC areas. Definitely the best way to play the game, even before you consider the graphical facelift.

8) Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void - (PC) - A fitting conclusion to the Starcraft saga. The Protoss campaign delivers some very solid RTS action, even if the Protoss themselves are slightly too close to the "wise old space elves" stereotype to make for really engaging protagonists. Fortunately, Blizzard clearly understood the need to deliver a proper conclusion, shifting away from the Protoss for the final few missions. The difficulty curve can be a bit erratic, but this is still excellent.

7) Forza Motorsport 6 - (Xbox One) - A big improvement on its predecessor, which remains one of the biggest let-downs of the last few years. This is almost, but not quite, a true successor to the magnificent Forza Motorsport 4. My main gripe is the horribly broken Drivatar system, which remains markedly inferior to the old fashioned AI used until Forza 5. That said, this is still an extremely good game, with the inclusion of Formula 1 and Indycar adding a more distinctive end-game.

6) Rise of the Tomb Raider - (Xbox One) - A pretty darned good sequel to the recent franchise reboot, albeit one slightly hindered by awkward input lag (which hopefully will be fixed for next year's PC release). It doesn't quite have the gut-punch impact of the last game's opening sections but is, on average, better paced and balanced, with the focus shifting back towards problem-solving rather than shooting.

5) Pillars of Eternity - (PC) - A deliberate throwback to the days of the early Bioware/Black Isle RPGs, this is an attempt to provide a spiritual successor to the Baldur's Gate games that almost succeeds. It doesn't quite manage to replicate the atmosphere of the classic series, striking a slightly too "grimdark" tone and missing Baldurs Gate's sense of humour which humanised its cast. But it works on every other level, with an excellent combat system, a decent class/skills system and a pleasant, clean interface and art style. A sequel with some slightly better writing talent on board could be something very special.

4) Tales from the Borderlands - (PC, also most other platforms) - Telltale's foray into the Borderlands universe does a substantially better job of capturing the mix of manic energy, madcap humour and sudden pathos that defined Borderlands 2 than last year's rather halting Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Pacey and well written, this is a really enjoyable little game (even if it does cling very close to the usual Telltale formula in gameplay terms).

3) Bloodborne - (PS4) - It took me a long time to decide whether I loved or hated this game. In fact, I'm still not sure. Compared to the Dark Souls games, it feels narrow and restrictive, with an intolerance of different playstyles. It also suffers from some horrible technical issues, including jarring framerate drops at the worst possible moments. That said, it also has many magnificent features, including world-design that is fantastic in both aesthetic and gameplay senses and a combat system which, while narrow, is also fantastically tightly tuned. The Old Hunters expansion is spectacularly difficult (possibly excessively so even by From Software standards), but adds some fascinating lore and some good environment design.

2) Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain - (PC, also PS4 and XBox One) - There are two ways for a game to achieve greatness. The first way is to hurtle along perpetually on the edge of disaster, but somehow strike a balance and never quite fall off. Metal Gear Solid 5 exemplifies this path. In most respects it is a sublimely good game. Possibly the best stealth mechanics I've ever seen in a game, combined with well-implemented upgrade and base-building mechanics. The plot contains plenty of trademark Kojima lunacy, but wisely keeps it more tightly under control than other games in the series, never allowing it to overtake the gameplay. There are so many times the game could have gone badly wrong; it could have descended into heavy-handed moralising over its setting. It could have failed to subvert the sickly sentimentalism with which it introduces the child soldiers plotline. It could have allowed itself to be buried in the series backstory. But it doesn't and what emerges is magnificent. My only gripe - and it is a serious one - concerns the miserly checkpoint system.

1) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - (PC, also PS4 and Xbox One) - The second means for a game to achieve greatness is via icily-constructed perfection. That's the route The Witcher 3 takes. The game is flawless in almost every respect; gameplay, storytelling and technology. It took me almost 80 hours to finish the story (with a handful of sidequests still unresolved) and I didn't regret a moment of it. This is the first time we've really seen the "intimate" storytelling of classic RPGs transposed into an open-world context and it works amazingly well. It will be very hard to go back to clunky morality systems and good/evil mechanics after The Witcher 3's nuanced approach. Plus it actually manages to be both genuinely funny and genuinely scary at times along the way. The best game of the last several years.

And now for the games which were good, but not quite good enough to crack into my top 10, listed in alphabetical order rather than any kind of quality ranking.

Assassin's Creed: Syndicate - (PC, also PS4 and XB1) - Not a fantastic game, but a solid installment in the series after the train-wreck that was Unity. Besides, I think I have a soft-spot for games with a London setting.

Cities: Skylines - (PC) - After Simcity fumbled badly with an underwhelming reboot, Cities: Skylines steps into the breach with a game that feels like a true spiritual successor to the classic series.

Cross Ange: Rondo of Dragon and Angel tr~ - (Vita) - One of the most divisive anime shows of the last few years, but my personal favorite since Madoka Magica. Fortunately, the spin-off game is much less than a rip-off than is usually the case, with some decent 3d shooting action (even if I could only understand maybe a third of the dialogue on this untranslated import). Those crappy Attack on Titan games could learn a lot from this. A Western release would be much appreciated.

Dirt Rally - (PC) - A proper, hardcore rally sim, the likes of which we haven't seen for many years. In some respects, a bit too hardcore for me (I would quite like a rewind button and some easier AI difficulty settings). But it's a game that both demands and earns your respect. The Dark Souls of driving games.

Dying Light - (PC, also PS4 and Xbox One) - Open world zombie games have been rather done to death (pun intended) of late, but this is one of the better examples. Solid visuals and world design make up for an occasionally cumbersome combat system.

Deception 4: The Nightmare Princess - (PS4) - A decent remaster/expansion of the PS3/Vita game, which not only adds new content but also fixes some of the technical issues that plagued the original release.

Final Fantasy Type-0 HD - (PC, also PS4 and Xbox One) - An eccentric but solid entry in the Final Fantasy series, with a storyline that goes some interesting places and a neat combat system. Unfortunately, the game's roots on the PSP do occasionally show through. Note that the console versions have serious problems with motion blur levels and control sensitivity that are fixable in the PC version.

Halo 5: Guardians - (XB1) - I don't like Halo. I don't like the combat, the pacing, the floaty movement, the stupid ammo system or the writing. People who like Halo seem fairly united in disliking Halo 5, because it messes around with all of the aforementioned factors. Surprise surprise, while I wouldn't say I'm in love with it, I do quite like Halo 5.

Higurashi: When they Cry (episodes 1 and 2) - (PC) - The classic visual novel, remastered with new artwork that doesn't make me want to gouge my eyes out. The pace of releases is slower than I would like, but this is worth sticking with.

HyperdimensioN Neptunia U: Action Unleashed - (Vita) - It's basically Senran Kagura with the cast of Hyperdimension Neptunia. And there's nothing at all wrong with that.

Idol Magical Girl Chiru Chiru Michiru - (PC) - Don't ask. In fairness, even though I've never seen the Grisaia anime/visual novel series this is a spin-off from, it made me laugh quite a lot. Bought it on Steam entirely on the basis of its name, but was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it is.

Just Cause 3 - (PC, also PS4 and XB1) - I've heard a lot of complaints about bugs in this game and one part of me feels I should be marking it down as a result. However, my own experiences with it have been pretty much bug-free, so I won't. It's a fun, but ultimately shallow fast-paced shooter which feels like a blast from the past in many ways. Grows boring if played in long sessions, but excellent as a "quick blast" action game.

Life is Strange - (PC, also PS4 and XB1) - I was wary about this to begin with, because of the comparisons people were making to Gone Home (to my mind, one of the worst "games" ever released). Fortunately, those comparisons are unfair. This is a decent and innovative title, which might have made the top 10 if it hadn't flubbed its ending a bit in the final episode.

Onechanbara Z2 Chaos - (PS4) - Another entry in the burgeoning "two strawberries and a banana gymnastics" genre. While not in the same tier as the likes of Devil May Cry or God of War, the brawler mechanics are pretty well developed and the controls are pleasantly responsive. Combined with a pacey and endearingly nonsensical plot that knows not to outstay its welcome, this gives a surprisingly good little game.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night - (Vita) - A fun little rhythm game that will raise smiles if you've played Persona 4. That said, this particular cast is feeling that they've worn a bit thin now. We desperately need Persona 5.

Prison Architect - (PC) - Spikey, uncomfortable, but fascinating. Not much more I can say about it.

Project Cars - (PC, also PS4 and XB1) - Mixed feelings on this one. The driving physics are fantastic and the weather effects are among the best I've ever seen in a game. Unfortunately, they're coupled to a joyless career mode that gets very dull very fast.

Valkyria Chronicles - (PC) - Part of me would like to put this in the top-10, but given it is just a director's-cut rerelease of an old PS3 game, that doesn't feel quite right. At any rate, this is an excellent port of what was arguably the best game of the last console generation and certainly one of the best games ever made. I was shocked at how well the graphics scaled up from the console original; seen in 4K, this game really is something to behold, despite its age.

And now the disappointments. The games which, while perhaps not outright bad, nevertheless fell badly short of expectations. A slightly shorter list than in previous years; time constraints have meant I have been more active in avoiding games I think I won't like, on the basis of their predecessors or word-of-mouth.

Ar Nosurge: Ode to an Unborn Star - (Vita, also PS3) - Ok, slightly cheaty here; the PS3 release was in 2014 and I missed it. But the Vita release was in 2015 and that's the version I played. I was pretty excited to find out that there was a new game in the Ar Tonelico universe, but they've not made it easy for Westerners to get into. For starters, it is a continuation of a visual novel for mobile phones and the Vita that was only ever released in Japanese. There's a web translation that requires hours to read and is more or less a pre-requisite for this game. But even after getting over that hurdle, this falls slightly flat compared to the Ar Tonelico games. It spends too much time on techno-babble and too little on plot and characters. Plus the combat system is fairly awful. It's not an outright bad game, but it isn't what it should have been.

Batman: Arkham Knight - (PC, also PS4 and XB1) - Even leaving aside the mess of the PC version's launch, I didn't like this much. It's distressing to chart the decline of this series since the phenomenally good Arkham Asylum, as its core strengths get diluted in favour of a generic open-world checklist of features. An over-emphasis on boring vehicle combat and fiddly item-hunt challenges are particular flaws with this game. I remain of the view that the series should have remained true to its Metroidvania roots.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 - (PC, also PS3, PS4, 360 and XB1) - The world's premier spunkgargleweewee series has settled into a pattern over the last few years, with installments alternating between "competent" and "crap". Last year's Advanced Warfare was reasonably competent, so this year's Black Ops 3 is in the "a bit crap" camp. It's not as bad as Ghosts, which will likely set the benchmark for particularly vile spunkgargleweewee for years to come, but it still feels like a step back from Advanced Warfare, in terms of both gameplay and visuals.

Fallout 4 - (PC, also PS4 and Xbox One) - I agonised over this one. It has a few startlingly effective moments. Unfortunately, it's also badly dated, borderline broken and usually not very much fun to play. Floaty combat, trash-mob enemies with immersion-breaking bullet sponge tendancies, dull NPCs, boring party members and a general lack of any kind of human interest all hold this game down. This would have been the best game of the year... in 2010 or so. Standards for open world games have moved on a lot since then and Bethesda don't seem to have kept up with the pack.

Hyperdevotion Noire: Goddess Black Heart - (Vita) - If Neptunia U was the decent spin-off from the series in 2015, this was the disappointing one. It tries to be a Disgaea-style tactics RPG, but its systems just aren't deep enough or sufficiently well-thought-out to sustain the game. As such, it becomes shallow and repetitive very quickly.

Omega Quintet - (PS4) - Compile Heart's first venture onto the PS4 is a let-down, given that they had becoming slowly more proficient with their releases for the PS3, Vita and PC. The cast and plot are entertaining enough, but the gameplay and technology feel like a step back. It's not as bad as the original Hyperdimension Neptunia, but it is nevertheless poor compared to the Vita/PC remakes.

Tales of Zestiria - (PC, also PS3 and PS4) - 2007 called; it wants its JRPG back.

The Order 1886 - (PS4) - A very curious game to see released in early-2015. With its 6-hour campaign, tightly linear levels, sloppy controls, poor checkpointing and halting storyline, it feels like a throwback to the poor quality Gears of War clones that defined the early sections of the 360/PS3 generation. Only a decent visual aesthetic saves it from the "outright bad" camp.

And finally the outright bad games. Or game. I only actually played one of these this year!

Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax - (PS3, also Vita) - A shockingly bad fighting game. The only reason to buy this is because of the cast of well-known anime/light novel characters. Unfortunately, the game isn't even proficient in using its cast properly; they do no more than repeat a handful of catchphrases. As for the game itself; this is an astoundingly lazy arcade port, which can't even be made to fit the screen properly on a normal TV. The controls are stiff and unresponsive, the movesets and characters are unbalanced and the less said about the production values the better. This would have been fairly embarrassing in the late 1990s. In 2015, it looks shocking.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Punitive Between-Comment delay? 4

I have Excellent karma, as usual, but I have a five minute delay between my posts. It seems to have appeared on my account again after the last time I said something mean about a Slashdot "editor". Is this something that Slashdot has done to everyone recently, or is it a punitive action against me specifically by one of the "editors"?

User Journal

Journal Journal: FizzBuzz in Swift

The following is my prepared answer for anyone who asks me this stupid fucking question in any interview in the future.

extension Int
{
  func modBool(modulus: Int) -> Bool
  {
  return (self % modulus).boolValue
  }
}
 
for x in 1...100
{
  print((x.modBool(3) ? "" : "Fuck ") +
    (x.modBool(5) ? "" : "You") +
    ((x.modBool(3) && x.modBool(5)) ? "\(x)" : ""))
}

-jcr

User Journal

Journal Journal: Why libressl is stupid 2

I really want to like libressl. But it pretends to be openssl badly. They refused a patch that would have mitigated this whole RAND_egd problem by simply returning that it doesn't work when someone tries to use it, which means that you commonly need a patch to use it at all. If it's not going to work like openssl, then it shouldn't occupy the same space in the filesystem.

User Journal

Journal Journal: OMFG GNOME3 is asstacular

This is not news to most people, but I just tried it for the first time on my first-ever normal Debian Wheezy install (I've always done minimal, netinst etc. and built it up from there for a purpose) and wow, GNOME3 is amazingly horrible. It makes Unity look usable. If that was the idea, mission accomplished, I guess.

User Journal

Journal Journal: What do I have to enable now? Fucking DICE. 5

Welp, I can use Slashdot in Chrome and not in Firefox, which implies that something I'm blocking in Firefox is preventing the new improved Slashdot from working. What new spyware bullshit do I have to enable to use Slashdot now? Thanks, DICE! You'll run this place the rest of the way into the ground any day now.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Keep burning those modpoints, punk 4

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6928647&cid=49008431
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6921395&cid=49008481
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6928395&cid=49008511
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6928647&cid=49008549
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6921395&cid=49008565

User Journal

Journal Journal: Yay, I made an idiot angry! 8

Then they modded down five of my comments in a row. Why doesn't the system catch this kind of obviously abusive moderation? Oh right, because this is slashdot, not someplace with competent employees.

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6897301&cid=48979217
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6897699&cid=48979955
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6898589&cid=48984949
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6904433&cid=48985865
http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=6904445&cid=48986419

If moderation on slashdot were intelligently designed, this person's abusive moderation would have been autodetected and they would have been banned from moderation permanently.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Games of the Year 2014 (and some general musings/rants)

So that's 2014 nearly over - and I found it a pretty interesting year in gaming terms. The first half of the year was pretty slow for games, with the only titles of real note until the early summer being last-generation holdouts which had missed the boat on the PS4 and Xbox One. But things picked up once the summer arrived, with some extremely good titles in the second half of the year. For me, there were three big points of interest about gaming in 2014.

First, this was the year that AAA gaming got smart and indie gaming got dumb. Yeah, that's a pretty sweeping pair of statements (and I'm sure you can find plenty of exceptions), but I think the story more or less holds up. For quite a few years now, the complaint has been that AAA games were stale, formulaic and dumbed-down to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I've never quite bought that story (not every AAA game is Call of Duty), but even if there was a touch of truth to it, 2014 is the year that it went away. We've seen a lot of innovative and risky AAA titles this year; games which seek to challenge as much as they do to please. At the same time, indie gaming really does seem to have fallen into a rut. The number of "retro style pseudo-8-bit roguelikes" on the Steam store is really starting to take the piss now; so many of these games are cut from the same template and trying to prove themselves different - in exactly the same way. There have also been some outright howlers, such as Gone Home and Depression Quest, which sought to "redefine our understanding of games" or whatever, but which those of us who aren't intellectually insecure hipsters can admit weren't actually very good. Oh, and then there was Gamergate. If there's one aspect of that whole sorry saga (from which nobody emerged well) that didn't get reported widely, it was that the whole shitstorm- in-a-teacup originated in the indie gaming scene and largely stayed there. Most AAA developers quite sensibly either said nothing or put out carefully worded statements distancing themselves from the whole thing (the only sensible thing to do).

Second, the next-gen consoles have yet to prove what they are actually for. I own a PS4, an Xbox One and a Wii-U but, to be quite honest, I'm still not 100% sure why. Don't get me wrong, the PS4 and Xb-One are nice enough machines and, as games consoles (but definitely not yet as media players) they are a big step up on their predecessors. But with almost all multi-platform games coming out on PC these days (and PC versions almost inevitably being technically superior), it's hard to justify buying an (often much more expensive) console version. Single-platform exclusives have become few and far between and some of those have underwhelmed. And then there's the Wii-U, which must now surely be dead in every meaningful sense of the word. Never a great console to begin with, its releases have slowed to a crawl of almost entirely single-style platform-exclusives (fine if you like said style, not so fine if you don't - and I don't). Bayonetta 2 is fun, sure, but one game cannot justify a platform's existence. I think I've done a much larger proportion of my gaming on PC in 2014 than in any year since 2001 (the year I first got a console and became a multi-platform gamer).

And third, the industry really needs to get serious about quality assurance for big releases. It's not unusual to have one or two big releases in any given year which are horribly buggy at launch - but in 2014 it has been far more than one or two major titles which have ranged from the "unpleasant to play" to the "downright unplayable" at launch. Some of the games in question have been patched and have gone on to be very good - but that doesn't justify unfinished products being pushed out the door. It can't be coincidence that many of these games came out in the pre-Christmas rush. Yet another sign that the annual death march to get games released in that holiday window does nobody (developers, publishers or customers) any favours at all.

Anyway, with that out of the way, on to my top 10 games of 2014 (excluding remakes, ports, expansions and DLCs), in descending order:

10) Bayonetta 2 - (Wii-U) - The only game on the Wii-U that I've actually liked this year. It's basically more of the same from the first game, but that's no bad thing at all. Stylish, fast-paced precision brawling, with a decent upgrade system and lots of optional stuff to do along the way. Could do without the irritating kid, though. Would be interesting to see what this would have looked like on more capable hardware, though as the game wouldn't have happened without Nintendo's cash, I guess we can't complain.

9) South Park - The Stick of Truth - - (PC, also 360 and PS3) I confess I hadn't realised that South Park was still airing. I used to love the show - about a decade ago - but fell out of the habit of watching it. So this was a pleasant surprise. A remarkably well-done semi-open-world RPG, whose humour is far more "hit" than "miss". Gave me possibly the only boss battle ever which I've had to pause because I was laughing too hard to play. It's short for an RPG, probably because the developers knew that their gameplay mechanics weren't deep enough to support a longer game, but nevertheless provides good value for money.

8) Danganronpa - Trigger Happy Havoc - - (Vita) I'm not normally the biggest fan of visual novels, but this strange game nevertheless kept me glued to the Vita's screen for longer than anything else bar Persona 4 has managed. It's not even quite a proper visual novel. You spend a lot of time walking around in 3d-exploration mode and some of the key conversations depend as much on rhythm game mechanics as on dialogue choices. There's nothing else really like it (other than its sequel, I guess, which I own but haven't played yet).

7) Far Cry 4 - (PC, also PS4, Xb-One, PS3 and 360) - Basically Far Cry 3 done a bit better in every respect. Intelligent open-world shooter which looks and feels right in so many respects. The over-the-top animal life makes for much hilarity. Plot strikes an interesting balance between "thoughtful", "uncomfortable" and "YAY EXPLOSIONS". Some have reported stuttering issues with the PC version, but I seem to have dodged them.

6) Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor - - (PC, also PS4 and Xb-One, with greatly diminished versions on PS3 and 360) - One of those risky, intelligent AAA games I was talking about above. A smart, well executed open-world game that takes on Assassin's Creed on its own turf and kicks its arse (having combat that isn't a painful chore helps immensely). Widely dismissed as a gimmick when first announced, the Nemesis System really is a game-changer, which does a fantastic job of putting a human (well, orcish) face onto procedural content. Also the game that convinced me to upgrade my graphics card - the visuals are seriously impressive if you have the hardware to do it justice.

5) Forza Horizon 2 - (Xb-One) - Goes a long way to restore the reputation of the Forza brand after the disappointing (though eventually patched to the point of bearability) Forza 5. Beautifully put together open-world driving game, which wisely pares back the dudebro trimmings of its predecessor in favour of a purer driving experience. I've slightly mixed feelings about the off-road races (which feel less polished than the on-road equivalents), but overall, this is pretty awesome.

4) Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns - (PS3, also 360 and PC soon) - Ok, this one is going to need a bit of explanation. See, Final Fantasy XIII was a pretty bad game. The gameplay was shallow and repetitive, the characters were thin and, after a promising start, the story wrote itself into a corner and ended up being resolved with a cheap and cheaty deus ex machina. Final Fantasy XIII-2 was somewhat better. The plot was still mostly incomprehensible and the characters were still shallow (though at least a bit more upbeat), but there was some semblance of gameplay this time. And then Lightning Returns comes along.

Lightning Returns is a very different beast to its predecessors; as much action/adventure game as RPG (Dark Souls features heavily in its inspirations), and with the entire game subject to a constantly-ticking countdown clock to the end of the world (and the game). If there's one big problem with Lightning Returns, it is that you really do need to have played both of its predecessors (the first of which is a chore). Other than that, I found this a really powerful game that left a strong impression on me. The characters suffer slightly from being imported from those predecessors, but they're only really there as foils for the plot and themes anyway.

Because what Lightning Returns really wants to do is provide an outside perspective and commentary on fundamentalist Christian salvation theology. This is the Book of Revelations with chocobos (or the Left Behind series for non-Christians), where Lightning (as a thinly-veiled Christ-figure, very much bringing not peace but the sword) returns to a dying world in its final days to lead souls to salvation, acting ostensibly in accordance with the will of an Abrahamic god who combines all the harshest elements of the Old and New Testament versions. It's very much the outside view and has some wild tonal inconsistencies - you can dress your Jesus-substitute up as a bikini-clad catgirl if you want - but it is smart and does work in a curiously powerful way. Not necessarily and easy or fun game to play (the ticking clock makes it intensely stressful), but definitely one of the most striking of the year.

3) Dragon Age: Inquisition - (PC, also PS4, PS3, Xb-One and 360) - Feels a bit risky putting a Bioware game that I haven't actually finished yet at number 3, after the clusterfuck that was the Mass Effect 3 ending, but I'm at around the 20 hour point and the game has already done enough to earn its spot. Effectively a grand apology for Dragon Age 2, this is a vast, deep and sprawling game. With its large wilderness areas and well-hidden sidequests, it feels somewhat like a hybrid of World of Warcraft with the original Baldur's Gate. Bioware definitely seem to be back on form.

2) Wolfenstein: The New Order - (PC, also PS4, PS3, Xb-One and 360) - After the really disappointing reboot a few years ago, I had low expectations for this. Fortunately, it defied them and is one of my favorite games of the year. Very much a traditional (and intelligent) shooter, with non-linear maps, no regenerating health or two-weapon limits and actual tactical decisions to make, this is a fantastic antidote to years of bland, generic spunkgargleweewee. The plot is also much better than I'd expected - don't expect Schindler's List so much as Inglorious Bastards - and manages to go some uncomfortable places without ever feeling either po-faced or crass.

1) Alien: Isolation - (PC, also PS4, PS3, XB-One and 360) - Despite many other very good games this year, this was the only real candidate for my top pick. For many years, mainstream survival horror games have become more and more action focussed; Resident Evil became a shooter series, Dead Space was always a shooter series to begin with and only the low-budget indie sector was producing actually scary games (and having to do so on a shoestring). Isolation takes smart survival horror, in which the player is a perpetually frightened and disempowered entity, and throws a huge budget at it, with spectacular results. This isn't a game that's been designed to go down the easy route to audience-pleasing; it's brutally difficult, requires constant thought and planning ahead and viciously punishes almost every "normal" fps behaviour. It's also, largely thanks to the amazing AI powering the alien (as well as the visual designs which emphasise the alien's sheer physical power and horror) an intensely scary game. Just as South Park was the first game I've ever had to pause because I was laughing too hard to play, so Alien: Isolation is the first game I've ever had to take a 30 minute break from because I was too scared to press on. And to top it all off, rather than putting together a simple 6 hour campaign and being content to run quickly through a bag of tricks without outstaying its welcome, the game actually includes a massive and well-plotted 15-ish hour campaign, which can be extended further through Metroidvania-style exploration. Astounding stuff.

And now, in alphabetical order, the games I liked this year but which, for one reason or another, don't make the cut for the top 10:

Akiba's Trip - Undead and Undressed - (PS4, also PS3 and Vita) - Oh dear, the game that puts the "guilty" in "guilty pleasure". Technically, it's a complete mess; areas can be run across in just a few seconds, with interminable loading screens between them, the graphics would just about have passed muster in a PS2 launch title and the less said about the animation the better. I did triy the PS3 version, but it's unplayable due to NPC pop-in issues that make fighting quest NPCs a nightmare and framerates that drop to low single figures during combat. The PS4 version remedies these issues, though not some of the lesser ones (and is still butt-ugly). Get past those, however - and past the fact that this is a game about pulling peoples' clothes off in public and the game becomes curiously likeable. Its rendition of Tokyo's Akiba district is painstakingly detailed and feels like a real labour of love, the dialogue can be hilarious in places (thanks in part to a fantastic English translation) and even the combat system is deeper than it first appears.

Among the Sleep - (PC) In a generally poor year for indie gaming, this stood out as one of the few bright spots for me. Short but well-put together psychological horror game, with a unique perspective-character. Charming and scary in equal measures.

Atelier Escha and Logy - (PS3) - This series is basically a big JRPG comfort blanket; cute, upbeat, slightly grindy, never too taxing. The latest installment neither disappoints nor pushes the envelope particularly. Its anime adaptation was better than expected to boot.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - (PC, also PS4, PS3, XB-One and 360) - This year's crop of spunkgargleweewee is one of the better vintages. That said, after Ghosts, even a blank screen would have been an improvement. Still, Advanced Warfare benefits from having some fairly snazzy technology under the hood, as well as a focus on faster-paced free-flowing gunplay, at the expense of the cover-based mechanics that usually dominate the series. The story is a pile of arse on a stick as usual, but is at least less offensive than some other installments in the series.

Civilisation: Beyond Earth - (PC) Atmospheric (though ultimately perhaps slightly short-lived) "sequel" to Civilisation V. Makes an enjoyable change of pace from its predecessor, though the mechanics start to get a bit thin rather faster than I would have liked.

Dark Souls 2 - (PC, also 360 and PS3, PS4 and XB-One coming next year) - Ooooh, so conflicted. Almost put this in the "disappointing category". It's not a patch on the first Dark Souls. For the most part, it is content to be a simple (and slightly flat) retread of its predecessor. Where it does depart from the older formula, for example through its health penatly on death, all of its changes are for the worst. In addition, the best content is locked away in paid DLCs, which is a pretty shitty practice. On the other hand, it is still miles better than most other games.

Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls - (PC, also PS4, PS3, XB-One and 360) - I played Diablo 3 at launch (in the rare intervals where I could connect to battle.net) and really didn't like it. I did a playthrough of the campaign and then stopped. Coming back to the game for its expansion, I was gobsmacked by just how much it has been improved since then. The loot system works now. There is an actual end-game now. A totally different, and much better experience. Plus the expansion content is good as well.

Divinity: Original Sin - (PC) - I'm still not all that far into this, because to be honest, I find it a bit intimidating. Still, it's an amazingly well put together traditional RPG, in the mould of Ultima VII and the original Baldur's Gate. More games like this would be no bad thing.

Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD - (PS3 and Vita, PS4 coming next year) - Remastered version of one of my favorite installments in the Final Fantasy series, plus the generally- underrated Final Fantasy X-2. Not much more to say about it, really.

Goat Simulator - (PC) - Because who doesn't want to be a goat and run around messing shit up?

Halo - The Master Chief Collection - (XB-One) - Another one I'm conflicted on. Historically, I don't much like the Halo series. In fact, I hold it directly responsible for some appalling tropes that ruined fpses for the better part of a decade (2 weapon limits, regenerating health, checkpoint-only saves). However, there's no denying that this is an interesting package and a well presented slice of gaming history. I gather it has some issues with its online modes, but the chances of me playing a Halo game online are only slightly higher than those of me playing a Call of Duty online (ie. practically non-existant).

Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F Second - (PS3, also Vita) - Highly polished, immensely difficult but surprisingly deep rhythm game. Probably represents the state of the art within its genre outside of the arcades at the moment. To be honest, it's kinda worth playing just for the fact they use Ievan Polkka for the tutorial song.

Hyperdimension Neptunia: Rebirth - (Vita) Possibly the worst game released for the PS3 gets totally remade into a... fairly good Vita RPG. Seriously, the improvement is shocking. It does help that the TV series actually got me to like the characters.

Infamous: Second Son - (PS4) - I might be going a bit soft on this - there's no denying it had some serious flaws. It was also, however, something passable to play on the PS4 during what has, frankly, been a slow year for the console as far as I'm concerned (most of its best games also being on PC).

Lords of the Fallen - (PC, also PS4 and XB-One) - A fairly mechanical attempt at making a Dark Souls contender, which slightly misses the whole point in a number of ways and falls short of both Dark Souls and its (inferior) sequel. It is still, however, a decent and generously-sized game, which goes some interesting places with its visuals. Wins a secondary award for "most irritating use of AlienFX lighting" this year, after making my study look briefly like an 80s themed discotheque.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare - (XB-One, also PC and PS4) - I don't often play online shooters these days, but this one is curiously relaxing to play. Cute, cheerful and charming, with some surprisingly robust mechanics underpinning it.

Senran Kagura: Bon Appetit - (Vita) - The best Strip Cooking-Battle Rhythm Game I've played this year.

Sunset Overdrive - (PS4) - Self-consciously silly open-world action game. In some ways, quite run of the mill, but with Insomniac at the helm, it was always going to contain some ludicrous weapons to make the gunplay stupidly enjoyable. Delivers on that front and made me chuckle once or twice as well.

Tales from the Borderlands - (PC) - A cautious recommendation, as only the first episode is available so far. However, said episode appears to nail the tone and feel of the Borderlands universe pretty much perfectly - better, in fact, than 2k Australia's "Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel" (see below).

Theatrhythm: Curtain Call - (3DS) - Definitive version of the rather-spiffy Final Fantasy music game. It's like the previous version but better. Not much else to say, really. Amusingly, when I bought this in Game (the UK's largest specialist games-retailer), a staff member called security on me and accused me of sticking a false discount sticker on the box. Happily, security had the sense to check some of the other boxes. But... Customer Service Ho!

The Banner Saga - (PC) - The other indie bright-spot of the year. Wonderfully atmospheric (and occasionally punishingly hard) norse themed game. Gets a bit grindy in the later stages and I must object to the name. Everybody knows that "saga" refers to candy-matching games, not to vikings and giants and shit.

The Last of Us (Remastered) - (PS4) - I didn't like the PS3 version. In fact, I found it nigh on unplayable, due to its catastrophic levels of input lag. The PS4 version almost entirely fixes that and maintains the framerate at a silky 60fps, meaning that I could finally enjoy the game as it was intended. And yes, it's very good. I still don't quite find it the masterpiece that some people seemed to, but I did really enjoy this version.

Valkyria Chronicles - (PC) - Thank GOD this got a PC release. Of all the games of the PS3 generation that need to be preserved for posterity, this ranks top of the list. It's probably the best game ever released on the PS3 and now it's available on PC. And the port is actually pretty decent as well!

Xenonauts - (PC) - I played this through early access, but it had its 1.0 release this year. It's basically a rebuild of the original X-Com on modern technology. It improves the UI and adds higher resolution graphics and a few small pieces of streamlining, but at heart, it is the old X-Com, warts and all. Interesting counterpoint to the (excellent) Firaxis re-imagining.

And now the disappointments; the games which were either poor, or which might have been quite good but nevertheless fell far short of expectations:

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel - (PC, also PS3 and 360) - Sits alongside Dark Souls 2 in the camp of "disappointing follow-ups to my previous games of the year", eccept this one is worse.. Basically feels like an expansion pack for Borderlands 2. Except it's full price. And some of the level design is really, really bad. And the new NPCs don't particularly shine. And none of the new playable characters seem to be adding all that much. And it's buggy as hell.

Destiny - (PS4, also XB-One, PS3 and 360) - The supposed saviour of console gaming turns out to be... a flat, dull and soulless fps/rpg hybrid, which does a really bad job of incorporating basic MMO mechanics. At heart, the game is basically an always-online version of Borderlands 2 - only with less humour, worse area and mission design and weaker gunplay.

Hyperdimension Neptunia: Producing Perfection - (Vita) - We finally get an idol game in the West, but it turns out that its game mechanics are so pared back that it's basically little more than a visual novel. Disappointing - I had curiously high hopes for this one. Can we have a Western release for IM@S2 now please?

Mario Kart 8 - (Wii-U) - Slightly better than Mario Kart Wii, which I hated, but doesn't solve the problem of having just too many racers and too many weapons on the track at the same time. Driving and skill once again take a back-seat to the slot-machine rolls on weapons.

Sword Art Online: Hollow Fragment - (Vita) - The immensely popular and sometimes-entertaining anime series gets turned into a fairly sloppy by-the-numbers action RPG. Could have been so much better, but crippled by a lack of ambition around its gameplay and plot.

Super Smash Brothers - (Wii-U, also 3DS) - Takes away the story mode (by far my favorite part of Brawl) and crams too many characters onto the screen at a single time. Brawl was my favorite first-party game on the Wii. This, on the other hand, is just disappointing.

The Evil Within - (PC, also PS4 and XB-One) - Given its pedigree, this should have been much better. The opening level is promising, but the game quickly becomes "just another slightly dark action game". Had the horrible misfortune to launch almost simultaneous with Alien: Isolation.

And now for the obligatory bad games. Just two this year, thankfully - from very different ends of the commercial spectrum:

Gone Home - (PC) - I'm not going to try and argue it isn't a game. Rather, I'm just going to state that it's a very, very bad game. Walk around an empty house uncovering tedious domestic drama. Get undergraduate-level identity politics rammed down your throat. The entirely irrelevant and unnecessary survival horror trappings kept me hoping that maybe Pyramid Head was about to jump out and start cutting shit up, or that maybe the alien would drop down from the ceiling and do the whole face bitey thing. Even that zombie shark from the first Resident Evil would have done nicely. But no, it's just a very, very dull walking simulator. It's not big, it's not clever, it's just annoying. Please go away.

Watch;Dogs - (PC, also PS4, PS3, XB-One and 360) - A total mess of a game. Barely playable through the thick layer of technical glitches and bugs (I gather Assassin's Creed Unity was the same, but I'm not spending money on that). Even when it does work, it hardly seems worth it. The plot is nonsensical and it has the least interesting open world ever created. The sad thing is, there are one or two moments during the actual story missions when you can see glimpses of a better game, buried deep and struggling to get out. A smaller, more linear mission based game, with development resources diverted onto resolving technical issues and getting the whole thing to actually make sense, might have been pretty good. As it is, this is just a catastrophe.
User Journal

Journal Journal: Three years after Steve died... 1

I don't think I've written this down anywhere before, so here's my story about the first time I had a face-to-face conversation with Steve Jobs.

I was working for Richard Kerris in Apple Worldwide Developer Relations, on a group called the SWAT team. I was the Cocoa expert on that team, and I had colleagues who had expertise in UNIX internals, Windows development, and the Metrowerks tools.

Our role was to help third-party developers bring their products to Mac OS X, whether they were coming from Windows, Solaris, Mac OS 9, etc. We would look over their code, and consult with them on how to go about porting and/or rewriting their products for the new platform.

I went to Fred Anderson's retirement party which was held at Cafe Macs in Building four of the Infinite Loop campus. I saw Steve there, and I went over to introduce myself. I said "Hi Steve, I'm John Randolph. You may or may not recognize my name, but I used to flame you from time to time before I worked here." He asked me "Why did you stop?" I told him "Well, I work here now, and I respect the chain of command."

At the time we had this conversation, there was a big fight going on between the foot-dragging laggards who wanted to keep using the old Mac Toolbox API (which had been cleaned up considerably and put into a framework we called "Carbon"), and those of us who wanted to get everyone using the NeXTStep-derived "Cocoa" frameworks,

At the previous WWDC, Steve had started the keynote with a bit of theater: a coffin had risen up through a trap door on the stage, in the midst of a cloud of dry ice fog. Steve had opened the coffin to show a big Mac OS 9 box, and he praised OS 9 in a eulogy, to make the point that Apple developers should consider it dead and gone.

So getting back to our conversation.. I told Steve what I was doing on Richard's team, and I said "I know that you can't do this politically, but I wish you could have another coffin on the stage at the next WWDC...." and he said: "With Carbon in it?"

He was grinning. At that point, I realized that I could quit worrying about where Apple's development environment was heading. Steve knew what we needed to do, and in the years that followed, Apple has kept the best of NeXT's technology, and let go of what we didn't need.

We miss you Steve, but we're doing fine. Thanks for the things you made happen.

-jcr

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