It’s 2am.

…and, thanks to the two months of Xbox live for two pounds offer, I’m playing Streetfighter online again. After getting slapped about in the quick matches by massively higher ranked players, I set up a custom search for players of a similar skill, but it’s 2am and, a few people aside, it seems like I can’t get a decent connection with any one of the dozen names I keep seeing. The few victories and close defeats I have experienced have  me committed to ‘just one more round” and I  keep refreshing the search, looking for that green signal.

Fuck it, they’ll do, they’re  orange but I’m sick of staring at bison’s face.

And it’s a total lag-fest, with most commands coming out a half a second later, and my Juri gets a thorough trouncing by Ryu. I tell myself I could have had him with a clean connection, but I know I didn’t need a win, I wanted a fight. A fight where in the close end to a second round I “felt” him move in for an ultra, dodged it, and finished him with a crouching heavy kick as he dropped out of the dragon punch animation. I don’t just want victories, I want moments like that, when I can feel the flow of the fight, which means more searching, more lag, and more fights.

And now it’s 2.30 am.


Call of the Fireflies

From slapping Koreans and foliage-shredding gun battles to chasing insects through the night.

Call of the Fireflies is a short exploration/puzzle mod for Crysis, and uses the vast terrain and explosion rendering power of the CryEngine2 to create something much more sedate. Starting in a sleeping mountain town, there are no explicit instructions as to where to go, but instead fireflies lead the way, through abandoned caves and frozen forests, highlighting points of interest- breaking up the area’s bleak palette with a flurry of yellow.

What’s notable about CotF is the intelligent use of colour in its design. Colour is a guide here, for both solving puzzles and pointing out areas of safety. There are no enemies, but there is an additional element of survival. Cold is your nemesis. Exposure to icy winds or even the briefest dip into water and the screen begins to frost up, movement slows to a crawl, with death soon to follow unless the smouldering orange of a torch or lantern  can be found.

Which isn’t often, as there is a lot of water in some sections and very few places of refuge, but the water does clearly define where you shouldn’t go, and finding a way over or around the various rivers and streams is the key to progression- with the aim of most of the puzzles being to create a bridge or divert the flow.

Call of the Fireflies is a wonderful example of showing off what else you can do with mod tools when you aren’t simply trying to emulate the original game.

(and I think that’s a really important question for mod communities to try and discover the answers for: what else can it do?)

Three years late to the party

and now I still haven’t seen the ending to Crysis, because a game-breaking bug has stopped me at the last part- literally the last shot- of the final boss. The only way around this seems to be to just restart the level and never quick save, which is annoying because it’s mostly a dull slog through tight corridors and heavy on un-skippable story sections. Which is the opposite of the mostly lush, open environments of the previous nine hours.

Playing as the usual game hero cliches packed into a nanomachine-powered battle suit and dropped onto a pacific island swarming with angry Koreans, Crysis initially feels a lot like a futurist version of its spiritual predecessor, Far Cry, with an improved CryEngine throwing around even more impressive explosions and vistas.

(Which is interesting- in that the original Far Cry developers went off and made what is essentially a very similar game (right down to the “monsters” showing up part of the way through), while the team brought into push out the obligatory sequel made a game where you can set fire to an open-world approximation of a small African country.)

What sets it apart, though, is the nanosuit, which grants the user improved armour, speed, strength, and invisibility, but not all at the same time. In Crysis, you are as much of a weapon as the customizable assault rifle you are carrying, and if the game is remembered for anything it should be for how it pushes the idea of being superhuman in games. Particularly the physical aspects.

(and I don’t mean superhuman in the way that almost every FPS player character is a regenerating bullet-sponge.)

Games like Deus Ex have covered augmented humans before, but that was before physics engines and ragdolls became standard. Now- and by now I mean three years ago- Crysis has given us a world where I can grab a surprised Korean and throw him off a cliff, or sprint into him and knock him flying. There’s the obvious sense of empowerment that this gives, but also the satisfaction of intelligently applying the suits abilities, which is comes from just how limited they really are.

All of the suit’s powers drain its energy when their specific function (absorbing a bullet impact, punching a car, etc) is used, and it’s surprising just how quickly it can vanish. Even with a full power bar, two seconds of super-sprinting is enough leave it empty; more often than not it felt like I barely had enough energy to get by, but that just makes the decisions of how to expend it more important, because getting caught by a squad pissed off Koreans with no suit power is not fun.

What’s also worth pointing out is that- aside from from a few rocky areas that need to be leaped- the game never forces you into using your powers just to get by, and the powers that you do rely on are going to define your experience- whether it’s as Korean puncher extraordinaire, a shotgun-wielding spectre or somewhere in-between.

This is Somewhere In England!