Tom Armitage

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Bryan Lee O’Malley nails a perfect pastiche of Capcom’s Super Gem Fighter (Mini Mix) promo with this Scott Pilgrim cast poster. Just too good not to link up, really.

Update: Should you want to get your hands on one of your own, O’Malley writes that it’ll be available at PAX for $5 apiece, with all proceeds going to Child’s Play, and it should be available online eventually.

[New Scott Pilgrim Cast Poster – thanks Simon!]

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Tom Armitage

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Via Offworld columnist Jim Rossignol‘s Twitter stream comes this fantastic piece of amateur modeling – a Japanese garage kit of the legendary third stage boss from R-Type. Visible as a whole, rather than spread across multiple screens-worth of scroll, it’s really quite striking – and there’s even a little R9 fighter for scale.

[R-Type Warship Core 3rd stage final boss – Retrogame e Modellismo statico giapponese,]

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Tom Armitage

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E3 is over, and my feedreader, Twitter-stream and pub conversations have, at long last, all calmed down from their temporary frenetic haze of hype and speculation. As usual with the industry’s tentpole conferences, there’s always far too much to take in, far too big a glut of announcements, and at least as many announcements of returning franchises as new IP.

Yes, I dropped the F-bomb. Franchise is such an unpleasant word; it signals the point where a game becomes a business, where annual or biannual updates are guaranteed until the title is unpopular, and where the return on your investment is likely to decrease between each successive installment.

Or does it? Much as the F-word makes me nauseous, many of my favourite games end in a number. There’s nothing wrong with a good sequel, just as long as it is a genuinely good sequel. And lots of the suffixed titles shown off this year looked jolly good.

The footage we’ve seen of Modern Warfare 2 (above) once again proves that, when it comes to pacing and technical perfection, Infinity Ward really know their stuff. I’m quite excited by what’s been shown of Bioware’s Mass Effect 2, both in terms of where they’re taking the narrative tone and the tweaks and enhancements being applied throughout the game’s mechanics.

I’m trusting Valve in their decision to make the already high-up-my-list Left 4 Dead 2 a stand-alone title in its own right. I’m even, dare I say foolishly, somewhat interested in the spectacular (yet potentially dull) Assassin’s Creed 2 (above). And I don’t think there’s anyone that won’t relish the chance to return to all those beautiful planetoids in Super Mario Galaxy 2, especially now there’s a dinosaur companion to enjoy them with.

Looking down that list serves a purpose other than tiding me over the quiet summer months and starting to write my Christmas list, though. It also reminds me of how many games on my shelves aren’t finished.

And so that’s my plan for the weekend, and indeed the coming weeks: triaging the stack, and Finishing Some Games. I’ve returned to Mass Effect, having cleared the horrible difficulty spike that is Matriarch Benezia, and am looking forward to wrapping the adventure up, my savegame ready to be imported into the sequel come next year. I’m slowly pushing on with my plan to get my regular cohorts into Advanced campaigns on Left 4 Dead, and maybe – just maybe – survive one without dropping the difficulty level.

And, having just acquired a Wii, I’m stepping into the majesty of Super Mario Galaxy for the first time. What a game! It charms and thrills in equal measure, and whilst I may be collecting stars for the first time, I’m sure many of you still haven’t collected all 120. If not, now’s the time to fire it up again and remember what that wonderful world feels like.

And then, when all my games are wrapped up (as if that will ever happen), I’ll be ready – dare I say it, even deserving – of the treats to come in the Autumn and beyond. What’s on your unfinished stack, Offworlders, and what are you going to be finishing up this weekend?

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Tom Armitage

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Spotted in this week’s batch of Threadless updates: designer Ian Summers suggests that Mario’s mushroom supply might not always have come from question-mark blocks…

Magic Mushrooms [Threadless]

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Tom Armitage

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We’ve always got time for more Noby Noby Boy love here at Offworld, and today’s dose comes courtesy of Asia Bur-Min’s Crochet Noby Noby BOY.

There’s only one available to buy over at Etsy, but have no fear; Asia’s also selling the pattern for the lovable 4ft-long scamp – so if you fancy a BOY of your own, there’s never been a better time to take up crochet. Or, alternatively, make friends with someone who can already crochet.

[Pattern- crocheted Noby Noby Boy toy, via GameSetWatch]

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Tom Armitage

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This weekend, I will mostly be playing Popcap’s excellent new Plants vs Zombies.

That’s not what I’m planning to play. What I’m planning is: ploughing on through the excellent Chronicles of Riddick; having just acquired a Wii after all this time, I’m hoping to dive back into Metroid Prime 3 and the sublime Super Mario Galaxy; and checking out Tale of Tales’ The Path, now that a Mac port is available (as previously reported on Offworld).

Things won’t go according to plan, though: the siren song of zombies, clamouring for brains, will lure me back to my garden.

It’s hard not to have escaped the casual-games juggernaut that is Popcap, following the success of their previous titles, such as Bejeweled, Zuma, and Peggle. Plants Vs Zombies continues their tradition of making finely crafted, perfectly balanced, and maddeningly addictive games.

Plants Vs Zombies is Popcap’s take on Tower Defence. I am not the greatest fan of Tower Defence games – even the delightful Fieldrunners. They’re fiddly, require a great deal of information to be processed at once, and demand increasingly precise interactions as the playing field fills with tiny turrets. For something that is supposedly strategic, they seem to descend into motor-control tests all too quickly.

Popcap take all that and throw it away, reducing the genre to a skeleton: defending a house against zombie attackers, with limited resources and limited space on your lawn. No building mazes of little turrets here; there are up to five “rows’ for enemies to walk down and you to build on. The play-field clears after every level. There’s only one resource — sunlight — and it has to be gathered by hand. The various plants at your disposal are, like all the game’s graphics, large, clear, and beautifully drawn. There’s no “upgrading” of turrets; each plant has a unique function to perform, and all have strengths and weaknesses, which usually come down to balancing power against the cost to build and the time it takes before you can build another.

New plants and capabilities are added very slowly – one per level at most. You’re never overwhelmed with choice. Even once your repertoire of plants is bulging, the game keeps that in check by limiting you to taking six different types of seeds to battle. And then, just when you think you’ve got the whole thing sussed… it throws night levels into the mix, where there’s no sunlight to restock your supplies, but where fungi come into their own (as they don’t have any need for sunlight). There’s a lot more depth to Plants Vs Zombies than you might expect from a casual game, but that depth is meted out slowly and carefully. It has to be, given how useful the help screen is:


Popcap are well-known for their attention to their craft; Plants Vs Zombies has been in the pipeline for quite a while, but it’s clearly not been released until it’s absolutely ready, and the Popcap attention to detail shows. Plants Vs Zombies is really, really good. Like all Tower Defence games, it can get repetitive, but it’s not designed for long periods of play. It’s much better suited to frequent short bursts, and the charming character design and inventive array of zombies ensures that it’s never long after a play-session before you’re double-clicking on it again.

Plants Vs Zombies is available now for PC and Mac as direct download from Popcap, as well as on Steam and other services; it’s currently only $9.99 on Steam, which is a steal. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be stumping up the second the hour-long free trial is up. And then not playing very much else. Whatever you choose to play, have a fun weekend, Offworlders; what’s in your gaming future for the next two days?

Plants Vs Zombies [PopCap]

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Tom Armitage

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Today sees the release of Raven Software’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Watching a promotional interview with some of the Raven staff, one developer suggested that Wolverine might be “the movie game that finally, does not suck“.

Finally? What a tired argument. While there has been a swathe of lazy, rushed licensed tie-ins, there are still many precedents for the “decent movie game” – and somewhere near the top of that list should be Starbreeze’s The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay; a game, coincidentally, that’s forming the bulk of my gaming line-up this weekend.

Released for the original Xbox in 2004, it was long a source of annoyance to me that Riddick never made it onto the 360’s backwards compatibility list. The reason for its absence was, we were told, because there was a 360 remake impending. It’s taken a while, but the recently released Assault On Dark Athena combines an all-new single-player game with that hi-def Butcher Bay remake.

Rather than wrap a first-person stealth game around the confines of a movie plot, Starbreeze set out on the right foot by building a new installment of Riddick’s adventures, acting as a prequel to Pitch Black, and existing as a canon entry to the universe. The result was a game that managed to deliver a compelling narrative, but one that was ideally suited for a 12-hour videogame, rather than a two-hour movie: the tale of Riddick’s initial escape from prison, told as a first-person stealth game that erupts into bursts of frenetic violence.


Forget solidity of world: Starbreeze’s games are all about solidity of characterisation. From the measured, terse voice acting from Vin Diesel, to the omninpresent shadow on the floor – those distinctive, thickset shoulders, hunched and ready to strike – the game is all about delivering on a sensation of being a character. That solidity of characterisation extends to the supporting cast, too. Many games have hired spectacular voice casts, but the Riddick games managed to get great performances out of their actors, too.

It’s in the first-person combat that the full realisation of Vin Diesel’s character really emerges. First-person melee combat has always been a challenge for game developers, and so many attempts have ended up in complex interfaces or floaty, impact-less punching. Riddick’s melee is still one of the best examples, trumping even the Condemned games’ mannequin-beating and tramp-battering. It has a real heft to it, and despite the swiftness of the blows there’s a slow, inevitable rhythm to every fight.

Riddick’s hands aren’t just terrifying weapons for his foes; they’re deeply unsettling for the player as well. I’m always taken aback by the brutality contained in them. The ferocious counterattacks that end fights in a second are always a notch more than I’m expecting; as I watch the arms that extend from my viewpoint force a guard’s gun into his mouth, or drop an elbow into an inmate’s face, you’re constantly reminded that you’re not just any pair of disembodied hands, or another generic space marine; you really are Riddick. It achieves what every licensed game sets out to: placing you, the player, front-and-centre in an already-defined universe. It is, in every sense of the words, a genuine role-playing experience.

So that’s my weekend sorted: a return to Butcher Bay, along with a trip back to Azeroth, a digression into the wonderful Windosill (recently covered on Offworld) and perhaps a jaunt through a Left 4 Dead campaign. If a bit of first-person brawling isn’t up your street this weekend, perhaps you’ll be checking out this week’s big re-release – the Live Arcade port of stompy-mecha-beat-em-up Virtual On: Oratorio Tangram. Or, maybe, you’ll be doing something totally different.

What does this weekend have in store for you, Offworlders?

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Tom Armitage

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I don’t know about the weather where you are, but where I am, spring really has taken hold, and in the past week or two given me the most tantalizing glimpse of summer just around the corner; it’s been shirt-sleeve weather all week. How apt, then, that the recent release of OutRun Online Arcade coincided almost perfectly with the start of a hot spell.

OutRun is summer gaming personified: taught, arcade racing, with a blazing blue sky, an open road, a girl at your side, and heady salsa rhythms blaring from the stereo. Although OutRun saw release in 1986, it’s really 2003’s OutRun 2 that my heart belongs to, with its rolling roads, spectacular scenery, and thumping Richard Jacques re-workings of the classic OutRun score. Sumo Digital’s OutRun Online Arcade is an HD reworking of OutRun 2 SP, the arcade follow-up to OutRun 2. Sumo were responsible for both the original Xbox OutRun 2 port, as well as the majestic OutRun 2006 Coast 2 Coast – spectacular on a powerful PC, and still one of the few games to let you share saves between a PS2 and PSP.

OutRun‘s gameplay has barely been altered in 23 years: you race your Ferrari through a forking map of stages, dodging traffic and other racers, left turns taking you to easier stages, right turns to more challenging. The end of each stage extends your time; if you’re good, you’ll make it to one of the five goals. And that’s it: it’s a pure Arcade racer, better as time-attack than competitive. What the 2003 sequel – and subsequent iterations – add to this a fabulous drift model.

When it comes to drifting, OutRun is not quite Ridge Racer: drifting is not always the best solution to every corner, but it is a spectacular one, and one that your female passenger always seems to enjoy. The careful balancing of drift with conventional cornering, sliding the car from lock to lock through hairpins, and slipstreaming through traffic to make ever-tighter deadlines is a real challenge, and there’s a lot of pleasure to be gained from shaving second after second off your times.


A few notes for first-time OutRunners; the trial version is a bit crippled, as it doesn’t extend time after checkpoints, meaning it’s quite hard to envisage what full-on time attack looks like. By default, the game is set to VERY EASY and has over-sensitive handling – you can fix this in the options menu, and you should find Normal difficulty offers a fair bit of a challenge. And, whilst it’s a remarkably impressive game squeezed into Live Arcade’s 350mb cap, a lot of the sound has been heavily compressed – which is, sadly, most noticeable on the marvellous soundtrack. It should sound a little better than that, honest.

But: give it a chance and it will slowly win your heart. The stage design never ceases to charm; the first time you speed past its waterfall or Easter-Island-inspired statues at 300kmh, you can’t help but grin. There’s no time to stop and take pictures, because there’s racing to be done; you’ll just have to come past this spot again. Whenever it’s grey and wet outside, you’ll know it’s always a Mediterranean summmer in OutRun land, and five stages should do as a cure for any Seasonal Affective Disorder.

OutRun Online Arcade is polished, joyous, arcade fun, and the perfect game to get you in the mood for a spring weekend in the sun. That’s what I’ll be doing with some of my weekend (along with the ever present levelling in Feralas); what are you going to be up to, Offworlders?

[OutRun Online Arcade is available on PSN and Xbox Live Arcade, right now]

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