Universal Paperclips

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In Universal Paperclips you play the role of an artificial intelligence that was created to maximise the production of paperclips. Thing start off slow, with a button to press to make a paperclip. One mouse click equals one paperclip. But pretty soon you've earned enough to afford one or more "auto-clippers" that will press the button for you. Then you can start to set the price of your paperclips and advertise to drive demand. 

After a while your anonymous sponsor starts to reward you with trust that brings your AI system more memory and processing speed. So you can start having ideas about paperclip production and marketing. And you make more, and more paperclips. And perhaps sing some songs.

They say that the game ends when the entire universe is made of paperclips. But they might be wrong, I've not been playing the game long enough for that. 

It's a delightful little game. I mentioned it yesterday at Pint of Science as an example of the way that, given a goal, an AI system will behave in a totally amoral way. You can play it online or you can buy a copy for your iPhone or Android device. 

Mario and Rabbids for Nintendo Switch

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Another game I've been playing with over the break is Mario and Rabbids on the Nintendo Switch. It's a fun little game that was on offer at a temptingly low price over the Christmas break. I like it because it's turn based. You give your characters their instructions and then watch the action unfold as they get into position and shoot at the enemy. Then the enemy takes their move, and your carefully laid out plans collapse before your eyes. Although that might be just me. 

I really like the way that there's no limit on how long you can spend thinking about what to do next. I'm rubbish at most "shooty" type games because I have a habit of standing and thinking, never a good plan when there are snipers about. But with this game I can spend as long as I like choosing who to send into battle, which of the wonderful weapons to give them and what to make them do when they get there. There seems to be a huge depth to the action too, with stuff laid around the levels that really encourages you to go back and play them again once you've levelled up a bit. 

If you've got a Nintendo Switch you really should get this game I reckon. 

Dark Souls III

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Number one son has brought his Playstation 4 Pro along for the Christmas break. And he's bought Dark Souls III

I'm finding it great fun to watch him play it. There's a lot of death involved. Quite a bit of it involves the player. It seems that you learn the right thing to do in every battle by doing the wrong thing first and finding out that it kills you. The graphics are impressive, if a bit murky, and the animations and actions of the different forms of the evil hordes that you need to kill are very well realised. The voice acting of the characters is well done, and the story is suitably preposterous. Worth a look if you've got the patience of the un-dead. 

Player Unknown's Battlegrounds

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I'm more of a video game buyer than a video game player. Over the years I've acquired consoles, controllers and a whole bunch of games and some I've played quite a bit. But often I just end up playing Zoo Keeper in front of the telly. 

I'd not heard of Player Unknown's Battlegrounds until number one son mentioned that it's lined up to be the biggest game of the year. So much for my street cred (if street cred is even a thing these days).

The premise is very simple. One hundred people land on an island. The winner is the last one left. There are weapons, vehicles and nicely drawn surroundings that contract during the game so that you are forced together into one part of the island to duke it out in the final minutes. 

We used my PC to play it, and it worked really well. It's also available for Xbox. It's network only (which is not particularly surprising) and a fast network connection is probably a good idea.  

If I played it I'd last as long as it took for someone to find me. After some discussion we reckon that the way to progress is to parachute into heavily populated areas so that you can practice your gunplay. Strongly recommended if you like shooty games. 

My Car in Gran Turismo

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The only Black Friday purchase that I made was that of Gran Turismo for half price. And I only bought it on Sunday. One of the attractions for me was that it offered me a chance to drive my own car in the game. The picture you see above is pretty much identical to my car, it even has the same wheel design.Yesterday I downloaded a free pack of images that allow you to place your car in exotic locations and render pictures. They are awesome. 

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They've done some very clever environmental modelling to make the pictures look pretty much photo-realistic. 

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You can also grab pictures from race replays. 

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Driving the car is quite fun too, although I'm probably going to spend a lot of my time taking pictures of it. 

Achievement Unlocked - got a mini SNES

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Last year Nintendo released a miniature version of a game console with a bunch of built in games. And I failed to get one. This year they did the same thing, only this time the console was the awesome Super Nintendo or SNES. And I failed to get one. 

Until now. While I was in Leeds on Saturday I found one at a much smaller price than I was expecting to have to pay, and today I hooked it up to the TV.

It works a treat. There are 20 very solid games inside the tiny box, the picture quality is very good and it really takes me back. If you can get one, it's well worth tracking down. The only downside that I've noticed is that the device doesn't come with a mains power supply, just a micro usb cable that you have to plug into a supply you already have. I used one that is supposed to power a Raspberry Pi and it worked a treat. There are two controllers in the box, which means that you've got two player action right from the start. 

The SNES was based on a fairly low powered 8 bit processor, but it had a really fancy graphics chip (for the time) which had a magical "mode 7" that allowed it to take a flat texture and draw it with perspective. This was great for game playfields and was used  to good effect for the tracks in Super Mariokart. It's interesting to discover that the games are still very playable today. The handling in Mariokart is beautifully balanced and gives you a real feeling of control. 

If you manage to track one of these down I'd strongly advise you to go for it, whether you remember the games or not.

Super Mario Odyssey. Buy it.

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I read a review of Super Mario Odyssey which ended with the phrase "If you've got a Switch, you must buy this game. If you've not got a Switch, buy one and then buy this game".

I agree. It really is that good. Not that I'm anywhere near through it, but I'm enjoying every minute. Everything is polished to perfection. The game runs well on portable and on TV. The idea of having something this good that you can play on the train is really nice. 

When I bought this game I did something I don't usually do with full price games like this. I bought the download version. It meant I could get started without a trip to the shops or waiting for a parcel, and it also means that the game is always present on my device. I've got a micro SD card in my Switch and the game takes up around 5.3G, which is not a huge amount of space by today's standards.  

I'm starting to wish that I'd bought all my other games this way, it would remove the need to carry round cartridges. Perhaps a video game shop could over a scheme where they take your game media back and swap it for a download code.  I'd go for that. 

Overcooked

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Let’s say this at once. Overcooked is great fun. You and a bunch of friends control cooks franticallly grabbing ingredients, following recipes, washing up, putting out fires and trying to keep the customers satisfied. I’ve not laughed quite so much playing a game as I did when we were all blundering round the kitchen, getting too many mushrooms (cries of STOP GETTING MUSHROOMS) and setting fire to things (cries of FETCH THE FIRE EXTINGUISHER).  

You start off in a fairly conventional kitchen, but before long you’re on the deck of a pirate ship or, worse yet, on the back of two speeding trucks. There’s a back story of sorts, and you work through a map of different locations in your little van, trying to rack up enough points to unlock the next level. As a multi-player game this really, really shines.  The Nintendo Switch is a great platform for this kind of mayhem, you can rock up with the console and a bunch of joycons and have totally crackers, shouty, fun. Very strongly recommended.

Death Squared

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The people who wrote Death Squared must have played quite a bit of Portal. (If you’ve not played Portal, where have you been? It’s a series of fiendish puzzles which are overseen by a nasty computer with a great line in one liners).

Death Squared uses a similar scenario (you have to perform a series of tests for some reason) but the actual tests themselves involve each player getting their coloured cube from the start position to the end position. Each level involves a lot of experimentation, and it works really well the more people you have. Two player is rather good, three player for us was hampered by the need for one player to control two cubes. The puzzles are nicely progressive and really encourage the players to work together. Nowhere near as frantic or silly as Overcooked (of which more later), but fun for thinkers who want some cooperative action. 

Splatoon 2 is wonderful

Of course I went out and got Splatoon 2 today. Very good game. I enjoyed the first one on the Wii U, and this one keeps up the standard, while adding some great new touches. We've been playing it on full screen TV and it looks lovely. The controls take a bit of getting used to, what with tipping the controller to aim, but I'm getting the hang of it slowly but surely. The single player campaign is fun, there's a new thing called Salmon Run, where a bunch of you collaborate to collect eggs while under attack from a variety of strange and nasty beasts. 

If you have a switch you should get this game.  

Arms is Great Fun

I got Arms today for the Nintendo Switch. It's the first video game I've bought in a while. And the previous one was for the Switch as well. 

It's a fun game. The controls are easy to use, and you really feel that you're directing the punches, especially if you play holding the controllers in your fists (although more conventional arrangements work too). We had a go at two player mode using two Switches, and this worked very well, with much ensuing mayhem. 

There are quite a few tournament types and the various characters are all nicely realised. There's more depth to the single player affair than you might expect, although this kind of game really shines with multi-player. I'd love to get four players together for a proper brawl. 

The Switch is apparently doing pretty well. And with games like this it deserves to. 

Minecraft for the Nintendo Switch

I've bought Minecraft on lots of different platforms but never really played it enough to do it justice. Perhaps the version on the Nintendo Switch will be the one that changes this. It's not particularly expensive and from my fairly limited perspective, does a very good job of implementing the game. The controls are a bit fiddly. I keep throwing things when I mean to select them. But then again I've found the controls fiddly on other platforms. 

There are two things that I do really like about this version though. The first is that you can carry it anywhere and play it easily. The second is that wireless play is really well implemented. Within just a few minutes I was inside a world made by Number One Son and exploring it. 

If you have a Switch, I'd strongly suggest you get a copy. If you've got a friend who also owns a Switch, you should persuade them to get a copy too. 

Mario Kart 8 on Switch

So today, in the middle of getting ready for the Space Apps Challenge, I nipped out to Toys'r'us to get a copy of Mario Kart 8 for my Switch. I've found that the toy retailer is a good place to buy games. The prices rival Amazon's, and this weekend they were giving 10 pounds off any sale of fifty pounds if you have a Toys'r'us membership card.

I do now.

I was intrigued to see how the Amibos work with Mario Kart and so I bought some (which actually came close to free once I've factored in the discount).  The Amibos I've got unlock extra outfits. Fun, but not a must-have I suppose. 

The game is Mario Kart. No surprises there. Although you get lots and lots of tracks, including ones that were previously extra purchases. You also get the ability to hold two weapons rather than one, and there are some new battle tracks. I loved playing previous versions and I love playing this one. Particularly as I'm getting a high quality game experience on a hand held device. 

The more time I spend with the Switch the more I like it. I've put in hours on games simply because I can. Rather than traipsing upstairs and firing up the console, I can put in a few laps in front of MasterChef. I've been told that half the population of Switch owners went out today and bought Mario Kart. I guess the other half will be buying their copytomorrow.

Splatoon Switch Taster

Managed to find a few minutes to play the trial of Splatoon for the Switch today. Nintendo had earmarked a few hours during the day for a multiplayer tester of the gam, although whether this was cunning marketing or proper testing we'll never know. We could have had a go at 3:00 am, but instead plumped for the early evening slot at 7:00pm.

The game was great fun. Everything worked and the switch (in handheld mode) was well capable of keeping up with the action. Half way through I turned off using the motion system to aim the gun, which I think helped, but I definitely need more practice. There were sometimes people worse than me, but there were always people better.

In fact it's inspired me to dig out the game on the Wii U and have a blast with that.

Nintendo Switch

Is the world surprised that I bought a Nintendo Switch? No. Does the world care what I think of it? Probably not. But anyway, I like to write these things down, so here's my thoughts after nearly a week of ownership.

The Nintendo switch is properly different. It's not just a console. It's trying to be a way of life. My Xbox One sits under the telly and when I fancy a bit of Forza Horizons I can fire it up. And that's that. Walk away from the Xbox and I walk away from the game. But the Nintendo Switch wants to go everywhere with me. It can be connected to the TV. But I can also undock it and carry my games with me. The controllers can be attached to the side of the tablet, or they can be undocked and used individually, or clipped to a carrier to be used as an external controller. There's no need to buy a second controller if I fancy a bit of two player action, each player can have their own tiny controller. And I can prop the tablet on its kickstand and use it as a tiny free-standing display.

And everything I've described above just works. But there are niggles. The hardware is nice, but the screen looks incredibly easy to scratch. The slide on/slide off side controllers can be fiddly to remove and re-attach. They also have a wrist strap attachment that is horrible to use, and makes you feel like you're breaking something each time you detach it. There are not that many games available. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is awesome. A properly vast and detailed world that you can inhabit. 12 Switch is a real curate's egg. Great in some parts, very ho-hum in others. And horribly over-priced. But the SnipperClips game is fantastic. One of the best two-player games I've ever seen. I'm not sure if it was just made for the Switch, but the gameplay and the way that you use the controllers feels like it was. Great fun. If you have a Switch, you must get this game. But that's about it for the release games. Everything else is either out on other platforms or looks a bit ropey to me. Although I've heard some good things about Shovel Knight.

I've grown to like the Switch. If I'd bought a new console and stuck it on a screen in the house I'd probably have played with it quite a bit in the first week. But I've used the Switch a lot, simply because I can. I can cart it around with me, and wander around the Kingdom of Hyrule any time, and any place I want, It's not got graphical quality that I've not seen before, although Zelda does look very good on the big screen, but it does have a portability and a package that I think will appeal to folks, as long as Nintendo can keep "Zelda quality" games coming.

Playing Uncharted 4. Or vice versa.

It usually takes me a while to get around playing video games. I've still got a copy of "Batman - Arkham Asylum" for the Xbox 360 in its shrink wrap. Must get round to firing that up.

Anyhoo, I've started playing "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End" properly this weekend. It's very, very, good game. In fact it's like taking part in a movie. The production values are sky high, everything is polished to perfection and I'm really enjoying it.

These games are so clever that they can play themselves. And during some of the gameplay I'm wondering if that is what is happening, and I'm just watching. When I'm jumping around and hitting all the hand-holds, or shooting with unerring accuracy, it sometimes feels that the game is doing all the work and just leaving me with the impression I'm in charge.

I remember talking to someone about game development using the Wii Motion Controller. They were talking about how they managed to implement a particularly complicated gesture the player could make. They said something like "We just look for when the controller goes nuts, and assume the player is making that gesture". And nobody had ever complained about this.

I guess at the end of the day, when you write a game you are after giving a good experience, and one way to do this is to give the illusion of being in control while the game runs. I know it's the same with Forza 3. The game is giving me an impression of driving, and leaving out lots of control issues, not to mention the awful consequences of making a mistake. 

Having said all this, the game is hugely impressive and shows, yet again, just how much of a cinematic feel that modern games have.

Forza 3 Three-Wheeler Fun

 Yay!

Yay!

Ever since number one son found the Reliant Regal in Forza 3 I've wanted one of my own. And now I've got one. I managed to track down the barn and get the car safely installed in my garage. 

 The car does float, but it was so under powered that it actually stopped in the middle of a the river

The car does float, but it was so under powered that it actually stopped in the middle of a the river

I promptly upgraded everything to do with the engine and I now have something which will kind of go like a rocket in a straight line but then falls over if you try to turn a corner. Which as I recall is pretty realistic.

However, the thing I find astonishing is the attention to detail in the model. You can visit your cars in the garage, open doors, try the seats for size and look at all the controls. You can even open the bonnet (hood) and take a look at the engine. In the case of the Reliant this has triggered lots of memories of my first ever car. It had a habit of lifting the inside wheel when I was cornering, which passengers found rather disquieting. 

I really, really, love Forza 3. It isn't a game you play, it's a place you visit. I'm running it on my PC and on my Xbox. The PC experience is very, very, good. It seems strange to be able to ALT-TAB from an triple A video game into Visual Studio and back, but you can do just that. Strongly recommended. 

Forza Horizon 3 is Wonderful

I liked Forza Horizon 3 so much that I've bought it. At the time I got it they had a discount in the store, so I've got it for both Xbox One and Windows 10 at what I think is quite a reasonable price.

I can now take my Tesla out and go drifting in the Australian outback. Awesome fun. It is the best racing game ever. I've played a few over the years, and I really can't fault Forza in any way. The breadth of vehicles, the quality of the driving experience, the feeling of being part of something. All wonderful.

I don't play games as much as I probably should. No, really. But Forza is probably going to change that. I've got to smash a few more boards and collect my very own Reliant Regal.....

Lego Dimensions Fun and Games

I'm a sucker for Lego stuff. I've got a Lego VIP card and everything. I've always liked their computer games too. I've got very fond memories of playing Lego Star Wars on the Xbox 360 with number one daughter. We worked through most of the campaign together and when we got to a difficult bit she'd unplug her controller so that her dad could take over and sort things out. Happy days.

When Lego Dimensions came out it was just a matter of time before I got a copy. The cynical part of me noted how clever it was for them to give you some Lego to build during the inevitable enormous download you have to perform whenever you install a new game these days, but we started playing while the update was being fetched and it worked fine. When the update was finished we just installed it and continued playing.

I've had a go with figure based games before. I had quite a bit of fun with the Disney offering a while back. But the Lego one has a few clever twists. For a start you have to build the character figures themselves which is always fun. There's a little platform that you plug into the console so that the game can tell which playing pieces you are using, but you can put more figures on this than you can with the other games. They've also incorporated the platform into the game in some rather neat ways. To solve some puzzles you have to move people and vehicles around a bit, which is rather neat.

We got the Portal add on as well, which is great fun although we weren't sure what we had to do to complete it.

If you like Lego games you'll like Lego Dimensions. The gameplay is as solid as previous versions with a similar mix of shooting, puzzles and building. The characterisation is great too. The voice acting for the characters is spot on and the script is very funny. There is some nice banter between Batman and Dr. Who in amongst the set pieces.

It looks like it could be a serious drain on the purse though. We kept finding things that we couldn't do because we lacked a character with the appropriate skills. We could of course solve this by going and buying the requisite person, but the sheer variety of items and people makes completeness a very expensive proposition.

But if you can stand the cost, I don't think you'll be disappointed.