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Tamsin Oxford

Bioshock £9.95 @ Shopto.net [PS3 Games]

Tamsin Oxford
Bioshock, First person shooter, PS3 games
Bioshock | Playstation 3


One of the best games of 2008, Bioshock received numerous awards and was critically commended by the gaming community as a whole. An excellently immersive title with an in-depth storyline, gripping music and superb graphics, it’s well worth playing if you haven’t done so already.

You can buy it at a neat £9.95 from Shopto.net but if you use a voucher code you can drop it down even further to £8.95.

The voucher code is: shoptovoucher3

Included in the price is free recorded first class delivery which means you’ll get this luscious title just in time for Christmas.

Bioshock is set in the 1960s in a fictional underwater city known as Rapture. You discover more about the mysteries surrounding the city and its inhabitants as Jack, a man who’s plane has crashed into the Atlantic forcing him to take refuge in the beleaguered city.

Once inside you battle genetically mutated humans, driven by a desperate need to take a substance known as ADAM, and an unhinged society that will do its best to eat you alive. Yes, this is a first-person shooter but it’s also a gripping mystery that will have you playing deep into the night. Superb atmosphere and visual design, alongside excellent character customisation and voice acting, make this a worthy purchase.

Thanks to Jake1983

Microtransactions – Good or Evil?

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles, Microtransactions


The growth of the microtransaction model in PC gaming has had both positive and negative feedback from the serious gamer. As this is still in its infancy does it have the potential to become a solid gaming business model?

Microtransactions are essentially in-game payments made by players to purchase goods, services, upgrades and other such features. These can be structured in a variety of different ways.  In some cases, the game is free but extra content has to be paid for; in others you buy services or features to bulk up your character. The permutations are varied and impact the gaming experience in their own ways.

Microtransactions are considered to be one way of limiting the impact of gaming piracy on the industry. Over the past few years, the future of PC gaming has been under the spotlight with many experts believing that piracy is one of the main reasons for its decline. If the games are given away for free and companies make their money from selling in-game content, then piracy should theoretically hit a dead end.


This model is by no means perfect. Plenty of situations have seen it kill a game or irk players to the extent that they no longer play. However, if you manage it well, companies have the potential to make sufficient profit while gamers only pay small amounts in incremental stages.

On Gamasutra journalist Daniel Kromand interviews core gamers to find out how they feel about the idea and comes up with plenty of excellent ways in which it can be used well.

However, take a look at the recent announcement by EA Games about their changes to Battlefield: Heroes. You can play the game for free but you need to buy items in order to give your player that extra oomph - or you can spend hours in the grind cycle laboriously working to get them for free. The choice was yours.  Now, however, EA have changed their pricing structure so that if you want to have any kind of competitive edge in the game then you’re going to have to pay. A lot.

Battlefield Heroes

You’ll be able to play for free if you want to, but you won’t get to have fun with the big boys without forking out a sum or three. You could still grind, however it would demand hideous man-hours playing the game for very little lasting reward. The outcry from gamers has been phenomenal.

This is, I think, a case of microtransactions going sour. What Kromand made very clear in his article is that the goods “must be designed to both offer a strong value proposition for the potential consumer, while not alienating the player that does not purchase the goods.” Erm, EA?

Interestingly, social games like Farmville on Facebook have made excellent use of this business model. You don’t need to spend money to enjoy the game but if you wished, if you were in the mood, you could spend a little bit of cash here and there to up your ante. Its success speaks volumes. Nobody’s farm is going to implode without that extra cow but addicted players love being able to add personal touches here and there.


What I like about this fledgling concept (although it’s been put to good use internationally and in other forms of gaming like card collecting), is that, if introduced properly, it gives gamers the power.

You are free to choose how and when you upgrade your character and how much money you’re prepared to spend. For those who don’t have massive amounts of cash the option of paying small amounts every now and again is a good one. I must repeat that my one concern is that the rich get better results – that the game experience is dependent on your expenditure. It would be a case of art imitating life when the rich get richer and the poor stay crap.

Kromand’s interviewees also mentioned an element of peer pressure. When your online mates are all specced up to the gills or have the best weapons on earth, you’re going to feel obliged to do the same. Otherwise you may as well leave. This happens enough in MMOs like WoW when those who don’t have the time to invest heavily in end-game content are usually the ones who don’t get to enjoy it as much.

“Sorry, noob, you haz no epix.”

Ultimately the inclusion of microtransactions in a game needs to enhance the title, to expand gameplay in such a way that players feel excited about handing over their wages. The game needs to offer them some measure of reward that goes beyond a mere shiny sword or hat. How this is to be achieved or whether it can be achieved is something only a greater mind than mine can answer. All I know is that I’m fascinated and will watch this space closely.

What do you think? Sink or swim?

Finally, Something Useful!

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Once again I am writing while gripped in the throes of a dark depression.

Yes, I read a tragic story in the news today, a story that places video games firmly at the centre of another epic catastrophe.  Brace yourselves; it’s going to make your heart bleed with anguish when I tell you what happened.

Image courtesy of Aussiegall

Image courtesy of Aussiegall

Andy Murray, that famous and talented tennis player, has broken up with his girlfriend, Kim Sears.

I know, I know. You must be devastated. Especially by the fact that video games are at fault. No, I don’t blame you for instantly rushing to eBay to sell your Wii / PS3 / Xbox 360/ PC. Obviously this crushing information has made a lightbulb go off in your head making you realise that gaming is going to destroy your life. It’s ok, go ahead. Just don’t undercut me, ok?

Image courtesy of Jezz

Image courtesy of Jezz

People wonder why gamers can get a little bit whiny. Well, we get whiny because the rest of the world feels this overwhelming compulsion to smash our favourite toy against a rock whenever they have a problem they can’t solve.

World peace is just not happening. It’s video games!

The recession is tightening its grip, worst in history! Must be the video game industry. Valve probably destroyed the banking system from within with their pet zombies and a crowbar.

However, as my thoughts sank into a dark place with lots of revenge swirling about I discovered something else. Something that wrenched me away from the catastrophic horror that is Kim Sears and Andy Murray and their £5 million mansion.

The Entertainment Software Ratings Board, that which we more commonly call the ESRB, has taken a huge step in the “please, take responsibility for yourself” direction. They’ve released a new iPhone app that has all their written gaming summaries on it. Over 18,000 video game ratings, reviews and summaries all right there at parental fingertips.


Now people can amble into the shops, access the app and find out more than just “M” or “Teen” for the rating. For example, Sims 3 returned a Teen rating with content described as Crude Humor (aargh American spelling!), Sexual Themes and Violence and had a more detailed analysis that would give the newbie an excellent idea as to what the game is about.

This is exactly the kind of proactive attitude that the gaming industry needs to adopt in order to start controlling the way people perceive them. Multi-million pound industry or not, it can be destroyed if the wrong people decide it should go.


By ensuring that parents, kids, teachers and “those in charge” have instantaneous access to the right information about a game you’re putting the ball firmly in their court. While this app is not yet available for the Android or other smart phones, there is a mobile site that can be accessed easily enough. It’s not as convenient as the iPhone, sure, but it does the job.

Personally I’m hoping that this may be one small step in the direction of making people take responsibility for themselves AND their children. I’m heartily sick and tired of hearing about how traumatised Little Johnny was when he played a game rated M that he asked Mommy to buy. How about Mommy picks up the box and reads it before she summarily hands it over?

Time to start accepting that your actions have consequences and that it’s ridiculous to level blame at an industry that’s trying to help you make informed decisions.

If you buy the wrong games for your kids it’s your fault. Deal with it. I don’t want to anymore.

I also don’t want to read anymore exceedingly stupid headlines that blame games for the ills of the world. When I examined the Andy Murray feature a little more closely it does say that Kim had other reasons for leaving Andy than his penchant for gaming.


However, thanks to the uproar about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, some media seem to think that slapping the term video game into the headline is going to get a puerile and random feature more attention.  This is not a true reflection of the market.

Where are the stories of people who got together while playing epic sessions of an MMO? There have been some of those. Aren’t they as newsworthy? The fact that Alexey Pajitnov plays WoW as a female elf merited only a spasm on the media-oh-meter.

So he’s possibly not as obviously famous as Andy Murray but the man invented Tetris! Everybody’s played Tetris. I spent at least an hour chuckling away and wondering what server he was on. I want to play with Alexey’s elf.

burning books

Image courtesy of altemark

I’m not sure if it’s any use to rant and rage about a world that seems determined to scrape every last morsel of bad out of something I love, but I'm going to keep trying. Books were burned, TVs were vilified and now its our turn. One day this will change and another will take it’s place but, until then, I’m going down fighting.

War In A Teacup

Tamsin Oxford

Once again games are at the forefront of the news. Now they are being criticised by human rights groups, Trial and Pro Juventute, because they allow players to commit virtual war crimes. These groups were concerned that because games are interactive by nature and encourage the player to become immersed in the experience it meant that “line between the virtual and real experience becomes blurred and the game becomes a simulation of real-life situations on the battlefield.[BBC]


These testers played a variety of different war games including Call of Duty and Far Cry in order to determine whether or not the games rules abided by the Geneva Convention. There were lawyers watching people play for Pete’s sake.

Call of Duty

This annoyed me. Look, I firmly believe that war should stop and that the atrocities committed by people in war are simply heinous. However, I do not believe that people who play games, are going to suddenly put their mice down and say, “Oh well, I think I’m going to commit an atrocity today.”


“I think I’m going to head out and declare war on small people with red hair.”

This just doesn’t happen. Is this not a follow-on from the hype-induced madness of how video games make people violent? Let’s face it, if video games were as amazingly successful at turning ordinary human beings into crazed psycho killers as people say they are, then why haven’t we seen them being used as part of army training to build some kind of super soldiers?


This has to be one of the most random wastes of resources I’ve ever encountered. What about objecting to the fact that a recent video by Rihanna has her explicitly linking sex to violent crime? How come this isn’t being taken into consideration by these human rights groups? I suppose it isn't interactive enough...

Well excuse me for snorting derisively into my whisky. I happen to know that rock music caused exactly the same outcry when it first came out and Elvis’ pelvis was the root of all evil. So were books at one point. I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

Image courtesy of: Oddsocks

Image courtesy of: Oddsocks

Writing this is proving quite difficult. I’m wary of treading on toes when the parallels are so tricky and explosive but I still think that this study is taking it all too far. Not only does it turn games into these all powerful mind controlling devices but it also tells us, the gamers, that we are these hugely malleable and susceptible creatures that have no control over our actions.

Frankly it’s insulting. How many gamers do you know that work in high powered jobs and are extremely intelligent? I know plenty of them. They can hold their own in any debate and they can frag like loons when the mood strikes them.  I have yet to see any of them emerge from a gaming session with their arms outstretched like zombies and muttering “Must. Kill. Everybody. Women and children first.”


I think we are all perfectly capable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality. We can read books about vampires without biting the furniture, we can watch movies about animated mammoths and not believe it’s the coming of the ice age and we can play games without turning into maniacs.

I found it particularly interesting when they mentioned that they didn’t choose movies for this study because they were not as interactive as games. Um. Ok. So, what about those people (like me) who can get completely swept away by a movie? I love a good film that has me believing I’m on an alien planet and about to be saved by Vin Diesel (please note, Vin, I really still would love this). I think that the lack of controls and choices does mean a substantial reduction in involvement but I also think that violence in film can easily fail the same stringent tests placed on games.

Finally what changed my irritation to ire, was the fact that they so kindly offered to help developers include these rules in the games. On one hand, I suppose, this could actually benefit gameplay by placing real-world limits on situations that may make them far more difficult to complete. On the other hand isn’t this a little like trying to control what people think, do and play? There are no fantasy games included in this survey and yet these have many similar crimes committed. Obviously they don’t count because they are “fantasy” and orcs don’t hang about the local airport. However, these war games are also fantasy so how about taking a chill pill and looking at them in the context they were intended?

army of two

This survey looked exclusively at war games but war movies, war books, war stories and war games (the ones you enact) have been around for a very long time and I don’t see them coming under the hammer. I am aware that this opens the door of debate wide open as I’ve left some glaring holes but ultimately I think that if you’re going to examine human rights violations in gaming why not open up all forms of entertainment to the same scrutiny. Otherwise it’s just another attempt to say nothing at all.

Medieval Games Review: Jousting, Ousting & Pig Poo

Tamsin Oxford
Games reviews, Medieval Games

Medieval box

Platform: Wii

Publisher: Vir2L Softworks

Developer: N-Fusion Interactive

The Wii is one of the best party games on the planet. Insert a disc, dish out the wiimotes and beer, and have yourself a fantastic time. The success of titles like Mario Party 8, Carnival Games and Raving Rabbids just goes to show that people enjoy making idiots of themselves, while playing clever mini-games that challenge their minds and reflexes.

So along comes Medieval Games developed by N-Fusion Interactive and with it some delightfully light and entertaining moments. From the beginning its structure is very similar to that of Mario Party 8. Those of you who played the latter will find the flow of the game, along with the coins and mini-games, instantly recognisable.

Visually the game has adopted a unique style to convey the storyline through cut-scenes. Instead of terrifyingly bland CGI they’ve opted for a story-book design that works beautifully. As each page of this pop-up book turns you’ll be treated to bright artwork with some excellent caricatures.


Once you enter the main menu you’re given plenty of choices on how you want to proceed with the game. You can elect to practice a series of mini games in Free Play, enter into a Tournament or play the Storybook mode.

To start with, you find yourself at a festival, the Harvest Festival to be exact, where you are to compete against up to four other players on a board that runs around the grounds of the palace. Your goal is to win the most coins so you can choose a bride for the Prince. If you don’t, something horrible will happen to him. I liked the idea, especially when you had the obligatory pushy father with his terrifyingly unattractive daughter vying for top spot.

The game is, quite simply, a board game with mini-games, traps and prizes along the way. You have to play with four people so if you’re a solo player then you’ll be up against three computer bots. This isn’t ideal for the lonely git who loves this type of game but has no friends.

It’s at this point that the game’s flaws begin to show. Manhandling the dice is blocky and vague so you don’t quite get the feeling that you have any control over the wiimote, or the outcome. And, if you’re solo, you have to endure a long wait before it’s your turn.


However, the mini games are usually all inclusive for all four players so you won’t be sitting on your sofa nodding off while you wait for a chance to lift your wiimote.

These mini games are delightfully varied, 30 in total, and enter into the medieval spirit of things nicely. Fans of Monty Python will laugh at the Black Knight and the mini game that surrounds his appearance and the pig trussing game is delightfully funny. As are your manure soaked robes.

Unfortunately most of these games suffer from poor wiimote control. I got frustrated pretty fast with the clunky interaction and manoeuvrability. In games like the catapult or the jousting you want to give up in annoyance after only a couple of tries. Waving the wiimote in the instructed manner seemed to only work every now and again and any precision is almost impossible to achieve.

That said, the archery games were great. For some reason the controls slipped neatly into place and you were given neat accuracy when firing.

It is a real pity that the controls are so flaky when it’s obvious that a lot of effort has gone into coming up with imaginative games. Dragons, dancing and puppet smashing all feature and are all delightful to watch.


Which brings me to my next concern, watching. It’s a four player game that has two players sitting out for quite a lot of the time. While this is obviously an excellent opportunity for you to quaff some mead (or beer, whichever you prefer) it isn’t really condusive to inclusive play.

Not only that, but when the games are Versus style – as in one player against the other three – it’s often not very clear what you’re supposed to be doing. Are you the player doing the shooting or are you the player doing the ducking? In the puppet slasher game (a genius concept) you’re asked to take control of a puppet that isn’t your original character and you have no idea which one you’re supposed to be. This is, of course, in solo player vs. three computer bots mode.

If you want something more competitive then Tournament mode will be a good bet – you can duel it out with your opponents and enjoy some happy jousting. Free Play is exactly what it says on the tin,  a good place to get some practise before you play the Storybook mode.

Overall the game is entertaining but does suffer from frustrating flaws that should not be there at all considering its predecessor Carnival Games and how chic the interface was there. Needless to say ,it’s likely that many fans of the genre will enjoy playing Medieval games and get a kick out of the clever jokes and mini games.

What's Your Secret Then?

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles, Simulation games

Do you play a game you dare not admit to?

Just like books, games have a certain snobbery attached to them. For those of us in thtwilight-movie-postere know, there are specific types of games that are looked down upon and those that play them are pitied or mocked.

These games are the Twilights or Harry Potters of the gaming world. You play them secretly in a dark underground bunker just in case somebody pops round and catches you at it.

Of course there is a ton of debate as to exactly which games fall under this umbrella – everybody has different tastes, right?

Well, yes, sort of. But, like trainspotting, Solitaire is considered one of those unmentionables. If you nurse a secret addiction to Algerian Patience on Facebook or Spider Solitaire on your Windows desktop I’m willing to bet that you’d never admit that in company.

Algerian Patience

Imagine the scene: a group of gamers chilling out over some beer at the local and talking about their latest efforts in [insert cool game here] and you then confess to having spent eight straight hours trying to beat the computer at Hearts.

It will never, ever be cool.

And yet there are plenty of people that do enjoy a nice game of solitaire with a hot cup of tea, and they aren’t all wearing curlers in their hair or knitting a sweater either. In fact, one pleasant (and extremely anonymous) person that I chatted to when I was writing this piece said to me, “It’s funny because my partner will play Left4Dead for hours and that’s ok, but if we get into a fight about it he’ll openly sneer at my time spent playing Patience. It’s as if his gaming is an acceptable time sink but mine is not.”

Solitaire isn’t the otrain simnly game to meet with an arched eyebrow and a pitying pat. What about Train Simulator? I’ll be brave and admit that I loved it. I spent hours and hours playing that game until a chance conversation at a gaming event had everyone stop talking and stare at me as if I’d grown an extra eye.

I succumbed to peer pressure and stopped playing pretty much immediately (not without a couple of sad glances at the case though). Still, at one point most of the games being released were sim titles of some shape or another so, as a reviewer, I got to play them all without the fear of being burned at the gamer stake. Obviously I pretended to hate every minute of it....

The Sims were also shrouded in this veil of shame at one point although it sesimsems that later incarnations have seen it become a more universally accepted title. The more dedicated gamer is likely to be snorting into his caffeine at this point but overall the comments on gaming sites are a little less patronising when referring to the Sims nowadays. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Train Sim may still be considered dodgy.

Another title that was thrown my way during my investigations was Flight Simulator. Yes, I’m aware that I’m still lurking in the sim genre but this one I simply had to raise. I’m definitely one of those gamers who looks at fans of Flight Sim and goes, “What? Seriously??”.

Flight SimI understand that it’s got every airport in the world including Barack Obama’s personal landing strip but what on earth could be the attraction of sitting in your chair for the (wait for it) same length of time as the actual flight itself? Then you get there and fly somewhere else. You don’t, as I would expect after such a long wait, get out and have someone hand you a beach and a Mai Tai.

Age of Empires, during its giddy heyday was also considered something of a no-no in gaming circles. While the fan base tried not to take it too personally, FPS lovers would stalk them at events and menace them in dark corners. Usually it was best to keep it all a bit quiet.

DK plague

Interestingly World of Warcraft has actually become the King of the Game with Shame in spite of being one of the most popular games on the planet. Talking about it in any circle gets you looks of dismay (oh, God an addict), pity (play a real game weirdo!) and fear (he isn’t going to go all Jehovah’s Witness on me, is he?). You can kind of see where it came from but it still takes me by surprise when I realise how far the mantle of WoW has fallen.

What about you? What games have I completely missed out on that you believe fit neatly into this category? Why not admit your little gaming secret while you’re at it, after all if we all confess to one tiny little lapse in taste then perhaps we’ll be more accepting.


What's Your Secret Then?

The Great, Secret Shame

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Admitting that you’re a gamer still seems to be akin to confessing a love for pulling the wings off butterflies.

It’s interesting, there have been several articles over the past week about whether or not gamers are ashamed to admit to their predilection for sitting in a dark room playing with pixels. In an article, that was in turn funny and insightful, Jack Arnott confessed that gaming is “something [he] barely ever talks about.”

Should gamers be ashamed?Why? Because people who play games are still seen as sad little nerds who don’t have social skills and are probably either suffering from a raging addiction (about to start selling our furniture at a moment’s notice to afford more crack games) or are about to kill everyone in sight.

In fact, some people do look at me, when I confess to my Love That Has No Name, as if I’m going to suddenly go insane and open fire with that Kalashnikov I have handily tucked into my Prada bag.

Senior designer at Splash Damage, Edward Stern, was quick to retaliate to Jack with his article in the Guardian “Gamers will inherit the virtual earth”.

He raises some extremely interesting points about where the games industry is sitting in terms of historical development with references to the horseless carriage phase and how the industry is evolving.

He also points out that this is an industry where “the UK spent £4bn on games: more than DVD and music sales combined.”

Now that statistic makes me go “HA!”

If it’s true thatgaming shame we hide our love of gaming like we would a love of biscuit wrappers, then there are more people out there lying through their teeth about what they do on a cold winter’s evening that you could imagine.

However, I must agree that it is true that people do look at you with either concern or disdain when you admit to playing computer games.

More so if you’re playing World of Warcraft . I’ve noticed that any admittance to having a level 80 Death Knight has led to people laughing at me and asking me if I “dress up.”

No, people, I don’t dress up. In fact, like you, I wear jeans and a t-shirt to my social gatherings except that I don’t necessarily meet the people I’ve made friends with online. You may think that sitting in the same pub every single night for the rest of your sad little life constitutes a far more acceptable form of relaxation and socialising but I don’t. I may still get a little drunk (who doesn’t enjoy a nice beer while gaming I ask you?) but just because I’m not sitting side by sweaty side with my compadres does not mean I am a sad addicted git who needs to go to a specialist.

Amusingly the first ever game addiction clinic in Britain has just thrown open its doors to us sad, sad creatures.

Now before you start yelling at me about how there are genuine cases of addiction where people have lost their homes, wives and socks to games like Everquest and WoW, I’d like to point out that these cases are not an everyday Skeleton addictoccurrence.

Sure, the media would love to have the world believe that gaming addiction is sitting right on your left shoulder, ready to pounce the moment you spend longer than an hour with Lara (or perhaps the first moment you try the hack to see her knockers?) but  this is patently not true.

Destructoid have it in one with their description “a trendy new affliction” for it seems, to me, to be just that.

But I digress...

Is it because of the 80s stereotype of the skinny, pale, glasses-wearing dork who’d never had sex and wouldn’t know a girl if she sat on his head that we are left with this lingering sense that we are social outcasts?

I’m not sure.

I love gaming, I’ve always loved gaming. I’ve never been ashamed of admitting it and I’ve taken it as a compliment when people have called me a geek or a nerd. Why not? Shall the geek not inherit the earth? (sorry)

Geek inherit

You look at men like Bill Gates (you don’t have to like him, ok), John Carmack, Nolan Bushnell, Sid Meier, Will Wright – the list goes on – and these so-called geeks are blindingly intelligent and stupidly rich.

I don’t see anything wrong with that stigma at all. I wouldn’t mind being blindingly rich myself.

What I do object to is the fact that people seem to think its ok to make sweeping character judgements based on your enjoyment of video games.

When I was working for a large company last year, the conversation about gaming came up and many of the people sitting around in this open plan office confessed to being bewildered by WoW and what it was all about. I innocently confessed to playing it regularly and soon found that I became the butt of ridiculous jokes and that my abilities were taken into question as a result. Not openly of course, but rather a sense of “Hmm, she can’t possibly be taken seriously now”.

That irked me. I refuse to accept that my passion for this activity, as solitary and sedentary as reading a book I might add, means that I am any different from someone who chooses to do something else.

Gamers, it’s time to stand up with pride.

Machinarium Review

Tamsin Oxford
Games reviews, Machinarium, Puzzle games

Machinarium is an unexpected and delightful adventure title that will surprise and impress you.


It won’t matter if you’re a fan of the point-and-click adventure genre when you first delve into the depths of Machinarium. This game’s been cleverly structured to deliver a sharp and tasty experience no matter what your preferences.

Built entirely in Flash and dripping with incredible artwork and steampunk attitude, Machinarium is a rarity from indie developer Amanita Design.

Most titles in the adventure genre can be frustrating and tedious, it isn’t unusual for players to simply get fed up, quit and play something else. There’s a limit on your ability to cope with obscure puzzles and a frustrating lack of clues.

Machinarium, however, has tackled these issues ingeniously. To start with, most of the puzzles you’ll encounter are a wonderful cross-section, ranging from the strange to the familiar to the downright obvious. You’ll uncover puzzles that will take you back to the giddy days of Manic Miner and others that you used to play with your siblings on a cold Christmas afternoon.


What the developers have done is offer you several ways of solving these puzzles so you don’t lose interest. The first is a button that triggers a thought bubble showing you what you should be aiming for and the second is a complete solution that you can only read once you’ve completed a mini-game. The latter are fabulous side-scrolling shooters similar to the 1980s hit Scramble that are guaranteed to suck up a lot of your time.

The game doesn’t offer complete solutions lightly and as it progresses the solutions become increasingly broader and less obvious. Fans of adventure games will appreciate this purist attitude, knowing full well how satisfying that giddy elation you feel when you’ve laboriously solved a particularly difficult problem can be.

As you move through the world, the game guides you through interacting with the various elements and using your character’s adjustable height to, ahem, reach new heights. This takes about three seconds.

It’s a pleasure to not have to learn a staggering number of controls and buttons before sitting back and enjoying a game. Of course, the character’s adjustable height adds a new dimension to your puzzling and you may get truly stuck unless you remember this detail.


As I’ve already mentioned, the artwork is fantastic. The mesmerising world of our forlorn little robot is beautifully realised. I’d happily take any one of the screengrabs here and mount them in my office.

Independent Czech studio, Amanita Design, have put a lot of thought into the details. All in-game communication is handled using speech bubbles and the characters are so well designed that the lack of talking just adds to the experience. For example, if you leave your character doing nothing for long enough he’ll start reminiscing and some of his memories are hilarious. It’s also testament to the philosophy of “less is more”. Our protagonist’s reaction to stupid decisions or impossible actions is a simple noise and a headshake. Sounds like nothing but is in reality very expressive and, dare I say, very cute.


Adding to the imagery and animation is a wistful soundtrack and impeccable pacing. The music's woven neatly into the timing creating a soulful ambience that’s almost relaxing - until they suddenly change it with unexpected time-based puzzles and emotionally charged situations. By the time these roll around you’re so emotionally involved with your character that you find yourself frantically hunting for a solution before the worst can occur.

For anyone who usually plays the FPS, there’s that underlying sense of “must move faster” that the game belies but adds beautifully to the mood.

There are some fiddly little problems and issues that plague Machinarium, while not severe enough to ruin the game, they will result in some frustrations.

During the course of the game you have to try and grab every available object in the vicinity just in case you can use it at some point in the future. Although this is somewhat balanced by their usually being found where they’re most needed.

Amanita has also removed any issues with weighty inventories by having items automatically discarded once they’re used.


You may also get a little tired of the range of interaction offered in the game. As areas expand outwards it can become a little befuddling as puzzles pile up, items stack up and solutions remain out of reach. Additionally, your little robot has to be standing right next to the relevant item or equipment in order to use it and sometimes that means playing around incessantly with his height and walking for miles across cityscapes.

The Flash base means there’s no right-click and so extras like running or rapid inventory access can occasionally be sorely missed. You can’t speed up his pace or stop him mid-action if you’ve made the wrong click or two. Watching the same action repeated laboriously because you’ve made a silly error can get a bit tedious.

However, this is not a game for the eternally impatient or the desperate to win. It’s a rich treat for the senses that leads you gently into another realm and makes you believe in sad little robots and their happy little destinies. Machinarium is a rare treat, well worth playing as winter oozes in and we huddle beside our chassis’ for warmth.


Pumpkin-tastic Game Carvings!

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

It’s pumpkin time!

Halloween week is upon us so to celebrate I’ve grabbed the best video game pumpkin carvings on the net for you to enjoy.

It never fails to impress and amaze me when people create these incredible images on the humble pumpkin. These round orange blobs are transformed into fantastical creatures and characters that must either terrify or tantalise anyone passing by. Probably the former if they’re not gamers (snigger).

Check out these impressive Halloween pumpkins...

1. Mario

Mario Pumpkin

Dude, this must have taken hours and hours to create! I discovered this Mario pumpkin on gaygamer.net and spent ages staring at it. Look at the detail. Whoever created this had an impressive eye for three dimensional carving.

2. Wii

Hahahah, I love the disembodied hand emerging from the side of the pumpkin and the intricate detail on the wiimote. Genius craftwork here. This was discovered courtesty of techblog.

>>>> Click here to see more pumpkin-tastic carvings!

Did Windows 7 Turn Into A Pumpkin At Midnight?

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Gamers always eye the launch of a new OS from Microsoft with suspicion - will Windows 7 be the one that makes the grade?Windows7-1

Windows 7 has met with fairly mixed reviews across the board although it’s definitely getting far more positive feedback than its predecessor, Windows Vista. That overweight, memory hogging behemoth didn’t do anyone any favours.

Most of us stuck with XP or, after a couple of disastrous Vista dates, promptly uninstalled it and went back to XP. See a common theme here? Well, with Windows 7 I can confidently say that even though I’ve been playing around with the evaluation copy for many months now, it has the looks of Vista with the speed of XP. This was a nice realisation that I rewarded with an extra hour of kicking butt and transferring my games library via Steam.

With many unnecessary extras shaved off the top like Outlook, Photo Gallery and Calendar (you can now nab all of these with Windows Live alongside some nifty new aesthetics), it’s eminently more customisable. Windows 7 really is the sexy younger sister of Vista’s ageing diva. If you like things sleek and unencumbered, it offers you that in spades.

VistaWith previous operating system launches (XP SP1 anyone?) we’ve all experienced a nasty drop in performance or had innumerable conflicts, issues and compatibility problems. So, for many of us, the launch of Windows 7 has posed something of a dilemma. Do we upgrade or do we stay the same? I’ve done some tussling with this new OS and have some good news, and some bad news, to report.

I’ve run older games like Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow quite comfortably, my only adjustment being to run it in Windows XP compatibility mode for better performance. I’ve also taken Sims 3, F.E.A.R. and Far Cry through the motions and I have to admit that I’ve experienced absolutely no issues. Performance has been running on a par with my XP rig and, in spite of plenty of buggy hiccups on the eval install, the games were smooth and even to run.

Of course, I say this with a certain amount of restraint. There will always be problems and I have no doubt in my mind that something will come up as Windows 7 chugs into its first year and we crave a Service Pack to iron out the kinks.  There have been plenty of surround sound problems reported thanks to driver issues and there are definitely niggles with IE8 that have had me tearing out my hair.

Graphics-cardsAnother shiny beacon is DirectX 11 of course. It’s not quite on the cards for some of us lesser mortals until we grab all the necessary hardware but it’s definitely something to look forward to. Those graphical displays have had me drooling and I can’t wait until I’ve upgraded and inserted everything I need to make it a reality. Fortunately, WIndows 7 is also compatible with DX10. Microsoft didn’t do their unpleasant discontinuity tactic as they did between DX9 and DX10.

One concern that’s been widely recognised is that Microsoft seems to have neglected PC gaming in their drive to launch Windows 7. Interestingly, features written by gaming journalists and those reporting Windows 7, from here to Chicago all mention the same thing. Why should behemoths like Microsoft care about the gamer – we’ve often had the short straw and we’re pretty good at putting up with all sorts of sub standard products.

In fact, our middle names could comfortably be “tolerant troubleshooters”.

My question is, why should we be consistently set aside? PC gamers have long invested plenty of cash and time into their PCs and are usually snapping up technology the moment it appears.

The PC Gaming Alliance (PCGA) has barely featured during the launch of Windows 7, a tragedy in itself. Designed to “drive the continued growth of gaming on Personal Computers” the PCGA should have been out there in force, pushing the platform and the PC onto a hyper-alert market. It seems that everyone has missed a trick here. What are they doing over there? Gaming?

GamerYou’d think that with the amount of money poured into Games for Windows’ coffers, there’d be some kind of announcement or advancement (other than DX11 of course) that would have us wrestling one another to get our hands on this operating system. Well, think again. No games, nothing, not even the simpering Games for Windows has received so much as a toot or a strand of ticker tape. What a lost opportunity! What a kick in the teeth for a core consumer niche that has ridden out the horrors of their bloated systems in order to play games!

I understand that the market is currently driving towards the console, a debate in and of itself, but the PC has an enormously loyal following and plenty of titles that can run on no other platform such as MMOs. Don’t you think, Microsoft, that you could have supported a niche group of customers just a little better? After all, as we watch more and more games lazily ported to the PC months after they’ve been launched on a console, it would have been nice to celebrate the PC once again.

So, is Windows 7 worth getting as a gamer? If you’re happy with what you have right now I would say don’t bother. All the parts of Windows 7 that make me shiver with delight have absolutely nothing to do with gaming*. What a shame.

*Except DirectX11


Lights, Camera, Disaster

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles


It remains a mystery as to why people strive to merge the media of movies and games.

I read an article recently that left me nearly apoplectic with rage. Not only did it start with a howler of a sentence in which the author postulates that if video games are to become as popular as films then... but it went on to make suggestions on how to improve games that were as terrifying as the twins on X-Factor.

Look, in my world it’s quite simple, don’t compare movies and games. Yes, they both have shiny moving pictures, actors and fairly interesting storylines but that’s where the similarity ends. A movie is where you sit down in a chair and stare at a big screen and do... nothing.

A video game is where you sit down in a chair and stare at a big screen and do... everything. You duck, you weave, you interact and you make decisions that are going to effectively impact what happens next.  Why on earth would we want to make our games more like movies?

Which brings me neatly to my next point. Why are we making our favourite games into stunningly crap movies? It seems that there are people determined to turn this into a working relationship so they can cash in on our passions, except that it isn’t working, is it?

I’m not going to lie, when I first started gaming I often played a title and imagined the absolute awesomeness of seeing it on celluloid. Oooh, Half Life brought to, ahem, life, complete with vicious CGI headcrabs and lurching monsters. How delicious.

Well, I felt this way until the first game movies collapsed onto our screens. After about the fifth abortive attempt by Hollywood I stopped hoping against hope that they would get it right. I genuinely felt despair - how hard can it be to write a tight and powerful script for a movie based on a video game that already had a fairly tight and powerful script? There are definitely limitations in cinema so corners have to be cut for obvious reasons but that doesn’t mean eliminating common sense and a plot.

DoomDoom (2005)

I would like to thank Hollywood for taking one of my all time favourite games, the one that got me hooked on the FPS, and making the most awful movie I’ve ever seen.

The most terrifying (and mesmerising) things in the entire movie were Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s teeth. Unnaturally white and huge, they seemed to gleam menacingly at me whenever he opened his mouth. And they’re making a sequel (not his teeth). It’s enough to make gouging your eyes out with a fork a pleasant past time.

Resident-evilResident Evil: Extinction (2007)

I enjoyed the first film; it did what it said on the tin and was entertaining. Not to mention the fact that Milla is always easy on the eyes. This movie, however, was a dog's breakfast from start to finish.

The storyline was weak and specious and there were scenes, like the attempted rape, that were beyond pointless and clearly only an excuse to rip half of Milla’s clothes off. Then there were the zombie crows. Look, we know zombies are cool but seriously! What’s next? Zombie snails? Zombie kittens?

Aliens-vs-PredatorAlien vs. Predator (2004)

AvP was a masterpiece of a game. Rich with tension and terror it kept you on tenterhooks and even the toughest players were known to jump just a bit when things got hairy. Even though the comic was first, this still counts as a “game made into a movie” for many fans. A movie that we were all dying to see. I mean, come on! Predator was ace for its time and Alien and Aliens were sublime. It was a winning formula.

Then the movie came out and it was awful. Then they made another movie which made the first movie look like an award winning masterpiece. It could have been so good, so very, very good. I think we should have a moment’s silence for an epic fail.

Max-PayneMax Payne (2008)

Not a fan of Mark Wahlberg to begin with, I was uncertain of this movie and how it would pan out. Poor Mark - it looks like his run of failed leading man movies did not end with this miserable sod of a movie.

I loved the games, they were wonderfully noir and dry and bloody. The movie was as much fun as watching a slug inch its way across your lounge. Actually that may be more fun - you could put obstacles in his way and have races. Max Payne is, well, payneful (sorry).

ALone-in-the-darkAlone in the Dark (2005)

Once again we have the ham-handed hack Uwe Boll’s attempt at directing a video game to movie and failing. While clearly the people who have budgets love Uwe, he went on to direct Far Cry; most gamers don’t. The Alone in the Dark series was wonderful - dark and icky and deliciously tense.

But the movie sits right up there with AvP and Doom as a tragic cinema victim. Rotten Tomatoes has the average score at one percent. One percent. That’s got to be a record, surely?

Tomb-RaiderLara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

You can’t possibly believe that I’d leave this one out? It does sit up there as one of the best video game movies ever made and it does have Angelina Jolie in it but it is utterly devoid of a plot. What you’re really watching, if you replaced her lithe form with a hand puppet, is really just a character in various states of undress kicking butt, often for no particular reason other than to fulfil some basic male fantasies.

She had to save the world and blah blah blah but you are so busy staring at her chest you are never quite sure why she has to do it and what the problem is. They had the chance to make her into a powerful character with depth but instead made her into a talking doll. Yuck.

And you?

What are your thoughts on the worst ever game- to-movie conversions?

Games for girls? Not on my watch!

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Women in gaming. Recent news headlines have made out as if a new gaming market especially for women is the next big thing in gaming growth but isn’t that just a little offensive?

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal Europe entitled “Videogames make a play for women,” developers like EA and Ubisoft are designing dance, exercise and fashion-themed games for women.


Is it just me who finds it vaguely offensive that the kinds of games labelled “chick friendly” are vapid, boring and mostly pink?

Apparently not.

Says Camilla, a games reviewer and (amazingly) a girl, “Bit pathetic really, isn't it? Every 'female game' has got to have cute little pets in it or be about dressing up their dolls.

What about the women who’ve been playing games since they were kids and are still happily snapping up the latest FPS or RTS, and even racking up online time in MMOs? Are we invisible?

I agree that we don’t take up an enormous percentage of the market and that hardcore gaming has been primarily dominated by men but surely there’s another way?

How about introducing titles that are less intimidating to potential female players, something along the lines of the RTS, RPG or FPS lite. Diet and gal friendly.

DOAOr why not take out all the half-naked, busty bimbos that populate most games and replace them with characters that are approachable to both sexes?

Games don’t always have to be skimpy outfits, rude innuendos, with constant bombs and guns to appeal to men.  Nor do they need to gallop to the opposite end of the spectrum and be pink and fluffy and squeaky for chicks either.

I'd love some more racing games, mystery games like Professor Layton and Guitar Hero style games that are about having fun and not blood and guts,” says Camilla. “The manufacturers could do more about not playing up to male fantasies too. Who wants to play a game where the action hero has pneumatic tits ala Lara Croft that are designed purely to, well, titillate. We need some proper action heroes, strong female figures and decent games to really attract women and girls and at the minute, I can't think of any.

Will Wright did it with the Sims. He’s bred two generations of girl gamers happy to spend hours pottering around with their virtual people, getting them jiggy in a virtual world. Surely it’s only one small step from there into slightly more intricate titles like Sim City and then another teensy little sidle onto Civilization or Half Life?Girl-gaming

I can no longer count on one hand how many female friends I’ve converted to gaming thanks to my sticking them in front of Half Life and letting them have fun.

Nobody steps up in front of their PC and instantly plays like a pro, unless you’re some kind of genius of course, and the one consistent thing I’ve been told by other women is that they feel too intimidated to play “those” games.

They see battle toughened veterans moving their mice in mystical patterns or shaking their controllers like strippers on speed.

They read biased and unflattering news stories about how either gaming kills you or turns you into a killer. They think it’s the domain of the nerd.

Cooking-mamaNo wonder they don’t want to pick up a mouse or controller.

Nobody’s taken them to one side and explained how it works and that everybody starts out without a clue.

I remember my first tentative steps in an FPS – Doom.  After a couple of hours of jittery controls and panicked button smashing I was soon sorted.

Then addiction kicked in. A holiday in Malaysia was characterised by my zombie-like facade thanks to having played Duke Nukem until 3am every day. My poor parents.

The article, above,  that inspired my ire goes on to say that Ubisoft “in 2004 also began sponsoring an all female team of game players called Frag Dolls, to help promote women in gaming.”

Am I the only one who reads that and thinks “2004?” Isn’t that really late in the day?

According to recent debates and statistics, the PC has apparently seen its heyday. That those giddy 90s when you schlepped your PC across town to your mate’s house so you could frag each other all day in Quake have slipped by like a distant daydream.Girls-rule

So why haven’t large developers like this been sponsoring girl groups back when massive LANs were huge business? There were plenty of male groups sporting badges of developer affiliation and wallets oozing with corporate cash.

Could it be that the very reason women have edged away from gaming isn’t just because it’s “too violent” for our delicate little souls but because we’ve been gender stamped from the start?

I remember the first LAN I ever went to; carrying my beautiful baby out the car and into the hall I was met with stares and suppressed sniggers.

Surely a chick can’t possibly imagine she’ll spend more than three seconds alive with us macho cave hunters in the network?

Wrong, chaps. Wrong.

Although I did practice better overall hygiene and smelled a lot nicer.

I made it my mission to attract other women to gaming. I took them into my lair (a soundproofed room with superb sound, two machines and lots of power) and left them with whisky and Half Life.

I showed them how incredible it was to actually live Star Wars. How addictive Doom was and how funny the Duke could be.

Only one person never, ever got it and she was already a lost cause. She didn’t even like email.

So yes, developers, go ahead and make those horrible games with fake pets and hair salons but know this, there are plenty of women who think that perhaps the gender issues are yours.


The Power Of Co-Operative Gaming

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Will games ever evolve to become truly immersive experiences for more than one player?

GamersThere are plenty of games that offer up a multiplayer experience, that allow you to join forces with people from across the globe and have enormous fun creating mayhem together. However, most of these games don’t yet tap into the enormous potential offered by gaming platforms to play with friends in collaborative and co-operative scenarios.

It’s not easy to define co-operative gaming within our current framework – you can count any game that allows you to connect with people online – but what I’m thinking of are games that run on the same principle as, say, a Murder Dinner. There you are at home with three mates playing a game on the Xbox that adapts to each person’s individual moves and reactions and fully utilises the power of the Xbox’s four-player abilities.

Imagine playing a horror game that has your friends killed off by the masked killer/zombie/lunatic because of mistakes they’ve made, and the storyline adapts to this. You could be the last one left standing, Jamie Curtis style, against the nasty man with a chainsaw, or you could be killed off early because you decided to snog your in-game girlfriend in the dark cellar instead.

Left4DeadLeft4Dead is a game that has taken this idea and run with it, kindly bringing the PC into the mix - four players tackling the zombie horde together with the game adapting to their choices with brilliant swiftness. And its success is proof that gamers would love for this to become a regular feature of games, or perhaps even a genre of its own.

The potential is huge but is it going to become a phenomenon?

Jon Hicks, editor of Xbox 360: The Official Xbox Magazine, has this to say, “I think that collaborative, co-operative experiences are going to become more common. I’d certainly love for them to become a phenomenon but I wouldn’t bet on it happening anytime soon.

The problem is that creating such titles costs more money and takes far more time and, in a market that is rapidly evolving and an economy that’s becoming increasingly unfriendly, this isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

GamingValve are uniquely willing to playtest their games until all the problems are resolved,” says Jon, “but I expect most developers don’t have the time or budget available to develop a game that would engage four players at once. I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes roughly more than four times the effort.

There is something incredibly exciting about the idea of true co-operative play, being able to interact with fellow players on multiple levels. It has the potential to take gaming to the next level and to reinvent the market across all platforms.

Now that the main gaming platforms are constant and well known, increasing numbers of developers are striving for games that are more affecting rather than just bombastic, and co-operative experiences are an obvious way to do it,” explains Jon.

BrinkHe has a point; developers aren’t sitting back and letting the market run itself, they’ve taken notice and slowly titles that offer up many of these elements are starting to enter the market. Left4Dead2 is ambling onto our screens and the upcoming Brink looks promising.

Forget the MMO – yes, you’re playing with friends online in a collaborative way but ultimately it isn’t the right level. You don’t want to have to endure the ramblings of some idiot who you don’t know from a bar of soap in order to achieve your goals - you want to meet up with real friends in a real-time environment and kick some ass. You want to have the game react to each person’s choices and adapt accordingly.

It’ll take a lot of time and a lot of playtesting to buff out the variables,” says Jon. “It’ll take extraordinarily sharp writing and programming to set up a story that responds to multiplayer as effectively as the likes of Dead Space or Bioshock responds to one.

The room for growth is huge. You can take any movie or series or book and turn it into a collaborative game. There you are, a member of the team in Aliens, tackling the horde together as you race against time to get off the planet and “nuke it from orbit”.

Kids-GamingIt would be an excellent way to encourage kids to play together instead of slumping, alone, in front of the TV for hours on end. Recent research has had experts claim that children who spend too much time gaming are actually demonstrating weakened language skills. In co-operative play this wouldn’t be much of a feature, especially if it encouraged team work and group decisions to move through the game.

I think it’d be a brilliant genre,” concludes Jon. “I ‘m just not sure many people have the skills to populate it, or the time and money to get it right.

It’s good to know that experts agree - co-operative gaming is something to hold out for, Now we need only pray that more developers follow in Valve’s footsteps to create more titles and that the economy stops behaving badly for long enough to make it a reality.


10 Signs You've Spent Too Much Time Gaming

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

If it’s past midnight and your hands have frozen to the keyboard because you were too busy nerfing to turn on the heating then, please, read on and save yourself! Here are Dealspwn's top ten signs that you've spent too much time gaming!

1. You’re fatYou're-fat

Yes, you’re no longer the size 10 that sidled onto the sofa when first discovering the magic of gaming.

You are now a fat, lazy bastard who’s incapable of climbing the stairs without the assistance of the banister. Sure, in the game you’re a death defying ninja with l33t skill0rz but sadly, in real life, you need to go for a run.

I-hope-that's-chocolate2. You’re malnourished

Fat, but malnourished. You see unlike in the game, food doesn’t heal you, make you stronger and instantly wake you up.

Sorry, but those three pizza slices, two chocolates and a bun that you just stuffed into your gob are all oozing with crap and have maybe 1/17th of your five a day. So in real life you probably barely have enough strength to lift your mouse, much less an epix sword.

3. Your local shop has banned youLocal shop for local people

This is because every time you’ve gone to buy household essentials such as milk, sugar, coffee and eggs you’ve stood on them and spent a good few minutes wondering why they haven’t entered your inventory.

Sure, other gamers hanging about your local Tesco are probably nodding sagely at your behaviour and giving you points for hardcore brilliance but the shop manager didn’t look kindly on crushed eggs and cornflakes all over his floor.

BRB-=-LOL4. You’re devoutly religious

In any conversation about religious beliefs it is a guarantee that you’ll manage to stop everyone in their tracks with your convincing response of “I’m a gamer.”

You honestly can’t understand what else there is on earth that could possibly demand as much faith, belief and passion.

Nerd5. You can’t fight

Although nerds and geeks aren’t beaten up with the same levels of frequency as they were back in the 80s (Revenge of the Nerds anyone?) it’s still very sad when you ask the nice man approaching you while cracking his knuckles to, “Hang on a minute, just need to go and get my controller.”

Security-camera6. You’ve got an ASBO

No, not because you’ve randomly attacked innocent people because you believe that they are merely pawns in a game of GTA. It’s because you have the urge to shoot out every security camera you see just in case the evil mastermind spots you entering his domain.

7. Your neighbour has issued a restraining orderFat-soldier

If you’re going to constantly climb on ledges and edge around corners while holding a plastic gun to your chest and chanting, “hut hut hut” under your breath then you’ve got to understand when your neighbours get a little freaked out.

It’s not pretty seeing some fat bastard with his ass hanging out sitting on your window ledge when you’re trying to eat your dinner.


8. Muggers love you

Playing Zelda has left you with the desperate need to hold anything new you’ve bought over your head in a wild gesture of victory. You stand there with your arms aloft, grinning like a maniac with the sounds of success echoing in your mind, in surround sound.

You do this when you go shopping (another reason they banned you), buy a magazine or collect a parcel from the post office. Now every criminal within a 10 mile radius knows exactly when to tackle you and take you down.

9. Your idea of music has changed


Instead of being down with the latest tunes on the radio, iTunes or Spotify you’re too busy downloading the MP4 from the soundtrack to the movie of the game that was crap.

Super Mario Brothers wakes you up in the mornings and the soothing sounds of the WoW background music lulls to you sleep at night. You even know the words and get a brief moment of exercise dancing to the opening of CoD4.


10. You don’t sleep

Unfortunately, the lack of a Save button in real life has left you with something of a dilemma. How can you possible go to sleep without being sure that you’ve saved your progress?

Fortunately, with the judicious use of a video camera, a controller and some tape you think that tonight you may actually get some sleep.

Stay Casual: Hasta La Vista Commitment!

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Yes, it abides by the same rules as casual sex but without the usual consequences...

As the noughties progress, there are several things that we are becoming increasingly short of and two of the most precious are time and commitment. They pretty much work hand in hand – we don’t have the time to make a lot of commitments and we can’t often commit to something that demands a lot of time.

There are always people who manage to do a thousand things a day but they are clearly holding back some secret that none of us are privy to.

So enter the wonderful world of casual games. These are ultimately defined by the fact that they allow players to enjoy gaming  fun without having to commit too much time and effort. You can swoop in, have some fun and swoop out again.Handheld-gaming

You can even dabble, fiddle, muddle and sidle.

Casual games leave the field wide open for all personality types, on all sorts of budgets and with any particular preferences (even an obsession with the colour pink is catered for @ Sify.com).

Yeah but...


Of course there are some who believe that casual games do not exist or that they shouldn’t be slapped into a unique genre of their own. Check out CasualGaming.biz, and the announcement that Harvey Elliot, VP and general manager of EA Casual, is to be one of the keynote speakers or the Casual Games Forum. His entire stance is that “There is No Such Thing as a Casual Game or a Casual Gamer”. Hmmm, interesting.

It promises to be an interesting take on the subject but honestly not one that I can completely relate to.

Defining games as casual is not necessarily the pigeonholing of a singular genre that may or may not alienate it from the more hardcore player. I believe that even hardcore gamers will happily enjoy an hour or two playing Sudoku or Farmville, just because it’s wonderfully light and fun.

Yes, there is always going to be the allure of the FPS or RTS but that doesn’t mean gamers have to be stuck in a niche either.Woman gaming

Elliot believes that the very word casual is “misleading and potentially dangerous” (reference). Although I clearly don’t know what his speech will cover, I do think that gamers are savvy enough to decide what mood they’re in by themselves and that there is nothing remotely dangerous about the title Casual Game.

In fact it fills me with delight.

Casual fun

Casual games are like chips and dip. Tasty and easy, they take the edge off when you need it most. And it looks like plenty of people agree.

According to the Casual Games Association, there are more than 200 million casual gamers worldwide.

Grandad-gamingDefining casual gaming is simple:  – anyone of any culture, age or lifestyle can enjoy it, gameplay is easy to learn and you can play it on anything from your computer at work to your mobile phone on the train.

It’s an excellent way to make any commute less of a daily journey through hell, that’s for sure.

Another defining factor is that it can be instantly accessed and understood by anyone. Anyone. So your grandad could, theoretically, download a title and get involved within seconds.  He won’t need lightning fast reflexes or amazing mouse skillz0rs but he can enjoy a cuppa tea and a biccie at the same time.

Therein lies the appeal. You don’t have to invest hours and hours of your time to get results. You can play for ten minutes and abandon it forever without feeling even the slightest bit of guilt.

Cheaply cheerful

You see, casual games can be so easily abandoned because they’re cheap.

You’re not going to feel a lot of guilt about dumping a title you spent £3 on. However, every time you amble through the lounge you can feel the eyes of that Wii title you bought for £40 last month boring into the back of your skull.

That said, of course, there are plenty of expensive Wii titles that do fit into the genre of Casual Games but they don’t quite meet the demands of portability and accessibility that, ahem, are essential qualities for “true” casual game.

Needless to say, whether you debate this fine line or not, you can safely spend little to no money enjoying a casual game from the comfort of your sofa, car, train, plane, bus, office chair, holiday lounger and patio, on whatever device takes your fancy.

No commitmentPeggle

Isn’t it wonderful to be free as a bird, to bring that 70s ethic of free loving right into the land of gaming?

So why not go and enjoy a brief fling with Peggle or a one-night stand with Plants vs. Zombies?

Delight in a divine dalliance with the Mystery Case Files series and don’t worry about her feelings later.

Snatch yourself some guilt-free fun and forget about commitment, for today...

Booth Babes Gone Bad

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Sometimes it just isn’t pretty...

We all know them and many of us love to hate them but Booth Babes are a stalwart of the gaming industry. Any event with games in will have a bevy of babes gambolling about in a startling array of outfits. Sadly, some of these just aren’t a great idea and we pity the poor babes that had to endure them.



Why would any self-respecting vampire be caught dead in a swimming costume with a collar? A collar! Then, to top it all off, you have a metal emblem on her PG Rated bits and a wig that looks as if it has recently been fed through a steam roller. No wonder that poor chap looks terrified, nothing’s holding anything in!

Tinsel Bits


She looks angry. I don’t blame her. Let’s look at this outfit shall we. Tights, check, nice and red with lots of detail. Fantastic, nice and sexy. Hat, weird but expected, so it gets a tick too. Shirt – half pirate, half Jack Nicholson on a bender, ok we’ll pass that. Collapsible panties, epic fail.

Click here for more embarrassingly clad booth babes...

Creeptastic October Games

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles, Halloween

It’s nearly October. It’s time to prepare for the month of fear. Get the games, turn off the lights, close the door and turn up the volume. Follow our sure-fire guide to get you quaking in time for Halloween.

01 - 04 October

It’s the first week of October. The sun is sort of out, the nights are drawing in and you huddle in blankets for warmth, determined not to admit that summer is over and that the heating may need to go on.

This is when you turn to your Xbox or PC and open up Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005).  Ah, I can see you horror fans sit up and rub your hands together with glee, here comes H.P. Lovecraft’s town of Innsmouth and its horrifying collection of denizens.


While not your typical holiday location, this is a worthy place to start on your journey to pant-wetting terror.  As P.I. Jack Walters you’re thrust amidst the bizarre and grotesque inhabitants of this sleepy town unaware that things are about to get a whole bunch of weird. The townsfolk ooze creepiness with glassy eyes, pale skin and voices like swallowed tongues. No spoilers here, dear reader, you must go forth and do your homework and play the game yourself.

When you’re done it’s time to move on to the next step, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998).

05 - 08 October

Feel slightly weak at the knees and a little fraught after the mutilating mayhem of Innsmouth? Now slide that disc into your Nintendo GameCube and meet the Redead.

“The Redead!” you exclaim.

Yes, I reply.

Sure there are plenty of other icky horrors lurking in the pixels of Ocarina of Time, but it’s the Redead that really give you the wiggins. They hang about the ruined cities and tombs like depressed teenagers without local pubs (or girlfriends), looking for all the world like they couldn’t hurt a fly.Redead

But get within an inch of one of these blighters and next thing they’re on your back, with their ghastly shrivelled arms wrapped about your neck, shrieking, biting and strangling.

It’s the way they ooze slowly towards you on their horrible long legs that paralyzes even hardened gamers for precious seconds. You also can’t but wonder why it is that they’ve managed to carve themselves these creeptastic masks but are wearing less clothing than a supermodel at a Versace show.

09 - 12 October

You are in the bowels of the second week of October and you’ve spent your time running away from, and hitting, creepy sub-humans. You are officially warmed up and ready to tackle the grim horror of the killing clown, Adam Macintyre. Dead Rising (2006) brought us this nasty man with his chilling giggle, his poison balloons and his tendency to juggle two (yes, two) chainsaws simultaneously.

Frankly, I think the developers probably still don’t sleep very well at night after coming up with this monstrosity. I mean, he’s a clown! Whoever thought clowns were funny was not entirely normal.


Adam ambles on the screen oozing an amiable persona and ambiguous designs. Is he your enemy or not?

You’re not quite sure until he starts leaping and giggling and juggling those damn chainsaws far too close to your precious skin. Walk away from that without feeling a little squirmy, I dare you...

13 - 16 October

NemesisHaving nailed Adam Macintyre to the floor, you’re now ready to enter the halls of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis (1999). Ah yes, this lab-created lovely is all hugs and kisses from the moment he first lays eyes on you. Like every stalker, he won’t stop until he gets you, and gets you good.

He’s a constant looming presence throughout the game with bad breath and an even worse dental plan. He’s also practically impossible to kill. Armed with missile launchers and virus tentacles, among other things, he is probably just misunderstood. After all he only wants to hold your bloody carcass in his, ahem, tentacles.

17 - 21 October

Look, I’m not exactly your fainting flower who collapses in a trembling heap the moment a whiff of something scary enters the air but I definitely do get shivery when things try to find me by sniffing the air!

Ah, yes, the Berserkers from Gears of War (2006).Berserkers

These megalithic monsters are horrific, not just because they are the epitome of destruction and mayhem, but because they’re blind and use their olfactory senses to hunt you down.

The moment they lose track of you, you can hear the dreaded “snort, sniff” as they search out your scent and then, the second they get wind of your location, they run at you with deadly intensity, smashing through any obstacles in their way.

And if you’re a big chicken and run away, the roaring thunder of them chasing you will only make you even more terrified.

A shudderific title to titillate your terror buds as we enter into the final week of October – the week of the damned.

22 – 25 October

Fancy spending some time with an insane AI that has the power to crush you like a grape and believes it is the divine one? Slide System Shock 2 (1999) into your drive and prepare to meet SHODAN.


You spend the entire game feeling the weight of her gaze over your shoulder as you tackle the shambling horrors she sends after you while you singlehandedly attempt to save the human race. System Shock 2 isn’t about sharp jabs of horror, although there are definitely some in there for the addicted, it’s about that constant low level of fear that inches up, notch by notch as you explore the game. Pure, unadulterated genius.

26 – 31 October

It’s time. Time to meet the leader of the pack. The game and the character that are going to take you by the adrenalin and lead you, shaking, into All Hallows Eve.

“Hello Pyramid Head, how’s your great, big, gigantic knife today?”

Try not to tell him he’s overcompensating for something, he’s hard enough to kill without you antagonising him.Pyramid-Head

This pale, zombie-like character has creeped out gamers so successfully that he actually has a fan base. In his leather apron, chilling helmet and layers of old gore, Pyramid Head from Silent Hill 2 (2001) will make you shiver and definitely cause a goosebump or three.

He also has a tendency to do bad things to the other monsters in the town. Nobody’s safe from this guy. At least in other games you can imagine the creepy crawlies getting together after a hard day’s killing, putting their feet up with a nice cup of tea and reminiscing about the damage they’ve done. Pyramid Head would do something nasty to each and every one of them before breaking the teapot and eating the tea.

If you haven’t had a date with him yet then it’s definitely time for you to give him a try.

Whoops, Spilled Hot Coffee Over My Rifle...

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Games have been in and out of the media spotlight and sometimes for all the wrong reasons. Here are five of the most outrageous and amusing controversies in gaming history.

1. Hot Coffeegate


Yeah, baby, yeah! Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, published for Windows by Rockstar games in 2005, was made infamous by the Hot mini game. This little mod was actually disabled in the Windows game but assets were also found on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions.

Hackers soon got their clever paws on it and shared with the world. It shows the main character having sex with his in-game girlfriend and gives the player the controls for his, ahem, pleasure. The name originates from her offer to “come up for a cup of coffee.”

Thanks to considerable outcry from politicians and their ilk, San Andreas was pulled from shelves and had to be given a new ESRB rating of Adult before many outlets would stock it again. As of September 2009, Take Two Interactive, the publisher of the game, has agreed to settle a longstanding class-action shareholder lawsuit to the tune of $20million smackaroos. I bet those grumpy parents, politicians and shareholders are suddenly just fine with the idea of a hot cup of coffee now...

2. The Columbine Shootings

DoomOn April 20 1999, two teenage boys went on a murderous rampage at Columbine High school in the United States. It was a hideous day and one that won’t soon be forgotten.

After marching through their school and massacring 13 people and injuring 21 others, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed suicide. It shook the world and anguished people wanted to know why and how it could have happened.

It wasn’t long before the blame was laid squarely at the feet of violent video games. You see, Eric played Doom and had submitted plenty of levels to the net.

Whether the anger those two boys had was funnelled and controlled by games or created by them, we will never know. Certainly Eric had his computer privileges reduced before he committed the attack and some have thought that games may have provided an outlet for his rage.

On the other hand, experts like US psychiatrist, Jerald Block, believed that violent video games, like Doom, were partly to blame and a goodly percentage of Joe Public were in agreement with him. Games rapidly became the black sheep of the entertainment industry and several lawsuits were filed against the video game companies and developers.

They were dismissed.

The AP reported that Judge Danny Boggs, at the ruling from a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, said, "We find that it is simply too far a leap from shooting characters on a video screen (an activity undertaken by millions) to shooting people in a classroom (an activity undertaken by a handful, at most).” (Information courtesy of Gamespot)

3. ESRB is born

MC1The fantastically horrible forms of death and violence in Mortal Kombat were one of the building blocks for the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB).

Mortal Kombat bled onto screens in 1992 and is considered one of the most influential titles of all time. However, it was also packed to the hilt with such volumes of violence and gore that parents and other such caring humans started leaping about in horror.

To be fair, there was/is an extensive amount of blood in the game and lots of younger players were seen beheading carcasses and gleefully killing their opponents. In the arcade world, Mortal Kombat certainly stood out as it had more than its fair share of spectators watching l33t players maul their way through the levels.

Which is exactly what the developers wanted in such a competitive market.

RatingsIn late 1993, the Interactive Digital Software Association formed the ESRB. This was largely due the drama unfolding in congress about violence in video games courtesy of Senators Lieberman and Kohl.

The independent rating system introduced by the ESRB calmed all those uptight souls down and made everybody feel far more comfortable. Now games developers voluntarily submit their games to be assessed and parents can happily buy them knowing which ones are suitable for their kids. Thanks, Mortal Kombat, you did more than drip blood merrily down my arms as I stood victorious over the bodies of my foes.

4. Going Postal

PostalYeah, we all know about this one. Sidling angrily onto the PC in 1997, Postal caused massive waves in the media and an outcry that can still be heard in outer space. The game didn’t really have the world’s most riveting plot line. All you had to do was kill everything. Er, yeah. That’s it really. Just kill everything.

Ten countries banned the game, one blacklisted it and the US Postal Service filed suit against Running With Scissors, the developer. Apparently the game tarnished their image. Needless to say it wasn’t hugely popular with those in authority...

5. Say “Hello” to the Duke

When this sexist, macho, primal male video game character sauntered onto screens with his armoury and attitude, he was an instant success. Plenty of gamers loved Duke Nukem. In fact, his tongue-in-cheek style, the action-packed scenes and his hilarious comments had gamers of both sexes rolling in the, erm, aisles. His relationship with the world was definitely a love/hate one though. Gamers generally loved him, everybody else hated him.

DukeHe was banned in both Australia and Germany for degrading women and being too violent. Brazil followed suit in 1999 but didn’t discriminate exclusively against the Duke, with games like Doom and Mortal Kombat joining him on the naughty step.  Unfortunately this banning came about as a result of another shooting rampage.  Brazilian, Mateus da Costa Meira, allegedly copying the cinema shooting scenes from the first episode of Duke Nukem  3D, marched into a popular cinema and opened fire. He left three people dead and eight wounded and has been sentenced to 120 years in jail.

Who Griefs The Griefers?

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

Following last week's article on the insidious facets of griefing, we bring you 10 ways to grief the griefers. Revenge is so very, very sweet.

Don’t rant and rave, get even, Steven.

Sometimes it’s hard to sit back and ignore that griefing lunatic that’s been bugging you for the best part of two hours. Sure, the internet tells you that this is what you’re “supposed” to do and that taking revenge is the worst possible tactic, but there is that one moment when you realise that you’re going to have to make your move or hate yourself forever.

Suck1. Question them

He’s taunting you, making stupid comments, discussing your genetic origins in group chat for the hundredth time. Want revenge?

Come up with a remark that’s designed to completely discredit him (or her).  Question their ability to grief. Ask them how they can possibly consider themselves a true griefer if they can’t even insult you properly. Offer them the opportunity to teach them how to do it right.  They should either shut up or PM you.

2. Bait them

If you’re lurking in the wonders of Second Life why not buy an island. Now you have the power to wait patiently, like a spider in her web, for the griefers to come a-knocking. As the owner you can block flights and prevent property damage and, the best part, teleport avatars off the island. Wait for them to come, whisk them back off. Hours of entertainment at a griefer’s expense.

3. Bluff

Send them a private message telling them that you’re a high-ranking member of a well known griefing clan like the Guiding Hand Social Club or the Goons. Most random griefers who have even an ounce of internet know-how will recognise an infamous name and run away like the pathetic cowards they are.

Voting4. Vote

Vote them out. Games like Left 4 Dead give you the ability to vote out offensive players that have gone a rage quit too far.

Cheaters and scum are voted out of the game and left to play by themselves. Poor little things.

5. Sing

Any game that has you yabbering away online with other lovely people will often have you enduring some lunatic  griefer. This is when you break into the most irritating song you can think of, preferably off-key. If you can get other members to join in then all the better. Although you may want to give other people a word of warning in case they slap the griefer label onto your wailing ass.

6. Mirror

If he follows you, follow him. If he kills mobs and runs at you, do the same to him. If he shouts at you, shout back. Become a mirror and replicate his every action until he gets a headache and goes away. Bear in mind that this solution is usually one that requires a lot of stamina and patience and that you may hate yourself a little at the end of it. Take a shower; it will wash off the anguish you feel, promise.

Shooting7. Shoot

Just shoot the bastard. There are plenty of games, including Second Life, that give you the ability to kill off another player. It doesn’t matter how you do it or how you manipulate the game mechanics but leaving his battered and bloody corpse on the floor as you stride/ride/fly into the sunset is immensely satisfying.

Yes, I know he will res and maybe he’ll find you, but why should griefers get to have all the fun? Other gamers may even applaud and praise you, which is also very nice.

Killing is forbidden in many cases by the way and you could end up being massacred by NPCs, so please do your homework and do it properly.

Laughing8. Leave

They do it for the “lulz” (gah!) so you’re probably going to find a lot of griefers enjoying themselves immensely if you react to them. Patiently helping a griefer or calmly trying to get them to stop will fail. So will yelling, screaming and getting upset. All you’re doing is playing into their fantasy and making them deeply happy. Want to get true revenge on a griefer? Log off. Have tea. Log on a bit later. Have fun and forget about them. Bullies hate being ignored, poor dears.

9. Laugh at them

Whether it’s on chat or on a mic, laugh and laugh and laugh. Nobody likes being laughed AT. Nobody. Unless they’ve slipped on a banana peel but then chances are they’re either laughing with you or they’re on their way to A&E. Collapsing into hysterical laughter whenever they move, speak or act is bound to irritate the hell out of them. Just don’t laugh when they cause mayhem at a vital point in the game. That would just be seen as encouragement.


Play the game. In these games you’re often part of a team, a group, so if you’re having a particularly hard time dealing with griefers, or a gang of such creatures, then it’s time for you to exact some revenge as a team.

Invite the offensive twits to a raid and then get everyone to quit in the middle of a boss fight (WoW), or happily embark on a mission only to disappear at a crucial moment (EVE).

Revenge is a dish best served cold...

Confessions Of A PC Lover

Tamsin Oxford
Gaming articles

The console can never, ever compete against the majesty of the PC.


Yes, you console lovers out there, I mean it. The console just doesn’t count as real gaming and frankly it never should.  The PC is the true master. This wonderfully demanding, complicated and expensive creation has been the heart of gaming ever since the first game was created on the first computer way back in 1952.

Gaming is not for sissies

From the very first, the PC has asked the gamer to learn complicated controls and get personally involved with hardware issues and fiddly upgrades.  These lovely machines are difficult, sensitive and expensive - often you’ll spend the entire night waiting for your game to crash for no good reason.


PCs will shun you, argue with you and then they’ll blow your mind with smoking graphics, rocking fps rates and gameplay smoother than a baby’s bum.

That, dear console user, is why gaming is not for sissies.

It’s about getting your hands dirty.

Every hard bitten, old-school gamer has spent hours beneath their desk, covered in dust, muttering about graphics or motherboard blowouts. Dedicated, addicted aficionados whose single most identifying characteristic is the thermal paste on their jeans. This is how PC gamers earned the right to control the moves of Duke Nukem or kick ass in Quake.

Even pixellated heroes have standards...

Speaking of moves

I will grudgingly accept that fighting and racing games can actually be more fun on a console. That’s ok. I’m not asking for any form of intellectual or story-driven stimulation when I smack someone about the face or hurtle my car across rapidly changing terrain.


It’s when I pick up an FPS that I shudder at the thought of playing it on a console. Ghastly. How can you compare the hundreds of different keyboard controls and delicate manipulation of the mouse to a plastic gizmo that has a couple of buttons you can press?

I also object to the idea of playing a game that developers have spent hours perfecting, while sitting on the sofa. It’s almost offensive. I don’t begrudge you your creature comforts but show a little respect.

What about the games?

PCs get all the great games and all of the consoles’ too, neatly ported for our voracious all-rounders. For console fans, disappointment is all too common an occurrence. Many games are released exclusively for one platform or another leaving the console with far less choice.  While this is rapidly changing, you generally have to own all three consoles if you want to play every game your heart desires.

When it comes to the games themselves, those designed for the PC have great replay value and demand far more skill from a gamer.  While titles like Halo, GoldenEye and Metroid are beacons of brilliance in the realm of the console, they still feel hollow, empty and unrealistic to the PC gamer.

PC Games have had a lot more effort invested into them by the developers. Gameplay is longer, richer and far more detailed with strong stories and great characters.PCGaming1

Let’s face it, console games feel as if they’ve had the soul sucked out of them. Made to appeal to a wider market, console games are a bit like a damp and fluffy towel – it works but it isn’t very satisfying. Adding even more weight to the PCs scales is the fact that two extremely popular and brilliant genres, namely strategy games and MMOs, don’t work on consoles.

Oh, the interweb

So it is, then, that in the world of online gaming the PC continues to rule the roost.

There’s a distinct lack of inter-connectivity between the different consoles and when it comes to online gaming you’re generally restricted to your own network.

I, on the other hand, can skip gaily from one online game to the next, waving happily at my PC friends as they join me wherever we decide to go.

WOWWhile I grudgingly acknowledge that consoles are inching towards becoming more adaptable, it will be quite some time before they can enjoy the vast number of applications that the PC does. There is nothing on the scale of World of Warcraft for the console. Besides, WoW on a PS3? You’ve got to be kidding me. The moment that door opens you just know there’s about to be a stampede of snot-nosed junior know-it-alls pressing the jump button at every opportunity.

Thank all that’s holy it’s easy to mute annoying idiots on voice chat when you’re playing multiplayer on the PC.

Harder on a console...

Before you sputter about graphics

I know, there are two sides to every story and the console does have some advantages over the PC but we still win - you can’t upgrade. Consoles are stuck with the same technology, the same limitations, for at least four years but PC owners can quickly improve that graphics card after a five minute jaunt to the nearest shop.Gaming4

If our PC breaks down we can generally fix it ourselves. None of this sending off the precious ickle console to a special place where it disappears for weeks at a time.

Which brings me neatly to my next point...Can you do work, word processing, modding and printing with your console?

No, you can’t.

Now excuse me, I need to go home and fire up my beautiful baby with her stunning red modded chassis that I spent hours making. I want to spend some time with her word processing capabilities and craft my novel. Then I think, after an hour or two, I’ll saunter with the confidence of an old-time gamer into my latest FPS that asks far more of me than just falling sideways onto a couch with a controller wibbling on my belly.

P.S. I win.