16 1 / 2013

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Hello everyone! The warmest of welcomes to you all from everyone here at Ken Towers. So, 2013 is here at last. What adventures and surprises could possibly be lying in wait for us over these next twelve months?

Well, let’s get the ball rolling with a suggestion - 2013 is bringing banners to this blog. I liked the way they worked in the Game of the Year feature (which if you still haven’t read, you should), so I’m intending to carry on with them here. My current plan is to keep the same theme for a month, and then change things up. If anyone has any real objections, just let me know.

Anyway, I suspect the best thing for now is just to jump right back in where we left off. So here goes.

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Europe - Rock the Night

Even if you aren’t big followers of Swedish glam metal rockers Europe, you’ve probably heard their most widely-recognised song, The Final Countdown. However, while that may be a fantastic song in its own right, nothing from their collection gives quite the same life-inspiring “I can do anything” feel that Rock the Night offers.

Fans of Saturday Night Live spinoff The Lonely Island may in fact recognise this song from their great-but-not-good 2007 film Hot Rod, which follows the escapades of aspiring stuntman Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg) as he attempts his biggest challenge yet to raise money for his stepfather’s life-saving operation. I can understand why they chose it. If you’re looking for music which screams "80s emotional montage", you need look no further than Rock the Night; from its sing-along, uplifting chorus through to its wailing guitar solo. And it’s all the better for it.

IU (아이유) - You & I (너랑나)

Now I’m fairly sure at this point that you’ve all seen (or at least heard) Gangnam Style somewhere along the way. I can be pretty certain of this because my lovely mother performed a (very) brief rendition of it, complete with horse dance, at midnight on New Year’s Day when we were about to partake in some good old-fashioned Auld Lang Syne. And that means it truly has reached a special status very few modern tracks get to.

However, a quick glance at the YouTube view counts shows that PSY isn’t alone. Korean bands have been increasing in popularity rather rapidly over the past year, in part I suspect thanks to their appearance during major “e-sports” events (which have become a rather successful phenomenon of late). And if you’re looking for pop music in particular, there’s definitely some great stuff coming from that way.

I’ve chosen to highlight IU’s You & I for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a great song in it’s own right. Secondly, it’s accompanied by one of the best music videos of recent times, period. Time manipulation, lost romance, a pet goose - You & I has a lot going for it, even if the genre isn’t something you’re used to.

Anúna - Cormacus Scripsit

Following the release of The Hobbit in cinemas (which I still need to get around to watching, so that I too may enjoy it while probably also feeling baffled as to why they included so many scenes not present in the book), the trailer song Misty Mountains Cold became rather popular amongst several of my friends. As so often happens on YouTube, this led me down a strange pathway of choral music, which ended up here.

I don’t really know Anúna very well, but this song is just beautiful. Very relaxing and the perfect backing to some blog writing, hence why I have it on in the background right now. I’m not sure how long I’ll spend with this genre for fear of relaxing too much and entering some kind of comatose state, only to be discovered by my concerned parents several hours later. Nevertheless, Cormacus Scripsit is well worth a listen.

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Awesomenauts

This wasn’t supposed to be the centrepiece of this week’s games section. From the moment I managed to procure a Dota 2 key that was obviously going to be the MOBA I spent most of my weekly gaming time with. However, I was kindly gifted a spare copy of Awesomenauts by a friend, and quite frankly I’m blown away by just how much fun I’ve been having with it.

Awesomenauts is a game I’d seen videos of before, but it never really grabbed my attention enough to stump up the asking price. However, once I got my hands on it, I got it almost straight away. It took me a game or two to get used to the basic mechanics, but once I had those down I was having a blast. Despite it’s MOBA leanings, Awesomenauts feels a lot less tied to the staples of that genre. This begins with the style of gameplay - this is a 2D cartoon platformer, rather than the top-down or third-person styles seen in other MOBAs such as DotA, LoL and Smite.

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Rather than spending a lot of time at the start farming minions, Awesomenauts makes the player-on-player combat the focus right from the get-go. Each character can learn two skills through the course of the game: think pulling opponents toward you, planting down mini-turrets, dashing out of trouble and damaging anyone in your way, and so on. Use of these skills is restricted only by cooldowns, meaning there is little penalty for well-timed aggression.

Overall games feel a lot faster and more hectic than standard MOBA play, and yet there’s absolutely still an element of teamwork to the whole thing. However, the fact games are 3-on-3 rather than the 5-man standard, combined with the small maps and close tower proximity, means getting caught out by the entire opposition isn’t always a death sentence. Just most of the time. But even when you are taken down, respawns are quick and there’s an opportunity to grab some extra cash with the “plummeting in from space” minigame upon your return.

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Hero characters all feel distinctly different, each with their own theme, moveset, and voice - including cracking guest voices from popular YouTube personalities such as Simon “Honeydew” Lane of Yogscast fame and John “TotalBiscuit” Bain. All in all, Awesomenauts is a much more accessible, light-hearted take on the often-impenetrable MOBA genre, and as such you shouldn’t necessarily be put off by a dislike towards other big titles in the genre.

Trine 2

I’ll start by saying that Trine 2 is absolutely gorgeous to look at. Were I not just getting to it now, it would have been a strong contender for my favourite visuals of 2012. (And the fact it was actually squeezed out right at the end of 2011, of course.) Beams of light shine breathtakingly through windows, water looks clear and inviting, and enemies leer threateningly at you (until you lift them, kicking and screaming, into the nearest flame jet).

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I’ve played through the main story as telekinetic box-summoning wizard Amadeus, alongside two friends who fulfilled the roles of the shield-bearing, hammer-throwing warrior Pontius and rope-swinging archer and thief Zoya. The game is a well-mixed blend of platforming, environmental puzzles, and combat, with each character serving a useful purpose which often enables multiple solutions to many of the tasks (especially if you have access to DLC abilities such as the warrior’s box throw). When it went well we felt like a cohesive, well-organised team - and when it went wrong, we were too busy falling about laughing to care.

Dota 2

Don’t take the fact that Awesomenauts was my surprise MOBA hit of the week as a sign that Dota 2 is anything less than stellar. On the contrary, I’ve been enjoying every moment spent getting my ass handed to me by normal-level bots while I get the hang of the many ways in which Valve’s offering (and spiritual “sequel” to the original DotA) differs from League of Legends.

For those familiar with the genre, here’s a few key differences. Probably the most significant is that you can kill your own minions, “denying” your opponent some of the potential rewards. However, the initial damage you deal is a little less than in LoL, meaning last hitting requires even more concentration. Alongside that, tower damage is lower, meaning dives are a more viable strategy in the early game; there are “secret shops” located through the jungle which are required to purchase certain items; and spells do not scale with your stats, rather being focused on more crowd-control abilities such as stuns and slows, as well as area-of-effect moves.

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These differences, not forgetting the completely new (and fairly sizeable) champion pool on offer, have made Dota 2 a challenging learning experience, and I have been taking on that challenge with relish. I’m finally getting the hang of things and doing well against the AI, and while I don’t quite feel ready to take on the hordes online yet I’ve certainly been having fun. I’d recommend giving Dota 2 a try yourself if you can get your hands on a key and are interested in the genre, but it’s not likely to lure you in if MOBAs just aren’t your thing. Try Awesomenauts instead.

The Witcher: Enhanced Edition

I’ve been meaning to get to The Witcher for a while now (my completionist self being insistent on at least making it a decent way through the first game before getting into the much-lauded sequel). The main reason for putting it off was a desire to “finish” Skyrim before switching to a new fantasy game. However, I realised that my desire to explore the world of The Witcher had reached a point where I may as well give up on that false hope and simply leap in head-first.

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To date I’ve only spent a couple of hours with Geralt of Rivia and his… well, not friends, per se - compainions, perhaps. Geralt, as the title suggests, is a Witcher (and one of the very few remaining): highly trained monster hunters whose bodies have been transformed through alchemy and magical rituals, leaving them incredibly strong, fast, and resilient, but also unable to procreate. He is held in almost legendary status for his skills, with a widespread reputation and many friends (and enemies) across the land.

Unfortunately for Geralt (but conveniently for the player), severe injuries sustained in a recent riot have left him with complete amnesia, essentially making him a blank slate. However, I have enjoyed seeing people who are fearful of his reputation, or old friends trying to coerce his former self to the fore. I get the feeling those friends will be few and far between, however: the general world consensus is that Witchers are a necessary evil - the only men strong enough to take on the greater dangers out there, but not to be trusted otherwise.

The Binding of Isaac

I played a little more of The Binding of Isaac in preparation for my Game of the Year, and I still love it. My time away from the game has not been kind to my skills, so it will take a while to get back into the flow of dodging between flies and angling sneaky shots between rocks. However, I still love playing every moment of it, and the music (and in fact every aspect of the sound design) remains sublime.

Far Cry 3

I would estimate I’ve hit the half-way point in Far Cry 3 story-wise now, and it’s still not really got me hooked. There are some good characters (I actually would perhaps place open-shirted super-creep Buck above Vaas for most entertaining and terrifying villain personally); but while I like the fact they gave the protagonist an interesting character path, he feels a little too unlikeable, saying and doing some things I simply don’t feel make sense to where he’s at.

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The general gameplay and open-world activities are still one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had in recent memory though, so I’ll continue with the story if only to unlock more exploration opportunities. Also the co-op is fantastic fun, and somewhat of a change in pace from the main game.

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The Hotline Miami sales story, and more

It’s no secret that I love Hotline Miami. Robert Purchese over at Eurogamer spent a while in early December talking to the people behind the game about their sales numbers, why they released a patch for pirated versions of the game, and the story of exactly how Hotline Miami came to be.

The problem with The Big Bang Theory

I’ve enjoyed The Big Bang Theory, watching quite a few of the episodes since it began in 2007. Regardless of who its content is aimed at, I just find some of the jokes entertaining. I wouldn’t rank it among my favourite comedy shows of all time, but I certainly don’t hold it in a negative light. Opinion aside, one blogger has taken exception to the idea that TBBT “should be held up as a milestone for ‘nerd culture’ in popular media”, and he gives an interesting argument as to why. However you feel about the subject (and perhaps we shouldn’t look into it too deeply), it’s an interesting read.

World of Warcraft still has 10 million subscribers

As John Walker from RPS points out in his opening paragraph, the fact an MMO has held a fairly steady subscriber base doesn’t feel like particularly notable news by itself. However, in an age where people worry about the stability of games companies as a whole, it’s interesting to note that an eight-year old game, factoring in only subscriptions (and not the cost of expansion packs), is pulling in roughly £1,080,000,000 per year for Blizzard (and hence Activision). And if that’s not a success story, then I don’t know what is.

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Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson - A fascinatingly disturbing thought

The Yogscast - Tekkit Part 1: Jaffa Cake Factory Planning

Speed Demos Archive Charity Marathon - Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty (Brutal difficulty) speedrun

I struggle enough as it is with Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty’s campaign even on Hard - I can manage it, but only just. So to see someone plough through on Brutal at the speed managed by Raelcun is just astonishing to me. And it’s all for a good cause.

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Okay, I think that about wraps it up. A bit of a long one, and it’s possible that some of these things actually happened over the holiday break, but nevertheless I hope you’ve enjoyed yourself and found at least one thing interesting. Don’t forget to leave me a comment if you have something interesting to add, and let anyone else know about the page if you think they may be interested.
Until next week, then. I wish you all the best of luck for your adventures in 2013.
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Ken out.