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Sound Off Vol. 4

Welcome back, dear readers, to the fourth edition of Sound Off – that’s right, Sound Off didn’t die after all! – a feature that allows you get into the craniums of our brilliant (in an insane sort of way), unruly and well-informed staff. Steel yourself against discussions that involve outrageous topics such as: robotic jumping bunnies, Hershey bars, and a time-traveling Lee Harvey Oswald (wielding Master Chief’s pistol? Wtf?). Prepare to be shocked, disgusted, entertained, and constipated, all at once – prepare to be exposed to:

Sound Off Volume 4!

James Frazer kicks off: What are your top three videogame weapons?

Calvin Kemph’s semi-answer: If you want to examine the best weaponry gaming has to offer, you must take several things into account. How much bloodshed is left behind? How disfigured is the enemy when you’re finished with them? Did you inflict the most searing amount of pain plausible? There’s only one choice for the ultimate weapon of gaming: Turok 2: Seeds of Evil’s Cerebral Bore.

It fires off a brainwave-seeking projectile that clenches the enemy’s skull with sharply hooked prongs. Brain fluids seep into the projectile, draining the enemy of their life as they grab their head, screaming in agony. Awesome.

Ben Green folds: I haven’t played enough shooters to be qualified to answer that; I’ll wait for a different one.

Steven Chan digs in: Top slot has got to go to the common or garden handgun – a proper pistol, mind, not your phaser/laser type. Compact, clean and simple looking, yet requires skill in its use. Dispatching a foe cannot come any more thrilling and deliciously sexy than with a Glock or a Desert Eagle. And when games let – nay, make – you pull the controller trigger for each bullet, it gives a sense of connection and control.

The second weapon I look for is the shotgun. I’m not a fan of the sawn-off or pump-action, but the automatic reload. And not enough games carry the Jack-Hammer. But, all in all, what better weapon to clear out rooms or corridors in mere seconds? And the sound?! The chunking load (chunking load? sounds like something you use laxative to relieve – Ed), the airy-blast, and the hollow noise of the empty shell landing. The messy outcome has nothing to do with it; hardly any other weapon can rid an enemy with a single shell in a knee-jerk reaction shot.

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And I’m going to cause disruption here and state that the third best ‘weapon’ has to be the camera. Oh yes. Dead Rising and just recently, although to a latter extent, Bioshock. How else can you capture the classic moments of your gaming pleasure? Or to pause and check out the scene in front of you without the clutter of menus. Both games have provided joy and laughter through the use of the camera, emotions that every game should provide.

Terence Gage sets Steven straight: Bah, ignore Steve’s gibberish about the camera [not that I’m criticising a good camera], but if it don’t draw blood or mortally wound [directly or indirectly], it ain’t a weapon. Give me a heaving great sword or an automatic rifle over a nice little viewpoint any day of the week.

Anyway, to answer the question – I’ve said it before, I’ll probably say it again before I’m through; but quite simply how can a weapon which lets you kill enemies with urinals not be voted for by everyone?! And for that reason solely, Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun gets kudos to the power of N.

To pick a couple of others, you can’t go wrong with a good handgun, so let’s say Hitman star Agent 47’s Silverballers (also an extremely cool name), and you really can’t argue with a good old shotty, regarding which, Red Faction sports a pretty brutal double-barreled one.

We should probably also talk about some oversized blades somewhere. Something like Dante’s Rebellion or Cloud’s Buster Sword – is there anything cooler than wielding a sword which is actually bigger than you are?!

Bart Robson throws in his two cents:

3. The Biggoron Sword. Oh, after all that questing, it was so badass it was nearly worth that awful time trial across all of Hyrule.

2. Glass shards in XIII. Slow motion, picture-in-picture comic book panels with every headshot!

1. Halo’s original pistol: How could Lee Harvey Oswald have fired three accurate shots out of a bolt action rifle? Answer: He didn’t. He obviously had a time machine, and used it to steal Master Chief’s ridiculous sidearm.

Steven tosses out a new question: What is the most favoured emotion that you want to experience in a game?

Terence steps back into the spotlight: The cynics out there will no doubt get all animated, but the simple fact is that if you don’t experience emotions while gaming then you’ve either got the wrong hobby or you’re playing the wrong games.

It can be anything from simple competitiveness in a game of Pro Evo, to a sense of achievement in a title like Broken Sword, humour in Psychonauts (or Superman 64 – Ed), awe in Oblivion, fear in Silent Hill or even companionship in Ico. Anyone who tries to claim they’ve had some mates over playing Burnout or FlatOut and haven’t felt real amusement or even joy whilst playing are probably a) really crap at said game or b) a bloody liar.

As for what emotion I most want to feel when playing, I suppose a sense of awe is a pretty important one. Playing something like Tomb Raider Legend and seeing the gargantuan waterfalls in Bolivia, or Shadow of the Colossus and coming across the ‘Sand Dragon’ for the first time – there’s very little in games or even any form of entertainment which can compete with the feeling of wonder and insignificance.

That said, the bittersweet mix of joy and sadness from games like Ico or Zelda: Link’s Awakening (in particular, both games’ endings) is hard to beat. I wasn’t crying at the end of Ico – I just got some dust in my eye at that particular moment, is all. Just one of those silly coincidences.

Ben Green’s answer: For me, it’s positive surprise. In other words, being startled by a game with something cool. I was going to say just “surprise,” but then I realized that a game could easily surprise you by being bad, and that wouldn’t be so good. I consider this important, because looking back, even if a game is great, if everything amazing that I expect to happen happens, and I feel like I knew all of it was coming, it just takes some of the fun out of the experience. Even though, for lack of a better example, each new Pokemon game that comes out is just an expanded version of the last with some new Pokemon/land, they are awesome. But at the same time, you get that feeling like “Man, I knew that the stupid bad guys would be hiding in that mountain and that each step of the way some more goons with *insert that group’s favored Pokemon here* would pop out until I got to the boss”.

While games like that can still be amazing, I prefer games that keep me guessing all the way through. Games that not only match my high expectations, but even exceed them at times by throwing in a plot device or what-have-you that I didn’t see coming. Kind of like going through Halloween candy: sure you’re happy when you got all the Kit Kats and Hershey bars, but once you stumble upon that Milky Way/Reese’s/other delicious candy then you’re really having a good time.

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That marks the first and hopefully last time I’ve ever been tempted to make a reference to Halloween candy.

Terence sucks in a massive breath and unleashes the longest question(s?) in Sound Off history: What does the future hold for troubled manufacturer Sony Computer Entertainment? Are they merely experiencing a black spot on their mostly impeccable report card, or is this the beginning of the end for the once out-and-out industry leader? Have they underestimated Microsoft and Nintendo, and have they bitten off more than they can chew with the PS3?

James notes the difficulty of the question and smirks confidently: If there’s anything I’ve learned in my short but colourful life then it’s that image means everything. Ok, so your software saves a thousand man hours, but if you’re running around the countryside with a meat cleaver culling kittens, the public most likely doesn’t want to know. This is the problem I have with Sony; they seem to think that us, the paying customers, are mere mortals who should feel privileged to use their wares. Rumble was perhaps one of the biggest additions to the videogame industry and it was Sony who brought it into the limelight. Such a shame then, that a few years down the line they have to start acting like the friendless emo trend-setter we all knew at school by stating how “yesterday” the technology is, despite it still standing strong on its competitors consoles.

You don’t need glasses to see that Sony has underestimated the competition. Hell, with their heads so far up their own arses, World Sony probably doesn’t know the meaning of competition. They’ve gone and done an incredible risk by basing the entirety of their console on Blu Ray, which is all well and good, but when you consider the price that brings, plus the fact that you’ll need another £600 for a high definition TV to take advantage of the new format, and suddenly it looks far less appealing than running your Xbox 360 through your monitor. I think it’s too early for a new format, that they’ve gone and jumped the gun. Nintendo has gone off down another route entirely with their Wii, and whilst we need another year to see if all their casual gamers are still interested, there’s no doubting the surprise we all got when Nintendo left Microsoft and Sony to battle it out on their own. The Xbox 360 is, by all accounts, using the latest compression technology to get the very best out of DVD’s, which are getting cheaper for producers to use by the day. Blu Ray is nice, and it’s definitely the future, but is still a few years too early.

Sony fell behind when they decided against online play, which left Xbox Live to go from strength to strength (remember when they ridiculed online play? I certainly do). In trying to make up the ground again, in my eyes Sony appeared to try and steal its competitors limelight by introducing motion sensing controllers and throwing money at an online service that seems to be more geared towards a Second Life community than for gaming, rather than sticking to their own beliefs and making something to be proud of. Couple that with sheer arrogance and you’ve a recipe for disaster.

James’ Question: One island; three games. Which titles would you take to play out your life with?

Terence attempts (futilely) to narrow his list down to three games: Whoa, now there’s a million-dollar question (well, at least – what – twenty pounds?). Been thinking about this for a short while now and I’m having trouble tying this down to just three games.

*Just as a side note – can we play games online on this island? Am I to assume that aside from a power socket and a television, it also has broadband? Also, can we take multiple consoles? Can’t I sacrifice the luggage space of my Xbox for a dozen extra PS2 games instead?!

What’s that you say? “Shut up, Terence”? Righto then…*

Given Final Fantasy VII is my favourite game ever, I’d probably take that along. There’s an easy hundred hours’ gameplay if you’re thorough, and the tale of Sephiroth, Shinra, Midgar, Cloud and his friends never gets old. In reserve (just incase FFVII is out of stock, or something) I’d have Dragon Quest VIII, which is another brilliant mammoth RPG which will take you well over a hundred hours.

I’d also need an action game to sate my shooting desires. This would probably fall on either Metroid Prime or Halo. Although these two shouldn’t really be categorised together, the appeal of Prime would be with the sizeable adventure, lots of depth and plenty of opportunity for shootouts with the Space Pirates. The appeal of Halo, as ever, would be with some magnificent level design (particularly the levels The Silent Cartographer and Halo), intelligent and well-designed foes and extremely solid gameplay. I’d probably go with Prime for the sheer size and replay value of the adventure, as well as all those superb bosses.

I’d also need a traditional adventure game, I suppose. I’ve filled in the shooting and RPG slots, so something like Shadow of the Colossus could be a good bet. But I’ve already blitzed that game a fair bit. Perhaps God of War. But I’ve also played that game half to death. Alright, I’ll go with The Adventures of Alundra. Possibly my favourite 2D game ever.

Why do you ask such harsh questions? I hope you enjoy the pain it causes.

PS – I forgot to mention any GTA games. Damn, can’t be bothered to think about this any more; my head hurts.

PS #2 – also forgot Crash Team Racing. I’ll keep that in reserve, too.

Oliver Banham’s slightly more successful answer: Well, provided I had a television, a PlayStation 2 and some magical equipment to make everything work, the three games I’d choose would be – Pro Evolution Soccer 6, Resident Evil 4 and Guitar Hero 2. These three games couldn’t be more different; football, action and benami, and so would provide me with three alternate forms of gaming pleasure.

Pro Evolution Soccer 6 would no doubt be played the most out of the three, since it seems to have an infinite lifespan. I could play Master League forever, I get so engrossed with my team and improving it, mastering new tactics and setting myself goals (I am still yet to win every game in a season). Plus, with the many leagues open to me it would take a lifetime to get the most out of the game. The gameplay is almost perfect, it just plays so like real football and so is the reason for its success. For those reasons, Pro Evo 6 would be my primary choice to play on an island.

Resident Evil 4 is the best game I have ever played, and I completed it four times to make sure. The graphics are outstanding, the sound is in another level, and the whole experience is perfect. Everything about this game is so memorable and enjoyable that is just needs to be played to death. The unlockables for the PS2 version especially add even more of an incentive to play it again, and again, and again, and again. Simply put, it’s unforgettable.

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Now Guitar Hero 2 would join me on the island because of its pure brilliance, and again, like PES6, can be played for years and years. The experience defines fun. Given you are on an island no-one would be able to see your guitar-god moves, and so you could go all out. The game gives you a great range of songs, and with the four difficulty levels it’ll take an age until you truly are the best at it. Getting five stars on all the songs on expert is arguably the greatest feat, but it doesn’t just stop there. How about playing a song closing your eyes? Or with your feet?

The possibilities are endless, my gaming needs would be easily fulfilled with these three games. Though this island better be good, with shade. I don’t want to be faced with any sun glare!

James scoffs: You haven’t won every game? Lightweight…

I conquered the world using the default side and signing only youth players.

Oliver: I have been very close, and it always seems within my grasp until the last few games when I can’t seem to score.

I’m guessing you play at the highest difficulty, too?

James’ official response: *crickets chirp*

Calvin leaps back into the fray to get things back on track: If I were stranded on an island, I’d bring Survival Kids, Lost in Blue, and Lost in Blue 2, so I could foreshadow my impending death while stranded on virtual islands, or give myself some motivation to get the hell off that island so I could go find some better games. Or maybe the Legendary Edition of Halo 3, because I would like to wear a Master Chief helmet around the island.

Matt Wadleigh is amused: Hahaha

Josh Kramer glances nervously at Calvin: I’m a wee bit disturbed as to how you plan on “wearing” a ten inch mini-replica helmet around the island, but I guess, whatever floats your boat, right?

Oliver proposes a new question: What is most important in a game: gameplay, graphics, sound or lifespan? What is least important?

Terence’s Answer: Quite simply, the correct answer is gameplay.

I mean, sure, the magnificent games out there ideally have a near-perfect combination of all these elements, but at the end of the day no matter how pretty your game is or how good it sounds, if you don’t have good gameplay to back it up then it all falls apart.

With regards to these other elements, I’d probably rate sound next (try playing Project Zero 2 [aka Fatal Frame], Metal Gear Solid 2 or GTA: Vice City if you disagree that good sound can be incredibly important) due to its almost unlimited capacity to create an atmosphere you could cut with a knife.

As for least important, I suppose it’s a fairly close call between graphics and lifespan. Although I won’t deny the lure of a very pretty game (although having not made the new-gen leap yet, I’d imagine my perception of pretty graphics is different to many folks’ here) graphics are not and never have been too important to me (too a certain degree – I don’t want and don’t expect to be playing games that look like Pong or Pacman any more). Then again, lifespan is a very flexible element depending on what type of game you are playing. If it’s an RPG I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect at least thirty hours of gameplay, but if it’s a first- or third-person shooter, usually anything more than about fifteen to twenty hours and I start getting a bit bored and distracted. Then again, upon completing the seven hours [or so] of Ico, not once did I feel as though I had been short-changed. When considering lifespan, we also need to account for a game’s replay value and extra features (which most games have to a certain degree these days), and online play – which can keep you coming back for months after you’ve finished the ‘meat’ of the game.

I’d probably list order of importance as: gameplay > sound > lifespan > graphics.

Matt begs to differ: I’m going to disagree with you a bit, Terence.

While I do agree with you that great gameplay is absolutely vital to a game being great, I feel that graphics are a big part of the experience. People have always been excited about graphics. At one point, the NES and the Mega Drive were graphical whiz-kids, leaving people in awe as they watched all those colors scroll across the screen. People like looking at pretty things and games are no exception. Yes, a lot of people will play an ugly looking game if the gameplay is excellent, but will it find mass-market success? If Halo on the Xbox came out looking like something on the PS1, do you think it would have been as popular, even if the gameplay was untouched? If the makers of Shadow of the Colossus hadn’t come through with such an amazing graphics engine, do you think the game would have felt as epic? I think graphics are a huge, huge part of the experience.

Maybe the hardcore gamers within us don’t really want to admit it, but like it or not, the “order of importance” goes gameplay > graphics > sound > lifespan.

Terence holds his ground: Well Matt, I see your point of view, and am reconsidering my stance on graphics vs lifespan, but I still don’t think it’s more important than sound. Admittedly, Shadow of the Colossus (to use your example) wouldn’t have been as wondrous or awesome if it had PS1 graphics, but equally the battles against the colossi wouldn’t have been half as exciting without the rousing, incredible score.

Or, for an example which backs up my argument a little more appropriately; Silent Hill. The graphics are a load of old poo by today’s standards, but the sound is still top-flight. This game’s ability to scare you with just a collection of music, sounds and voices creates an atmosphere more profound, disturbing and memorable than any graphics engine I’ve ever experienced.

Consider it like this: would you rather watch a pretty silent movie, or listen to an atmospheric radio play?

Anyway, on this occasion we shall agree to disagree. Even though I’m right. :P

Oliver nods at Terence: That’s a great comparison Terence, it would have to be an atmospheric radio play. A game has to have great sound to pull me in, that’s why I enjoyed Bioshock so much, and Beyond Good & Evil. I can’t think of anything worse than a game with monotone industrial music in the background, on repeat, how horrid.

Terence throws a new question into the mix: Who are your most respected people in the games industry, and why?

Kelvin Tay grabs the mic: Most people would probably pick out legendary game designers such as Shinji Mikami, Hideo Kojima, Shigeru Miyamoto or *cough* Koji Igarashi. However, me, myself and Kelvin respect videogame musicians above nearly everyone else.

Have you ever played Tekken without the adrenaline-rushing beats? Castlevania without the catchy techno-synth? Grand Theft Auto without some era-track screaming at you to go shoot someone? I don’t need a PhD to tell you that if the Final Fantasy RPGs didn’t have such stellar soundtracks, the franchise would have never made it as big as it is now.

Nobuo Uematsu, Michiru Yamane, Yasunori Mitsuda, Hitoshi Sakimoto, Koh Ohtani, Akemi Kimura and Harry Gregson-Williams (he’s not Japanese, in case you are confused); these people, plus many others, make games – good or bad – magical for me.

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Josh proudly displays his fanboyism for a certain first-person shooter: Jason Jones, Joseph Staten, Jaime Griesemer, Marty O’Donnell, Shi Kai Wang, Robert McLees, Ben Wallace, and a bunch of other talented people who helped shape the best game series ever created.

I just hope that a week and a half from now, I’ll be able to still say that.

Josh’s Question: Which retro era game would you most like to see reincarnated on the current generation of consoles? Games that already have been updated for the current gen, like Ninja Gaiden, Rygar, and Metroid Prime, don’t count.

Terence leaps back onto the stage: There’s lots I want to see remade – incidentally, most of these have connections to or were developed by Psygnosis.

Top of the list is probably The Adventures of Alundra, which I still think is the finest 2D action/adventure ever made. I’d love to see a proper remake developed by the original development team Matrix Software (let me just take this opportunity to belittle the awful, awful Alundra 2 – which was developed by a different team and has nothing in common with the first game). Even if this was made as a download-only PSN title I’d gladly pay £20 or more for it.

I’d also love to see a remake of Shadow of the Beast – I have incredibly fond recollections of the original (despite playing it a couple of years ago and discovering it was, in fact, a bit shit), and I loved the music, premise and setting. This could be wonderful if it was remade as a third-person adventure in the style of The Witcher, or something along those lines.

I’d also love to see a Crash Team Racing remake – developed by Naughty Dog, though. This is another game I’d love to see as a PSN download, provided it had online play and content updates. Still ND’s finest hour (alongside Jak & Daxter).

Rollcage is screaming for a PS3 remake – it still is an excellent racer which was much better than Wipeout in a lot of ways, and with online play it would be essential.

Lastly, I’d love a G-Police update – not really a remake, but I’d give a kidney for a G-Police 3. Especially since the second game was left on a cliffhanger at the end.

Ben Green’s Answer:Without going into long, boring detail like Ter :P, I’d love to see some Banjo-Kazooie updated-action. If you never played the N64 classics, they basically took the 3D platformer genre (which Super Mario 64 created), and perfected it. Sure, there have been some GBA games, but those don’t count. I want to see a full-on, brand new Banjo Adventure. Perhaps on the 360? I think a DS game would be awesome too though (would go well with Super Mario 64 DS, after all).

Bart is not amused by Ben’s antics: Mario 64 created the 3D platformer?

Jumping Flash, anyone?

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Ben: Never heard of that.

Josh’s eyes glaze over as he enters a nostalgia-filled stupor: Holy shite, Jumping Flash… I have so many great memories of the game. Damn, now I’m going to have to head down to the local game shop this weekend and see if they have a copy tucked away somewhere.

Matt lets his deep-seeded hatred for Jumping Flash bubble to the surface: Mario 64 is widely credited as creating the 3D platformer genre. I don’t think it was the first, but it certainly popularized it.

Craig Nye’s glorious moment in this feature: I’ll try and get involved in this (feature).

Kelvin gets things back on track: Games that need a next-gen re-invention? Kid Icarus, Wonderboy, Landstalker, Operation Wolf, and classic-style Castlevania please.

Terence pipes in: Did you know Kelvin, that a couple of years ago Landstalker was revealed to be in the works for a PSP remake? Look it up on YouTube. I don’t know if there’ve been any updates since though, so I’m not sure if it’s definitely still going ahead.

Kelvin: Oh, nice – didn’t know about that! Here’s hoping it won’t turn into vapourware.

Terence does some number crunching: I’ve just collated all the answers (for this feature) and it comes to just over 4,000 words, or eight Word document pages on size 12 font.

Ooops! We’d better wrap this sucker up lest it crush the Thunderbolt servers after getting published. We hope you’re as glad as we are too have Sound Off back – expect regular updates in the coming months. Ta ta!

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in May 2003. Get in touch on Twitter @Joshua_Luke.

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