The Grandia Weekly
Episode 28
Oct 06
Posted by Ben at 01:39

It's maybe a sad state of affairs that this isn't the worst episode of Grandia Weekly that we've all politely say through, but I think it was necessary.

If last week's episode was heavy on story, and it was, then this week is the grind. Leaving it this late in to the game to try to get everyone's magic up to a decent level was maybe a mistake, and it certainly makes for slow progress in an enemy heavy area.

The Luzet Mountains are not an inspiring place. It's a very brown place with lots of combat and not a lot of variety. It's not a bad area as such, but after the heights (not a pun) of Alent it's just a bit of a trudge. Anyway, we've reached the J-Base, and we're only a few episodes from the end

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Posted by Ben at 02:34
Not as you mighexpect some sort of remastering of Shin Megami Tensei 4, Final is a new game set in the world of Shin Megami Tensei 4.

It's maybe easy to look at this cynically, a chance for Atlus to reuse assets and mechanics, but I'm not sure Shin Megami Tensei fans are hugely bothered about that sort of thing.

Shin Megami Tensei 4 Final us heading to Japanese 3ds' in February next year. Who knows about a EU release, this late in to the 3ds' life there's certainly some doubt
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Umihara Kawase
Oct 05
Posted by James at 07:04

The mid-‘90s were an exciting transitional period for videogames. The shift to CD-based storage and a controller built around true 3D games paved out many new directions for the medium, famed series often reinventing themselves in the process.

Amidst all the change, something else was progressing at a notable rate and defining many games for what they are today: Videogame physics. Take Super Mario 64’s exquisite control, which captured all the little nuances found across its environments and Mario’s movements. Or Wipeout’s floaty anti-gravity handling, and Wave Race 64, whose jet skis wobbled and bounced convincingly off the waves.

It was all about contributing toward the feel of a game rather than merely simulating real life. Giles Goddard, who once worked at Nintendo EAD, said the following about how it all worked:
“The physics in Mario 64 are quite realistic in some ways, but there’s a lot of stuff that went in to give a twist so you could defy the laws of physics for gameplay’s sake. Wave Race and 1080 did the same thing – based on very fundamentally good physics, but you have bits on top that you plug in so you can do things you can’t actually do. That’s where the excitement comes from.
As the Super Nintendo approached its twilight years, there was another game which applied physics to similar results: Umihara Kawase. Its elastic physics gave it a distinct flavour, helping it stand out on a system packed with other side-scrolling platformers. Jump forward nearly two decades and its creators are back at the helm with a revival, Sayonara Umihara Kawase.

Fancy physics are taken for granted these days, but those aforementioned games continue to stand out for a reason: They used physics for gameplay’s sake. Like those games’ physics, Sayonara Umihara Kawase’s have a timeless quality. They aren’t just there to simulate reality, instead they fundamentally define what it’s about and how it feels to play.

Kawase, you see, has a fishing line, which can be grappled onto nearly any part of the environment. Once it’s been hooked onto something, it can then be extended and retracted, transforming a simple fishing tool into a novel and flexible means of getting about.

While the main objective – find an exit door – is a simple one, how you get there boils down to your understanding and mastery of that fishing line and the elasticated physics they entail. This may sound like hard work, but the game encourages both experimentation and discovery, which in turn makes familiarising yourself with its core mechanic feel quite natural and logical.

Indeed, you’ll certainly want to experiment with that fishing line. It casts itself on the press of a button, until – *click* – the pleasingly tactile noise of hook-meets-wall fills your ears. A dangling Kawase ensues, her fishing line now loosely swaying back and forth, wrapping itself around any obstructing scenery.

Once its teeth have sunk into something, the fishing line is a finicky thing. Controlling it – and by extension, your own movement – is now just a matter of retracting and extending your line. Simple enough, then, but it’s tension you’re manipulating, which opens up a surprising amount of organic possibilities to how you can swing about, gain momentum, and reach new places.

Even the smallest variation in tension can make the biggest difference to your momentum and movement. Most importantly, though, you’ll feel those differences. Like Super Mario 64, the underlying physics are fundamentally solid – thus giving you logical feedback – but they also have a more playful bounce on top which makes them a joy to play with.

Clever level design ensures the game offers plenty to discover beyond what you see on the screen. Umihara Kawase’s creator, Kiyoshi Sakai, has designed stages which strike a good balance between asking a little from you and a lot. The ‘regular’ path through the game’s branching map doesn’t require more than basic use of your fishing line, but the secret exits and hidden Randoseru pickups are placed in devious locations that require out-of-the-box thinking.

It’ll encourage you to pull off things with your fishing line that you never knew you could do before, which can then be re-applied in previous stages for a better clear time. A good example of this in action is a level that hides its goal door beyond a lengthy spike pit, with no surrounding walls to hook your fishing line to. The solution was quite logical: Grappling onto the floor by the spike pit and retracing your steps builds up tension, which then lets you gain running momentum once you retract your fishing line, increasing your jumping distance.

While ‘eureka’ moments like this come frequently, there are rare moments where the level design falls wide off the mark, with setups that require irritatingly exact movements or even fishing hook placement.

Making minute alterations after every failure is an almost textbook example of trial-and-error difficulty at its worst, where you’re defeated for reasons you can’t foresee as you continually try to match a very precise series of inputs in order in hope you’ll get it exactly right on the next attempt. Luckily moments like this are few and far between, but they do stand in stark contrast to the rest of the game given how its controls and physics offer a great degree of flexibility.

What then, Agatsuma Entertainment's efforts to bring the game to PC? We’re essentially looking at the PS Vita version of the game, on PC, but with all the bells and whistles you might expect from a Steam platform release, like trading cards, support for the ‘xinput’ controller API (Xbox 360 and Xbox One controllers will “just work”) and Steam cloud and leaderboards support. It’s got the ten extra stages, too, that (very welcome) quick restart button, and one rebalanced boss which gives you more flexibility in how you approach it.

Studio Saizensen have also continued to add polish to the visuals, which are locked at a rock-solid 60 frames per second – vital in a game like this where you’ll be making a lot of quick inputs. In addition to the richer lighting and improved character models seen in the PS Vita version, enhanced reflection effects have also been worked into some of the environment’s shinier objects. The specular highlights from the original 3DS release are still absent, but overall we have gained far more than we have lost.

That being said, there is one visual oddity – the resolution seems to be locked to 540p, and the in-game 3D visuals, much like on Vita, render at lower than that (something in the ballpark of 400p). While on Vita this was likely done to keep the game running at a rock-solid 60fps, its implementation on PC is puzzling. It bears mentioning that we are looking at a game which is primarily based on assets made for the Nintendo 3DS and its 800 x 240 resolution display – scaling them up to even higher resolutions would expose low-poly geometry and blurry textures. Still, on the PC this seems more like an oversight than a conscious design decision, so make of it what you will.

Semantics aside, Sayonara Umihara Kawase is a great example of how cleverly implemented and finely tuned physics can transform an old genre and define a game. It's a joy to play and master, a game where discovering the depth beneath its core mechanic lends expression to the acrobatic moves you pull off. Like its ancestor, Umihara Kawase, this is timeless, and it's great to see it land on a platform whose software library remains relevant for years to come.
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How Good Does
Typoman Look
Oct 04
Posted by Ben at 17:11

To be fair to the WiiU, over its life there's been a few games that could have fitted in this feature (Mario, Captain Toad, Mario Kart), that said, I'm not sure how many more times it will get a mention.

However, before the WiiU gets usurped by whatever the NX is, it's going to have Typoman, which looks fantastic and inventive

The concept is traditional platformer, except you shift letters to alter and create words that in turn change the level. It can be simple things like turning a switch on, as you can see in the gif below.

The aesthetics of Typoman are likely to bring comparisons to Limbo, which I guess are fair, so it's probably for the best that Typoman has its own identity, or seemingly at least

There's no release date set in stone, but it's supposedly this year. We'll keep an ear out and let you know when there is one. Until then, the trailer is below
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Jotun First Play
Gameplay Video
Oct 01
Posted by Ben at 02:14

We bigged up Jotun earlier this week, and I've now managed to spend a bit of time with the game.

I did a bit of live streaming, I played through the first world and then kept saying I was going to stop as I cleared out half of the 2nd, but so far Jotun seems pretty good

I want to stress the 'live streaming' part. Uploading directly to youtube has its advantages, but a fair few disadvantages. The quality isn't amazing, it's 720p and also compressed by youtube. I'm going to do another video when I'm further in to act as a review companion piece. There's also a bit of an issue of the sound levels, and not knowing if the video had started streaming (it hadn't), so bear with that stuff as it does get better.

Jotun itself is an odd beast. It looks amazing, but it's very slow. Huge areas that it takes a while for a tiny person to run through. There's also not a lot of enemies, you aren't being bombarded. I think that as much of as its looks are what's going to mark it out.

Anyway, the video is below and there'll be a review up within a week, and maybe a 2nd video too

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Posted by James at 11:44
As hackers begin to open up Sony’s handheld, we’re beginning to see more pieces of the system’s hardware puzzle fall into place. One of those pieces that has been largely unknown until now is the frequency of the system’s four ARM Cortex-A9 CPU cores, three of which are available to developers for use with games and apps.

Until now educated guesses begged its frequency at 800MHz – the same as the Apple A5 SoC in the iPhone 4s, which also uses ARM Cortex-A9. The larger third generation iPad, which launched in the same timeframe and has a very similar GPU to the PS Vita, had its ARM Cortex-A9 cores clocked at 1GHz.

With the PS Vita, Sony has actually come in a fair bit lower than many expected. In August, PS Vita homebrew developer Yifan revealed results of tests that peg the handheld’s CPU frequency at 333MHz by default when playing games. In addition to this, a dynamic scaling option is available to developers, allowing the CPU to run between a minimum of 44MHz and a maximum of 444MHz.

One could speculate that this maximum frequency is likely only be accessible to games which disable Wi-Fi – in an interview with Digital Foundry, Oddworld developers Just Add Water confirmed the existence of an alternative power mode which disables Wi-Fi in exchange for a higher GPU frequency. It's feasible that a similar rule applies to the CPU clock speed, though it's clear more information needs to be divulged on this 444MHz maximum CPU frequency limit.

If the discovered frequency range is correct, the limits in place would make an awful lot of sense. With a handheld dedicated games console, the CPU is going to be under load for long periods of time, so Sony had to choose a balanced CPU/GPU configuration to offer the best of both worlds: Sustained performance at its maximum speed of 444MHz, and acceptable battery life, all without the system becoming uncomfortably hot.

This is in stark contrast to the typical usage scenario of a smartphone, where tasks need to be completed as quickly as possible before the CPU can ‘rest’. As a result, sustained performance under load wasn’t high on the priority list of many OEMs in the smartphone space back in 2011, something that has arguably not changed today.

Which brings us to the here and now, where we can see how far things have come in the mobile space since Sony adopted what was best-in-class at the time. Apple is one of the few SoC vendors to release a balance CPU and GPU configuration capable of sustaining its performance over long periods of time under load.

Indeed, it recently refreshed its iPod Touch this year to include its Apple A8 SoC, clocking its Cyclone CPU cores to 1.1GHz instead of the 1.4GHz in last year's iPhone 6. What’s impressive is how this "iPod Touch 6" behaves under load. Despite its extremely thin profile, Ars Technica found that it can sustain its 1.1GHz frequency for at least 30 minutes, all while offering 7-8 times the single core performance of the 800MHz ARM Cortex-A9 in the iPod Touch 5, which would theoretically translate to around 14x the performance over the 333MHz Cortex-A9 in the PS Vita.

With Sony counting out a Vita follow-up for the time being, all eyes lie on Nintendo for a modern take on the dedicated handheld. And it seems like Nintendo is beginning to take CPU seriously too -- the four aging ARM11 cores in the New 3DS are clocked at 804MHz, a huge leap over the twin 266MHz ARM11 cores in the original 3DS. This again demonstrates the efficiency gains over the past four-five years even when older architecture is involved -- switching CPU architecture for New 3DS would likely break older games.
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Volgarr the Viking
Dreamcast Gameplay
Sep 29
Posted by Ben at 16:32

In less than ideal conditions we've taken a look at the (surprising) Dreamcast port of Volgarr the Viking. I did try to get it running through my capture kit, but alas, for whatever reason, it wasn't having any of it, so not great quality from my phone will have to do (video under the tab)

You can download a copy of the game from the HERE free of charge, and with the developers blessing, which is a pretty cool thing to do I think you'll agree

The game seems alright. Apart from being a bit blurry (not helped by having to capture on my phone), it's perfectly functional, although I'm really not very good at it

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Posted by Ben at 16:19
I think the release date of 30th October for WiiU horror game Project Zero Maiden of Black Water might be old news, but it's also been given a demo on the eshop

The Demo lands on the 30th too, just in time for Halloween, as you'd expect. Judging entirely on the trailer below, Project Zero Maiden of Black water looks to tread the same kind of ground as Ring, or Ringu just so you don't think I'm referring to the American version

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The Grandia Weekly
Episode 27
Sep 29
Posted by Ben at 02:02

It's tempting to say that we're in the final straight now, I think we're certainly at the top of the hill, that hill being Alent, but there's every chance the walk down is going to take another 5 episodes or something.

It's another episode where it doesn't look a lot on paper, but where we actually got a lot done. We open with a couple of boss battles, meet Liete, emotionally manipulate her in to joining us, then head across East Savanna after accidentally stumbling on the exit early on.

We'll be starting next week at the Luzet Mountains, I'm not entirely sure what's in store for us there, but I think we're probably ready to face just about anything the area can throw at us... hopefully

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How Good Does
Jotun Look
Sep 27
Posted by Ben at 17:21

I'm going to apologise to the developers in advance for this, but Jotun bears a passing resemblance to The Banner Saga. I'm not sure what it is about vikings that screams "beautiful hand-drawn art", they weren't exactly known for their aesthetics it does seem to be a theme with them

Jotun, rather than a stark rpg, seems to be more of an adventure game. Slightly more hack & slash than Diablo, but you can throw out spells like a shield and a giant hammer.

There's no animated gif this week but there is a trailer below. Jotun is listed on Steam as being out on September the 29th, which the eagle-eyed amongst you will note is fairly imminent. I'm surprised there isn't more talk about it, because it does at least look fantastic

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