Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Chennai's very own Blur!

Nyx used to be my favourite cafe because it had something which I haven't seen in any other cafe in India; it had an atmosphere. Nyx was a place that I could just go to, to chill and relax. It also had a variety of consoles and a proper PC setup for serious gaming. It was just ideal. But sadly, Nyx was closed a few months back and Blur became my new dream cafe. But Blur is targeted at the general public and the horde of people who already visit the complex for movies. Though I appreciated the new approach, I was upset at the way they ignored the hardcore gamers.

The Blur management basically refused to provide the games like DotA, Counter-Strike, Trackmania etc. which are played by the hardcore gamers. They said that if they install these games, the pros would scare away the newcomers. If you read my previous post, then this would actually make sense in a city like Chennai. This worked very well at the start and the huge cafe was full most of the time. But I think the crowd started to decrease after a while. Now the irony is that they sponsored some college tournament by giving away free play-time at Blur for the winners of the very game that they refused to support - CounterStrike.

Today, I finally managed to spend some hours at Blur. Weirdly though, I was rather disappointed. The computers had an awesome configuration but the number of games were rather limited. For example, there were only three racing games (Grid, NFS MW, DiRT) in the computers. Come on, there are lots of awesome high-graphics racing games out there and what about the steering wheel or at least a bloody gamepad? Ok, Blur was anyways not meant for pro gaming and so, lets talk about the consoles.

The console section is located on the same floor as the arcade section which means, the place is deafening with sounds of machine guns and explosions even if no one is playing anything. I was looking forward to those awesome rocking seats with built in speakers and what not! Sadly though, all the consoles and thus the seats are placed one after the other and thus, you hear every god-damn game that everyone is playing over there which when combined with the arcade noise, is hell. I was looking forward to playing some good co-operative mode games but sadly, I couldn't even hear the guy sitting next to me.

Even the maintenance was rather poor. Some of those chairs' speakers weren't working. Nintendo Wii had very few game titles. To top everything, the cost varies from Rs.40 to Rs.80 per hour. Even Nyx's price was only between Rs.25 to Rs.40. For such a premium price, I would expect top notch service. I would expect a stampede of games and a perfect atmosphere. I should at least be able to try the different games to their fullest. But sadly, none of the games had a finished profile, meaning that, if for example I wanted to try Gran Turismo IV, I would have to drive a Lexus instead of Ferrari or Lambo. The least they could've done is put up a banner displaying the different games they provide. But they were rather keen on asking my friend to not take pictures inside the cafe.

All things considered, Blur is a huge disappointment for me. Though it could provide some good fun for everyone, it is rather a superb opportunity wasted thanks to vision-less management. More than that, they charge premium price for a mediocre product. Like they say, never meet your hero because you would only be disappointed.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Gamers or Spiritless timepassers?

According to wikipedia, gamers are people who spend much of their leisure time playing or learning about different games. Then again, people from different walks of life have different opinions about this. For example, my HoD claimed that gamers are drug addicts and a parent that I know believes that gamers are gamblers. But to me, gamers are people with time in their hands & passion for competition running through their veins. I will accept that I wouldn't have become a gamer if I was busy in dance classes & cricket coaching. But, if it wasn't for the competitive spirit that was burning inside me, I wouldn't have become a gamer at all. Sadly, today's gamers don't seem to have this spirit. In fact, today's gamers are people who like to hide behind a cupboard till the storm passes & then claim that he did his part to save the old man who was caught outside; basically, they are spineless cowards.

Why such harsh criticism against my fellow gamers? Well, its because I'm growing tired of this attitude shown by today's gamers. In the past year, there hasn't been even a single cafe/national gaming event in Chennai. Why? Because the only two games popular in Chennai (DotA & CS) already had clans a couple of clans who are good it. No one had the guts to stand up & fight against these clans. So, there were only two teams competing in events & thus, even a good cafe like Zap was forced to stop conducting events.

This is an age old problem now and there is no point in continuing that argument. But still, what pisses me off is that, even those special few gamers who still play in this dead city, are such cowards. Best example is probably the players at our local cafe, Zion. Except maybe one or two, everyone plays purely for fun. Of course gaming is for fun, but it will became a mindless cartoon if we don't add the element of competition in it. After a couple of failed attempts, they just give up and claim that they are playing for fun or that they don't like the game. They don't fight, they don't play their hearts out, they don't sweat, they don't research, they don't apply their mind or take any effort. They think that I'm better than them just because I have a clan of my own. Any person with a brain that works would figure out that I'm not natural at video games. I reached this level, purely because of my competitive spirit.

The irony is, I was once, in their shoes a long time ago. Me, Vijay (Maxi) and Karthik (fRosT) were just a bunch of new kids that visited a gaming cafe. We played against a guy who beat us 4 on 1. We got really pissed and planned for weeks together to beat him, in 4 on 1. Then, we improved in leaps and bounds to face them 1 on 1. I can never forget the top team back then, which was called Ashes. Praveen (Spk) and Riaz (00) belonged to that team and they were unbeatable at Age of Mythology.

Then, there was an expansion pack for that game which brought in new civilizations and powers. This was enough to motivate me & Vijay to practise our ass off in the newly updated game in a hope that we could catch them off-guard using the new strategies that come up with the additions. We literally studied international replays, took notes, mugged up strategies and trained like mad men. We then challenged them and played two games every day for a week and lost all the games. After a week, we started to win and then, we were almost unstoppable. Later, when Ashes collapsed, those two players and one more joined force with our little so-called team and thus, my team (Guardians) was created. My team might not have achieved much in the national arena, but I still have that sense of satisfaction because, we worked hard with a dream and we reached it. That is what gaming is really about.

Gamers in our cafe refuse to play in tournaments. Just to make them play, we are planning to introduce a rule by which, the winner is selected almost randomly, regardless of who won the game. That is how bad the competitive spirit really is, in today's gamers. The biggest joke of all is probably that, the parent's words that I quoted earlier, is almost gonna come true. To encourage competition, if we go ahead with this fun-tournament format, we will turn gamers in gamblers..

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The 3D Experience!

Some friends of mine said that Ice Age 3 was visually stunning in 3D. Thus, for no apparent reason, I went to Final Destination 4 which is also in 3D. As soon as I showed my ticket, Sathyam charged me Rs.20 extra for a glass that I should return when I leave the hall. I already received word that the movie is a disappointment & after paying more money for it, I took my seat with no expectations at all. When the movie started, it was all normal and I was able to see some depth in the visuals & everything was going fine but suddenly, I was stunned.

In the title animation, there was a splatter of blood which suddenly shot out of the picture and entered the real world. That is when I started to see the magic unfold. A guy talking on his phone was late to the movie & just crossed between me & the screen. At that exact moment, a rod poked out of the screen at full speed & to me, it appeared as if the rod from the movie had just hit the guy (in real life). There was a race in the movie and there were bits flying of the racing cars. Those bits flew towards the camera & I actually blinked when it was about to hit the camera. It was an involuntary reaction of my body to what my brain was perceiving as an impending danger to me eyes. How friggin awesome is that! The best shot though, was a snake moving slowly towards you & when it suddenly attacked, I got the urge to catch it with my hands.

I explored this 3D technology when a driver update for the latest graphic cards hit the net to turn our nVidia card systems into 3D enabled gaming machines. The idea is very simple actually. Our brain perceives distance between objects because both our eyes don't see the exact same picture. Just try closing one eye & remember what you see. Then close the other & compare it what you saw before. There will be a small difference between what the left eye saw & what the right eye saw. This data is used by the brain to calculate the distance between various objects thus giving us, 3D vision. The image below shows the difference between what a left eye & right eye will see in real life.

So, the trick is to capture the movie using two different cameras similar to how our eyes see things. Then, project both videos on the screen and to make sure that one eye doesn't see what the other eye is supposed to see, we get the glasses which filter (using shapes or colors) out the video that is meant for the other eye.

This simple technology produces amazing results. Even in a simple shot where a guy walks between the camera and the main character, you are able to see that this guy is much closer. He doesn't exactly appear next to you like how the business adverts claim, but he does seem out of the screen. Watching the camera travel over a grass surface in 3D is enough to get me excited. It simply looks much better than our usual 2D cinema. Why aren't all our movies in 3D?!! This is just better & creates a much more realistic experience. Forget IMAX, this is way more exciting. Thanks to this movie, my expectations have sky-rocketed for the James Cameron's Avatar.

To sum it up, NO, the characters won't jump out of the screen & dance with you. But, you will be fooled at least for a second and when a nail speeds towards you like a bullet, that one second will be one helluva experience. Watching a 3D movie is a worthy experience to actually add to your BucketList, if you are a true movie buff.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Grid, Try before you Die!

This is not a complete article that can explain Grid to you in three paragraphs. Besides, you can anyway find a lot of reviews on the web considering that it has been a while since this game was released. But the point of writing this post, is to make sure that no petrol-head misses this awesome game. Even if you are just a gamer who likes a couple of racing games, this is worth a try. Let me tell you why..

I tried this game a long time back but back then, I played only a lap or so. Today, I played the game for well over an hour in a proper rig and let me tell you, its one of the best racing games that I've ever tried. I'm not a guy with usual tastes & you will understand that when I say "I love ProStreet". For those of you who don't understand why that is awkward, is because, the game was hated by the fans of the NFS franchise. The reason why I loved it is because it reminded me of Colin McRae which is considered by many as the best racing franchise ever. How does all this explain about Grid?

Its very simple. Grid is like the friendlier version of ProStreet. Gamers hate ProStreet because it is too hardcore and tough meaning it ain't fun. I had to sweat & swear at the top of my voice while trying to finish that game. I used to get frustrated & upset after trying certain races for long hours but to me, that was fun. I loved the way the game challenged me to push myself to the extreme and made me struggle & fight, thus giving me a real racing experience. That is just my personal trait. Grid on the other hand, will give you the same feeling of a real life racer but without the frustration part.

The first couple of races, you might crash & burn. But once you get a hang of it, its an entirely different experience. It is not street racing; the races take place in proper tracks or blockaded streets with proper curbs etc. The cars are not like toys; they handle like a real car & so, taking the corners in the proper speed is everything. You can't crash into walls without paying a price for it. Don't worry, there is a small icon at the bottom left that will tell you when to break. Besides, the difficulty can be set for every single race which also implies that if you race with higher difficulty you will simply get more points. Instead of having to restart a race after a major crash, if the difficulty is set low, you can simply travel back in time dynamically just seconds before the crash & try the corner again.

Besides all these, what captured my attention was the reality in the way the car handled. If you go too fast, you WILL crash. If you go too slow, you WILL be overtaken. If you make a mistake, you will pay the price. The car won't turn like a remote controlled toy but would rather drift on all four wheels if you are too fast in a corner. You should know exactly when to brake, which line to take in every corner & when to step on the accelerator again. All those three factors together decide whether you make it out of the corner instead of just pressing the left/right arrow & bouncing back from the wall without damage. Pushing your car to the limit in such circumstances knowing very well that if you even slightly push it beyond the limit, you will crash, is an intoxicating experience. This is what games are supposed to do, which is to make everything feel real & then challenge you to push the limits. Grid caters to both the hardcore racers who are looking for a challenge & the fun loving casual gamers. So, it doesn't matter which category you belong to, just give it a try..