My Thoughts

Series Nostalgia: Tony Hawk Games by Allison James

There are quite a few game series out there that have been with me for a long time and provided a slew of happy memories. I'd like to start with the Tony Hawk series - as I type this, I have a music playlist of all of the tracks from the series, and I find them firing off these little bits and pieces of nostalgia.

My first taste of the series, albeit a small one, was with the series premiere - Tony Hawk's Skateboarding (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater outside of UK). I never actually owned a copy of the original, but I did have the demo. I remember not knowing how to do anything in it - I worked out how to Ollie and how to turn, so for the score challenge in the demo, I would just be rolling around the Warehouse level continuously performing 180s.

In 2000, both me and my best friend of the time got the full copy of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. I played that game so much that I, to this day, know pretty much every nook and cranny of every level (even the weird outer-space one).

It was playing this that I, for the first time ever, stayed up past midnight, too - aged 9 and at her house playing it with her while our parents and their friends had a bit of a party. In the same session, I remember us discovering the art of in-game swearing - in the New York level, you could anger taxi drivers, who would then proclaim "you are pissing me off!". This, to a 9 year old, is comedic nirvana.

It took a while for me to get Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 - never got it for PlayStation 1, and only got my PS2 in 2002. But again, that one was played to absolute death. I remember that I would always play as Elissa Steamer, while my friend of the time (a different friend - I've just realised how I can use the series to chart when I was friends with people as a kid!) would create a bizarre sister character to her called Stephanie Steamer. I remember that he had to remake Stephanie every time we played the game thanks to me not owning a hideously-expensive PS2 memory card for about a year (they were dearer than new games, and I preferred having the games). I'm convinced I could remake Stephanie near-perfectly despite her non-existence for 14 years - spiky pink mohican, night-vision goggles, white tank top, camo trousers - sorted.

We wouldn't even necessarily skate - we'd use it as a tool to pretend we were our respective characters and make up stories. But when I was alone, I would then most certainly play the game as a skating game. Like with THPS2, I know the vast majority of every single level inside out.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, I didn't play as much. Thanks to its freeform career mode (I really, honestly didn't like the "two-minutes, ten goals" thing from the first three games), I got into that quite a lot, but casually, it didn't see much action from me. I guess at that point, the whole Pro Skater thing was a wee bit done. (I've returned to THPS4 recently, and think it's actually really nice. Love the Alcatraz level!)

The announcement that the sequel, Tony Hawk’s Underground, was a massive overhaul of the formula, however, was very exciting. I remember looking through each issue of Official PlayStation 2 Magazine with delight - the revelation that the new Tony Hawk game would contain walking, would have an actual story, you created your character and they actually had character... everything looked superb.

Christmas Eve, 2003, a day I can recall so clearly. Me and one of my friends of the time (another different one!) were swinging on the swings at a small hidden park in Redgrave coated with a thin layer of snow, excitedly discussing the game with the knowledge that, the day after, I'd own it, and the day after that, he could come over and we could play it all day.

Christmas Day, and yes, Tony Hawk's Underground was mine. This game is still my favourite entry in the series - although it had plenty of goofy gimmicks (car driving was fairly hideous, the "parkour" could have been implemented a little bit more thoroughly since it's so prevalent in the game's missions, and dear Jesus, that stealth mission that caps off the first level can suck one), there was just so much to do, so much to see.

The levels in THUG were well designed and varied, taking you around the world. I loved the sense of scale the game gave, too - far from the Pro Skater levels, which (excluding THPS4) mostly felt like you were in a segmented-off area, actually made it feel like you were in an inhabited world. It wasn't to the game's detriment, either - you could still, with ease, do massive lines of tricks, and were always close to the nearest skatable object.

Another part of THUG that captured my imagination was the improved level creator. Although still fairly limited by size and object limits, the ability to place things like buildings meant that you could create surprisingly convincing little districts. Me and my friend would often play a game where we would make a level and then hide the SKATE letters as well as possible, seeing who could find the other person's placements the fastest.

Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 should have been doomed to lose my interest, but didn't. A week or two before the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game I was awash with excitement for, I found myself with ANOTHER DIFFERENT friend in Woolworths (RIP) of Diss, with ~£40 in my pocket. In there, I was greeted by a rack of copies of Tony Hawk's Underground 2, a game I had not paid any heed to up to that point thanks to my aforementioned obsession with GTA:SA. But due to my impatience and lack of anything better to do, I bought THUG2.

Well, up to the release date of GTA:SA (also the first game I ever preordered), I played the absolute heck out of Underground 2. What an excellent game - even if you're not a fan of the Jackass brand of humour, it's an absolute stonker of a game. Tons of stuff to do, a MASSIVE library of levels (including a bunch of neat revisits of old levels)... great game. I've played through the entire game again recently and it's still an absolute blast. If I remember correctly, I went back to THUG2 after about a month of playing San Andreas non-stop burnt me out and I needed a little palate cleanser before I could return to SA and obsess over it again.

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland was another instalment I didn't really get too fussed over. However, I bought it a few months after it was released at about the £15-20 mark - and was promptly reminded why I loved the series. The ability to traverse between levels without loading times (sort of) was a welcome if relatively inconsequential addition. Bikes were surprisingly fun, kind of making THAW the third Mat Hoffman game as well. Had a lot of fun with THAW.

I didn't get Tony Hawk’s Project 8 until May 2007 as a 16th birthday present (along with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), since I went with PlayStation 3 as my Gen 7 console of choice. I remember going to Diss with the same friend as from the THUG2 excursion the day of my birthday, and spending the entire time wanting to come home so I could game my face off. I enjoyed Project 8 a fair bit - I remember that (still not having broadband internet until July that year) I spent a ton of time between May and July simply skating around the world in free roam while listening to my music.

The magic had dissipated a little from the series with Project 8, though, a process completed with Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. I got Proving Ground towards the end of 2007 with EMA money, and... good lord, that game was boring. I still finished the story, but it was a really dull game. Even Project 8 had managed to make its (now entirely freeform) world interesting, with the funfair, the steelworks, the school etc - Proving Ground was brown. It was entirely brown.

So I wasn't entirely heartbroken when, having moved onto and subsequently fallen in love with EA's "skate." game, Tony Hawk's gaming legacy was snapped in two like a bailed skateboard with the absolutely dreadful Ride and Shred games. Skate 2 and Skate 3 followed the original and brought more improvements to the table, but then both series disappeared.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 in 2015... well, yeah. I finished THPS5 after finding a copy for £8 in late '15, if only for a deprivation of skating games (Skate 3 was five years old when THPS5 came out, and the genre was pretty much untouched in that time bar the vomit-inducing THPSHD).

I won't lie, THPS5 would occasionally show off shades of what made the original series such a blast to play. But those scraps of past brilliance were diluted by a poisonous ocean of dodgy new physics, overall glitchiness, and the entire game seemingly having next to zero thought or care put into it. Nothing about THPS5 was really fun.

And so stands the Tony Hawk game series. I miss it. I miss good extreme sports games in general - SSX, Aggressive Inline, Dave Mirra's Freestyle BMX, Rolling, Jet Set Radio and a ton of other Tony Hawk spinoffs occured (Mat Hoffman's Pro BMX, Shaun White's Snowboarding, Kelly Slater's Pro Surfboarding off the top of my head - all good games too). I hope next month's Steep can sate my growing appetite.Not mentioned were all the spinoffs of the series, most of which I missed and returned to later. The GameBoy/GameBoy Advance ports tended to be fairly bad, Downhill Jam was the best of the bunch but still nothing to write home about, and there was a DS instalment that clamped a plastic piece of crap to your DS and took tilt controls - if you wanted to see the series be worse than Ride and Shred, I'd strongly recommend that one.

RIP, Tony Hawk's series. I will always hold out hope that you, or a series strongly based off of you, rises from the ashes like a beautiful skateboarding phoenix. And I hope Robomodo is nowhere near it.

Top 5 Favourite Pokémon Soundtrack Tunes by Allison James

Because why not. Here are my five favourite tunes features in main Pokémon games up to XY.

Honourable Mention: Santalune Forest (X, Y)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSGZqdfZj4g

Lovely theme, but not as memorable as 1-5!

#5: Dark Cave (Gold, Silver, Crystal)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyPamrElGOM

The only time I've ever been happy to trawl through the colourless hell of a cave in a Pokémon game.

#4: Pokémon Contest Reception Hall (Ruby, Sapphire & Emerald)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZ29daov4o8

I spent a lot of time berry blending and contest entering in Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, so I heard this a lot. Thankfully, it's exceptional. The Hoenn trumpets are in full force. Sadly didn't like the ORAS version as much.

#3: Versus Legendary Pokémon (Black, White, Black 2, White 2)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCkmgssjhvo

Legendary hunting for me has never been a tenser, more stressful experience than in Black and White thanks to its excellent theme tune. I'm in love with the bit when the tempo warps.

#2: Route 4 (Red, Blue, Yellow)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hLcJois9yTs

My first Pokémon game was Yellow. Being inexperienced, it meant I spent hours and hours of my young life stuck levelling my Pikachu and nothing else until its normal-type moves could defeat Brock. When I finally did, I was greeted with this theme - and that's a feeling that's embedded deep within me. The Route 4 theme is like nostalgia dropped its trousers and did its business in my ear.

#1: Team Plasma Grunt Theme (Black, White, NOT the BW2 remix)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LB87TndHlFg

GODDAMN, THAT INTRO. It nearly single-handedly made Plasma look like a credible threat instead of the gaggle of spanners that evil teams in Pokémon always are.

Ideas for Life: "Unpasswords" by Allison James

This is an idea I've come up with, though I'm sure I'm not the only person to have thought of it.Wherever there are accounts, there are reports of scamming, hacking and stealing. On Facebook, people can have their identities nabbed or false statuses/etc posted under their name. On things like Habbo and Second Life, if you've put any money into them, your account is seen as valuable. If you follow some kind of notorious "get free credits/money" link associated with these games and give them your password, it takes one guy just a few seconds to empty your character of everything he or she has. On banks and PayPal... well, I'm sure the huge amount of phishing you've heard about, or even noticed through dodgy spam emails, has shown you how scammers are out to get your money.So my idea for life for today is the Unpassword. When you sign up for an account with any website, you put in both a Password and an Unpassword. What exactly is an Unpassword, then?The idea's this - if somebody tries to sign in with your username, and the Unpassword as the password, they get shit for it. It could be their IP on the site's blacklist, some sort of tampering to their computer, whatever you like and whatever would be most feasible (I have no idea what'd be best).So what do you do with your Unpassword? Simple - if you ever get one of those spam emails, virtual life free-credit website things, anything like that, you don't give them your password. You give them your unpassword. They try logging into your account with it - they lose, and you could be notified when you next sign in (properly) that there was a dodgy attempt.Especially for minor-league scammers this would be a massive deterrent. I'll use Habbo as a good example, as put simply, anything you scam off people in Habbo is only of any use in Habbo. Imagine every item/credit you'd ever scammed, locked out of your reach because you'd tried logging into someone else's account with an unpassword. Are you going to want to keep doing this? Heck no, you're not.I'm sure high-end scammers would work their ways around these things, but the more they did, the more websites could pile crap on anyone that used an unpassword. After all, 100% of people trying to log in with it are doing it for negative reasons. It's not like the massively flawed thing you see on some sites where 3-5 incorrect logins place a quarter of an hour lock on the account itself.That's my idea for the day anyway. If it's of any interest, my PayPal password is "saybyebyetopaypalaccess15".

Ripoffs by Allison James

If there's one thing that irks me about gaming, it's the sheer number of ripoffs of other games that exist. I'm not talking about games that are similar to one another (eg any FPS and Doom/Wolfenstein 3D), games that take popular (or even unpopular) games, change a few things then slap it out to the public and smile.The source of inspiration for this is an iOS game I bought out of intrigue a month or two ago and have only just gotten round to playing, the uncatchily titled Pirates vs Ninjas vs Zombies vs Pandas. Yeah. It was 59p and I was interested to see what sort of odd game that title could hold. To my deep disappointment, it's basically Angry Birds. The premise is that for each level set (near-identical to the sets you get in Angry Birds) you're one of the four different titular groups, taking on another one. Essentially, each one has its own little traits (like the different birds in AB), and the enemy sits stationary (like the pigs) in a physics-affected castle (guess), waiting for you to be slingshotted/slungshot/whatever at them. Every mechanic is the same, down to the bonuses for unused "ammo" characters and for the number of blocks you break/damage.The worst thing about the game is that for quite a while it was sitting very, very high in the iOS charts - above Angry Birds itself at one point. These guys were profiting quite heavily off someone else's concept. This sickens me - it's not quite as bad as just selling the game with ripped sprites, but it's damn close.I don't get the mentality behind it at all. I struggle to imagine the concept meetings the PvNvZvP team members had."Let's think of a great new game!""We could rip off Angry Birds to get lots of money!""Well gee whizz, you're fantastic!"I guess from that perspective it pretty much worked. But that brings me onto ripping off within free, independent development. There's no monetary gain to be had from this, so anyone that's a part of it is in it for two things - the fun, and positive reception.Now, where along the line of thinking is it even remotely plausible that stealing somebody's ideas for your own use will garner positive reception? 95% of the time, the person you stole from will be well-known in the development community. Within ten plays someone will have recognised what you've done, and you'll start eating the backlash. From there you can either apologise and either credit the original developer or take the game down, or you can deny it's a ripoff, shoot your reputation in the foot (which you'll have done anyway, but this makes it oh so much worse) and never get it back, or at least not for a long time and a lot of making up for it. Both the fun and the positive reception die during any of those routes.Note that this doesn't include fangames, where you are showing your appreciation for the original game (though this is still pretty unimaginative when you could show your appreciation by referring people, then put your skills to better use), and instances where you take the idea, turn it into something of your own accord, then credit the original developer (much better, as it shows initiative and appreciation in one).It's a mentality I will never understand, and thankfully have never had in the past myself, though I've definitely been inspired by people before - see Ne Touchez Pas and FKR, inspired by Mark Essen's "Flywrench" and Cactus' "xWUNG" respectively, but I've always given credit where credit is due and have had a reason to create both (simplification of a complicated concept, and a different take on a similar concept respectively).Nintendo 3DS still rocks, by the way. But the games are currently a bit shit - mine serves as a Pokémon Black upscaler at the moment! If you also own a 3DS and would like my Mii gurning on it, then scan my current YYG avatar with Mii Maker's QR Code scanner. (Apologies to readers in the future that are interested in this after the next YYG avatar change, whenever that inevitably happens!)

Ideas for Life: Relative Rating Scale by Allison James

It seems every piece of media in the world gets rated nowadays. Magazines, websites, all sorts of things exist to get reviewed and a number slapped onto them. I'm personally a big magazine fan - I get Official PlayStation Magazine and PC Gamer UK every month, and magazines like PSM3, Xbox 360 World and Official Xbox Magazine to fill the empty half of the month where I've read the two regulars.But the rating systems irk me a bit. A great game will get the perfect rating, then a significantly better game will be stuck to get that same rating despite being better. An instance of this - Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty was given a 10/10, with 10 rewarded in each individual aspect too, in the old Official PlayStation 2 Magazine. This was, like, 17 issues in - the magazine ran for 100, covering the entirety of the PS2's popular lifespan. Sure, it's a very good game. But perfect? In comparison to some of the other stunning games PS2 got? No way.Another annoying thing with current rating systems is they falter when non-significantly-different sequels to games come out. Dynasty Warriors is the perfect example - there's been, like, seven of the main games, and they differentiate so little it's almost embarrassing. But magazines, peeved by this, kept rating the sequels lower and lower. This is despite them being technically superior!So my idea is this - a relative, uncapped rating system. There is no perfect score. It starts with 100 being as high as is expectable at the time, and 0-10 being god awful. So you could have given Metal Gear Solid 2 a 95-100, yeah. But by the time games like TimeSplitters 2 and GTA: Vice City come out, they could start nudging 105 or so. The stellar games late in the console's lifespan could be getting 150-200, with even the lesser games in the 100 region thanks to their ability to get more out of the system. Then, when the console's successor comes out, the games could continue to be compared to this system, with the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4 perhaps getting 250.This would also be good for the repetitive sequels. Dynasty Warriors 193 could get the same score as Dynasty Warriors 192, which is fair - but all other, more original games would be constantly raising the average bar, leaving that game behind.While it's true there's no "maximum" to aim for (and it'd mess with aggregation sites like Metacritic), the highest-rated game at the time could be the one to beat. Anyway, I just feel this would be a superior way of handling ratings to the current "GTA: San Andreas - 100%! GTAIV - wait, shit, 100% as well I guess!".

Karma Shmarma by Allison James

Though it's been around for a long time, a recent popularity boost seems to have been administered to the "Karma" system - instead of ratings on things, a thumbs up/down system often not only on the primary content of a website, but also on its comments. And it's a load of crap. Why is this?If you've been on YouTube at any point within the last several months you can probably answer that yourself. Karma clearly means very, very little, yet as a result of these arbitrary numbers and thumbs, videos get inundated with junk comments. The most annoying by far is the one from people that seem to need karma to be happy with themselves - "Thumbs up if _______". Since the Game Maker Community got a Karma (well, a +1) system, numerous people's signatures contain a little or large arrow trying to steer people to clicking it. Furthermore, you can tell there are people that are just commenting for the Karma, even though they don't mention it.Another YouTube commonplace annoyance is "[number of people that dislike a video] people are [something bad mentioned in the video". This isn't just trying to vacuum thumbs ups, it's also a prime example of the internet trying and failing to be funny. Sure, it may have been mildly amusing at first, but on popular videos 20% of all posted comments could be people with their repetitive quips.The ability to "thumbs down" just attracts attacks too. Take any video by the likes of John and Edward Grimes ("Jedward") or Justin Bieber. Though I can't hate Jedward - I find them far too hilarious - Bieber's music makes me want to go deaf (not that I hate him as a person, I'm sure he's a friendly little girly-voiced boy and if I could be in his position I'd be singing songs about how I'm considerably richer than you!). But because I don't like Justin Bieber, I don't watch his videos. As a result of this, I don't thumbs down his videos. The vast majority of people would be in the same situation - not rating down his stuff purely because what's the point? Yet, thanks to the "4chan-minded" - people that find it hilarious to try and ruin a successful 16 year old kid's life - the thumbs downs match or even beat the ups.And it does genuinely steer what you say. The dicks will try to collect thumbs downs by going around dissing everything everyone else likes. The people worried about their reputation to any extent will change their opinions so people don't go against them. The sheep will just reiterate what other popular people say to get those same thumbs from them.It just all seems so stupid to me. You're welcome to comment on this with your opinions on Karma systems, but keep your thumbs to yourselves.

A Love of Wrestling (and Everyone Else’s Hate) by Allison James

Fairly quick post, as I shouldn’t really be up at this time! Dratted insomnia.As some people may know I’m a big fan of wrestling. I’ve bought the WWE games since the first SmackDown! game on PlayStation 1 (and every instalment since by THQ for PlayStation 1/2/3), and have since February 2009, the day after that year’s No Way Out PPV, followed and loved the television shows. I’ve also been watching rival TNA iMPACT! for over a year now, though its obsession with the older guys and the reduction of inclusion of guys like the Motor City Machineguns have begun to wane a bit.It was also the Royal Rumble on Sunday night, my favourite show of the year (just over WrestleMania), which had, to my glee, upped the wrestler count from 30 to 40, giving me an extra 20 minutes or so of main event that I soak up like a happy sponge.But it occurs to me that some people just don’t “get” wrestling. When people find out I love it, there’s probably a 40% chance I’ll be met with a “you do know it’s fake, right?”. I am not an idiot (in this sense, anyway). To be honest, I should start replying to that question with “when you watch a film, do you think it’s all real?”Because that’s what wrestling is. It isn’t trying to look 100% real. Sure, it doesn’t advertise that it’s staged, but then look at any soap opera, film or general visual media and let me know if you find a “Warning: this is not actually happening”. What it should be viewed as is a number of ongoing and everchanging storylines, tied together with some fantastic and sometimes downright brave athletic displays.That’s one of the big points. It may be staged, but it goddamn hurts. You jump off a 15ft high ladder and land on your stomach on what is essentially hardboard on a set of weak springs, and tell me it doesn’t hurt. Have yourself thrown straight through a metal table, or have a folding chair smack you square in the back, or heck, just have someone slap you round the face. Or, for the less PG organisations, how about digging a razor into your forehead to make yourself bleed? Doesn’t hurt a bit, right?But it’s just a general perception of professional wrestling that gets me. There’s no explaining to some people the enjoyment from watching it – seeing trained, multi-year-experienced professionals perform complicated acrobatics, tell stories and form likable (or indeed dislikable) personae. If you’re one of those people, then please, go back to your movies.You do know they’re just faking it, right?

My Thoughts on Logo Redesign by Allison James

As anyone with eyeballs will no doubt be aware, companies these days seem to love changing their logos - reinventing their brand or just making it look sleeker. Or outright worse. Anyone that's seen my Formspring page will know my main "one" has been Pepsi, whose new logo is... ugh. Just ugh. And while nowadays I've stopped noticing it, I still think it's a piece of shite.But as someone who quite likes graphic design (read - not art) and in particular typography, every time a familiar brand does this, I get thoughts about it. So I thought I'd share them.Google (top - old logo, bottom - new logo) would probably receive a hell of a lot of grief if they ever properly altered their logo. It's just so familiar, even though it's just a plain font with some seemingly randomly chosen colours. Luckily, their recent update was just a polishing of it, brightening the colours, downscaling the bevel and removing the drop shadow. Very nicely done.PlayStation 3 (left old, right new)'s new logo, stand-alone, is better in my opinion. Simpler, more identifiable (as it's just an evolution on the PS2 and PSP logos), and doesn't immediately make you think of any Smashing Pumpkins LPs or Tobey Maguire superhero movies. However, it was an evolution brought about by the new matte-black, slimline PlayStation 3. Although I've warmed to it now I own one and have managed to gawp at one in the flesh, I still think the shiny original looked nicer. And the worst change brought about by the new logo, to me, is the box art for PS3 games, which has changed from a sleek, faux-shiny side-bar to a topbar with a black-grey gradient. Bleh.Starbucks just went simpler for their overhaul, shedding the green "Starbucks Coffee" and turning the black innards green. Can't say I like this change yet. The "central" circle of the new logo is completely offset and makes it look a tad odd (though this is also the case for the old logo, it's less apparent as it's not as in-your-face and it's out of the "main two circles"). Not the worst thing in the world though. Just waiting for them to shed the other outer circle now and just have a woman's face and some long hair as their logo!THQ went simple and bevel-free. Both logos are a bit fugly, to be frank, but I'd grown warm to the overly slanty older one. If the new logo's H hadn't had its shoulder amputated I think I'd like it a lot more. At the moment, it looks like the T is a table, the H is a chair sitting by it, and the Q is Yivo from Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs, waiting to ram its face into the neck of whoever dares to sit on the H.Gap hired a complete moron to redesign their logo. There is no way of elaborating on that.Wait, there is. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!Argos did the subtle modernisation thing, and it works rather beautifully. Infact, this is one of the few logo redesigns I preferred over its predecessor from the moment it was unveiled. Cleaner and less pointy while retaining its simplicity and colour scheme. To be honest, though, I'd personally go one step further and kill the cheesy underline-slash-fake-smile that's sitting on a ton of other logos these days (see Kraft's abomination of a new logo and Amazon, which I guess can be let off as it serves the other clever purpose of pointing from A to Z, the letters of the alphabet the website can cater for)iTunes went bleck. I can see the thought process - CDs, while not dead and probably for the foreseeable future won't be, aren't particularly popular these days. Particularly for those that use iTunes often - the people Apple would want to be steering towards their own online music store. So fair enough, that can go. But the musical note, in a generic blue circle, with a generic white outer shell? With generic gradient and gloss effects? It's not awful, it's just bland. To make matters worse, it looks like the logo's blue was taken from iTunes' interface, which is now almost colourless.Quicktime / Quicktime X's overhaul fares better. I never got why a little segment was cut out of the Q in the old logo, and if Windows gets Quicktime X I'll never have to know. It's still a tad generic - shiny Q, with a shiny centre ball, and as a sister program to iTunes their logos bear next to no resemblance (not that they ever did), but all in all it looks superior.Windows Media Player may as well get a mention while I'm at it. While iTunes ditched its CD references, WMP added them with their logo revamp (I believe a change that came with Vista-exclusive WMP 11), turning a very Simon-ish logo into a set of three CD cases and a big orange Play-button-wielding disc. My big problem with this is that it pretty much killed its identifiability. Windows things have the Windows colours on. That's just a bunch of clear bits of plastic that could quite happily be slapped onto WinAmp, the disgusting RealPlayer, you name it.There are plenty of others worth noting, though I won't link to them (if you search on the internet for "logo redesigns", "logo revamps" or anything along those lines you'll find professional designers who have dissected the living daylights out of them). KFC altered their colours more than anything, turning the red-beige-blue into more of a red-beige-brown. They look nigh on identical so it just seems to me like a waste of marketing money. I've seen a new MasterCard logo circulating the Internet - if that thing takes over their current logo I think I'll have a bit of a cry. Burger King and Walkers (US: Lays Potato Chips) have done revamps but nothing major over the years, which always look okay in exception for that hideous monstrosity Walkers had for a short while. And of course, Pepsi. What the hell were you thinking, Pepsi? You dicks.-----Since I don't blog much, just thought I'd make a little addendum. Today, I spent £58 on sweets - enough to last a damn lifetime! I got me:- 1,200 Rainbow Dust tubes- 40 Rip & Tip Sherbet, little bags filled with sherbet of either raspberry or orange- A bag of those Pink Pig things that are nice until you've had about four; sickly thereafter- 500 flying saucers (the foamy UFO-shaped things filled with sherbet. I like sherbet.)- 50 foamy bananas and 50 foamy shrimp, essentially a pick 'n' mix delicacy- A kilogram of those E-number-packed letters that are kinda crunchy and sweet- 150 double lolliesIf I was able to experience a sugar rush (I never have and doubt I ever will), this would be it!Anyway, that's all from me. This took an hour to write that could have been on LittleBigPlanet 2 (which owns heartily, by the way). No more time to lose!

"Sandbox Mode" by Allison James

I've been playing Dead Rising 2 for around half an hour now. I always stick it in when I have a lust for creative, violent bloody mass deaths - baseball bats with nails through, fast slamming sledgehammer shots, or just throwing a chair at zombies' heads and watching them recoil angrily. But I currently can't do that. I have to wait until the in-game time hits between 10 and 11am so I can do a mission. If I don't do this mission, the game kicks me back to the Load Game menu. If I do anything else and lose track of time, I don't get to the mission in time - I have to start it by 11am in-game. One hour in-game is four minutes of real time (nowhere near enough to finish a sidequest or get from a further-away area of the mall to the trigger).And you know what the worst bit of all is? The missions are frequently balls. One a while ago saw me riding a motorbike, chasing down and trying to jump on a train so I could fight my way across the carriages and to the game's main antagonist. It was executed awfully. The motorbike feels like a hoverbike - it floats around and isn't nice to ride. Enemies trying to bomb the bike look naff. Dodging the bombs is a matter of luck - there's no time to react, you're either hit or you're not (though a pipe bomb to the face is only worth one hit point of damage, apparently). The train is clearly in a loop, as the corpses of zombies you haphazardly kill are then passed again a minute later. And the carriage section is pathetic. At one point you have no choice but to walk into enemy fire for several seconds (which again does next to no damage) so you can somehow attack an enemy.But while all this is happening it really makes me wonder why more people don't include a sandbox mode in their games. In some cases it's worse than others. Dead Rising 2 is a bad example - as far as I know there is no way, unlockable or otherwise, to just be able to go around and kill zombies. Whether it's a time limit, the game's constant need to push you in a direction you don't want to go for a mission you don't want to do, the killing of zombies is almost always limited to "en route" - when you have to walk from one destination to another. Grand Theft Auto is a lighter example, but still one nonetheless - you only have to do one or two introductory missions before you are actually free to wander, but then to unlock three quarters of the map and all the fun minigames, weapons, cars etc, you need to progress further through the story. This is hours of your time - unlocking the full map can take 10-20 hours, while actually finishing the game, getting rid of all the little mission blips and things, is more like 30-50.You know what I'd like in GTA? A true sandbox mode. It doesn't have to be connected to the "main game" at all. I want something where I get the whole map instantly. I want a bunch of options that can do things like alter my health (normal health, infinite health, one hit and I'm dead, etc) and ammo (normal, infinite, normal but infinite clip, infinite clip and ammo). I'd love a load of modifiers resembling GTA: San Andreas' and Saints Row 2's cheat lists (if you own either game but haven't played with the cheats, look them up on the internet and go and play with them ASAP - they're amazing) - silly things like superpunch, crashing into other cars making them float away comically, having it rain pedestrians then having dead pedestrians immediately float up to the heavens. Useful/fun things like spawning any vehicle infront of you, or destroying them all, or turning them all bright pink, or turning them all into Smart cars. Stuff like that, for me and I'm sure countless others, would make the game incredibly more fun, while still keeping the normal game 100% intact.Dead Rising 2 would benefit from modifiers I'm sure, but the lack of a mode in which you can just kill zombies is baffling to me. I can only imagine the meetings of the developers, in which nobody even suggested a freeform mode, or the one or two that did were scoffed at by the rest - a group of pretentious pricks deciding none of the game's fans knew what they wanted (I saw tons of requests for such a mode after the original Dead Rising was just as awkward to play).The only way to have any kind of fun like this is to play on PC, but even then nothing official offers anything remotely similar to this. You have to rely on unofficial modifications to bring about sandbox modes (if you've ever played Gmod, aka "Garry's Mod", or seen videos of things made in it on YouTube, you'll know how remarkably fun it is).You can pick any game with "sandbox" gameplay and immediately come up with ideas that could have been implemented was a "sandbox mode" included. A couple of other examples I can come up with spontaneously as I type this:Burnout Paradise: "Invincible traffic checking" - in Revenge, if you rammed a car smaller than yours from behind, it would send them flying and your car would continue unhurt. Imagine how fun it'd be if you could play around, hitting ANY other vehicle, destroying it spectacularly but not throwing you into a multiple-second crash animation. Or what about a simple key press crashing YOU? When it's not part of a race, slow-motion detailed crashes can be fun to watch. You could also have sliders for damage levels, perhaps with a cheeky "Gran Turismo" mode in which no cars ever took any physical damage.Skate 3: To some extent this actually does have a sandbox mode - there's a Free mode in which you can change the density of traffic and pedestrians (no pedestrians = gorgeous), and in any mode you can spawn skating equipment or mode existing equipment/other skatable items like benches and ramps. Could have the ability to spawn pedestrians/traffic wherever desired at will, play with your own physics to allow super-low gravity, slow motion etc (akin to the cheats/tweaks found in the likes of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and 3 - 3 also had a badly executed but fascinating nonetheless "First Person" mode).All my opinion though. I'll still go nuts when the next Grand Theft Auto comes out. It's just that a sandbox mode as suggested above would make me go Marmite Cashews, not regular, bog-standard nuts.

>My Thoughts: GTAIV vs Saints Row 2 by Allison James

>For this My Thoughts I'd like to compare two oft-compared games, released in the same year on the same platforms and with many, many similarities. I'll split it into several sections too. Grand Theft Auto IV, not the fourth in the series, is the numerical sequel to the game considered revolutionary in its popularisation of the entire 3D sandbox genre. Saints Row 2, the multiformat sequel to a 2006 Xbox 360-exclusive game, is a series that attempts to do pretty much the same thing.

Graphics
Both have good graphics, though they seem to take alternative directions. GTAIV's realistic graphics, Saints Row 2's cartooniness. Given GTA's fairly poor sixth-generation graphics it's a pleasant surprise that its graphics are so, so good. Although less colourful and slightly more dreary than Saints Row 2's graphics, GTAIV's to me are better.
Winner: GTAIV
Setting
Saints Row 2 features the city of Stilwater, upgraded but in many ways unchanged from its predecessor. It's a well-designed location with plenty of different locations. GTAIV features a renovated Liberty City, in the style of New York (with many familiar areas, including its own rendition of Times Square and the Statue of Liberty). Though GTAIV's location had to be researched thoroughly, costing millions of dollars, Stilwater's brighter atmosphere just about takes it.
Winner: SR2
Arsenal
An easy victory to Saints Row 2. While GTAIV's is more than adequate - a series of guns based on real life ones and the ability to throw things like coffee, hot dogs and other sidewalk debris, it's an overall step down from San Andreas' pool cues and brass knuckles. Saints Row 2 not only covers the realistic front, it also adds a fun factor to weaponry, with weapons such as defibulators, satchel charges (another item San Andreas had that IV didn't) and the "pimp slap", a big pink glove that sends its recipients flying into the air. Smashing.
Winner: SR2
Story
And an easy victory for GTAIV. SR2 was never about the storyline - it has some nice missions and a general story to go with - but GTAIV's is movie-worthy. It features twists, turns, user choices, and a real feeling of progression. Smashing stuff.
Winner: GTAIV
Online
Both games feature adequate online multiplayer minigames which are great fun to play, but SR2 also allows two people to play the entire story mode, and even wander entirely independently around the city, online together. Great stuff.
Winner: SR2
Cheats
Not the game-breaking health refillers, the ones which make playing about more fun. The PS2 GTA games were particularly brilliant at this, including cheats such as the ability to drive into other cars and watch them float away before your very eyes. Yet again though, GTAIV stripped a lot of these, leaving mainly the game breakers. SR2 has a number of funny cheats, including UFO spawning, low gravity, and pedestrian weather (where random civilians are spawned and subsequently drop from high in the sky, landing with a sickening thud). You can combine these with online two-player city exploration to create a number of unofficial minigames, including a personal favourite - low gravity grenade wars (low gravity + infinite health + give grenades + infinite ammo, find a nice high roof and chuck grenades at each other until someone falls off it).
Winner: SR2
Messing About
SR2 has an absolute plethora of outside-mission activities to do. These are generated from all the weapons you can toy with, the minigames, and all sorts. But GTAIV is slightly better thanks to its stunning physics engine. You can push people over things and watch them stumble/trip (even going so far as to pushing them down flights of stairs, Porrasturvat-style), into cliffs or anything of the sort. You can anger taxi drivers by slapping their car then run around toying with their angry selves, perhaps getting a few more, having them accidentally hit their angry companions and watching the ensuing fight. You can get yourself a helicopter, carefully back it into a building until its tail end falls off then try to land it as its damaged, smoking body rotates angrily in the air. You can go to the strip club and buy yourself a dance, or slightly more fun, jump onto their podiums and watch all the strippers become frightened and the guards become angry. You can log onto a computer, look up some child... naughtiness... only to be redirected to a police website and, off-computer, five stars added to your wanted level. You can get yourself a girlfriend on a dating site and take her for a booze-up, ending the date by drunkenly driving home and showing her what your interpretation of "coming in for coffee" is (hint - no sugars). Heck, you can even go and watch Ricky Gervais, voiced and motion-captured by the man himself, perform a genuinely funny stand up show!
Winner: GTAIV
Overall
In short, GTAIV takes it. SR2 is still cracking fun, especially when you've an online friend to play it with. But GTAIV continues its sandbox crime game dominance by providing a game which, amidst all the controversy and media stupidity, is genuinely brilliant fun. Yes, you can park up to a prostitute and watch her bang you one off in animated splendour. Yes, you can go on killing sprees. But yes, ignore all the shit around it and you're left with something that, in one word, is stunning. Oh, not to mention, but Saints Row is totally a rip off of GTA. ;)