Rt Hon John Key, NZ’s tourism minister as well as Prime Minister, spoke today about the possibility of expanding New Zealand’s already impressive tourism portfolio into the realm of online “e-tourism”.  Mr Key praised the efforts of New Zealand game developers in capturing the attention of the world, “like a ewe catches the eye of a randy ram.”

Possible future ventures might include live webcasts of sheep shearing, guided e-tours of notorious NZ sheep-related websites, and various online competitions and challenges.

Mr Key says that in-depth statistical analysis of the sales of Red Band gumboots versus sheep population in Australasia prove that NZ has “a lot more to offer than just pretty mountains and mud pools.”

Former tourism minister, Damien O’Connor, appeared disturbed by Mr Key’s comments, saying only that “You can’t exploit our nation’s most valuable resource by whoring it out on the internet.  Our sheep have earned better!”

Mr Key declined to comment on the exploding sheep censorship scandal that has been dogging his government these past weeks, saying only that “I should hope that every New Zealander already knows how treat a sheep properly.”

A console RTS? Not a popular combination, it must be said. I’ve been very harsh in my assessment of such games in the past, so to have one dropped in my lap came as a bit of a surprise.

There’s no mouse, you see. The mouse is the single most important element of real time strategy. Console fans can argue forever about controllers, and how well they work in shooters, but for RTS there is no contest.

I feeeel the need...

Or there was no contest. Ubisoft have thrown a curveball at one-eyed platform bigots like myself with Tom Clancy’s EndWar; a console RTS using voice commands – one that apparently actually works.

Scary thought, I know. The idea is that rather than fighting the controller, you simply tell your units where to go and what to do. After wondering briefly who they thought they were kidding, I finally slotted the disk into the 360 and fired it up.

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I have a reflexive flinch. A tic that manifests whenever I hear the words “Need for Speed”. Call it a traumatic past experience. Call it a reaction to the rape of a treasured childhood memory. Call it Need for Speed Underground.

Back in what I’ll gratuitously refer to as “my day”, there was a game called The Need For Speed. I played this on my 486 gaming pc, taking any one of 8 cars around one of three tracks or along one of three road courses. I was the man at that game. And it was a fantastic game. But somewhere along the line, the concept was watered down. What had started out trying pretty hard to be a modern and accurate Test Drive became an arcadey thrasher.

I feeeel the need...

But there were some high points. Hot Pursuit explored the getaway-style running from the cops gameplay that made the original’s head-to-head mode so enjoyable (though it was flawed in that first attempt) and did a good job of it.

Then, eventually, along came Need For Speed Underground. A game that actually rewarded the player for buying pointless “upgrades” to make their car uglier and less good. To say that I loathed it would be a gross understatement. To say that it’s the worst driving game ever made is wholly inadequate. The point I’m trying to make is this: I’ve learned to fear Need For Speed titles. I’ve been burned. Dare I put my hand back into that flame?
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Xbox.com’s Rock Band video competition concluded on the 30th of November.  So on the 29th, the Buttonmasher podcast crew (Brian Wugga and myself) got together, borrowed some instruments, fired up a video camera and made a video.

Filming concluded at around 2am on Sunday (the 30th), and I was up until almost 6am ripping, copying, editing and converting.  It was uploaded when I got up, and Wugga put in the entry.

The song we chose was Skullcrusher Mountain, by Jonathon Coulton; a heart-wrenching tale of unrequited love from the point of view of a soft-hearted supervillian.  We chose it because Wugga said it would be awesome.  Fortunately, it was.

Here’s our entry, in all its Youtubey goodness.

Once the dust had cleared, the Buttonmasher entry was declared the winner.

Says Teljam: 

We have a winner!!

Congratulations to Wugga, Brianemone, and Gar with your video interpretation of Skullcrasher Mountain by Jonathon Coulton – You guys have talent – I dunno what sort of talent, but talent nonetheless.

And thanks to all of the other entrants to this comp – You all did a great job, and provided some good times to the Xbox Community – Awesome!!!

After the break are the other entries.

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resistance

With the Command and Conquer franchise’s recent resurgence it was probably inevitable that a new Red Alert would see the light of day.  The sub-franchise has always been extremely popular; perhaps moreso for its amusingly over the top story than for its gameplay, which closely mimics C&C.  Which is not to say that Red Alert is a sort of amusing retarded cousin to C&C – far from it, in fact – Red Alert 2 remains a popular LAN game even now, eight years after its release.

Command and Conquer 3 – which donates the engine for Red Alert 3 – hasn’t exactly met with universal praise, despite its solid gameplay, so can the latest Red Alert stand tall alongside its predecessors?

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fracture banner

Fracture, developed by Day 1 Studios and published by Lucasarts, is a third-person shooter with a difference: Deformable terrain. Neat, huh? Unfortunately, that difference is the only remarkable thing about the game, other than its protagonist; a generic marine so generic that he almost achieves noteworthiness for that alone. But not quite.

So it�s a couple of centuries in the future, and global warming has caused sea levels to rise. This has split the continental United States into two pieces. Which inevitably go to war with each other. This time the scrap is over whether to enhance people using cybernetic technology or genetic engineering.

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In the tradition of the original Colonization from 1994, this remake takes the current Civilization engine, and refines it to concentrate specifically on the European colonisation of the Americas.

colonization

It seems like you’d need to be pretty interested in American history to enjoy it, and while that’s not entirely the case, American history buffs will certainly enjoy this title more than the rest of us.

Starting out, you choose from one of four nations – Spain, France, The Netherlands and England – and then one of two available governors.  The choice of country and governor comes down purely to stats.  If you want to chop everything in sight, go the Spanish; if you want to rule the New World using economics, it’s the Dutch you want, and so on.  As the game progresses, various Founding Fathers – real figures from history – will offer to join your colony, offering further buffs to your stats.  The system of acquiring Founding Fathers seems a bit arbitrary, and lends itself more to opportunistic buff-grabbing than any real long term strategic planning.

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Scifi fans may already be familiar with Tad Williams’ massive Otherland epic; a 4 volume story about a huge virtual reality network conceived as a way for the world’s richest and most powerful people to achieve immortality.

On October 1st, Tad Williams announced that an MMORPG set in the Otherland network was in development by REALU’s Singapore studio.  It’s to be published by dtp entertainment AG.

The Otherland universe is huge in scope, with hundreds of different worlds.  Only two have been revealed so far, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how many will make the transition from the book to the game.  It’s currently slated for release in 2010.

 Lambda Mall in Otherland

Check out Tad’s site for more info.

More screenshots after the break.

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Far Cry 2

I had the opportunity recently to wrap my mitts around the upcoming Far Cry 2.  Following on from the original, this game aims to show what is graphically possible on current generation gaming machines.  As Gary of Monaco says:  “Where Far Cry 1 was showing off was with water… Far Cry 2 is all about the fire.”

This is achieved with some clever procedural programming that mimics the way fire behaves in real life.  The results are stunning.  You can chuck a molotov cocktail into an enemy position, and before long the fire will have spread downwind, engulfing grass, trees, structures, and anything else unlucky enough to be caught within its reach.

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Starcraft2

A bit of surprise news from Blizzcon, Starcraft 2 will be released as three standalone titles, but not how you’d expect.  The campaign for each race will be its own title, which seems a bit cheap, but each one will have close to 30 missions and will be pretty well polished (or so they reckon).

The multiplayer looks like it’ll be the same for each one, and each should have cross-compatibility with each of its counterparts.

Check out Gameriot and Games On Net for their coverage.

The three instalments are titled (at this stage)  Terrans: Wings of LibertyZerg: Heart of the Swarm, and Protoss: Legacy of the Void.