In 2005, while continuing the San Andreas mammoth journey (the music, much like VC, helped bring me back for more), I began playing tennis with my old school buddy (from primary school – I started in a different high school that year) Alex. We’d play together with coach Brad every Saturday morning, $10 a pop. Then afterwards, we’d usually go to his house to have a day of fun, playing games, running around, and hitting the tennis ball to each other over the street – sort of like what you’d see in Smash Court Tennis Pro Tournament 2 (I remember the boy down the road, David, he had an xbox with games that amazed me because of the shiny graphics – especially Top Spin). Much like playing with Luke, running and hiding in the dirt like army soldiers or agents of stealth in Star Wars – or like riding our bikes like crazy, down hills, running around the neighborhood, outside with Chris, similar to the game we used to play on his computer, Motocross Madness 2.
Peter Jackson’s 2005 film, King Kong, I think very well signifies what notion of computer power encompasses. I grew up watching Dad’s vhs tapes of the original King Kong films, so to see this then really showed off what separates us from the early ages of film production. Just think of the amount of computer power required to animate and render out those scenes, compared to what was on offer when Toy Story was created. You get a pretty good idea of what was going on back in the early 1990s in the documentary, The Pixar Story. The game that they released for the movie, officially, was really well done, and felt very cinematic.
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 came into my possession this year. I spent many hours a day enjoying the Jackass feel of that game. I remember one day, getting through the New Orleans section of the game, playing as Bam Margera, for a nonstop session of about 6 hours. I remember as the sun was setting, Mum and Dad were outside, and I decided to rest just a bit, because I was starting to ache and lose concentration. My eyes red raw, my arms cramped, and my senses messed up, I remember going outside and feeling the exhaustion from that day of slaving on that game. What a great game. Unlocking Steve-O as a character was definitely a major highlight of the many experiences I had, playing this crazy game, THUG 2.
Another game, which I first was introduced to in 2003, with a similar name – Need for Speed: Underground, still to this day, intrigues me. I had it on a demo disc for the PS2 – I loved playing what I could in that Tiger Woods PGA golf game. The first time I played NFS Underground, I honestly thought it was a video. I lost the first race simply because I was playing with the controls, trying to prove to myself that what was onscreen was not a pre-rendered video. It looked too real! In 2005, I got NFS Underground 2 on a demo cd for the PC. It stuck me as being the closest I would ever get to a street racing game like that of the elusive 2 Fast 2 Furious game I had been searching for. For Christmas of 2003 I remember getting from my Pop, a pc game called Illegal Street Drag – what a simple and somewhat boring game that was. I didn’t play it much. NFSUG2 lifted my spirits though – when I played it for the first time as a demo bonus hidden on the Burnout 3: Takedown PS2 game. I never did get the full game though. I enjoyed the demo so much on the PC that I didn’t need to.
Speaking of Burnout, I got ‘Takedown’ for my 12th birthday in September of 2004. I really, really loved this racing game – the Silver Lake track was my favourite location. I would confidently put this game at the top of my car racing list. That game was all about SPEED and timing. Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition coming in as a close second, was about style. I loved creating all these cool vehicles with all the customizing possibilities being nearly endless. The graphics were amazing too. The day I couldn’t play it any longer was a sad day. My disc isn’t scratched, it looks great, but for some unknown reason, to this day, it won’t start up. Something went corrupt after a couple of years playing with it HARD.
For my 13th birthday that year, I got a Playstation Portable. I remember showing my PSP to Pop who was living with us for health reasons. He was pretty amazed by this little gadget. I showed him a trailer video for Ridge Racer and WipEout Pure. A fast paced pod racing-like game. It reminded me of those days on the PSOne, with the demo (WipEout 2097 or 3. It was as close as I could get to Pod Racing (because my friends N64 was kilometers away!). Pop also had some advice to give when he watched me play Midnight Club DUB – when I raced around the freeways, playing with the car hydraulics, Pop noted just how dangerous that would be in real life. He didn’t want to see me become a hoon “of the future”, as most kids who aren’t paranoid like I am, might see this activity as enticing. Cars actually scare me. I only love them for their style and design – though, in 2006 when The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift came to theatres, I started to love them for outlaw sport.
I never had many PSP games – One my 13th birthday I got MediEvil: Resurrection, which I never finished because it just didn’t feel like the old demo I used to play on the PSOne, and Burnout Legends because I loved ‘Takedown’ so much. That Christmas I got Star Wars: Battlefront II. It was fun to play but pretty confusing at times because I couldn’t figure out what was a mission or not. So i’m not really sure if I ever finished that game or not. It was a great distraction though, flying the battle ships around space, while in real life, outside one day, a gang of little Aboriginal kids try and break in (Dad had a good word with them – one of them threw their gum at us, and missed). The final game I ever got for the PSP was Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, which I got to occupy time on the plane to and from Sydney and Los Angeles, in November when Dad and I went to Hollywood and Disneyland for a holiday (Mum didn’t want to leave the hairy kids home alone). It took me about 4 years to complete that game.
After the sudden and tragic death of my Pop – that summer, gaming was my way of coping with the realities of life. One week, we rented a game at VideoEzy called The Warriors. It was a Rockstar Games production so it had to be good. I spent a lot of time trying to get through that game before it was due back at the store. I don’t think I was ever able to get to the very end, but I think I got close. It was a lot of fun running around beating up gangs, mugging people, sometimes with stealth and such. I enjoyed the nighttime aspect of the game too – that really added to the theme and style of the game. I wish that game had come out on the PC though – that would have been amazing. Around this time, a couple of friends of mine, Tim and Aaron, who lived 1 town away. They lived right down the road and up the hill from each other. One day we rode our bikes around, and because it was summer, we took a little time to cool down in Tim’s garage where he had a freezer full of ice blocks and a lounge plus a tv connected to an Xbox. I remember him playing a game called Saints Row – a Grand Theft Auto clone. It looked more shiny than San Andreas, but it really didn’t look so good, game-wise at all. I remember giving that series a go late in 2008 with SRII, and coming to terms with my predictions on that game. I was right the first time – I didn’t like it very much.
Early 2006, checking out what’s next for the Tony Hawk series, I came across a video that today, I have a hard time finding. It was a video that really blew my mind. It showcased a short showoff of their new physics technology – ragdoll like animations. It showed a character riding along a dark path, with a streetlight shining down, and the character does an ollie to grind on a box or rail or even street gutter, to land. the fluid motion of the action amazed me compared to what i’d seen for so many years (the rigid animation repetition). It seemed as if Tony Hawk’s Project 8, really was some kind of wicked new, advanced project, testing out the Next Gen technologies. I don’t remember much of the Playstation 3 promotional videos, showcasing the new power and graphics engines. All I remember is how much processing power was packed into this console machine. All I could imagine and wonder was “What does the future hold???”. I never got THP8, or any Tony Hawk game after THUG2, but seeing that video completely introduced me to the Next Generation of entertainment and gaming.
So while waiting for answers on what happens to Tanner at the end of Driv3r (did Jericho die, did Tanner die, or both? That question bounced around in my head for years), I hear about this new addition to the series featuring a new protagonist and story. Driver: Parallel Lines came out early that year and I was there, day 1, in the store collecting my preorder for the Collector’s tin edition. I believe this was my first time seeing a game come in Collectors or Special edition “fashion” (a tradition every game has today). Parallel Lines was the first Ubisoft produced Driver game and the first to be set apart from the original storyline. You play as a young kid named The Kid, T.K. in 1970s New York City… and later as old T.K. in the present day, 2006 (this storyline feature expanded on what I thought was possible in video games). I loved seeing all the characters change and become “old looking”. I couldn’t help but sometimes get mixed up with D.K., Drift King, in Tokyo Drift. The graphics, once again, have improved upon from the previous in the series. One thing that stunned me the most, was the cutscene videos. The first time I saw a cutscene, I seriously assumed that they had turned to filming real life scenes rather than animating them through CG methods. But boy was I shocked to realise that these were 3D rendered animations. For months and years after, I searched for more information on how the people created these ultra realistic 3D renders (this basically started my interests in VideoCopliot (PS3 render farm?), CGSociety and many other communities, sharing information on how computer generated videos work. I went on to learn more about computers this way).
I remember feeling like there would be some easter eggs somewhere adding or hinting towards clues about what or where Tanner would be next (hoping that the series did not end with a cliffhanger). I remember in one mission, ending up in an apartment, and then next seeing this apartment being destroyed and having graffiti writing all over the walls. When I discovered “Tanner Lives” written on one wall, I nearly dropped the controller. This reminds me now, of a time when playing GTAIV, finding graffiti in some apartment complex, referencing older GTA characters. This was the first Driver game that I myself, completed from beginning to end, and the first that my Dad had trouble trying to finish, because of the way the story mode had been set out, having to manually find mission markers to activate missions was a confusing thing at times. Just like the GTA series, and a new upcomer that I had on my watchlist… Bully, or Canis Canem Edit (dog eat dog) an open-world grand theft auto-esque game, featuring a boarding school student named Jimmy. Being around the same age as this protagonist, I felt like I could play as a kid that I was not or could never be. Just like GTA, running around, creating destruction and causing havoc. Playing with fireworks, firing slingshots and riding skateboards – what great FUN!!! I loved the novelty of when completing a mission, small objects or items would appear around Jimmy’s dorm room, relating to things that would happen in the story. It was just plain cool.
One of the final games I managed to play on my beloved WinXP PC, was Mafia: The City of Lost Heaven. I really enjoyed this one. It was made around the same time as GTAIII, but it was completely different. I loved how it was a game set in a time when radio’s were king. A time that I consider, beautiful. It was really cool to see all the old cars, even an old racing car. I can even go so far and say that I loved how you could be pulled over by the city police, for speeding!
That year in High School, for sport on Wednesdays, I chose the “GamesWizard” option. Every Wednesday, a small group of us would catch the bus into High Street and play in their backroom, any Xbox360 game we wanted to play. It was great fun. Sometimes we’d play solo, and sometimes we’d play an old Call of Duty game and play as a group over the network. I had some great afternoons full of fun, back then. It was a sad day though when GamesWizard decided to sell up and disappear, later that year.
Hitman: Blood Money was released this year, and it was a game I had to have. Having had the Silent Assassin PC demo for a year and a bit prior, I had fallen in love with this story of solitude. Agent 47 was god-like and his story intrigued me. I enjoyed stealth games, ever since renting Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory that one time back in 2004 (rented from VideoEzy for PS2). It had crazy graphics, and I couldn’t get it running without lag on my WinXP PC. For for a while there, I had a game I couldn’t play, that is, until mid-2006 when Dad had wanted to invest in building a brand new PC (since the WinXP PC we bought from Harvey Norman 4 years before had had so many problems over time and had reached a point of extreme sluggishness). Windows Vista had just been released officially, and the man we hired to make our PC had never worked with it before (a real mistake right there, as you’ll read about). He made our computer which never really ever worked properly… I’ve had to fix it so many times over the years (Windows 7 being an OS that helped greatly resolving many-a-problem) and even through all the stress, i’m glad I DID have to fix that computer, because i’ve learned so much about computers in general, because of it. Definitely, pulling it apart one time, taught me valuable lessons. With this new system and 1GB of memory, though I wasn’t able to run lag free at full resolution settings, I was able to run Hitman: Blood Money, just fine – the graphics were simply amazing (I loved seeing little grainy speckles in highlights/lights – almost like grain in film). Vista was a fun operating system to use too. The GUI was super shiny.
I even had a look around for other GTA clones around this time, and found True Crime: New York City (I remember Snoop Dogg’s character in pictures from True Crime LA, in an old Playstation magazine). Even with a new computer, I had a hard time having a lag-free experience. The story was incredibly repetitive and I found that all the locations/stores within the city were all exactly the same. I lost interest pretty quickly and didn’t feel too sad to get rid of it off the computer to make space.
One of my favourite games of all time, taking me not only to the game The Incredibles, but the movie * (I loved the promotional ice cream that movie produced – perfect treat for summer), was Evil Genius. I played the demo to that game over and over again, thanks to PC Whiz magazine. I had no idea where I could find that game, but I believe sometime that year, in 2007, I found it on special in Harvey Norman. Couldn’t get enough of that game – even the soundtrack. The cheats made it an even greater experience. I loved the novelty and humor to it… even hints towards the classic James Bond/007 movies – and even my favourite tv show of all time, LOST, to some degree.
Around this same time, buying pc games on sale (50-90% off super sale – i’ll never see that again), I managed to get a combo bundle containing Hitman: Contracts & Hitman: Silent Assassin – two games I had dreamed about for a really long time. I hadn’t seen Contracts anywhere but in the Playstation magazine. And Silent Assassin, was something i’d become really familiar with because of that demo “Invitation to a Party” mission (that i’d played obsessively to the point of perfection). I loved the story and just wanted more of anything to do with 47. When the Hitman movie came out in 2007, I was overjoyed and could see a bright future ahead for the series. It would take 6 whole years for the next entry in the series to be released. I remember following the information on Google closely, searching for new information on Driver 5, Hitman 5 and GTA 4. I remember IO Interactive requesting interest for job positions in the 3D field (it related to the next Hitman… this was maybe, early 2007).
2007, very early on, I remember a teaser trailer being released titled “Things Will Be Different” – initiating a very long and intense obsession towards what was, Grand Theft Auto IV. The next, ‘high definition’ generation in the Grand Theft Auto series. I’d been following GTAGaming.com ever since the announcement of San Andreas, and this website proved to be next to perfect for my news source. They were quick and didn’t let anything slip past them. Seeing the new video, gave me the goosebumps, and I just couldn’t imagine what it would be like to play in this super realistic world… a computer generated one, that hadn’t been pre-rendered into a video! From the glow of the light to the realism of the water, to the development in simulated physics – trailer #2 clearly showed this. It was back to Liberty City, this time, a very fantastic recreation of New York City (a popular place for these kinds of games). Reading all the rumors, about little things within the game, gave me headache’s as I couldn’t contain so much incredible information flowing through my brain. It was a great time, and I haven’t anticipated for a game as much as I had for that, than any other, or since. It just looked too good to be true.
It was time to plan how I would be able to play the game, as it would be on Next-Gen consoles. I was very, very lucky. It was planned that at the end of the year, Dad & I would repeat our magical trip to Hollywood and Disneyland, but with Mum this time – plus the addition of staying for a white Christmas while we drive across the North of the USA. When we got back, we were to invest in a really good full high definition Sony Bravia with a bonus redeemable PS3 console. That January/February of 2008, we got the TV and also bought a Playstation 3, also redeeming a PS3 which was to arrive through the post, a month or so later (which i’d later sell to a friend for a few hundred $). During that trip across the United States, we were amazed by the prices of things (in general), even new things. So I was lucky and able to buy a small stack of PS3 games, ready for that magical day when I had a next gen console. As it turned out, I had the PS3 for a few days before the TV was delivered from the store. I remember hooking up the PS3 via the AV cables, one hot summers day (huge contrast to the snowy minus temperatures I had just previously experienced). I believe the first game I tried out was The Godfather – then soon after, NFS Pro Street (some of the small details in the intelligent cg reactions of the cars absolutely flabbergasted me) and an incredible game of physics, SKATE. What an obvious jump in processing power this machine was capable of compared to the PS2. Plus, it had heat-sensitive touch buttons!
Kane and Lynch: Dead Men was another game that I brought back with me. It was a very dark, and violent game. I had to be in the right state of mind to be able to enjoy that game. Later in 2008, I was able to finish the story. Having been published by Eidos Interactive, (the Hitman people) I felt happy to wait for a sequel, made by these great game-makers.
This same time, I still played the Playstation 2 some. We’d bought back from America Jackass: The Game which had been released there, 3 months before Australia. I think I ended up not being able to play the disc because of region restrictions, so I ended up trading it for the Oz copy. What fun breaking bones, having fun with my favourite gang of comedy-crackers. Rolling around construction sites reminded me of the slapstick from Laurel & Hardy and Baby’s Day Out.
Around that time, I was interested in looking on eBay for an old game that I had remembered out of the blue (from years earlier), from a Playstation 2 demo disc, that impressed me at the time – called Fahrenheit. It was extremely cinematic, much like what I experienced with the movie adapted King Kong game, but on a different level. In the demo, you play out a crime scene in a bathroom, somewhere in New York City – up until the point when you leave and confront a police officer. The character you play had committed murder, I believe. It was pretty incredible at the time. A story so deep and a gameplay that looked so real. Sometime in 2008, I found this game for PC (through some searching), and discovered its real name was Indigo Prophecy (in North America). What a depressing game – all in good taste though. It gets your emotions going, that’s for sure. Sort of like how you feel when you get to know who Dexter is, and what he does and why he does what he does. Stories with deeper meanings and glorious yet sublime actions (on either ends of the scale, however you see it), are so captivating and interesting. Fahrenheit’s main gameplay feature is seriously a mental warp. In 2010, the same creators created the super-dooper, ultra realistic drama-game showcasing the full power of the PS3’s processing power, with the Sony exclusive, Heavy Rain (i’ve never played this one unfortunately).
More trailers have been released and more details have come forth on GTAIV by this time in early 2008. The detail that I thought was interesting was when the game was previewed to the press – they felt sorry shooting the taxi driver when they did, with the shotgun, because it just felt too real (this reminds me of the story, shown in the movie Hugo Cabaret – ‘The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station’ is shown to people in the theatre, where a train is oncoming towards the audience onscreen, to which the audience reacts by thinking a train is actually coming their way). My eagerness to get my hands on this game became more intense. I loved the series a little too much. I remember seeing in trailer #3 or #4, a drunk character falling over. This really, really got my eyes open (having played the web/flash Freefall Girl game so many times over the years). I had to loop that section a few times to really get a grip on what I just saw. The Euphoria physics engine was really a grand step in the right direction. The final official trailer before release, I remember downloading. We had a wireless broadband connection through Unwired, and I remember counting down at school until the trailer would be available for me to start downloading. It was about 100mb so I imagined that it would take a few hours to download. When I was home, and I had started downloading it (at about 20-30kb/s), I was sweating from the anticipation. It was a great time, and I loved how I felt back then. Dad was back in California, doing something for Mum (picking up some special house lights, which tragically failed when all the lights broke on flying back to Australia), and it was the day before release, of GTAIV. The trailers on TV teasing me, time ticking and tocking – Mum & I went to the midnight release at EBGames in the new section of the Plaza, and picked up our collectors edition of the game, in a box. Dad was in America, also, trying to find me an uncensored copy of the game, for me to play when he got back (instead of the tampered Australian edit). That morning, still dark, I flipped through the Artbook just thinking about how far video game technology has advanced even in the 4 years since GTA: San Andreas. At sunrise, with the day off school, I played GTAIV one cold morning, while standing in front of the air conditioner, while Mum walked down to the Plaza to get some groceries. It was great. The physics really showed off big in my eyes. Getting the hang of controlling Niko Bellic and the vehicles was tough at first, but really enjoyable. All the small things made the bigger picture plausible. I loved the sound of that combustible, echoing pop of the gun when Niko or someone else fires. Over the next few months, I got through the story, soaking up every bit of story as much as possible. The fact that there are two ways to play the story (a game with decisions to make), gave me an opportunity to play the game again at the end of the year with different story outcomes. That was interesting.
Dad not only brought home an uncensored copy of GTAIV with Strategy Guide, but also with a copy of a game I have seen previews of online – Assassin’s Creed. What an intensely cool game – the lighting of the environments was very crisp. The story as equally as sharp, only, very repetitive. I don’t think I ever completed the story of Altaïr. But not to worry, the many sequels to come will complete the stories for me.