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5 Hidden Indie gems you must play

October 1st, 2014 at 11:00 by Guest Blogger

Gaming Week 2014

Following on from his earlier blog in the week, Rhys from AwesomeGames.co.uk has returned into the Plusnet hotseat. He says his favourite character is Garrus Vakarian from Mass Effect and the first game he ever played was Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Today he’s bringing our gamers the best five games indie you need to play if you haven’t already….

IT’S no secret that the indie gaming scene is booming in 2014, with many games such as Braid, Dust: An Elysian Tail and Amnesia: The Dark Descent enjoying critical acclaim normally reserved for time-tested classics. In such a vast market of games, there are naturally a bunch that are left at the wayside, many of which are worth playing. Without further ado, here are five hidden indie gems that are certainly worth your time.

5. ARES: Extinction Agenda

This action platformer puts you in the role of the titular Ares, a combat robot tasked with rescuing the survivors of a violent outbreak of malicious machines. The game features elements of Megaman and Metroid with its changeable suit that grant a variety of powers and its focus on exploring an environment where everything is out to kill you. There’s also a crafting element to the game that allows you to increase Ares’ power even more as you progress through the game. With a soundtrack composed by the incredible Hyperduck Soundworks, ARES: Extinction Agenda hits pretty much all the marks required of a great game, and is sure to satisfy fans of high-octane, run n’ gun action.

4. Pineapple Smash Crew

A top-down shooter with a strong focus on throwing grenades, Pineapple Smash Crew combines the thrills and difficulty of Smash TV with the careful planning and tactics of Cannon Fodder. As a team of four marines who move as one unit, you’re tasked with clearing out spaceships overrun by vicious creatures and robots, armed with machine guns and capable of picking up a variety of grenade types. These include homing grenades, grenades that transform into missiles and make a beeline for the enemy, and special grenades that heal your units. Assigning various grenades to your squad is crucial to your success as it’s very easy to die, and once a team member is gone, they’re not coming back, and will be replaced with a new member once the mission is over. Pineapple Smash Crew is a fun, unique take on the top-down shooter subgenre and should appeal to players that love fast-paced action and strategy.

3. Cloudphobia

Cloudphobia is a side-scrolling shoot-em-up with a rather unique central mechanic: each stage has a very limited amount of time in order to complete it, as in too little time to reasonably finish the level. Of course, it wouldn’t be much fun if the game was impossible, so you’re able to activate a booster that will zoom you through the level at intense speeds. The trade-off here is that you’re naturally more vulnerable to enemy attacks. However, you can’t just boost to the end of the stage without a care in the world; you have to make sure you’re shooting down enemy ships as if they pass you, it’ll damage the mothership you’re tasked with protecting. If you or the mothership runs out of health, it’s game over. This interesting mix of mechanics makes for an intense experience that’ll have you on edge at all times. It helps that the game is also rather gorgeous to behold, and the design of the ships is creatively elegant.

2. Iji

Akin to a side-scrolling System Shock 2, Iji is probably the best game ever made within the Game Maker engine. You are the titular Iji, a young woman whose life is thrown into turmoil when an alien race exterminates most life on Earth, so they might make it a home for themselves. Iji is given multiple cybernetic augmentations in order to save her life, and she is tasked with finding out why these aliens have wrought such destruction on Earth. The story is actually a lot deeper than it sounds, featuring a very compelling narrative that encourages the player to complete the game in its entirety. As a shooter, the game is unique in that you can choose which level of aggression with which to take on your enemies with. Going in guns blazing is of course the most obvious way of progression, but Iji may also take a more pacifistic approach, and the choices she makes in this area affects the events of the story. Iji was one of the first games composed by the epic Hyperduck Soundworks, crafting a soundtrack that’s both memorable and leaves a powerful impression, much like the game itself.

1. The Knytt Series

Developed by Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren, the Knytt series of games focus on exploring a hostile environment for power-ups in order to further progress through the world. The games are very simple and have a Metroid style of progression; traverse what you’re able to until you come across a power-up that allows you to travel across even more terrain and explore the world at a greater degree. There is no combat, just the ability to explore and take in the surroundings. Above all else, it’s the series trademark presentation that makes it stand out. Featuring a variety of tranquil and often sombre locales, the series takes you through lush fields, ancient temples, quaint villages, lava-filled canyons, abandoned laboratories, polluted factories, firefly-lit forests and much more; and this is what makes the games such a joy to play. They require very little of the player, yet at the same time present an exploration-based experience that’s completely immersive from start to finish.

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The cost of console gaming

September 30th, 2014 at 11:00 by Chris Parr

Gaming Week 2014

Gaming seems a costly luxury in our current climate, but is it as expensive as it seems? Plusnet found out that you’re not coughing up as much as you may think…

The Office of National Statistics published figures earlier this year showing that the average salary is £26,500. Back in 1995, when the first Playstation was released in Europe, this was just £17,470 – meaning it has risen by almost £10,000 over the last 19 years.

This is fine, though we have to consider inflation as well. Minimum wage has risen year on year too. Inflation is essentially a measure in prices and goods and services. We can use it to measure how different the cost or value of something would be today compared to what it was in the past.

Cost of console gaming

Our graph above shows a comparison of the cost of popular consoles when they were released, versus how much this would be in the year 2014 after inflation. Sony top the charts with the most expensive consoles whilst Nintendo sit at the bottom.

Playstation

Sony Graph

Sony’s latest console, the Playstation 4, was released at price of £349.99. This is 16% more than it was for the first Playstation almost 20 years ago, however, an original PlayStation would now retail at £519.09 after inflation. That means that Sony has managed to undercut its first console by around £170.00 – a lot, considering that’s nearly half the price of the most recent console.

Though they are the most expensive, they will take some comfort knowing that they do have a loyal fan base. This allows them to generate more income from sales when looking at price and sales. Moreover, they have a further boost with the fact that PS4 sales are now well ahead of Xbox One.

Xbox

By comparison, Microsoft’s Xbox has actually got more expensive over time. The first Xbox was released at a cost of £299 in 2002. This has since increased to £429.99 for the Xbox One, a price increase of around 43%.

Even accounting for inflation, the Xbox One is more expensive than the original Xbox by around £5. The Xbox 360 is the cheapest of the Microsoft family and the cheapest console in the Sony v Microsoft battle.

Microsoft Graph

This ongoing battle between the two saw Microsoft flourish when sales for the PS3 – the most expensive console released – were outstripped by the £215.00 cheaper Xbox 360.

Nevertheless, they reacted swiftly to try and claw back some of the ground lost by offering a cheaper version of the Xbox One with a price tag of £349.99. Only time will tell whether this will make a difference in sales.

Best of the rest

Nintendo remains the cheapest manufacturer. The GameCube retailed at £129.99 when it first came out in 2002 whilst the Wii U is their most expensive console at £299, released in 2012.

The cheap price tag of the Wii was a major factor in its success and helped sell over 100 million units. Despite this, they have always found more success with the handheld market, selling 118 million Gameboys and 153 million Nintendo DS consoles.

Nintendo Graph

If we were to include SEGA on our table of consoles above, the SEGA Saturn (with inflation) would be the most expensive console ever, retailing today at £694.

Game costs

We also looked at how much games cost to buy from various retailers, to see if there was a correlation between game and console.

cost_table

Back in 2001 when Final Fantasy IX was released for Playstation, the cost of the game was £29.99. The PS3 version of Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII twelve years on retailed at £39.99 – a whole £10 more. Just as was the case with console pricing, however, with inflation the 2001 game would now be £44.

Far Cry was released on PC at £32.99 in 2004 and yet a decade on, Far Cry 4 – released later this year – is being sold pre-ordered at £34.99 for the PC – far cheaper than what the old version would now be priced at with inflation.

Apps and mobile

Another element to consider is whether consoles may be displaced by apps and mobile gaming on phones and tablets. The Entertainment Software Association estimates that the mobile games market will be worth $14.74 billion by 2017, showing how popular and prosperous the market is becoming.

On PCs, platforms like Steam offer downloadable games at cheaper prices, which brought a new lease of life to the industry. Coupled with faster broadband speeds, better graphics and speedier computers, could PC gaming be the new benchmark for gaming?

As technology betters, companies are able to keep offering us a better price. The figures above show a market with consoles remaining at a competitive price. Though we all feel a little pinched right now, the evidence shows that gaming has never been cheaper.

What do you think? Do you get your money’s worth when it comes to gaming?

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The 2014 Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon will be televised

September 29th, 2014 at 17:00 by Chris Parr

Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon 2014

We’re delighted to announce that the 2014 Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon will be televised. The highlights will be shown on Channel 4 on Sunday 19th October starting at 7am; just one week after the race takes place.

Rob Walker is joining us again as one of the presenters for the event, and this year he’ll be joined by Katharine Merry, bronze medal winner in the 400 metres at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon takes place in and around the beautiful and historic city of York, with the 7000 runners starting at the University of York’s Heslington campus before heading out of the city and finishing back at the campus.

You can see the route the course takes in the image below and if you’re in or around York, why not come down and join in the fun at the Plusnet Spectator Zones.

2014_route_map

If you can’t catch the Channel 4 show, there will be other airings later in the year across BT Sport, Sky Sports and British Eurosport.

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Gaming Family Trees

September 29th, 2014 at 14:50 by Chris Parr

Gaming Week 2014

We covered genealogy on the blog back in November 2013, and Gaming Week seemed like a fine time to revisit the topic.

The 5 gaming family tree graphics use a combination of genealogy and creative license to visually represent the evolution of some of the most popular series’ of games.

It’s worth noting here that all cover images are used under a fair use license to illustrate the history of the games. All graphics except for Mario Sports work on a top-down level; the oldest titles in each linked sub-series are at the top, moving downward toward the newest. To keep them visually appealing (by removing large gaps), titles on the same horizontal level weren’t necessarily released in the same year – see below for an example:

Gaming Family Trees

The links between titles are intended to explain how they fit together, and clarification has been provided in some cases. Some titles aren’t linked to anything – this means they’re part of the overarching series, but not part of a sub-series (i.e. no direct sequels, not a remake). In the example below, Sonic Battle is the only fighting game in the Sonic world, but features all the characters from the series:

Gaming Family Trees 2

The borders of each title show which console it was released on. Some titles, such as Sonic Heroes (below) has various colours on the border – this means it was released on several consoles:

Gaming Family Trees 3

Not all titles from each series were included either for various reasons. Some titles drift from canon and are the subject of controversy among fans. Some were licensed spin-offs that didn’t fit the vibe of the graphic too well. Others were just too obscure.

As a tribute to the titles that didn’t make it, below we’ve picked out one title from each series that didn’t make the final graphics:

  • Pokémon: Pokémon Snap, the game that sees you carted through various landscapes taking pictures of the Pokémon who live there.
  • Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Warriors, a hack ‘n’ slash game set in the Zelda universe.
  • Mario: Mario Paint, a ‘game’ that allows users to draw and create custom animations.
  • Mario Sports: the endless and varied selection of Mario board games!
  • Sonic the Hedgehog: Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car, where Sonic plays the role of a police officer keeping the city safe from criminal mastermind Eggman.

This time Mario, Zelda, Pokémon and Sonic made the cut, but there are hundreds of other candidates – Yu-Gi Oh? Digimon? Grand Theft Auto? Maybe even the whole FPS genre? It really depends how geeky you want to go.

You can see the family trees as we post them below:

Pokemon

Pokémon Family Tree

Legend of Zelda

Legend of Zelda

Mario

Mario

Mario Sports

Mario Sports

Sonic

Sonic family tree

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