By Ewan Miller, Illustious QC.

New bicycle commuter routes will soon grace the city, as part of the Melbourne’s first major bicycle plan since the 1980s.

The plan also guarantees special lanes for cyclists in large scale road projects going forth.

The new strategy, which was unveiled today, will comprise of $18 million every year for the next six years with a focus on routes going into the city’s centre.

Cyclist lanes on William Street and La Trobe Street will be bolstered, in an attempt to make CBD cycling safer.

VicRoads also confirmed that it’s investigating a reduction of the speed limit to 40km/h in the CBD, to further safeguard cyclists and pedestrians.

These changes follow the Brumby government's introduction of public use bicycles into the CBD last year. Photo courtesy of AndrewRobinson10

These changes follow the Brumby government's introduction of public use bicycles into the CBD last year. Photo by AndrewRobinson10.

The plan also includes plans for routes linking six “activity centers” around the city into the CBD via new routes, alongside various additions to the city’s off-road trails.

These will involve  extending the off-road Federation Trail from Altona to Yarraville; creating a Pipe Bridge over Merri Creek in Northcote and widening and improving the Gardiners Creek off-road bike path from Hawthorn to Kooyong.

Bicycle Victoria chief executive Harry Barber said the strategy was great for cyclists around Melbourne.

“For the first time in Australia, bike riding has been formally recognised as part of the core transport system,” Mr Barber said.

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On GAF, at this moment, there is as always a debate raging about “Art Games” and what constitutes one such title and whether or not title X,Y or even an entire genre is “pretentious”.  The entire argument is extremely frustrating to see again and again in 2010, being kept on life support for years after it had any life in it.

The arguements which really “get my goat” have always been those that relagate the “Artistic” movement to sidescrollers and those that propport that a lack of overt narrative means that the game is “all style and no substance”.

Enter Flotilla, made by Blendo Games who may or may not  consist of more than Brendon Chung. Although how one could be more than a game designer who’s being designing since the cretaceous period is beyond my feeble mind.

It’s not a side scrolling platformer, it’s a a combination of Rogue like sensibilities with Homeworld-esque combat.  It also lacks an overt overarching narrative. Hell, it even has a co-operative mode for people to play together. Surely it can’t be an art game? Surely its memorable music and distinct graphic style make it a poser to “meaning”.

This would be about the most incorrect thing you could say to me, assuming that you, the reader, were to exist. The game has a simple narrative, much like most resonant works of art. You’ve contracted a terminal illness and have a less than ideal lifespan ahead of you.  This is all you get at the game’s genesis and armed with this context, you’re forced to tackle the world head on.

And tackle it you shall, for the galaxy is a fascinating place. You quickly become inundated with more wit and charm than you know how to deal with as you encounter a plethora of characters in your travels. Perhaps you feel the urge to fight your way across the galaxy, conquering those beneath you in those oh so satisfying battles. Or perhaps you simply want to explore the hell out of everywhere and experience all the craziness that life has to offer. Well, you can and do. Then you die. Death is sudden and without warning in addition to being brutally final. You feel sad about the whole thing.

However, the kicker to the art is yet to come. Once you die you’re given a score and place on the leaderboards.  You get the high score (this is my understanding) by waging a successful war throughout the galaxy. For everyone who I’ve watched play the game, their enjoyment is largely derived from the non-sequitur encounters. Trying balance your enjoyment in your last three months against your vain desire for a legacy?

Art.

The latest footage from Dead Space 2, EA’s only public surviving legacy of its new IP project, has me worried. It’s a contextless clip of Isaac strapping himself into some sort of industrial mech which is is then launched into the cold vacuum of space in which he dodges arbitrary colonial detritus through what seem to be rocket boots.

While the first Dead Space may have been a fairly derivative survival horror, drawing strongly from established zombie and science fiction plot elements and Event Horizon for it’s visual style, it was a solid implementation of those ideas. It maintained its atmosphere pretty damn well with the exception of a few “boss fights”, which seemed gratuitous.

This trailer however, seems to completely abandon the tenants which made the atmosphere so good. In it Isaac resembles Iron Man more than anything else, nimbly dodging through space debris at insane speeds, in stark contrast to his low key escapades in the first game.

It is reminiscent to me of the tonal shift between Modern Warfare and it’s sequel. For me, Modern Warfare’s tone alternated between the somber, serious atmosphere of missions such as “All Ghillied Up” or the AC-130 Gunship and the desperation of the “Cargo” Ship or the game’s final chase sequence. However in the sequel, (which I haven’t played) people remark upon the great tonal disparity in the sequel between the more solemn moments and the more fantastical. Kieron Gillen writes on RockPaperShotgun;

“As others have noted, the most disturbing part of No Russian is its context. A few seconds previously you’re involved in a high-speed James Bond chase involving snowmobiles. A few seconds later, you’re mowing down civilians. That tonal shift isn’t brutal. It’s laughable. At best, you’re comedy. At worst, you’re cheap exploitative trash. Modern Warfare leans towards the latter.”

This seems like it could easily become the case with Dead Space 2 if the latest trailer is indicative. I cannot help but wonder if having spent the last thirty seconds playing Iron Man in space might undercut future tension about the seriousness of a Necromorph ambush.

Keep in however, that the spaceflight moment is provided with no context at all and that Dead Space 2 is supposed to have a slight tonal shift from the first game, to reflect Isaac’s new role as “hero of the Ishimura”.

Perhaps this second chapter is intended to feel completely different to the first. Perhaps it is all about Isaac’s ability to cope with being the sole idol for humanity, particularly considering that his image is being used to prop up a Unitologist government. Perhaps at the end of the game, the player and Isaac must abandon the Unitologist’s aid (such as the rocket boots) and strike out on their own. Perhaps then the third game could be again different, as Isaac leads civilians in an uprising against the Unitologists of the time who are deliberately unleashing Necromorphs on society.  Dead Space could become “The Saga of Isaac Clarke” perhaps, where the games are linked by a character’s narrative rather than by atmosphere and mechanics.

However, one cannot have their cake and eat it as well. I sincerely hope that whatever tone Visceral Games has chosen for Dead Space 2, that they stick to it. The a snowmobile is fine in a game about snowmobiles.

This is not conducive to "rocketeering".

Gateways is a throwback to simpler times. While most Half Life 2 mods imitate the finely crafted levels of Valve’s masterpiece this one throws all pretense out the window in the hope of creating the most interesting combat scenarios that Half Life 2′s gunplay can deliver.

The mod begins by informing you that as Dr. Freeman, you have been captured by the Combine and must escape. Here’s where things get a little strange; at the start the mod has you running through astoundingly narrow corridors, looking at captured zombies in cages and pressing buttons to make something unpleasant happen to them. There are an awful lot of Source mods which funtion as a sort of electronic zoo, whereby you walk about and the mapper shows off his ability to make something interesting to watch.

That is not Gateways and the mod’s beginning minute is a complete misrepresentation of what this mod is about. It is completely incongruous with the true Gateways and is really quite a turn off compared to the rest of the mod, which is of a much higher quality than the opening few minutes.

Gateways is the antithesis of Half Life 2. Where Valve want the player to be immersed in something believable, Gateways is about presenting you with a visual spectacle of enemies and abstract environments. Each area you enter makes less sense than the last, yet the combat grows more fantastic each time. While some of the scenarios, such as killing combine soldiers arrayed Brady Bunch style along one side of a giant cube, are not terribly interesting, these are far outnumbered by more interesting encounters. In one level, I went from fighting hundreds of Antlions simultaneously to ducking behind stalagmites on a circular staircase, being shot at by combine turrets in a middle tower. Upon ascending to the top, I found a crossbow which I then had to use to knock over every turret on my way down. Outside the opening level the design is always interesting, although it never really moves beyond creative uses of func_brush (primitive blocks).

The mod is above all, extremely cathartic. It feels so good to be let loose with Half Life’s combat system, in a way that Valve never lets you be. Whether fighting hundreds of enemies or playing skittles with them, this mod never lets up with the intensity and the edge to the difficulty makes it quite the workout for your reflexes.  The game’s breakable wall mechanics are a both janky and gratuitous, but you’ll quickly forget about such complains as you suddenly need to test which weapons work underwater.  The game is broken up into four sections which you can tackle in any order, which makes progression feel all the more satisfying as you complete the Antlion level with a weapon you unlocked from the combine level.

Despite feeling janky and poorly made throughout the mod, Gateways is a pretty solid one and a half hour kill fest. The first time you press a button and enemies spawn you’ll feel pretty underwhelmed by the mod’s lack of ambition, but soon the inventive ways in which those enemies spawn will win your heart and the game will be impossible to put down for it’s duration. The visual fidelity even begins to seem charming in how appalling it is and the entire experience feels like a glorious throwback to when Id ruled the shooter roost. 9/10

This review is for the first “episodic” installment of the Portal Memories mod (for Portal). According to the team behind it, the mod operates under a “play as it grows” structure, meaning that there will be more content every few months which is good as the first release it pretty short and the design suffers for it. The entire episode consists of four maps and will run you perhaps a quarter of an hour to finish. Being the first episode, the developers seem determined to wean players back into the Portal mechanics by only giving you the power of blue portals, meaning that the puzzles are somewhat simplistic.  There’s a clever moment where the mod will surprise you by doing something that is both logical and unexpected, but it’s largely pretty simple stuff.

This doesn’t prevent one of the levels from being excessively difficult however. The level dangles across a precipice and it’s frustratingly easy to slip down to your death five or more times, attempting to complete a fairly simple puzzle.  What makes this even worse is that you usually fall onto a walkway below, however there is no way to either climb up from this walkway or throw a portal down to get yourself back into the level, forcing you to commit suicide. Which is pretty demoralising by the third time.

The game's "hub world"

The levels all look fantastic, a great deal of work has gone into making the chambers look visually striking. Although Valve deliberately eschewed having a lot of detail in Portal, Memories revels in having detailed chambers and it looks stunning. Particularly (and ironically), the perilous drop I complained about earlier is a real treat to see. What few animations are in the game are of surprising quality as well. The mod does recycle GLADOS’ AI cores however, which means you’re forced to listen to the blue core spout cake memes again.  The mod is mercifully free of rehashed lines from the original game however, so you can thank the team for that.

Despite the simplicity of the whole thing, I really enjoyed my short time with Portal Memories, even when I was repeatedly plunging to my death in a certain level. It’s attractive, has a nice core premise and an undeniably satisfying progression structure.  I am more excited about the mod’s second installment however, when they will not only be implementing more challenging chambers but also introducing the Portal 2 theme of the mod, which is designed as a bridging device between the two games.  8/10.

The mod is ~100mb and can be found here.

As good as the mod looks, it's the Portal 2 inspired areas which are most impressive.

Two new pieces of single player DLC for Bioshock 2 are coming to PSN, Games for Windows and XBL later this year, 2K Games revealed today.

The first installment is the “Protector Trials” pack, which features six maps based on  existing environments in which one defends a little sister from splicers, like in the story.

The hook to the pack is the three “unique” difficulty modes, which the announcement promises will “push players’ mastery of weapons and Plasmids”, in addition to “never-before-seen” concept art.

Also announced was new story content, which would provide players with “new tools” and “extend the lore and fiction of the failed utopia under the sea”.

The “Protector Trials” is slated for release on August 3rd, while the narrative content is to come within in the coming months.

In addition to being the Lead Producer of Starcraft, Chris Sigaty is also a god of metal.

Starcraft 2 will be free to existing World of Warcraft subscribers in Korea, Lead Producer Chris Sigaty announced a recent event in Seoul.

The caveat of the announcement is that people will lose access to the game if they let their WoW subscription lapse.

Described as “a way of giving something back to such a supportive and skilled community of players”, this is one of a number of innovative payment schemes available to Korean Starcraft players.

While the game can be bought outright for approximately 60 USD,  it’s also possible to rent the game for either a month (8 USD) or a single day for a dollar sixty.

While these options are a result of the Korean (and wider asian) gaming culture’s emphasis on “PC Bangs” (internet cafes), it’s worth noting that microtransactions (originally an Asia-centric model) are now being used in such western AAA titles as Lord of the Rings Online.

Via VG247 via IGN.

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