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Star Wars: Bounty Hunter

Star Wars: Bounty Hunter is a third person shooter released for the Playstation 2 and GameCube in late 2002. It’s also available digitally on the Playstation Store for Playstation 3 and 4. If you’re my age, chances are you have strong nostalgia for this game. I have the Playstation 2 version. Personally I rented this game a lot. It was one of the first Playstation 2 games I played. I went into it, almost twenty years later, with high expectations. But does it really hold up to my memories?

The Playstation and GameCube versions use different graphics engines with the GameCube having a higher framerate, higher resolution textures, and a higher polycount. The PS2 version has texture mipmapping and full screen antialiasing, and due to two vector unit chips it can have a lot of characters on screen without framerate drop. There are framerate drops in the game, mostly during complex environment scenes. I don’t know if these drops are present in the GameCube version of the game.

The game takes place before Episode II, and goes into how Jango Fett (Temuera Morrison) was chosen as the template to the clone army, how he got his ship, Slave-1, and how he came to work with Zam (Leeanna Walsman). That’s the bounty hunter he kills in Episode II to stop Anakin and Obi-Wan getting any information about him after the failed assassination. After the first mission, which mostly serves as a tutorial, Jango is contacted by Count Dooku and offered a position in a hunt for the leader of a cult called the Bando Gorra, Komari Vosa. The reward is 5,000,000 republic credits. I won’t go too much more into the story as it’s one of the more interesting elements of the game and I don’t want to spoil it. 

The game’s difficulty is the most apparent aspect. Early levels are fairly easy, but it ramps up. Each level has a series of checkpoints, represented as floating icons you walk over, and you get five continues before you have to start over. Levels range from 10 minutes to 30 minutes long and this system gets grating. Many of my deaths were due to platforming sections and the jetpack physics. Or Jango simply deciding to fling himself off a beam, which happens far too often. It’s full of difficulty spikes, often in the form of large groups of respawning enemies with heavy weapons. Some of these weapons can kill you in as few as three shots, and most weapons at close range will get you to low health. You’ll be strafing around levels a lot to avoid fire while hoping the targeting system is merciful. Some levels are too cramped to do this and those are by far the worst parts of the game. I genuinely had to stop playing and step away to do something else for a bit due to the frustration of these parts. 

The continues system simply isn’t fun, I would have prefered more infrequent checkpoints with an unlimited amount of continues. The only mercy is that enemies don’t always respawn when you continue, so you can chip away at the larger groups. Some enemies always respawn, often the second you look away from their spawn point. 

Aside from that issue, which is a big issue, the core gameplay is fun. It uses a lock on system to shoot, though this often results in Jango refusing to target the enemy you actually want. The system is sticky, so if you drop target it tends to always go back to them, even if they’re behind cover. There is a manual aim but it’s not very useful due to poor controls. It’s sluggish and unresponsive and forces you to stay still while using it, which is guaranteed death. 

Another time this comes up is with the bounty system. Each level is full of optional bounties that reward you with credits. To get a bounty you equip your scanner and manually aim at someone to check for a bounty, you can then choose to capture them dead or alive, the reward for alive is almost always better and there’s no real reason to kill them. Capturing alive just means equipping your cable weapon and tying them up, then you just press triangle while near them to claim the bounty. However due to the fact you have to equip your scanner and check individual NPCs for bounties, and then mark them, makes this a clunky and useless system. If you kill a bounty without marking them first, you get no reward. Generally speaking you can ignore this system.

Aside from the issues with the targeting the combat is generally fun. Jango is equipped with his trademark dual blasters, along with pickups for his dart, flamethrower, grenades, a sniper rifle, and rockets. The rockets are fun to use but very situational, most of my uses of them was cheesing bosses. Using them inside, which is a lot of the levels, is a good way to blow yourself up. The missiles do track but not fast enough to catch a fast moving enemy. They also don’t have enough splash damage to effectively kill groups, though they will knock down everyone close to the explosion. There’s also a few weapons you can pick up, sometimes hidden, but these have limited ammo and when you run out you drop the weapon. Despite this they can make taking out a group of tough enemies easier. Unfortunately the enemies also have these weapons. Enemies can come equipped with standard blasters, larger gattling guns, mounted guns, rockets, grenades, or melee weapons. The melee enemies are simply annoying. In a pack they can surround you and stop you from moving, and then all bap you in a second. They do way too much damage, and this gets annoying. The grenade enemies are annoying at best. There’s a loud audio queue when a grenade is thrown so they’re generally easy to notice and avoid, but if you get hit by one you’re thrown to the ground, while on the ground enemies can still shoot you which means a lot of health loss, and if there’s more than one grenade thrower, prepare to be stunlocked. The missiles are usually easy to avoid, just do a side jump when it gets close, after making sure you don’t have a wall behind you. Simply strafing can also avoid them, but if the missile is on a downward trajectory it’ll often just hit the ground behind you, so jumping is the safest option. 

Jango also has his jetpack, which is mostly used for mobility and platforming sections. The jetpack physics are weird. It feels like they were going for a realistic style, but often this just leads to frustration. You have momentum, and the jetpack doesn’t cancel it, so you have to take deceleration into account. More often than not this results in flying into a wall at super sanic speeds and bouncing into a death field. I sure hope you like the sound of Jango screaming, because you’ll hear it a lot. The death fields are plentiful and not very well signposted. Something can look like you can jump down to it, but if you try, you’re met with instant death. This wouldn’t be as annoying if there wasn’t limited continues, but there are, so this is infuriating. 

The enemy AI is not what I’d call revolutionary, but it passes. The before mentioned explosive based enemies will sometimes blow themselves up, and enemies chasing you ignore all hazards, so you can just lead them into bottomless pits. The normal enemies will often run for cover if it’s available, but sometimes they just run around in circles in the open. They’re not challenging, and only pose a threat in groups. Levels are packed with non-combat NPCs, which you can kill if you really feel like it. You aren’t punished for killing people, which is good because they love to run directly into your attacks. As annoying as this can be, they do help the levels feel more alive.

The levels have a lot of variety, ranging from Coruscant to a prison on an asteroid. A few have areas where there’s no combat and just people walking about. This really helps with immersion. A few chapters are capped off with boss fights. These fights are forgettable and easy for the most part. They’re only really there to cover story beats. Levels also have one secret each, in the form of a floating gold feather. These unlock special features. Sometimes you’ll come across these in regular gameplay, but sometimes you have to go looking for them. They’re a fun addition to the game and encourage exploration. Levels are fairly sprawling, though some are incredibly linear. The game also has a habit of unclear progression, so you’ll find yourself rubbing your face against doors to find out which one opens in order to continue. Respawning enemies also makes this harder, since you can’t always rely on enemies to guide your progression. The best thing to do is look for the checkpoint markers, or items you haven’t picked up. The prevalence of objective markers in modern gaming can get annoying, but some would have been nice in this game. Or maybe a voice line or two telling you to head for the correct door.

There’s also a series of special features, unlocked through various means. A Dark Horse comic filling out Jango’s backstory is rewarded for game completion. It’s an interesting read, though the text is often too blurry to easily read. There’s also concept art, trading cards, and “outtakes” which are various cutscenes where the characters mess up lines, trip, or generally do wacky things. They’re a nice addition. If you’ve always wanted to hear Jango complain about not being able to scratch an itch in his armour, then this is the game for you.

The cutscenes were done by Industrial Light and Magic, and they’re all very high quality. Along with the soundtrack composed by Jeremy Soule, who also did Knights of the Old Republic’s soundtrack, it feels like an authentic Star Wars product. 

Ultimately, the fwoosh fwoosh shooty bang bang jetpack gameplay lives up to my memories, despite the repetition, but other things don’t. This game hasn’t aged well. Lives systems were on the way out even back then and it’s by far the worst aspect of the game. It pads its length with big groups of enemies blocking progression until you kill them, and it’s full of frustrating platforming. My strongest memories of the game are the early levels, and now I know why. The early levels are the more fun ones. They don’t do many of the things that the later levels do that I have a problem with. The voice acting and visuals are solid. The actors from the films reprise their roles and do a good job. The visual design is nice, and the graphics are good. It sells the era of Star Wars well and is loaded with atmosphere. It really is a shame that this game never got a sequel. Maybe we’ll see one in the future due to this game’s status as a fan favourite, but I highly doubt it. 

It stands tall among the other Star Wars games from that era, easily on the same levels as classics like Battlefront 2 and Starfighter. There aren’t really any modern games like it and it’s easily worth a revisit. It brought me back to 2004, for better or worse.

Playstation 2s are cheap, and so are the games for it. So if you want to give it a go it’s easily worth picking one up. As mentioned before it’s also available digitally on the PS3 and PS4, but I can’t speak for the quality of those versions.


Weekly Photos – [Lights in Edinburgh] – 03/12/2019

It’s the Christmas season in Edinburgh and with it comes many gorgeous displays of light.

The photos for this week are selected from some of the photos I had taken in the past few weeks as I had been unable to have them developed until now.

I had recently obtained a large spool of Kodak Vision 3 500T film and I wanted to test out this film and compare it to the 250D film that I was originally using. The 500T film is designed for tungsten lighting while the 250D film is balanced for photography in the daylight. The faster film was perfect for capturing scenes with low amounts of light and rendered colours beautifully.

The photos from the Christmas market were taken after the sun had set. There were many people at the market, but I wanted to capture scenes where I could focus on a fewer subjects. I was able to use the bright lights to frame individual subjects while still capturing the beautiful lighting in the scenes.

The last image wasn’t actually part of the Christmas market and was actually part of a storefront display. I really liked the framing and amount of detail that was put into this piece.

In addition to the Christmas market, the Edinburgh Zoo has a lantern display during this time of year. This year, the display was “Lost Worlds” and contained lanterns of dinosaurs and other prehistoric subjects.

I am a fan of incorporating people into my photos. In these images, I used the bright lights from the lanterns together with the people at the zoo to create silhouetted figures.

I hope you enjoy this week’s selection of photos.

Weekly Photos – [Reflections] – 10 November, 2019

The theme for this week is “Reflections”.

Reflections can be found in many scenes, from lights reflecting off windows to the reflections in puddles on the ground.

I thoroughly enjoy the images of reflections that can be captured after or during the rain.

The reflections in puddles that are left over from the rain are one of my favourite subjects to photograph. As the shapes of the puddles varies depending on the characteristics of the ground or surfaces, they can provide a uniquely shaped frame for any reflected images.

For reflections in windows, the type of effect that is captured depends on the amount of light from both sides of the window. In some cases, the light from one side overpowers the light from the other side, resulting in a single “scene” dominating the image in the window. Other times, both sides may be equally illuminated, thus resulting in a blend of different scenes.

The rain also brings out different effects and textures that can be used together with the reflections in a scene.

In this photo, the condensation in the window has obscured some of the baked goods inside the shop. However, the light on the right is not obscured and helps to emphasise the image of the man that is reflected in the window. The rest of the objects inside the shop create a frame around this person and make him the focus of this photo.

I hope you enjoy this week’s selection of photos.

Weekly Photos – [Lights] – 04 Nov, 2019

I noticed that I haven’t posted in a while so I figured that I should find some old photos to share. This “Weekly Photos” series will be a selection of past photos that I haven’t published and will not be as detailed as the other photography posts. I will, however, try to have a common theme between each of the images that I have selected for the week.

The theme for this week is “Light”.

In the following images, I have chosen to focus on the beauty of light and how it interacts with the environments around me.

While I try to incorporate some kind of “story” in my images, sometimes it is nice to photograph something that is simple and visually-pleasing.

The sun is the primary source of light that is found in many of the photos in this selection. When used as the main source of light for backlighting, the sun casts a warm outline on subjects.

As the sun slowly rises above or descends below the horizon during the sunrises and sunsets respectively, the indirect angle of the light can produce beautiful effects when combined with clouds and the sky itself.

The remaining image of the fireworks captures the trails of light that are painted on the nightly canvas as the fireworks explode in a harmonious fashion. The landscape in the background was illuminated by the continuous stream of fireworks above.

I hope you enjoy this week’s selection of photos.

Battlefield 1: Not the First One.

Battlefield 1 Cover art

This review contains spoilers. TL:DR, it’s good go play it.

The Battlefield franchise is a venerable entry in the FPS genre, the first entry was Battlefield 1942 which released on Windows and OS X in 2002. The main focus has always been large online battles in large maps with vehicles and destructible terrain. Admittedly I’m unfamiliar with the franchise. My first experience with the series was Battlefield 2: Modern Combat on the PS2, followed quite a while later with Battlefield 3 on the PS3. I never got into it as much as I did the Call of Duty games of the time, which were my preferred online FPS as a teenager.

Battlefield 1 was released in late 2016 and is the fifteenth installment in the franchise. It marks a first for the series in that it takes place in World War One, compared to the entries before it which were modern, and the earlier titles which took place during World War Two, as was common. Not many games take place in World War One, largely because it’s hard to gamify. DICE got around this by simply making a World War One themed World War Two game. This isn’t the worst thing, but it’s far from accurate in terms of the guns you’ll use, and yes, there’s a power armour sequence. More on that below.

What I really liked about the older Medal of Honor games is how they feel like war movie games, which makes sense since MoH was Spielberg’s project originally, the way they play feels like an old war movie. One heroic but kinda generic dude mows down Nazi after Nazi complete with music swells, elaborate death animations and improbable sequences. Despite how much I love those games, despite their flaws (and there are a lot of flaws) they do have some issues. The extremely simplified nature of them makes the stories not amazingly interesting. Battlefield 1 feels like it’s a modernization of this concept in a lot of ways.

Gone are the generic American McJawlines that made up the rosters of MoH games past, replaced with a diverse roster of lesser told stories. The opening, Storm of Steel, has you play various members of the Harlem Hellfighters, The 369th Infantry Regiment, notably made up of a majority of African Americans and Puerto Rican Americans. This sequence is effective but let down somewhat by the bullet sponge flamethrower enemies, though to be fair these are likely there for balance reasons. Without them I could see players playing this for ages not realizing they’re meant to die. It’s a supposed to lose fight and acts as the bookends of the game, in that respect it’s very effective and good. A great opening.

The second story, Through Mud and Blood, follows a British tank crew tasked with punching through enemy lines, it goes about as well as one might expect for a game focused on the loss and futility of war as core concepts. It starts off fairly weak, but it improves a lot as it goes on. The gameplay, especially in the tank babysitting sections, can get grating but it’s mostly solid. After you push through the enemy lines you become stuck in the mud, and facing Germans rushing the tank Townsend orders a pigeon carrying orders for an artillery strike be sent out. The artillery hits almost directly on top of the tank, but through extreme luck it’s unscathed and carries on into the Bourlon Woods. This begins the tank babysitting section.

The tank babysitting is up there as one of the worst choices in the game. You come upon a forest where the fog is so thick you’re tasked by the commander, Townsend, with scouting ahead. You quickly find trouble and have to clear enemy camps. This isn’t a bad idea on paper, it provides a contrast to the power fantasy of being a tank in a World War 1 game nicely, but the execution is very eh. You can sneak through the camps but the stealth gameplay is lacking, and as soon as the shooting starts the tank Kool-Aid Mans its way onto the scene into the direct firing line of multiple field guns, so not only do you need to worry about yourself you also have to take care of the tank, which is extremely vulnerable. It would be far easier to just take the entire camp on solo.

After you clear the forest, mechanical problems force the tank to stop, thankfully the Germans ahead have salvaged British tanks that you can steal parts from. By this point you’ve lost two of the tank crew and are left with Townsend, McManus, and your player character Edwards. Townsend is injured, so it’s up to Edwards and McManus to infiltrate the village to salvage the spark plugs needed. McManus objects, viewing it as a suicide mission, and Edwards tells him to leave, he does. The village infiltration isn’t very hard. You find a silenced sniper rifle pretty early on and the enemy AI breaks when you use that. They’ll watch a friend’s head explode and calmly investigate the corpse while you line up the second shot. This is funny, granted, but it’s not amazingly immersive. Once you get the parts you head back to the tank with the help of a well placed horse, as you’re entering the tank you’re attacked from behind only to be saved by McManus, who had a change of heart and returned.

The tank continues on, coming across a railway station being used as a staging point by German forces planning to retake Cambrai. The crew heroically attack it, taking out multiple vehicles, and destroying the German forces that arrive to reinforce it. Black Bess is then immobilized by artillery and overrun by German infantry. Edwards and McManus are injured fighting the infantry and a mortally wounded Townsend sacrifices himself by igniting a gas leak in Black Bess, killing the German forces. Edwards and McManus limp along the road toward friendly lines. The subtitle then informs you that the war ended a month later.

This is my favourite story in a lot of ways. Thematically it’s extremely strong. Themes of sacrifice and courage are contrasted with the utter pointlessness of it. The performances of the actors and animators are amazing, Mark Bonnar as Townsend is especially amazing in his final scene. As obvious as it was that there wasn’t going to be a happy ending from the beginning I still hoped for one.

The second war story, Friends in High Places, is the weakest. You play American pilot Clyde Blackburn, for some reason. Blackburn cheats George Rackham, a British pilot, out of an experimental plane and poses as him on its test flight. Rackham’s gunner, Wilson, accompanies you as you go through a short tutorial. German fighters attack and you have to fight them off, once only one remains it flees, and you follow, finding a German fort full of munitions. Wilson photographs it and Blackburn convinces him to tell command about it and they launch an offensive to destroy it. This part is fairly simple, you have to take out the AA guns, fight fighters, and defend bombers. The hardest part about this is the fight controls, which I’ve never been a fan of but it’s not too bad. It’s fairly easy as long as you don’t crash into the ground like I did more than a few times while attacking the AA guns. After the fort is bombed enough it cuts to a cutscene where Blackburn does something stupid and crashes.

You then have to sneak, or shoot, through German lines and into No Man’s Land, where you find Wilson. Blackburn then nearly murders him with a plank of wood instead of helping him back to friendly lines and this is the point where I checked out. Blackburn is unsympathetic and unlikable. Wilson reveals that he knew Blackburn was a fraud all along and for some reason this makes Clyde, Paragon of Good Choices, decide to not murder someone that’s been nothing but nice to him. You then have to avoid British machine gun fire to make it to the friendly trenches while carrying Wilson. You make it and are (correctly) arrested for stealing a plane and impersonating Rackham. On the way to be court martialed the ship carrying you is attacked by German fighters and Rackham is unceremoniously killed, Blackburn convinces Wilson to make more poor choices and free him so they can steal another plane and go to fight the German aircraft. Upon doing so they discover bombers and zeppelins moving to attack London and engage them. When you get the zeppelin to low health Blackburn decides to fly close enough to a German AA gun that he can verbally taunt the guy shooting it while moving slowly next to it and gets shot down. Again, not a smart man. You crash into the zeppelin and fight your way across to the AA gun, which you take control of to shoot the other zeppelin and enemy fighters. The second zeppelin explodes and it turns out that fire hurts so Blackburn, Wilson, and the German that was on the AA gun, whom Wilson has been fighting this entire time, are forced to jump off. Blackburn survives this and climbs out of the River Thames, lays on the dock and narrates the ending, where he refers to himself as an unreliable narrator and suggests that none of this ever happened, which I wish was true.

Yeah I don’t like this, if you couldn’t tell. Wilson is the only other character in the war story and he’s treated terribly by the narrative, it isn’t even shown if he died or not. The missions are straight forward enough though, and aren’t unpleasant though.

Next up is Avanti Savoia, the infamous power armour part. You play Italian shock trooper Luca Vincenzo Cocchiola, who wears metal armour that acts as power armour. Once you get past the initial ‘oh come on’ factor of this it isn’t bad. It’s not great though, in part due to some technical issues that I’ll get to.

This is framed as a story being told by Luca to his daughter about how his twin brother, Matteo, died. Interestingly this did take something out of it. In Through Mud and Blood I knew how it’d end, it was inevitable, there would be no happy endings, but I hoped for one anyway. In this I didn’t have the same experience. It wasn’t a matter of ‘will it be okay?’, it’s ‘how will this go wrong?’

Luca fights through the enemy lines while Matteo fights on the fronts in the valley below, initially it’s successful, Luca pushes through the lines, destroys artillery, and achieves his objective. In an attempt to stop the Italian forces in the valley the defenders bomb the mountain, causing a landslide. Luca’s armour becomes damaged and he removes it to rush into the valley to find his brother, there he finds death and devastation, men so damaged by what they’ve seen that they just stare into space– or, wait, I think the AI just broke. Yeah this is where the technical issues come in. The AI just stopped. Enemies just stood around, except for one flamer enemy who torched me when I got close, killing me. When I respawned they worked again but not well. Some still seemed to have their AI disabled. I don’t know if this bug is common but it was pretty massively disruptive.

Pushing past that though, Luca fights his way through the front and into the German fort, eventually coming across his brother’s corpse. The closing subtitles explain The Lost Generation.

This is very short and not very good.

The fourth war story is The Runner. You play Frederic Bishop, an ANZAC at Gallipoli. He’s introduced to Jack Foster, his new charge who lied about his age to get into the army. Bishop spends much of the game doing things and risking his life to protect Foster. You first storm the beach to capture an enemy position, you’re successful but discover that Foster has followed you. Bishop berates him for his belief that war is glorious and Foster becomes sickened by the carnage.

The next day Bishop again volunteers for a mission to protect Foster, he delivers a message to HQ, and on his return is saved by Foster who shoots an Ottoman soldier. He’s then sent by British officer Whitehall to deliver another message to rear command, when he arrives he finds it deserted with a note explaining that a full retreat has been ordered and that the area will be shelled to cover retreat. He rushes back only to find that Foster volunteered to attack the fort and is missing. Whitehall tells him to ignore the retreat to go after Foster, however he’s clearly distressed that he just sent all those soldiers into friendly fire. He makes his way up to the fort and finds Foster along with the other soldiers hiding with wounded. He tells them that the shelling is imminent but Foster says that they won’t be able to make it with their wounded, so Bishop attacks the fort on his own to draw their attention, telling Foster to fire a flare once he’s clear so that Bishop can escape. In the process of this, Frederick is mortally wounded. He climbs to the battlements and watches for the flare, hoping that Foster has made it.

The flare is fired and the artillery follows shortly after. Frederick Bishop is killed.

The Ottomans won, many of the people who fought in the campaign went on to become leaders of the Republic of Turkey. For Turkey, Australia, and New Zealand, Gallipoli was formative in their national consciousness. It was the first time that Australian and New Zealand forces fought under their own flags.

There’s not a lot to say about this one honestly. It’s rather short, but it’s well done. It does a lot with very few characters, and they’re all good characters. Bishop’s death is effective, I wish they’d done more with Foster. He doesn’t have much character beyond being naive.

The fifth and final story is Nothing is Written, you play Zara Ghufran, a Bedouin rebel fighting the Ottomans in Arabia with T. E. Lawrence. An Ottoman train carrying important cargo derails in the desert, and Zara is tasked with getting that cargo. She succeeds and obtains the code book, but soldiers arrive, lead by Ottoman officer Tilkici. She’s saved by Lawrence and other rebels. They decide to interrogate Tilkici for information regarding the armoured train Canavar, and how to lure it into a trap.

They discover that to lure it they need to get three message capsules from three officers to send to it via pigeon. As Zara is sending the third she’s attacked by Tilkici, who escaped from Lawrence and knowing the location of the camp, has it attacked. He prepares to execute her but she kills him before he can. Zara meets with Lawrence, who escape the camp before it could be attacked. It turns out that this was all a waste, because the Canavar has to stop for supplies, leaving it vulnerable, and a plan is made to attack it when it does, trapping it by damaging it with explosives. You then fight the train using various field guns to shoot at it while it rains artillery and machine gun fire on you.

Zara and Lawrence move on to the Suez Canal to strike at targets there. The subtitle informs you that the British reneged on their promise of a free Arabia.

And that’s pretty much it. Overall the stories are very solid, the gameplay can get grating at times. The final sequence of Nothing is Written is especially frustrating, with the train firing instant death at you if it holds line of sight for long enough. Other than a few frustrating parts it’s somewhat easy. I played on medium difficulty. The AI is lacking, especially when you use long range silenced weapons. I noticed a few bugs but nothing overly bad.

The graphics are very impressive, my PS4 was pumping superheated air out the back the entire time I was playing. The environment design is very visually nice, but lacking in terms of layout. It’s mostly just generic lanes of progression with similar sets of enemies. That said the core gameplay loop and gamefeel are solid enough that this isn’t too bad.

I’d comment on the multiplayer but I got a PS4 copy, and I have to pay extra to play online, and frankly fuck that.

This review has mostly been me trying to get around my writers block for finishing my MoH review series with Vanguard. It has proven to be hard to write about, so look forward to that one up next!

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk video games with me.

Photowalk – Manchester [Colour] – Part 3

This post is a continuation of the series of photos from my trip to Manchester [Part 1 and Part 2].

Instead of photographs of people as in the previous two posts, this post focuses on the patterns and shapes that I noticed through my brief exploration of the streets of Manchester. In addition to the change of subject matter, these photos have all been taken in colour using the Kodak motion picture film stock Vision 3.

While black and white film stocks typically offer higher dynamic ranges than colour film stocks, all of the information about hue and saturation is lost with black and white film. Even though colour film results in lower contrasts in terms of highlights, midtones, and shadows, it offers contrast with the inclusion of different hues.

Thirty Thirty Three [Vision 3 250D, 1/250s,f/8, EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

Sometimes, beautiful scenes are rewarded to photographers who travel off the beaten path. For this photo, I wandered away from the downtown area of Manchester and was immediately drawn to an alleyway with aesthetically-pleasing designs painted on the walls. On a closer inspection, I realised that I would be able to draw out more from the scene than I initially anticipated (pun intended).

In this image, I focused on two patterns: the patterns of lines underneath the window sills, and the pattern of posters covering the window panes. I was able to frame each set of patterns using the rule of odds (in this case it is the rule of threes). There are three sets of patterns along the main horizontal that are equally-spaced apart.

I have a form of synesthesia where certain numbers are associated with colours. Hearing or reading about the number will result in imagining the colour and vice versa. Sometimes, I have also caught myself thinking, “that is a very [number]-coloured object” or “the number is [sequence of colours]”. For me, the number three is associated with orange so seeing the three orange lines made the lines even more orange (if that makes any sense).

For the photo, I used the piping alongside the walls to separate the scene into three approximately equal frames. Within each frame, there is a poster of a headshot of a futuristic-looking individual for the bar Twenty Twenty Two. Underneath each group of posters, there is a set of cyan, orange, and purple lines. I decided to take the photo at an angle to the alleyway to avoid too much repetition between the frames and also to avoid imprinting my own shadow on the wall.

Wall of Flowers [Kodak Vision 3 250D,1/250s, f/5.6, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

The next photo was taken of a building near the town hall area in Manchester. I noticed that the outside of the windows were decorated with floral patterns alongside the south side of the building.

There doesn’t appear to be an overall pattern in the placement of the designs other than adjacent windows having different floral designs. Again, the number three appears as there are three unique floral designs.

I used a Dutch angle to photograph the building to avoid shooting the scene with a portrait orientation. Personally, I tend to avoid photographing architectural structures with a level horizon as I feel that it results in a boring image. The trees at the base of the building and the adjacent building help to offset the off-balance feeling from the Dutch angle. The use of the Dutch angle also helps to draw attention to the third column of floral designs as they are placed on the diagonal line within the frame.

Tram Lines [Kodak Vision 3 250D, 1/500s, f/5.6, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

Interesting scenes can be found anywhere. It is up to the photographer to make the most of his or her surroundings and create interesting photos. In addition to being observant, it is also important to be able to predict the movement of the objects that make up the scene.

In the case of this image, I used the tram and the overhead electrical lines as well as the cross in the background. I had pre-focused the lens and used a fast shutter speed and narrower aperture. I had intended to capture the tram’s pantograph as the tram travelled past me, but the resulting image exceeded my original expectations with the use of lines.

This photo makes use of the diagonal rule where the points of interest lie on the diagonal line in the frame. On the diagonal line from the top left to the bottom right, the main points of interest are the connection between the pantograph and the electrical wire, and the intersection between the electrical wires and metal rods. On the diagonal line from the bottom left to the top right, the points of interest are the cross (with the metal rod stopping exactly in the center of the cross) and the intersections between the wires and rods.

I Love Lamp [Kodak Vision 3 250D, 1/180s, f/3.5, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

The next image was taken of part of an art installation called The Manchester Lamps which was made by the art and design studio Acrylicize. There were five different lamps, each representing a different aspect of Manchester’s history [1].

This photo was taken underneath a single lamp. I chose to capture only a small aspect of the lampshade rather than the entire lamp as I was attracted to the patterns and shapes rather than the lamp itself. The lampshade combines softer rounded lines and circles with harsher edges and triangular shapes.

Reach for the Sky [Kodak Vision 3 250D, 1/350s, f/5.6, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

Patterns do not always need to involve the repetition of shapes or designs. The repetition of objects may also form a pattern as shown in the above image.

In this photo, I used the rule of odds to compose the three tower cranes against the clear sky. The positioning of the cranes is almost perfect as they all lie on the diagonal of the frame and are equally-spaced apart.

Bars [Kodak Vision 3 250D, 1/250s, f/4, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

This picture was taken in the Cathedral Gardens near the National Football Museum. I was taking a short break from walking around the city and positioned myself to shoot the wooden bars from the bench I was sitting on.

The photo is a bit different from the rest of the images in the set as it is the only one with people in the frame. However, I believe that the inclusion of the people helps to strengthen the image and also contributes to the patterns that were captured.

I waited until the woman on the left walked past the shortest pole from the left side. The curvature of the four poles draw interest to lead towards the woman and it feels that she is a part of the art installation itself. In the same vein, the four windows feel as if they are pointing down to the man sitting on the concrete slab. While the pattern for the woman was intentional, I only noticed the pattern in the windows after I had developed and scanned the film.

The images in the post are a bit different from the normal subject matter that I am interested in. However, it is fun to photograph different things once in a while. I hope you enjoyed reading about the images as much as I had taking them. I believe that I have enough images in colour to do a continuation of the Manchester series (this time with street photography).

The images have been shot on a Canon EOS Elan 7e (EOS 30) film camera using a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II lens. The film stock used was 35mm Kodak Vision 3 250D (5207/7207) shot at 250 ISO. The majority of the photos have been taken using shutter priority with an adjustment for the exposure compensation depending on the scene.

As this is a motion picture film, the Remjet (Removable Jet Black) layer had to be removed before the actual development process. The film was developed using the Tetenal Colortec C-41 kit colour developer for 3:15 minutes at 38C (Cross-processed as the standard process is ECN-2). The film was then bleached and fixed using Tetenal Colortec C-41 BLIX for 4:00 minutes at 38C, followed by a water rinse for 3:00 minutes at 30C. Finally, the film was stabilised using the Tetenal Colortec C-41 kit stabiliser for 1:00 minute at 20C. The resulting negatives were scanned using the Epson V550 and edited in Photoshop.

Photowalk – Edinburgh Doors Open Days 2019

Doors Open Days is an annual Scottish event where many venues offer free entry to the public. While I have been in Edinburgh for two years, I did not have the chance to visit many of the older buildings and heritage sites. I decided that this event would be the perfect opportunity to visit these places and also practice some architectural photography.

As I knew that I would have more time to compose my shots compared to my street photography sessions, I brought out my trusty Canon A-1. The lack of modern auto-focus and auto-exposure settings required me to slow down and think about my compositions. I chose to bring a 28mm lens for wider-angle shots and a 50mm lens for general shooting situations.

The images were taken over the two day period for the Doors Open Days event in Edinburgh from 28 September to 29 September.

New Register House Dome Interior [Ilford FP4+, 1/30s, f/3.5, FD 28mm f/2.8]

The first stop on Saturday was the New Register House for the General Register Office for Scotland. The building exterior was similar to the other buildings near the central area of Princes Street. However, the interior was a completely different story.

The shelves were lined with binders, books, and other archival materials. There was a television in the center of the room which displayed a video of the frame of the structure and certain points of building. A number of tour guides guided visitors around the room and discussed the building’s history and activities of the National Records of Scotland.

I had originally wanted to photograph the ceiling of the dome directly underneath the center window. Unfortunately, the 28mm lens was not able to adequately capture my vision for the dome’s ceiling. I chose to shoot half of the dome while still capturing the multiple floors of archives and I believe that it provides a better representation of the structure and its contents.

Playfair Library, Old College, University of Edinburgh [Ilford FP4+, 1/60s, f/4, FD 28mm f/2.8]

Next on the trip was the Old College campus for the University of Edinburgh.

The first location I had visited on the campus was the Talbot Rice Gallery. Inside, there was a large art installation of giant-sized musical instruments and lights supported by accompanying music. There were also contemporary art pieces related to music and sounds. I do not have many photos from this section as I am not a fan of photographing art pieces in isolation. However, the art gallery was very enjoyable and I would like to revisit it in the future.

The Talbot Rice Gallery connected to the Playfair Library and this is where I had taken the above photo. Large white pillars lined both sides of the library with busts of famous figures beside each pillar. Shelves and shelves of books filled the opposing walls of the library, only to be separately by large windows overlooking the central area of the campus and the surrounding buildings.

The sun had reached its peak in the midday and it shone brightly through the glass windows of the hallway. This was perfect for capturing harsh contrasts and separate the human subjects from the whites of the pillars.

I had finished off the day with a session of street photography while listening to the buskers in the park.

McEwan Hall Basement [Ilford FP4+, 1/15s, f/3.5, FD 28mm f/2.8]

On the second day, I headed to McEwan Hall, a large auditorium for the University of Edinburgh. I knew that this building was going to be a fun experience as soon as I had entered.

The entrance to the auditorium was a basement-like area with white walls containing the names of whom I believe to be graduates from the University of Edinburgh. There were curved hallways which led to smaller rooms around the circular building and connected to a central miniature atrium area.

The central area of this basement had pillars placed neatly with lights adorning the walls. The tiled flooring was smooth enough to provide reflections of the light from the pillars and the walls. I was captivated by the pattern of the lights from the pillars on the rounded surface of the ceiling of the room.

McEwan Hall Stage [Ilford FP4+, 1s, f/4, FD 28mm f/2.8]

Up the stairs to the main floor was the main auditorium area of McEwan Hall. This section of the building was spectacular in both form and magnitude. Rows and rows of chairs were arranged neatly and the walls were decorated with beautiful paintings and painstakingly-crafted sculptures.

I managed to capture this scene from the second floor of the auditorium. As I did not have a tripod available, I used the seats to steady the camera so that I would be able to expose the shot properly.

While the scene is mostly devoid of people, there is a lone photographer with his camera and tripod on the stage. I have used this person to emphasise the sheer size of the auditorium.

McEwan Hall Ceiling [Ilford FP4+, 1/15 s, f/3.5, FD 28mm f/2.8]

The ceiling of the auditorium was the highlight (pun intended) of the experience. A circular chandelier was suspended from the dome-like ceiling, lighting up the painted figures circling the center. Each figure had a corresponding field of study, ranging from the literary arts to the sciences and mathematics.

While many photographers attempted to photograph the ceiling from directly under the chandelier, I wanted to shoot a mixture of circles and rounded shapes. The curved ceiling above the main stage connects with the circular dome, and this in turn is surround by arched pillars which supported the entire auditorium structure.

I was impressed at the amount of detail that the film was able to capture. I had overexposed slightly in order to preserve the shadow detail, and the overall darkness in the scene meant that I did not clip the highlights (again, pun intended) too much.

[Ilford HP5+, 1/30s, f/2.8, FD 50mm f/1.8

The final set of images photos from the Leith Theatre. The Leith Theatre is a theatre for performing arts and other events. I believe that the theatre itself was to be demolished but the people of Leith were able to convince the council to leave the building alone. The interior of the building was bare, but still had the potential to be filled with life.

There were many small rooms within the theatre. There were change rooms, store rooms, dance rooms, and gin rooms. Each room felt distinct and unique but they all contributed to the larger building of the theatre.

The first photograph is of a disassembled organ that was repurposed as hanging fixtures above a bar area. While the individual pieces of the organ were separated, they were still able to contribute together to a greater, albeit different, whole.

Please take a Seat [Ilford HP5+, 1s, f/2.8, FD 50 f/1.8]

I decided to take an abstract approach when photographing the rows of seats in the balcony area. The seats had a nice alternating pattern of light and dark red hues and formed a sort of checkered pattern that is still pleasing in black and white.

Leith Theatre Stage [Ilford HP5+, 1s, f/3.5, FD 50mm f/1.8]

Finally, I ended with a shot of the main stage of the theatre. While the seats on the balcony are empty, the focus of this scene is the main stage. The borders around the stage, together with the rows of lights hanging from the balconies, provide a frame for the people on the stage. The Leith theatre was the perfect closing act to the day and the event.

Overall, the Doors Open Days was a very enjoyable event and exposed me to many buildings and sites that I was unaware of during my previous two years in Edinburgh. I hope you enjoyed reading through my experience and enjoyed the accompanying photos as well.

The images have been shot on a Canon A-1 film camera using either a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens or a Canon FD 28mm f/2.8 lens. The expired Ilford FP4+ film stock (expired in 1996) was shot and developed at 125 ISO. An expired Ilford HP5+ film stock (expired in 1993) was shot at 200 ISO and developed at 400 ISO. The majority of the photos have been taken using manual settings with TTL metering set to +0.5 EV.

The Ilford FP4+ was developed using Ilford Ilfosol 3 for 6:00 minutes at 20C. The Ilford HP5+ film stock was developed using Ilford Ilfosol 3 for 7:00 minutes at 20C. Ilford Ilfostop was used to halt development for 0:30 minutes at 20C. The film was fixed with Ilford Rapid Fixer for 3:00 minutes at 20C, followed by a water rinse for 3:00 minutes at 25C. The resulting negatives were scanned using the Epson V550 and edited in Photoshop.

Medal of Honor: European Assault: An Assault in Europe (and North Africa)

Released 7th of June 2005, Medal of Honor: European Assault is the 7th entry in the Medal of Honor franchise. After the poor reception of Rising Sun, the planned sequel was cancelled, that game would have followed the player character’s brother and would have also taken place in the Pacific. European Assault instead follows Lt. Holt, a person, who does things. While European Assault was better received than Rising Sun, the reviews were mixed and it’s very easy to tell why.

Strong openings are a staple of the PS2 Medal of Honor games so far, with Frontline’s D-Day and Rising Sun’s Pearl Harbour, but European Assault’s somewhat falters. If we take the first mission as the opening, then it’s short and not very good, though if you consider the first four missions to be a single opening, then it is definitely far better. Even maybe the best. Unfortunately, the game’s engine definitely wouldn’t be able to handle that, it can barely handle the levels it has.

The opening, Operation: Chariot, shows the raid by Royal Navy and British Commandos on St. Nazaire on the 28th of March 1942. The events shown in the game vary from what actually happened, but historical accuracy clearly isn’t a focus of the game. That said, European Assault does vary from the previous two console entries in the series in that it drops the ‘heroic war movie’ theme and instead focuses on the ‘war is hell’ angle. The opening narration makes this pretty clear, and it’s hammered in throughout the rest of the game. It takes this in a weird direction, with the narrator seeming to imply that the allies were fighting for the same reasons as the Nazis during his ‘there’s nothing good about war’ speech, which I’d certainly hope isn’t the case on account of that whole genocide thing.

But this isn’t really a story or theme analysis, so onto the game. Each level opens with a briefing explaining the basic layout of things, then it shows you your objectives. Some are hidden and you find by exploring. The maps are fairly open though still quite linear. You have multiple paths but you always get funneled through the same door. Sometimes you’ll have to backtrack if you missed something and with the slow speed that Holt moves at this is tedious at the best of times. Still, having multiple objectives to pursue around the levels does make them feel a bit bigger and lends to the idea that this is actually a military engagement.

The levels being big does have one rather big downside though: the framerate is terrible. I’m not sure if this is due to the level size or just the density of effects but the game barely runs. I think it despawns a lot of things after the set piece is finished, so it’s pretty common to see a bunch of soldiers fighting only for everything to quiet down rather abruptly once you’ve pushed forward. This game is trying extremely hard to be ‘cinematic’, but ironically in trying to do so it becomes less movie like. Like Medal of Honor: Frontline, European Assault is at an awkward point, but while Frontline was somewhere between Doom and Call of Duty, European Assault is between Call of Duty and Call of Duty.

Gone is the stats screen at the end of levels. Now, you just get a run down of what objectives you completed. Most of the staples of early FPS are gone, replaced with dark grim “cinematicness” (yes I know that isn’t a word). This game has more in common with the late WW2-Early Modern Call of Duty games than it does its own series, and that is pretty sad. Some of the set pieces are nice, but it relies on them far too heavily and when the game is chugging throughout your epic explosion, something is fundamentally wrong and you need to design around your tech limitation.

Oh yeah and you can’t shoot nazis in the dick anymore. Well you can, but there’s few animations for it, and it isn’t obvious what part they’re grabbing. I suppose the fun haters at EA Los Angeles decided it would be tonally off for a game that opens with “There’s nothing good about war” to have fun sequences where you deliver buckshots to bellends. They aren’t wrong but I still miss it. Then again these are the same devs that implemented a headshot counter. When you get a headshot you get a little German helmet in the bottom right of your screen with a crosshair on it, get another one fast enough and you get two little strikes on it. I assume this increments more with more headshots but lining up a lot of headshots isn’t exactly easy.

While we’re on animations, the fun animations that Frontline and Rising Sun had are gone. This is good and bad, while those games’ animations were fun, they weren’t good by most measures. They were hand animated. The animations in European Assault seem motion captured, at least to my eye, and are a lot more realistic looking. The downside is that they aren’t as fun to watch. It’s a mixed bag. In place of a lot of the death animations, the enemies just ragdoll when killed. This is literally never good. The ragdolls are extremely poor, they bounce hilariously when they fall, get stuck on things, sometimes they get thrown the wrong way. Shooting an enemy with a shotgun and having them fly toward you is pretty funny but breaks the tone a bit.

This is overly negative, let’s talk about some positives. Despite clearly trying to be Call of Duty, this game does not feature regenerating health. Instead you have two health pickups. Canteens, which heal you instantly, and medkits, which you hold onto until you need. You use them by pressing down on the dpad. You have a lot less health than in previous games, which isn’t great. It depletes very fast and if you’re being shot you can die before you can react. If you die, you can revive if you have a revive. You get these for completing the bonus objectives. Honestly I’m not sure why they went with this. The revives are automatically used after a lengthy animation where you fall over and die. After that animation plays, you’re right back where you were at half health. You know. Still in danger from the thing that just killed you. One standard enemy can kill you in a matter of seconds. 

Wait, shit, positives. Right. So instead of being a one man army like in previous games, you have a squad. You have pretty limited controls over them, you can make them attack or make them come back. Their attack range is pretty limited, but generally can be quite useful if you want a room stormed. They aren’t invincible but they’re pretty close to it, if one of your pikmin does get low on health you can heal them up using one of your medkits. These guys can help you out in a jam so it’s usually a pretty good idea to keep your accountabilibuddies healthy

Unfortunately they aren’t very smart. They have a habit of running into machine gun fire, either yours or the enemy. Expect a lot of shots you have lined up to be absorbed by a passing dipshit. Thankfully, unlike Call of Duty you won’t get failed for friendly fire. The reload button is also the ‘waste a health kit on whatever is in front of you’ button, so be careful trying to reload.

The spread of bonus objectives is decent. You discover them by exploring: get close enough and you get a radio message telling you to go take the burger joint or whatever. Usually, these are to find semi-hidden items, destroy something, or kill that level’s “nemesis”. The nemeses are just special enemies with a visible healthbar (it’s an iron cross above their heads). They eat a lot of bullets and will usually home in on you, so expect to die to them and use a revive. Thankfully they’ll also drop one. Some of these objectives, like the semi-hidden documents, will require you to look around to find them, but most of them are basically just main objectives. You’ll go past them while on the normal route through the level. It feels a lot like a lazy way to pretend to be non-linear and give player choice but you’d have to try hard to not complete these objectives.

Yeah, it’s really hard to talk about the positives in this game without tangenting into a negative. I don’t hate it, I swear. It’s just very flawed.

The missions are broken up into groups, each group following a set plot over a specific location. Assaults (that take place in Europe) end with a screen where it breaks down the rank you got for each level and gives you a medal if you achieve a gold rank in every level, which requires you to complete all the objectives. Length varies, the first assault (in Europe) has four missions. The second is in North Africa, but that’s pretty close to Europe I guess.

Each assault opens with a cutscene made up of footage of World War 2 with a narration, it starts with an older person, presumably Lt. Holt, describing their experiences, but transitions to a younger voice for the second half or so. These are nice openings. I like them. Holt clearly isn’t a real person. I’d have preferred to have multiple characters. As it is, having an American show up to all these historic campaigns just serves to push the “America Saves the Day” narrative.

If the cheap enemy spawning in Rising Sun annoyed you, then give this a miss. I saw enemies t-posing after being spawned in around a corner from me repeatedly. It’s upsettingly common. It frequently spawns enemies behind you too, I assume this is to make backtracking less dull but it fails miserably. It simply isn’t fun. If I clear a room, then I want it to stay clear. A submachine gun spawning in my face isn’t fun. It’s also common for allied units to spawn in front of you, so you fight through a gauntlet of enemies and round a corner to see a gaggle of friendlies just hanging out. Not that the friendlies are all that helpful.

The selection of weapons is pretty varied. You have British, Russian, American, and German guns but you don’t get to choose from all at once. The guns depend on who you’re fighting with. This is generally fine since they’re all nice options. Unfortunately the shotgun is only available in two of the ten missions. It’s the sign of a good FPS that the shotgun is fun to use, and when it actually gives you one European Assault’s shotgun is okay. Its spread is pretty bad, and it has terrible range. Aiming down the ironsights improves the spread a bit but it’s pretty dire. It passes the shotgun test, but barely.

The AI is just as bad as previous entries, if not worse. The allied AI is close to useless (and with how often the game seems to despawn them, completely unreliable), your squad mates usually just find new and creative ways to get themselves killed, and the enemy AI cheats. They have near instant reaction times, and don’t even need to be aiming at you to shoot. I’m fairly sure they always know where you are. I’ve seen guns clipping through walls tracking me. Rounding a corner just to have most of your health vanished in a few seconds by a t-posing nazi isn’t fun. Retreating to find that the game has spawned enemies in the room you just left is even less fun.

Speaking of things that aren’t fun, the levels lack any checkpoints. Once you’re out of revives you start from the beginning. The levels aren’t long or anything, they’re just frustrating. Dying at the end of a level is the kind of thing that makes me want to go play something else. They improved this in Rising Sun with checkpoints, but now they’ve just gone back to how it was. And it isn’t great.

Continues are a concept invented when games were made to gobble your money. Revives are essentially continues, and they shouldn’t be here. Playing the same level over and over just to die at the same difficulty spike isn’t fun. Not hitting down on the dpad in time and dying with zero revives and six medkits isn’t fun. Revives are worse than continues. The game inflates difficulty in many ways, such as starting you with very limited ammo or infinitely respawning enemies. The last level is pretty close to the least fun you can have in a video game.

The story is nothing to write home about. It’s told almost exclusively through the opening cutscenes, there are no real secondary characters. The ones that are there aren’t around long enough to get to know. It’s a nice touch that there are multiple women in the Russian and French forces.

This game has a non-trivial amount of bugs. The worst I encountered was on a mission toward the end where I had to destroy a tank, I did. Later on when I got close to the tank again, a scripted sequence began where the tank activated. The enemies near it respawned shouting about getting it operational, and it started shooting its frontal machine gun at me. It was also invincible. These bugs plus the general lack of polish makes me think that it might have been rushed for release.

The spawn system also feels incomplete. Games will often spawn in and out NPCs a lot. In the case of a FPS like this, they’ll spawn in enemies and allies to keep it feeling like there’s a battle going on. European Assault doesn’t do this properly. Enemies will keep spawning almost indefinitely, but allies don’t. Allies get spawned based on certain events, so you’ll start off with a bunch of friendly soldiers fighting with you, but once they all die it’ll get quiet, then when you progress further it’ll spawn more in. So you’ll single handedly complete the objective and suddenly be surrounded by people. This is never not jarring.

On top of everything, the technical issues are impossible to ignore. Constant environment pop in, animations don’t play past a certain distance leading to enemies just sliding around, frame rate issues, sound problems, muddy graphics, poor textures, bad hitboxes, clipping issues, the time it takes to pause and unpause. It’s just a mess.

I wanted to like this game. I really did, and the earlier levels are much better. I have a feeling that as their deadlines approached they had to pump up the “difficulty” in the later levels to pad game time out. The earlier levels are far more fun to play. They feel tighter and better optimized. But the further you get in the game’s (short) runtime, the worse everything starts to feel, culminating in the slog of a final level where almost everything seems to go wrong.

Weirdly enough, in the memories I have of this game from when I was a kid, I remember it as a Call of Duty game. Now I need to go play Call of Duty: Finest Hour to find out what that game actually is.

This is part three of my reviews of PS2 Medal of Honor games. You can find the first two, Frontline and Rising Sun, on this site.

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If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message.

I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.

Thank you very much for reading.

Photowalk – Manchester [B&W] – Part 2

This post is a continuation from the previous post about my black and white photos from my short trip to Manchester [Part 1 here].

The previous part showcased the images that I had taken with a telephoto lens with a focal length of 85mm. For lenses with longer focal lengths, I can take similar photos from farther away or capture details of my subjects without having to get uncomfortably close. As I was still not very familiar with the city and its people, the 85mm lens was a better choice for my shooting style. However, I needed to get out of my comfort zone in order to improve in street photography.

I had used a “nifty fifty” lens, referring to the 50mm focal length, for the majority of the following photos. The 50mm lens is my preferred lens when I am starting out in a location due to its ability to shoot close-up and wider angle shots. With a shorter focal length than the 85mm lens, this lens required me to get closer to my subjects. However, the advantage of the wider lens is that I am able to capture more of a scene than if I am to shoot with a longer lens from the same distance.

Although the autofocus had been very useful in both the 50mm and 85mm lenses, I did not want to rely on the autofocus to shoot from the hip. One small issue with the 50mm f/1.8 STM II lens is the lack of a zone focus indicator so it is difficult to judge the exact distance to which the lens is focused. This is a minor inconvenience as the autofocus has provided me with more shots than I could have gotten had I been using the manual focus FD lenses with my 1979 Canon A-1. When the autofocus wasn’t working with my vision for a scene, I was able to adjust the focus quickly with the muscle memory I had gained through shooting with the Canon A-1.

Man in the Park [Ilford FP4+, 1/125 s , EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

This first photo was taken in one of the parks near the University of Manchester. While walking through the park, I noticed a man on a bench who was feeding a large group of birds. I got close enough to capture some detail of the man but not too close to startle the birds. I had also wanted to photograph some of the birds flying in and out of the larger group, but I decided that I still wanted the man to be the main focus of the scene and the movement of birds would have drawn interest away from the man.

I adjusted for a slower shutter speed so that the camera would choose a narrower aperture to keep more of the scene in focus. I didn’t want to have a shallow depth of field as I knew that I could use the negative space in the grass to draw more attention to the man. I’m not too happy with the location of the tree being in the center of the frame, but I believe that this was the best angle at the time.

The man and the bench fuse together to form a single object, and this is complemented by the large group of birds in the center of the frame. I decided against a tighter crop in order to provide more context for the man. While the man is the only human in the frame, he is not alone as he is surrounded by a large group of birds. By including more of the surrounding park area, there is a sense of isolationism that is juxtaposed with the crowdedness in the center of the scene.

Life Moves On [Ilford FP4+, 1 s, EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

I wanted to capture the busyness of the city and I knew that a long exposure would be the perfect way to achieve this goal. Here, I saw a pavement area with a lot of pedestrian movement. I had held up my camera to pretend to shoot some shots and observed that many people just ignored me and kept on moving. This was a welcome change from the touristy city of Edinburgh where the inhabitants and visitors are sometimes a bit too considerate of people with cameras.

For a one-second shot, I propped my arm up against a pole in order to stabilise the camera. Thankfully, the slower shutter speed was compensated by a narrower aperture and this allowed me to keep more of the scene in relative focus. I decided set my focus point to a distance which was approximately 1/3rd of the way into the scene.

The results from long exposures are difficult to predict, but they are very satisfying when they work. There is a diverse selection of people in this scene, and the differing amounts of motion blur reveal the uniqueness of each individual. Some people are moving quickly and busily to their destinations, while others are slower and enjoying their walks.

Between the Frames [Ilford FP4+, 1/250 s, EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

Sometimes mistakes can occur in the photographic process, either in the development and printing of the film, operation of the camera, or otherwise. I believe that it is important to embrace these mistakes as they are an important aspect of shooting with film. In this case, there are light leaks in the frame and these led to two overexposed rectangles at the top and bottom of the frame. The light leaks are likely the result of a mistake I had made when I had respooled the film from a larger spool into the film canister.

The original scene itself is not particularly interesting. There is a woman talking on her phone and standing beside a traffic sign. I have included the out-of-frame person with the umbrella in order to indicate that it is raining in this scene. The reflections on the road also contribute to the rainy scene.

The light leaks help to remove distractions from the scene and increase the emphasis that is placed on the woman. While not forming a conventional frame around the subject, I feel that the light leaks around the woman also achieve a sub-framing effect. Interestingly, the top and bottom light leaks stop right above and below the woman respectively, leading me to wonder if there is something special to the woman.

The Disappearing Man [Ilford FP4+, 1/180 s, EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II]

Similar to the previous image, the things that you fail to account for sometimes produce the most interesting effects. In this photo, the man on the right’s upper body appears to be transparent while his lower half remains opaque. This is contrasted with the other people in the frame who are quite nontransparent (with the exception of the reflection of a person with an umbrella and a stroller).

The photo was shot in the rain while I was waiting under a bus shelter. I looked behind me and through the glass to see pedestrians walking past the stores. I decided that the man on the right would be my point of interest and placed him in the lower right corner of the frame using the rule of thirds. A mixture of the reflections caused by the rain and the reflections in the glass resulted in this peculiar effect.

The disappearing effect is caused by the reflection of the bright bricked building being reflected in the glass. The surrounding buildings around this bricked building are not as brilliant, and as a result are not displayed as prominently in the reflections.

I hope you enjoyed the images as much as I had enjoyed taking and editing them. I may continue the series in the future with more black and white images or move onto the colour images that I had taken on this trip.

The images have been shot on a Canon EOS Elan 7e (EOS 30) film camera using either a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM II lens. The expired Ilford FP4+ film stock (expired in 1996) was shot and developed at 125 ISO. The majority of the photos have been taken using shutter priority with an adjustment of EV +0. I have only listed the shutter speeds for the images as I do not recall any of the corresponding apertures.

The film was developed using Ilford Ilfosol 3 for 5:30 minutes at 20C. Ilford Ilfostop was used to halt development for 0:30 minutes at 20C. The film was fixed with Ilford Rapid Fixer for 3:00 minutes at 20C, followed by a water rinse for 3:00 minutes at 25C. The resulting negatives were scanned using the Epson V550 and edited in Photoshop.

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun: Affix Bayonets

Medal of Honor Rising Sun case

Medal of Honor: Frontline may have been the critical darling and the first to be mentioned in ‘top 6th generation console games’, but Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is many people’s favourite too. In fact, I preferred Rising Sun as a kid. I’m not sure why, honestly. Though the opening is a strong reason. Most people who played it will say that it’s a fantastic opening (And it is but we’ll get back to that), but I was surprised to learn that Rising Sun was savaged by critics back in 2003, with a Metacritic of 68%. EuroGamer gave it a 4/10, praising the rest of EA and commenting on the game, “The difference in quality sticks out like J-Lo’s ass after a particularly intense course of collagen injections.” [1].

But now for an info dump. Because I like info dumps. Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is the sequel to Medal of Honor: Frontline. It’s the 5th game in the series (7th if you include expansions to Allied Assault), and the 3rd for consoles. It was released in 2003 for the Playstation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. I’m reviewing the Playstation 2 version here. Originally they planned a sequel, but Rising Sun received pretty poor reviews, and it was canned. The next game on consoles was European Assault instead.

EA Los Angeles decided to move from the somewhat overdone European theater of World War 2 and instead focus on the Pacific. Few games really focused on that, perhaps because gunning down Nazis is easier on the sense of morals. 

To give some background to me, I grew up in and still live in the city of Darwin in the Northern Territory. Darwin was attacked by the Japanese and growing up I saw a lot of the legacy of that. Old bunkers, the East Point shore guns, the War Museum. One of my favourite books as a kid was The Bombing of Darwin, about a fourteen year old boy living in the city at the time. It’s weird, but growing up I felt that the Pacific theater was more relevant to me, despite having obviously ended sixty years prior.

Back to the game. 

Rising Sun has a very strong opening, most are familiar with it, if you aren’t I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice to say the emotional impact and coolness is the same as it was when I played it as a kid. It’s hard to really describe it. If you’ve played it (and since this is a decades old game, most people reading this will have played it), you know it and you know how it made you feel. It has aged well. The controls are a bit stiff, it can be hard to hit the planes and the opening turret section goes on a bit long, but other than that it’s good.

There are save points scattered around the levels along with autosaves at certain points, which is a very welcome change to Frontline’s lack of any mid-level saving. This makes the difficulty spikes slightly more tolerable, because you won’t have to reply levels over and over, just the part giving you issues, but the save points can be hidden.

The engine is the same and it very much plays the same, the graphics have mildly improved, the textures are a bit less muddy though the low resolution (by today’s standards anyway) makes it hard to tell. Ultimately the biggest issue with the graphics is the resolution, so if you’re running this on an emulator you can boost that up and improve things a lot. I’m running it on original hardware because I’m a horrible hipster, and it is noticeable. The muddiness often makes it hard to see enemies, since their uniforms usually blend in well. The 3rd level is a night level and this is even more of an issue there. On top of this there’s quite a bit of blur. If you have issues with eye strain this probably isn’t the game for you.

You can see your stats at any time in the pause menu, if you need groin shot counts on the fly. You can also view briefing info and historical info about each mission. What got me into these games as a kid was the historical things. Newsreel footage, narration, all that, so this is a nice touch.

They added a crosshair that’s displayed at all times but it’s basically just a visual thing. The guns don’t feel like they’re actually pointed at it. Like Frontline, the guns are laughably inaccurate. This feels a lot worse when there’s a crosshair. The bullets stray massively off the path you’d expect, and they can miss at near point blank range. This is pretty annoying, and impacts the gameplay quite a bit.

The enemy AI is just as brain dead as it was in Frontline. They made some ‘improvements’ to try and hide this. The AI is much more active, they’ll go prone while shooting from range, which makes them a lot harder to hit largely due to how hard it is to see them like that, but also due to the extreme inaccuracy of the guns I mentioned earlier. They’ll also perform banzai charges, they’re generally much more effective than Frontline’s AI when in melee range. The banzai charges are not a sign of a good AI but in a way they hide the poor quality. These charges don’t tend to be challenging on their own, they’re only an issue due to the issues with aiming that this game has. Overall it’s clear that small improvements were made but they simply aren’t enough to make the AI more than a passing challenge.

You also have friendly AI partners now, but they’re as brain dead as the enemy AI. They sometimes get kills but usually just act as bullet sponges for the enemies, along with shouting at you to follow them while staring at you and waiting for you to move so they can follow you.

Speaking of the AI, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, the game spawns enemies a lot. If you use a turret, the game will spawn enemies and send them at you. I guess this is meant to be dramatic or cinematic. Sometimes it just spawns enemies in rooms you just cleared. This feels cheap but I think it’s meant to evoke the feeling of being in hostile lands. The enemy lying in wait for you and surprising you. This would be more effective if you could actually see some of these enemies in their hiding spots(which you can in their covered foxholes, if you look close enough), but you just can’t. It’s a cheap way to do this.

By the time Rising Sun came out it’s clear that the game engine was struggling. Some elements, such as the caves seen in many levels, would be at home on the Playstation 1. You can see the seams in the game’s terrain on many occasions.

There are some bugs too, the biggest one I encountered was on mission four. An NPC was meant to lead me into a secret door to a cave, but after opening the door he just stood there and never went in. Since he never went in he couldn’t trigger the next scripted sequence, this would have softlocked the game, but after standing there for a minute or so he just teleported ahead and triggered the next sequence which was likely on a timer. It’s good that the game’s scripting failed gracefully, but it still shouldn’t be failing.

The level design has some improvements, the levels are much more sprawling than they were in Frontline but this isn’t always a good thing. Everything typically looks the same so it’s very easy to get lost and disoriented, especially in the dense jungle levels. There’s also a lot of reliance on turret sections, which at the time weren’t nearly as common as they can be in modern first person shooters. They’re rarely fun and usually out of place. The levels have a lot more verticality, which is nice, but it’s usually badly implemented or just pointless.

On the topic of guns, the non-mounted variety have no real improvement over Frontline. The selection is slightly different. The silenced pistol has been replaced with the Welrod, a single shot gun that’s actually useful due to its ability to one hit kill enemies. It isn’t affected by range at all and it’s probably the most accurate gun in the entire game. The change to the Pacific theater could have given opportunities to explore Japanese guns, there are some LMGs to use, but they’re basically the same as the other guns.

Early on you’re largely limited to the M1 Garand and M1911 pistol, later you get a wider selection but it has a habit of only giving you a Sten MKII, which sounds about the same as a Nerf gun and has an effectiveness to match. Sometimes it’ll grace you with a Thompson that’s largely useless due to the extreme inaccuracy. It takes until the games 5th mission to be given a new gun, the Welrod, and the 6th to be given a shotgun. The selection opens up around that point, but it’s quickly back to a limited set of guns, and never the fun ones.

Rising Sun does pass the shotgun test. It’s a sign of a good shooter that the shotguns are fun to use. The Trench Gun is amazing to use. It’s satisfying to clear through dense jungle or tight corridors with it, and this time you’re given ample ammunition for it. The game’s last mission — A tight aircraft carrier level — would be a great place for a shotgunfest, but instead you get the Sten MKII. Boo.

Ultimately the gameplay is basically the same as Frontline, and that’s not a great thing. Instead of European towns — where you can’t see anything — filled with Nazis who stand in place and shoot, you’re fighting through jungles — where you can’t see anything — filled with Japanese who take cover and shoot but sometimes pull a sword out and charge at you. The trees are not only speaking Japanese, they’re screaming “banzai!” with annoying frequency.

It seems that maybe EA LA got Imperial Japan mixed up with the Imperium of Man and decided to have the Guardsmen affix bayonets at every opportunity, that’s when they aren’t pulling out katanas and charging you with those. This portrayal of the Japanese is sketchy at best. Banzai charges are a real thing, yes, but they were used as a last ditch attempt to turn the tide of a losing battle, not against one guy with a shotgun.

Rising Sun lacks Frontline’s war movie charm, though it tries. The story isn’t great, and ends on a sequel hook for a game that never happened. The characters aren’t that interesting, and character deaths are pulled out far too often to be effective. The animations aren’t even as good, maybe they tweaked the rates because a lot of the animations are the same but the fun animations that I liked so much from Frontline aren’t anywhere to be seen. The music is a downgrade too. It’s hard to explain why but it has far less impact. While there are a few nice moments where that war movie charm shined through, most of it was just a dull slog. If Frontline is the midday Sunday war movie, then Rising Sun is the weird sitcom that follows that you’re half asleep through. It’s not unenjoyable, but it’s not exactly memorable.

While the exploration of the less commonly seen Pacific theater is an interesting change, Medal of Honor: Rising Sun simply doesn’t live up to Frontline. By this point Call of Duty had released to critical acclaim, which certainly didn’t help Rising Sun’s chances. Its failure led to the cancellation of its planned sequel, instead being followed by Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault for PC. While Pacific Assault did perform better, it’s clear that the franchise had been surpassed by Call of Duty, which was rapidly becoming the massive franchise that it is today.

This is the second review in my series covering PS2 Medal of Honor games, next is European Assault. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope you look forward to the next review.

If you like these reviews and want to support me, I have a Patreon and a Ko-Fi. One Playstation 2 game is pretty cheap, and I do take requests, so if you do donate feel free to suggest a game to review in the message. I also have a Discord if you’d just like to talk retro games.