An Open Letter to Nintendo

•May 9, 2014 • 3 Comments

Dear Nintendo,

I have just read that Nintendo of America have confirmed that there will be no same sex relationships in Tomodatchi Life, because apparently the game “never intended to make any form of social commentary”. What your representative seems to have wilfully ignored is that by purposefully discriminating against people in same sex relationships, Nintendo is making a social commentary. The commentary you are making is that you do not feel that gay and lesbian people are important enough to be represented in your games. Either your company is outright homophobic and finds the idea of including homosexual relationships unpleasant, or your company is more concerned about maintaining business from homophobes than they are about equality.

Nintendo are a company which I admire in many ways, but I feel that the ingenuity and diversity represented in your game design is not matched by a forward thinking attitude to representation. As a company so keen to cultivate new user bases and expand the appeal of gaming as a medium, you should want to lead the way in actually representing people who don’t have a visible presence in the industry at the moment. Unlike companies who make their entire profits by selling violent, sexist games to men, Nintendo are a company with a massive female, gay and non traditional fanbase. There are millions of people out there who love Nintendo games and they don’t all fit into one mold, but are incredibly varied.

By stating that “The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation”, you are excluding all of the people who would like to live in a playful, alternative world which isn’t intrinsically homophobic. The idea that you can’t have a light-hearted, fun world and include same sex relationships is one of the most repulsively bigoted things I’ve ever heard, and it’s incredibly sad to me that a company who create games which are nothing like any other games are so firmly conservative, traditional and scared of moving into the modern era and including people who often don’t receive representation in our medium.

The idea that your company is “absolutely not trying to provide social commentary” is a cowardly lie. You are providing a social commentary, and your commentary is that it is still not acceptable in your world for people to be homosexual. That’s a disgusting commentary to be making, and I feel like everyone who works at your company who isn’t an actual homophobe should be ashamed at the attitude the company they work for has taken. I think it’s also indicative of your company’s regular failure to properly advertise your products that you’ve failed to see the incredible level of goodwill and positive publicity which this could have provided you with.

I will probably still buy your game. But you should consider that every time you release an alternative life game which includes only straight people or a Pokemon game where you can only be white, you’re losing out on positive publicity and you’re missing the opportunity to attract positive attention and new customers. Which from the look of your plummeting profits, you could probably use.

A letter to Rockstar

•October 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

This letter contains some GTA V spoilers. Though none you could have guessed if you’ve ever seen a movie.

Dear Rockstar,

Thanks for making GTA V. I know you didn’t have to, even though failing to do so would have been like refusing to accept a million dollar paycheck for writing a story about how cool you are and then watching a team of 200 robots make an puppet show based on it. But still, you could have poorly inserted co-op into or included microtransactions in the campaign or based the campaign on a miserable arsehole who spent the cutscenes between me frantically stabbing people moaning on about how much he no longer wanted to stab people.

There’s actually quite a lot of things that I hated about IV that you’ve genuinely fixed. As well as fixing the aforementioned “playing as a twat” problem, the police now chase you in a way which is a bit less like a psychic cruise missile. They still operate under the jurisdiction of an odd set of laws which seem to only treat arrest as an option if you’re within arms reach and otherwise default to the “wildly shoot at” or “ram with car” schools of policing. That said, I only went to LA for two days and I was distracted by the constant oppressive fear of getting murdered.

You’ve also really improved the characters. I’ve not had someone I wanted to play as in a GTA game since Tommy Vercetti, being as I like to play the game like a cackling psychopath and I feel better about that when you make the player character a cackling psychopath. It’s a bit distracting to go on a date with someone or be invited to play pool with your brain damaged cousin every 45 seconds because his brain damage makes him forget that he just called you but manages to store the spite he felt when you rejected his invitation. I get that you thought I might want to do that but not only did it directly distract me from sniping hot dog vendors but it created a kind of jarring contrast as though I was watching Fight Club but being frequently offered the opportunity to switch into Tyler mode and just go mental.

V also feels like it has some vague idea of what the word “fun” means. Obviously I mean the kind of fun where you run up to the same man every day, leaning against the same pole, wearing the same sunglasses and then you brutally smash his head against that pole, comically knocking his glasses off and laughing hysterically because he doesn’t remember that you did that yesterday and will probably wander out of his house and go and stand there tomorrow. But this game at least feels like it understands how most people actually play GTA, instead of wanting to be a gritty HBO series which I keep inconveniencing by trying to enjoy it.

The “it’s got three characters now” thing actually works as well. Mainly as a way to get back to the city when stranded in the wilderness, but also as a way to increase the credibility of the story. I felt like Niko and CJ stumbled through events guided by other people’s aims and personalities, whereas Trevor returns to the screaming agency of Vercetti (where many things that happen are prompted by him screaming at the people involved that if they don’t happen he’ll eat their eyelids and then shit them onto their unprotected eyeballs), Michael legitimated gets to make choices about what happens and Franklin fills the role of stumbling moron so that we don’t forget what it’s like to do exactly what we’re told like someone who underwent a DIY lobotomy his creepy uncle performed with a pizza cutter. It feels more plausible that this grand story could happen to a few people, which makes the story more engaging.

It’s not like you’ve fixed everything. In your attempts to unfuck some of the things you fucked last time you’ve fucked them too far the other way, to the opposite end of the fucked spectrum where you fucked it back around to “fucked” again. The money is my culprit here, because you’ve addressed the “having too much money and nothing to spend it on” problem by giving us lots for stuff to buy but not giving us any money to buy it with. It’s like we said “thanks for all the Lego, but maybe we could have some instructions?” and you spent five years designing instructions only to forget to put enough bricks in. Though obviously that’s stupid because nobody really wants Lego instructions. I do want enough money for your lovely golf course though, and completing the whole fucking game didn’t give it to me.

Which leads on to the other principle problem, the heists. It’s not a great idea to trumpet a mechanic as your central feature if you’re going to blow your load on it in a completely uneven manner. Whilst we’re at it, it’s not a great idea to have stuff in your tutorial like threatening people into a room by pointing your gun at them and blowing safes if that stuff is going to reappear precisely fuck all times in the rest of the game, with every safe you find taunting you with it’s invincibility. Similarly, it’s a bit disingenuous to open the heists with an exciting jewellery store raid which pays very well if the next heist is going to involve slowly driving a submarine for twenty minutes and getting fucking nothing in return for it. Sneaky and obvious are cool choices for my first heist, but they’re less cool on the fourth heist, especially if the intervening heists also only had these options. The last one is great, has interesting options and pays pretty well, but unfortunately it’s got “THE LAST ONE” written on it in fifty foot high letters, which diminishes the excitement of you having remembered how to do this properly. It’s also funny that Trevor and Michael are happy to tattoo a dick on a guy for being a bit mean to Michael’s idiot daughter, or waterboard a guy for fun, but when they’re repeatedly told “sorry that heist you just spent an hour on earns you less than the cost of a new hat”, neither or them staple the lip of the fucker telling them that to his face. The fact that the heist system is so painfully crying out to be used organically to design your own missions but is never offered for this purpose exposes one of the fundamental flaws in the direction you’ve taken GTA in.

The problem is this: open world games thrive on a sense of freedom. A tightly written, elaborate story with spectacular set pieces probably fits into a linear game better. You have slowly morphed GTA into an open world game with a tightly written, elaborate story with spectacular set pieces. You’re good at both of these things, but even if you can have a really satisfying cup of tea and a really satisfying shit, it might not ever be a good idea to merge those two experiences. It’s weird having total freedom to walk to whatever marker you want, then arriving there and being inserted into an incredibly limited, completely linear challenge. Setting it in the lovely open world environment means that I’m constantly reminded that this world supports the ability to run off and kick pigs, but not whilst you’re doing this scripted task. What’s really weird is that you used to be much better at this, with a silent protagonist driving the story through his actions without being needed to accommodate lengthy musings on the nature of car murder. You also used to allow me to fuck with the missions and find creative ways to complete them, where now you add so many fucking arbitrary “you can’t leave this area/park there/get in that/kill them” that you may as well have built a fucking corridor for that shit to happen in like FFXIII did. Now you’ve gone a bit Hitman, taking the liberating freedom which made us love you and trying to cram it into a spectacular box, even if bits fall off as you’re cramming it in there. Admittedly you’ve taken a slow, one step at a time approach to that instead of Hitmanning fully and throwing out everything that people like about your game in an attempt to make more people like your game.

Wouldn’t it be nice to play an open world crime game where we committed open crimes? You put those heist targets in there and that board system and then you let us choose how to do them from lots more options. In a world of seedy criminals, you could probably drum up a few more choices than “the shit cheap guy” or “the expensive competent guy”, and good job explaining how to make that choice after I’d already done it two of the three times you decided to let me do it. Whilst we’re talking about explaining, whoever told you that writing text descriptions in 8pt font in the corner of the screen whilst I’m driving into oncoming traffic was a great way to impart wisdom was taking the piss out of you. Maybe I might want to read that shit again? But you’ve not bothered to even include your trademark funny but useless manual this time, instead releasing the manual as an app but only for certain phones in a terribly clever satire of what a complete prick would do.

But hold on, I think I’m piecing something together here. Vastly expensive shit, weirdly balanced economy, systems designed with flexibility but then none offered. I know it’s tempting to become complacent when your last game was widely critically regarded as the second coming despite being a miserable bore of a game, but don’t you think people might look back less fondly on this one when they realise its an extended tutorial for your online game? I know you wrapped everyone’s story up (aside from the glaring hole where after robbing the shit out of a government bank they use their newfound wealth to stay in the same place looking the same), but there’s a lot here which feels like I’m playing it with NPCs because you’ve not unlocked the online mode yet.

Which slides us neatly into why I’m writing this. I’m writing to you because I like and respect you and over the last few days you’ve shown me about as much respect as a dog chew toy you gave to a tramp to cram up his arse. Here’s a short statement I wrote for you for free: “After an early spike in users most online games tail off then stabilise, making purchasing enough servers to handle the initial rush a fucking stupid idea, so we didn’t do it“. There, that’s called the fucking truth. Do you know what isn’t the truth? Saying that you “didn’t expect it to be so popular”. Really? So whilst you were stuffing those discs with boxes you were thinking “people probably won’t buy this many, but better safe than sorry”? What about when you were stuffing the billion dollars we gave you in your greedy little pockets, were you thinking “I’m sure all those people won’t want to play the much hyped online mode we’ve spent millions developing”? What about when you were cramming that money down a hooker’s throat when you should have been stress testing your severs? What were you thinking then? Because you don’t seem to have been thinking “this is obviously going to be massive so we’d better try and make it work a bit and avoid getting our fucking balls chewed off by the ravenous jaws of the Internet”. Your thinking was working pretty well until you took the money, but it’s at that point that you seem to have gotten ill from stuffing your face with caviar and truffles and neglected to ensure that the thing you sold us worked. At all.

I expect the launch of a highly anticipated online game to be buggy. For a game to be buggy I have to be able to start and play it, so GTA Online doesn’t qualify as buggy, it’s just broken. “But Rockstar couldn’t anticipate the demand and you’re an idiot if you thought this would work anyway” cries one of the endless yes men apologists that inexplicably surround large companies, making excuses for them. These cunts are the reason that companies think it’s ok to repeatedly shit on us, because when they do some fanboy twat sits in his bedroom writing an passionate forum post about how they didn’t mean to shit on us and you were silly for thinking that they wouldn’t shit on us and if you turn your head up and open your mouth you might taste the chunks of genius poking out of the big shit they’re doing on us. It’s fucking kneeler sheep like them who make companies think that their “loyal fanbase” wants a facefull of shit because they can’t differentiate “loyal fanbase” from “loudmouthed, empty minded vacuum where original thoughts go to die who is actually stupid enough to put a face on a faceless business and think that supporting that business even when they shit on you is a worthwhile use of your precious life”. It’s a common mistake. But those fuckers are your version of Michael Jackson’s medical team, telling you that whatever stupid shit you do is great because they’re so enamoured with you for telling them what to think. They’re the Yoko to your John, the Rick McCuntface to your George Lucas, the whoever told James Cameron he could write and design to your James Cameron. If you listen to the fuckwit apologists you’ll lose touch with reality and end up thinking you should re-release GTA III with Michael awkwardly shoehorned in because it turns out he’s Eightball’s mum. They’d fucking love that, beating off to their fan fiction where all the protagonists meet up for a big circle jerk in New York because they’re so fucking scared of women and places that aren’t America.

I paid you £50 (worth about eighteen million dollars if I’ve got the conversion right) and I expect you to give me the shit you wrote on the box which I gave you the eighteen million dollars for. I don’t want to go to a screaming tabloid or some fucktard consumer advice service designed to reassure idiots after someone scams them out of their life savings in return for a conservatory they never delivered. I want you to admit you fucked up and clearly tell us what you’re doing to fix it, and how you plan to make it up to us. The way I see it, if you’d pulled your diamond encrusted fist out of your arse long enough to make this work you could have had a triumph on your hands. I understand that saying “gee, we thought you millions of guys were buying those GTA discs to throw at the wall or reflect sunlight into the eyes of birds, we never thought you’d want to play the game we sold you” is supposed to magically turn this into a triumph by making us think that we’re just part of such a large in-crowd that nobody could organise it, but the problem with stealing EA’s damage control methods is that you’ll find EA have already run them into the ground, endlessly reusing them in that unique way that EA do to everything because they’re even more scared of new ideas that your average conservative MP.

Give us an acknowledgement that you’ve fucked this up and explain how you’re going to fix it and compensate the people you’ve screwed over. You know, your core audience who line up at midnight to buy your game because they love you. You fucked those people so apologise, or I’m going to be forced to admit that with your pre-order DLC (fuck you), microtransactions (fuck you) and day one server issues because you didn’t realise it would be so popular (FUCK YOU) you’ve actually become the pathetic corporate dick puppets that you’re so eager to parody.

New Grand Theft Auto Online Mission Details

•October 1, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Whilst trying to help out with the jetpack hunt I ripped the code from my GTA V disc and looked through it for anything interesting. In the mission files are a bunch of missions and events for the online mode. I haven’t played the beta and don’t have any information other than what Rockstar have put on the disc, so I’m not promising features or missions, just sharing the stuff I’ve found. That said, here are some notable things, followed by the full mission details.

Interesting stuff:

  • Trevor’s ability from SP is available in multiplayer using bullshark Testosterone Pills
  • You can bet in game money on deathmatches between other players
  • You can place bounties on other players
  • Police will impound your personal vehicle if you are killed nearby it with a wanted rating
  • 1 in 10 times a player steals a car the owner will put a bounty out on them
  • You can drop weapons
  • Drug dealing is available as an activity, player can choose how much to cut drugs
  • Import/Export is back
  • Quite a few worrying events where NPC’s call you
  • Players can assign interactions to a quickplay menu
  • Players can street race alone or do co-operative rally races where the second player navigates
  • You can hire a stripper to come to your apartment
  • Survival/Horde mode
  • Vehicle Deathmatches
  • Territory missions

Additionally players can use their phone to: order airstrikes, order ammo drops, request boat pickups, request gang backup, request helicopter backup, request helicopter pickup, buy car insurance, locate vehicle, hire mercenaries, request a mugging (?), remove blip from the radar for one minute, have personal vehicles delivered, have newly purchased vehicles delivered and remove wanted level.

Full paste of mission/event names and descriptions

NET – Arm Wrestling
Two players can compete in an arm wrestle, stats are kept.

NET – Armored Truck
An armored van is making its rounds around the city. If players chase it down and blow the back doors off, they can steal it’s cargo of cash.

NET – ATM/Banking
No description

NET – Awards
Freemode awards

NET – Betting
Betting is available to players entering a Deathmatch in Freemode. They can bring up a menu while standing in the Deathmatch corona and can bet with their (in-game) cash on any players they think will win the Deathmatch. Each player is given odds based on their stats and these update as cash is staked.

NET – Bounties
Players can place or pursue bounties on other players.

NET – Bullshark Testosterone
Drops a nearby box of pills that can be collected and puts the player into a rage mode where you do double damage and receive half damage.

NET – Car Impound
Police will impound your personal vehicle if you are killed nearby it with a wanted rating. You can steal it back.

NET – Car Steal Bounty
1 in 10 times a player steals a car the owner will put a bounty out on them.

NET – Carwash
No description

NET – Character Creator
Character Creating

NET – Cheating
This includes all player classifications used to define a player as a cheater. Cheat, potential cheat, bad sport, normal, high earner etc.

NET – Cinema
Cinema

NET – Collectables
Script that generates all the Weapons and pickups and handling of the logic.

NET – Cops n Crooks
No description

NET – Corona
The corona’s for launching missions in Freemode

NET – Crate Drop
An ambient script where an AI Cargo Plane flies over random locations and makes a number of crate drops. The crates can contain Cash, XP, Weapons, etc.

NET – Creator Deathmatch
Allows Players to Create Deathmatches that can be played in GTA Online

NET – Creator Missions
Creating missions

NET – Creator Races
Allows Players to Create Races that can be played in GTA Online

NET – Creators
Gives players the ability to create their own missions.

NET – Crew Anims
Interactions the player can play that are set by the crew leader.

NET – Crew Challenges
Beat a time/score set by a rival crew on a playlist

NET – Crew Head to Head
Compete against a rival crew on a playlist

NET – Crew Rank Ups
Accumulating XP while playing in a crew progressively opens up special unlocks for player.

NET – Darts
No description

NET – Deathmatch
Deathmatch mode

NET – Dropping Weapons
Ability to drop weapon in players inventory during game play.

NET – Drug Dealing
Drug dealing in Freemode

NET – Gang Attack
Attack gang hideouts

NET – Garages and Property
Functionality for player owned garages and properties in MP.

NET – Golf
No description

NET – GTA Online
Freemode

NET – GTA Online Intro
Freemode intro

NET – GTA Online Mission Flow
Freemode Mission Flow

NET – GTA Race
A team or Solo race mode, allows players to use weapons and exit vehicles.

NET – Heists
Missions available to trigger inside a player’s Apartment.

NET – Heli Gun Camera
No description

NET – Hold Ups
Holding up shops in Freemode

NET – Import/Export
Deliver cars on the car list to the garage at the docks.

NET – Impromptu Race
Allows players to set up a race to point from and to any location.

NET – In-car Anims
Interactions the player can play in a vehicle.

NET – Interactions Menu
No description

NET – Internet
No description

NET – Invites / Joblist
No description

NET – Joyrider
No description

NET – Kill Strip
kill strip

NET – Leaderboards
Leaderboards in Freemode

NET – Lester Kill Target
Lester phones the player if they haven’t done anything for a while and asks the player to kill an NPC.

NET – Missions
Allows you to play the missions from the data supplied by the mission creation tool.

NET – Multiplayer TV
No description

NET – NPC Invites
Lamar will send you an invite to a rank Race/DM/Survival/Base Jump if you haven’t done anything for a while.

NET – NPC Phonecalls
Player receives phonecalls from NPCs to remind them about Jobs and Activites.

NET – One on One Deathmatch
No description

NET – Online Menu
Multiplayer Mission Menu

NET – Overheads
No description

NET – Parachuting
Multiplayer Parachute race in Freemode

NET – Personal Vehicle
Players vehicle that can be modified and saved/stored in garage for use over multiple sessions.

NET – Phonecall – Airstrike
Character – Merryweather. Players can call for a plane to drop missiles on your location.

NET – Phonecall – Ammo Drop
Character – Merryweather. Players can call and have ammo dropped at their location.

NET – Phonecall – Boat Pickup
Character – Merryweather. Player can call and get picked up by a boat.

NET – Phonecall – Gang Backup
Character – Lamar. Players can call for gang members to come and protect them for 10 minutes

NET – Phonecall – Heli Backup
Helicopter attacks any hostiles.

NET – Phonecall – Heli Pickup
Character – Merryweather. Players can call to get picked up by a Heli

NET – Phonecall – Insurance
Car insurance in MP

NET – Phonecall – Locate Vehicle
Lester locates a vehicle for the player and blips it on the map. If used, they have a set amount of in-game time to return it.

NET – Phonecall – Mercenaries
Character – Merryweather. Player can call and Merryweather will send 4 Mercenaries in 2 cars to attack another player.

NET – Phonecall – Mugger
Player steals money from another player

NET – Phonecall – Off The Radar
Character – Lester. Players can call and get their blip hidden for 1 minute.

NET – Phonecall – Pegasus
Purchase a special vehicle online then call Pegasus Delivery to deliver it to the nearest suitable ambient vehicle spawn point.

NET – Phonecall – Personal Vehicle Drop Off
Player can call and have vehicles dropped at their location.

NET – Phonecall – Remove Wanted Level
Character – Lester. Players can call and get their wanted level removed.

NET – Phonecall – Request Job
Phone up Lester and he’ll send you an invite to a job (soon to be one of his contact missions)

NET – Player Ammo Inventory
Player Ammo Inventory

NET – Player to Player Phone Calls
Calling other players in game.

NET – Playlists
Freemode playlist controller

NET – Playstation Store
No description

NET – Prostitutes
The player may approach a prostitute after 8pm and buy various services.

NET – Prostitution
Prostitution

NET – Quick Job App
No description

NET – Quick Play Anims
Interactions the player can play assigned to the quickplay button.

NET – Race Mode
The standard race mode, solo player only.

NET – Rally Race
A Team race mode, one person drives while the other navigates.

NET – Respawning
Where the player respawns after death in freemode.

NET – Safehouse Activities
Multiplayer safehouse activities – take a shower, smoke, get drunk, etc.

NET – SC Leaderboards
Social Club Leader boards

NET – SCTV
Spectator Cam for multiplayer

NET – Shooting Range
Shooting Range Jobs for one or two players. Leaderboards are only affected by matches with two players.

NET – Shops
Shops in multiplayer

NET – Shops Snacks/Smokes
No description

NET – SkyCam
No description

NET – Social Feed
No description

NET – Stats
Stats in GTA Online.

NET – Strip Club
Stripclub in multiplayer

NET – Strippers in Apartment
No description

NET – Stunt Jumps
Stunt Jumps in Freemode

NET – Survival
Survival

NET – Taxi
Taxis in freemode

NET – Team Deathmatch
No description

NET – Telescope
No description

NET – Tennis
Two players play tennis for a duration of games or sets in a variety of locations around Los Santos.

NET – Timers HUD
No description

NET – Transition HUD
No description

NET – Transitions
When changing gamemode transition. Singleplayer to Freemode to creators triumvirate. Once the player is on the ground in their session that’s this over and onto the next section.

NET – Transitions – Corona
The transitions in coronas after the invite screen and exiting the corona

NET – Unlocks
Unlocks for Freemode.

NET – Vehicle Controller
Cntrols the spawning of vehicles over the map

NET – Vehicle Deathmatch
Vehicle Deathmatches

NET – Vending Machines
Player buy drinks from vending machines in MP which restore health.

NET – Wardrobe
No description

NET- Military Base
No description

FM – Triathalon
Freemode: Players swim, cycle and run with other criminals

CnC – Airport Takeover
Take control of the country airport.

CnC – Army Snipe (Assassination)
The player has to snipe an army guy in the air traffic control tower

CnC – Arrest
Cop Mission: Arrest another player or NPC.

CnC – Arresting System
The arresting system in CnC

CnC – Assassination
One player is told to kill another player (can be copss, criminals, or same team)

CnC – Attack Boat
The crooks take a dinghy and use it to sneak up on the boat at night. They then have to kill all the enemies on the boat. The crooks must kill all of the enemies on the boat and then escape in the dinghy. The Cops respond to the mission in helicopters. The mission takes place at night and the cops use their spotlights to located the crooks in the water.

CnC – Awards
No description

CnC – Blow Up Strip Club
Players have to pick up a car from a strip club, fit a bomb to it and return it to the strip club. The bomb will be on a timer.

CnC – Boss Meet
Crooks drive a Lieutenant to a meet at the industrial compound and protect the area from rival gangs as the meeting takes place. They have to defend for a set time with a limited number of re-spawns then escort the Lieutenant, alive, back to the gang house. Opens at Rank 15 and is triggered by a Contact Visit

CnC – Call Cab
Call Cab To Safehouse

CnC – Car Blow Up
Get car blipped on map. Take to the Lost Mechanic to fit bomb and take it back to the original location. Snitch knows and calls cops if snitch level high enough. you will be told in dialogue that you have to make sure the car owner is dead. Once the car is dropped, the player shgould wait somewhere and watch the car blow. The owner of the car will walk to the car between 1 & 2 minutes after the car is delivered, enter it and it will blow. Car has to be delivered in the same condition it was taken, in the same location and at the same orientation.

CnC – Cash at Safehouse
Most of the cash goes to your gang kitty. Cash gets picked up every day but is in your safehouse and stealable until then. Cash gets saved in the cloud – per individual, per session, per clan (if applicable) and per world gang (cop,vagos, lost)

CnC – Character Creator
No description

CnC – Chopping Bikes
ON HOLD

CnC – Coke Chase
Players have to chase two NPCs on bikes to get items from them. They will be travelling between two points in the countryside. Players have to chase two NPCs on bikes to get items from them. They will be travelling between two points in the countryside.

CnC – Coke Grab
Criminal Mission: Cops and crooks compete to steal coke from an A.I. vehicle and take back to base.

CnC – Convoy Steal
Convoy going form Army Base to the Docks. Players have to steal a bit of kit from a flatbed truck.

CnC – Cop Armoury
Armoury in cop station where cops replenish ammo and pick up new unlocked weapons.

CnC – Cop Bad Stat
Bad Cop Stat – if cop is bad enough get lowly jobs to do unti their bad cop stat is reduced. Stat is effected by killing civillians, crooks under wanted level 4, smashing up their cop car etc.

CnC – Cop Locker Room
Allows the player to change their current outfit.

CnC – Cop Muster Room
The room where the cops start in CnC.

CnC – Cop Partner Mode
No description

CnC – Cop Scanning
Police vehicle scanner that automatically scans license plates for stolen vehicles.

CnC – Cop Territory
Cops are put onto the territory take over missions, they get no choice whether to take them or not.

CnC – Cop Welcome
Cop players are welcomed into the game and area taught how to arrest criminals and how to use the police phone and call for back up.

CnC – Country Bank Heist
Criminal Heist: Rob rural bank wearing ballistic armour and get money to your gang house.

CnC – Crook Welcome
Criminal Mission: Criminals are welcomed into the game and are taught how to mug people.

CnC – Defend Safe House
Generic mission that can be triggered by anyone to attack a gang safe house.

CnC – Delivery
Cop Oddjob: Told to go get items and take them to station.

CnC – Dispose of Vehicle
Criminal Mission: Dispose of vehicle, if cops spot you, get a wanted level.

CnC – Download Minigame
The player has to search computer folders to find and download the required file based on the information given to them.

CnC – Drop in the Ocean
Criminal Mission: AI Plane drops packages in ocean and cops and crooks have to compete to get them back to base.

CnC – Drop Off Hooker
Blips will appear in player’s territories. Player has to go and pick up a prostitute and drop her off somewhere.

CnC – Drug Dealing
Crim Ambient: Player can approach dealers to deal in drugs. Also activates the tables in each safehouse so the players can cut their stash.

CnC – Escort Crook Boss
Criminal Mission: Crooks defend AI boss on tour ending back at gang base, cops try to kill him.

CnC – Farmhouse Raid
Criminal Mission: Criminals have to hold the farmhouse until the 4th member of their team arrives with a vehicle for them to escape in.

CnC – Feed
The ticker feed for CnC

CnC – FIB Grab
Criminal Heist: Abseil down FIB tower, break in, download data, escape.

CnC – FIB Heist
Steal key card from FIB agent, break into the FIB building. Download data, escape the building, and deliver data to the drop off location.

CnC – Fight Gangmate
Two team mates have to have a fist fight with each other as part of the initiation.

CnC – Funeral
Gang members must escort a Lieutenant’s hearse through town. Rival gang members have to get in the hearse and destory it.

CnC – Gang Love/Hate
Storing how much 1 gang hates another. Each player will have stat between 1 and 100.

CnC – Get/Deliver Vehicle
Generic Get Car/Vehicle for any character. Criminals are told to pickup and deliver a truck. Once crims have picked up vehicle cops are invited to join mission. They are told to get vehicle back to their own dropoff.

CnC – Go Get
Two Criminal gang compete to retrieve an item located at one of the rural airports and return it to their gang house.

CnC – GTA Race
Multi team race, weapons are allowed

CnC – Heist Plan Board
No description

CnC – Hitchhiker
On way back from mission in countryside player is told to pickup a hitchhiker.

CnC – Hold Up
Criminal Oddjob: Criminal hold up AI shops

CnC – Hostage Steal
Players have to recover a hostage being transferred between NPC gangs.

CnC – Hud
HUD used to enter multiplayer

CnC – Import/Export
Get cars from a list in garage and take them to the mechanic, will use UV light to show car list on the wall of the garage

CnC – Informant Heli Pickup
Cop Mission: Cops to find and protect A.I. informant until he is on transport (arrives 5 mins after they reach him.)

CnC – Mayhem
Players have to go to a town in the countryside and cause damage to property and vehicles.

CnC – Mechanic
No description

CnC – Mission Flow
No description

CnC – Money at Territories
Money is left at territories and players can go pick it up. 24 hours after a territory has been taken over (and every 24 hours after that if it remains uncontested) a money pickup will appear there. The team who owns the territory will be informed of this. The snitch could also tell the other teams if they have a high enough stat. The player who gets there first gets the money.

CnC – Ornate Bank Heist
Criminal Heist: Get behind the counter of the bank, hack into the vault, steal the money and take it to the drop off location.

CnC – Parachutes
Working Parachutes in multiplayer

CnC – Parley
Two gangs told to take mediator to location, Discussion gets heated and shots fired – both dead.

CnC – Patrol
Cop oddjob: Cops get assigned an area to patrol, they get XP for patroling in the correct area.

CnC – Plane Drop
Criminal Mission: Steal planes guarded by AI. Fly to drop off location and release cargo. Race other players to the final destination.

CnC – Police Loud Hailer
police player can use a loud hailer to speak to all players in game

CnC – Police Station Bust Out
Go to Police Station. Blow Hole in cell. Escpate with prisoner.

CnC – Prison Break
Criminals have to break their boss out of prison and get him back to their gang house.

CnC – Prison Van Rescue
When cops busy – Criminals intercept a noose van driven by NPC’s and free the gang member then take him back to the gang house.

CnC – Prisoner Transport
Cop Mission – Cops pick up prisoners from the prison in a bus and must transport them to a location.

CnC – Race
Criminal Oddjob: Illegal street race.

CnC – Safe Cracking
A safe cracking mini-game.

CnC – Safehouse Clean-up
Gang lieutenant asks the player to clean up cop/opposing gang member cars from the safe house and dispose of them

CnC – Safehouse Peds
Peds at the gangs safehouses

CnC – Safehouse Strippers/Shagging
No description

CnC – Safehouse Wardrobe
Players wardrobe in their safehouses

CnC – Security Van
Criminal Oddjob: Rob an ambient security van

CnC – Shipment Steal
Criminal Mission: Break into storage depot and steal target trucks and take them to a drop off location.

CnC – Showroom
Criminal Mission: Steal vehicles from a car showroom and deliver them to your gang contact. Cops must arrest or kill the crooks involved.

CnC – Sneak in to Military Base
Vagos players have to sneak in to the military base at night and steal a helicopter from the base.

CnC – Snitch
Cop Oddjob: Ability to bribe the snitch that works on your patch. Go up to him offer drugs (if you have any), cash and this will increase his ‘like’ stat. If he likes you 50% he will tell you when another gang is dealing in your area. Same for cops but cops can only give cash.

CnC – Spawning System
The character spawning system for multiplayer

CnC – Spectator Cam
No description

CnC – Steal Artefact From Base
Vagos have to steal an artefact from the base. Cops have to secure it and bring it to the airport. Lost try to ambush them.

CnC – Steal Bikes
Steal the four bikes and return them to your garage.

CnC – Steal Cop Vehicle
Criminal Mission: Crims to intercept noose van on way to police HQ & get it back to base

CnC – Surveillance Chopper
No description

CnC – Territory Takeover
Players can fight to take over territory in the game, this will produce a revenue stream for them.

CnC – Tow Truck
Cop Oddjob: Cops use tow truck to tow illegal vehicles to impound lot

CnC – TV
Players can watch TV together

CnC – VIP Tour
Cop Mission: Escort a VIP’s car to a random landmark in the city then back to their hotel.

CnC – Weapons Deal Sting
Cop Mission: Carry out a sting on a hostage exchange, recover the hostage and take him to the police station.

CnC – Witness To Court
Cops escort an AI witness from their safehouse to court, crooks attempt to kill the witness. Cops drive the A.I. ped around

Thinking about Spoilers (no spoilers)

•June 13, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Spoilers are a tough subject. It’s next to impossible to even discuss the concept without accidentally ruining something for someone else and people get insanely pissy about having things “spoiled” for them. Every time someone gets into a debate about this it goes the same way. We start of on the internet, and someone is talking about something, let’s say Game of Thrones. So, a bunch of nerds are chatting online about the latest episode of Game of Thrones and about what might happen next in the story and someone arrives in the discussion and is all “Why don’t you guys read the books?”. So far, nobody is mental. You’ve got people who have made the decision, for whatever reason, to watch a TV show instead of reading the books it’s based upon and you’ve got a guy asking them why they’ve made that choice.

Unfortunately, this is where everyone turns into a total dick. Quite often, this type of question will be greeted by outright hostility, with the people who were just talking about the TV show exploding at the new guy, accusing him of getting ready to follow up on his question by ruining the next three books for them. At this point, you’ll also get people accusing him of being a sad, neckbearded freak who reads fantasy novels because he’s such a hopeless loser (because watching a fantasy TV show based on fantasy books and then talking about it online is cool, but reading those books is sad). This leaves the new guy in a tough place, and here we discover how much of a dick he is.

If he’s a nice guy then there’s an apology, followed by no more discussion ever of the forbidden material. However, if he’s the type of guy to go on a Game of Thrones messageboard he’s already at a certain degree of nerdiness. Nerdiness is actually the number one source of tribalistic hatred, historically dividing the nerds against themselves, so that instead of one big group of Star Trek fans they start a small war between TNG and TOS fans and they’re all too busy arguing to actually build that utopian future which Roddenberry envisaged. So being a nerd, the new guy doesn’t apologise, he enters one of two stances. Either he decides to try to explain to the other nerd that what he did wasn’t meant to be upsetting and gently suggests to them that he didn’t spoil anything and that maybe they’re being a bit sensitive, or he goes nuclear and ruins the entire thing for them all just to fucking spite them.

Oddly, both of those two responses make this whole thing worse. The only way to get out without pissing anyone off or ruining anything for anyone is to apologise and stop. Although you’ll obviously ruin things if you decide to be a cunt and ruin things for people, you’ll do the exact same thing if you try to engage in a discussion about spoilers, because it’s impossible to be completely sensitive to the stuff other people might not know. It’s easy to forget that not everybody got the same type of education you did, especially online. If you’re American you read The Great Gatsby at school, and it’s so important in your culture that the idea of “ruining” it by talking about the plot is insane to you. The thing is, as an English guy, the only reason I’ve read Gatsby is because I wanted to. We don’t read it at school and even my most intelligent friends probably haven’t read it because it’s just not a big deal in the UK. If my mum hadn’t studies American Literature I might never have heard of it.

A similar example is Romeo and Juliet. Every English kid knows what happens in that story because we all read it at school and our culture is massively reverent of Shakespeare. From my perspective it’s impossible to imagine not knowing about it, and yet there are sure to be tonnes of kids in this country who missed that bit of school and whose parent didn’t read and who don’t follow the types of media which revere Shakespeare. That’s in my country, and doesn’t even begin to account for the legions of people around the world who come from countries that don’t fucking love his plays so much that they try to force all their kids to read them. It’s very easy to forget that the life you’ve lived isn’t even remotely representative of other people. You live a life and you assume that life is like that, because most of the people you meet are like that. Even if you travel, you see a fleeting glimpse of another place before you end up back where you started. Maybe you move wholesale to another country? Congratulations, you’ve now properly experienced two of the endless number of completely different cultures which make up our world.

That’s the main problem. You might not be going “you guys think that’s bad, later on Sam gets brutally raped to death by a dragon!” but if you talk about spoilers you’re always going to do it from your personal perspective and eventually you’ll make what you think is a valid point, using an example so obvious that you can’t believe anyone would not know it. That’s when it gets messy. You prove your point by saying “the book is 15 years old, that’s like not knowing that Jesus dies in the Bible!” and the guy concedes, then in what should be your moment of glory you realise that you’ve managed to upset the only person in the world who didn’t know that Jesus died but was looking forward to reading that Bible which everyone keeps talking about. And god, he’s even more pissed off at you because the last place he expected to have that spoiled for him was when he was reading about Game of Thrones.

I once got into a conversation with a guy about twist endings. I made reference to the end of Planet of the Apes, and when he seemed like he wasn’t 100% sure I described the final scene. He then informed me that he’d never seen the movie and that I’d ruined it for him, which I thought was mental because who doesn’t know how Planet of the Apes ends? Even if you’ve not seen it, surely you’ve seen the ending referenced on TV or in documentaries or you’ve seen that episode of the Simpsons. As it turned out though, whilst he’d seen that scene referenced, he didn’t have any idea that it was the end of that movie. As far as he was concerned there was a movie about a monkey planet and a famous movie that ended with a guy screaming at the statue of liberty on a beach, but he had no idea that these were the same movie, and I’d ruined that for him.

Anyway, I’ve been on both sides of this (though I’ve not felt like anything was “spoiled” for me for years), and I’ve learned through experience that the best thing to say is absolutely fuck all. The second you find yourself writing about something you watched on TV take a second to think if anyone at all who hasn’t seen it might possibly read this. If the answer is yes, step away from the keyboard and go do something vaguely worthwhile with that time. If people start talking about spoilers and you feel like getting involved at all, step away from the keyboard and do something real. If you accidentally spoil something for someone and they call you a cunt and ask you if you’re inbred and you’re frothing at the mouth as you violently hammer out your reply; stop there. Walk the fuck away from that machine and go outside. Once your eyes have adapted to the glare then go somewhere. Go anywhere and I guarantee you along the way or while you’re there you’ll meet someone who’s a total dick, much worse than the person you were arguing with online. They might shove in front of you or cut you off in your car or pick up a copy of the Daily Mail, but whatever they do you need to remember just how much you wanted to shout back at that person online. Think about the type of language you were planning to use. Now imagine yourself yelling with that much anger at the dick who just annoyed you. You’d feel stupid right? And you’d be right to be feel that way, because yelling that much at someone for anything less than a very serious offense against you is stupid.

Also, remember that no matter how angry and rude you might be, the internet is a black hole which sucks up all the negativity, bile and hatred in the world and spits it back, as hard as it can, right in your face. However annoyed you may be by people online, there are a lot of people online who are a shitload angrier than you about what they perceive as having things spoiled for them. Much like any online discussion, you’re not breaking new ground. Every argument on both sides of this has been gone over endlessly until you’re just puppets spouting the same bullshit some other guy was writing five years ago. Someone ruined Game of Thrones for someone and five years ago someone ruined Lost for someone. We’ve done all of this already, however insightful you might think your opinion is. Again, go outside.

I read spoilers. Click right on the fuckers and ruin shit for myself. I read manga spoilers on a Tuesday because I can’t wait a day to see the actual chapter. I read the spoilers for the finale of Lost which were basically a synopsis of the whole episode. I went into Avengers knowing that Thanos was the post credit Easter Egg. For me, and to my mind, that made no difference, the Lost finale still sucked and Avengers was still amazing. I’m interested in the journey, not the destination and if knowing ruined things that badly I’d never have watched or read anything twice. People generally tell me that I’m ruining things for myself by doing this (as an aside, fuck you! I’ll ruin whatever I want for myself and I’ll not give a fuck what you think about it while I’m doing it), because if I read spoilers I’m not experiencing the art as the creator intended. That moment of beautiful comprehension when the twist is revealed or whatever is something I’m apparently robbing myself of. But as far as I’m concerned, I had that moment. I had it when I got to that line in the spoiler I was reading, and it blew my mind. I saw the description and it generally made me ten times more hyped to see the real thing, and never once did I read a spoiler and not watch or read the actual thing. Never, and I say that with confidence knowing that the only spoilers I ever read were for things I fucking loved and couldn’t wait to watch. That creator made me seek out the spoilers by making something so good I literally couldn’t wait for it.

I never normally write that I spoiler things for myself online because the response is usually so violent and acerbic that I can’t handle it. Those fuckers should’ve gone outside instead of spending that time writing me a long post about why I shouldn’t read spoilers, because I sure as fuck didn’t read what they wrote.

Xbox One: My Thoughts

•May 27, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Note: I initially wrote this immediately after the Xbox One conference but didn’t get around to editing and posting it until now.

So, a new Xbox. As Captain Doritos informed everyone watching on GTTV last night, this is an event that only occurs twice per decade, so it’s a big deal. Before I start I can’t help wondering, who was watching this? Everyone I know who saw it was a games nerd who I either know in real life or know through the internet. I’d like to see figures for how many people watched it through their Xbox 360 and compare that to what types of user they were, if they use their Xbox mainly for games and that type of thing. As I said, everyone I know who was watching was a gaming nerd, but the presentation we got shown didn’t seem like it was aimed at gamers at all. In fact, it seemed like they didn’t want people to think of it as a games console at all, but a media hub which you could watch TV and do all your web browsing through. Were their audience looking for that though?

It’s too early to tell what the public reaction to these things will be, as any information available now is largely anecdotal. For me personally, it looks like the reaction has been massively negative but that is a very subjective view. The reactions I witnessed were on forums and twitter and were entirely spoken by the kind of people I follow on twitter and the type of people who go onto gaming forums. I generally like to follow people like Ian Bogost and Anna Anthropy, who offer insightful commentary on games as a medium and aren’t necessarily very happy with the way the games industry behaves. I’d bet if I followed Don Mattrick and IGN and the official Call of Duty feed that my twitter would have looked hugely positive. Only one person I know on Facebook mentioned it in a positive way.

The announcement was an hour long. They talked about using the Xbox One to watch TV for the first 30 minutes, then showed EA sports games, Forza and a brief tease of a new Remedy game, then ten more minutes of TV and finally ten minutes of the new CoD game. In an hour presentation to reveal their new games console they talked about games for 20 minutes and announced 7 games, and they’re pretty much the most boring, uninspiring list I can imagine (4 EA sports games, Forza, Cod and the Remedy thing). I understand that three of these franchises account for about 90% of the games that sell each year. I get that Microsoft have data that shows that people use their Xboxes to watch TV more than to play games. This machine isn’t a games console though. It might be the new Xbox, but it’s not a games machine, it’s a media hub. Microsoft have actually been trying to create a media hub for the living room for the past ten years. Their top executives wanted to get directly involved in both the Xbox and 360 launches and turn those things into media boxes, but the people running the entertainment division at those points sensibly informed the MS top brass that to get these things into homes they were relying on the hardcore gamers to lead the uptake.

The message last night was that Microsoft thinks that job is done. In their eyes “Xbox” isn’t a gaming brand anymore, it’s a media brand. Many people have Xboxes and they use them for many things, but how many people bought them for other things. Sure it might be convenient to watch Netflix or use Sky Go through your Xbox, but did you buy it for that? I think for a lot of people, the Xbox is a machine they already have hooked up to their TV because they use it for gaming, so it makes sense to also use it to watch movies or whatever, but I don’t believe there are a large base of people who bought it for that. They bought it for games, or in a lot of cases someone they live with bought it for games and now they use it for watching things. If your flatmate has a 360 hooked up to the TV because they play a lot of CoD and you use it to watch Breaking Bad, is an indelible connection forged in your head between Microsoft Xbox and the viewing of digital media?

Microsoft talked a lot about TV. They’re getting Spielberg to produce a Halo TV series, which had the effect of making me feel really sad. I’m not saying the series will be shit, though Spielberg as producer isn’t the seal of quality it might initially sound like. What is sad is that the original Xbox launched with Halo, a ground breaking FPS which introduced tonnes of amazing innovations which have hugely influenced console games over the last ten years. The 360 launched without a Halo game, but got Halo 3 not long after launch. Halo 3 has zero gameplay innovation, but iterated massively upon the online experience and made the connectivity the center of the experience. The One launches with a Halo branded TV series. That’s it, right there, from hardcore game to mainstream game to branded shit, you have the evolution of the Xbox brand in a nutshell.

Microsoft made sure that they mentioned that they have 15 exclusive games coming from Microsoft studios in the first year, 8 of which are new IP. This sounds great, and it’s very reassuring on paper, but their studios don’t make games for the same audience they used to. When Microsoft bought Rare they were a studio that made traditional games, but over the intervening years they’ve become a studio which makes Kinect games. Remedy, who created the Max Payne franchise and made Alan Wake, have been given what appears to be a TV show/game hybrid. It’s not clear how this will work yet, whether it will be like Defiance where the TV show and game run simultaneously and effect each other, or if it will be like Night Trap where you choose which piece of FMV to watch next. They demonstrated it with a brief, live action clip of a kid talking to her mum, followed by a CGI render of a ship hitting a bridge. Forza and EA’s stuff was all clearly target renders, and the realtime demonstration of CoD Ghosts was such a tiny improvement over the current gen that they had to show it side by side with MW3 to try and make it visible that there was any improvement at all.

I care very little for graphical improvement, especially when it’s just being used to render boring shit like soldiers and cars, but don’t the target audience for this type of thing care? Surely the type of people who buy CoD and FIFA every year want them to look nicer if they’re going to shell out a big chunk of cash for a new machine? And so we come to the other major problem I had with last night, the stuff that they didn’t say. The Microsoft executives did a lot of press afterwards where they answered a lot of questions, and gave out a lot of major info which wasn’t in the conference, but even then there’s stuff missing.

What didn’t we see? No price, no actual release date, no mention of backwards compatibility, no actual specs for the machine, no confirmation of an always online requirement, no comment on pre-owned games. After the baffling complaining which idiots did online about Sony not showing a plastic box, Microsoft showed us their plastic box straight away and seemed to think that would be enough. The fact that their target renders didn’t look as impressive as the realtime gameplay Sony showed in February suggests that the machine is less powerful than PS4, but we can’t be sure. Even worse they commented on a lot of this stuff to press afterwards and it was almost all bad news. It needs to be connected to the internet at least once every 24 hours to do anything. All games are tied to your Xbox Live account and it appears that they can’t be resold. It doesn’t play 360 games, not even the little XBLA games. These are things I found out from reading interviews with Microsoft after they had me watch their hour long conference.

The other major mistake from my perspective, and the perspective of quite a lot of people in the world who don’t live in America, was how relentlessly American the whole thing was. There was no mention of whether any of the TV stuff they were doing would work anywhere else in the world, until after the event when one of them told the press that none of it will work anywhere outside of the US at launch. Why would they broadcast a reveal to the whole world if its content is only applicable to American residents? One mention or slide of their international TV partners would have resolved this, but they didn’t even have the balls to address this until after the conference was over. How many international residents saw that TV stuff and thought it was cool? How disappointed will they be when they find out that none of that will work for them? What if they don’t discover that until they’ve bought the box?

It’s an odd device aimed at an unspecified audience. I know there are a lot of people who love FIFA/Madden and CoD and I’m sure there are lots of them who only play those games, but does that mean that they’re the only games you need? This generation was already pretty much the same whether you bought a 360 or a PS3, the majority of the great or popular games were available on both. There’s no reason to think that it won’t stay this way, so do people want a games machine or a media hub to play CoD and sports on? I already watch TV and I’ve very rarely considered it to be something which I need to have made easier. The endless corporate buzzwording and saying things like “you can have a relationship with your TV” doesn’t help either. It feels to me like they’re trying to solve a lot of problems that don’t exist and force me to replace devices which already work fine. It wouldn’t even matter if they’d had some new games to show me.

PC vs Mac: A long story about my life

•May 9, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I was always annoyed by Apple, and their products and the people who bought and used their products. The original iMac came out not long after my family got our first PC. I was just beginning to become enthralled by the possibility of playing and creating games on my PC, and even more so by the futuristic modular hardware that allowed this to happen. The iMac was Steve Jobs’ first big product at Apple after they re-hired him. He’d been fired several years before for making one mistake, as is the style in American business, so he’d taken some time to invest some of his money in various technology companies (including Pixar and NeXT).

He returned to Apple with the task of hauling them out of the open grave they’d dug for themselves since his departure. I remember seeing news coverage of the iMac and reading about it in a newspaper, and I didn’t like it from the beginning. I was too young to understand what made me uneasy about this pretty, all in one home computer but I was displeased that all parts, upgrades and maintenance were done through Apple, and that they wouldn’t let you upgrade or fix it yourself. I also remember being aware that for the level of hardware inside it was very expensive. I may have been too young to understand why I didn’t like it, but Apple presented the iMac as a computer for everyone. It was attractive, compact, convenient, small, efficient and easy to use and that aimed it squarely at the regular person on the street. The only problem for the regular people wanting an iMac was that it was massively, prohibitively expensive.

It’s odd that Apple’s image and their user base are largely centered around art, design, music and fashion. Their products are used by creative people and in recent years have been heavily adopted by large swathes of the general public. They’re enjoyed and promoted by a lot of people who you wouldn’t necessarily immediately associate with the word “capitalism”. Apple, are the absolute epitome of Western corporate capitalism. Never has there been a more successful machine built for dragging every penny out of every person that it can. They’re like a giant cash black hole, sucking in anything it can. The key is, that they make you feel like they’ve done it all for you. They present you with a product which is efficient, easy to use, beautiful and requires very little maintenance. Sure, you might have to pay out a little more initially, but then it will work easily and you’ll never get a virus ever. I’m going to take a moment for a brief aside here.

The “Apple computers don’t get viruses” myth

This has been the go-to line for people explaining why you should buy a Mac instead of a PC in flawless moron for years. Sure you could pay less and get a PC with much wider functionality which you’re also allowed to modify, fix and upgrade, but Apple computers don’t get any viruses. There’s three basic points to cover here:

1. If you’re so scared of viruses and they’ve had such a massive direct impact on your life that you’re basing a massive computer purchase on avoiding them, why haven’t you taken 5 minutes to learn how to avoid getting viruses? Google it. You know how much time I spend thinking about viruses? None. I learned how to avoid getting viruses 15 years ago and that ten minutes of research is still working for me.

2. Apple computers do, in fact, get viruses. They’re just extremely rare, which leads on to point 3.

3. There’s a reason nobody is programming viruses that target OSX. It’s because nobody important is using a Mac (or at least nobody important is using a Mac for their important business). Viruses either steal or destroy. If you’re going to destroy someone’s computer, chances are you want it to be someone important, so they’ve got something worth destroying. If you’re going to steal from someone, chances are you want it to be someone important, so they’ve got something worth stealing. The vast majority of businesses in the western world run entirely on Windows based systems, which is why all the viruses are targeted at them.

Anyway, Apple offers you this sweet deal with all that good stuff and you pay a little extra for it. Fair enough right? The beauty is, that in order to give you this perfect, efficient experience, they’ve taken full control of the machine. They build every one of them, and you’re not allowed to open it or fix it and you can only buy extra bits from them. As the years went on, Apple also started to sell all their software only through their own store, taking complete control and ensuring full compatibility, and the only price to the consumer was that a little bit of their money always went to Apple when they did anything with their Apple machine.

Here’s the thing about giving one company total control of everything you do with your computer, it creates a monopoly in that smaller market. On the PC, Microsoft got a bit of money from lots of PC users, but they didn’t own the market. Their software unified a lot of disparate and different pieces of hardware, but PC’s also ran Linux and a large quantity of the market stole Windows and didn’t pay Microsoft. Anyone could build a PC and run Windows on it and anybody could build an application for Windows or Linux and distribute it easily to many other PC users. The market was hugely fractured and so a lot of people made money from it and it grew exponentially. In the Mac marketplace, most of this stuff went only through Apple. They always kept earning money and they needed to sell a lot less Macs in order to make a profit on them.

My childhood self didn’t understand why it didn’t like the look of the iMac, but I didn’t trust it one bit. Actually, what they were doing then wasn’t particularly evil. The Mac had a small corner of the marketplace, mostly among artists and musicians. Apple didn’t need to sell as many to break even because they made a much larger profit on each one with their awesome powers of super capitalism, and the proto hipsters they sold their stuff through never suspected that friendly, arty Steve Jobs, their best buddy, might secretly be Capitalism Man by night. This allowed them to maintain their niche and continue to cater to a small band of loyal enthusiasts.

I swore to myself I’d never buy into that overpriced bullshit and went about learning about how PC’s worked. I messed with hardware and software, upgraded and fixed problems. I understand that in a lot of ways using a PC didn’t used to be a user friendly activity, but the riddle of learning to work a PC and the power of being able to control and fix and use one was always the most exciting thing about them for me. The years passed and Apple launched the iPod. I remember seeing one and thinking it was pretty cool, but being put off again by the price. That lingering doubt in my mind wouldn’t go away and I couldn’t help feel that somewhere inside they were right wing bastards, the kind of people my parents carefully taught me to despise. I had a portable CD player and then a creative mp3 player and then a minidisc player, dutifully trying out each recommended product and discovering that they were mostly total shit.

One day, when I had just moved out of home and started living with my friends, I dropped my minidisc player. It was one of the later Hi-MD models, so it had discs which were 1GB each and you could copy mp3 files onto. I managed to claim it on the house insurance and ended up with a bunch of vouchers for PC World, back before I realised that Satan was hiding in there. I went down to PC World to get a new minidisc player, and I discovered that they’d totally dropped the entire range of minidisc products. They were now only stocking CD players and mp3 players. I had a bunch of vouchers to spend and the recently released iPod Mini was on offer. Money was no object to me, and I was so tired of shitty software. The original iPod wasn’t loads more user friendly than mp3 players by other manufacturers, but at the birth of this market the actual players did fuck all, you did everything through their software clients, and this is where Apple had an advantage. iTunes always worked pretty well, and made naming tracks and dividing them up into albums and playlists and sorting them how you wanted very easy. Tired of using awful Sony software and with money momentarily not a particular concern, I bought an iPod Mini. Looking back on it, they totally got me at that exact moment. They caught me in the inescapable death grip of their cash vacuum.

I bought maybe 20 tracks from iTunes over the first few years which I had it, making the rest of my library up from ripping every CD me or anyone else I knew owned and stealing as many mp3 files as I could and adding them in. It didn’t matter though, because adding all that stolen or borrowed music to my iTunes account was still them inching their claws ever further around me. I swore to myself that even though I’d caved on the portable music front, I’d never buy a Mac and would stay on team PC forever. My iPod served me well, and I began to feel the allure of being an Apple owner. It’s like being in a little club where all the other members treat you a bit better. In the earlier days, when the iPod was still taking over and people still bought CD’s and carved their pictograms into slate, Apple owners were weirdly friendly and nice to each other.

It’s like being in the Masons, all the other members give you a knowing nod and you suddenly notice that lots of things in the world are secretly marked out for you. Everything is easier, because headphones and speaker docks are designed for your device exactly and guaranteed to work perfectly with it. The comparison with being a Mason kind of breaks down there, and I don’t really know what it’s like to be a Mason anyway as the closest I’ve ever been to one of them was when a friend was pissing on the door of their lodge, shouting about them being Tory bastards, when one of them opened the door and got shouted at and possibly pissed while I was watching.

Eventually my iPod died and so I needed a replacement. Still trying to break their grip, I tried out using a few of my phones and my PSP (which I filled with music because I thought someone might actually support custom soundtracks). I also had an iPod shuffle for a bit, which turned out to be the best mp3 player I owned during this period even though it only had two buttons and no screen. This was partly because of nice design and partly because it quickly and conveniently worked with my iTunes library. I worked in tech support for a bit and learned even more about PCs and how to use them. I also got the free prize which comes with every tech support job, a lifetime of free tech support for everyone I’ve ever known. There’s also the lovely bonus of being blamed for every problem anyone has with their PC if I’ve ever used it, because I know how to see behind the curtain so people assume I’ve gone back there to do some magic with the wizard and broken their PC. Oddly, they never assume that, as the one they called for tech support and who fixed their machine, I might know a lot more about safely using a PC than them.

Apple released the iPhone and I derided it loudly for being a horribly overpriced tool of capitalist oppression. As was their style, it used components several years old priced incredibly highly and hidden behind a slick and pretty interface and a nice screen. I had a bunch of phones which also played me music and I tried to love Android when it was in its infancy and still a total piece of shit. Then my phone broke so I got a cheap one. I got offered a cheap, second hand iPod touch and I figured as I wasn’t giving Apple the cash for it and it would be used to play my library of stolen music I wasn’t buying into their shit really, and I was still ok. That’s when they really closed their claws around my balls and promised that they were never letting go again. The only thing they’d be satisfied with would be giving them my money, and even though I didn’t realise it yet, I was on my way.

I love games. LOVE them. I’ve spend terrible amounts of money and hours on the medium of videogames and in return it has given me endless joy. It’s a decent arrangement. The iPod Touch and iPhone were the first Apple products which properly hosted games. It was the first time Apple had something I wanted to pay them for. Crucially, it was a buttload easier to give them 69p than to jailbreak my phone. The content was cheap, easily delivered and it all just worked seamlessly. Apple always said that their products were more efficient and functional than other peoples, but until they released iOS that was total bullshit. OSX (aside from the lack of viruses) is no quicker or easier than Windows on a general level and if you balance the versatility of the PC against the tiny advantages Macs have then the PC is a far better platform. Pre-Touch iPods aren’t really any better than their competitor’s versions, thought he software they used was. But the iPod Touch and iPhone are fantastic. They’re the best in their league by a mile, and nobody else is anywhere close to creating a touch screen interface which is as good as iOS.

Using the iPod Touch, I was tempted into buying some apps and games. I resisted for a while, but there was too much cool and exciting looking stuff coming out on the App Store. Piece by piece, I assembled a library of apps, all paid for, all tied to my iTunes account, every one of them only available to use on Apple hardware. They had me and they were never letting go. After a while I was just carrying an iPod Touch and a cheap phone. Why carry both right? I ended up with an iPhone, running lovely, efficient, accurate iOS. I must have spent tonnes of money on Apps by now, including some which cost up to £10. All that software, tied to my iTunes account and I’m locked into their system, probably forever. They took my principles and they stole my soul away and now when people tell me their Android phone is just as good as an iPhone I genuinely pity them and say things like “you wouldn’t say that if you’d ever owned an iPhone”.

The worst thing is, over the years Microsoft changed. Apple are the same capitalist dream they’ve always been, but since Bill Gates retired Microsoft have changed pretty drastically and now they’re horrible. The saddest thing is, Microsoft are like all big companies and so they’re probably doing something awful behind the scenes. The problem is that Microsoft are now utterly shit on the surface as well (I’m very proud of that joke). There’s a reason why the PC is the most popular system for using computers in the world. It’s that flexibility I mentioned earlier, because anyone can build a PC and then make a program on it and give it to anyone else with a PC however they want to. It’s easy to fill an office with cheap PC units because there are a bunch of companies competing with each other to sell the cheapest machines. Lots of important business people using a PC at work lead to more of them at home and more creation and sharing. The free and open nature of their format is what allowed the platform to succeed.

Modern Microsoft doesn’t want that anymore. Windows 8 relegates the traditional desktop environment to a cut down version designed only to enable the support of older software, with the main interface being optimised and good to use with a touch screen but totally inappropriate for use with a keyboard and mouse. If you want your software to be optimised for the new features provided by Windows 8 and you’d like it to have a tile in the Metro dashboard you need to buy it through the Windows Store. You can no longer just build a programme and have it run as well as any other. Only developers with the money to buy a Microsoft license and who are willing to follow the store’s guidelines get to do that. They’ve taken away their primary advantage, and they’ve done it in a pathetic attempt to copy Apple’s model. I used to have the choice between Apple and Microsoft, but now I’ve just got to choose from Apple or a shit rip-off of Apple, or the face to the metal nightmare that is Linux.

So what do I do now? I’ve tried to use Linux before and it’s too manual for me, I get bored of running the whole thing myself and it starts to annoy me. I know that Windows 7 is ok for now, but with PC hardware and software you’re often looking to both the past and the future, ensuring that the legacy systems you wish to continue using are still going to work and that stuff you do now will still work in the future. It looks to me like Microsoft are going all in on Windows 8, and if they stay the course they’ll end up removing the desktop support entirely and having Windows 9 be Metro only. I’m not using that, and so I’m left with a quandary. I can do without PC games, but there’s a lot of old PC stuff I’d like to still have access to. I don’t want a Mac and I don’t want a PC.

Currently I’m pretty happy with a desktop and laptop both running Windows 7 and an iPhone 4. I feel pretty confident that Apple will keep making nice phones and I’ll be able to upgrade and keep my software and stuff. I’m terrified of where Microsoft are going, and Apple’s approach to computing is still exactly the same as it always has been. I guess I would like to do more music and graphics stuff though…

The JLA movie is probably going to suck

•January 29, 2013 • 1 Comment

According to sources, the JLA movie is only staying in production if the Superman reboot, Man of Steel, makes a certain amount of money. This is a fucking stupid move, because they want to release the thing in 2015, so they’re either going to waste a buttload on pre-production for the movie and then can it, or they’re going to churn out a whole movie in two years based upon a massive property. Here’s a few things they could’ve done differently:

Not Copied Marvel

It seems like DC (and Warner, who own DC) have essentially seen that The Avengers was successful and gone “Hey! We have a super team too! Even better, our super team is made up of all our biggest characters!” so they’ve stuck a JLA movie on their roster ASAP. There have been rumours about a Justice League movie for years, but it’s never gone ahead. Now it’s apparently coming, but seemingly for no reason other than there being another super hero team movie making money. This seems like kind of shaky logic to me, mainly because I’m pretty sure what drew people to Avengers was the strong word of mouth, positive reviews and most importantly the fact that Marvel lead up to it with a bunch of other movies. If the films that lead into Avengers hadn’t been good, I don’t think anyone would have been betting the type of cash that was spent making the Avengers on a superhero team movie.

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Copied Marvel Properly

The real problem with the approach DC/Warner appear to be taking is that they’ve copied Marvel in the most facile, thoughtless was possible. Marvel started out with Iron Man, a property which had no existing movies attached to it, no successful cartoons and though he was a mainstay of Marvel’s comics for many years he wasn’t a particularly well known character. This meant that if Iron Man had failed, the little reference to Nick Fury and The Avengers which went after the credits would have been just that, a little in-joke. This might not sound that different to DC saying that if Superman isn’t a big hit they won’t bother with JLA, but these two films are meant to be 2 years apart, where the road from Iron Man to Avengers was 4. Marvel made a big success out of Iron Man, but The Incredible Hulk wasn’t so successful, so they worked on Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America. They built a franchise, made exciting casting, directing and writing decisions. They constructed a world where we knew each of the characters from the team personally and cared about them. It seems like these are things which we either know DC aren’t doing with JLA, or we don’t know yet.

What I would have done

DC really need to look at the good bits of what Marvel have achieved, and their roadmap. But they really don’t need to be trying to make a movie that is anything like Avengers. So take the idea that you’re building a franchise and that you’re leading to your team movie by making films for each of the characters. But the tone of Avengers? Leave that the fuck alone. Marvel characters exist in a funny, light world most of the time and a lot of their best characters are amusing either in their personality or their actions. DC’s public image is built entirely around the perception of Batman and Superman in the public eye, and one of them has never been in a light, cheerful story. The most popular Batman stories and films are miserable as fuck, and unless you’re going totally cartoon style and bringing the Adam West style back to Batman then that character isn’t going to fit into a world that even vaguely resembles the one in Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies.

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DC should be thinking about darkening Superman to fit into this mould, but wait, they already are! They’ve got a dark, gritty Superman reboot in the works, produced by Nolan and directed by Zach Snyder. They’re coming off a popular trilogy of dark, gritty Batman films. The next step, however, should not be a JLA film. You don’t need to introduce Superman or Batman, but unless you’re going to replace your JLA movie with a Superman/Batman team up, then there are going to be other people in the JLA. Other people who nobody has ever heard of, except maybe for their names. Other people who nobody gives a fuck about.

I understand that DC might be reticent about making superhero movies about lesser known characters after Green Lantern failed to make the kind of impact they wanted it to, but they should at least consider it. They could try to avoid what happened with that movie by making sure that any new movies weren’t absolute shit and didn’t have hideous, crappy CGI making the audience’s eyes bleed. They need to introduce these people, because nobody knows anything about them. A fun game to play: ask a friend who isn’t a lonely nerd if they’ve heard of Wonder Woman. When they say yes, ask them to tell you one thing about Wonder Woman. They won’t be able to, and she’s DC’s third most famous character. Next, try to explain the Green Lantern’s power to someone without them laughing. Iron Man worked because it was a new prospect, but it felt familiar. The fanboys saw it because they’ll always see any old comic based shit, but regular people also saw it because it looked cool and funny. The Green Lantern trailers looked fucking stupid and I actually like that character.

If you’re going to start with Superman, put Aquaman or the Flash in his movie. Then give Wonder Woman her own movie, which features whichever one of them wasn’t in Superman’s movie. Put Green Lantern in the Batman reboot (because everyone is a bit cooler if you’re associating them with Batman). Figure out how the fuck you’re going to match the completely fantastical origins and stories of most DC characters with the grit and realism that Batman is now known for. Work out how largely straight laced characters with mythological origins are going to feel even a bit real. Marvel’s characters mostly work because they seem vaguely plausible, then they paper over the cracks in their believability by gently mocking the conventions they either rely on or created. If you try to gently mock DC’s characters then you expose how utterly stupid they are. That might work in a kids show, but if you want to get any adult at all to see a JLA film you’re going to have to take it seriously.

That said, my dream JLA film is led into by an 18 rated Batman film set in the fifties. You want an adult audience? Take it by force with a super violent Superman movie. Everyone would be talking about that.

DCHQ

The Highstreet is Dying

•January 16, 2013 • 1 Comment

If you’re a member of the general public who was shocked when HMV went into administration this week, you probably thought they were doing ok. Amongst the business community, this has been a known possibility for a long time, and even before there was any financial reality to it, people have been predicting for years that the high street is going to die eventually. HMV aren’t the first retailer to go bust and they won’t be the last, in fact if current trends continue, the highstreet retail market for some types of products will be gone in four to five years. There’s an important question to ask here though.

What types of high street business are safe?

The short answer is: none. There aren’t many things which it’s not easier to store in your warehouse (which regular retailers have to have too) and ship to customers, when the alternative is storing them in your warehouse, shipping them to your store, paying someone to put them on the shelves and wait for people to walk up to them and pay for them. There are some items and services which aren’t possible online (like tattoos and piercings) and there are many things which people might continue to buy from stores by preference. Usually these things are in some way tactile, where there’s an advantage to actually touching it before you purchase it, or doing something similar. Women’s clothes are still doing ok because the majority of their customers want to feel and try on things before they purchase them. Places where you eat have a very special atmosphere and the idea of “going out” is unlikely to die anytime soon. Then again, the idea that people would always want a dedicated environment to buy and browse for music is pretty much what destroyed HMV.

HMV DEAD

What type of business are at most risk?

The truth is that no business is ever safe. A lot of the high street isn’t doing very much to combat the threat of online sales, and certain businesses are far more likely to be affected by that threat, so logically they should be adapting fastest and first. HMV, Game and many dead companies who sell entertainment media are in the most danger. People want to buy these things (movies, music, books and games) in order to have fun at home. If you can give them that thing in their home, why would they want to go to the shops. Browsing for things you’ve not heard of or asking knowledgeable people for help finding things you might like is what shops used to be all about, but it’s another thing on the endless list that the internet just does better. There’s more information and more experts online than you could cram into the world’s biggest store. There’s also very little room for error with entertainment, you asked for a particular film and they gave it to you, it’s not like you bought a shirt and their definition of “medium” wasn’t the same as yours, you paid for a specific item and received it. Napster taught the whole world that no industry is safe by destroying the music industry, and the games, movie and literature industries had a chance then to prepare themselves for a massive shift in the market.

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If it’s so obvious that this was going to happen, why didn’t anyone prepare for it?

Some people did prepare, they opened online stores and increased their digital distribution channels and expanded their businesses into new areas. HMV did this to an extent, by trying to make headway in owning and operating live music venues and by diversifying their products and starting to sell electronics, games and movies. As the music industry declines further, HMV put more effort into these areas. The problem is that aside from live music, they’re all entertainment media which is going to eventually go digital, just like music. Music is easy to distribute online because the file sizes involved are small. Movies are a bit bigger, and games are much bigger, so their physical media will survive longer as bandwidth for internet connections improves to the point where it’s quick and easy to download a 50gb high definition movie. Eventually though, all of these things are going to be entirely digital, and future generations will think that the idea of buying a plastic disc with a film or game on it is crazy.

So why didn’t the high street prepare? There’s a few answers, one of which is that there wasn’t any foolproof way they could. Evolution in technology bought about changes which made their business practices obsolete, and they couldn’t stop that. That said, it’s very hard to adapt if you’re not willing to take risks, and the people who run or own shares in big businesses are usually older, rich people. A lot of them feel that their experience in a sector is invaluable, and somehow they repeatedly bet on things staying the same, even though the financial markets are a constant hotbed of change, and the companies which earn the most are those who adapt, take risks and look forward all the time. Often, business owners will trust their gut, which tells them that things will probably carry on working like they always have. Shareholders are even worse for business, because of the way share ownership works. You buy a piece of a business so that they’ve got money to keep running it, and in return you own that equity which you can sell later. However, even though most of the talk you hear about the stock market is about buying and selling, the majority of people who earn real money through shares do so not by buying or selling but by keeping them.

At the end of each financial year, a company which is doing well will pay all of it’s shareholders a dividend. This is a nice payout to say “you believed in us and invested your own money and we did well, so here’s some of our profit”. The more shares you own, the bigger your dividends are, and so in this way it’s still worth investing in big companies like Apple, where the value of the shares is so high that you’re probably not going to make much money when you eventually sell them. The people with the most shares also get to be on the board of the company and tell them what to do, and that’s the big problem. Often these people are able to have a say in the running of a company (because they own a percentage of it) despite having no qualifications other than having a lot of money. When you need surgery, you don’t auction off the chance to perform it to the richest bidder, because they might not be a surgeon, they might be some crazy rich weirdo who just wants to cut you up. Businesses however are often beholden to the whims of a group of people who might know nothing about the industry they work in. They might know nothing at all aside from how much they paid for the shares.

So we’ve got businesses run by old, rich people who trust their experiences and owned by old rich people who want to make money this year and couldn’t give a shit about next year. If the business doesn’t make any money next year, they’ll sell their shares and go home to their mansions. Shareholders are regularly terrified of the prospect of changing things because all that experience tells them that things probably don’t need changing. The problem is when something massive happens which totally changes the market and means that all their experience is worthless. At this point a lot of shareholders bail and the share value drops, undermining confidence in the business. Quite often the people left running the devalued business stick with what they know has worked in the past in an attempt to try to get themselves out of trouble. The point at which your business looks shaky is also a really bad time to be reorganising and trying new things.

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What could these businesses be doing?

Facing the threat of online sales is a hard thing to do, but there’s a real argument to be had that many consumers would still like to have somewhere to go. What HMV could have done is turned their business into something different. Sure people like to have things arrive on their doorstep, but what if something is wrong? They like to return things to an actual human, and be able to talk about any problems they might have. HMV could have implemented online ordering (much better than they did), included an option to order online and collect in store and scaled back their stores in size to reflect the fact that they weren’t selling as much. No matter what they do though, they’ll never be able to match the range of stock that an online store can offer, and they’ll never be able to store as much stock to satisfy demand as an online retailer could. They could have more heavily promoted local artists and bought back listening posts, and drafted in local musicians to perform in store, to try and create the vibe they’ve always insisted they thrived on whilst they were slowly eradicating it from their outlets. Ultimately, short of turning into a cafe, bar or bed store, there’s not a lot they could have done to ensure that they survived, but they sure could have been better prepared to fight the online marketplace from the inside and maybe eventually transition their business to entirely digital.

What should you do?

Basically, don’t give high street retailers any of your money. I don’t mean to stop buying from them, because that’s a trade of equal value. I mean don’t lend them your cash, no matter how much they’ll give it back. Don’t buy gift vouchers, and don’t accept credit notes. If someone gives you a gift voucher, spend it as fast as you can. If there’s nothing you want, buy credit for iTunes, or the App Store, or Xbox Live or whatever your digital store of choice is, because the second those guys go into administration or receivership all credit becomes invalid. Your gift cards are worthless and so is that slip telling you that HMV owe you £100 for all those games you traded in. Also, prepare yourself for a future where nobody owns physical media for entertainment products because it’s coming, and it might be here sooner than you think.

My Favourite Manga: Battle Angel Alita

•January 9, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Sometimes things are bleak in just the right way. There’s an area in art where things can be beautiful and poignant but also make you feel like there’s no real hope for humanity because everyone is so awful and horrible and the world is a terrible place. Battle Angel’s tone is oppressive and harsh, set in a dystopian future where a violent death is a frequent part of the background. The world we know is long gone, and the one that’s replaced it reflects all the darkest, worst things about us. However, into this world Alita is reborn and the journey we take with her is one of discovery and rediscovery, posing questions about how far we can ever really stray from the things we’ve done.

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In Battle Angel Alita (and it’s sequel series Last Order) the world has gone through disasters and emerged on the other side as a harsher, less forgiving place. The series is true science fiction, placing it’s characters into a world of advanced technology as a commonplace and cheap resource, and it bases all of it’s tech and science on facts and informed speculation. The series frequently provides footnotes which explain in detail the science which underpins the fiction, and upon researching parts of it you’ll find that it’s solid. In this world humans have the ability to replace any human body part with a prosthetic alternative, except for the brain and the spine. This leads to some unpleasant scenes of spine theft early in the manga, as well as the odd paradigm shift that evolves from these ideas: that having a fully organic, human body is a luxury afforded only to the very rich. The poor heal themselves by becoming cyborgs and people left injured on the street will awaken to find themselves mostly machine and owing someone a lot of money.

A cybernetics doctor discovers Alita’s undamaged torso and head in a pile of scraps when he’s searching for parts to salvage. He takes her home and reactivates her, and discovers that although her memory is gone she’s working perfectly, a minor miracle after being lost for so long in the scrapyard. As he repairs her, he explains that the impoverished residents of the scrapyard work for factories which in turn provide for the menacing city of Tiphares, a utopia in the sky which hangs above the scrapyard. Soon, Alita discovers that she somehow knows the ancient cyborg martial art of Panzer Kunst, a fighting style designed for robot bodies and forgotten long ago, and she decides to become a bounty hunter and help keep the peace in the scrapyard.

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From here, the story spins outwards. Alita explores the scrapyard and the ruined remains of America outside it’s boundaries. She meets friends and foes and discovers a few horrible secrets along the way, then reading the thing gets a little complicated. The guy who wrote it was really ill when it was originally published, so after the story had moved along at a pretty slow and steady pace up until volume 9, it breaks into an insane run during the second half of that book and features a rushed, unsatisfying ending. This choice was made when it looked like the author’s illness might mean that he never got the chance to complete it, but years later after he’d recovered he decided that he was unhappy with this resolution, and as such Last Order starts in a rather confusing place.

Essentially, half way through volume 9 there’s an event which leaves Alita for dead and at the start of the second half she wakes up somewhere else. Last Order starts from this same point, basically retconning out the second half of volume 9 and replacing it with the start of a new series where she wakes up in basically the same place and things move at the same pace they were up to that point in the original series. Last Order’s scope is much wider, dealing with different sci-fi themes and asking horrible questions about our future (if technology advances to the point where we all live forever and children become a burden instead of a necessity, what do we do with them?). It also slowly starts to unravel the secrets of who Alita is and where she came from, as well as taking a lengthy detour to explain exactly how the world as we know it became the world the series is set in.

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A blend of dark themes, beautiful art, genuine science fiction, visceral action and genuine character drama, the two Battle Angel series (which between them currently comprise 23 volumes) are the best manga I’ve ever read. They edge One Piece out by being more manageable and contained (One Piece is currently on it’s 60th volume and doesn’t appear to be heading towards a conclusion any time soon), but being long enough to offer depth and development. It’s only real failing is that it’s still going, so there’s no conclusion yet, and ongoing health concerns, combined with the author having regular disputes with editors, mean that it’s publication schedule is erratic at best. Whilst most manga is published at a rate of one chapter a week, with each chapter being between 20 and 30 pages, the last time there was a new chapter of Last Order was nearly four months ago, and the gap before that one was about the same. It says a lot though that I still feel absolutely able to recommend this series as the best example of it’s form, and I genuinely believe that even if it never gets the conclusion it so clearly deserves it will still have been worth reading.

My Favourite X-Man: Cable

•January 8, 2013 • 1 Comment

With the new X-Men film set to feature time travel, lots of people have mentioned the idea of Cable being included. Now Cable is one of my favourite characters, but I’d guess that movie makers would be better off going for Bishop, another time travelling mutant whose back story is a little less complex. Both Bishop and Cable come from horrible futures that they’ve traveled back in time to prevent, however Bishop was born in a near-ish future where mutants live in captivity and are branded with an M on their face to mark them out. He grows up hearing tales of the X-Men as heroes and joins a police force called the XSE, before losing his sister or something. It’s a little convoluted, but not particularly so.

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Cable’s story is a bit more to take in. Cable is the son of Cyclops and Jean Grey. Kind of. Actually he’s the son of Cyclops and a clone of Jean Grey who Cyclops went out with for a bit when Jean was dead for a while. When Cable was born Apocalypse (the world’s oldest mutant who believes in Darwinism to a terrifying degree) gave him a horrible living metal virus which was eating through his skin and killing him. Unable to cure this, the X-Men fired him into the future where a mutant names Mother Askanii used future machines to hold the virus off until Cable was trained with his telekinesis to do it himself. Cable grey up in this world and was raised by a couple named Red and Slimm, who were actually Jean Grey and Cyclops’ minds trapped in the bodies of these future people. After this Cable decided that the future he was from (where Apocalypse ruled) was so horrible he had to travel back in time to prevent it happening. When he arrives in the present, he is about 50, 20 or so years older than his parents.

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Now, Cable has a lot going for him. He’s very powerful, in fact if he wasn’t having to waste half his power holding off the virus he’d be a mutant of the highest level like his Mum (and the lady she was cloned from). Throughout his run Cable has varied between having the virus almost overwhelm him so he’s nearly powerless and having it totally under control so he’s ultra powerful. Just recently he managed to beat up most of the Avengers. He’s also a cool, grizzled war veteran from a nightmare future. The problem with Cable is fitting any kind of story for him into anything which people would be able to comprehend. I’d bet if he does show up they’ll lift his story from Ultimate X-Men (a reboot of the whole X-Men line of comics). In that he shows up from a horrible future ruled by Apocalypse, then it turns out he’s a really old version of Wolverine. Which might make things a bit easier.

Game of the Year

•December 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Game of the year time! Maybe something amazing will come out in the next few weeks, or I’ll get around to playing something which turns out to be brilliant (like finally getting hold of Fez). But until then, here’s the three best games I’ve played this year.

3rd: Max Payne 3

The first two Max Payne games are kind of anachronistic. They appeared during that magical period after The Matrix where everything had some bullet time thrown in. Initially, they looked like normal games with a cool shooting gimmick thrown in, which was enough to grab people’s attention because we were all so excited about bullet time. But when you played them, they did so much right. The animation was lovely, people moved nicely and the reactions to shots and explosions were spot on. The story was dense and miserable, channelling film noir themes through a comic book inspired filter to make the story, and particularly the protagonist, memorable and interesting. They also featured some shit so crazy that Kojima would be proud of it, including a playable dream sequence where you had to navigate small bridges made from the entrails of your dead wife and baby while they screamed at you to protect them.

After the second game Remedy entertainment left the series and it was picked up by Rockstar (who had published some versions of the previous games). They announced that they were going to work on a third game and pretty quickly there was some stuff shown of an older, shaved headed Max in South America. The reaction seemed pretty mixed, with some decrying the lack of New York and the missing visual film noir calls as making it something other than a Max Payne game. However many people were willing to give Rockstar the benefit of the doubt as it’s Rockstar, and when they showed gameplay footage the excitement started to grow.

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The game is great. As a fan of the first game it felt like part of the series, yet it had changed and improved enough that it felt new and fresh. The controls are brilliant, even though they occasionally require a lot of multiple inputs they manage to introduce the controls, they’re introduced slowly and effectively so that they never feel overwhelming. Bullet time returns, and is deftly handled. Truthfully, I don’t really remember how it worked in the older games because it’s been years since I played them, but the third game pulls of the great trick of making the mechanics feel like you remember them feeling, even if you suspect deep down that they were probably a lot clunkier and less friendly before. Max’s improbably effective painkillers also return, in place of health packs just like they were before.

The animation is flawless. Whilst it is possible to occasionally mess it up, generally speaking the shooting, movement, enemies and reloading all move with a perfect, fluid grace which makes each scene enthralling. It looks a thousand times more “cinematic” (a goal which I don’t really feel it is that worthwhile chasing anyway) than something like Call of Duty just by having absolutely everything move as you would expect it to. Characters and environments twist and deform in response to the combat and the scene after a decent gun battle is reminiscent of the Matrix lobby sequence. The first game would be proud.

The story moves at a decent pace, the checkpoints are well designed and the narrative flows in and out of gameplay far better than in most Rockstar games, let alone games generally. In crafting a scripted, channelled and linear gaming experience Rockstar have finally had the chance to reign in all the glitches and problems which persist in their other games and make something polished and perfect. The moments where you’re thrown from a cutscene into a slow motion moment where you have only one chance to make a shot and rescue someone are far more engaging than the abstract QTE features which most games use to make their cutscenes feel interactive.

Obviously it’s not perfect in every way. The cutscenes are played over the loading sequences, which sounds great in theory but means you can rarely skip them and they can get a little irritating on a second playthrough. The tokenistic collectable things scattered throughout the game don’t really fit into the feel of the setting at all, and seem like they’ve just been shoved in to tick a box. And as you can only carry two weapons at a time (and Max has a charming habit of throwing away decent guns you find during cut scenes, or just putting them down and walking off) there’s no real new game plus type features. I don’t really do online multiplayer, but when I tried I waited for ages and couldn’t get a game (on PS3). These minor niggles are nothing in comparison to the multitude of things this game does right though, and it’s genuinely worth playing whether you’re a fan of the originals or not.

2nd: Dishonored

Long ago, there was a golden era of PC games, where talented creatives struggled to redefine the boundaries of first person games. These pioneers created some of the most important games ever made, and they founded them on new principles: open ended design, multiple solutions to ever problem and player customisation. They sought to create a new age of games. Obviously most of them failed commercially, and the ones that didn’t ended up being the property of studios and groups who failed commercially. These brave games, the Thief series, the System Shock games, to an extent the Half-Life series and the one true king of games, Deus Ex.

I’m not going to spend time here talking about how good Deus Ex is (it’s very, very good), but there’s a certain excitement whenever a game is announced which people compare to any of these great games, especially if the people offering the comparison are the actual developers of the game. When Dishonored was announced, the first thing I heard about it was that Viktor Antonov (designer of Half-Life 2’s City 17) was going to be the visual design director, in charge of shaping the general visual direction of the game. The initial screenshots showed a beautiful, stylised character aesthetic and a watercolour inspired palette and set of textures. The thing which really grabbed my eye though was the descriptions of the game as a first person adventure, created by Arkane and headed up by studio founder Raphaël Colantonio and Deus Ex developer Harvey Smith as creative directors and Deus Ex designer Ricardo Bare as Lead Designer.

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Set in an alternate, steam punk styled version of Victorian England, the game has a really unique tone about it. The city is afflicted by a plague which is sweeping the streets, killing civilians and spreading rats throughout the world and the citizens are kept in line by electric pylons which disintegrate them and weird stilt-walking, explosive arrow firing guards. The city runs on whale oil, which is hugely volatile and dangerous. At every turn the game is crammed with these type of details, and the world feels genuinely lived in. The NPC’s react dynamically and exploring the world is a genuine joy because of this. Encounters play out differently each time and there are a massive variety of ways to approach each situation, exactly as you’d expect from this game’s freeform design ethos.

You take the role of Corvo, who is the Empress’ bodyguard and witnesses her assassination near the start. After being framed for the crime, Corvo escapes from prison with the help of an underground organisation who want to put the rightful heir on the throne. So far, so much like other games. Early on though, you meet The Outsider, who gives you awesome supernatural powers like teleportation and possession. Once you’ve got these skills in your arsenal, along with your sneaking abilities and your knife you’re ready to perform some assassinations. These can range from a “ghost” run (stealthing your way through the environments with nobody seeing you and only dispatching the actual target), right to murdering everyone you see and clearing out the whole level.

There are upgrades galore, you can customise your character to your play style using upgrades and you can improve your weapons with money you collect. Every area feels genuine, lived in and real and finding routes, shortcuts and secret areas feels like a real achievement because the design is so well implemented that the whole thing just feels completely organic. A great story, great characters, enthralling gameplay, exciting systems and a degree of personalisation and customisability that is rarely seen all go together to make this game something really special.

1st: Journey

It’s perfect. Just absolutely perfect. Beautiful, emotional, gripping and utterly beautifully designed. Journey strips out everything superfluous, leaving only the most important pieces which assemble into something magical. You walk, slide and jump through the area, using the only other working button to shout. The shout activates things and attracts the attention of other players. The jump makes you feel powerful in an ethereal, unearthly way which is totally liberating.

Thematically, the story as it is is presented to the player through the environment, and through brief, wordless glimpses of older creatures who show you a mural which seems to depict the journey you’re on. Online play works by dropping a random other player into your game, and with no voice chat, no text and only a single noise you can make to communicate, the whole concept is reduced to it’s barest components. But somehow, it works better than any other online game I’ve ever played. The sense of loss if you lose someone you’ve been travelling with, the frantic mashing of the shout button to warn someone about danger, the excitement of seeing someone in a glowing white cloak and knowing that they can show you the most intimate secrets of the world, every second of it is perfect.

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The experience is short, but more powerful for it. Made up of only 8 or 9 sections, some of which can be moved through extremely quickly (or skipped entirely) if you’ve played before. But the game never feels brief, and the experience never feels light. The name tells you everything, and the genuine feeling of progressing towards a goal is oddly rare within the field of games, especially given that 99% of games are about travelling between two destinations. The areas feel different and contain different types and levels of challenge, as well as hidden secrets to discover.

The controls are perfect, and the game never feels the need to bother you with the kind of boring shit which fills most games to the brim. There are button prompts to show you how to use the few interfaces early on, and that’s it. It never tells you where to go, never burdens you with needless information or prompts. You know where to go because you can feel it through the design of the environment. You know how to get there because it feels natural. It’s a triumph of minimalist design and for a game which strips out so much which of what games have become, it feels denser and more substantial that most 40 hour epics. A genuinely unusual piece of digital art, everyone owes it to themselves to try this, gamers or not.

Everybody Hates Molyneux

•December 18, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Poor Molyneux, so burdened with an impossible skill for talking shit. In the before time, Peter made beautiful, intelligent games and pioneered in the god game and simulation genres, creating stone cold classics like Populous, Magic Carpet and Dungeon Keeper. His company, Bullfrog, also created Theme Park, Syndicate and Theme Hospital, before they were bought by EA. Obviously EA used their vampire powers to suck the life right out of Bullfrog and Molyneux bailed and started a new company, which was going to be loads better and let him do whatever he wanted and have blackjack and strippers.

Lionhead (Peters next venture) announced it’s first game for PC pretty quickly, but then Peter demonstrated for the first time in public his most impressive skill. He came out to talk about what Black and White (Lionhead’s first game) would be like, and everybody was shocked by how it was basically going to be the most ambitious, exciting game ever made. Freed from the constraints of publishers and directors and finances and with a big pot of cash to produce whatever he wanted from the sale of Bullfrog, Peter was going to create something incredible. He started listing features, it was a god game, where you had a creature companion and your creature grew and learned from you and you could be good or evil and the people who worshiped you would have routines and reasons for doing things and they would fight with other people.

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When he took a second to breathe and listen to the rapturous applause, Peter must have felt pretty good about himself, and so did everyone else. Then Black and White came out, and it was a massively ambitious, broken, unplayable mess. The game did a lot of the things which had been promised, but it also crashed and broke every few minutes and had a few bugs which prevented the game from being finished. People were pretty pissed off, but they gave Peter the benefit of the doubt and figured it was probably somebody else’s fault. Peter went on to start developing Fable, a game which was going to fix all the problems of the RPG genre, where you would grow from a child into an adult and your actions would affect your appearance and how people thought of you and you’d fall in love and a million other things. Peter hadn’t learned his lesson yet, because he was still promising the moon on a stick, but delivering the moon without the stick and shrugging when it slammed into the earth and killed millions.

Black and White 2 was developed at roughly the same time as Fable, and Peter talked quite a bit about how they were going to implement everything which they’d promised for the first game but never put into it because they hadn’t really considered making a working game and had been busy just throwing in thousands of features which sounded nice as concepts. Between Fable and B&W2 Peter built some trust back up from the public, promising amazing things would finally be realised. But they weren’t. Fable shipped with half the features he’d talked about missing, and B&W2 had most things in it but required a small bank of mainframes to run it stably. I tried to run it last year on my relatively modern desktop and the fucker still chugs and runs like shit.

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At this point, the gaming community labelled Peter as the master of bullshit and decided to turn on him brutally. People started taking everything he said with a pinch of salt, and so he took a totally different track for his next game. Whilst he did a few excitable previews of The Movies in magazines, he kept the promises to a minimum and had all his employees focus on shipping a game which worked well and had all the features he had promised built into it. With an ambitious concept which nobody had used before, in a genre which Peter hadn’t explored for a while the game shaped up really nicely and when it was released the game met all the expectations placed upon it, contained all the features which had been promised and worked very nicely from a technical standpoint. Of course, nobody bought it.

The problem was, that without Peter’s infectious enthusiasm being randomly spilled all over every publication available, nobody had paid any attention to The Movies or what Lionhead was doing. So Peter decided that he would learn from his mistakes with evil vampires EA, and would sell Lionhead to a much nicer overlord, someone who would treat them really well and not just force them to churn out shitty sequels and run them into the ground. Then he changed his mind and sold Lionhead to Microsoft. With the Xbox 360 on it’s way, Microsoft needed exclusive IP they could attract gamers with, and Fable had been an exclusive release with a pretty strong fanbase for their first console. They bought Lionhead and set Peter to working on a sequel to Fable with only one caveat, that he’d better get out there in front of the press and talk some utter shit about the game to hype it up.

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Peter rolled out, showed Fable II and started talking about it’s features, which were basically all the things he promised for Fable but didn’t deliver, plus some other stuff like dogs and shit. They got the game out and everyone was pretty disappointed by the fact that it didn’t have all the features he’d promised, but by this time Peter must have been used to that, and at least people bought Fable II. They churned out Fable III (where you can be the king and but castles and some other crap) and some Fable spin-offs for Xbox Live and Kinect before Peter finally felt Microsoft’s fangs on his neck and realised that they were sucking the life out of him. So he bailed and started a new company, 22 Cans.

22 Cans had a very special remit, it was going to make 22 experimental projects, then construct one game from all the things it learned experimenting. Peter also promised that he wouldn’t be promising too much, and made it clear that their first game was going to involve nothing but tapping on blocks with a few “surprises”. They released Curiosity (the tapping game) for iOS and Android, and managed not to ship any of the surprises they’d promised, proving conclusively that Peter just shouldn’t be allowed to say anything to the press. Then they announced their second “experiment”, an old fashioned god game like the ones Peter used to make back in the day, a supposed hybrid of Populous and Dungeon Keeper. People should have been excited, but there was one problem, the project was being funded by a Kickstarter.

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For those who don’t know, Kickstarter is a website where people can post their creative endeavours and the Kickstarter community can “back” the project by offering a small amount of money. It allows creative types to gather funding for their projects without submitting to the nightmarish stranglehold that publishers have over most creative industries, and potentially they get the opportunity to break the iterative cycle which publishers facilitate by only being willing to support recognisable ideas. Initially it was only used by smaller companies and teams, but then Tim Schafer got on it and used it to fund Double-Fine Adventure, a project which sought to prove that there was a willing audience for classic graphic adventure games. It became the most popular Kickstarter project of all time and a few other well known figures from the games industry came forward with ideas for games which traditional publishing didn’t want to fund.

Some of these, like Wasteland 2 and Project Eternity, got great funding and received a warm response from the community. But a few, like Loot Drop’s “Old School RPG” stepped up and essentially said “hey, remember old games? We’re going to make a game that is awesome like old games were! Give us Money”. These projects got a negative response and didn’t meet their funding targets, and Kickstarter went from a gold rush waiting to reward people with industry experience with the freedom they deserved straight to a way to humiliate yourself in front of millions. Enter Peter Molyneux.

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Obviously Peter thought that the fanbase of his games and companies would respond well to a new god game. And at the time of writing, there are three days to go and the project has raised £362,273 toward it’s $450,000 goal. It’s possible it will make it, but the response is a long way from those that Eternity and DFA got, both exceeding their targets by a significant margin and getting the opportunity to set stretch goals (which are further funding milestones where the people seeking backing offer extra features for the project if the funding target is passed). Over the last week, Peter had a bit of a cry in the media, then came forward to say that he’s really not that rich. Which begs the question, why does Peter never learn? He’s clearly an intelligent man, and yet he makes the same mistakes again and again. Step away from the reporters Peter. Go home and when they ring to talk to you, don’t answer. Don’t go to E3, don’t talk to any websites and for fuck sake don’t talk about your new game at all to anyone.

The Phantom Pain

•December 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Phantom Pain is a game that was announced at the Spike Video Game Awards the other day. It was one of two new game announcements, along with Dark Souls II, a sequel to a game which the industry loved. The other games which were shown at the VGA’s were BioShock Infinite (the third game in the popular BioShock Series), the Tomb Raider reboot, The Last of Us (the new game from Uncharted developers Naughty Dog) and Gears of War: Judgement (another Gears of War game, I assume). These games are all developed by major studios, and aside from The Last of Us (which looks like it was built with the same technology as Uncharted) are all sequels in successful franchises.

Here’s the trailer, which I recommend you watch at this point.

The Phantom Pain is being developed by a company called Moby Dick Studio, who are Swedish. Their website says:

Moby Dick Studio is a game developing company operating out of Stockholm, Sweden. Moby Dick Studio was founded by CEO Joakim Mogren who after years of working for a major American developer brought together people out of various game studios from around the Scandinavian area to start something new.

Our goal is to deliver an uncompromising, exciting and touching game experience to people all around the globe.

[DISCLAIMER] Moby Dick Studio and our representatives do not currently operate through any social medias such as Facebook or Twitter, except for YOUTUBE.
>> Moby Dick Studio Official Youtube Channel
They don’t seem to be attached to any major publisher, and they’re producing the game for PS3 and 360, which kind of discounts the idea that they’re attached specifically or funded by either party. That youtube channel was set up on December 4th, the day before the VGA’s. I don’t know how long the website has been there, but the whole thing looks pretty nice and they’ve updated it since the VGA’s with the trailer and some high resolution screens.
It wasn’t long before this happened:
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And people noticed that “Joakim” was an anagram of “Kojima”, and the walls came down and everyone thinks it’s Metal Gear Solid 5. Kojima did say last year that Big Boss needed help with a Fox Engine project (via the Konami Recruitment page), and though that was assumed to be Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, that game’s poster had text on it which said “The FOX Engine created two phantoms”. Kojima definitely said that they were going to work on Metal Gear Solid 5, and said that it’s codename was “Ogre”, which is the middle part of the Moby Dick Studio guy’s surname.
NeoGaf quickly put the whole thing together, someone posted a picture of Kyle Cooper, who worked on the second and third MGS games. There’s a lot more stuff in the trailer which hints at Metal Gear Solid, but the most damning thing is the comparison between the logo of the game:
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And the same logo with Metal Gear Solid V written over it in the same font:
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It’s a weird way to reveal something. Maybe they don’t want to overshadow Rising, or maybe it’s the game after Ground Zeroes and they’re worried there will be too many MGS games floating about. It’s a lovely trailer, really weird and exciting. The animation is nice and it’s an interesting concept. Plus, who doesn’t love whales?
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Play my game: Tom’s Space Adventure!

•December 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The game I’ve been making for my college project is complete! Though there’s still stuff I’d like to add (a pause screen, a high score table, music), I feel like it’s basically playable.

“Evil Clones of Tom are attacking from space and it’s up to you to protect the real Tom. Move his spaceship with the arrow keys or A and D and fire eggs with space. You have three lives and the longer you survive, the more points you score.”

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Download for Windows

Book review: Rise of the Videogame Zinesters

•December 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Rise of the Videogame Zinesters is a study of the medium by Anna Anthropy, whose website Auntie Pixelante is a brilliant resource for reading thoughtful and intelligent critique of games design. She also seems to love Mario, which is a real plus point for anyone as far as I’m concerned. The book examines the idea that in order for games to become a more exciting medium, more people and more types of people, need to be involved in creating them. There is a well known problem in the industry that when it first rose up in the 70’s, the kind of people who had access to computer hardware were young men doing technically focused courses at American universities. As they made games they created things which appealed to them, hence the focus on fantasy and science fiction. In turn, these games attracted more young men, who got into games because the subject matter was largely focused on things which young men like. Then the people who played those first games grew up and wanted to make their own games, so they learned and made more games focused on young men, which influenced and attracted more young male gamers and so on.

Anna argues that this cycle is damaging for the medium (though probably not for the industry), because it stunts and limits the type and variety of pieces which are created. She also makes a very convincing argument that the growing size of studios which is needed to create the type of graphical fidelity which people expect from triple A console games has removed the role of the individual creator from the medium, which is often the source of work which has real meaning and artistic merit. Unlike in films, where a large production is often headed by one person whose vision guides the project, games are often created by groups, and the feeling of watered down, designed by committee compromise is easy to find in any modern games store.

Excitingly, she goes on to explain how much easier game creation has become over recent years, and how now it is easy for creators with no experience to download tools, create their own games and distribute them for free. She believes that by letting anyone create games, more people will bring more unique voices to the medium and it will diversify and become a more exciting and valuable landscape. In addition to outlining these principles, she details the types of tools and distribution methods which are available to anyone who wants to make games but doesn’t know how, and she shares some of her favourite games which are individually authored and have a personal tone and message. Slowly, the book becomes less of a study of what is wrong with traditional publishing and distribution methods and more of a guide to creating your first game, regardless of your experience or knowledge of how games “should” work. She makes great arguments about how to distribute your work and explains how by adding more voices to the field, games can attain some sense of balance, with more ideas, feelings and viewpoints being expressed creating a more vibrant and diverse culture among gamers.

I would heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in art and individual expression, particularly people with no prior knowledge of or interest in videogames.

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My Favourite Movies: Whisper of the Heart

•November 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Choosing a favourite movie is a hard thing. Though I managed to pick just one graphic novel, I feel like selecting one movie is too much. Even if I try to divorce my childhood favourites, because I’m not really capable of objectively considering Back to the Future, I still wind up with a bunch of favourite movies. Whilst I guess this is partly because I love film adaptations of characters and stories that I already enjoy, it’s also because I’ve watched a much wider variety of films (where I’ll generally give anything a try), than I have comics (where I seem to stick with things I’m familiar with already).

So, my first favourite movie is Whisper of the Heart. It has a lot of the strengths that have become the Ghibli movie’s recognised strengths, such as a beauty in its art design, lovely, fluid animation, a brilliant sense of place and sympathetic and interesting characters. The story is about a girl named Shizuku, who I’d guess is about ten years old. At the difficult juncture between child and teenager, she’s learning to deal with adult responsibilities and feelings, and is starting to experience the weight of expectation which comes with being an adult. It’s when you realise that you are responsible for helping people and making choices in your life, from the biggest to smallest decisions, that you start to really become an adult.

The story is slow and thoughtful, but manages to work in a wide variety of themes. From ideas about parenthood, through tales of lost loves and up to and including the story of a young girl working out what kind of person she wants to be, both in the literal sense of trying to choose a direction and in the more figurative sense of trying to work out how to relate to other people in an adult way. As with all Ghibli movies, the characters feel deep and real, and the majority of the story is told through incidental detail, implication in dialogue and by observation of the world and the people that inhabit it. Whisper isn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki, but he did adapt it from a comic and so the script feels like classic Ghibli, as do the visuals. Director Yoshifumi Kondô has never directed another Ghibli production, but he worked before and after in their animation department,  contributing to Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Only Yesterday, Porco Rosso, Pom Poko and Princess Mononoke.

On the technical side, the Blu-Ray transfer is lovely, with a beautiful, clean picture and good sound. The movie has a very good dub, easy to watch and communicating the themes clearly. Unless you’ve seen the original, subtitled version you’ll be fine watching the dub, which has good voice talent and great music. The music is a bit of a weird one here though, as almost the entire movie is set to Country Roads by John Denver. Shizuku is writing alternate lyrics to this song to be sung at their junior high graduation ceremony, which is a bigger deal in Japan because people go to different high schools based upon what they get in their exams at the end of junior high. The song appears throughout, though the original version isn’t included, with the opening being a cover version, the movie featuring Shizuku’s various re-writes and the ending accompanied by a Japanese language version of the song (in the dub at least, I’d assume in the subbed version they’re all in Japanese but I haven’t seen it for years so I can’t remember).

The backbone of the story is a tale of inspiration. It’s about finding out who you want to be and what you want to do, but more than that it’s about how sometimes another person can make you understand yourself and how you’re feeling, and it’s about how meeting someone can affect you as a person. Shizuku makes the journey from a kid who likes to read and knows that she can write, to an adolescent who wants to write but isn’t sure she’s good enough. The person she meets seems to be confident at first, but it’s in discovering his doubts, and in wanting to impress and match him that she learns to discipline herself. She works out what her dreams are, and what she wants to be, and then she starts to learn how much work it’s going to be to get there.

Whisper is a classic coming of age story, with beautiful visuals set in Tokyo, and the incidental detail which consistently makes Ghibli films feel far more alive than most movies. There’s a depth of character, experience and wear to the world and the characters which make them easy to believe in. And the story is charming and beautiful in equal measures. It shares some iconography with The Cat Returns, which is a sequel to this in the very loosest sense, but Whisper is far more grounded, set firmly in the real world with real ideas and problems at its core. This film evokes the magic of real life, the beauty of inspiration and the wonder of creation and art, and it’s even stronger than most Ghibli movies for it. Whilst the fantasy and magical elements in their other works are used to represent real, human problems, Whisper uses real, human problems to show the fantasy and magic that exist in the real world.

Next Year’s Most Exciting Movies

•November 25, 2012 • 2 Comments

Gangster Squad

Out: 11th January

Headed up by Reubin Fleischer, who previously directed Zombieland, this movie resolves around a group of detectives in LA during the forties. Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Emma Stone. With a distinctive visual style, a great period setting and a talented cast and director, the only bad thing about this should be that it was put back by 6 months so it’s not out till January.

Cloud Atlas

Out: 22nd Febuary

Based on the best selling novel by David Mitchell (not that David Mitchell), Cloud Atlas is a series of 6 nested stories, woven into one overall narrative which stretches from the 19th century into a distant, post apocalyptic future. As if that wasn’t complex enough to baffle most people, the story features multiple characters played by the same actors in the different time periods. Directed by Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski brothers and starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving

Jack the Giant Slayer

Out: 1st March

An unusual adaptation, this film takes the folk story “Jack the Giant Killer” (not to be confused with Jack and the Beanstalk, which also features giants). Originally announced under that title, this hung around in limbo for a while before Bryan Singer got on board to direct it. Singer’s work on The Usual Suspects and the first two X-Men films was brilliant, so hopefully this will be a return to form and less like the films he’s made recently, which people weren’t fond of (though I quite liked Superman Returns). Starring wang-faced retard Nicholas Hoult, who hopefully won’t ruin it with his stupid face, Ewan McGregor and Stanley Tucci, this has a lot going for it and a lot that could drag it down. Here’s hoping it turns out to be good.

Robot and Frank

Out: 8th March

Looking hot after winning Sundance, Robot and Frank is set in the near future and features an old man whose son buys him a robot. The son’s plan was for the robot to help Frank find some purpose in life, which he does when he decides to train the robot to help him go back to his long abandoned life of crime. Starring Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon and directed by first time feature director Jake Schreier, this is one to watch next year, with the possibility of appealing to almost everyone.

Oblivion

Out: 12th April

Set on a ruined planet in the far future, this film sees veteran solider Jack Harper sent by a court martial to undergo a dangerous mission. When he meets a woman who has crashed on the planet, he has to re-think everything he knows about the planet or something. Anyway, the art design is magnificent, as you’d expect from Joseph Kosinski, director of the beautiful but dull Tron: Legacy. There’s a possibility it will be as stupid as that film, but hopefully it will make good on the promise of it’s setting and art design. Warning: May contain Tom Cruise.

Iron Man 3

Out: May 3rd

It’s Iron Man 3 motherfuckers! If you don’t know what’s exciting about that I genuinely pity you. The second movie may have been poorly received, but this one is written and directed by Shane Black (if you haven’t seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang then go find a copy now, maybe here, and watch it). Featuring a more personal tale that’s hopefully closer to the first movie and starring relentless badass Robert Downey Jr.

Star Trek into Darkness

Out: May 17

Little is known about this so far. J.J. Abrams is back to direct again, and the writers are the same as the first film, which bodes well because that was decent even if the same team have been responsible for some crap (The Transformers movies and Prometheus). Chris Pine is back as Kirk and Zachary Quinto returns as Spock, along with the rest of the cast of the first movie. The villain is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and is apparently some old friend of Kirk’s from the third episode of the original series (not Kahn as had been reported). He’s a talented actor and the trailed debuts this christmas.

After Earth

Out: 7th June

The new movie from M. Night Shyamalan, director of the Sixth Sense. Will Smith plays Cypher Raige (yeah…), who crashes on a planet with his son (played by his actual son, Jayden Smith) and gets injured. His kid (Kitai Raige), has to go get an emergency beacon, but it turns out it’s the future and the planet they crashed on is Earth which is barely inhabitable because it’s the future and we ruined it. That’s not the big twist at the end though, I’d bet that will be that they’re not really on Earth at all, or that they went back in time. This will either be unexpectedly awesome, or hilariously awful.

Man of Steel

Out: 14th June

SUPERMAN. I’m fucking hyped, but I like any old shit if it’s got Superman in it. Directed by registered moron Zack Snyder, who directed the creepy perve fantasy Sucker Punch. Luckily, he also passably directed Watchmen word for word, and the Dawn of the Dead remake he directed was awesome. Henry Cavill plays Clark Kent/Superman, joined by an all star cast including Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Laurence Fishburne and Russell Crowe. There will be slow motion because Snyder fucking loves that, but there’s a good chance it might be very good because Christopher Nolan, director of The Dark Knight (and Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises) is producing it.

Monsters University

Out: 21st June

The sequel to Monsters Inc, one of the best films from my favourite studio in the world. Directed by Dan Scanlon, who previously worked on Cars but works at Pixar so is amazing, all the voices return. It’s set when Mike and Sully meet at University, and it will be wonderful.

Kick-Ass 2

Out: 28th June

All the cast of the first movie, including Nicolas Cage return, joined by Jim Carrey as the villain. I’ve heard that the second comic book is shit, and this has a different Director who I’ve never heard of so it might well be crap.

Pacific Rim

Out: 12th July

Guillermo del Toro‘s new movie will always get a lot of attention, where the plot is that giant monsters come out of the sea, so people build giant robots and fight them, which I’m totally up for. Starring Idris Elba, who played Stringer Bell in The Wire. I can’t see this not being fantastic.

The Wolverine

Out: 26 July

The new Wolverine movie is maybe a little less exciting than Iron Man and Superman, purely because the last Wolverine movie kind of sucked. But Wolverine is still cool, Hugh Jackman is back and it’s loosely based on the awesome Wolverine mini series set in Japan. Featuring a largely Japanese cast, and with the Silver Samurai as the villain. Hopefully there will be no other mutants and Wolverine will fight ninjas and samurai and probably fall in love with a Japanese woman named Mariko. There’s a rumour that Jean Grey might be in it, though I could do without that crap. Click the lovely poster for a massive version.

Elysium

Out: 9th August

The new movie from District 9 director and writer Neill Blomkamp. A futuristic science fiction movie set in a world where the rich live on a space station and the poor live on the dirty, overcrowded earth. The film finished shooting ages ago and keeps getting put back, so hopefully it won’t keep slipping. Starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, I hope that this actually comes out.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Out: 24th October

Stalled in production for 5 years, the long awaited sequel to Sin City is finally going to emerge next year. The comic it’s taken it’s title from is unfortunately a story about Dwight, the boring guy played by Clive Owen who ruined the middle of the last movie. Luckily, it will apparently feature 4 stories which fit together. As well as “A Dame to Kill For”, there will be two original stories and “Just Another Saturday Night” which tells the story of what Marv (Mickey Rourke) was up to the evening that Hartigan (Bruce Willis) and Nancy (Jessica Alba) left the club where she worked together, as seen in the first movie. Marv stories are great, and him and Nancy are in “A Dame to Kill For” as well, so it’s looking pretty good.

Thor: The Dark World

Out: 8th November

The sequel to weird slanty camera movie Thor (seriously, watch it again. The camera is slanted at a weird angle through about half of the film. It’s really confusing), this movie is being directed by Alan Taylor. Whilst he’s never directed a major movie before, he’s an amazing TV director, having worked on Homicide: Life on the Street, Oz, The Sopranos, The West Wing, Six Feet Under, Lost, Rome, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones. So he’s got a good track record. The cast of the first movie are all returning, so it should be pretty straight forward.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Out: 13th December

The second Hobbit movie is out next Christmas, but obviously the excitement for that will depend on how the first one is. Here’s the trailer for that.

The Prototype

Out: TBA 2013

no proper release date or artwork for this yet, so information is thin on the ground. Oddly, it’s got a trailer which looks really, really good available for it.

My Favourite Graphic Novel: The Sentry

•November 23, 2012 • 2 Comments

The Sentry is about a guy named Bob Reynolds. He’s middle aged, likes to drink and he feels distant and alienated from his wife. He’s agraphobic and his drinking sometimes gets a bit out of hand, but he feels like it wasn’t supposed to be this way. In the back of his mind he has an idea, a kind of sense that he was supposed to be special. He has a feeling that his life wasn’t always this way, but that he had something wonderful that he lost.

At the start of the story, Bob is thinking about heroes. The Sentry is set in the regular Marvel Universe, as part of the Marvel Knights line of darker, more mature stories that the Punisher and Daredevil also belong to. Bob remembers a story he read when he was a kid, a comic about a hero called the Sentry. The Sentry was the Marvel universe version of Superman, invincible and incorruptible. But as he thinks about the Sentry, his memories presented on the page in the style of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s classic 60’s Marvel comics, he starts to get confused. If the Sentry was so powerful, and so important, why does he barely remember him? Why doesn’t anyone remember who the Sentry is? And why is the young scientist who becomes the Sentry in the stories he remembers called Robbie Reynolds?

As the story unfolds, we go on a journey with Bob, as he tries to discover who he is, what happened to him and who was responsible. Throughout, we see more memories of the Sentry, presented in the evolving style of Marvel art over the years, from Ditko, through Frank Miller, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee. Each of these memories is accompanied by a Marvel comics cover, styled after the era. Bob is searching for the truth, and we see the search through his eyes.

In the first half of the full printed version, the art is sublime. Jae Lee‘s work is fantastic for the right kind of story, and here the marriage between the two is magical. The story and dialogue are mature and thoughtful, and the tale the book tells is introspective and incredibly personal, crafting a real sense of the character’s personality and feelings. In the second half of the book there are a number of other artists recounting stories about the Sentry from the perspective of other characters, each with their own art. These artists range in quality, but after the first half you’re already hooked, and the final chapter reverts back to Lee’s art for the finale.

There are some familiar Marvel faces presented in a way which makes them feel fresh and new, and the perspective the book offers on an established and familiar continuity is unusual and extremely refreshing. Like Watchmen and Identity Crisis, this is a book that features characters who are costumed heroes, but humanises them to an extent rarely seen in the medium. The Sentry is brave and beautiful and is by far the best American graphic novel I’ve ever read.

5 Game Sequels Which Are Going To Be Great

•November 22, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It’s November, so if you’re playing games it’s probably Black Ops 2 or Need for Speed or Forza or Assassin’s Creed right? Everyone likes to moan about sequels and reboots, and if you were doing it about those boring motherfuckers you’d be bang on. All car games are exactly the same and you bastards buying a million of them which are exactly the fucking same is why. But there are some amazing looking sequels and reboots on their way in the first quarter of next year. Here’s the five I’m most excited about.

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Out: 12th Febuary

From: Gearbox Software

This might well turn out to be shit. Gearbox have made a lot of games, and they’ve varied pretty wildly, from amazing to awful. But people love Borderlands, and they’ve made some amazing games over the years. The Aliens license may have been abused horribly in the past, but this has been in development for 15 million years so they better have got it right by now.

DmC: Devil May Cry

Out: 15th January

From: Ninja Theory

From Ninja Theory, one of the most ambitious games development studios in the world. They may never have managed to get a decent game together, but they’ve got art design and story down, so just slapping the gameplay of the generally great Devil May Cry series in there may just be the answer. The DMC series as a whole is already pretty inconsistent, with the odd numbered games being great, and the even numbered games being a bit shit (2 far more so than 4). This one is the fifth, so it should be fine.

BioShock Infinite

Out: 26th Febuary

From: Irrational Games

I played the second game in this series first, which kind of sucked and soured me toward the whole thing. I like the ideas in the first one, and I’ve played enough to get the way the art and discovery of the story is combined into gameplay, which is amazing. The new BioShock game appeals to me much more for some reason. The art and environment are captivating, and it looks like it could be really special.

Tomb Raider

Out: 5th March

From: Crystal Dynamics

Rebooting tomb raider seems easy right? Make a game like uncharted, that stars a hot girl. And here it is! They’ve thrown in some survival and stealth stuff as well, a nice bow and arrow and it looks great.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengance

Out: 22nd Febuary

From: Platinum Games

Looking so amazing it might make your eyes bleed, it’s Metal Gear Rising. Now I love Metal Gear games, but anybody has to see that this is amazing, it’s like a robot Kill Bill game, and who wouldn’t want that. With Kojima doing the story and Platinum heading up the gameplay and action, this is going to be insane.

Something Brand New

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Out: 25th January

From: Level 5 and Studio Ghibli

Just to reaffirm my faith in brand new games and concepts, here’s Ni No Kuni, a collaboration between Level 5 (the incredible game studio behind Professor Layton, Dragon Quest VIII and IX, Rogue Galaxy and Inazuma Eleven) and Studio Ghibli (The only other animation studio in the world as good as Pixar, who created Totoro, Nausicaa, Castle in the Sky, Whisper of the Heart and a lot of my other favourite movies). Looking like a ghibli production you can control and play, the game is a JRPG with an amazing magic system using a full spell book and a story and cutscenes which will drag you in. It’s finally coming to the UK and US in English, so please pick it up and support it.

 
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