Insanity thunders on

The self-isolation and numbing effects of quarantine continue. There is a certain joy in taking an extended break and being slower with daily functions but the rhythms are unusual, the timings of things skewed.

You wander empty streets knowing that people are encased in their houses and wonder if they, too, are feeling trapped. Cars go by at a nervous clip. Strangers circle around you, stepping into the road to avoid any contact and to encourage the 2 metre distancing rules.

It feels greatly bizarre and prerehearsed to be living in such dystopian circumstances, to know that we all have guidance to follow, drip-fed by government day-by-day, that we must distance, reduce, slow down. Stop. I keep expecting supermarkets to announce further rationing beyond 3 and 4 amounts of set items such as loo roll, hand sanitizer and other products.

Watching numbers of deaths and cases rise becomes an hour-by-hour obsession. Time slows. Leaders isolate. Things fragment.

Larry Nassar

What in the actual fuck.

I find reading some of the details physically nauseating. I imagine some of this comes from the fact I am a father and some from being a teacher.  But to hear precisely what kinds of abuse were carried out under the pretence of medical practice is disgusting, plain and simple.  He's supposed to heal, not harm.

I cannot possibly understand what those girls and latterly, young women, went through, nor the courage summoned to testify and speak out against such a lying, manipulating so-called professional.

A shame it's taken so long to get justice.

Notable Xbox 360 games of this console generation

Best overall: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Only because this showed how plot could be exciting and stealthy, and launched the omnipresent multiplayer.  I've posted about this game before but the "ripple effect" it had on the industry this generation has been undeniable.

Pleasant surprise: Just Cause 2. Despite being a massive GTA fan, I think I enjoyed the accessible fun in this far more than the leaden seriousness of GTA IV.  It also made a good point: why stop the player from accessing all the best vehicles and weapons from the word go?

Honourable mention: Test Drive: Unlimited. It don't have the tightest handling system but buying new cars and having the freedom of city roads and countryside was welcome.

Best DLC/downloadable title: Minecraft for ridiculous addictive gameplay and reminding me of The Legend of Zelda in a good way.

Most replayed: The Orange Box. I can't say away from Half-Life 2's introductory levels and well crafted plot.  The solid gunplay, shootouts in canals, the ruined aesthetic of City 17, excellent vehicle control.  I suppose variety would sum up HL2 in a word.

Biggest disappointment: Bioshock 2. Loved the original, barely played four hours of the sequel. It wasn't even really Bioshock, in my eyes.  Bad pacing, bad characters, torturous and disengaging setting, and felt rather pointless to play.

Waste of time/money: Kinect. Really didn't find anything I enjoyed. The concept was good, taking the Wii one step beyond, but all I really played was Kinect Adventures.  Very irritating that MS are pushing this as a requirement for the Xbox One without having proven its worth with the Xbox 360.

Biggest time sink: Either Oblivion or Skyrim.  Excellent locations, appropriate music, (generally) fun combat systems, if a little slow and heavy at times.  I embraced being a stealth/archer character in Skyrim and the game turned out a little too easy, but from what I've read that has historically been the case with The Elder Scrolls series.

Most trophies/achievements: L.A. Noire. Got them all, although the drive in all cars was a bit of a bugger.  Even though the questioning system was flawed it was nice to feel part of a world and chase crooks all over 1940s L.A.  What's more, the plot reminded me of old fashioned PC adventure games in many ways: go to location A, find item B and cross-examine with person/place C.  Good stuff.

Looking forward to: Titanfall. It looks like it'll cure me of the weariness I feel about Call of Duty.  The jumping mechanic does seem rather "Halo-like" but it should slightly tweak the approach of a multiplayer system that is creaky and old from CoD.  I do question how engaging the story will be given that it's part of the multiplayer game, but only time will tell.

Please excuse the God-awful typos in this. I must not have been concentrating.

Unfinished: My thoughts on the Wii U

Is the Wii U tablet the next biggest thing to happen to console gaming? 03/04/13

The rise and rise of tablet and smartphone gaming has been well-documented on an assortment of gaming websites.  We live in a world where Angry Birds, Candy Crush, 4 Pics 1 Word and Temple Run dominate the screens of children and adults alike. We also live in a world where children are playing games that feature microtransactions, and are running up huge bills for their parents on iPads.

Tablet and touchscreen-based gaming is very much a mainstream hobby; one might argue Nintendo foresaw this with the Nintendo DS.

With this in mind, I turn my attention to the Wii U's unique gamepad.  Having the ability on Nintendo's shiny-new console to leave the sofa and wander around the house playing the very same game you've just been enjoying on the big screen is something of a leap forward for the traditional living room based console.  Called "Off-TV Play", it means that squabbles over who gets to use the television at which particular time of day can be put to rest for couples, housemates and families.  For those families, it also means parents can have their children share their social space instead of putting them upstairs with a television and console, out of sight.

Thus far, there is no mention of anything remotely similar coming for the Playstation 4 or Xbox 720 (or whatever name it goes under upon release).  And one would immediately say: why would they? Yet one could easily ask: why Wouldn't they? The Wii's success led Microsoft to develop their own motion tracking device, Kinect, that promised players, boldly, "YOU ARE THE CONTROLLER" in 2010.  Sony reacted the same year with Playstation Move, a remote not unlike the Wii remote in shape and purpose.  Both have since been packaged in with their respective consoles - something Nintendo declined to do with the Wii remote, which was first developed as an add-on for the GameCube.

Neither have had the impact or sales success that the Wii has enjoyed, but the very fact both competing companies decided to have their consoles enjoy the same feature, particularly to chase mainstream or "casual" gaming audiences, was significant.  It showed, that, despite the innocence or arrogance whereupon Nintendo said it was not competing with Sony or Microsoft with the Wii, both opposing companies were indeed keeping a very close eye on Nintendo's hardware strategy and sales figures.

Microsoft, despite wild rumour and speculation, have shied away from the portable gaming arena despite success in the console market.  Their only portable devices released to date have been Zune, an MP3 player and Surface, a tablet computer.  Sony eventually entered the ring dominated by Nintendo with the PSP and its successor the PSVita.  Both Sony machines have struggled to have a real impact, and, not unlike some of Nintendo's revisions to their portable gaming machines, Sony's devices sometimes struggle with purpose.  Think the difficulty of getting UMDs off the ground, or the inclusion of a touch screen on the PSVita.

Where this flagship idea of Nintendo's falls short, however, is in its optional nature.  At time of writing, some __ games of __ released offer it as a feature.  This seems nonsensical.  I can only speak from a player's point of view, not a developers', but it seems like Nintendo have the opportunity to offer something no other console can, but are not making it a focal point of marketing or functionality.  It seems like a bit of a waste!

Therefore, it seems Nintendo are trying to offer a system that offers players the best of both worlds: a traditional console with the convenience of a tablet.  It has already been recorded that Nintendo are merging their home console and handheld console divisions together, so clearly they are building momentum and have a long term strategy.  Only time will tell whether it is successful enough to provide strong sales, and if the elephant in the room for Nintendo, namely, Apple's dominance of the portable gaming market, can be diminished.

But Shigeru Miyamoto's now-famous quotation: "upending the tea table" throughout the development process (

Oh, Super Nintendo. How I miss thee!

Simply put, with unlimited time and money, below is the games I'd buy:

Chrono Trigger
Desert Strike
Donkey Kong Country
Donkey Kong Country II
Donkey Kong Country III
Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
Final Fantasy II
Final Fantasy III
Home Alone
Jungle Strike
Krusty's Super Fun House
Mario is Missing!
Paperboy 2
Secret of Mana
Street Fighter Alpha II
Street Fighter II Turbo
Super Chase H.Q.
Super James Pond
Super Mario All-Stars
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario World
Super Metroid
Super Star Wars
Super Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back
Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Urban Strike

The 11 greatest novels I've ever read* (or those I find good enough to re-read annually)

* - up until March 2013, some twenty-two years' worth of reading! In no particular order:

  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley;

  2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald;

  3. The Secret History by Donna Tartt;

  4. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster;

  5. Atonement by Ian McEwan**;

  6. The Things They Carried by Tim O' Brien;

  7. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski;

  8. The Road by Cormac McCarthy;

  9. Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet;

  10. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro;

  11. American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis.

** - I really can't decide what I like best of McEwan's, especially given that I've read all of his output, (and that I've never done that before).  I also adore The Cement Garden, The Innocent and Enduring Love, but am loathe to pick a favourite.  I'm also yet to read Sweet Tooth, despite buying it upon initial release in August 2012.

I suppose I should follow this up with a top children's/young adult listing also, which would look something like:

  1. Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman;

  2. Tom's Midnight Garden by Phillippa Pearce;

  3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon;

  4. ???

  5. TBC

Alan Wake seems to be what Silent Hill should have become

Having just played through the first episode of Alan Wake (herein AW) on the Xbox 360, and comparing it to the first four (or so) hours of Silent Hill: Homecoming (herein SH:H), it is really starting to hit me that Silent Hill as a franchise is clinging on to its past at the expense of growing as a game series.  Alan Wake, I believe, has been accused of being the type of game that is all style and no substance, but first impressions are certainly good.  (The beginning of the second episode, in particular, reminds me of Indigo Prophecy in the way it jumps times/locations.) Please be aware all comparisons are very much "first impression" based, and that I have not yet played Silent Hill: Downpour.

The combat is SH:H is deliberately difficult, a throwback to the first three entries in the Silent Hill series.  You are given a range of melee weapons and are tasked with dodge moves, and have to face powerful foes that really tear you apart if you aren't quick with manoeuvres.  The combat in AW, however, is quicker, and mainly ranged with guns.  The flashlight mechanic, however, gives it a slight subtlety and really forces you to focus on where your enemies are at any given time, as multiple threats can quickly overwhelm you.  This is different to the focus in SH:H because difficulty in combat comes from deliberate contrived actions you have to perform rather than the nature of how enemies attack - essentially, one is player friendly and fluid, one is harder for the player and is very staccato.  You feel as though you progress and become proficient in dealing with different types and sets of enemies in AW, but SH:H punishes and expects you to get better through punishing repetition.

The narrative in AW, whilst very generic in both content and delivery (horror, darkness, possession/ghost-like entities attacking you), is satisfied with being just that.  It is a slick and professional looking horror film turned video game.  By the time SH:H had been released, the story was simply contriving reasons to send yet another character back into the same location.  Of course, this is not a problem since the location of Silent Hill was what made the game important and famous.  But the connections between characters and the town become less tangible as the series goes on: the locations created for Alex Shepherd to visit are sometimes winding and occasionally grandiose, but it never really felt as though I was in Silent Hill proper.  Again, though, this may be because I simply did not progress far enough into the story to see the town and how Alex was meant to chart his course there.  Having just checked a FAQ from it seems I made it approximately halfway through the game.  But unless the plot really develops brilliantly in the latter half of the game, then it seems a waste of a great location.  Why keep the player waiting to visit what is the title of the series? Suspense? I don't think this argument holds water.

[Continued from 10/3/13]

Having completed Alan Wake since writing this blog post, my opinion still stands.  I say again, that Alan Wake is not innovative and trail blazing, and as time passes, my initial warm feelings to the game start to cool.  But Alan Wake is good enough in doing what it sets out to do, which is provide a decent horror experience and a fairly competent narrative, hung together with a decent combat mechanic that rewards the player with steady progress, not punishing unfairness.

What I also know is that the feeling behind SH:H is all wrong: there is a mismatch between Alex Shepherd from SH:H and the location of Silent Hill, whereas Alan Wake fits a little more neatly into his setting.  Silent Hill: Homecoming tries too hard to stick to precisely the same formula that made the earlier games successful as opposed to breaking genuinely new ground, which is what AW seems to try to do.  Or at least deliver something generic in books and film as a video game, which is something of a step forward for the horror genre.

Fin.  For now.

The Times I disagree with The Guardian(!)

I cannot pretend to know the two people featured in this post on a personal level, but I do enjoy what I have seen on their respective television shows; humour and hard work being two values I am assuming are part of Seth Macfarlane and Gordon Ramsay's lives.  Honestly though, The Guardian has frankly irritated me beyond belief over two articles during the past two months, and in many ways I am glad I am now reading it less frequently.

Firstly, an interview with Seth Macfarlane and Mila Kunis, both stars of Family Guy, about TED:

Secondly, an interview with Gordon Ramsay, celebrity chef, about Gordon Behind Bars:

Note the following in both articles:
  • the journalist begins with some ridiculous warning statement over how the interview turned out.  Oooh! Shock horror! Not good! The interviewee walks out after questioning. Controversy! Why would someone walk away from the friendly Guardian? Observe the pathetic, narrative-based opening lines in the next two bullet points:
  • Ramsay interview: "Gordon Ramsay and I eyeball one another, turn away, and stare into space. In the long, sour silence that follows, I hear my nails drum the notepad on my knee. "Well," I say, "maybe we should call it a day.""
  • Macfarlane interview: "I did not plan to get into a shouting match with Mila Kunis. Showing Seth MacFarlane anything other than respect and admiration was the furthest thing from my mind."
  • there is very little reporting of the actual questions asked by the "journalists," Decca Aitkenhead (Ramsay), and Jonathan Bernstein (Macfarlane).  Instead there are detailed interjections and assumptions made by the journalists about the possible motivations of each interviewee.  This implies that there is no trust in the reader to decipher tone on his or her own.  It also shows that the journalist is not confident enough for their material to stand up to scrutiny on its own, or that, perhaps, they showed up lazily underprepared.
  • each journalist clearly has an axe to grind with each celebrity and deliberately asks provocative questions that are totally off-topic to the actual interview - Gordon Ramsay's family history and Seth Macfarlane's 'problem' of transitioning from animation to film;
  • the interviewers try to defend their opinions and "hard lines of questioning" by pulling out such ridiculous justifications and additions including these setups:
  • [Ramsay/Aitkenhead]: ""Can you get back to prisons?" the woman says. "I think we've got quite a lot that we want to say about prisons, and we've only got half an hour left." In that case, I suggest, why doesn't she take over and conduct the interview herself? "No, I think we'd just like to stick to prisons."" - YES! Great idea! Get bitchy with the PR minder assigned to Ramsay and jealous over the fact she's trying to remind you do DO YOUR JOB PROPERLY!
  • [Macfarlane/Bernstein]: "A pall of gloom settles over MacFarlane, but I know how to lift it. Listen, I tell him, you've outlasted The Flintstones and all the shows you grew up loving. You've had more success than you could ever imagine. You've got your own little mini-network within Fox. Those shows can and probably will go on for ever. Why do you need respect, too? In my mind, I'm saying this in a fraternal, empathetic, supportive way." - SUPER! Compare a modern ADULT-ORIENTED American satirical show to a children's television show! PATRONISE FOR THE WIN!
I could go on and on, but really it annoys me to even re-read each article.  I have honestly never seen such awful reporting from a publication I respect.  Lazy journalism at its absolute worst: copy and paste a load of filler information dressed up as reporting, (gathered from either Wikipedia or other Guardian articles), aim for the obvious button to "push" your interviewee to their limit, then act surprised and hurt when they refuse to continue wasting their time with you, but try to reverse it and dress it up like they're the bad guy! Hooray for The Guardian!

In defence of HD collections

(N.B. Originally written: 12th March 2012 - submitted to a games website but was not published).

As of late, there have been increasing numbers of past games being collected into new editions, with entries from the Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid and Silent Hill series’ being high-profile examples from 2011-12.  Sony in particular has created a “Classics HD” range of games for the Playstation 3, selecting worthy past releases and, in many cases, trilogies, for shiny visual upgrades in order to highlight great entries for the Playstation brand.  Top names include Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell, God of War, and an ICO/Shadow of the Colossus double pack, to name but a few.  This range continues across the PS3 and Xbox 360 throughout 2012 with The Jak and Daxter Trilogy, a Devil May Cry HD Collection and the Silent Hill HD Collection.

With the Silent Hill HD Collection due for release 16th March 2012 in the UK, one begins to wonder if these remakes and collections represent value for money for consumers.  After all, this new collection only actually features Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3, neglecting the two mainstream titles released either side of each: Silent Hill and Silent Hill 4: The Room.

European licensing issues prevented the original Silent Hill from the Playstation being released as part of the Playstation 2 Silent Hill Collection in 2006, as it was actually included in the Japanese release.  Yet here we are six years later with the same set of games, now billed as a HD collection, missing the fourth game in the series from the same generation of consoles.  It is perhaps a hard sell.

Undoubtedly, Konami desires to keep the Silent Hill fires burning, especially with two further games still in development: Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the freshly released Playstation Vita and Silent Hill: Downpour for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.  But can a collection really justify the tag when it only includes two games?

Searching elsewhere across other entertainment media, one discovers that the answer is yes.  Consumers are both demanding and fickle.  The Harry Potter books and DVDs were released in varying incomplete sets: from Philosopher’s Stone to Order of the Phoenix for the books and “Years 1-6” for the DVDs, before complete sets were devised and made available.  Star Wars has been released in differing box sets, splitting the two trilogies and also offering an Episode I and II double pack, which at first glance seems ludicrous.  It has only been in the past year that fans have finally gotten to purchase a complete box set featuring all six films in one collection, again, some six years after the release of Episode III on DVD.  Elsewhere, the first season of hit TV series LOST was released in two separate halves.  Clearly, there is strong demand for apparently incomplete box sets and collections.  But is this initial demand based purely on the assumption that in the unspecified future a complete collection will arrive? This does not seem the case with Silent Hill.

It would be easy to pick holes in the Silent Hill HD Collection in comparison to other franchises.  Konami’s own Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, like Silent Hill, similarly features the second and third outings for Solid Snake, but also has the Sony PSP (initially exclusive) Peace Walker included in the pack, a welcome bonus, enabling home console players to try out an entry they may have missed.  However, Silent Hill HD Collection does not include its PSP counterpart in the form of Silent Hill: Origins.  Even Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary enables players to change between the original Xbox graphics versus the recreated HD Xbox 360 graphics at the touch of a button, at least seeming like an appeasement to past and potential players.  It is then very easy to label the Silent Hill HD Collection a quick and easy cash-in for Konami.

But this appetite for the new and improved is a natural part of playing and enjoying videogames, both past and present.  Graphics continually improve over the life cycle of a console, and rumours abound of the next consoles Sony and Microsoft are currently developing.  The idea of the old renewed is not brand new.  Who can forget that the “Super” prefix and “64” suffix played a big part in marketing Nintendo games during the 1990s? Or in the same vein, the number of botched crossovers from arcade to home console? Granted, the market was very different, but the desire to continue playing what you had already experienced was there.  Consumer appetites (and console transitions) are why Half-Life 2 made an appearance on the Xbox in 2005, then was trumpeted as one piece of The Orange Box for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in 2007.  So then why do players hanker to play the old through new consoles? Is it warm familiarity? Or a reinforcement of the prestige of certain titles over others?

Ultimately, they are considered difficult and dirty words to use, but re-releases of games contribute to videogame culture and history.  They help keep franchises in the minds of consumers ready for new instalments, and create importance around older titles so that newer gamers can experience videogames worth playing but may no longer be easily accessible on obsolete hardware.  What’s more, in the continued march forward, keeping older brands relevant can lead to publishers taking side-steps, as seemed to be the case with the “will they won’t they” decision over keeping the Call of Duty name on Modern Warfare 2.

Silent Hill 2 was given a 9/10 score by Eurogamer’s own Tom Bramwell over ten years ago, and arguably it is a pinnacle the rest of the series aspires to but never quite reaches.  Silent Hill 3 was also awarded a 9/10 by Kristan Reed but Silent Hill 4: The Room only managed 7/10 from him.  So perhaps Konami, like some Silent Hill fans, is deciding to relegate the fourth entry to a position befitting its quality (or lack thereof) in the series’ history.

And there has never been a better time to consider preservation of videogame history; as mentioned above, in the next few years, rumours suggest we will see the new hardware devices from Sony and Microsoft, and the potential for past greats to be consigned to memory alone is huge as each transition happens.  The British Library has recently begun archiving websites about videogames in a new partnership with the National Videogame Archive, and thankfully, mainstream media outlets are regularly writing short reviews alongside news stories that promote, rather than denigrate the medium. Continued re-releasing of past games should flag them up for archivists who may know little about what is considered a high-calibre videogame, and can introduce a new generation of gamers to a past classic.  It is akin to reprinted editions of famous novels, except the lack of a common system to play the re-releases on can be a source of frustration, rather than enjoyment.

Value for money is in the eye of the beholder, and eventually everyone must accept that no re-release or collection of videogames by a publisher is motivated purely by accessibility or choice for consumers; the publisher’s eye is on profit and brand awareness.  But in accepting the importance of a videogame by re-releasing it, and by critics and fans alike continually pointing out the excellent features therein, hopefully everyone can benefit from higher quality videogames being produced when publishers take time to listen.