Amiga Disk Project: Results!

It worked! Everything worked just as I’d hoped, and I was able to get the data off my old disks, turn it into Amiga disk images and run it in an emulator. There were four disks – I take a look through each of them below:


Amiga Disk Project

Crap, I said “watch this space”, didn’t I? And then put my new project up on a completely different space. Briefly then, this is the new reason why I’m distracted from working on VEIN, in addition to all the old “I am lazy and easily distracted” ones.

You’ll recall that back in this post, I found an old Amiga game of mine preserved online, while the rest were “basically locked in their plastic prisons, with no way of getting out to remind me of what a creative teenage dynamo I assume I used to be”. Well now I’m trying to do something about that, by way of a friend’s old Amiga 500, the right kind of cables and a fair amount of luck.

Video seemed like a more suitable format for documenting this project, which lead to this:

And then this:

And that’s where we stand for now. Until I get my hands on an Amiga Workbench disk (one is supposedly coming from the UK via eBay), we’ll just have to wait…

UPDATE 22/2/21 – Progress!

UPDATE 23/2/21 – More progress!!

The Further Adventures of Ted “Theodore” Logan

Come with me now on a journey back through the churning mists of time… It is the year 2000, and I am – holy shit, am I actually doing a misty flashback to the year 2000? Living in the future is weird. Anyway, it’s January 2000 and I’m turning 24. My preferred birthday celebration is going to the movies with a bunch of friends, but the problem with a birthday in January is that all the good films came out a couple of months earlier in time for the Christmas break – by mid-January, you’re left with the stuff that’s either too obscure or just too crap to be allowed to clutter the holiday schedule. What’s around this year that we haven’t already watched? Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Skipping ahead through the years, my birthday hijinks would end up exposing me to a fairly even mixture of hidden gems (Enemy at the Gates, A Very Long Engagement) and banal shit (Battlefield Earth, The Spirit). This year, having let the tradition slide somewhat, I decided to give it a go – with 47 Ronin.

there’s nothing more evil than a sexually confident woman.

Come with me now on another journey back through the churning mists of time… It is now feudal Japan with samurai and honour and massive shoulder pads but also witches and demons and shit. Let me say at the start that I’m not sure how I feel about an action movie that doesn’t have Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham in it. How do we even know it’s an action film? On the other hand, there are 47 of the buggers – one of them’s bound to be Statham in a wig. Probably two or three. Headlining the film is Keanu Reeves as Kai, a half-Japanese outcast with magical powers taught to him by demons that he almost never uses for fear of blowing the FX budget. Kaianu is pretty much Japanese Neo, which is to say he’s pretty much any Keanu Reeves character who isn’t Ted “Theodore” Logan*. It’s debatable whether or not he’s the main character – equal weight is given to Oishi, the leader of the eponymous Ronin, who is actually central to the story, as opposed to being bolted on to provide a white face and a supernatural angle.

The plot is based on the classic tale: A bunch of samurai are made ronin and exiled after the death of their lord. Their leader is thrown in a hole for a year, gets out and after a brief detour to swipe Kaianu off the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, he assembles the rest of the crew and they organise an assault on the bad guys to avenge their master. The bad guys in this case are a rival lord, whose face appears to have been welded into a permanent evil sneer, and a powerful witch, who we can tell is evil because she acts kind of slutty and shows a lot of leg and we all know there’s nothing more evil than a sexually confident woman. As well as enemy soldiers, the ronin have to contend with demons, both CGI and half-CGI. (I get that Tengu are supposed to be bird-like, but why do they have four nostrils? Seriously, their beak/nose combo gives them bird nostrils at the top and human nostrils at the bottom – I’m not lying when I say that bothered me the entire time they were on screen.)

And, yeah, the good guys win, but then of course they all have to commit ritual suicide because honour, so Kaianu can never be with the woman he loves. With the amount of “I’ll find you in another life” pining, I was 95% sure that the movie was going to manufacture a happy ending with a flash forward showing the reincarnated lovebirds being reunited in the present day – instead it ends on a silhouetted fist-pumping ronin on horseback, which was one freeze frame and the opening bars of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” short of a Breakfast Club remake**. As a film, it’s not good enough to gush over, nor is it bad enough to mock satisfyingly – there was only one thing that really stuck out to me, but to explain it, you’ll have to…

Come with me now on a journey back through the churning mists of time, not as far as the last journey but a bit further back than the one before it… It’s 1991 and I’m playing the game Magic Pockets on my Amiga 500. I almost included this game on my list of life-defining gaming experiences, but its significance to me doesn’t really relate to gaming per se. See, when you complete a level, all of the goodies you collected spray out across the screen, and when I saw that my reaction was “wow, that’s an impressive number of objects on screen at once – that would have been hard to do on an Amiga,” which was the first time I noticed myself paying attention to the behind-the-scenes technical details of a piece of entertainment at the same time as I was supposed to be sitting back and enjoying it.

The more I learn about how movies are made, the more I find myself doing this. I’ve mentioned before not being able to unsee Teal and Orange or badly written action scenes once I knew how they work; more recently,’s podcast “Why Every Movie Plot Follows Weirdly Specific Rules” saw me analysing the timing of every film I saw after it. Back on topic, while watching 47 Ronin, I found myself thinking “hmm, that CGI’s OK; that CGI’s a bit dodgy; I’m assuming that background is CGI; good integration of CGI and real life in that bit” and so on. I don’t know why CGI sticks out more than, say, stop animation or miniature work – maybe it’s because it’s used to achieve things that you know can’t be real. On the other hand, maybe I just didn’t pay as much attention to how things worked back before CGI became commonplace – I do watch older films now and think “ooh, that’s a nice model.” Am I just going to destroy more and more of my movie watching experience the more I know about how movies work? Should I be actively avoiding any more discussions of film-making? Should I be scientifically hitting myself in the head with a flatiron to dislodge what knowledge I already have?

I could come to some sort of conclusion here, but I know that most of you stopped reading after “flatiron” to jump to the comments section and say “yes you should” so I’m just going to stop typing now.

* Of course, since he has access to a time machine, you can make the case that any time Keanu Reeves appears as a character in a period piece, he’s actually an older Ted taking a breather from being a rock god. Hell, he’s even got the beard in this one.

** Needless to say, that would have been awesome.

How Videogames Changed My World: Footnote

So, in my last post on my life in videogames, I mentioned that back in the 90s I made a bunch of games in the AMOS language on my Amiga 500, which I now have no way of accessing. Shortly after I posted that, I was searching online for old Amiga stuff, and was greatly surprised to see my name in a collection of old Amiga public domain software.

Mr. Burns’ teddy bear Bobo

I said all my AMOS games were on unreadable Amiga disks in my possession – all but one. As an enthusastic Amiga gamer, I used to read the British gaming magazine Amiga Power, and would occasionally send them letters (a couple of which got published). One time, I sent them a letter along with a disk containing the first game I ever made back in 1992. It was called BOINNG! and it was laughably primitive. I guess I was hoping they’d send me some encouraging feedback or put it on one of their coverdisks or something – instead, I never heard back from them. The disk, however, seems to have made its way into the possession of someone in England who was compiling public domain Amiga games and mine was added to their collection, which has since been digitised.

I downloaded the archive and with a bit of fiddling was able to save it as an Amiga disk image that would run on my Amiga emulator. It feels like that episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns’ teddy bear Bobo is lost, journeys all over the world and finally ends up back in his hands. Aw. And here it is:

On one hand, I’m glad that it was this game that ended up preserved on the Internet, since it was my first one ever – it definitely makes my list of Videogames That Changed My World on significance alone. On the other hand, as the first game I ever made, it’s also the most rubbish – I did eventually learn how to animate a walk cycle and move objects in other than a straight line, but those superior examples of my talent are truly lost. Or are they?

(Yes, yes they are – hell, I remember I accidentally wiped one of them back in 1993. They’re gone.)

UPDATE: On the other hand, maybe they aren’t…

How Videogames Changed My World

Two things happened to me in quick succession the other day: I watched the excellent How Videogames Changed the World documentary and I realised that it was exactly twenty years since my last day of high school. The combination of videogame history and a more-soul-crushing-than-usual bout of nostalgia inspired me to trot down my own gaming history. In chronological-ish order, here’s a list of videogames that changed my world*:

Asteroids (1979)
When I was very young – I’m assuming pre-school – my grandparents were looking after me for the day while my parents were off doing who-knows-what (sleeping, if my experience of early parenthood is any guide). We walked down to the dairy near their house, and while they were buying things I wandered over to the Asteroids cabinet by the entrance. As it happened, someone must have put some coins in and then wandered off before using them all, because there was enough credit left on the machine that when I started playing with the buttons, a game started up. Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing, and spent a couple of games spinning in a circle and firing wildly before blowing up. If that wasn’t my first exposure to videogames, it’s certainly the first I remember.

Some driving game on the VIC-20 (early 80s, I guess)
In the years before home computers were commonplace, my dad would occasionally be allowed to cart one of his workplace PCs home for the weekend. The first exposure to home gaming that I can recall was some vertically-scrolling driving game on a borrowed Commodore VIC-20. All I remember is bright colours, rapid movement, and wishing I could keep playing it forever – certainly the idea of having to give the computer back (or giving my brother a turn) seemed unbearable.

Moon Patrol (1982)
Moon_patrolI’ve played Asteroids on an actual arcade machine; I’m old enough that I must have played the original Space Invaders for real, though I can’t recall any specific occasions; I can remember playing Donkey Kong in a cafe in Greece and Dig Dug in the lobby of a Japanese hotel, but Moon Patrol was my most formative arcade gaming experience, purely because it was on the cabinet in the local dairy when I was a kid. Any time we’d go down there, if Mum was feeling generous, my brothers and I would be able to throw a few coins in it and have a play.

Omega Race/Robotron: 2084 (1982)
Eventually we got a VIC-20 of our own. As well as playing games off a cassette tape and typing in program listings from magazines (some in vaguely comprehensible BASIC, others a mess of indecipherable PEEKs and POKEs and a few in honest-to-goodness machine code), we had games on cartridges that plugged in the back – these are the two I remember playing the most. Omega Race was an Asteroids clone and Robotron was the classic shooter that’s inspired numerous remakes and ripoffs over the years. The setup is that you’re protecting the few remaining humans after evil robots have taken over the world – I remember being mildly traumatised every time I failed to save one.

Golden Axe (1989)
Next door to the local dairy was the local fish & chips shop, which for a long time had a machine running Golden Axe – this is undoubtedly the arcade game that ate the most of my money. A good old-fashioned fantasy hack-and-slash game, where you controlled a Conan-esque protagonist (loincloth’d man, bikini’d woman or sensibly-attired dwarf) and took to a variety of monsters with swords, axes and ride-able monsters. There was a spin-off for the PS3 that tried to focus on the two most memorable aspects of the original: riding monsters and staring at the warrior woman’s bum – strangely, it didn’t do very well.

Flimbo’s Quest (1990)
flimboThe family VIC-20 was eventually upgraded to a C64 and then to the mighty Commodore Amiga 500, which is what I spent most of my time gaming on from late childhood to early adulthood. I had dozens of games, almost all pirated – that was just how it worked back then. Kids swapped cracked copies of games, which spread across the world like diseases – years later when I got an Amiga emulator for the PC and downloaded disk images of all my old games, I was surprised to see that they were the exact copies I’d run all those years ago.

Flimbo’s Quest represents the first time I found myself emotionally invested in a videogame. The game itself was nothing amazing – a pretty enough platformer for the time, but repetitive and difficult to the extent that I only ever completed it by using cheats. But the ending sequence, where you finally rescue your girlfriend and hold hands as you watch the sun go down, was the first time I got vaguely misty-eyed staring at sprites on a screen.

Turrican II (1991)
turrican2-002Turrican II is the Best Amiga Game. Those who would deny this can just… just bugger off, OK? An action shooty platformer, it had smooth gameplay, great graphics, enormous levels and an excellent Chris Huelsbeck soundtrack. This game is the one I completely mastered – I knew every level like the back of my hand, I could complete it without resorting to cheat codes, and did over and over again. It’s good, is what I’m saying.

Lemmings (1991)
By 1991, I was an old hand at videogames – I knew all the genres and the tropes of each. Lemmings was the first game to stop in me in my tracks by being unclassifiable; by inventing its own genre (the save-em-up?). And by being stupid amounts of fun. I’ve no idea how much time I spent guiding the little buggers through each level (or gleefully herding them into traps just for fun), but it was a lot – I can still recall most of the in-game music (mostly jingly adaptations of classical or public domain tunes).

Supercars 2 (1991)
Supercars 2 is the Weezer of my Amiga gaming experience. I wouldn’t call myself a big Weezer fan – I own a couple of their albums – and yet whenever I had to grab a bunch of CDs for listening to in the car or at my desk (before the advent of MP3s), a Weezer album has always been among them. Similarly, Supercars 2 isn’t the best or most significant or most technically spectacular game, but it was The Game That Was Always There. After I’d played out everything else, after the Amiga had been thoroughly supplanted by PCs, it was the game that I still came back and played – mostly because it was a great two-player experience.

Cow Wars (1993)
cow_warsTwo reasons this obscure freeware “catapulting cows at each other” two-player game makes an appearance here: one is that it was the game I showed to friends who didn’t play computer games – it was a funny little joke that you could play for ten minutes and have a good laugh with. The other reason is that it was made in AMOS, a version of BASIC that was released for the Amiga in 1990. I had a copy of AMOS myself and used it to make various primitive games that I still have on floppy disks somewhere. Of course, no computer has a disk drive anymore, and even if I had access to one that did, Amiga disks were a different format that doesn’t load in a PC, so all my old games are basically locked in their plastic prisons, with no way of getting out to remind me of what a creative teenage dynamo I assume I used to be. (UPDATE: Or are they?)

Actually, there’s a third reason: if both players timed their shots so that their cows passed each other in mid air, they’d say “hello” to each other – brilliant.

Resident Evil (1996)
I was, and remain, a PlayStation gamer – it was the console that got its hooks into me, and I haven’t had the motivation to change brands yet. We used to rent them for a weekend as a special treat, and once I was in regular (part-time) employment at University I went out and bought one as a Christmas present to myself. I’m actually not sure what the first game I played on the PlayStation was, but there’s a good chance it was Resident Evil – if it wasn’t the first, it’s certainly the one that sticks with me. When I got a PS2, it was because of the latest game in the series (Resident Evil: Code Veronica, which turned out to be rubbish). Zombie games are a dime a dozen these days, and Resident Evil is why.

Tekken Tag Tournament (1999)
tekken-tag-tournament-hd-gameplay-2I’d always been a fan of the Tekken series, especially as I was getting into Jackie Chan’s Hong Kong action movies at the same time as Tekken 3 introduced drunken boxing and animal styles to its Chan-alike character Lei Wulong. By the time Tekken Tag Tournament debuted, I was a regular Internet-goer, and found online communities devoted to the game. TTT became the first game I played socially – every Friday night, I’d go to an arcade to play with a bunch of regulars I’d met through a local Tekken site. I even went to a local tournament and did OK for myself. These days I interact with other gamers online from the comfort of my sofa, which, frankly, is how it should be.

Shadow of the Colossus (2006)
This one featured in How Videogames Changed the World as an introduction to how games could make you feel guilt; I include it because it’s just so goddamn good. Good enough that, despite owning it on the PS2 I actually paid real money for the HD release of it on the PS3. It does do a good job of making you doubt that you’re doing the right thing as you play it – the first time I took down a colossus and the music changed from action-packed intensity to a sorrowful dirge as I watched the majestic beast collapse to the ground in slow motion, I thought “wait, what? Where’s my triumphant victory music? Where’s the celebration? Why am I sad all of a sudden?”

I don’t like open world games – I’ve never got into the Grand Theft Auto series, for one – but I found myself, as I played through the game again and again, just wandering and exploring – even though I knew there wouldn’t be any hidden collectibles or secret minigames to find, its world is so well-realised that I still wanted to see what was over the next hill or through the next pass. And then there’s the bit where they (seemingly) kill your horse. Bastards.

Guitar Hero/Rock Band (2006)
My introduction to the rhythm game genre was Vib Ribbon on the Playstation, followed by Gitaroo Man on the PS2 – both excellent games, but they could never approach the majesty of the competing Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises. I got my first plastic guitar with Guitar Hero 3 in 2008, then went back and got 1 and 2, then branched out into the Rock Band series, then got a PS3, which meant I could download new tracks to play on it. Then I spent rather a lot of money. A few dollars for a track isn’t much, but after a few years fiddling with plastic guitars, drums and keyboards, it adds up – I’m frankly a little frightened of counting up exactly how much money I’ve dropped on Rock Band games…

Uncharted 2 (2009)
uncharted2From the earliest days of Amiga gaming (and probably before), the phrase “playing the movie” has been thrown at players by marketing people with a questionable understanding of what the word “playing” means – most games that claimed to let you “play the movie” mostly just made you “watch the game”. The likes of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls show that this kind of diseased thinking is still with us, but in Uncharted 2, decades after “play the movie” had become an annoying cliche, the vision was finally realised. This game is an action movie that you’re in control of. About halfway through, it occurred to me that there hadn’t been any level-ending boss fights of the sort you’d expect in an action game, then realised that instead of those, the game had been serving up “action sequences” to bookend its sections. Being chased through collapsing buildings by an attack helicopter or fighting your way along the world’s longest train gave all the excitement of a boss battle with much more immersion.

The Last of Us (2013)
Like Shadow of the Colossus, this one featured in How Videogames Changed the World. As with SotC, I include it, not for the reasons it made the show (namely that it represents the rise of the “game as critically acclaimed HBO box set”), but because it’s just so goddamn good. Since I wrote this review, I still haven’t had the nerve to play through it again – it’s not that I don’t want to, I’m just honestly not sure I can handle it yet.

And that’s my life in gaming. I left out a few memorable ones that didn’t quite seem significant enough (I thought about including Ape Escape for its technical breakthrough in using analogue controls, and Llamatron because Jeff fucking Minter), and there are many popular franchises that I’ve never got into, like Grand Theft Auto, World of Warcraft, Metal Gear Solid or anything by Nintendo. It’s possible the omissions tell you as much about me as the ones that made it in – on the other hand, that sounds like something a total wanker would say so we’ll just leave it there.

*I considered googling to see if anyone had already used that as a title, then figured of course they have – why depress myself with how original I’m not?

Best Mushroom Zombie Apocalypse Ever

“THEY DIDN’T SUFFER”. Fuck you, The Last of Us. Fuck you rather a lot.

You know those movies that you watch and think “wow, that was an excellent film – I never want to see it again”? Se7en was one for me – a work of art that I will never voluntarily re-watch. So was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, strangely enough – after seeing that with friends, we all decided on “harrowing” as the best word to describe the experience of watching it. And now a video game has had the same effect on me. Yeah, I probably will play The Last of Us again – collectibles need collectin’ – but I’ll have to psych myself up for it first, if only to survive the opening sequence.

…toting a lead pipe with scissor blades taped to it…

You start the game in control of the main character Joel’s young daughter. That had me worried straight away – none of the promotional material or reviews for the game had even mentioned the existence of a daughter, which suggested she wasn’t going to be sticking around for long. She did not. That opening chapter, which perfectly puts you in the middle of the rising chaos of a zombie outbreak, actually manages to top Uncharted 2‘s.

Not pictured: permanent emotional trauma.

That fact that the opening ends on a particularly bleak note colours the rest of the game; even though the plot starts fairly formulaically – post-zombie-apocalypse, you’re given the task of ferrying a young girl, Ellie, who appears to be immune to the infection into the care of a group who are looking for a cure – it’s established that bad things can happen to anyone, so you never quite know how things are going to turn out. Much like when watching Se7en, I genuinely had no idea which way it was going to go at the end – I was hoping for a happy ending, but there was plenty of indications it could go the other way. In the end, though, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind was the better comparison, as the emotionality of the game and the ambiguity of its ending (it even – tiny spoiler – has the same last line as ESSM) was genuinely draining.

No video game has made me cry. I came close at the end of Final Fantasy VIII and again at the end of Final Fantasy X. I came even closer in Shadow of the Colossus when your horse, the only companion you have throughout the game, falls into a chasm while saving you from a similar fate*. I didn’t cry at The Last of Us either, because frankly, if I was going to I don’t think I’d have stopped. Even when I was creeping through a ruined city, dodging vicious echolocating mushroom zombies, toting a lead pipe with scissor blades taped to it, the game still managed to stop me in my tracks with random acts of pathos, such as coming across a locked room in a previously overrun compound and finding small bodies covered by a sheet, with the three words at the start of this column painted on the floor.

The game really makes you care about the characters, partly due to the fact that not all of the incidental characters die (just most of them). It could have gone the Walking Dead route of “here are some more new characters… aaaand now they’re dead”, but instead they leave just enough hope that these ones might make it out alive.

The characters themselves are all nicely ambiguous. They’re not heroes (some of the stuff Joel does fully justifies the game’s R18 rating), but not villains either; just selfish – partly due to being products of the dog-eat-dog world they live in, and partly out of a need to remedy the losses they’ve already suffered. By the end of the game it’s clear that Joel and Ellie need each other, for a mixture of reasons both benevolent and selfish.

As a game, the best word to describe The Last of Us is “complete” – nothing’s left out, the developers took no shortcuts and didn’t skimp on anything. The environments are massive and fully detailed – not quite “open world”, but big enough to thwart the usual gamer instinct to explore everywhere for goodies. In some cases, such as when creeping through a hotel that’s swimming with bandits, it was “I haven’t been everywhere, but there’s the exit – fuck it, I’m getting out of here while I still can.”

The characters are similarly detailed, in appearance (the truly expressive facial animations are amazing), personality and dialogue. The game is peppered with incidental conversations and observations, and with the exception of a few often-repeated tasks, I don’t think I heard the same line of dialogue twice. Enemy AI is better than average – your opponents, both human and infected, are still pretty dumb and easy to sneak up on at times, but they act in groups and react cleverly to things like being fired on or hearing you run out of ammo, and humans will even surrender if they’re overwhelmed.

This game’s received the complaints I’ve come to expect when an action-oriented game gets called “survival horror”. As with Dead Space, the test applies: does the game encourage/require you to fight rather than run for your life? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no – there’s a fair bit of sneaking around and avoiding enemies, but plenty of full-on gun battles as well. (One complaint I have is that it wasn’t always clear when you’re supposed to run and when you had to stand and fight.) The “Normal” difficulty setting was a bit easy – materials were plentiful, and my ammo was only scarce because I’m a rubbish shot – but harder settings should give a better “survival horror” experience.

Another complaint is that it falls into the Uncharted trap a bit, where it starts to get preposterous just how many enemies you manage to kill. The Uncharted games have Nate Drake mowing down whole armies – The Last of Us isn’t that bad, but you and your teenage sidekick end up taking down whole militia groups and buildings full of bandits. At least in this case it’s well established that we’re now living in a kill-or-be-killed world where life is cheap and death comes quick.

At the end of the day, any complaints are minor niggles compared to the powerful experience that this game delivers**. Despite actively trying not to give a shit about what happens to my fictional avatars, I still found myself thinking “please don’t kill them, please” at crucial points and although I put my controller down at the start of the week I’m still thinking about everything that happened. This game is good, is what I’m saying.

*I never gave the slightest fuck when Aeris got killed in FFVII, though – I don’t know why people always talk about that as the most traumatic experience of their gaming lives.

**I believe a lot of people aren’t happy with the ending – maybe the developers will go the Mass Effect route and release a more fan-friendly ending as DLC. Or maybe they’ll mail all of the players a Shiny Red Fucking Bow to tie the story up with.

Something for Something

New posts have been a little thin on the ground here for the past month or so, largely because I’ve been spending all my time working on the screenplay for a pornographic movie where a group of sexually frustrated female pensioners are teased by a well-endowed lothario who refuses to service them – I’m calling it No Man-Tree for Old Cunts.

Eventually I realised I was whining…

Obviously that’s a lie – I haven’t spent a month working on a screenplay; I’ve spent a month working on that pun. In the few spare moments when I wasn’t tinkering with Spoonerisms, I’ve been playing games on my wee Android tablet – in particular, I’ve become quite attached to Tekken Card Tournament, a “free-to-play” card game based on the popular fighting game franchise.

Now, I’ve dealt with marketing people, and I know that it’s all about “it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it” – playing up the pretty bits, brushing the bad bits under the carpet and generally sticking to a “message” that may or may not have much grounding in reality. One of their most important tools is naming – the name you give something frames how you think about it, so they’ll work hard to come up with something that projects exactly the image they want to project, regardless of how divergent it is from the truth.

Even knowing that, I’m both aghast and kind of impressed at the audacity of whoever came up with the term “free-to-play”, a model that, in practice, equates to “not free to play”. You download the game for free and can play it a bit at a time, but to play it whenever you want, however you want, you have to cough up the dough. For games like TCT and perhaps the most well-known of it’s kind, Candy Crush Saga, there’s a “lives” system – you can play a few games, but then you’re “out of lives” and have to wait for them to regenerate (usually half an hour at a time) or pay to keep playing.

Yes, technically you can play it for free, and if the only options were that or games that you have to buy up front, “free-to-play” might be a reasonable term, but considering that these games exist alongside ones that are 100% free of charge and of restrictions, it’s more than a bit disingenuous.

In fact, it’s been this bait and switch that’s grated with me most of all – getting a game for “free”, then finding that it expects me to shell out if I actually want to enjoy it more. The more I thought about it, though, the more OK with it I became. For one thing, it’s basically a variant of (possibly an improvement on) the age-old practice of offering a free demo – this way, you get access to all the game has to offer, just at a throttled pace*. And to be honest, the “lives” system is good because it ensures that after twenty minutes or so I’m forced to put the tablet down and do something productive with my life.

Eventually I realised I was whining about being encouraged (not even forced) to pay money for something I was genuinely enjoying, which isn’t really unfair. It may be optimism on my part, but it seems like people are becoming more willing to pay a little bit for stuff that they like. Fuck Veronica Mars – the fact that 5 Second Films is getting to make their movie shows that lots of people are cool with the Kickstarter model. And every week, we take the oldest down to the video library to rent a new Disney movie for him – it’d be a piece of cake to find them online for free, but why not part with a few bucks for something that offers value? (I’ll admit there’s also an element of spite to it – discussions of copyright always seem to involve grumpy arseholes who insist that kids these days refuse to pay for anything. Nice to prove them wrong, too.)

Anyway, back to scripting Ponch de León, a CHiPs revival spin-off, where an aging Erik Estrada moves to Florida in search of the fountain of youth. I’m thinking we could get Erik Estrada to play the Erik Estrada part.

*That’s the Tekken experience anyway – I uninstalled Candy Crush Saga once it became clear that the only way to pass some levels was either to be very very lucky (which, at one game per half hour, would take a long long time) or to buy a bunch of powerups.

In Space, No-one Can Hear you be Dead. Three.

I’ve just read this review back to myself, and realised that it does what I always hate in a review: spends most of the time picking at flaws, only to finish with “but it’s actually good – I really enjoyed it.” Let’s just start by saying that I liked Dead Space 3 plenty, and keep that in mind as we go…

OK, where’s the button to unshit my pants?

With the video game industry becoming more and more like the movie industry, it’s not surprising that, as with movies, the trend in games is towards endless sequels to (or remakes of) properties that have proven themselves in the past. But where movies almost always drop further and further in quality with each sequel, it’s not usually the case that the first game in a series will be the best one.

I’ve noticed a few common patterns to the ways in which game series progress after a popular first entry:

The God of War, where the designers follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra and don’t really change much at all from game to game. The follow-ups aren’t any better or worse per se, but there’s a Law of Diminishing Returns at play – you can’t eat ice cream for every meal…

The Resident Evil, where the second entry perfects the formula of the first, and all subsequent entries fail to recapture the magic – there’s nowhere else to go, and no new ideas that can add anything of substance to the formula. (See also Uncharted.)

The Devil May Cry, where they experiment with a bunch of new stuff in the second entry and just fuck it all up, then get it right for the third one, which goes back to the winning formula of the original, bringing in those aspects of the second that worked. After that it goes the way of the Resident Evil. (See also Prince of Persia.)

The Dead Space series of “zombies in space” games seems to have gone the second route. The comparison with the Uncharted series is most apt – this game is a victim of Uncharted 2’s success as much as Dead Space 2’s – Uncharted 2 set the bar for action sequences, and nothing else has measured up yet (including Uncharted 3).

Yes, Dead Space 3 is good, but it can’t top the second one – it has no answers to the frantic opening sequence, the eerie atmosphere of your trip through the decommissioned Ishimura, or the “Jesus Christ!” factor of the stab-yourself-in-the-eyeball-with-a-massive-needle minigame. There’s less characterisation, too – most of Dead Space 2 was about the protagonist, Isaac, sorting out his guilt issues; now he’s just a grump battling his way through the shit that gets thrown at him. A tacked-on love triangle adds nothing, especially since the guy he’s competing with for the affections of the newly busty Ellie might as well have all his dialogue replaced with “I am a total shithead fuck you Issac.”

There’s more to the story, though – where the first two were more along the lines of “just survive”, this one gives more backstory, more complications, and a definite end goal, as Isaac & Co. set off to stop the source of the Necromorph (read “space zombie”) infection. This is probably a good thing, since you can only do the “same shit, different day”/”wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time” shtick so many times.

But the main complaint against it seems to be that it’s not frightening enough. And true, it’s not so scary – the Necromorphs more annoying than frightening now. Most of the time I was thinking – “oh, will you fuck off, I’m trying to repair a space shuttle here!” not “ohshitohshitohshit” like you’d expect of a good horror game. Isaac seems to feel the same way – he’s an old hand by now, so even when he’s facing impossible hordes of alien murder engines there’s an element of “*yawn* – this again”. (After an encounter with a bunch of regenerating monsters, which were the nastiest enemies in the earlier games, he just quips “I hate those things”, where previously it’d be “OK, where’s the button to unshit my pants?”) There are few real surprises – Necromorph appearances are usually well telegraphed and the best scares and atmosphere come from the logs you find (as usual with horror, what’s implied is more effective than what’s shown).

I have to say, though, this doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t see Dead Space 3 as a horror game* – it’s an action game in a horror setting, as the Dead Space series always has been. Sure, the previous games had more of a horror emphasis, but any game where running the fuck away from danger is not the preferred option isn’t trying to be survival horror, and there’s nothing to be gained by pretending it is.

As an action game it’s good, but again not as good as before. Everything seems to do less damage – both your attacks and your enemies’. (It doesn’t help that you’re usually groaning under the weight of all the health packs the game has thrown at you.) The series’ main distinguishing feature – Necromorphs are already dead, so you do more damage by blowing off extremities than going for headshots – didn’t feel as important this time around. It seemed just as effective to blast away at the bad guys wherever instead of picking your shots.

The weapon crafting system added novelty, but not much else – mostly I just recreated my favourite weapons from the older games. There’s the new co-op aspect, too, but I haven’t experimented with that much, since it involves dealing with strangers on the Internet, a pastime I never like to encourage.

In spite of these whinges (OK, one more: the graphics don’t seem as good as Dead Space 2’s, like they’ve tried to do too much and had to make compromises – the characters’ faces in particular are noticeably less detailed, perhaps a consequence of having more characters this time around) I enjoyed Dead Space 3 a lot. The final boss fight was suitably epic (my one real complaint of Dead Space 2 was that it was a bit anticlimactic), and I found I really did give a shit about what happened to the main characters (as opposed to the supporting characters, who have the life expectancy of a fragile thing in a dangerous thing**).

I find it weird to recommend a game in spite of the fact that you won’t crap your pants while playing it, but that’s the kind of crazy, mixed up world we live in.

*As an aside, how tense can a horror game ever really be? The game continues when your character dies – even in games where you don’t have weapons and health packs and spend most of your time running from monsters, you’re still functionally immortal.

**Or if you prefer, “a cold thing in a very hot thing.”

DmC: The Case for Stabbing the Internet in its Entire Face

“Well,” I thought, I’ve reviewed a book and I’ve talked about video games, why not review a video game? I’ve just finished playing DmC: Devil May Cry – lets give that a go.”

Before I got started, I did a bit of research on what other people had been saying about it, and now I need to stab the Internet in its entire face. The entirety of its face. No portion of its face can go unstabbed.

…it was at no point physically painful to play…

Because, you see, DmC is a reboot of the Devil May Cry franchise, which has been around since the days of the PlayStation 2. If you think movie fans get worked up when their favourite franchises get the reboot treatment, you should see game fans. (Normally, I’d expect comic fans to be the worst when it comes to geekly outrage, but their properties get rebooted, retconned and reality-punched so frequently they’re used to it by now.)

What’s got people up and arms in this particular case? Well, the previous four Devil May Cry games were faced-paced action games based around the adventures of the white-haired half-demon Dante, who murders his way through armies of demons with a collection of hand-to-hand weapons and firearms. The reboot, on the other hand, is a fast-paced action game based around the adventures of the black-haired half-demon Dante, who murders his way through armies of demons with a collection of hand-to-hand weapons and firearms. Black hair! I can feel you all shitting yourselves from here.

The point of the reboot, which was developed in England, seems to have been to move away from the style of the Japanese-made previous games, so where the original Dante was a cocky, camp, anime-style douchebag, the new Dante is a cocky, brooding, western-action-movie-style douchebag. And the fans went apeshit.

Over at, one of the bigger sites for gaming tips, guides and discussions, the message boards for DmC have devolved into a series of running battles between people who like the reboot and people who hate it. The concept of subjectivity having been dismissed as an alien thoughtcrime, people have been devoting libraries’ worth of text to post facto justifications and personal abuse. (OK, that’s not entirely true – sometimes a dissenting view will be written off as “just your opinion”, but people’s own views are always presented as Vulcan objectivity.)

In the most extreme case of crybaby dickishness, someone actually petitioned the White House to get the game pulled from shelves – the petition was taken down fairly quickly, but while it was up you could read through the plaintive mewling of people claiming that, by releasing a new game that was *vomits in mouth slightly* different, the developers had violated their “rights as consumers” to choose between the old Dante and the new one. You just couldn’t stab that enough, not with a thousand knives and a thousand years.

The term “entitled” has been used to describe people like this so frequently, that they’ve started their own backlash against the term. Entitled is “what we call people who complain about video games“? Possibly – it’s also what we call people who can’t handle reality not being the way they want it to be, and PETITION THE FUCKING WHITE HOUSE BECAUSE THEY THINK THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO GET EVERYTHING THEIR WAY.

I seem to have ended up reviewing the Internet itself – I think we all knew that was never going to turn out well. The game? I liked it. I always thought Dante was a camp, douchey asshole, who got progressively campier and douchier as the series progressed; the new Dante doesn’t bother me. He’s a bit of a dick with a shit haircut, but he seems a bit more human and caring, and at least vaguely likeable.

The game itself was more enjoyable to play. All I remember from Devil May Cry 4 is endless padding: enemies with boredom-inducing levels of health, spending the second half of the game backtracking through levels, and those interminable dice-rolling sequences (if you’ve played the game you’ll know what I’m talking about; I’m honestly not capable of caring enough to explain if you haven’t). If I can say one thing for DmC, it was at no point physically painful to play, which is more than I can say for some of the button-mashing fests from the previous games. It’s true that DmC is more linear, with less scope for exploration, but linearity has never bothered me overly – I see a game as a series of challenges; I don’t care if the challenges are laid out for me or if I have to go hunt them down.

Aesthetically, it’s amazing. Most of the action takes place in limbo, which operates as a twisted parallel version of the real world, not unlike the conception of hell seen in the Keanu Reeves Constantine movie (say what you like about that film, it had good design). It’s chaotic and shifting, with reality re-arranging itself against you while the shadowy images of parallel people in the real world flicker around you. Occasionally they play with the concept by having levels where characters in limbo have to help out or interact with other characters in the real world, which is cleverly done. And the music’s largely by Combichrist, if that’s your thing. (There’s a bit of dubstep, too – one of the final boss fights is brought to you today by the letter WUB.)

Final verdict: DmC good, Internet facestab-worthy. Also, grass green; sky blue.

Being the Best There Is, but not in the Wolverine Way

Here’s a clip I never get tired of watching:

If you’re not sure what you just saw, here’s a quick summary: Daigo Umehara (one of Japan’s best 2D fighting game players) is playing Street Fighter III against Justin Wong (one of the USA’s best 2D fighting game players) at a major tournament in 2004. Daigo is Ken and Justin is Chun-li. Nearing the end of the fight, Daigo’s Ken only has a sliver of health left – he’s holding his own, but he knows that Justin can use Chun-li’s super move, which deals a small amount of damage even if blocked. When the super move comes out, Daigo has only one option: to use SFIII’s parry mechanic, where if you input a command at the exact instant an attack connects (within four frames – just over 1/10th of a second), you can block it without taking damage. Since Chun-li’s super hits 15 times, he needs to perfectly time 15 parries in a row (at different heights – note how he has to jump half way through). And he does it, leaving him at an advantage, so he can retaliate and win the match.

The best bit is the crowd reaction – you don’t need to know what’s happening on the screen to appreciate that; the way the cheering goes from “holy shit, he’s going for it!” to “holy shit, he’s actually doing it!!”

On one hand, I appreciate witnessing real skill. I don’t play SFIII myself, but as a bit of a gamer, I can see how hard that was – not just the physical skill of timing your inputs so precisely, but in reading the situation and getting yourself ready for it in the first place. See also how enrapturing the Olympics always are, even if, like me, you don’t give a shit about any sort of sporting activity the rest of the time. There’s a genuine thrill to be had in watching human beings being The Best There Is.

On the other hand, it’s kind of depressing. Personally, I like to work at things until I’m good enough to have fun at them*; it’s a bit dispiriting to be reminded that in order to be really good at anything you have to devote a huge amount of time and effort (10,000 hours, if Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is to be believed), and in order to be the best, you have to devote your entire life.

This is really driven home when it involves an activity I do myself. While I don’t play Street Fighter games, I do have fun with other fighting games, and I know that to be among the best, you need to practise for hours and hours every day, and be constantly coming up with new tricks and tactics. To give you an idea of the level of detail they go into, Daigo apparently has joystick techniques for disguising the clicks that his fireball motions make, to prevent his opponents from getting a split second’s warning when they recognise the distinctive sound…

This all brings me back to excuses for not writing. I mentioned before that “there’s too much writing out there that’s better than anything I could ever write” – it depresses me to think that in order to get any good at writing I’d need to do it for years and years. Then it occurs to me that I have been doing it for years and years – recreationally since 1999, and professionally for almost as long. So in effect, the “Work sucks the will to write” excuse has cancelled out the other one. I think I’m on to something here – I need to find a way to get all my excuses to fight against each other in a Mortal Kombat-style tournament, until only one remains. Then I’ll, I dunno, have that one assassinated or something. JOSH WIN!

*Sidenote: I’m also a big fan of the Rock Band games, which, now that I think about it, stands in contrast to my earlier complaint about simulation games not being 100% accurate. Rock Band isn’t at all an authentic experience, but in this case, that’s why I like it. If I wanted to be able to play a guitar like a rock star, I ‘d learn to play an actual guitar – to me, Rock Band strikes the perfect balance between being letting you feel like you’re doing something cool and actually requiring you to be able to do it for real. The newer music games that do actually try to make you learn to play a real instrument can fuck well off. Anyway.