My Noble Steed


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“In riding a horse, we borrow freedom.”

~ Helen Thompson

My first, emotional, companionship connection to a mount, certainly in the digital gaming era came through Nintendo’s 1998 seminal title Ocarina of Time and the bond you forge through adversity and perseverance with Epona from captivity to conquest. To conceptualize this moment it wasn’t the first time I remember riding an animal or beast in a video game, that left a lasting impression. Indeed the earliest memories I have go back to Golden Axe and riding one of the dragon mounts captured through combat. Or perhaps earlier as Mario riding Yoshi through the Mushroom Kingdom However, like their modern counterpart there was no sense of companionship, of loyalty from your captured dragon or dinoar. They were but a beast, momentarily tamed but then unleashed should you fall or felled by an orc or ogres weapon. My first, true connection would occur with the progression into the 64 bit 5th Generation era and the launch of the first Zelda title championing the development of three dimensional graphics after Mario had broken the mold of what was possible. Utilizing the games time travelling mechanic you encounter Epona as a child, learning the still familiar Epona’s Song before encountering her again in the future. In retrospect in comparison to its modern day counterparts that would infuse loyalty with the progression of a skill bar, Nintendo, by limitation or design instead forged bonds of loyalty by utilizing the narrative text to build friendship. EponaWhen you encounter Epona for a second time she is no longer the free spirited mount of your youth, here she is held in captivity at the whims of an opportunistic uncle. Through cunning, deception and a recollection of a song learned in youth you liberate Epona and journey out into the realms of Hyrule with her loyally by your side and responding to your call. There was a bond forged by overcoming false captivity and liberation then built upon exploring the vast open world map now taken for granted but at that moment in time a new experience to behold.

By design the world could be navigated using “Warp Points” that allowed transit to the entrance of the dungeons and by default, the primary areas of the game map. But the joy of Ocarina of Time was the exploration of the open world, at that point an expansive and liberating experience. Having Epona with you made that journey a legacy you carried forward. Or conversely at the points where Epona was unable to enter due to limitations you missed having her at your side. In world of silence and music, Epona with her gentle neigh often broke up the journey to alert you to a potential danger, a skeleton rising in the night you felt prepared to confront as Epona drew to a stop.

oblivion horse.pngAs gaming progressed into larger and greater worlds so to did the temptation to provide greater choice and ease of use for the consumer. The tolerance to spend moving from place to place mirrored societies predication for instantaneous gratification and as such developers unsure or adverse to taking risk created more warp points overriding the narrative bond between your stead and character. Games such as Oblivion and Skyrim often lauded as the detailed open world games to their peers, in my opinion at least got the connection between man and beast wrong. When I could select multiple horses to journey with or find an animal in the wild I had no connection to my own. They were an expendable resource to discard at my whim. Even worse they seemed to remove the associated cost of discarding your loyal beast, there was no penalty or consequence.

Extending beyond the animal world to a contemporary open world title where I felt Rockstar games got this ‘consequence’ right in my opinion was the restriction on using the modern equivalent warp portal. Adding the taxi mechanic to Grand Theft Auto allowed you to journey more quickly from point to point however it came at an in game cost using the in game currency. In recollection it wasn’t a great deal of currency but sufficient to plant the seed by ‘cheating’ and avoiding the journey you would pay an associated cost. This worked sufficiently for me to instead opt on most occasion to drive from point to point and explore the open world the developers had created. This, I feel was driven in part by the confidence of the developer of the world and its brand, the mechanism was there but if you chose to break the mechanic of travel you would pay a price. However like its peers I never felt a great connection to a car or vehicle in Grand Theft Auto, again they were a toy to discard when I was bored.


One of my most played games in recent times has been Dragon Age Inquisition but once more this ‘suffered’ from a similar predication to present your loyal steed as a play thing, more repulsive to a degree as immediately there was the availability in game to vary the aesthetic appearance of your mount without any discernible benefit. I’ve spent deal of time as the inquisitor but in that time I have continually used warp points through out the game with minimal time spent on horse back. In fact, I would go further to describe my disappointment where a great deal of time in the first area you venture is spent recruiting the horse master to aid the inquisition. For just a brief moment my hopes were raised as a reward for my efforts I would be presented with a steed I could forge a bond with in the same way Epona had captured my heart some 20 years ago today.

Horses however were treated with the same relevance and cost to the character as a disposable same day one click purchase. By the end of my time as the inquisitor I perhaps had a dozen horses and dragons within my stables but spent little or no time on any of them. Contrast this to the many hours I spent on Epona and I come away feeling that by mirroring societies obsession with instant gratification unfortunately gaming as a platform has discarded narrative connection. Arguably when you are unstoppable hero impervious to the perils of nature who can travel vast distances at a press of a button there is no need for the animal, for the vehicle, for the journey. But call it foolish sentiment I am a traditionalist and do enjoy the journey as much as the destination. The moments I recall from games tend to be those that cause me to stop and take in the view in front. Often cited the moment you exit the vault in Fallout 3, equally exploring the vast terrain in Skyrim whilst a toil as you move between quest points can equally provide lasting memories.

red-dead-21With the release of the upcoming Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer comes a glimmer of hope perhaps Rockstar have rekindled this relationship between man and beast, certainly from a visual perspective there is no continuity in shots or video shown as you traverse the American frontier. This from a marketing perspective I can accept at this stage to show the variety of mounts available to choose from the onset. I don’t begrudge either Bethesda’s or Bioware’s policy to horse selection, a great deal of thought and effort seemingly have gone into their design and presentation in world. It is more the sense of the animal being a disposable object no more relevant or required than a change of outfit. However its the narration during the trailer that piqued my interest as to how Rockstar may utilize build on this relationship.

“The bond with your horse is crucial and changes based on your treatment of the animal”

I am open to this being ‘your horse’ as a character whose loyalty you progress using some form of loyalty meter. Similar to how Bioware had the loyalty mission dynamic to your team members develop over the course of the Mass Effect series. My concern would be the aesthetic appearance and ‘character’ of your horse would be replaceable with the loyalty and characterization linked to a subjective being, you have a loyal ‘horse’ depending how you treat your horses, who and what this takes is interchangeable This theory is built on the different mounts being offered as loyalty or exclusive retail bonuses dependent on where you purchase the title. Indeed the effort to build up exclusive narrative threads for a multitude of horses dependent on whether you brought the game from Amazon or Game could be easily replaced by copying and pasting the same personality type onto the mount you have present. In short, the ‘lazy’ option would to personify the concept of the horse over the individual present. But for the moment my hope remains that should I spend a great deal of time building up that bond with my loyal steed, and Rockstar continue to value the journey to the same extent as the destination, we could be in for something special in October.


The Art of Alien Isolation Review


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Last week I succumbed to the allure, the recognizable aesthetic and familiar color palette one almost instantly associates with the Alien franchise. Released in October 2014 The Art of Alien Isolation by Andy McVittie from Titan Books  to coincide with the launch of its companion game provides a visually, in depth look at the development from conception to publication of the cross generational title that made amends for the legacy of the franchise in video game format. Promoted as a high-end art book it certainly stands along side its peers both in terms of content, for example covering art from the conception of the characters to the finalized models used in game play, the ships, the equipment used in game, all detailed from early sketch work to finished product. But also, physically the quality of the release which has a high-end finish and serves as an accomplished supportive piece to the game. These books tend to sell for a higher price than traditional subject matter and as such it it appreciative to have a nicer finish in terms of paper texture, image quality and presentation.


Like the game its based on both the character model and equipment design certainly draws inspiration from Ridley Scott’s 1979 original, which when you stop to consider turns 40 next year in 2019 you have an appreciation not only for the source material but also the dedication and effort that went into designing a gaming world that faithfully reproduced the aesthetic design of the environment around you. The game is principally based on the world and design of Alien and as such the weaponry and equipment is consistent with the first film, the world of Sevastopol Station brought to life through illustration detailing the design curve. Equally I found this title functions as a supportive piece to the original film itself as a great level of detail went into reproducing the style and structure of the world it works to show how the equipment and environment were designed and produced.

I do enjoy the lore and legacy design work that goes into creating the worlds within these games that quite often can be overlooked or missed during the experience. During the 7th Generation of Games Console these titles gained traction in the West that were once the privilege of the Japanese gaming community, as studios recognized a growing demand to embrace the gaming culture away from the console experience and into the broader fan base. Beyond the base, monetary gain publishers can attract from releasing these compendium titles they satisfy a curiosity and I feel provide illumination to the work of the game designers and creators who shape the narrative.


Building the environment of the Alien World


Weapons Test

Within the opening credits of Alien Isolation the game had the flickering presentation style of a video cassette being played back, corrupted slightly perhaps but consistent with the opening moments of the film itself. For many of a certain generation this was how Alien was experienced before the advent of digital restoration and as a visual piece served to illicit a sense of dread where the direction of the title was going. The Art Book covers both the main game experience but also the DLC material that returned the player to the world and crew of the original Alien film and details how the source material was broken down and utilized almost 4 decades later. An aside that I found fascinating was the detail to which the material was studied, one of the design artists focusing on the small details such as the boots worn by the original crew and the small variances in uniform design that created the lived in world of the Nostromo.

The design of the Xenomorph originally by H. R. Giger, itself is iconic, one of the aspects of this art book was seeing the progression and perhaps the different design considerations that went into the final character model used in the game. Production in 1979 restricted the original character model to an actor in a rubber suit. With the release of Covenant and Prometheus in recent years the temptation may have been to base the warrior drone on the digital creatures utilized in those films. Given the rich lore that has built over in the last 4 decades from the original human form bipedal creature to the more animalistic nature of the beast there was clear consideration as to what form the creature would be based on. Seemingly the illustrations and images provided point to a number of different forms that were under consideration but certainly the final form used again points to a respectful homage of the original creature design. This was the creature we first experienced, first saw in the ventilation ducts emerging from the shadows.


Pencil Sketch Drawing of the Xenomorph


Story board of the encounter between Amanda Ripley and the warrior drone

Ultimately the value or worth of this title will come down to the readers appreciation of the source material and the larger franchise its based on. Certainly from a gaming perspective it does provide a fascinating insight into the design aspect of the people, creatures and the world they inhabit. The photos and images are high quality, ranging from character and equipment design, world and environment conception and the different ships and space stations used in game. There is a growing number of the gaming community who enjoy absorbing the culture and worlds we experience and loose ourselves in. Whilst perhaps the Alien Universe by design would run contrary to that belief I do personally enjoy these art books as they provide a means to step back inside that world, to appreciate the work and effort to bring them to fruition.

I consider this a great buy, in addition as of writing the title can be picked up for as little as £4.99 at Forbidden Planet which in my opinion at least makes this a fantastic and must have purchase.


Wildlands: The Fall of Ghost Recon

As my journey across the open mountains and drenched forests of Bolivia drew to a close I cannot help but reflect on the idealised promise of the politicised, Clancy verse open world title promised at E3 2015 and the resulting title released in March of this year. In truth, it was the social aspect that drew my small compadre of friends and a trust in a license and the legacy of the brand that had begun on the PC with the original Ghost Recon title through to its present incarnation.  The original direction of the series always presented itself as a counter point to the claustrophobic and tactical planning style of play of the original Rainbow 6 that were set in and around breaching a building perimeter. Indeed for its faults the most recent foray into the Tom Clancy brand through Siege was in truth a good Rainbow 6 title more akin to its predecessors compared to the more action orientated Vegas series of games on the previous generation. Having delved into and experienced Siege my main point of criticism was the taut tactical planning experience was overlooked by the more cavalier style of game play that has developed with the Battlefield and Call Of Duty player, no more evident in the execution phase when players would charge forward without putting thought or consideration into success.

Ghost Recon in contrast was a taut, relatively open world shooter that took elements of the tactical planning but had no mercy or forgiveness for cowboy diplomacy or gung ho attitudes. Failure to plan and adapt within the original Ghost Recon universe was punishing and unforgiving. In 2017, it was met with a blasé quip from a companion with barely a moment to register your short comings. The latest entry into the Ghost franchise can at best be described as Far Cry with a thin veneer of realism painted onto its architecture with the tropes and clichés of the Ubisoft style removed in the name of realism resulting in a somewhat lacking, unintentionally dull and extremely broken and bug filled game. Case in point as my units helicopter prepared to lift off for the final mission its rotor blades failed to move, no sound played. In short, a static image of a static helicopter rose upwards and jerked across a gloriously drawn map towards its destination in silence, the sound of the motor only loading when the helicopter was landing some minutes later.

A litany of errors and faults are not uncommon in the open world genre, and on occasion can be forgiving if the core game itself gives an indication or sense they are an anomaly in an otherwise accomplished title. In Wildlands, alas I found the problems became an irritant and a distraction. From motorbikes that could collide with moving trains with no visible damage to extending limbs, repetitive and obtuse dialogue repeated ad nauseam. An empty world of mindless civilians often wondering in their pre-programmed state across your field of fire, an omnipresent corrupt police force that could rival OCP from Delta City and forgettable NPC characters with little motivation to explore the familiar trope of recorded conversations and intelligence files. Never have I grown to loath an individual in recent times as I did my character, with her repeated criticism and insults when being revived. After 50 hours I was prepared for my character to take the final bullet, with pleasure. It’s fitting in the final moments of play you come under intense enemy fire. My character was shot down, my Playstation turned off. Journeys end for a narcissistic unappreciative individual, small mercies for me.

In the end, as I concluded my  journey through this corrupt, hostile portrayal of Bolivia it was tinged with sadness that what good memories I took from my experience of Wildlands had been tested largely by an attempt to remove the fun from a tested formula in the pursuit of realism. This in turn however raising more questions and issues than resolved. If the broken climbing mechanic that saw a trained special forces soldiers hindered by a boulder half their body, had been lifted directly from Assassins Creed, would it have been so out of keeping? Perhaps then it is best to view this iteration of the Ghost Recon franchise as an open world chat room, a game more akin to a militarised Mario Maker where your best memories come from your play style and limitations you place upon yourself. Indeed what positive memories and experiences I can take from this release come not from the pre-determined hand holding nature of the missions contrasting strikingly to the E3 release trailer of multiple paths to solving an issue. But instead from adopting the game to play like a traditional Ghost Recon title. Allowing the player to strip down the ‘hud’, removing the traditional player assists, the heated map patches and red dots for example. Within my unit we had a gentleman’s agreement before each mission we would choose and ‘lock in’ our weapons, no changing in the field of combat. Going to basics and playing the game like its predecessors gives an indication, a whiff of what the developers were perhaps aiming for. But again if the largest criticism of Mario Maker, unfairly perhaps, was an attitude of Nintendo to push creativity away from themselves onto the consumer then a similar comparison can be drawn here with Ubisoft unintentionally only fully realising its ambition when you stripped away the hand holding and went back to basics.

If Wildlands serves a purpose of illustrating substance over style then perhaps it has served its purpose. For its faults, the game world is stunning on a standard console with noticeable up scaling on the Pro and I would assume the Scorpio if and when the game is released on the upgrade Xbox console. That I found myself stopping during a mission to admire the scenery as a storm thundered in the distance was both indicative of the feeling of detachment from uninspired mission planning but primarily it is a visually attractive game. But style as is so often exemplified is passing, the lasting memories will be the absence of substance and depth. So as my time in Bolivia draws to a close and my copy of Wildlands returns to a game exchange shop, I remove my rain soaked, blood covered bandana and remember as a social gaming experience there were good memories of communal brothers in arms. But a sad, remorseful feeling that for those of us who remembered the more taut, tactical planning genre of games, this is an ending.

Wildlands Group Shot


Backwards Compatibility and Old Games

[Written by Bain]

A few years ago myself, Drew and Nate sat down and discussed the situation of Backwards Compatibility and (to use a somewhat melodramatic turn-of-phrase) the ‘Death of Videogames’ that can occur if games are left behind on ‘dead’ systems. I’m aware that there is a whole other side to this discussion which is PC gaming, where certain classic games are actually dead and GONE FOREVER (like MMORPGs where the servers have gone down) but to keep this relatively short I’m focusing on the console side of things for now.

Anyway, when we last discussed this a couple of years ago I was feeling pretty grim about the apparent lack of support for backwards compatibility but don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a depressing piece, moaning about things I hate in the games industry (I’ll leave that to the other guys!).  Fortunately the situation has improved dramatically in recent times and I’m delighted by this! For a start, Nintendo has started to crank-out more and more classic games on to their virtual console, expanding to include N64, DS, GBA and original Wii games on the Wii U. It would be nice if the 3DS got some more support on this front (it only has NES and original Gameboy games) but if you have a Wii U it now feels like the perfect place to get your fix of old school Nintendo masterpieces – one of my favourite consoles ever is the Gameboy Advance and it’s amazing playing classics from its library like Metroid Zero Mission and Castlevania Aria of Sorrow on the TV or Wii U gamepad which feels like using a huge and beautiful GBA!

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Metroid Zero Mission – an awesome game that still plays just as well on the Wii U gamepad but now it looks far better!

What’s more, Microsoft suddenly surprised everybody by implementing backwards compatibility last year into the XBONE so that it can play certain 360 games. The library certainly isn’t complete and I doubt they’ll get ever game running but there’s already some great games from the previous generation. I’ve been able to enjoy the likes of Beyond Good & Evil HD, Gears of War 2 and The Witcher 2 without having to jump back to the 360 and it’s certainly a much better way to play any games that use the d-pad given that the XBONE controller has a vastly superior one to the old 360 pad.

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The Witcher 2 is an awesome game and now it’s playable on the XBONE – it was even given away for free for a couple of weeks to celebrate its backwards compatibility.

However, why does backwards compatibility even matter? I’ll address this by going through a couple hypothetical questions (that I’ve actually had put to me in real life). Other people may not feel the same (or as strongly) as me about these matters but I think most folks should at least be able to appreciate why this is something that interests others, even if doesn’t do much for them.


Hypothetical Question 1: Why do you want to play old games anyway? They might have been okay when they came out but now they suck.

Answer: This is easy – no they don’t suck.

To elaborate a bit more, I do often see the opinion bandied around that old games are somehow inferior to newer games, or perhaps that certain genres (often associated with older games) are inherently inferior to others. Sometimes I’ve seen this phrased along the lines of “I used to like Mario/Sonic as a kid but now I’ve grown out of that and play things like Skyrim or Call of Duty.”

Well, I simply call ‘B.S.’ on that viewpoint which is insanely narrow-minded. If you love something like 3rd person cover-shooters or huge open-world RPGs which can only be realised with modern technology then good for you but in no way are they ‘superior’ to 2D platformers or side-scrolling beat ‘em ups. The fundamental point of a videogame is surely to be entertaining and it’s a well-known fact of human existence that what entertains one person might not entertain somebody else. If you can’t grasp that and feel your opinion is inherently correct while others are just wrong… well, maybe you’re some kind of sociopath or have a personality disorder…? Regardless of its genre, regardless of when it came out and regardless of the age of the person playing it, I say any game can still be loved and respected if its core gameplay is good.

To compare the situation to the film industry – I sure as hell don’t think that The Avengers is better than Lawrence of Arabia just because it’s newer and has lots of CGI technology that didn’t exist back in 1962. Nope, I believe that Lawrence is Arabia is still an absolute masterpiece and one of my favourite films, just as I believe that Sonic 3 & Knuckles is still a masterpiece and one of my favourite games. Thankfully it’s easy to still play Sonic 3 & Knux on modern consoles and PCs these days but if it weren’t and had been left to ‘die’ on the SEGA Megadrive that would be just as tragic as if people today couldn’t watch Lawrence of Arabia.

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Perhaps I wouldn’t be quite so attached to this game if SEGA still made amazing Sonic games to this day… but well, we all know the reality of that situation…


Hypothetical Question 2: Why can’t you just play those old games on their original systems? Why do they need to be re-released or made backwards compatible?

Answer 2: Well, this is the bigger question and there’s a few replies to it. Let’s go through them one at a time…

(A) Fortunately this doesn’t affect me personally but for a lot of people it’s simply a case of money – sometimes to get a new console (and new games for it) folks have to see their older hardware yet there might still be plenty of old games they’d like to go back to. Often consoles that have included this feature at launch (when a new console’s library tends to be weak) have really benefitted from it, such as the PS2 being able to play PS1 games or Nintendo handhelds being able to play the previous generation (something still going on with the 3DS).

(B) For others, including myself, it’s a case of space and convenience. I currently have four consoles hooked up to my TV at the moment and while some of them lay dormant for months at a time, throughout a 6 month period I am sure that I will use all of them at least once. If I also needed to have a Megadrive, N64 and various other old consoles on-hand to play everything I might want to that would be a huge pain in the backside – imagine the time lost in switching them around, re-wiring them into the TV and wrestling with a crazy network of cables and wires to find out what to unplug and what to plug in. Yes, a lot of old consoles do technically still work but making classic games more convenient to play is a great thing (a thing I’m willing to pay good money for!).

To make another comparison to the film industry, I can view every movie or TV show that I want to watch using just a single device.

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The alternative to backwards compatibility – while this looks awesome I don’t think it’s totally practical – I mean how many audio/visual ports can that lone TV possibly have? There’s still going to be a lot of re-wiring involved!

(C) Another bonus, which also applies to me, is  display and controller quality. I will argue (very passionately) that many old games hold up really well when it comes to raw gameplay and often the actual graphical assets but unfortunately modern TVs make many older games look awful and a lot of old controllers feel, well, pretty crappy nowadays. As I was saying earlier, I love a lot of GBA games but when I dig out my old GBA SP it feels really uncomfortable to hold and the screen quality is pretty dire. However, running these games on something like the Wii U virtual console makes them look beautiful and the controller (be it gamepad or pro-controller) feels so much more comfortable in my hands.

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Yup, the screen on the poor old GBA SP is pretty horrible to try and use these days.

Likewise, I really wouldn’t want to use a classic NES controller to play something like Super Mario Bros 2 (the BEST classic Mario Bros imho) when there are now much more comfortable, ergonomic alternatives about these days.

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Yes this did the job at the time but it’s hard to go back to it now…

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While Wii U Pro pad feels so much more comfortable to use…

To use another comparison with films – Sure, I could watch Terminator 2 on a scratchy-up, crappy VHS player that was made in 1991 which is how it was originally released but frankly I would rather enjoy watching the blu-ray version on a nice modern HD-TV… and the same applies to games!


Another factor which didn’t really fit into either of those questions is that sometimes people might have completely missed a whole console but if they buy its successor and that has backwards compatibility suddenly they have access to a huge library of games they may end up loving. I know of a couple of people who’ve picked up an XBONE that never owned a 360 and are now really happy to be able to access some of the best games from that system’s library without having to pick-up a whole other console which would (A) cost a fair chunk of money and (B) be fighting for space / HDMI sockets around their TV. I personally got to experience a couple of great Wii games on my Wii U since I had skipped over Nintendo’s previous console – without backwards compatibility I would never have been able to play the delightful Kirby Adventure Wii (that’s not sarcasm btw, it’s genuinely awesome!).

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Also known as Kirby: Return to Dreamland over in the States.

Anyway, I have hopefully made a couple of interesting points about why backwards compatibility can be a great thing. I just want to finish by saying in no way am I part of the crowd that ‘demands’ Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo should include this feature in all their consoles from a feeling of being entitled to it. Backwards compatibility is an awesome benefit and I love it when gaming companies can implement this feature but I’m aware it costs them time and money to do so and sometimes it obviously isn’t worth it to them. I just hope that going forwards backwards compatibility proves to be profitable for both the game developers and consumers so that we see more and more of it and thus more awesome games that are new today don’t end up becoming unplayable relics somewhere down the road.

Demo-lished: The state of play before you pay


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The era of the CD in console gaming brought us many new experiences as console gamers; FMV’s, loading screens, scratch management and so much shovel-wear that many of us still have nightmares to do this day (thank you Jumping Flash), however there’s one that brought joy each and every month…demo’s.


Prior to this era we, as gamers, were forced to become reliant on friends, family and Blockbuster Video to get a glimpse of games that didn’t sit on our own shelves. No matter what the official magazine would show or tell you it was almost impossible to know what kind of game you were getting until you booted it up and so that network and nearby rental shop was a lifeline to the world of gaming. Renting or borrowing a copy off a friend were great means to play a whole game at least, though it would usually be for a limited time, but there was never a guarantee they’d have the latest and greatest as well.


That’s Blockbusters..

And so we get to CD’s and demo discs.

Thanks to Sony we could test a variety of games before buying them, all for the price of a 2 night rental from Blockbusters and packed with the latest official magazine (the UK version was a solid piece of one-system journalism). Games ranging from Tomb Raider to Gran Turismo were jammed into a single disk that could entertain for hours, these were great as they would get you hyped for a game and for those with money in their pockets the incentive would be there to buy when released. There were also plenty of duds but the “AAA” titles helped outweigh them and for a large portion of us it would mean the demo discs would actually sit in with the rest of our collections.

A pinnacle was reached with Metal Gear Solid where we were allowed to play the first full segment of the game, leading up to the infiltration of the Shadow Moses base. It gave a completely true experience of the game, one of the best of that generation and arguably ever, all for £5. It truly was a gift from Konami and Sony, and for a lot of people built up a lot of loyalty points at the time,

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Metal Gear?!

Thanks to the PSone and Playstation2 gaming was experiencing a massive surge in popularity and was finally maturing beyond the “just for kids” tag that the media deemed appropriate for years. Using CD’s and subsequently DVD’s made it cheaper for games to be produced on mass and Sony were seemingly happy for anyone to develop games for their consoles, it was open season and everyone was invited to the party. With an install base of 55 million PS2’s by the end of 2002 they could afford to take risks and put out games people hadn’t had a chance to play. If it was a good game chances are you knew 2 or even 3 people who had it so you could try it before buying it yourself, demo’s had become largely unnecessary.


Console gaming was still lagging behind its older brother, the PC, in terms of one aspect however, the internet. It took until around 2006 before we started seeing the internet being accessible through consoles and this seemingly opened the door to demo’s once again. The internet was slowly killing off magazines and their demo discs but publishers now had direct links into gamers homes and since 2006 we have once again been able to download demo’s of title.

However the internet didn’t usher in a new/old era of getting demo’s of the latest and greatest for they became too important to let people try. Companies were starting to sink more money (millions) into development, talent and quality to ensure a premium product was available to gamers, the “triple A” tag was becoming more and more prominent with each passing month. Suddenly there were an elite band of games from elite developers that we were aware of years ahead of release so to release a demo of an unfinished product could actually undo a lot of the hard work, and so PR and marketing was becoming even more important than in the past.


Websites such as IGN, whilst being a great source of information and content, were starting to promote games on their site based seemingly purely on the highest bidder for months on end, and quite often some time before release date and a review. Even if at the end a game received a mediocre or poor score all the PR work and brown-nosing at events like E3 ensured gamers are repeatedly bombarded with advertising that can heavily influence decisions. This is nothing new in the world of media and capitalism however gamers were being given limited options to actually help build an informed choice of how to spend their money.

A prime example of this is Aliens: Colonial Marines from Sega, which annoyed a lot of people as the game was nothing like what had been advertised and promised and caused a lot of negative spin in gaming media.


Known for all the wrong reasons

Another element that’s become commonplace in gaming is the overabundance of Limited/Special editions. Be it a steel bookcase, Amiibo bundle, book-ends, figurine, art book, DLC or CD soundtrack we’re now seeing plenty of incentives to put our money down on the counter months ahead of release date. Whilst not everyone is interested in these editions it’s clearly a tactic that works, almost any new release from an established gaming series (of which there are many these days) comes with some kind of incentive to make the most of its established fan base. This all ultimately means companies are securing money up front and are ensuring even if the game is a failure they have a good proportion of sales already secured.

Admittedly this is a slightly cynical view to take as I’m a big fan of these myself (I currently have 3 special editions on pre-order), but it still leaves me with a feeling that gamers are being given less and less opportunity to make an informed decision leading up to thereleaseof a game.


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Added value?  Nice box though…

Taking a step back it’s clear that all things change and there are some positive signs to how we’re seeing demo’s do this in the modern era. One of those are the release of “beta’s” which give gamers a brief period of intense gameplay that help the developer make necessary tweaks prior to release, examples recently being The Division and Star Wars Battlefront. This is basically what companies used to pay people to do, find the glitches and help fix bugs, but now they’re getting gamers to do the work for free. It’s basically two birds with one stone, but at least it’s giving those who are interested an insight into the game and helping create an informed decision.


Get the gamers involved.

A second example is all based purely on one console, a console that’s trying to do things a little differently. One who’s rewarding players for not only downloading demo’s but also for those who complete it. One who regularly offers demo’s of in-house and 2nd party developers. That someone is the Nintendo 3DS.

Whilst many decisions made by the big N can be called into question, quite a few can also be praised and how they handle demo’s on their handheld is definitely one of them. JRPG’s are a big part of the handhelds success in Japan though in the West they have a small but loyal following, so giving some incentive to encourage adopters to a great title in the form on a demo that has far reaching consequences is a great idea.

Bravely Second, the sequel to the critically acclaimed Bravely Default, has set a standard in appeasing current fans and in tempting in new comers and hopefully other companies will sit up and take notice. Breaking it down:

  1. Anyone who downloads the demo before a deadline got an immediate 10% discount if they purchased a digital copy of the game.
  2. Progress made within the game will move over to the full game, levelling up jobs and items being two example.
  3. A separate story from the main game that sets up two of the main characters, taking up to 4 hours to complete.
  4. A limited edition also available to those who want to put their money down up front.


What’s important to note here is choice. The publisher obviously deemed it a title that they needed to get behind, to give as much exposure as possible to it beyond the sphere or gaming websites, and they’ve done this with fore-thought and consideration.

Hopefully it’ll push the title to even greater success than the first instalment and other companies will consider to do the same going forward.



This all leaves me asking where we’re heading towards with the idea of demo’s. Will beta’s continue to be used for shooters and multiplayers in general, will we continue to see new thinking being used in the handheld and lesser known titles that have been popular in Japan? Perhaps the limited editions will continue to encourage us to make a decision ahead of time or perhaps in the end we, the gaming community, have to be smarter in how to make our decisions. Read up and watch as many video’s as possible to get the most well rounded decision if you’re undecided on a game, perhaps get off the couch and try a game at the local store (if possible). There’s more content out there than ever before so do we really need to play every game for 5 minutes before making a decision?


For me I understand not every game needs a demo and it’s a bonus if a game you’re interested in does get some sort of pre-release of some sort. However, and this is a massive discussion point, I’m not particularly enamoured by the amount of pre-release bonuses that are being used to entice people to pay for a game up front. With the combination of this and the over exposure on the big gaming websites I’m finding it hard to know whether an upcoming AAA will actually be good or not. Thankfully I’m an adult now and no longer reliant on my parents to give me money, though I do need permission from my girlfriend but that’s another story.


Nate’s list of amazing video game soundtracks!


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Ok, so the rules when making this list were simple; no more than one song from any series. Just needed to clarify that. We also all made a list, and I made mine last, so some songs had to be omitted to avoid boring repetition. That is the main reason this isn’t called my ‘favourite video game soundtracks’ as there are some amazing songs missing from the list.

With that clarification out of the way, these songs get me CRUNK every time I listen to them. They’re just amazingly composed and have such an effect when they feature in the games they come from.


1: Streets of Rage 2 – Alien Power

streets of rage 2 sega mega drive cover

The best song in this game in my honest opinion. This song got me hyped up! I knew it was time for some ‘grand upper’ motives, to find the katana in the mist, that the game was drawing to a close…and that Blanka was going to get it! Yes, that was Blanka.


2: Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater (Ladder Climb)


This was just…just…I can’t explain. When climbing this ladder, I had hairs standing up on end. It set the mood for the upcoming battle and completing the game. Just…MWAH!


3: Red Dead Redemption – Far Away


After playing this game for a while, and then having to head over to Mexico, this song really made you feel like it was time to kill those sons of bitches you’d been chasing. I remember riding past my actual destination, solely so I could keep hearing this track.


4: Final Fantasy VIII – Liberi Fatali


Ok, this is an obvious and cliched one, but come on, do you know how many times I watched the trailer for this game, just to hear this song? Every image from that trailer is seared into my mind!


5: Golden Axe II– Boss Theme


This song was badass…is badass…will forever be badass! I used to love the boss fight purely for this track. There are SO many tracks in this game, but this had to be my choice.


6: Thunder Force IV – Course Select


This let you know, if you weren’t sure yet, that shit was about to get REAL! I loved the fact that you could choose which level to do in your own time. This song was BOSS!


7: Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Song of Storms


I would go to the windmill and play this song over, and over, and over….I think you get how much I loved this track. I loved this game. There are so many songs in the game I loved, but this is the one that comes to mind when I think of Zelda.


8: Transistor – Apex Beat


If you haven’t played this game, and you should, just listen to the soundtrack. By far one of the best video game soundtracks EVER made. I think they dumped most of their budget into the OST. Just listen to this song all the way through. The levels!


9: Dark Souls – Gwyn, Lord of Cinder


Anyone who has seen this beast running towards them understands the power behind this song. The emotion is so mixed here. You want to murder the shit out of him, but feel sorry. After all the intense music in the boss battles throughout this game, this song sets the perfect mood for the end.


10: Spiderman – Kingpin Showdown


I don’t know what it is about this song, but whenever I hear it, I get goosebumps. The nostalgia I feel when hearing it is unbelievable! It’s so psychedelic! When I turn 70 and do heroin for the first time…this will be playing. (first song to play. Couldn’t find an individual track.)


Honourable mentions:

Bastion – A Proper Story

OlliOlli 2 – (didn’t include this as it was all music already made, I think, but each song is amazing.)

Marvel Vs Capcom 2 – Desert Stage

Diversity in gaming: Does it matter?


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Recently, media has been littered with arguments about diversity, in a variety of forms. Gender, skin colour, culture and sexual orientation have all been something that people have been stating needs more representation. I agree with these statements, to some extent, and in different degrees, depending on the situation.

To put all the cards on the table, so to speak, I’m a second generation British African descendant, who has lived my whole life in England. This has caused me to always be a minority in my social circles, (except for family functions). Two of the things that I have always held dear to me are films and video games. I always felt an affinity with both. The ability to escape the real world and engage with a variety of experiences always enticed me. In both of these mediums there is an issue, but as this is a blog about video games, lets specifically talk about that side of things. I find that there is a distinct lack of diversity in this medium, in a multitude of ways.

Growing up, I never noticed how poorly represented the minorities were in video games, and in all honesty, it didn’t matter to me. I would play through games as the hero, usually a european male, covered in muscles, grizzled features or a pretty looking asian character, that NEVER looked asian, just another european character with a strange hairstyle. I would play the game, ‘clock’ it, then talk to my brother about how amazing it was. The realisation that I couldn’t choose any other kind of character never even crossed my mind, until I played Streets of Rage two.

I’m aware that this wasn’t the first game with an african descended character in it, but it was my first true experience of feeling like I actually connected with a character on a deeper level than, “He’s a badass!”. The character I’m referring to is Skate. Being me, I felt like I could actually be Skate. He was about my age, same cultural background, and he could do everything that the other characters could (apart from swing a pipe. He was terrible at that). I remember the excitement I had when I saw he was an option to choose. I would still choose Alex and Blaze from time to time, (never liked Max) but he was my go-to character.

This revelation of inclusion is purely hindsight. At the time, I didn’t even realise why I wanted to choose Skates, he just seemed like the coolest character I had seen in a game. This gets to one of the arguments of my post. When there is a lack of representation, aware adults are capable of seeing it. As you grow up, you notice that you don’t fit in certain places. You start to become more aware of the world around you, but as a kid, you just accept the world for what it is. If all the heroes look or act nothing like you, you just accept that as the norm. I think this is the main argument regarding diversity and inclusion; making sure everyone has some form of connection to the medium.

Another example. My passions being what they are, led me down the road of geekdom. Due to this, I have always toyed with the idea of doing some form of cosplay. I have had conversations with my equally geeky friends about the possibility of doing this, to only realise that my options of dressing up fall into a very limited choice. I either dress up as a character who has a mask, for example, Dark Souls characters, go as one of the few characters who are african descended, e.g. Barret, Balrog, Sazh, or go as a black version of one of the multitudes of european or asian characters. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, this is irrelevant at best, but nonetheless, there is a misrepresentation of the world we’re living in (i’ll get back to this point in a bit).

Considering the argument of a lack of representation, one could always argue that we have to look at who makes the games, which is an argument that I have heard from my fellow flame keeper also, but this lack of representation isn’t just present in video games where the characters are designed by the developers, it’s even present in games which allow you to taylor make your own character. The best way to highlight this is with the options for hairstyles in character creations.

In these modes (other than games such as GTAV and SA…which both had lead African American characters) your options are afro, cornrows, dreadlocks or a level-one to three cut, whereas you have a MULTITUDE of hairstyles for the asian and european counterparts. This situation gets even more dire when you try to create a female african descended character. Your choices are the usual curly afro….and that’s it. I get the fact that these games tend to be predominately made by european and asian people, but I’m sure there are some people of african descent in the groups. To return to the point I eluded to earlier, aren’t games, like all other forms of media, meant to represent the world we live. Sort of serve as a window into life?

I guess, to be analytical, I have to look at my own argument with the same judgement I look at the gaming world. There are, as I said at the start, many other ways that games are exclusive of minorities, but I’ve centered my argument on the cultural and skin colour angle, as that is the one that actually effects me. That doesn’t then mean that the other issues aren’t as important. Women not having equal representation in games, and falling into typical troupes is an issue in gaming, as well as there being a very low representation of LGBT characters in games, but these issues don’t actually effect me in the same way. I guess that’s the same issue that the games developers are considering. They create imagery that relates to them first and foremost, then consider including the other groups to either tick boxes or to look progressive. I get it, that is the way we humans function,but I believe it’s wrong.

I believe that the lack of diversity is also actually damaging to the industry. It alienates groups, stopping them from being able to partake in the medium to as high an extent as others. I’m aware that this is not as big an issue as it once was, as there are many examples of more inclusive gaming characters, that said, I don’t believe that the way it’s being tackled always works. There are always stereotypical caricatures of minorities dropped in games. Your typical, poorly spoken or extremely loud and brash african descended characters, such as Cole from Gears of War, your extremely camp, homosexual male, such as the brothers in God Hand, or the highly sexualised image of a female, such as every women in street fighter 5.

Diversity is about having a true representation of every person. It’s an easy statement to make and harder to do, but I think it’s still something that time and effort should be put into. This inclusion I speak of is dependant on the game and location obviously. I don’t want to play Yakuza and have a african descended lead female character, who is a lesbian…just because they’re trying to diversify, but when it’s a situation where it makes sense (or I’m given a choice to make my own character) it should be as equally possible for a character to be from any possible minority. This way, everyone can have an opportunity to be connected to the experience, as I was with Streets of Rage 2.

Regardless, I love games. Always have always will, I just want my children to be able to play games where they can feel like they also belong to the gaming community, not just joining into something intended for a different group. So, to me, yes, it does matter, it matters A LOT!


Life & Death: Gaming’s Moral Choices


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“Life and death matters, yes. And the question of how to behave in

this world, how to go in the face of everything.”

 – Raymond Carver

(Spoiler Alert)

Gaming as a form of entertainment and story telling has evolved in a significantly short space of time. As technology has progressed between generations the choices we face as gamers has evolved from whether to jump on the mushroom to whether to save a town or a best friends life. We reached a point on the development curve in the recent cross generational jump where the focus was pushed less on graphics and ‘power!’ and more onto story telling and choices. Often this can be born from a video game writer’s frustration at the restrictions of the medium, perhaps wanting to delve more into the cinematographic art form as opposed to the gaming genre.  This has seen a push or rise in the so called ‘indie generation’, titles without the power house developers behind them, lacking some of the spit and polish of big budget titles, but pushing more into the interactive gaming experience that can truly elicit choices that give pause for thought.

Recently however with the development of these more story led gaming experiences there have been several times in games that have given me genuine pause for thought, where I’ve sat weighing all the decisions and consequences of my actions before making that final choice. I would surmise at its strongest gaming is just as an effective story medium as novels or film.

Life Is Strange (Final choice)

“I changed fate and destiny so much that… I actually did alter the course of everything. And all I really created was just death and destruction!”

– Max Caulfield

Life Is Strange is one of the first so called Episodic games I experienced, also one of the first so called ‘indie’titles I paid for based on recommendation from my peers. Without going into a detailed description of the plot the final choice is ultimately a basic choice between sacrificing your friend or the town you inhabit. Neither are portrayed as the correct or fundamentally ‘right’ choice to make. Chloe is not a ‘nice person’ but neither really are the citizens of the town you live in, all giving Max reasons really to sacrifice their lives for the greater good. It felt like a slight push at times against the ‘Bioware’ methodology of creating paragon and renegade actions and effectively holding your hand towards the right answer. Fundamentally however the game in my opinion succeeded in creating a fleshed out friend, one you would give your life for in game and then forcing you to decide, to make the choice would you give that person up to save the greater good, to save ‘the many’. And genuinely neither option gives a ‘happy ending’ in the traditional video game sense with the hero music to justify your choice. You sacrifice the town and you drive out in almost a drug induced state with your friend seeing the dead bodies of the towns inhabitants. You give up your friend and the final video takes place at her funeral.

Image result for chloe fulneral life is strange

The reason I ‘enjoyed’ this choice at the end of the game was that as said there was no right or correct answer and my choices differed from my close friends decisions. My decision was to sacrifice the town, to save Chloe. I had chosen through out the game on numerous occasions and followed the path of saving Chloe ensuring her well being came above my own, perhaps as implied in the game as a result of guilt for leaving her for a better life a few years previously. In the end I knew the choice that ‘Charles’ wanted to make, the greater good at the sacrifice of your friend but as ‘Max’ and her actions and decisions during that time it made sense that I would save Chloe. That the game effectively had you almost withdrawn into yourself as you witnessed the consequences of your actions really emphasised how far the game has come as a story telling device.

Chloe Sacrificed or Arcadia Bay Sacrificed

Mass Effect (Sacrificing Ash or Kaiden)

“We impose order on the chaos of organic evolution. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it”

– Sovereign

When I first reached this decision in the first Mass Effect game it was one of the first times I genuinely just sat there staring at the TV screen trying to work out just what I had to do to achieve the ‘happy’ ending, where I could beat the no win scenario and save the crew I had led through a campaign to save the galaxy. The game sits in a loop almost, slightly breaking the credibility of the moment as Shephard just stands there reflecting I guess my own indecisiveness at not being able to make the tough decision as the world burns around me. And it will just wait, the game wont progress until you decide who lives and who dies unless your game ends there and you turn the console off. Its a crutch of modern gaming that you will always be able to achieve the happy ending, to save the proverbial princess and go into the sunset. But as gaming matured into a story telling medium so choices such as these began to bleed into the narrative.


For me the decision came down to who I saw as the more effective team mate to save the galaxy against the threat of the reapers, I had a stronger biotic on my team and needed the muscle of Ashley to take on Sovereign and Saren on the Citadel. Whilst Ashley does represent a ‘romance option’ in game if you play as the male version of Shepard in my first play through I had actively pursued a romance with Liara so the decision came down to tactics. Ashley was the stronger and more practical choice, but it needed a few moments of deliberating to come to that decision.

Saving Kaiden or Saving Ashley

Fable 2 (Wealth, Love or Sacrifice) 

“Now it is your turn, make a wish but choose wisely for it will effect all of Albion”

– Theresa

Fable 2, a fore ray into the mind of a British developer at Lionhead Studio’s was a bold attempt at telling a narrative over the life of the character, starting with the hero’s youth into the choices as an adult then ultimately the sacrificial choice you have to make to conclude your adventure. The problem with the Fable series was often it could over reach in its ambition in what it wanted to be. The best way to approach the Fable games is with low expectations, perhaps the nearest comparison being to view it as a low budget English comedy with the fraction of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. In this context you can forgive its weaknesses and accept it as an act of love if such a thing can exist in the video game world. The choice here was the final choice, again putting in your hands the choice of life, death or in a twist, wealth. I did appreciate this variation on the sacrifice of your happiness for the greater good with the twist you could shaft the world and your own dead family and just have a lot of money. It felt like a dark twist only an English writer could have thought would make a viable option, it wasn’t quite ‘renegade’ more a roguish choice that would be developed on in later games.

Some of the impact in comparison to other games was missing to an extent, the majority of characters you meet in the world around you are fundamentally obnoxious and rude. There purely as fodder for cheap jokes or if your that way inclined a sexual conquest to marry and have your child. As the game gives you freedom to have different children with different women in the world, effectively allowing your bigamist fantasies to come true there isn’t a deep connection to the family path. In short the game almost pushes you towards the rogue ending, to forget all these forgettable characters and choose money over sacrifice. My decision however was decided by a more basic consequence, your canine companion. In choosing to save your family you not only save your wife and child you save your dog companion. I like pet companions in games, so really this was an easy choice. But a choice again I appreciated I was given to make.

Save the world or Save your family or Wealth Ending

The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time (Removing the Sword) 

Image result for Ocarina of Time removing master sword

“Now, go home, Link. Regain your lost time! Home… where you are supposed to be… the way you are supposed to be..”

– Zelda

Sometimes in a game you have to accept your fate and the consequences of your actions, that history and destiny will progress in a way you didn’t intend. When I first played this title I had no expectations or fore knowledge of what to expect, I had never played A link to the past so had no idea the consequence of removing the sword. At the time it seemed like a logical step, I needed a stronger blade having defeated the first dungeons but surely this would be a straight forward task, remove the blade and go engage with a man on the horse who posed no seemingly greater threat than a giant spider, rolling rock monster or water beast. However, all is not as it seems, the consequence of this action trapping you in a bubble that freezes you in time for a period of time. Whilst going forward in the game you have the option to move back and forth in time it never felt the same, the world was ever more tainted as a consequence of your actions.

As the game concluded you were returned to the past as a child, the end scene hinting at a reunion between two characters that had developed a bond in their adventure through time. But this was never carried forward, the next game beginning with the nameless protagonist riding into an alternate dimension. It was just a bitter sweet moment of not seeing the resolution between these two characters who had fought beside each other against the evil Gannon. Which brings me back to the decision of removing the sword, your progression is block until you take the sword, but genuinely, knowing the outcome of the game when I play the title there is just a little naivety and optimism in the world before you take the master sword. And genuinely, the world was a better place before I had to make that choice. But sometimes you just need to accept that a choice has to be made.

Ocarina Of Time End Scene

Gaming has progressed in the course of my generation, from simple 16 bit titles to the multi million pound behemoths we find ourselves with today. Sometimes decisions and choices force the world around you to pause, I was acutely aware when choosing for example Ashley or Kaiden’s fate that in reality the enemy force would have forced my hand and made the decision for me. Likewise with the final decision in Life Is Strange. In all cases though these were genuine moments that to me transgressed the divide between story and interactivity. When you read a book or watch a movie its a linear experience, one persons view that you’ll either share, believe in or dismiss as irrelevant. I don’t honestly think we are quite there yet with today’s hardware at the point we can have a truly interactive experience that is shaped on our decisions and goes off in branching storylines. Perhaps with the push in cloud computing these will become reality. But certainly if you compare the advance in technology and story telling to film or television, over the same time period gaming has dwarfed these as interactive medium. Its certainly an area I am excited going forward to see what other moral choices I will be faced with, how they will impact me and influence me.


Bain’s Top 10 pieces of music from Videogames


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Music in games is a powerful factor in how much we enjoy the experience, when it comes to both gameplay and story. I’ve found this especially the case with platformers – a game with mediocre level design can be raised to something great by the right score while a game with excellent levels but poor music can feel drab and dull.
This was a difficult list to assemble so I’ve limited myself to one piece of music per franchise otherwise this would just be overloaded with Shenmue music (which is my favorite soundtrack by a long, long way).

1 – Shenmue 2 – The Shenmue Tree. As I said, the soundtrack from these games (esp. 2) is amazing and covers a whole bunch of different styles but my favorite piece is this really powerful, sweeping rendition of the main theme when you finally get to the Shenmue Tree (after about 50 hours of gameplay) and thus understand what the hell the title actually means. The cinematography on the scene is great as well if you want to watch it, just make sure you find a version with the Japanese dub (the English is awful).

ATB Music - Shenmue


2 – Little Big Adventure – Main Theme. Not only does this overload me with nostalgia but the music is just absolutely beautiful. Nothing much else to say…

Music - LBA


3 – Sonic & Knuckles – Sky Sanctuary Zone. Honestly it was a tough choice between the  beautiful and sweeping Sky Sanctuary theme and the awesome J-rock of ‘Live & Learn’ for my choice from the Sonic franchise –  I love so much music from this series. Ultimately Sky Sanctuary just about takes the prize, especially with this amazing remix from Sonic Generations which is even better than the original.

Music - Sonic


4 – Mario Franchise – Gusty Garden/Egg Planet/Champion’s Road. There is so much great music in the Mario series but for me the standout is this amazing orchestral track which first showed up in Mario Galaxy and has returned in basically every game since (including Smash Bros and Mario Kart). I particularly associate it with the final ‘platform hell’ level from 3D World so it’s not really relaxing but totally epic.

Music - Mario


5 – Rayman Origins – Land of the Livid Dead. Another piece of music from a ‘platform hell’ level, this is just so damn catchy and once it gets going inspires you to run, run, run RUN, RUN RUUUUUN! It really kicks off at 1:40 though the buildup is great too.

Music - Rayman


6 – Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze – Wing Ding. This choice kinda represents the entire soundtrack of this game which is freakin’ amazing (probably my second favourite ever after Shenmue). David Wise, the man behind so much Donkey Kong Country music is an amazing composer! If you have nothing better to do then other amazing pieces are ‘Mangrove Cove’, ‘Grassland Groove’ and ‘Bashmaster the Unbreakable’ but frankly the whole thing is worth a listen.

Music - DK


7 – Metroid Prime – The Crashed Frigate (Underwater). The Prime games have a lot of solid music but they tend to be sinister or atmospheric rather than bombastic or emotional so only a few standout. This is one of them though, a beautiful piece which goes on for ages (which is appropriate as it’s for a really long & difficult section of the game) but it never gets old.

Music - Metroid



8 – Turrican 2 [Amiga] – Opening. A totally epic piece of music that makes me glad my bro decided we needed an Amiga rather than a SNES or Megadrive back in the day (the fact poor copy-protection meant all games were free didn’t hurt either).

Music - Turrican


9 – Yoshi’s Island – Flower Garden. Just awesome, I honestly think that that the music in Yoshi’s Island is a big reason why the game feels so great to play – it’s still be fantastic anyway but everything’s more fun when you have flower garden playing. (original) (even better Smash Bros remix)

Music - Yoshi


10 – ‘Suicide Mission’ from Mass Effect 2. The final mission from Mass Effect 2 is still one of my favourite videogame experiences ever. Not only was there great gameplay and several awesome character beats but it was soooo incredibly tense making each decision and waiting to see if they resulted in your squad-members dying – this music just worked so perfectly and of course it swells appropriately at the big bad arse moments. Epic!

Music - ME2


The Division: Beta After Action Report


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The game hasn’t even started; I’m sitting through a presentation style tutorial, when Hamish Bode ‘one of the community developers’ drops a line that sets an alarm bell chiming in my head; “Our game is an RPG” he begins with no shortage of redundancy “and as such, skills will make all the difference in combat”. Oh Hamish, it would seem we’re diametrically opposed here; to me, in combat SKILL should make all the difference, it a very small distinction, just an ‘s’, but in the gaming vernacular it means a lot.

So immediately I’m on the back foot, but I try not to jump to conclusions, the game hasn’t even started yet after all, let’s see how the situation develops. At length I get to it, a randomised character selection and standard opening cinematic later, I’m dropped into a snowy Manhattan and commence following an orange line; there’s a person speaking at me from my TV and my Dualshock, spooling off information about Quartermasters and HQ’s, but with the floating line indicating my exact path to progression they’re both rendered extraneous.

On reflection this highlights one of the problems I had with The Division; it doesn’t take a particularly keen eye to notice the attention to detail put into the visuals, the atmospherics and amount of minutia are both impressive, the world feels very legitimate, but all of that is unfortunately undercut by mechanics that tell you exactly where to go, and highlight any usable items very plainly. As such, for all its rich detail, the game doesn’t require you to interact with it, seems like a waste to me, a removal of extremely overt way-pointing and an added emphasis on exploration and attention to detail would have played perfectly into the design.

It didn’t take long for me to amble into a gunfight at a check point, and here’s where things became very clear, and my inevitable disappointment set in. I say inevitable, not because I’m a gluttonous pessimist, but because I’ve been keeping an eye on the game and had taken an educated guess that it wouldn’t be for me. Suffice to say, when I entered into the gunfight, set my sights on a mook and let off a gratifyingly kicky burst from my M4, the explosions of numbers that erupted from him added ten fold to the already creeping ludonarrative dissonance. You have to forgive my use of that term, I know it was bandied around fairly freely by gaming press; but it really does fit The Division; let me explain.

As mentioned already; the world is very well realised, so is the movement and cover implementation; weapon handling is also well simulated; all in all, the game adheres to the Clancy legacy of realism. In that way it’s all the more jarring when numbers fly out of shot enemies, and the aforementioned gratifying M4 burst that peppers chest to head, has to be repeated four times to drop a guy in a hoodie. The genres don’t really meld, in fact it feels like a promising tactical shooter has been high-jacked by the kind of content you encounter in lazy, repetitive MMORPGs (i.e. all of them). Quickly the game became boring; the same old routine, go here, seek cover, shoot it out with a few waves of chumps, then two or three higher level chumps, distinguished only by being higher capacity bullet sponges. When I think about the games contemporaries, perhaps Destiny, or Borderlands, both those games had an abstraction from reality that made the number chipping combat a better fit, if nonetheless repetitive in my opinion. I suppose The Division could be the game that certain people have been waiting for, being that it is the first of the shooter RPG’s to have a realistic aesthetic, but for me, the term shooter RPG itself will be oxymoronic as long as devs cling to the number based health bar system. To return to it, I want my ‘skill’ to decide the fight, not my ‘skills’. Though I must add, even though it destroys my previous statement! It’s only fair to say that the skills I encountered in the beta were fairly well thought out and didn’t include anything that further jarred with the setting, that was more of a general RPG swipe!

Ultimately, The Division is a well made game and if this genre is your thing; it’ll certainly deliver. Alas the genre definitely isn’t my thing, but I’m fine with that, there are other lands beyond the horizon; wildlands.