Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Future of the Left - How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident

It’s nice when music and lyrics combine in a way you can relate to and end up succinctly summing up a feeling isn’t it?

“Once I dreamt of owning my own home and renting six bedrooms / to call center veterans, good tenants and better communicators / but ambition encountered in an economy dominated by forces so deep they confound themselves / I’m just a man (a simple thing).”

In fact I could more or less dedicate an entire Blog to just reciting the lyrics on this album.  I won’t.   But I could.  For example this is the delicately sung chorus of ballad French Lessons:

“Well I don’t need coy carp swimming round my feet / and auburn haired children blocking my path / as I run to the disabled bathroom / topping off a 12 hour drinking spree / The rich kids stole the ball.”

As a lyricist, singer Andrew Falkous has matured and improved with each album he has released – that’s 3 with former band Mclusky and 4 with current group Future of The Left.  Considering some of us can spend three years writing an album which retrospectively only has a couple of good songs on it this is QUITE GOOD.

Musically Falkous’ previous band Mclusky all but refused to incorporate the post-Metallica predictability of guitar chords in order to make their music stand out from the crowd, perhaps inspired by similarly bald-man-fronted Nirvana-influencing scamps The Pixies.

Future of the Left have no such quibbles, preferring instead to use oft repeating combinations of power 
chords to make their music unpredictable.  On this album this is best showcased in opener Bread Cheese, Bow and Arrow but this was also demonstrated to full effect in adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood and the superbly named Robo-Cop 4 (Fuck Off Robo-Cop).

Previous album The Plot Against Common Sense was a collection of terrific pop songs that lost a bit of the band’s customary grunge sensibilities but still maintained the cutting edge and controlled rage that are the band’s hallmark.  It was also their most complete, enjoyable and strongest collection of songs to date.

Funded by fans via Pledge the follow up How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident is perhaps a step sideways rather than a step forward.  Power chords are unapologetically back in vogue while songs like Future Child Embarrassment Matrix echo the more punk idea-track sensibilities of early Mclusky album tracks.

Johnny Borrell Afterlife would have been comfortably at home as the stand out track on The Plot Against Common Sense but feels strangely out of place in the running order of this album.  How To Spot A Record Company sounds bizarrely influenced by Blur’s Britpop bridge-too-far The Great Escape.  The first minute and a half of Bowie-esque Something Happened is haunting, unexpected and promises enormous excitement. 

Unfortunately the final two minutes are ultimately predictable and boring.

When I first heard Mclusky’s second album Mclusky Do Dallas as a spotty faced whippersnapper I was acutely aware that I either hated it or loved it.  I just wasn’t sure which.  It ended up being the only album I wanted to listen to for about a year.*

And I had a similar vehement love / hate reaction the first time I listened to this album.  I expected to love it but in truth I didn’t enjoy it as much as I anticipated.  Then I started to dislike it...

This was a frightening moment of identity loss for me.

Could it be that I had started to hate what I loved the most?

Whatever next?          

Was this the first step on a path that would end with me kicking pets, sending my friends spiteful group text messages and burning my copy of Football Manager?

Then it clicked.

There’s nothing wrong with the songs. It’s the running order of the album I don’t like.  Previous Mclusky and Future of The Left albums have been flawlessly constructed and perfectly paced.

Pacing is a key part of making a record.  It’s what makes an album an album rather than just a collection of songs.  It’s what makes Radiohead’s OK Computer a great album.

The pacing of this album is flawed.  Most noticeably the 3rd, 4th and 5th songs are simply in the wrong place.  As a man not totally unaccustomed to the occasional bout of OCD this annoyed me enough to make me want to switch it off.

Thankfully in these days of Spotify playlists I can just rearrange them.

Hey Presto Bingo.  It’s one of my favourite albums.  A masterpiece.  IN THIS ORDER:

1.       Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow
2.       I Don’t Know What You Ketamine
3.       French Lessons
4.       Future Child Embarrassment Matrix
5.       Johnny Borrell Afterlife
6.       The Real Meaning Of Christmas
7.       The Male Gaze
8.       How To Spot A Record Company
9.       Donny of the Decks
10.   She Gets Passed Around At Parties
11.   Something Happened
12.   Things To Say To Friendly Policemen
13.   Singing Of The Bonesaws
14.   Why Aren’t I Going To Hell?

*Might have been longer than a year     

Monday, 16 December 2013

Xbox One and Playstation 4

I’ve made a number of confident predictions in my life.

Here are some randomly selected highlights: 

“That Eric Djemba-Djemba will turn out to be a terrific player”

He wasn’t.

“I bet you Portugal’s lone striker Pauleta will be the top goalscorer at the 2004 European Championships”

Played every single game.  Didn’t score a single goal.

“I think Watford will win the 2013/14 Championship and get promoted to the Premier League”

We are currently 13th and, as of today, managerless.

“I'm certain England will win the 2006 World Cup”

We didn’t.                                                                                                       

You get the idea.

Well the time has come for me to make another one. 

“I'm not convinced the Xbox One and PS4 will really catch on”.

There I said it.

We are currently experiencing a massive price crash on Xbox 360 and Playstation3 games due to those heartless bastards with jobs and those fucking awful rich children whose parents buy them entire houses trading in their consoles for the latest fancy technology. 

You’d think I’d be bitter and you’d be right.  But mainly because that’s just my default setting.  Generally this is good news for me. 

I bought ten games today for less than 50 quid.  A couple of months ago the same ten games would have probably cost me closer to £250.

When the Xbox 360 and Playstation3 came out the Xbox and Playstation2 didn’t stand much hope of surviving.  

This was down to a number of factors.

First of all HD technology was clearly about to revolutionise our television screens, and nowhere was this to have such a big impact as with gaming.  The 360 and PS3 came with built-in HDMI capability whereas the Xbox and PS2 still ran off of SCART.  The PS3 also included a Blu-Ray player, before HDTV or Blu-Rays had really even been invented.

Secondly Wi-Fi was about to completely alter the way we used the internet.  It went on to make online gaming and indie gaming a mainstream activity.  Sure you could play online games on the original Xbox and PS2 but it was about as popular as cooking baked beans in a toaster.

Fast forward 8 years and the situation is completely different.

Most major titles are currently scheduled for release on both the Xbox 360/PS3 and Xbox One/PS4 generation of consoles.  DragonAge 3 for example is currently scheduled for a late 2014 / early 2015 release on both Xbox One and Xbox 360.

This didn’t happen back in 2005 when production of Xbox and many PS2 games all but stopped in favour of the new generation.

Undoubtedly the Xbox One and PS4 are more powerful machines than their current generation counterparts.  And in two or three years time game developers will no doubt be producing games purely with their specifications in mind.

But it’s difficult to feel the same inexorable wave of revolution as back in 2005.

The only exception to this is in the case of motion tracking technology and voice activation.

Call me old fashioned but personally I’m still happy to turn my console on by pressing a button.  Likewise the idea of having to stand up or move to play a video game is still about as appealing as it was in 2006 when Nintendo released their fun with a very small F Wii.

So there you go.

I’ll leave that there. 

I was only writing this while Battlefield 3 installed itself on my Xbox 360 which it just has.

That took over half an hour.

But then again that’s current generation loading times for you...

Grand Theft Auto V

It’s worth noting that the only movie to have cost more than GTA V to make was Pirates of The Caribbean: At Worlds End and GTA V more than recouped all of its 270 million dollar production costs within a day of its release.

It’s certainly a dramatic improvement on GTA IV – the game that decided to make it difficult and tediously unenjoyable to drive cars in a game where all you can do is drive cars.  In GTA V the driving has been made fun and you can fly planes again.  Much like in 2004s GTA: San Andreas...

It’s all still a triumph of glamour over substance however.

GTA games are often held up as being an ‘open world’ experience but unfortunately this is something of a misnomer.  Missions will see you repeatedly drive through the gloriously rendered world by staring at your GPS system and then get led through a series of tightly scripted often uninspiring set piece routines.

The open world elements in the game have no point to them.

As fun as it is to fire rockets at police cars there’s no reason to do so and this is GTA’s biggest crime. 

It builds a game out of its weaknesses rather than building it from its strengths.

Sure you can mow down policemen or businessmen to your heart’s content but aimlessly doing this for days on end loses its shine rather quickly.

Sure you can race cars in mini-games found around the map but there’s plenty of other similarly average racing simulators out there that I could pick up and similarly never want to play more than once.  You also don’t win any money for winning a race or unlock any new items.  So why bother?

Sure you can play tennis and golf or go skydiving but the same applies.  Where’s the reward?

As a game GTA V is weaker than the heavily GTA influenced Red Faction: Guerrilla and Assassin’s Creed 2 which were both masterpieces in their own right.

If you’ve seen the extensive marketing campaign this game is still putting out now Christmas is nearly upon us you’ll see it has essentially been marketed as a film.  I’m usually an enormous critic of video game stories and characters but I have to admit the ghoulish character of Trevor is interesting enough and I actually related quite well to Michael.  There’s also a guy called Franklin in it.

The story is good to a point but ultimately nowhere near strong enough to be sustained over the time it takes to complete the game.  Within about an hour you’ll have sussed out everything the story has to say.  The rest is an awkward attempt to stretch and pad out its content.

And for a game that places such a massive emphasis on story this is a fundamental problem.

Cutscenes are at their strongest in video games when they are used to reward the player for completing a section of gameplay.  GTA V instead uses a few minutes of gameplay, often driving to a point in the map, as a reward for watching its self indulgent cutscenes.

The open world it creates is a technical and graphical marvel.  This is undoubtedly where the several hundred million dollars really show themselves.  The attention to detail is staggering. 

If you beat someone up a member of the public might film it with their camera phone.  The changing moon phases dictate the contrast of the night lighting.  Puddles form over time when it rains.  You can invest in the stock market.  Characters sweat when they run.

All of which is nice enough, but it’s a bit like a girl proudly swallowing your cum after a bad blow job.

And if that joke seems distasteful then if you plan to play GTA V you better get used to it. Because GTA V is also frequently crass and misogynistic in a way that is neither clever nor funny.  The game contains no strong female characters and it openly mocks and belittles the ones that it does have.

And in 2013 that’s a real shame.

Spec Ops: The Line

In my own way I suspect I may have helped the British war effort more than any soldier.

Judging by my performances in today’s modern war video game shooters I would have killed and maimed Taliban, Americans, British and casual passersby fairly indiscriminately.

Not out of pleasure or psychopathic revenge upon humanity you understand but purely out of my own incompetence and inability to quickly recognise slightly different coloured uniforms.

Perhaps it’s what comes of being raised on a diet of playing Doom and Wolfenstein 3D as a child.

If it moves, it dies and I apparently have neither the patience nor the intelligence to work out who I’m meant to be shooting.  Yet not one person I know who has served in Afghanistan has ever sat me down and thanked me personally for not going to Afghanistan with them.

Not one. 

It seems to me in many ways these people probably owe me their life.

Spec Ops is a 3rd person shooty Afghan war inspired thing set in Dubai.  You command a small squad of soldiers who frequently shout things like “Friendly fire!” and “Stand down!” at you throughout the course of the game.

My main criticism of this game is that the standard white generic meat head I’m forced to control is voiced by the same bloody guy who voices every other main character in this generation of games.  So in this game he’s Captain Whatthefuckever but he’s previously cropped up as the astonishingly dull Desmond from Assassin’s Creed 1, 2, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 3, 3.2 and 4, Nathan Drake from Uncharted 1, 2 and 3 and he also sounds identical to the identical looking protagonist in Bioshock Infinite and that guy from The Last of Us.

The game has a vibe to it though.  A thinking man’s Call of Duty if you will, that attempts to in some way examine the psychological effects the horrors of war can have upon soldiers.  And for that it deserves credit.

It also has a style and atmosphere that feels surprisingly distinctive.

From the sweeping sandstorms that dominate its impressive visuals to the exceptional soundtrack that accompanies them.  Usually I have to turn off music on games but I have to confess that slaughtering bad-twats in a Dubai Aquarium to Mogwai was the highlight of my day.

Still, it’s a rough diamond rather than a fully polished carbon beauty. 

Enemies will frequently spawn right on top of you from nowhere and this becomes progressively more frustrating throughout the game as you are continuously returned to the same checkpoint.

The cover system is more Mass Effect 1 than Mass Effect 2 (in that it doesn’t quite work).  Your character will happily stand still under a hail of gunfire while you desperately try to convince him to hide behind something and frequently dying in this manner can make the game feel cheap.

Overall though it’s a damn sight better than most of its competitors. 

At least it tries to engage my emotions and involve me in a narrative that has some depth behind it as opposed to the over enthusiastic Call of Duty jerking me off at full throttle for increasingly unstimulating and unsatisfying hours on end.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Fernando Llorente - The Album

While living in Bristol myself and Steven Warnes (TTB) wrote and recorded, to the best of our knowledge, the first Fernando Llorente concept album there has ever been.

Described by at least one of the co-creaters as having ‘little artistic merit’ and being ‘a difficult, at times sexually exhausting listen’ FERNANDO LLORENTE – THE ALBUM successfully represents perhaps the zenith, or at least the nadir, of football concept album ambition.

This is the concept, track by track:

1.       Hello Fernando Llorente

A joyous greeting to our hero!  From the fans.  From his family.  From football lovers everywhere.  Hello Fernando Llorente!  All hail El Rey Leon!  The Lion King!

2.       Pre Match Jitters

The dressing room before the game is tense and The Lion King sits amidst the commotion and noise detached and immersed in his thoughts.  Will he play well?  Will he score?

3.        The Lion King (Kick Off)

The game begins.  Our hero plays like The Lion King he is.

4.        Tempers Flair (The Foul)

A frustrated Fernando Llorente is antagonised by the opposition and retaliates – leaving his marker lying on the ground looking up at Llorente.

5.       Half Time (Come on Lads!)

Llorente and his team mates are reminded of their responsibilities and told they must do better.

6.        Just the Keeper to Beat...

Llorente and his team come flying out of the traps at the start of the second half.  Within minutes The Lion King has ridden several challenges and is clean through on goal.  With just the keeper to beat, Llorente lays a perfect ball for a team mate…who skies the ball over the bar.

7.        I Miss You (Javi Martinez)

The Lion King reminisces of the times when he played with Javi Martinez.  He hopes they can play together again.

8.        The Injury

Llorente is hacked down, taken off and forced to watch the rest of the game sitting on the bench.  The out of time sections of the song signify Llorente’s mental distress.

9.        MoM

The game ends.  Fernando Llorente is the Man of The Match.  The final score is irrelevant. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Technology Piece on difference between LCD and AMOLED display technologies

Piece for KnowYourMobile Job - 1/11/13
I remember when Nokia brought out their first colour screen phone in the distant days of the early 2000s. 

We had street parties.  Finally we could play Snake in colour.

Fast forward ten years and such is the advancement in mobile technology, the unprecedented expansion of what we use our phones for and the exponential rise in popularity and profitability of mobile devices, that fiercely competitive manufacturers ply vast resources into every aspect of construction in order to win consumer loyalty. 

The very nature of touchscreen makes the display screen a vital battleground in this on-going technological war of one-upsmanship.

Traditionally mobile phones have used LCD screens.  This goes way back to the heavy duty bricks of the 90s but they’re still just as popular today with the iPhone 5, HTC One X and LG G2 continuing to use LCD technology.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) screens work by way of a fluorescent backlight that sits behind hundreds of thousands of pixels, each one showing different intensities of red, green or blue to filter the light to create all the different colours, and ultimately the image, you see on the screen.  

One of the disadvantages of this is that ‘black’ on an LCD screen will always be a dark grey because what you’re seeing is actually a heavily filtered backlit projection. 

AMOLED, or, if you prefer, Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode (but let’s agree on AMOLED) only started being used for mobile phones screens in 2012.  With AMOLED each pixel on the screen generates its own light.  AMOLED screens therefore require no backlight and don’t have to deal with any of the filters that LCD screens do.  Not only does this make them thinner, it also makes for a wider range of colours, a greater contrast of colour, and a purer, more vivid, light.  LEDs can also simply switch themselves off to create a deeper and truer black.  This has the additional advantage of prolonging battery life if, for example, the phone is on standby or has a black background on the handset.

The HTC One S, Samsung Galaxy S 4 and Nokia Lumia 1020 all use AMOLED displays.

However, and this is where it starts to get tricky, all the content we view on the Internet and on operating systems, both on mobile devices and on desktop computers, is currently based around a colour range called SRGB.

The LCD display’s colour range matches very closely to the SRGB range and so colours tend to look very natural on LCD screens.

AMOLED can display a much larger range of colours than SRGB but, at the moment, the content we view is not as compatible as it is with LCD. 

With no colour management options available, colours on AMOLED displays therefore often look over saturated.  Common theory holds that AMOLED colours, while punchier, actually look less natural.

To confuse the issue further, in the last couple of years, following the good press AMOLED received about the strength of their colour tone, LCD developers like LG tried to match the vivid colours that were in-vogue and seen as big selling points for AMOLED phones, most notably Samsung’s Galaxy range.  LCD developers achieved this by tweaking saturation and gamma calibration on their phones at the development stage to produce more vivid colours on their LCD screens.

The result of this was the colours looked more vivid BUT also lost their natural look.  For example boosting the green might look terrific in Angry Birds but unnaturally vivid in a photograph that requires more variation and subtlety of tone.

If every colour is slightly recalibrated then the entire colour system is thrown off as a result.

Moving away from the technological mumbo jumbo (with a frown and one hand left scratching its head) and on a practical note the very fact that the LCD screen is backlit makes it more readable in sunlight than AMOLED.  This means LCD has a noticeable practical advantage when you’re relaxing by your pool playing Candy Crush before work or sitting in the park trying to watch pornography on your lunch-break (delete as appropriate).

AMOLED screens have also been known to suffer from ‘blue pixel burn in’.  This is your good old fashioned screen burn that occurs when a static image is displayed for a long time.  As blue is the most high energy colour it’s also the most likely to cause a burn.

A lot of the AMOLED vs LCD argument is frankly down to personal preference, but either way Snake is looking a lot healthier nowadays.


News Piece on acquisition of Nokia by Microsoft

Piece for KnowYourMobile Job - 1/11/2013

Microsoft moved firmly into the hardware market this week with the announcement that they are set to buy Nokia’s mobile phone business for $7.2bn (£4.6bn).  The deal will also see Nokia license its patents and mapping services to Microsoft.

The merger is perhaps the logical conclusion of a partnership which began in February 2011 and has already enjoyed some success with Nokia’s generally well-received Lumia smartphones.

Despite all but dominating the mobile phone arena as recently as six years ago, Nokia have struggled to remain competitive in a smart phone market in which they currently only have a 3% share. 

Microsoft has also been sluggish to respond to the tablet revolution and have failed to establish themselves as a leading innovator in the wake of the rise of Apple.  Their Surface tablet was released last year but was met with unenthusiastic sales figures resulting in a whopping write down on unsold tablets of around $900 million.

Both companies will hope that by integrating Microsoft software with Nokia hardware the Windows Phone will be able to compete against the Apple and Android operating systems which currently dominate the market. 

By running an integrated operating system across their phone, tablet and desktop devices Microsoft believe they have spotted a hole in the market that Apple, who run different OS on their Mac and I-devices, have failed to address. 

Microsoft consider this integration across phone, tablet and PC will persuade app developers to develop for Microsoft OS - seen as a key step in getting one over on Apple. 

By combining hardware and software development new Windows Phone devices will also be produced faster and with better integrated apps which many regard as a key factor in Apple’s recent success.

Questions will be raised over whether other phone manufacturers such as HTC, LG and Samsung will continue to support the Microsoft Windows system, given that it will now be synonymous with a major competitor.  With Nokia already accounting for over 80% of the Windows Phone market it’s likely that this may simply be a calculated risk the company is willing to take.

The impact of the merger also raises questions over the long term sustainability and practicality of firms such as HTC and Blackberry being able to survive as solely phone makers in the fast changing technology market.

Why Did You Buy Your Phone?

Piece for KnowYourMobile Job - Why Did You Buy Your Phone?  15/09/2013

HTC Desire C (or why I didn’t buy an I-Phone)

For years I had to listen to everyone saying how great the I-Phone was while I cradled my reliable, battle hardened but ultimately obsolete Nokia and pretended I didn’t care that I couldn’t afford anything better.

Gushing statements that I was genuinely on the receiving end of included:

“I can’t believe I ever lived without an I-Phone!”

“It has changed my life!”

“It’s the most important thing I’ve ever owned!”

And so on.                       

Starry eyed with excitement I tried to think what other inventions in human history could boast similar glowing references.  The plough?  Perhaps the commode?  How would an I-Phone compete with these?  

Could it magically transport my piss into the toilet without me realising it?  Would it feed me while I slept?  I was sceptical.  Besides these were the same people who were telling me how good Lost and Dan Brown were.

When it came to choosing a new phone I decided there were six desirable qualities I wanted.

1)     Durability

I drop things. 

Not all the time like Joe Hart or Bez, but enough to make me realise that whichever phone I chose needed to be able to withstand the occasional kamikaze nosedive from the safety of my pocket to the unforgiving concrete of the floor.  There wasn’t an easy way to test this as the staff in the stores I visited seemed tired and eventually irritated by my repeated requests to test every device they handed me by dropping it from a height while standing on a chair.  So instead I had to recall personal memories of friends who had shown me their unreadable cracked I-Phone screens and their unusable I-Phone split keypads and wonder whether the I-Phone was really for me.

Further research concluded that another phone, the HTC Desire C, while far from the bomb proof husk that my old Nokia Brick provided me back in the 00s, was nonetheless durable and able to withstand shock impacts that would render many of its competitors unusable.  I reasoned I was unlikely to subject my new phone to the same routine pummelling that, as a carefree young scamp high on booze and excitement, I had once subjected my Nokia to; but at the same time there was perhaps still enough booze and excitement in my life to rule out something as apparently delicate and fragile as an I-Phone.

HTC Desire C – 1

I-Phone – 0

2)       Music Storage

At the time I was looking to buy a new phone I had recently been parted from the functioning possession of my I-pod Classic after it exploded into several interesting, but no less heart-breaking, pieces on my apartment floor after a booze ridden night of excitement sat in watching Wimbledon on television.   I decided that whichever phone I committed to next would have to also replace my beloved, now deceased, 32GB I-pod Classic.

Again here I looked at I-Phones for a long time, noting that to get 32GB of storage took the price up from a basic £200 to a whopping £500.

I dug around a little and found that some phones, like the HTC Desire C, supported SD cards which could ramp the storage space up to equal the 32GB of a top of the range I-Phone, but at a fraction of the cost.

The HTC Desire C also came with the Dr Dre Beats audio bass booster which, unlike the obscenely overpriced Dr Dre Beats headphones, you can turn off whenever you want to listen to something that isn’t meant to be piledriven into your ears.

HTC Desire C – 2                                                                                        
I-Phone – 0

3)       Camera

You never know when the cat is going to vomit or a friend is about to be happy slapped and I decided I wanted to capture these treasured memories with a picture quality that wouldn’t turn out looking like a deleted scene in Paranormal Activity .  Again I undertook painstaking research (okay it’s the Internet) to deduce which phone would have an acceptable camera for what I wanted – i.e. very basic photography.
Nowadays I-Phones have a standard 8 Mega Pixel camera included as standard but back in the far distant days of early 2012 the 5MP camera of the HTC Desire C was as good as the 5MP camera on the I-Phone 4 and superior to the 3.2MP camera of the I-Phone 3GS.

Again it was difficult to see what advantage an I-Phone would give me here…

HTC Desire C – 3
I-Phone – 0

4)       Football Manager Handheld

In 2012 when I was looking for a new phone I was actually living in Mauritius without a computer or an internet connection in my house.  My days off work were spent lounging on a tropical beach reading and drinking cocktails and yet…something was missing.  No computer meant no Football Manager to occupy my waking thoughts and without this there was always going to be a hole in my life that needed to be filled.
So when Apple announced they were releasing Football Manager Handheld on the I-Phone it threw all my previous logical reasoning out of the window in favour of the inexorable purchase of an I-Phone Whatever.
Until Android announced they were bringing Football Manager Handheld to the HTC Desire C.

HTC Desire C – 4
I-Phone – 1

5)       Price

HTC Desire C - £100
I-Phone 4 - £500
I-Phone 3GS – £300

HTC Desire C – 5
I-Phone – 1

6)      Conclusion

What tipped the final balance was when I realised with horror that I had forgotten to check if any of these devices could actually make a phone call or receive a text message.

Desperately I went back to my research (yes alright the Internet) and promptly read an article that suggested the I-Phone 4 had ‘difficulties maintaining conversations if held incorrectly’.

With the final score a convincing 6-1 to HTC I packed away my charts and proudly marched to my local store to demand they fit my pocket with an HTC Desire C.

The store assistant smiled at me.

“Good choice sir,” he said, resting a reassuring hand gently on my arm, “Good choice”.

N.B. James is now planning to ditch his slow laggy HTC Desire C for an I-Phone Whatever which will enable him to use Garage Band and all the other apps he is currently using ‘second rate versions of’ on his HTC.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Hodgson Racism Accusation Backfires on Tabloid Press

The entire UK media were accused by themselves today of exacerbating racism and may be forced to resign from their positions leaving the country without a media network. The claims come after several tabloid newspapers accused England manager Roy Hodgson of racism for using a famous joke to illustrate how he wanted his team to play at half time.
“We’re idiots” one newspaper journalist admitted this afternoon, “and it’s indicative of our inherent racism that we misunderstood the story in this way.”
It is believed that by accusing the England manager of racism in this manner and by other news corporations then intensifying interest through reporting it the UK’s media may have fallen foul of UK law which prohibits the incitement of racial or religious hatred.
Any newspaper, magazine or website which further covers or discusses this story in any way may be shut down and any people who add further fuel to the fire by reading about the story may also be shut down via government officials tracking their IP addresses…

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Bioshock Infinite

I remember when I met the film director Quentin Tarantino we spoke about the film Jackie Brown and his belief that the film was more fun to watch the second time round because you were freed of your obligation of having to follow the plot and could just enjoy the dialogue between the characters.

Actually now that I think about it that might just have been a DVD extra I watched.

Anyway the point is that on an initial run through I found my feelings while playing Bioshock Infinite fluctuated somewhere between enjoyment, boredom and feeling rather overwhelmed.  On a second play through its difficult not to praise the scope of the game’s ambition, even if ultimately the much hyped story gets rather confused and the world it creates is not quite as immersive as it could have been.

There are undoubtedly moments of highly polished gameplay, although these sit alongside the occasional incomprehensible moment that might have been clever in the late 90s but now sticks out like a sore thumb.  To be honest once I’m hurling fireballs through the air and riding a skyline firing rockets at motorized automatons of George Washington that can be conjured into existence out of thin air then my excitement threshold has already been stretched to a level that is unlikely to be exceeded by every toilet in the game excitedly telling me “PRESS SQUARE TO FLUSH!”

The skyrails themselves are an original idea but poorly integrated.  You need to be looking in exactly the right place to use them and this is almost impossible to do quickly.  When the difficulty steps up this makes them at best redundant and at worst frustrating as you are repeatedly battered to death while apparently frantically studying every inch of the world above you.

I also encountered as many bugs with this game, which received universal praise from critics, as I did with Aliens Colonial Marines, which was universally panned for being bug ridden (no pun intended). 

Which makes me seriously question just how much in the pocket of the manufacturers the games journalists really are.

For those of you who are au fait with this concept feel free to skip ahead.

Games magazines and ‘independent’ games websites have huge influence over the video game market. Websites that review video games and give the illusion of independence are many people’s first port of call to catch up on the latest games news because they have the most recent trailers, appear top of Google’s search engine hitlist, and publish the first reviews.

In practice should a bad review be written by one of these websites then the company responsible for the game can withhold future demo releases from the website, refuse to give them trailer videos and so on.  The effect of this is that the reviewing website won’t have the latest news, reviews or videos and people therefore won’t go to their website which causes a drop in website hits, the reduction of advertising on the site and the collapse of the website.  Even simpler than this the games manufacturer might not pay the website their annual ‘supportive’ donation.

I will no doubt in future wax lyrical about Deus Ex, Fallout 3 and Knights of The Old Republic and I would like to thank the billion dollar behemoths responsible for those games for sponsoring me during a recession in an industry which is not exactly known for its financial rewards.

And obviously expecting a balanced review of a PS3 game in PS3 Magazine is like trying to decide whether you should buy a Honda Civic by reading the brochure.

To be fair Bioshock Infinite isn’t the best example of this I could have picked.  If you liked the previous instalments then there’s a fair chance you’ll like this one.  I base this on the fact that I thought the others were alright and I’d say the same about this one too.  A better example of an awful game given rave reviews would have been something like Final Fantasy XIII, but the thought of having to replay that snoring festival of horse piss still keeps me awake at night.

Bioshock Infinite just doesn’t feel like quite the immersive experience that the game is striving to be.  For example I had moments where every time I crossed an invisible ‘new area’ line, the enemies around me would inexplicably pop in or out of existence.  Which just reminds me that I’m playing a game that is essentially a series of hoops I’m expected to jump through as opposed to a living breathing world I can pretend I inhabit.

If a tree falls in a forest and no-one is around to hear it then does it make a sound?

Well if I knew it didn’t then I would have much less interest in the world around me wouldn’t I?

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Halo 4

I like art.

I also like oxygen and the smell of my own farts.

Halo 4 at times feels like walking through an art gallery – albeit one full of hideous alien creatures firing plasma rifles at you.  Games like this can sometimes become a sensory overload of stunning visuals and fast paced gameplay thrown at you too quickly for either to be fully enjoyable.  Take note Assassin’s Creed 3; expecting me to read instructions at the same time as fighting ten enemies in your beautifully rendered environments to a time limit just makes my head hurt.  Thankfully Halo 4 paces itself to give you time to enjoy the spectacle.

Halo 4 is perhaps not as good as previous Halo games, with the exception of Halo ODST which I disliked for reasons I don’t actually remember but possibly because its title sounds like a newly discovered sexually transmitted disease.  A large part of the reason Halo 4 perhaps compares unfavourably to its predecessors is because the new enemy, the Prometheans (yesfuckingreally), just aren’t as much fun to slaughter as the Covenant.  It doesn’t help that they’re all robots that don’t say anything.  I know that listening to those little Covenant twats squealing “Enemy!” was kind of annoying but you know what, at least it gave them character.  Remember how shityourpants scary an SS guard booming at you in Wolfenstein 3D was?  Or the roar of those pink centaur ‘Baron’ fuckers in Doom?

The key success of the Halo series has been founded on slick, fast paced action.  It nails the shooting genre better than anything since the original Doom games and doesn’t try to be anything more.  Halo 4 is comfortable in its own skin while other games have tried to be clever and ape Deus Ex when they have neither the writing talent nor the gameplay mechanics to support such ambition.  For another example of this idea read something I’ve written and then read Milan Kundera.

Halo 4 also has something Doom didn’t have, namely a story, although to someone like me who reads books at about the same speed as it takes a well established television corporation to out known paedophiles, it is fairly baffling.

As far as I could make out the sexy lady Sat Nav in your head is suffering from some sort of AI deterioration called “rampancy” – a fact that she seemed at pains to remind me every 10 minutes.

And in this respect I’ve got to applaud Halo 4 because as far as sexual fantasies go having a symbiotic relationship with an AI who sounds like she could overpower and rape my brain at any second is one that I have neither contemplated nor indulged in.   Yet after the fortieth time of hearing the words “Chief you need to hurry, my rampancy is increasing” I found myself sporting the same type of lustful smirk usually only seen by the most unfortunate girls in my local area.

This Halo round there’s a villain, though you only see him twice before he dies in a horrific quick time event.  SPOILER ALERT!  Oh damn, sorry.  Just as well that telling you the fate of the bad guy at the end of Halo 4 is a bit like telling you what happens to Spot at the end of Spot The Dog i.e.:


The only thing I do remember about the final cut-scene of this game was that it was self-congratulatory, smug and made me feel uncomfortably like I had just walked in on my best friends shagging and made eye contact with them seconds after they’d came.

Oh and we also find out that the character you’ve been playing all this time is called John. 

John Spartan. 

As in the guy out of Demolition Man.

It is most definitely not to the credit of today’s video game writers that I was left pondering if this was a deliberate random name-check apropos of nothing or a genuine case of nobody on the development team having ever watched Demolition Man before.

And I’ve got no problem with the name John being used for mere mortals but why not call this superhero kickass guy something a little more exciting?  Kimbo* for example.

Anyway Halo 4 is pretty good and the bit where you get to hop off and on of an enormous moving Landrover base was so exciting I kept on forgetting to go to the toilet.

Lucky I like the smell of my own farts really.  

*  this is almost certainly what I am calling my son/daughter when I adopt/steal a child as a single parent in the future.  Just a heads up Mum.  Kimbo Cook.  Write it in your diary so you don’t pull a face in 20 years time. 

Friday, 23 August 2013

Ass In Ass's Creed 3

There’s something terribly wrong with the world.

Film directors appear to want to be video game designers and video game designers appear to want to be film directors.  And what we, that is those of us who are neither video game designers nor film directors, are left with is either films that have little or no story or video games that have little or no gameplay.

There should be a way to sort all this out.                                        

JJ Abrams should just be put back where he was found – presumably somewhere outside Ubisoft’s offices with a sign around his neck reading, ‘Will Make Wing Commander Games For Cash’.  And the ‘multicultural team of various religious faiths and beliefs’ ™ that made Assassin's Creed 3 should be given a camcorder, some period costumes and a handful of unexceptional GCSE Drama students.

And David Cameron, who incidentally is the spitting image of this game’s antagonist, should just join the Navy so he can fulfil his dream of sailing boats.  Over the River Styx.  While clutching the coins of the dead.

Assassin's Creed 3 is the latest instalment in the Assassin’s Creed series and you’d be forgiven for thinking that we reached this point in 2010 with the release of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, or in 2011 with the nigh on identical Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

But it’s okay because the developers have found a way to reinvigorate the franchise.  They’ve removed assassinations from the game.

Yes, it is a strange move.

Instead what we have here is a series of cutscenes and loading screens lasting for roughly 10 hours and linked by gameplay that is largely reduced to ‘climbing things’ or ‘walking to things’ for decreasingly necessary or comprehensible reasons.

Like previous games the movement system still maps ‘run’ and ‘jump onto the nearest wall’ to the same button, which is a pity when a core part of the game mechanic requires you to ‘run’ away from mildly suspicious guards who go absolutely apeshit at anyone who ‘jumps onto the nearest wall’.

When the game is in full flow the free running over treetops can be exhilarating, the combat has been 
improved to flow nearly as slickly as the Batman Arkham series and the naval battles are nothing short of breathtaking.  If the next game was based around these naval scenes it could be spectacular.

But do games not have editors?  Like books have editors.  You know?  To stop them being shit?

It’s almost like the game designers made a brilliant game, the story writers wrote a brilliant story but the person responsible for co-ordinating those two departments was a disinterested chimpanzee who distrusted the notion of interactive entertainment and had been strapped to a chair for its entire life and forced to watch trashy American civil war TV shows.

The pacing and balance of the game is seriously flawed.  The enjoyable side missions of Assassin’s Creed 2 have been ‘tweaked’ back to the incomprehensible mess of Assassin’s Creed 1.  The protagonist is voice acted by someone who has had all their emotions removed.  I might have empathised with him on this point if he wasn’t such a cloying arse.

Clearly a lot of work went into making Assassin’s Creed 3 but unfortunately it’s rather like a U2 song.  Expensively produced but with little enjoyable substance and made even more frustrating because you suspect they could do better if they just took a step back to re-examine what it actually was they were meant to be doing.

As it is there’s no motivation to DO anything in the game.  The side missions are optional and devoid of 
purpose.  If you win you gain nothing.  If you lose you lose nothing.  You won’t ever unlock any more weapons.  You won’t ever learn any new abilities.  It must be what it feels like to be Robbie Williams.

Diary entries in the previous games were ingeniously integrated to provide you with real historical information on the Renaissance architecture you were scampering over in the game.  This made the whole experience feel borderline educational and briefly enabled me to fantasise about a utopian future where all educational and teaching needs are delivered purely through a series of checkpoints in a Need For Speed title or maybe delivered by the idiotic bray of Andy Townsend as a reward for scoring a goal in Fifa:

“And it’s 1-0 to Watford!  What a goal from Deeney!  The Magna Carter was signed in 1215 by King John 1.  Terrific stuff!”

Unfortunately in Assassin’s Creed 3 diary entries only pop up when you find a fox or a badger.  And frankly if I want to read something that’s dull, uninformative and trying but ultimately failing to be funny then I can just read my own Blog.

Saturday, 10 August 2013


I am not a racist. 

That’s what I always thought. 

But on closer self-analysis it appears I do become a racist when I play football simulation games. 

No I don’t make monkey noises when I pass the ball to Jermaine Defoe or spit at the screen every time it suggests I select a white player for the South African national team.

I do however have a team selection policy which, were I a real football manager, would be considered at best inappropriate.

Let me explain.

A large part of my enjoyment of playing FIFA comes from knowing and utilising the specific strengths of my players.  So if I know the ball is heading for Zlatan Ibrahimovic then I can make a quick decision for him to flick the ball on, use his strength to hold the ball up, go for a 1-2 pass or do something else that I wouldn’t otherwise unfairly force Gareth Barry into attempting.

So an important part of my enjoyment of the game becomes about being able to recognise which player is which.  And because the game is fast it’s important to be able to do this as quickly as possible.  And anything I can do to make that easier improves my enjoyment of the game…

So unfortunately the other white centre forwards I have in my squad simply aren’t going to get any games, lest I think I’m controlling Zlatan Ibrahimovic before realising with horror that I’m actually controlling Andy Carroll.

Andy Carroll is therefore sold, meaning I will need to scour the transfer market to find a black centre forward to replace him.  Preferably a small one.

Nothing controversial there.

But for some reason the game doesn’t allow you to conduct player searches based on a player’s ethnicity.  

Nor can you specifically send your scouts out with the remit of finding you a black defender, or a white red haired playmaker, or a little distinctive looking Asian chap who can play on the wing.

In the end my FIFA teams resemble the kind of regimented multicultural ideal you’d expect to find in the fantasies of a forward thinking OCD sufferer having a mental breakdown in 1960s Alabama.

And in doing this I am made to feel uncomfortably similar to Ron Atkinson, the ex-football manager who once referred to Marcel Desailly as a “fucking lazy thick nigger” and then went on a series of TV chatshows complaining about the criticism he was receiving and dismissing any allegations against him with the FACT that he's managed black footballers - in what I think is as close to a dictionary definition of a cunt as I can think of.

And really I’m an even bigger cunt than Ron Atkinson because I simultaneously practice negative discrimination and positive discrimination.  At least you knew where you were with Big Ron.  He’s a racist and a cunt.  The players in my Fifa team must just be confused.  When Florent Malouda asks me why he’s not in my first team I’ll have to reply “Because I can’t tell you apart from Ashley Cole” which, frankly, makes me feel like I’m the bad guy. 

Which is how Ron Atkinson would feel if he was able to comprehend the concept of shame.

I also doubt many managers in real football have signed as many players on the basis of the novelty of their haircut as I have in FIFA.  Liverpool’s managers aside.  Conduct a quick Google search of Andy Carroll, Djibril Cisse and Abel Xavier and you’ll quickly see why these players are among the finest to ever establish themselves in my FIFA teams.

Abel Xavier deserves special mention here.  An average player, but when the ball came near him I would sure know to pass the ball on to someone else. 

You see it doesn’t really matter how good the players in the game are because FIFA 13 is only as good as the person who’s holding the controller.  And in my case there is absolutely no correlation between ‘time spent playing FIFA games’ and ‘ability at playing FIFA games’.

It doesn’t matter how good Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen are in the game because if I play them together I will end up attempting through balls with Owen and trying to spring the offside trap with Rooney. 

Then I’ll lose possession and rely on Paul Scholes to break up the attack with a perfect sliding tackle before using the creativity of Gareth Barry to play a killer ball for David Beckham to use his pace and dribbling skills to run onto.

Although anyone who has watched England in recent tournaments will recognise that this pretty accurately describes the last 10 years of international failure.

Maybe the England national team could do with following my FIFA formula.

After all Arsenal only dominated English football when they had Henry and Bergkamp up front.  Newcastle enjoyed their best period in recent history by partnering Alan Shearer with Les Ferdinand.  Manchester United have based much of their recent success on the rock solid defence provided by Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.  And Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea dominated domestically by relying on Michael Essien and Frank Lampard to marshal the midfield.

You can prove anything with facts can’t you Ron?