A selection of reviews, blog posts and other jottings of interest.

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Saint Denis

Posted on December 28, 2018

Every day there is so much we ignore, objects and actions visible only in our periphery. The French writer Georges Perec described these instances as the “infra-ordinary” and over a weekend in 1974, in Saint Sulpice Square, set out to record them in detail, an endeavour later published in his book An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris. The idea behind the project was to document the everyday and to find out what happens in those instances when nothing happens.

The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup is a dark Lemmings-like from the creator of Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Posted on November 30, 2018

In The Unlikely Legend of Rusty Pup, death is never too far away. Developed by Gory Detail – a studio formed by Conker’s Bad Fur Day creator Chris Seavor – the dark Lemmings-like tasks you with leading a small, windup dog named Rusty through a dank and dangerous sewer. Something that’s far easier said than done.

Sam Barlow on visionary indie game Her Story

Posted on September 19, 2015


In the past Sam Barlow had made a name for himself working on titles in the Silent Hill series, including Silent Hill Origins and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. The latter title was particularly influenced by psychology, with much of the game being set in a psychiatrist’s office. This focus on a formal setting combined with an intimate discussion of a person’s history was something that would be carried over into Barlow’s more recent work, the critically acclaimed Her Story.

“Once I had decided that I wanted to go make an indie game, I was kind of trying to figure out what that game should be,” Barlow begins. “The easiest thing for me to go out and make would have been an exploratory, atmospheric horror game, with some clever narrative twist to it. There’s that whole kind of genre that, I think, has become quite prevalent amongst indies. Dropping a player into a dark atmospheric environment with a flashlight is quite easy to do, but that almost felt too easy.”

Inspired by Simogo games and their unwavering creative vision, Barlow set out to build a police procedural game, a concept he had previously struggled to get off the ground when working with publishers. This became Her Story, an interactive videogame, where players piece together the details of a single case using found archived interview footage on an ageing police computer. “I’d pitched publishers the idea of doing a detective game many times over the years,” says Barlow. “It just always seemed to me like an obvious thing. If you look at movies, TV, books, half of this stuff is police shows or murder mysteries or serial killer shows. It’s such a big thing, but games have kind of struggled with it. I wanted to make a police procedural and in my head I had kind of zoomed in on the idea of the interview route. It felt that that was the kind of thing to do, because I was reducing scope. If this is a game that’s taking place in the interview room then I don’t need car chases, lots of locations, and tons of characters, so that would be a sensible thing to do.

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Here’s the Problem With Amiibo

Posted on June 12, 2015

Amiibo Wave One

It’s hard to hate Nintendo. After all, they are behind many beloved franchises, including The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and the Metroid series. But their latest venture, the Wii U and 3DS compatible amiibo, has managed to antagonize a large number of its consumers. This is as a direct result of shortages in stock, and Nintendo’s subsequent failure to act on their promises to improve supply.

When amiibo were first released to coincide with Super Smash Bros. Wii U and Super Smash Bros. 3DS, they quickly became the must-have peripheral for gaming fans. The only problem was that demand for the items greatly outweighed the supply. This meant certain figures were almost impossible to find in stores and online. These included the likes of Marth, Wii Fit Trainer, and Villager, which sold out almost immediately upon being released.

It soon emerged that scalpers, intending to sell the figures for inflated prices, had somehow managed to buy these items in bulk. This meant that fans were to be deprived of the digital content associated with the amiibo, unless they were willing and able to part with extortionate amounts of cash.

Another option available to consumers was to wait for a restock. Though this method did not guarantee that they would eventually secure the amiibo of their choice, given the fierce competition for the items. The above also meant that younger gamers, without the disposable income or the means of store hopping, would go without.

At one point, the demand for the items was so high that Amazon and other online stores were giving specific order times to consumers, so as to grant them even the slightest chance of getting their hands on the rare figures.

The second and third waves of amiibo were faced with very much the same problems as the first. Rare figurines once again found their way onto eBay, selling way above their standard retail price. In addition, some areas saw counterfeiters begin to profit from deliberately misleading desperate customers with inferior goods.

Replying to the shortages, Nintendo gave customers the excuse that they did not anticipate the demand for the product. This would perhaps be an acceptable justification, if it weren’t for the problems associated with the previous waves of amiibo and the marketing campaign they undertook to entice even greater interest in the product. From the aforementioned reasons, it can be suggested that Nintendo knew amiibo were going to be in high demand, and simply failed to produce an adequate enough supply to retailers.

Many have even begun to accuse Nintendo of limiting supply deliberately in order to drum up interest in amiibo, something they have been accused of before in relation to the Nintendo Entertainment System and Wii consoles. If this proved true, it would be a contemptuous practice on behalf of the company, considering the growing necessity of amiibo to unlock additional in-game content. One such example of this is with the Splatoon amiibo, which grants access to additional gear and challenges in the game. In this case, the rarity of said items has meant that players are being denied content that should have been available to all upon release, and not just to the privileged few.

Nintendo have since commented again on the amiibo shortages in an exchange published on Game Informer. In their response, a Nintendo service agent blames retailers for the lack of amiibo on store shelves, rather than taking responsibility for their own mistakes regarding the production and distribution of the figures.

Given the events surrounding the release and sale of amiibo, it’s getting increasingly hard to be enthused about a new batch of characters being introduced. This is because there is no guarantee that players will actually get their hands on the product once they have officially been released. Hopefully Nintendo will soon make amends for this. Though, at the moment, the outlook is poor.

Why Glitches Are an Important Part of Gaming Culture

Posted on June 6, 2015


Glitches are often seen as a negative presence in a game. They can break a title or even prevent the progression of a player. Nevertheless, they remain a beloved aspect of gaming culture. Part of the reason for this is that they have informed everything from let’s plays to speedruns.

Even today, I can remember seeing my first glitch in a game. My brother burst into the front room clutching the Gameboy in his hands. Excitedly, he thrust the dimly lit screen under my gaze. There was The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, for the original Gameboy. I stared closely as he edged his character towards the side of the screen, and pressed down on the control pad and the select button simultaneously. The screen panned across as normal, but the protagonist was now positioned in the far wall, out of bounds.

The screen warp, as it would come to be called, could be performed to beat the game in record time, skipping key portions of the game by clipping through different obstacles. It could also be used to cause some interesting events to occur. For example, you could use it to get the shield early when retrieving the sword at the start of the game, and recruit Marin, typically a side character, as a constant companion on your quest. Neither of these had any real effect on the story, but they were fun to perform. It gave us an exciting new past time, allowing the player to experiment to see what they could find. It also showed us that game developers were human and could make mistakes just like everybody else. Being young, it was hard to associate the prepackaged box and its contents bought from a shop shelf with the game’s creators on the other side of the world. Glitches were a meaningful human imprint that helped us to make that connection.

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Simulating Success: How Simulation Games Brought The Joy

Posted on June 2, 2015

Screen-Shot-2014-07-09-at-17.44.09 There was once a time when simulation games were more often found in the bargain bin section of your local gaming store. The genre was considered stale and cheap, paling in comparison to its all-guns-blazing, big budget competition. Covering specialized, ultra-niche topics, such as farming and trucking, they failed to captivate a mass audience in quite the same way as they had in times gone by.

However, more recently this has changed to some degree, with a new breed of simulation games becoming popular with players – one that, although based in reality, still entertains ideas of the absurd for comedic effect. This subgenre includes massively popular titles like Surgeon Simulator, Goat Simulator, and I Am Bread, as well as other lesser-known titles such as Bear Simulator, Viscera Cleanup Detail and Tea Party Simulator.

The first of these to gain success was Surgeon Simulator, which was developed by Bossa Studios. Created as part of a 48-hour game jam, this title puts the player in the role of a surgeon performing operations, albeit with limited dexterity. Luke Williams, one of the creators, comments on the reasoning behind making the game. “Surgeon Simulator was born at a global game jam,” he explains. “The theme for that game jam was the sound of a heartbeat, and we kind of went literal with it. We knew we would have to be awake for 48 hours, so we wanted to make something that was going to make us laugh. We thought, ‘well, we’ll make it a stupid, funny game about a heart transplant with a hand you can’t really control’. So that’s how we settled on the idea.“

To begin with, the developers had no plans of it being labelled as a simulation. In fact, the game’s original title was A & E: Accident and Emergency. It was only as they approached the end of production that they settled on its finished title when they realized it shared many common features with medical simulators. This similarity included making players simulate the action of performing surgery, right down to the surgeon’s finger movements. Taking inspiration from the ambitious-but-incredibly flawed Jurassic Park game Trespasser, Surgeon Simulator’s controls would offer a difficult learning curve for players to experience.

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A Walk In The Park: Revisiting Jurassic Park For The Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Posted on May 21, 2015


As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved Jurassic Park. Like all kids growing up in the 90s, Spielberg’s blockbuster hit captured my imagination, sparking a lifelong fascination with the source material. I expressed my enthusiasm any way that I could. This mostly consisted of writing terrible fan fiction in scrawled English, and acting out my own adventures with a box of mismatched dinosaur toys.

At approximately the same time, I was in the process of discovering something else that would prove influential on my life: videogames. I had finally started to experiment with my brother’s Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and his collection of games. To my astonishment, whilst digging through the countless cartridges and crumpled cardboard boxes, I discovered something incredible; my two loves had been combined. There it was: Jurassic Park the game by Ocean Software. Finally, I could live the movie.

I placed the cart into the machine. Pressing the switch forward on the SNES, the title menu flickered and appeared. My excitement was at its peak.

Dropping the player into the middle of Isla Nublar, Jurassic Park the game allows players to take on the role of Alan Grant, the renowned Paleontologist from the film. Your task is simple: find a way to escape from the failed island attraction and avoid its biggest predators. Beyond that, very little prompt is given. You must collect ammunition and whatever else in order to stay alive.

Echoing the opening of Legend of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System, the player is given no real clue on where to head first after beginning the game, but is instead encouraged to explore and collect. This gives the game a sense of vastness, as players take their time to navigate the different environments populated by various species of dinosaur. Along the way, you will encounter Dilophosaurus, Compys, and Gallimimus in the wild, as well as rampaging Triceratops, raptors, and a ferocious T-Rex.


Roaming around the sandy plains and open fields, the player’s movements are accompanied by a diverse electronic soundtrack by British composer Jonathan Dunn. Lacking the rights to the celebrated John Williams score, the game definitely succeeds in reaching an interesting compromise that helps to set the tone magnificently for each particular area. This makes it arguably one of the best soundtracks the SNES has to offer.

One example is the perfectly executed visitor centre scenes that feature a Doom-like first-person perspective with an ominous synth soundtrack. Walking from room to room, players are constantly kept on edge, as they have to avoid dinosaurs that have infiltrated the base. These areas were nerve-wracking as a child to play, and today still manage to make me jump and shout stuff that would make even the hardiest soul blush.

Criticized at the time for its open-ended play style and an over emphasis on exploration, the game has defied its detractors by remaining one of the most authentic experiences to be based on its intellectual property. Taking elements from the successful videogame franchises of the day, it evoked a mixture of adventure and terror in a way that other Jurassic Park titles have since failed to emulate.


The one major flaw the game does have is its lack of a save function. Considering the size of the game, the inability to log progress hinders the experience to some extent, appearing as an oversight on the behalf of the developers. This does have a positive side effect however, as it contributes to a heightened sense of urgency during each individual play session.

Growing up in an age when videogame adaptations of films were notoriously bad, Jurassic Park the game remained a beacon of hope. It showed that you could create a compelling experience based on a movie that didn’t necessarily have to follow the plot beat for beat.

The existence of this game helped broaden my appreciation for the world created by Michael Crichton that was realized onscreen by Spielberg, rather than simply exploiting it. The developers could have slapped the Jurassic Park label on an inferior product, standing on the shoulders of geniuses. Instead, they created a complimentary experience.

There have been plenty of other great Jurassic Park games since the original game on the SNES. These include the game’s sequel Jurassic Park 2: The Chaos Continues, the Xbox game Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis, and the excellent The Lost World arcade game. But Jurassic Park on Super Nintendo was where it all started, at least for me.

With the release of the TT games adventure Lego Jurassic World, spanning all four films, let’s hope the popular brick-based franchise can capture the magic of its source material. From what we’ve seen so far, it certainly does look like a fun spin on the popular series.

Interview: Steve Ignorant – a celebration of Crass

Posted on May 8, 2015

Photo: Yintan

Photo: Yintan

Few bands have been quite so successful outside of the mainstream as the anarcho-punk group Crass. During their career, the group received virtually no radio airplay, yet they have attained a dedicated following that lives on even today.

Crass formed in 1977, after lead singer Steve Ignorant saw The Clash play live, and immediately decided to form a group. When he found most of his friends had either been married or had taken on other commitments, he decided to visit his old friend Penny Rimbaud.

Steve states: “Just in passing, he said ‘well, what are you up to now?’ I went ‘oh, I’m going to start a punk band.’ He went ‘I’ve got a drum kit. I’ll play drums for you.”

From there, the two recruited the talents of Gee Vaucher, N. A Palmer, and Pete Wright, as well as Phil Free, Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre. This was to become the most well known incarnation of the group.

Asked how the band promoted themselves despite radio play, Steve argues: “It was purely word of mouth, because in those days there was no Internet or mobile phones. Literally we’d do a gig and we’d print our own little flyers, and then we’d just say to people ‘look, is there anywhere where we can do a gig in your area?’ Most of it was done through landline telephone and through the post.”

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Punky Reggae Party – Two Cultures Clash

Posted on May 8, 2015

Photo: Helge Øverås

Photo: Helge Øverås

Though British punk never really accomplished social and political upheaval, it did achieve many wonderful things that are worthy of being celebrated. One such achievement was its ability to bring together unfamiliar cultures by an incorporation of foreign styles, such as ska and reggae. But how did reggae and punk happen to become intertwined, and what effect did this have on both genres and their fans?

In 1948, Britain suffered a labour shortage due to the losses sustained in World War II. This led to an appeal for workers from the Commonwealth and the British Empire, with ads appearing overseas to actively promote migration to the “mother country”. In the same year the Windrush, an ex-cruise ship, landed at Tilbury near London, carrying the first group of Afro-Caribbean migrants. They were promised work and a new way of life, but instead were subject to prejudice and racism from the indigenous British.

What followed over the subsequent decades were a series of race riots, with Afro-Caribbean individuals protesting their poor treatment by the white establishment.

But whilst this was happening, a cultural exchange was also occurring elsewhere between Jamaican migrants and the white working classes. This was in part due to Trojan Records, a record label founded in 1968 that specialized in rocksteady, reggae and dub. This label helped to develop the Trojan skinhead subculture that revolved around ska, rocksteady, reggae and soul.

Don Letts is a British filmmaker, musician, and DJ, who would later introduce many followers of punk to reggae and ska.

He comments: “People forget that there was a movement before the punky reggae thing, which was the skinhead movement. We’re talking about the fashion version, not the fascist version. They’d grown up on early reggae, particularly the records released on Trojan records.”

This cultural exchange between the skinheads and Jamaican migrants was the result of an interaction between working class white and black youths living in areas like Brixton, Notting Hill and Tottenham. This would lay the groundwork that would allow punk and reggae to intersect in the following decade.

In the 1970s, SEX, a shop owned by Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood helped launch the punk subculture. It did this with the help of another store on the King’s Road, Acme Attractions, which was being managed by Don Letts.

Acme Attractions was responsible for introducing many punks to reggae music. In addition, it was also a hangout for punks who were already knowledgeable about the genre, individuals like Paul Simonon and Joe Strummer from The Clash, and John Lydon from the Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd.

Through his connections in the scene, Don Lett was offered a job DJing at a new punk club called The Roxy. On January 1st 1977, The Roxy club in London opened its doors. In his role as DJ, Don Letts would once again be instrumental in introducing reggae music to a white British audience. As there were no punk records released at the time of its opening, he would instead play proto-punk, dub, and reggae for the audience to dance to in-between the band’s sets.

“What’s funny is that the punks used to say to me ‘look don’t worry about all that [proto-punk] stuff Don, just keep playing the reggae’, which is quite funny, you know. A lot of good things came out of that cultural exchange.’

Not all of the punks that visited The Roxy had grown up in areas where they had been exposed to black culture. Don Letts’ sets were in some cases the very first experience that the white audience had of listening to dub and reggae music.

In addition to his residency at The Roxy, Don would also pass around mix tapes that he had made to his friends to educate them. These friends included the Americans Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders and Lenny Kaye, a member of the Patti Smith Group.

Asked what made reggae so appealing to the punks, he argues: ‘That’s easy. It was very anti-establishment, and the songs had a musical reportage quality, so there singing about things that they could relate to – you know, songs like The Mighty Diamond’s ‘I Need a Roof Over My Head’, because housing was a big problem in the seventies.

“Chant Down Babylon’ is also in the same spirit as ‘White Riot’ and ‘Anarchy in The UK’. They used to be soundbite type lyrics that reggae had that kind of appealed to kids back then. It was anti-establishment and they loved the bass lines.

“People like Strummer, and Simonon were already listening to black music, particularly reggae, which had been set up by the whole skinhead thing. The people I turned on to listening to reggae were people who didn’t live next door to black people, and in the mid-seventies that was a lot of people.’

This cultural exchange between black and white music became more obvious as the decade drew on, with punk bands like The Slits, and The Clash incorporating reggae elements into their sound. This is evident on tracks such as ‘Instant Hit’ and ‘Guns of Brixton’ respectively.

All of this interest in Jamaican music was reciprocated in 1977, when popular reggae artist Bob Marley released the track ‘Punky Reggae Party’. This track celebrated musicians like The Clash, The Jam, and Dr Feelgood, who were involved with the punk movement.

In 1976 Bob Marley had been shot prior to performing at ‘Smile Jamaica’, a concert organized by the Jamaican Prime Minister, Michael Manley. This incident led him to temporarily relocate to London, in order to recover from his injuries. Whilst there, he met a young Don Letts, who had become involved with the punk scene.

Asked how Bob Marley became aware of punk, Don recounts: ‘He was living in London at the time…and he had heard all the negative press. The tabloid press was portraying punk rather negatively; that’s what he picked up on initially. What happened was I went round there to collect some money off him. I had like bondage trousers on, and he started to [make fun of me]. I said ‘look, you’ve got it wrong. These guys are my mates. They’re like-minded rebels.’ He basically told me to [go away], but I held my ground, which was a big deal for me then because I was young.

“Anyway he’s in London and over the coming months he gets somewhat more familiar with the whole punk scene, primarily through a lot of journalists…who were interviewing him at the time. They’d be telling him what was going on with the punk scene. He picked up on it, a little bit later than some of us obviously – then again he was from Jamaica – and was moved to write that song ‘Punky Reggae Party’, in which he actually name checks several punk bands including The Clash.”

The scope of the reggae and punk crossover is truly astounding, and hard to encapsulate in so few words. Even today music is constantly being informed by Jamaican sounds, whether it be hip-hop, rock, or punk.

Reflecting on the legacy of this crossover, Don states: “It feels to me that it’s still evolving. I don’t think that it did peak, because it is an ongoing part of so much. It’s all over the place. The idea of pushing the bass to the front, that’s from reggae. That’s not gone anywhere. That’s still a major driving force.

‘The whole DJing, MCing, rap they call it now, that also started in Jamaica. That isn’t going anywhere. The space in dub, and the idea of using a mixing desk as an instrument, is still a major part in electronica and dub music, and dance music too. The 12” remix came out of Jamaica. I don’t see any of these things as having peaked. What they do is they keep evolving and morphing into other things.’

The Miner’s Strike and the politics of punk

Posted on May 7, 2015


Punk music in the UK was arguably a response to the poor conditions of living during James Callaghan’s time as Labour Prime Minister. Though it wasn’t until Thatcher came to power that punk really hit its political stride. One specific example of this is when punk came out in support of the miners during the 1984-85 strikes.

In the late 1970s, under Callaghan, both unemployment and inflation were rising, whilst public spending was being cut. These conditions caused the first wave of the punk explosion to occur, with bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash forming as a response to the dismal realities of 1970’s British life. This initial movement that began under Callaghan’s reign in Downing Street would provide a perfect base for other musicians to build upon in later years under Thatcher.

After Thatcher came to power there were a series of strikes within the country, with growing unrest levelled at her increasingly controversial policies. From the start of her time in Downing Street, it was clear to everyone that she didn’t intend to befriend those living within working class communities.

Strike and benefit

The unrest within the country at this time was expressed perfectly by the music produced by the next wave of punk musicians. Artists such as Crass, Billy Bragg, The Neurotics, and The Specials all wrote about conditions within Britain at this time, pointing the finger at Thatcher for her role in the country’s misfortunes.

In 1984, fresh from the Falklands conflict, Thatcher began to plot one of her most controversial acts yet as Prime Minister – the closure of coal pits up and down the country. This action threatened to cast thousands of mineworkers into unemployment.

As a response to this, the National Union for Miners ordered a national strike. Miners from a number of pits decided to heed the call of the union and strike, forming picket lines to protest the impending closures. In many cases this led to the participants being unable to claim their benefit, or receiving a reduced amount from the Department for Health or Social Security (DHSS).

When record storeowner and promoter Simon Phillips heard about what was happening, he decided to host a series of benefits for the miners. These shows were intended to raise money to supplement the workers and their families, as well as raise awareness for what was happening in these working communities.

These gigs would attract bands such as The Pogues, The Neurotics, and Crass, in addition to the popular singer-songwriter Billy Bragg.

‘A weird position’

Billy Bragg is the artist that is perhaps most commonly associated with these gigs. Having built a career as a political singer songwriter, he saw the gigs as a way of testing how much music could change the world.

He states: ‘The miners strike put me in a weird position, where…I could really test this idea of what can music do in politics. I could actually go out, having listened to political music, and…music that had tried to change the world, and I now had an opportunity to try and do that.’

In 1984 Bragg placed an advert in the NME, stating his interest in playing at a benefit for the miners. Simon Phillips saw this and booked Bragg to appear at an upcoming show, the third gig yet to be hosted for the miners.

Other groups had more personal reasons for getting involved with the benefit gigs. The rise in VAT under Thatcher’s Conservative government meant that the Neurotics’ debut album ‘Beggars Can Be Choosers’ was delayed, as they had to find more money in order to pay for the increased printing costs. This act caused the struggling musicians to take an immediate disliking to Thatcher.

‘Audience needs to change the world’

Steve Drewitt, lead singer and the songwriter for The Neurotics, states: ‘From the word go, we had become anti-Thatcher, but as the dust settled over that change in political equilibrium, we started to realize what that meant to people and we started to become more political.’

‘We got really involved with doing benefits to support the miners and the miner’s wives, and helped raise money so that they could stay out on strike. That was our way of doing something meaningful in fighting against Thatcherism.’

The responses to these gigs were favourable, with many people openly expressing their support for the miners’ cause. This enthusiasm was a testament to the depth of feeling in the country at the time. Musicians, such as Billy Bragg, even went so far as to forfeit some of their pay for the event. This was done in order to improve the efficiency of the fundraising for the Bedwas miners’ food fund.

Despite the overwhelming support for the movement however, today Bragg reflects soberly on the events. He suggests the event was not about raising money, but instead about raising awareness for the cause. Arguably, the benefit gigs achieved this. They were responsible for introducing a generation of young music fans to an alternative perspective of what was happening in the country.

Following this event, Bragg would later be inspired to form Red Wedge. This was a political movement that sought to oust Thatcher in the 1987 general election in favour of the Labour candidate Neil Kinnock. Red Wedge would utilize very similar techniques in order to spread their message. This included recruiting musicians to tour the country, in an effort to raise support.

Commenting on these events, Bragg now states: ‘The miner’s strike was a huge education for me. It allowed me to see the limits of what you can do with music. Perhaps beforehand I thought that music could change the world; but after the miner’s strike and Red Wedge, I came to realize that what music could do is offer you a different perspective of the world. It’s not only the reality but it’s the responsibility of the audience to change the world, not the singer-songwriter.’