Eclectic light orchestra

I’m here to talk about music. While I’d like to think of myself as a child of the eighties, what this also entails is that I was a socially retarded young adult of the nineties. Between the age’s of 10 and 14 is the era in which I cobbled together what is for the most part still my opinion regarding what constitutes as great music.

The key factor that sets this era apart from all others was that I got my first record player, that’s right RECORD player, It’s from this era that my love of vinyl originates. After quickly getting bored with my own paltry collection of the time I quickly moved on to raiding my parents record collections. It was here I found some of what are still my favourite albums, Deep Purple’s Made in Japan, Led Zeppelin II and Houses of the Holy, Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy and, lest we forget 12 Gold Bars by Status Quo.

I’m not here today to give more praise to any of these albums, today I want to talk to you about the other Vinyl that had a profound influence on me, I’m here to talk about Now That’s What I Call Music 26.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Now series of compilation albums, started as a joint venture between publishers EMI and Universal in 1983 the series has gone on to sell over 100 million copies world wide and currently stands at volume 71.

God forbid, I’m in no way here to suggest that any of the Now series had the same effect on the music industry as Led Zeppelin II did, but to me Now 26 had a lasting effect that many other critically acclaimed albums haven’t.

Now 26 is responsible for a phenomenon which anyone who’s been with me in a pub with a jukebox will no doubt have witnessed first hand, the eclectic mix. The secret to any good eclectic mix of music is to make the changes as aggressive and constant as possible so that eventually the bumps start to resemble level road. By trying to shoe-horn four months of music into forty tracks the editors of Now 26 have created an album which lurches across tracks from artist as diverse as Frankie Goes to Hollywood, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Belinda Carlisle, Radiohead and Meatloaf, and that’s just one disc of a two disc album. The lunacy becomes so profound that it starts to resemble genius.

While the Now series is far from perfect (Robbie Williams is the most prolific contributor to the series with 29 entries.) I wish them well and hope they long continue allowing young listeners to hear a wide range of musical styles before finally settling on one to call their own.

Now 26 was released at the end of 1993 and marks what I now know to be my last few months in the musical wilderness, February of the following year Green Day released Dookie and the rest, as they say is history.

Assorted Mammals of the Old Republic

Hey droogs, guess who’s still alive.

Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Boxart
Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood Boxart

Yeah, the economic down turn is bad, but the biggest drain on my pocket at the moment is the glut of triple A game titles around at the mo. I spent last week completing Fable II’s main plot, started playing Fallout 3, started up Guitar Hero World Tour (or as I like to call it “super arrgh I can’t do three things at once magical drum simulator”), my import copy of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia’s arrived, SSFII HDR comes out some time today and I still haven’t even considered giving time to Dead Space, Mirror’s Edge or Left 4 Dead yet!

Following my obituary for sonic the hedgehog a couple of weeks ago, and based on the recommendation of Chesterfield’s premier/only independent games retailer I decided I’d find time in my frantic gaming schedule to give Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood a rare opportunity to redeem it’s franchise.

Sonic Chronicles is a Role-playing game based on the popular sega franchise, and developed by the hand held division of Canadian company Bioware, better known for creating the Neverwinter Nights series, Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic.  Considering Bioware’s staggering back catalogue of RPG success going into SC:TDB I was quietly optimistic feeling that Sega had made the right decision to pass the game to a third party rather than leaving production with Sonic Team (Probably too busy making a hash of Sonic Unleashed at the time).

The game picks up sometime after Sonic and Friends have once again defeated Dr Robotnik(His name’s Robotnik.  Not Eggman!), Sonic is brought back following some much needed R ‘n’ R to find that the Chaos Emeralds have been stolen (again) and Knuckles has been Echidna-napped by an organisation referred to as the Marauders.  Sonic assembles his usual team of Mammalian cohorts, slaps on his Ricky Rocket-pants and saves the day via an unusual team member, a trip to another universe and a whole heap of ring collecting.

The challenge presented to Bioware in the production of SC:TDB is the need to keep a hell of a lot of people happy by creating a product which will not only be marketable to Sonic fans, but is also of a high enough quality to appease sceptics amongst their own fan base.  I feel to a degree at least they’ve pretty much cracked it.

The presentation of the game is exceptional with the majority of the game played in 3D across an Isometric plane, the locations themselves are well designed with re-creations of various classic Sonic stages such as Green Hill, Mystic Ruins and Angel Island.  The character design is of a usual high standard with few suprises as to the design of new characters fitting into the fifteen year old tried and tested formula, new protagonist Shade fits well into the rest of the characters, though expect a change of costume before her next appearance.

The game play utilises 100% touch screen control, much like Phantom Hourglass all field abilities are activated by tapping a context specific icon on screen.  During combat the game adopts a variation on the traditional JRPG style.  Protagonists line up at the bottom of the screen, antagonists at the top, the two factions then wait for their turn to batter each other until all of one side is defeated.  To add to this tried and tested formula, Bioware introduces a system similar to Elite Beat Agents/ Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! for activating special powers.  Pow moves use up Pow points when used much like Magic Points in a Final Fantasy game to activate the Power move however a small rhythm-action style puzzle needs to be completed involving tapping and dragging icons with the stylus, it offers a welcome variation to an otherwise humdrum activity.

As a warning to fans of Bioware do not come into Sonic Chronicles expecting the complex plots and sub-plots seen in Mass Effect or KOTOR, while the plot is relatively well written, this is a simpler game than many of Bioware’s other efforts, an RPG lite for a younger audience.  Don’t let this put you off, as while simple and with a low difficulty level that doesn’t mean that Sonic Chronicles isn’t a pleasure to play.  I managed to complete this game in under 15 hours, which I considered to be about right.  In terms of sub plots and side quests, there are some, though most of these aren’t really more than fetch and carry quests for NPC X.  Apparently there is a Bioware romantic sub-plot ( though without Mass Effect’s Alien Rumpo) between Sonic and Amy Rose, though to be honest I didn’t pursue this and have since found out about it through GameFaqs.

While Sonic Chronicles may not be to everyone’s taste I found it to be an amusing diversion, if somewhat easy to complete.  Though I maybe wouldn’t advise my peers to go out and buy it, I wouldn’t hate myself for giving it as a gift to a younger gamer.  It is a well polished adventure which goes someway to repairing the damage done by previous games to the franchise.  Repairs aided by the fact that it’s possible to complete the game without ever having to use Shadow.

I only hope that Sega takes note of this return to form, and doesn’ t do anything stupid with the next Sonic game, y’know like turning Sonic into some kind of lycanthropic hedgehog, man, chimp, thing.  Man, that would be stupid.

Chun-Li’s awesome thighs HD remix

The trailer for Capcom and Udon’s re-development of Super Street Fighter II has hit the internet.

Needs to be seen in HD for the full effect, even so, awwww Yeah!

The only cloud in my sky is there still hasn’t been an official release date set.

*Supplemental*

A date has been set, it misses my favouritest day of the week by a day, so expect me to be playing it next… Wednesday.

1914 to 1917.

Lending my support to Ado’s “Can it” campaign, behold as a laugh track very nearly ruins the greatest scene in British comedy history.

The thing about truley great British  situation comedy is that the situation around which the comedy is developed is so painfully tragic.  The example here is one of the best, though comedy from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s is full of it.

Blackadder goes forth was based in a trench during the great war, a situation which should not be funny, clever writing can make the situation funny, but great writing also never shies away from the true horror of the situation.  I think that the greatest line in comedy history is “We lived through it.  The great war, from 1914 to 1917.”  It’s the type of line which takes a moment’s pause to truly comprehend, I hope that if it was filmed infront of a live audience then they didn’t pause to realise the tragedy within this line, if the laugh track was added at a later date, then it was a huge production error which nearly robs the scene of its plausability as a valid comment on the futility and horror of war.

“Stop, stop! He’s already dead!”

Better Days
Better Days.

Apologies to all those ralph-fans out there(only lying to myself), I missed my post yesterday, to be honest I was a bit stuck for something to write, then I read a couple of things from which I found inspiration.  The first was an article on the escapist regarding games fanatasism, with particular focus on a certain spikey, blue mammal.  The second was Neil’s piece which linked to one particular fictional gem</lie> which excellently highlights the point I’m about to make.

Starting with an admission.  I am a Sonic the Hedgehog fan.  Since christmas 1991when my buddy Craig brought round his imported Japanese Mega Drive, I was hooked on the adventures of the speedy, blue one.  It was a whole year before I received my own Mega Drive along with both Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic 2, still the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received, If someone gave me the gift of world peace and an end to all war, it would still slot in at no. 2 behind that Mega Drive.

Sonic was a departure from every other game I’d played up to that Christmas, about the most visually impressive game I’d played up to this point had been in an arcade, something like maybe wonderboy, or possibly the TMNT arcade game.  I’d never considered recreating this at home possible, not on my Spectrum anyway which offered impressive art if you didn’t mind it monochrome, and with little or no sound.  Sonic completely blew everything before it out of the water, Green Hill Zone Act 1is in my opinion the best designed level for any game on any system, and a perfect showcase for what sonic games should be all about, speed.  Playing Sonic on Xbox live acade my best run through time for act 1 is 29 seconds, I’m pretty sure that when I was a kid I hit 27, but that might be youthful exuberance (or out and out lying).  That doesn’t mean though that you had to complete the first level quickly, If you meander through the level it’s no less rewarding but with so much speed to hand it seems like a shame not to use it.

Later games went on to add further characters from the good ((though confusing) Knuckles the Echidna, Miles”Tails” Prower, Amy Rose(sometimes)), the bad (Charmy Bee, Shadow the Hedgehog, Silver the Hedgehog, Big the Cat, Cream the Rabbit (Oh god it’s like yiffy paedophilia!)) and the Ugly (Big the Cat, again).

Right that’s the potted history out the way, what was I saying?  I love the whole Sonic franchise, unfortunately only in the same way that I love the whole Star Wars franchise, or the whole Indiana Jones franchise, that is after the first three entries I zone out and pretend that nothing else happened.  Deep down there’s a small, grey sinkhole in my heart where I bury all the bad things that happen to a franchise that meant something to me as a child, every time George Lucas sticks his dick into my childhood (thank you South Park) I just bury it away and pretend it never happened.  The same is true of Sonic team, following Sonic & Knuckles (the last of the 2D series on  the megadrive) came Sonic 3D, it wasn’t fast paced and the concept of roaming an isometric 3D plain looking for birdies was like playing a re-skinned version of Escape from the Planet of the Robot Monsters, only more disapointing what with the original being about ten years old by this point.

Sega, realising their mistake at setting Sonic in a 3D environment, went on to completely ignore it, with all of the main cannon games being made in 3D, and all but Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast receiving anything other than a critical mauling.  Meanwhile on the GBA and DS all of Sonic’s continued adventures in two dimensions have been praised by both fans and critics alike.

Mind you do I really expect anyone to take note of criticism, when the BTOC’s in town?  No of course not, the fact of the matter is that despite well deserved criticism Sonic the Hedgehog is not just a mascot for Sega anymore, but a mascot for the industry, Sonic is not only recognised by gamers but by people on the outside, particularly parents, grown up gamers who remember Sonic from before but no longer pay attention to the industry.  It’s this sense of a “safe bet” which has given Sonic a critic proof sales dynamic.

Apologies to the artist but I couldnt bring myself to use something derogatory
Apologies to the artist but I couldn't bring myself to use something truly derogatory, I quite liked this.

That and (Welcome to the dark places) Sonic fans that didn’t abandon the blue one when it was a sensible time to jump ship.  I’ve never understood the concept of fanboyism, of the Otaku, of the fanatic until I saw Sonic the Hedgehog fans.  If Sega’sefforts to force me away from the series hadn’t worked then the fans themselves just might.  Not that I’m critical of all fans, I’ve already said that despite Sega’s best efforts, I’m still a fan, thing is though as a fan, I’ve never really considered it necessary to produce badly spelt yiffy porn.  Maybe it’s just me but I’ve never revved up a Sonic game and thought “Y’know, this is good, but imagine if Sonic was taking Amy Rose roughly from behind while Tails tickles his balls.”  I just… seriously I’m lost for words.  I know for a fact that I don’t have to look very hard online to find hundreds of grotty fan-fictions of this very scene.  They’ve even got celebrity endorsement of a fashion thanks to Excel Saga creator Rikdo Koshi, who has in the past produced Sonic dojin.  This being Rikdo though I’d like to think that there was some reasoning behind his art, even if it was just one of the BTOC’s stop offs.

Funny 'cos it's true

I found this handy venn diagram on google images and I can’t help but think that this isn’t something only I’ve noticed, the internet’s saturated with it, possibly more-so than any other franchise (with the possible exception of Final Fantasy, though the quality of FF games has remained high, almost inspite of the garaunteed sales and obsessive fans)

I stated in my title he’s already dead, and I can’t help but think that in my mind Sonic is just that, I still remember the good times, I’ve got the original Sonic game on Live Arcade, and I’ll continue to enjoy it, will I ever buy a new Sonic the Hedgehog game?  no probably not, I can’t help but feel that Sega has long since rendered the franchise, and to that end Sonic himself dead to me.  It’s just sad that that hasn’t  stopped others who proclaim to love him from repeatedly raping his spikey, blue, attitude filled, corpse.

Keeps getting earlier

Hey guys, I know we’ve only just started November, and Christmas is still about a half a yonk away but it’s worth pointing out that as of yesterday the Child’s Play charity website has been updated and is now taking this year’s donations.

I’m not gonna preach to you guys I’m sure you’re all capable of deciding which charities are/aren’t deserving of your time or money, and hell sometimes charities are almost like a luxury we can’t afford no matter how much we want to.  Child’s Play’s just something that as a gamer I appreciate.  I’d like to think that I’ve gone someway to help a sick kid watch Wall-e and laugh like a berk despite his or her illness.

Trailer Trash

Firstly, congratulations to Barack Obama, you carry not just the hopes of your own nation, but those of the entire free world.  Good luck sir.  Now, back to geekery.

I’ve long since learned to get over the fact that as a video-game fan Hollywood hates me and everything I hold in esteem.  If not then why would they continue to give Paul WS Anderson and Uwe Boll money?

Not only does the film industry apparently hate video games, turns out they’re also pretty antsey about anime as well.  After months of letting myself get over excited this weekend I finally saw the trailer for the Hollywood remake of Dragonball.

In case you’ve been living on Namek for the last twenty-five years or so Dragonball is a manga series written and drawn by living legend Akira Toriyama.  It followed the adventures of alien martial-artist Goku and his friends and was inspired in part by the Chinese folk tale Journey to the West.  The narrative covers a period of around thirty years, a total of 519 chapters over 42 volumes.  Toei animation translated Toriyama’s works into two successful anime series.  Dragonball and Dragonball Z originally broadcast on Fuji television from 1986 to 1996.  A third series Dragonball GT continued Goku’s adventures, but was not based on the original manga, and ran for only 64 episodes.

The Hollywood rework of Dragonball doesn’t seem all that bad on paper.  Kung-fu Hustle’s Stephen Chow is producing, director James Wong is best known for his work on the Final Destination movies, so a strange choice to direct what is essentially a children’s movie, but I am a fan of FD so I’m willing to give benefit of the doubt.  The cast includes one of my favourite TV actors James Marsters as the film’s antagonist Lord Piccolo, and Chow Yun Fat as Sensei Roshi.  The rest of the cast is less inspiring though with Justin Chatwin (Tom Cruise’s whiney runt son in Speilberg’s Car-crash remake of War of the Worlds) in the lead as Goku.

After watching the trailer, I’m starting to worry just a little that this isn’t going to be the movie that the franchise deserves, the trailer involves scenes set if not in, then at least outside an American high school, this seems a little out of sync with the world in which the series is based.  The trailer involves scenes featuring Piccolo in which I can’t help but notice that he isn’t green, despite claims that the character would look similar to how he appeared in the anime, in a similar pallette error Emmy Rossum’s portrayal of Bulma Briefs is sorely lacking the original’s blue hair.

Finally and this is where i earn the “Rant” tag, WHERE THE FUCK IS KRILLIN?  I read somewhere that some of the more cartoon-esque characters wouldn’t appear in the movie, that’s fine, I can understand why an anthropomorphic pig, or a talking cat might get the chop but Krillin is Goku’s best friend in both the manga and the Anime.  Former bandit-king Yamcha is the only one of the Z-fighters set to make an appearance in the movie.  The film adds further characters to Goku’s circle of friends which didn’t appear in the manga, and I find it hard to accept that one of these characters couldn’t be Krillin, this is a reimagining of Dragonball, so Krillin doesn’t have to be a short, bald, buddhist monk, but a character portraying several of Krillin’s character traits would have been a kindness to fans of the series.

The cake is an analogy. Fable II Review.

One man and his dog
One man and his dog

Imagine someone promised to bake you a cake.  A strawberry cream cake, with fresh strawberries, and whipped cream.  On collecting your delicious cake though you receive a lemon drizzle cake.  The Lemon drizzle cake is great, but because you were promised strawberries and cream you can’t help but feel a little disappointed.

This was the problem that Fable had when it made its debut on the X-Box in 2004, it wasn’t a bad game, thanks to the game’s designer Peter Molyneux though it couldn’t be anything other than an anti-climax.  The game won many awards, was critically acclaimed and at the time the fastest selling game on the console.  However, Molyneux was still forced to make a public apology on the lionhead forums as the game did not contain many of the features that he had previously promised.

I have purposefully avoided everything Molyneux has had to say regarding Fable 2.  So that I could avoid the inevitable disappointment when I found out that the game would be unable to make my hair grow back, or cure cancer, or make girls like me.

Playing the game I’m afraid to say that Fable 2 has a few technical issues.  Graphically while the visuals can be breathtaking, the overall effect is often ruined by glitches, clipping issues, pixelisation, poor draw distances, and almost Halo 2-esque levels of pop-up are not uncommon.

I keep coming across little Irks all the while I’m playing this game.  I can’t close doors,  when I return from a rough day’s adventuring, take the missus upstairs for a bit of the other I find my every move being scrutinized by half a dozen friends and well-wishers.  I’ve on several occasions transported to a quest location to find I’ve already killed antagonist X and need to travel back to the quest giver, achieving little more than being forced to sit through the loading screen for the second time in two minutes.  I’m unable to sell my first home because the game still thinks it’s my marital home.  The list of flaws seems to stretch on well into the middle distance.

Ultimately though all of the faults are unimportant.  When playing Fable II all the minor irritants don’t matter.  The game as a whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.

From the very outset Fable II is full of golden moments from the game’s cliched but well presented prologue you find yourself in a world in which things like graphics and load screens don’t matter, it is the world itself which matters and is constructed with such a sense of verisimilitude that even the smallest action can become a joy simply through the way the world around you reacts.

I considered the removal of the mini-map to be a step backward from the original Fable, several of the mini-map’s functions have been reintroduced though in the guise of the hero’s new canine companion.  While I met the inclusion of the dog with apprehension, I found it to be well handled and in-keeping with the overall style of the game.  Never appearing  too intrusive, it’s assistance is not essential to the play experience, but I felt enhanced it.  I suppose it depends on your opinion of dogs prior to playing Fable 2 but I took a great deal of enjoyment from simply observing my dog’s mannerisms, even just watching it tear-arsing around the countryside put a big, foolish grin on my face.

There is a real sense of drama running through the game giving it the air of a hollywood blockbuster.  The role of clothing in the game is now solely cosmetic, allowing a player to choose a look which they find appealing, without having to think about armour values (The pink frock coat over an olive green Waistcoat is mine! You can’t have it!).  The one button combat is suprisingly nuanced, while still allowing a degree of success through mashing.  The camera adds to the cinematic nature of combat highlighting blows with use of slow motion and Crash-zooms.

While I felt that graphically Fable II fell short, the sound is awesome.  The music expands on Danny Elfman’s original theme, and composer and Lionhead mainstay Russell Shaw does an excellent job without Hollywood intervention.  The dialogue is well written and the voice cast is impressive, including solid contributions from Firefly’s Ron Glass, Stephen Fry and my own personal milf de jour Zoe Wanamaker.  While some of the NPC dialogue can be overused, on several occasions they have left me laughing out loud.

I whole-heartedly recommend Fable II, as I have allowed myself to become completely enamoured with the world it creates.  There is a real sense of charm that runs all the way through this game and while i admit it has it’s flaws, it is never the less a work of flawed genious.

Sorry I’m late, what did I miss?

So anyway.  I finally realised that the SC was up and running, and I can’t help but think it’s expected of me to begin my residency as soon as poss’, thus avoiding the assumption that I’m not pulling my weight.  It’s not that I didn’t want to post you understand, It’s just that at the moment someone else is footing my bar-bill, and the last four days have worked to the following schedule: Work, Wine, Sleep, Repeat.

Setting out my stall looking to the future?  I figure I’m currently the resident console gamer meaning I’ll probably dedicate some time to that, the near future will involve a review of Fable 2 which I pretty much sacrificed yesterday upon the alter thereof.  I can also feel an editorial on Peter Molyneux and his work with Bullfrog and Lionhead brewing in my Journalistic Bowels.

Ending on a rant, and why not?  Why in the name of all that is unholy do people buy tickets for gigs that they have absolutely no interest in seeing, only to immediately put them back on the internet at an insanely jacked up price even before said tickets have been despatched.  I spent a large part of last friday trying to procure me a pair of tickets for AC/DC at the O2 arena in April next year only to find that every gig in Europe(!) had already sold out.  You snooze, you lose.  That’s okay y’know, I get that, that’s fine.  What really pisses me right off though is that while ticket’s were supposedly limited to two per person, sites like viagogo.co.uk (tagline: Real tickets for real fans) are advertising vendors selling blocks of (in one instance) 20 standing tickets at £275 a pop!  This isn’t just insulting, It’s damn near piracy, seriously do you want my credit card number, or my anal virginity?  I don’t know if these tickets were procured by vendors through corporate promotion, or through more nefarious means, but I can almost garauntee that come the 14th and 16th of April, there will still be empty seats at the O2 arena, and that’s a damned shame when there are real fans who are missing out due to profiteering.