Calling Time

I remember it well, how I found myself becoming a games critic, a reviewer, whatever you want to call it. As a member of rllmukforum, I saw another member mention on Twitter that he was playing a game, a game not yet released. I asked him how and he told me he wrote for Gamestyle.

I wanted a piece of that!!

The idea of writing about videogames isn’t something that had even entered my head. You see, I come from a creative background, I wanted to be a graphic designer and despite my training, it was something that, at the time wasn’t happening. I trained to be a print designer, but the web was the future.

At this time I was training myself to learn web design, whilst working in a call center, trying to make ends meet. I had a then 2 year old son and a partner out of work with severe medical conditions. Somehow surviving on £800 a month.

I have always loved games, but with that kind of monthly income, there was no way I could afford games, so the prospect of writing about games and getting the odd freebie sounded great. I had just bought a copy of DiRT 2 (I think I had gift cards or something to buy it) and was told to submit a review and if it was liked I may be able to do more.

I did that and my first review was published and I was part of the Gamestyle team. I did the odd review here and there, got the odd free game and all was good.

Then disaster struck for the site, a major hack, along with various members leaving meant the site was about to say goodbye to existence. So I made the decision to do what I could to save the place. There were some selfish reasons, I still wanted to play free games, but also I grew to love the site and felt that a long standing indie review site, with no advertising, no sponsorship and no pressure from publishers needed to be something that remained.

So I took on the role of handling the PR and running the site on a day to day basis. It was me and two other guys, just doing what we could to keep the ship barely afloat.

Between us, we added stability and all of a sudden we saw growth. I reached out for new writers many of whom would to the odd thing here and there, but couldn’t dedicate the time to offer more. Yet we had enough content to be able to get code from people and get more and more reviews written.

We owe a hell of a lot to Indie Developers, who provided most of our content, but also the likes of Activision, Ubisoft and at the time EA, who were happy to provide of with games such as FIFA, NHL, Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, etc.

We added big name titles to our steady stream of Indie games and slowly but surely the site had risen from the grave. We took on more writers, some who stuck and some who didn’t, but we were still getting the content out.

Why am I telling you this? Well, by this time running Gamestyle became almost a full time job, as well as a huge passion project. I wanted to see it grow and become something else.

I am not a visionary by any stretch of the imagination, but it was clear to me, that video content was the future. Not in the sense of pure video reviews, but more like what you were seeing on GiantBomb, GameTrailers, IGN and the like. I wanted to get on that, maybe carve out a niche for Gamestyle to do similar things to those sites.

What I actually wanted was a career in gaming media, to be the UK equivalent to those sites. Along with Steve and Andrew, we started Gamestyle LIVE, a weekly show where we just chatted about games in a casual manner. But it worked, we got some good feedback and despite not having huge numbers, we were having fun.

This led to one of my highest moments for Gamestyle. We had Kyle Bosman on one of the episodes. The guy was and still is a bit of a hero of mine in this field and he agreed to join us for a one off episode, it was an amazing feeling.

Sadly, keeping up with weekly shows became more and more difficult and in the end we decided that none of us could offer the dedication as a group to maintain the schedule, so we put the show on the shelf. A sad time but, hey, it had to be done.

My plan was to somehow get the site making money, make it so I could run the site full time and pay the bills at the same time. We prided ourselves on not having ads or sponsorship, so that wasn’t an option.

Patreon or Kickstarter could be something we look at, allow me to get the right equipment, maybe a studio space and start to do professional output, again whilst being able to do this full time and pay the bills.

The problem was, I couldn’t just ask for the money, I didn’t feel the site was in the right place with the numbers to be able to ask fro donations or subscriptions. We weren’t putting out enough content yet. Also we weren’t names, I am not Jim Sterling, we didn’t have the pulling power of GiantBomb. Who would offer up payments for us. Truth be told, I was scared…

Why? Well as I have said in the past I suffer depression and the thought of taking a risk like that and being flat out rejected felt like it would be the end of me. I honestly don’t think I could have coped emotionally to a failed Kickstarter with ZERO support or a Pateon bringing in £0 a month.

So I struggled on, tried to do Quick Look videos, podcasts and more. All with varying degrees of success. Yet something stood out. I was the only one who was putting in the time needed to run the site.

That isn’t a complaint, far from it in fact. I couldn’t be more impressed by the support of Steve, Andrew, John, Adam, Gareth, Stacey, Jon and everyone else who chipped in. But they all had other commitments and there was no way they could do more than what they did. Hell without them the site wouldn’t exist.

We had a period where it looked like things may just take off for us. We were getting some amazing numbers, but unfortunately there was no way to sustain it. Maybe that was the time to do Kickstarter, maybe not. The fact is I didn’t try it and I will never know.

But it was after this, that I realized something had to give. My ‘actual’ job at the time was failing to pay me and I had barely any money coming in and debt was and still is piling up. Running the site to try and maintain numbers was taking more and more time and having a severe effect on me.

I was playing loads of games, but I found I wasn’t actually getting to enjoy them. Sure I could enjoy them from a critical point of view, but I wasn’t enjoying myself. It was the same with the Quick Looks and the Podcasts. I enjoyed doing them, but it was the editing and posting that took a toll.

But I love the site and I was doing what I could to keep content flowing and making sure the Gamestyle name could continue.

Still something wasn’t right in me. I wasn’t getting the enjoyment. I was happy enough to do Gamestyle without getting income from it, but when I was failing to get paid for my job at the same time, it just became harder and harder to cope with.

So about two months ago, the chance of paid work came about and I had a tough decision to make. Well the decision was actually easy, as I am a father and I have a family I love. Paid work had to become the priority, so Gamestyle had to become part time, I had no choice.

Emotionally it was hard, as I felt I would be letting down those who put their time and effort in. Not just those at present, but also those from the site’s past.

I have a major issue about myself. I honestly believe I have the reverse Midas touch, whereby everything I touch turns to failure. It may not be instant, but somehow because of me it will fail. That is the kind of person I am.

Gamestyle though, for some reason or another was a different story, it made me feel good. Especially when I took a chance and saved the site. But in doing so I felt like I was failing myself and my family. Sure I enjoyed doing what I did, but again the lack of income was taking its toll on my life around me.

So last month I had to decide…all or nothing.

I never wanted to do this, but I have to leave Gamestyle, I have no choice. If I put my all into it, financially I am screwed and my family suffer. If I do the odd bit for Gamestyle on the side, then the site suffers.

So it is with a heavy heart I need to call time on Gamestyle for myself and perhaps any thoughts I had of making it in the industry on the media side. My family comes first and they are the most important thing in the world to me.

I didn’t take the decision lightly, because I honestly believe with the right captain steering the ship, then Gamestyle could become bigger than what it is, but that captain isn’t me. I don’t have the talent, I am simply not good enough.

I don’t know what the future for the site is, but I know there will be someone out there who can keep it going and maybe even take it to the next level. That person isn’t me though. I have to prioritize and at the end of the day, head has to rule over heart.

I have written hundreds of reviews, many articles, recorded tons of videos and podcast and all in all had an amazing time. I have met wonderful people, many whom I can now call friends. I have done things that even a short year ago I never felt I could and Gamestyle was a major part in fighting my depression.

I won’t lie, I do have tears as I write this. Because after nearly seven years, it is hard not to think I am losing something important in my life. My family even know what it means to me, as my partner tried to think of ways we could still make it work.

I am seeing the year out, because I think I owe the site that much, but I will start 2016 without Gamestyle in my life.

Everyone who has been involved at any point, I thank you. I wish I could go on, but I simply cannot. I wish everyone who is still involved all the luck in the world moving forward and maybe, someday out paths will cross again.

The Fat Controller – A Super Mario Story

The simple joy of moving Mario.

Apparently, if there is one thing that get my kids to down tools and stop fighting each other for five minutes, it’s the prospect of getting one over on their old man. They’re still at that blessed age where they stare at me in wide-eyed amazement when I pick up a pad and clear a tricky section, so when Super Mario Maker landed on our doormat the possibility of creating something I wouldn’t be able to finish was too delicious for them to pass up. Huddled together over the gamepad, I can hear their whispered scheming. “Yeah, stick wings on it” said the eldest, as the youngest let out a sinister giggle.

Super Mario Maker looks set to be a firm favourite in our household, and like most user generated content, its success lies as much as in what you can’t do rather than what you can. You’re given the building blocks to make whatever you like, but the cogs and gears are kept under lock and key. And rightfully so. If there’s one thing Nintendo have absolutely nailed its Mario’s moves. The arc of his jump, his inertia and his sprightliness are all completely spot on and to be allowed to mess with them would be sacrilegious. He’s deeply ingrained into my fingers and brain, and after thirty years playing his games, I barely have to think anymore. It’s instinctual. He does exactly what I want him to. Allowing us to change these fundamentals would take away the very beating heart of what makes these games so special. It’s telling that while playing Super Mario 3D World, I barely touched the other characters. Their movement seems strange, wrong and blasphemous.

Mario’s grace and handling started to truly hit its stride in Super Mario Bros and the introduction of the run button. Like most, normal people I never take my thumb off run so the little guy flies round the screen like a man possessed. Rather than making life more difficult, speeding him up actually makes everything so much easier. Jumps are more manageable, you’re faster than your enemies and you can easily catch up to escaping power ups. Much has been made of the ingenious design of World 1-1, which subtly teaches the player the tricks of the trade without ramming it down their throats, but one of my favourite examples is found roughly a quarter through World 1-2. You’re faced with a wall with a one brick gap at the bottom. Goombas or a little Mario can pass through this quite happily, but if you’ve picked up a mushroom it appears that you’re a bit stuck. One solution is to just smash your way through the wall and jump over. But the other far more awesome solution is to take a run up and then duck at just the right moment so that you slide underneath. Suddenly, out of nowhere, you’ve got a new move added to your repertoire. I can’t be the only player that busts this out at every available opportunity, despite the fact it’s rarely all that useful. It’s just something that’s plain fun to do, and it’s made that little bit more special when Mario gets stuck under some indestructible blocks and has to awkwardly hop his way out with his hands around his ankles.

Putting aside Super Mario Bros 2 which is a law unto itself, Mario’s moves in 2D remain largely unchanged until we get to the “New” series that started on the DS. Something does feel slightly lighter about him in Bros 3 and World (although I’m unsure if that’s actually a thing or just a consequence of the games being better defined) and he does gain a bit of height when jumping off enemies, but otherwise, power-ups aside, it’s business as usual. I’m not a massive fan of the New titles and think they fall quite a bit short on what has come before, but going back to earlier games does make it immediately apparent how accustomed we’ve become to the expanded move set. The wall jump in particular is so easy to rely on that its absence can feel jarring. I realise that even trying to find fault with Super Mario World is grounds for dismissal, divorce and deportation but the last time I played it I experienced an awkward period of reprogramming where I had to forget the new things I’ve learned. But really, this is far from a criticism, and more a testament to how successful Nintendo have been at iterating Mario’s moves. Super Mario Maker allows you to leap thirty years and flip through four games and it’s genuinely a little bit amazing that it all works.

It only takes a few moments in the presence of someone like Sackboy to learn how important player confidence in character movement can be. I’ve never really understood the critical success of LittleBigPlanet; and after playing all three of the mainline entries, Lord knows I’ve tried. It’s not so much the bemusing and complex level editor (which has surely been rendered obsolete overnight with the release of Super Mario Maker), but the fidgety, imprecise, floaty nature of moving from A to B. It just all feels so inconsistent and unfair. The collision detection is off, the feeling of momentum just isn’t there and it’s difficult to feel any level of connection between what you’re doing and what you see on screen.

At the danger of reigniting the kind of argument I was having when I was eleven years old, I have a similar problem with Sonic games. Now, these get away with it by having excellent level design and being actual fun to play, but I’ve never managed to completely get my head round the physics of his jumps. From standing, he’s weirdly heavy and unresponsive and leaps can feel like they take an extraordinary amount of effort. This is probably my fault as much as the games, but twenty odd years down the line; I’m still no closer to understanding entirely what’s going on. Something is poorly wired somewhere; either in the game or in my head.

It’s not all buttercups and roses in Mario land. My two least favourite entries, 3D Land and Sunshine, are hampered by changes to their control schemes. I’ve never got on with the slider on the 3DS, and 3D Land can feel oddly slow, with the turning circle of an articulated lorry. Sunshine tries to tear up the rulebook by introducing the water jetpack FLUDD, but it’s telling that most players fond memories of the game come from the void levels which take this safety net away. And whisper it, but I’m one of those people who are certain that the otherwise momentous Galaxy games would be improved if they were made to be played on a normal pad.

But enough of this negativity. As much fun as Mario is to control in 2D, he’s an absolute revelation in 3D and arguably has no equal. The story goes that the Nintendo 64 pad was designed specifically for Super Mario 64 and this goes to prove the importance that Nintendo place on player movement. Those first tentative leaps in the grounds of Peach’s Castle are legendary and it’s perfectly possible we’ll never have a moment again like it. It seems that every combination of buttons does something new. Crouch and jump and you do a dramatic backflip complete with gymnast finish. Run, crouch and jump and Mario propels himself forwards covering more ground than previously possible. Quickly change direction and jump and he produces a graceful, arcing cartwheel. Given time, you’ll be able to cover the ground to the big, creaking doors within seconds but you’ll probably not want to. You’ll want another few more minutes in the safety to the grounds to mess with the possibilities and handstand leap from the top of a tree just one more time.

This focus on making travelling entertaining is a constant in the series. Be it the jumping pirouettes while ice skating, the somersaults while invincible or the outstretched arms as you’re blasted into space, Nintendo are always trying to find ways of making you smile at times when other developers would be happy to just let the animation play out. One of my absolute, favourite things to do in the Galaxy games is to long jump on a small planetoid so that you’re still within its gravity and fly round the other side. This serves no real purpose what-so-ever. I’m not getting anywhere, I’m not progressing or making any numbers go higher. I’m simply enjoying playing.

Which brings me inevitably to Super Mario World’s cape. Of all the ways to make Mario move this has to be the greatest and I believe that as a power-up it has never been bettered. You start with a run up, before launching ever higher into the sky. You can gently bob along on the breeze or dive bomb before pulling back dangerously close to the ground. You can land gently and smoothly on your belly or with an almighty thud. From the first time I picked it up as a ten year old to the last time I picked it up as a thirty three year old, it’s a pure, untapped digital expression of the word fun. I think I could write a whole article on how much that square piece of yellow cloth means to me but I suspect I’d be sectioned fairly quickly afterwards.

The series of misunderstandings, limitations and happy accidents that led to gaming’s most enduring icon being a portly, moustachioed plumber never cease to amuse me. He wears a hat because Miyamoto can’t draw hair, his dungarees are so you can see his arms moving and his name is from the one-time landlord of Nintendo barging in on a meeting and demanding overdue rent. Formed from a mish-mash of coincidence and opportunity, it’s ironic that his creation was so out of control when to actually play as him is anything but.

The Gamechangers

Sounding a bit like one of Alan Partridge’s desperate TV show pitches (“Err…Video Games with Daniel Radcliffe”), The Gamechangers takes a look at the rise of Grand Theft Auto and Rockstar’s battle with the Christian lawyer Jack Thompson.

Famous for trying to not be famous, Dan and Sam Houser have a testy, hands off approach to the media and have attempted to stop the show being broadcast due to trademark infringement. Having now seen the program I think it’s safe to say that it’s unlikely to encourage them to come out of the shadows and I suspect their issues will now lie with its quality and content rather than having a couple of logos on the wall.

Briefly touching, though never fully exploring, the neat juxtaposition between a British studio making a satire of U.S culture being challenged by a God-fearing, litigious, caricature of American attorneys, the film instead chooses to focus on the hot coffee scandal and the effect that fighting for the mature ESRB rating had on the studio. Although it makes a decent stab at portraying the cutthroat, brutal nature of the crunch period of development, watching a bunch of guys sit in an office and argue about age ratings just isn’t all that compelling.

On one side of the story, you’ve got Bill Paxton as Jack Thompson fending off hate calls and asking for divine intervention while hitting golf balls in his back garden. Paxton is completely squandered in this role; given very little to work with other than looking earnest and guilty to his suffering, supporting wife. But it’s in the portrayal of Thompson that raises the most eyebrows. Seen here as a sympathetic, moral crusader, the entire tone of the film is in his corner and his disbarment is shown as the big law firm getting one over the little guy. In reality it was down to consistent professional misconduct which in the film amounts to little more than writing a couple of snotty emails.

On the other hand Sam Houser, played by Daniel Radcliffe, is shown as a deeply unpleasant and socially incapable megalomaniac. I’ve never been particularly convinced by Radcliffe. Outside of his extraordinary performance of Alphabet Aerobics on Jimmy Fallon, he always exudes a lack of confidence in his own ability and an uncomfortable awkwardness that I find tough to watch. It’s almost like he’s a guy who was propelled into superstardom at a young age based on looking like someone that doesn’t exist. But no matter; to say that he’s the best thing about the film may be damning him with faint praise, but he at least manages to be watchable. Veering between someone you’d quite like to have a drink with and an unpredictable arsehole, his depiction is believable, although given the secretive nature of Houser, difficult to verify.

Outside of the main cast, I can’t quite believe that it’s now 2015 and we still can’t have someone playing a videogame on television without it being shown as some weird, trippy brain dump that renders the player impossible to communicate with. That the show was presumably made primarily for a videogame playing audience who would be interested in the creation of Grand Theft Auto, to show us shuffling zombies mindlessly picking up boxes from shop shelves is beyond insulting. To then punctuate the film with a soundtrack that’s made out of computery blips nearly made me cringe myself inside out. I don’t quite understand how when everyone is playing games these days no one seems to be able to film playing a game realistically, but it seems like we’re to be subjected to glassy-eyed, dribbling shut-ins or college jocks waving pads around and jumping across the sofa for a few more years yet.

You then have painful scenes of motion capturing break dancers (which appear to take place in the offices of Nathan Barley’s Sugar Ape magazine) and the Houser’s taking a tour of the hood dressed somewhat ironically like characters from Saint’s Row. It’s all so oddly presented; like it’s put together by a ninety year old man who gets his info about gaming and youth culture from The Daily Express. This is even more baffling when coupled with the continued referencing of table tennis which surely only serves as a nudge and a wink to those in the know. This disconnect between the film and its audience reaches its absolute nadir in the final scene where Radcliffe carjacks a passer-by and drives off into the distance while the scene slowly transforms into a videogame. Quite what this is supposed to mean or represent is anyone’s guess but I saw more convincing imitations of videogames in the nineties children’s show ReBoot.

In an effort to try and say something nice about the film, there is a rather good scene early on, where Devin Moore’s crime spree that was allegedly inspired by Vice City is filmed in the perspective of the game itself. But the suggestion that the game was responsible for his actions is heavily handled and only counterbalanced with a line from one of his victim’s relatives and a throw away comment by Houser at a point where the audience is unsympathetic to his arguments. As the show points out in its closing credits, the debate about videogame violence continues, but what the program fails to do is present that debate. Instead, it clumsily shoehorns in the headlines without exploring any of the factors.

Grand Theft Auto is obviously not beyond criticism. We’re nearly twenty years in and we’ve still not had a well written female character. But its success is attributed almost wholly to its violence, and bizarrely in the case of San Andreas, to the character customisation options which pretty much everyone decided was shit as soon as they turned the game on. The difficulty and craft in producing an open world as well designed as Rockstar’s is glossed over and creating a game engine apparently takes little more than five long-haired stereotypes hammering on a keyboard for a couple of minutes. The Gamechangers is supposed to be part of the BBC initiative to get young people into coding; to make the process appear that it takes little more than Radcliffe clicking his fingers is grossly disingenuous.

Every mention of this show I’ve seen in mainstream publications seems to question the point of its existence and unfortunately after watching it, I’m inclined to agree. Presumably there is a decent story somewhere about the creation of one of the most successful entertainment products of all time, but this is not it. Meandering, patronising and factually dubious, it’s a million miles away from the highly engaging game that serves as its inspiration. For a series that has so often taken its inspiration from television, to then inspire a production that fails both accurately and dramatically is disappointing. To use the parlance of Grand Theft Auto, consider this an opportunity well and truly “wasted”.

Late Night Shop – Interview

It’s 7pm on Christmas Eve, or thereabouts. You’re pretty much there gift wise, but that book you ordered your Mum hasn’t turned up yet. She’d be fine about it but you’re in your mid twenties, and a Toblerone from the high street just isn’t going to cut it these days.

There’s only one thing for it; you’ll have to leave the comfort of your home and brave the shops on Christmas Eve. The queues! The screaming children! The depression dripping off of every member of staff! The screaming adults! One late delivery has meant your life is about to turn into some kind of Jingle All The Way’ian NIGHTMARE.

Sounds pretty horrifying, right? Well according to Plymouth based micro studio Total Monkery’s new game, Late Night Shop, you ain’t seen nothing yet.


Gamestyle: Explain Late Night Shop.

Fred Fitzpatrick (Artist): Late Night Shop is a first person horror experience set in a department store at night. It’s a First Person VR game, and is all about making your way through the environment avoiding mannequins that only move when you can’t see them. We’ve taken the Boo’s from Mario and updated them for the 21st Century, basically.


GS: How far into development are you?

Luke Coombes (Programmer): 2 months in, in terms of full term work at Total Monkery, but much longer outside of that. Fred came up with the idea last year and asked me to code it, so I worked on it for about 3-4 months; writing the AI and the detection system, making the bad guys movements etc. We built a demo and approached Total Monkery with it after finishing our last game, Elementales (available on the Windows Store now).


GS: Where did the idea come from? And why manequinns?

Fred: I was in a department store, it was actually Primark in Exeter-

GS: I can understand the terror, then.

Fred: Exactly. I was waiting for my girlfriend and could see over the tops of all the aisles and all around the store. I just had this image of all these mannequins pursuing someone through the shop.


GS: Where does the horror come from?

Fred: From the sight mechanic; the mannequins are incredibly fast, and the fact that they’re always going to get you when you can’t see them is going to lead to some great jump scares. They basically sprint at you the entire time you’re not looking at them, covering space in seconds. And they really pounce on you, so you’re on a knife edge the whole time.

Luke: Yeah, the horror comes from the suspense mainly. We’re very clear on it not being a Dead Space style gore fest.

Fred: Nothing’s going to come out and chain saw you in half, basically.



Luke: It’s all about finding the best path through, we want to have it so that if you know what you’re doing you can speed run through the perfect route.

Fred: That’s why we’re designing the levels rather than going procedural, it allows us to create the spaces with an aim of the player mastering them.

Luke: I like to think of it in terms of the scene near the beginning of the Matrix, where Morpheus is telling Neo exactly where to go to escape the office. We want the player to go from that to being Neo. The idea is that you can play the same levels in a few different ways, you can be stealthy or you can bomb it through past all the manequinns, and be just fast enough to avoid their gaze.


GS: How much do you think VR plays a part in the suspense, and when did that become a big aspect of the game?

Luke: We got VR involved pretty much as soon as we started working on LNS here at Total Monkery. I applied it to the playable demo we’d made to pitch the game and everybody that playtested it really loved it. They all seemed really psyched and at that point we realised how important it was.

Fred: Because it’s not a game about shooting guns it suits the format really well.

Luke: Some games can be too over the top for the format but because this isn’t set in a warzone-

GS: Depending on your thoughts on Primark in Exeter…

Luke: Well, yeah. Because we’re set in a department store there’s a bit less going on so it works much better than if you were to do a VR Call of Duty, say.


GS: Is there multiplayer planned?

Luke: Yeah, we’re developing it concurrently with the single player, it’s a-synchronous so we have one player controlling the shopper and another playing the whole team of mannequins. So when the shopper freezes one in their line of sight, player two can swap between enemies and try and outsmart them that way

Fred: It’s cat and mouse gameplay, basically.

Luke: Yeah.


GS: When can we expect to see Late Night Shop?

Luke: Release is dependant on funding but you can download a pre alpha build for PC, Mac and Linux at There’s a non VR build and also a VR version built for Occulus dk2.

Late Night Shop will be released in Q1 2016. If you like what you’ve read you can find out more at and


Movies, Games and Hideos

My mum is a staunch pacifist. As a child I was never allowed anything even remotely violent as a toy. Water pistols were out and I had to use a washing up bottle. Transformers were just about fine but I definitely couldn’t have Megatron. I remember one time she confiscated my copy of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out as she didn’t want me playing something “endorsed by a rapist”. Her mantra was “if someone tries to fight you, it’s best to just walk away”. As a consequence I’ve grown up terrified of confrontation but on the plus side I’ve never been punched in the face. Swings and roundabouts.

Metal Gear Solid is the shooting game for people that don’t like shooting. Its stealth mechanics encourage you to avoid direct conflict, you’re rewarded for being non-lethal and the narrative tells a tale of the horrors of war and of the monsters born on the battlefield. I reckon my mum might actually enjoy it, if it wasn’t also impossible to control and completely bat-shit mental.

It’s a wonder the series is as popular as it is. I’m a huge, huge fan and consider Snake Eater to be one of the best games ever made, but even I have spent my first few hours with The Phantom Pain diving onto sleeping bodies when I’m supposed to be attaching them to balloons. I remember in the lead up to the release of Heavy Rain, David Cage said that he wanted the player to be in actual physical discomfort holding the pad to mirror the difficulty of the actions of their on screen avatar. Metal Gear has been doing this for years. The cut scenes portray Snake as a devastating force of nature but when controlled by a human being he’s hilariously inept. Who hasn’t found themselves crouching, and standing, and crouching, and standing before getting down on the floor and spinning round on the spot in a desperate attempt to pick up an unconscious guard before the reinforcements arrive? You can almost hear the Benny Hill music.

When it’s not asking you to wrestle with an idiosyncratic control scheme it’s asking you to listen to an incomprehensible stream of military jargon and conspiracy theories for hours on end. Large portions of Metal Gear Solid are completely non-interactive; shunning the differential that makes video games so special. Hideo Kojima’s style has often been accused of being so in awe of cinema that it’s to the detriment of the game. It’s easy to come away with the conclusion that he’s a frustrated film director who’s found himself working in the wrong medium.

But despite their shortcomings, Kojima’s games are wonderful and rare examples of what happens when an auteur gets his own development studio. Konami can take his name off the box, but his fingerprints are all over it. From the point you put the disc in, every sound effect, every line of dialogue and every WTF moment is so unmistakably Hideo that you’re never in doubt of his involvement.

Who else would create a reoccurring character whose one defining trait is that he has the shits? What other series would see you taking time out from rescuing prisoners of war to launch a sheep hundreds of feet into the air? Where else would find a faux James Bond title theme that includes the line “someday you’ll feed on a tree frog”?

And then it juxtaposes all this silliness with a story that explores nuclear disarmament, the morality of genetic manipulation and the control of information in the digital age. Although it’s to be applauded that it attempts to study complex themes; and the central subject of soldiers being little more than tools of men with a vested interest in war is something I can get behind; the tone is all over the place. In one moment it’s asking you to consider the tragedy of child soldiers, the next its pitting you against a guy that spits bees out of his mouth. In the otherwise excellent Ground Zeroes, there’s a horribly misguided attempt at a rape storyline that’s uncomfortably delivered and would have perhaps been better suited to the cutting room floor. It’s difficult to give these topics the gravitas they deserve when in the next breath you’re distracting a guard with a dirty magazine.

In fact, it’s in the treatment of sex and gender that Kojima has his biggest failures. The character design of Quiet, the sniper buddy in Metal Gear V, is downright embarrassing. Kojima has been fighting off the criticism for months and saying that there is a valid reason why a highly trained operative would choose to wear little more than a pair of ripped tights and a poor fitting, ridiculously unsupportive bra while on manoeuvres in Afghanistan, but then he hardly helped himself by tweeting a picture of him playing with the malleable breasts on the Quiet action figure. EVA in Snake Eater is treated in a similarly poor fashion. Switching to first person view in one of the early cut scenes reveals that Snake is staring down her top and the subplot of her working undercover for the antagonist Volgin is laced with suggestions of abuse. Perhaps surprisingly, this ultra-sexualisation of the cast is not limited to the exclusively female characters. I’ve lost count of the number of times the camera has slowly panned past Snake’s finely-toned buttocks and Raiden spends a portion of Metal Gear Solid 2 cartwheeling in the nude. But these instances are overwhelmingly outnumbered by heaving bosoms and it would be fair to say that the series has an unsettling misogynistic undercurrent that it really could do without.

It’s unfortunate that Kojima has this blind spot as his studio is also capable of producing some truly memorable and amazing characters. The villains in particular are often brilliantly realised and in many ways capture the fine line the series treads between sanity and madness. You’ve got The Sorrow; the forever smiling spirit of a former soldier who taunts the player whenever death is near and forces you to witness the suffering of those you have killed. You’ve got Fatman; the clinically obese explosives expert that whizzes around on roller blades while drinking a glass of wine. And then there’s Psycho Mantis. Quite possibly one of the finest villains in the entire medium and responsible for an iconic, legendary boss fight that captures in a nutshell the playful disregard that Kojima has for the fourth wall.

Metal Gear Solid consistently breaks free from the screen and invades reality. We’ve had important information printed on the back of the physical game case. Parody game over screens. A Raiden lookalike winking directly down the camera. The aforementioned Psycho Mantis reads your memory card and comments on your game collection. In one fantastically meta moment towards the conclusion of Sons of Liberty, Snake assures Raiden that he’ll be fine as he has a bandana that gives him infinite ammo. I can’t think of any other series that has the confidence to completely split the tension of its finale with a silly in-joke.

P.T, the experimental demo for the tragically cancelled Kojima directed Silent Hills, had secrets hidden away in menus and a final puzzle that the combined force of the internet couldn’t quite figure out. One rumour saw players running a short video clip of Kojima laughing down the mic in order to access one of the game’s final triggers. The fact that anyone even considered this as solution goes some way to describing the weird and unique relationship that he has with his fans.

Then there was the completely bonkers marketing campaign that led to the reveal of The Phantom Pain which included a fabricated Swedish development studio and its head Joakim Mogren (geddit?) who conducted interviews with his face covered in bandages. Kojima’s knack for messing with my head meant that when news started surfacing of the grievances between him and the Konami bosses, I didn’t actually believe it was true. It seemed so bizarre that they were trying to remove all trace of him it had to be a prank, right?

Unfortunately, it seems not. We’ll probably never know all the ins and outs but it seems certain that The Phantom Pain will be the last Kojima directed Metal Gear and gaming will lose one of its most distinctive series. I daresay that this won’t be the last we see of Snake. I’m sure he’ll creep up behind us when we least expect it before leaping out and planting an exclamation mark on our head. But you can’t help but feel that his adventures will never quite be the same again. Metal Gear Solid is nearly twenty years old now and during that time no one else has tried to ape its style or unusual flavour. The noises that have come out of Konami since Kojima’s departure suggest that it’s hardly a nice place to work and the microtransactions in The Phantom Pain paint a worrying future for the company when combined with their new focus on mobile gaming. Perhaps they tried to do the impossible and rein Kojima in; tone down the weirdness and bring him in line with the rest of the industry. Perhaps my mum was right after all. If someone tries to fight you, it’s best to just walk away.

Worlds Without Borders

Discovering worlds without borders.

Did you see that? I didn’t think so. That’s the problem with your eyes. They can only point in one place at a time. Unfortunately, the rest of the world isn’t waiting for you to watch.

That’s what real-life is like. It’s what makes it so wonderful. Behind every door, in every corner of the planet, something is happening. An intricate story plays out – a tale of sadness, or joy, or the one about the horse and the frankfurter. Shit happens, if you will. All the time.

Games do something different. Our open worlds are geographically free, with huge expanses to cover. It takes more than two hours to walk the sun-drenched streets of Grand Theft Auto V’s San Andreas and Blaine County. Roughly the same (and a few dips in the drink) to cover The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s Northern Realms.

But while the landscapes roll on and on, time stands still just over the horizon.

And I’m starting to wonder if that’s a problem.

Games wait for us. Blame brains.

Gaming’s worlds tend to stand still until we’re there to witness them. That’s exactly what you’d expect from a medium that’s traditionally been built around closure.

Many of us are compelled to seek closure. Psychologists have looked at this very human trait time and time again, and developed a number of different theories.

Maybe it’s the self-preserving function of the brain to remember incomplete actions better than the ones we finish. After all, that’s essential in day-to-day life, when forgetting you’ve turned the gas on presents a very real danger. Maybe it’s our need to enforce narrative on the world, ordering chaotic events into chains of cause and effect with beginnings, middles, and ends.

Or maybe it’s the simple need to draw all possible value from a product that we’re spending our hard-earned money on.

Games have historically pandered to that need. Their stories keep us pushing forwards until the resolution arrives and the end-credits roll. The promise of an alternate ending or unlockable bonus take us even further, collecting gizmos and gadgets galore in the pursuit of true completion.

But, for me, it’s that compulsion to see and do everything that undermines what makes open world gaming so spectacular – and turns the joy of a title into a checklist chore.

Hitting the open world’s walls

I’ll be honest. Open worlds are impressive, but they’re all-too-often intimidating. With the promise of so much to see and do, I start to wonder if I’ll ever find the time to see it all. So I made a decision to stop. And I think that might be a good thing.

See, when you wring every ounce of gameplay from an open world, you’re coming up against the artifice. It’s when you run out of side quests and random events that it’s made clear this world isn’t alive. It’s a to-do list of tasks and cut-scenes that, ultimately, leads to a dead end.

That’s how we digest a film or a novel. We press on to a point of completion and resolution. But it’s not how the world works, not really.

What the scale and complexity of recent open worlds offers, for me, isn’t more to see and do. By allowing the random to feel random and the minor to feel minor, the worlds feel rich and textured.

Finally, open worlds feel bigger than me, bigger than my story, and full to the brim of life – whether I’m there to see it or not.

The Quarter Four War

Gaming’s maddening insistence on releasing absolutely everything all at once.

I worked for a high street video game retailer for a large portion of my early twenties. To say I didn’t enjoy it is quite the understatement. Being a massive snob it brought me no end of pain to see the swarm strip the shelves of the latest dudebro shooter while copies of Katamari and Shadow of the Colossus gathered dust. It was also troubling to be surrounded by the thing you love and have no money to pay for any of it. “Gamblers shouldn’t work in casinos”, as they say.

Anyway, I remember the impending feeling of dread when the point of sale for Fifa started trickling in. This marked the start of the Silly Season. Every week from the release of this game until Christmas would be hellish. The store would heave under the strain of a thousand discs. The piles of preowned would reach to the sky. The place resembled one of those indoor soft play areas; packed to bursting point with overexcited, over stimulated children. Their bemused parents staring dead and glassy eyed at boxes and boxes of stuff they didn’t understand. It may sound like I’m exaggerating here, but I often finished a Saturday shift feeling shell-shocked. Like I’d just done a stint in Vietnam. You weren’t there man; you don’t know what it was like!

The video game industry isn’t unique in coming to the conclusion that it makes sense to release hundreds of titles in the same time frame, but at least the film industry has the good grace to separate the summer blockbusters from the Oscar bait. After a period of three months where I’ve bought approximately naff all, I’m now looking at getting Metal Gear V, Super Mario Maker, Lego Dimensions, Transformers Devastation, Rock Band 4 and The Nathan Drake Collection within a matter of weeks. I’d also quite like to buy Disgaea 5 and Persona; Dancing All Night but there’s absolutely zero point because unless I find myself under house arrest or build a flux capacitor there’s literally not enough hours in the day for me to play them. Quite who the big-wig is that thinks it’s a good idea to release a rhythm action spin off to a Vita JRPG right in the middle of Call of Duty, Need for Speed and Fallout 4 I don’t know, but from where I’m sitting he needs a good telling off.

It’s hardly fair to the developers either. I’ve seen this in action; niche titles die at retail in the winter. They’ll be picked up by fans in the first week and the remainder will hang around on the shelf until the staff pop along and stick a big, red reduced sticker on them. They’ll never threaten the charts, they’ll never sell. They’ll barely make the front page of the gaming sites before they’re whisked away to make room for another reworded press release trying to make sense of all the pre order bonuses for the latest Ubisoft title. It’s hard enough for lower budget games to make a splash as it is without putting them shoulder to shoulder with the full marketing clout of the publishing giants.

It seemed that back in the late 00’s Microsoft spotted this issue and tried to resolve it with their excellent Summer of Arcade promotions on XBLA. This was designed to throw the spotlight on download only arcade titles during the long summer months when there was bugger all else out. It gave these games a moment to be the headliners and the space they needed to generate some word of mouth and get the sales they deserved. It never quite reached the dizzying heights of year one for me (Geometry Wars 2, Braid and Castle Crashers – oh my!) but it was at least some attempt to readdress the balance and drag indie titles into their own dedicated time slot.

It strikes me that the circular reasoning that leads to all this nonsense is not helpful to anyone. The idea that “most games sell in the winter, so let’s release our games in the winter” probably affects sales of the larger titles too. I can’t imagine that Bethesda are having too many sleepless nights worrying about the sales forecasts for Fallout 4, but I won’t be buying it purely for the reason that there’s too much other stuff available at the time. If I were in charge, I’d genuinely consider holding it back until the first week of February. Everyone would start to have a bit of cash in their pockets again after Christmas, it would have next to no competition and they would have an extra little bit of time to make sure it’s not the bug-ridden, crash-happy mess it’s almost inevitably going to be in November. I may be being a bit harsh with that last point, but on past form it’s a brave gamer that Day 1s a game of Fallout’s scope that was only announced a few short months ago. You only have to look at the state of last year’s Assassin’s Creed Unity to see the damage that rushing to get a game out for Christmas can do to a game and an entire franchise.

I reckon that Fallout would easily be top of the sales charts for weeks stuck out in spring. As it is, it’s likely to be flavour of the week before being replaced by Star Wars Battlefront. Chart positions are hardly the be all and end all but they certainly can provide a game with a bit of exposure or prestige. Call of Duty is released two weeks before Fallout; do they really think that stores are going to be dusting their hands, taking down all the promotional material and saying ‘well, that’s that then’ before replacing all the pictures of gruff marines with pictures of Pipboy? They’re going to be fighting for the exact same advertising space while Master Chief and Lionel Messi try and mug their way into the picture. Nintendo, for reasons known only to itself, has decided to release Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash and Star Fox Zero on the same bloomin’ day. So a platform holder, currently holding a platform that nobody else is holding, chooses to release its first pair of big releases in months on the same day in November. The mind boggles.

Compare this to the middle part of the year when Batman and Geralt could waltz their way happily through stores and sites with barely any big name competition. Rewind a couple more months and you’ve got the sight of Bloodborne’s hunter, standing alone and proud while the afflicted clamber at his feet, desperate for something to play. From Software’s latest sold incredibly well for a platform exclusive. The same could be said for the excellent Splatoon, which had the entirety of the summer to itself on the Wii U. Neither of these titles are exactly the kind of games that you expect to sell to gangbusters; a brutally unforgiving, near impenetrable endurance test and a day-glo, kawaii, kid-friendly shooter, but they both did the business. Surely the timing of their releases contributed something to their success?

Of course, the sensible option as the consumer, is to just ignore all this and wait for everything to get reduced a few months down the line, but we all know that’s never going to happen. Gamers are a notoriously impatient bunch and often half the fun is being wrapped up in the excitement and shared experience of playing at launch. I’ve started to get a bit huffy if an online retailer doesn’t get a game to me a couple of days before it’s supposed to be out, so the idea of picking up Metal Gear next year isn’t really one I’m willing to entertain . And for games with an online component, you’ve normally got to get in early to make sure that you don’t just spend your time staring at a lobby for hours on end.

This situation seems to be getting worse if anything. Contrary to the actual weather, I can’t remember a summer quite as dry as the one we’ve just had. I’ve basically played Rocket League for months. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, but I like a bit of variation in my gaming diet. It seems like we’re destined to run this cycle until a big name flops spectacularly. My money is on Assassin’s Creed and I’d entertain a bet if I didn’t need every last penny to feed my family as well as my gaming habit. We all lose here. Big games lose sales, smaller games lose even more and players bankrupt themselves trying to keep up. And the poor retailers. Won’t somebody please think of the retailers? Another Christmas spent in recreation of Apocalypse Now. Where’s their God damn parade?

Groundhog Play

…Or the fun to be had in banging your head against a brick wall for hours on end.

Like many of us, I’ve spent a large portion of the year having my arse handed to me by Bloodborne.  I remember one particular night where I made absolutely zero progress.   No new shortcuts, no levelling up, no new items and a big fat zero next to my blood echoes.    For two straight hours I ran up the stairs in Cathedral Ward, pass the Church Servants, under the legs of the giant and through the big wooden door to face Vicar Amelia and every single time she destroyed me.  Sometimes it took her no more than ten seconds.  Other times she prolonged my agony, toying with me for ten or fifteen minutes before sending me back to the lamp empty handed.  As I turned off the PS4 it occurred to me that I had been doing the exact same thing over and over again for the entire evening.   But I didn’t feel frustrated.  I didn’t feel angry.  Weirdly, I kinda enjoyed it.

I wasn’t always like this.  As a kid, the inflatable chair in my bedroom doubled as a handy punch bag for when Dr Doak refused to be in the right place at the right time so I could unlock the invincibility cheat in Goldeneye.  My SNES pad is covered in bite marks; a somewhat over-the-top reaction to Luigi sailing past me at the last corner on Super Mario Kart.   I got so annoyed playing the VHS board game Atmosfear one night that I burst into tears, much to the amusement of my parents.  “It’s only a game!  Stop taking it so seriously!  Now off to bed, you’ve got work in the morning”.

I’m kidding of course; I was no more than 14 years old if that makes it any less embarrassing.  But something did happen to me in my late teens when I realised that your time spent winning only accounts for a tiny fraction of your time playing video games.  If that’s the only bit you’re enjoying then the whole enterprise is a spectacular waste of time.   Now don’t get me wrong, winning is still pretty damn good.  When Vicar Amelia finally fell I played it cool in front of my wife by leaping from the sofa and roaring “GET IN” so loudly I was in danger of waking up the children.  But cumulatively, I think I enjoyed the journey far more than the destination.  The anticipation and the hope that next time, maybe next time, I’d finally do it was what drove me up those stairs so many times.  I doubt my victory cry would have been quite so ferocious had I swanned in and taken her out on the first go.

Getting the balance right between a stiff challenge and an unfair one must be enormously difficult.  I can only imagine the kind of testing that went into ensuring Dark Souls was tough enough that some players would never see past the first boss but fair enough that some players would be able to finish the game with their character wearing nothing but their underpants.  Whatever dark magic it is that From Software manages to weave into their games that makes staring at a loading screen for thirty seconds feel like a well-deserved respite rather than a momentum killer, this is far from the norm in games that take pleasure in telling you how rubbish you are.

Normally, the most important device that keeps you coming back is the instant restart.  It’s pretty safe to say that if you’re playing a game that has a dedicated button for starting again, its rock bloody hard.  I’m currently spending a lot of time with the excellent PS4 platformer N++, which allows your character to commit harakiri at the press of a button.  And that’s just as well.   Last night I was playing a level where I knew within the first two seconds if I’d pressed X at the right time to make the initial jump.  I could handily explode my little stick ninja moments before he was frazzled by the lasers and get quickly get back into the action;  fortunate for someone as ridiculously impatient as myself.  I must have attempted this level well over thirty times but I’m itching to give it another go this evening.  I daresay this would not been the case if I was forced to watch dying animations over and over again.

Trials is another perfect example.   I find these games ludicrously frustrating and yet utterly brilliant at the same time.  I’ve never actually finished one and I’m way off the standard of those emotionless motocross robots you see on the leaderboards, sailing through the levels without a single fail.  As soon as I get to the extreme levels, the sounds leaving my living room sound like a docker struggling to start a lawn mower.  Engine rev, swear, repeat.  And yet, I keep coming back.  I’m not one of these guys who “likes to be punished” (if you get my meaning), but the fact I enjoy being punched in the face by a video game over and over again does make me wonder if I’ve got some masochistic tendencies bubbling under the surface.

I’ve talked about my love of PS2 rhythm action game Frequency elsewhere on this site, and although I’m fairly good at it, it did take its own twisted pleasure in making me feel inadequate.  One of the most twiddly and combo heavy tracks is “Smartbomb”.  Back in the days before online leaderboards (sounds like a million years ago now) I was part of a high score thread on a forum that had become fiercely competitive, particularly because I lived with two of the other competitors at the time.  Getting over 3000 points on Smartbomb and joining the “3000 club'” was a sign that you had made it.  A true badge of honour.   Could I do it?  Could I fuck.  I dread to think how many hours I ploughed into that one song alone.  Sometimes I’d play the introduction for an hour straight. I think I may have done myself some long term damage as that song has become my hold music; if I’m thinking of nothing else it starts to creep into my head.  Thankfully, for my own sanity, I did get there in the end. But the victory felt somewhat anticlimactic.  It was the struggle that I had enjoyed.

I guess I should be grateful I had a feeling of success at all.  Playing Geometry Wars 2  amounts to little more than a series of crushing defeats with the tiniest glimmer of victory.  The lack of a defined goal, other than making the numbers go higher, means that you never really win.  I don’t think I’ve ever finished a go and thought to myself ‘yes, that was the absolute best you could do’.  I’ve always been at fault.  I always could have done better.  Then, to add insult to injury, they put the score of the person that’s higher than you on your friends list in the corner.  Constantly judging, constantly mocking.  Of course, this teasing does nothing but drive you on; right until you exceed their score. YES!  At which point they’re instantly replaced by another smug chump.  The game switches alliances to anyone but you.  It despises you.  But you love it all the same.

This mechanic of a thousand losses to every win is portrayed fantastically in Super Meat Boy.   I am utterly besotted by this game and can’t wait to get reacquainted with the little cube of flesh when he makes his debut on Sony platforms later this year.  At the end of every level, you get to watch every failed attempt all over again.  A hundred Meat Boys set off but only one of them will make it.  You get to relive every stupid mistake, every agonisingly close attempt until just one little guy is left giving you the thumbs up.  Nice work player!  It took you three hours and you killed me repeatedly but you got there in the end!  Shall we do it again?

One of my favourite bands, Hot Chip, once sang “over and over and over and over and over. Like a monkey with a miniature cymbal.  The joy of repetition really is in you”.  They’ve got a point. Games like this will always drag me back.  I am a sucker for the restarting cycle of self-hate; cursing my ineptitude before pressing start for another go.  And like Bill Murray trying to woo Andie MacDowell, I’ll keep going until I get it right.

Thank You For The Music

“Kick! Punch!  It’s all in the mind!”

From the very first moment that Chop Chop Master Onion instructed Parappa the Rapper to join him in his karate-rap fusion I was hooked.  Here was a title that brought gaming right down to its bare bones.  Just press the buttons when I tell you to.  Sure, it was wrapped up in the surreal tale of dog meets flower, dog gets flower by learning martial arts from a vegetable, but at its core it was as simple as it gets.  You could play it with one hand.  Heck, you could play it with one finger if you wanted.  Just press the buttons when I tell you to.

From these unusual beginnings, the rhythm action genre gradually expanded until it became one of the most lucrative in the industry.   First we made characters perform and then we performed ourselves.  The beat matching broke free from the screen and spilled into the living room.  The sound of strum bars clicking, drums clackerty-clacking and vocalists murdering the high bit in “Creep” filled lounges the world over.   The video game charts resembled the album charts.  Paul McCartney was at E3.   There was a 102 button guitar controller.  “This will never end” the suits cried. “It prints money!”

Then, the day the music died.  The whole enterprise collapsed under its own weight. Sales nosedived, the DLC stopped and plastic instruments were in the loft next to the Christmas decorations.  When the new generation of consoles arrived, vast libraries of songs were ripped from beneath the T.V and consigned to the graveyard of dead formats.   Unloved, forgotten and inaccessible.

But maybe not for much longer.  Harmonix and Activision are both investing heavily in revitalising our interest in annoying our neighbours by releasing Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live within weeks of each other, in what a lesser person might dub “Rocktober”.  A sequel to Amplitude was successfully funded on Kickstarter and is expected later this year.   Can they really convince us that it’s worth coming back when these games are in essence broadly similar to the rapping 2D dog we took control of nearly twenty years ago?

They had me convinced from the very first note.  Rhythm action games may all seem mechanically identical to one another but they offer experiences of creativity and accomplishment rarely matched in other genres.    They can elevate the simplistic and routine into unforgettable victories.  In Space Channel 5, Sega produced one of the most rousing, epic, air-punching finales in the history of gaming.  That it takes barely two hours to reach this point doesn’t matter.  That during those two hours you are more-or-less performing the same actions to the same theme tune is a footnote.   The toe-tapping, hip-swinging, finger-clicking journey it takes you on is so involving, so charming and so damn groovy that all its shortcomings fizzle away like one of the games out-funked aliens.

Similarly, the strength of the core concept of these games can even save them when that core concept plain doesn’t work.  Gitaroo Man contained button matching sequences that fell far short of the beauty of its analogue stick approximation of twiddling on a guitar.  And yet, the game was a rip-roaring success; taking you on a loveable coming of age story told through a multitude of musical genres including pop, reggae, hip-hop and samba and a distinctive comic book atheistic. But it was the aptly named “Legendary Song” that saw the game at its very best.  Serenading a girl under a tree at sunset with a gentle acoustic number completely changed the pace of this usually frantic game and brought many a lump to a player’s throat.

INIS, the studio behind Gitaroo Man pulled a similar trick with the DS game and cult classic Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan.  For me, this game represents the absolute peak of the character driven, story based rhythm action games that were forged by Parappa.  Taking control of an all-male cheerleading troop with a supernatural ability to burst through the door when you’re at your lowest ebb, these heroes help the needy through life’s difficult situations with the sheer power of dance and encouragement.  Be you an office worker trying to catch the attention of a dreamy superior or a concert violinist with a bit of tummy trouble on the train, these guys are there to give you a good shake, a slap on the back and the self-belief to see you through.  Told through smart comic book visuals and a fantastic J-Pop soundtrack these short stories were often genuinely life affirming but never were they more beautifully delivered than in the tale of loss explored in the infamous “Over the Distance”.  Here, much like during “Legendary Song”, INIS played with your expectations, scaled back the bombast and noise, and told the heart breaking story of a deceased man trying to communicate with the partner he left behind.  Often cited as one of the most tear jerking moments in gaming it was in the playing that this level reached its classic status.  Ouendan was truly magnificent to play.  The bottom screen was littered with numbered circles that you either tapped or dragged in sequence.  At the highest difficulties this transformed play into an epic dance as your stylus skipped and spun across the touch pad at fantastic speeds.  “Over the Distance” still required high levels of concentration but the pace changed, the moves were gentler.  If the rest of the game was high octane breakdancing, this was ballet. It was elegant and considered and tackled emotions that are sadly rarely explored in video games.

Of course, rhythm action hasn’t just made us move with our fingers but move with our bodies too.  I still remember the first time I saw a high level player draw an audience at an arcade with his lightning feet on Dance Dance Revolution.  It looked so damn cool!  Soon after, dance mats found their way into homes up and down the nation and the gaming audience began to expand into the untapped audiences that Nintendo would later woo with the Wii. This was a party game that anyone could pick up in a matter of seconds but mastering would take time and dedication.  Most of us would never look particularly accomplished (I got fairly good at it but always resembled a drunken dad stumbling round the dance floor at a wedding) but it’s always the first machine I seek out whenever I enter an arcade.

The logical conclusion to dance games was arguably the saving grace of Microsoft’s Kinect, Dance Central. One of the ill-fated peripherals biggest issues was that it was terrible at understanding what you wanted it to do.  When this was flipped and it was dictating to the player it could turn you into Fred Astaire.  Packed with chart toppers and dance moves that asked you to mime putting on a tiara, it asked the player to give themselves over to the camp fabulousness that pop music is so famous for.  Those that did found a game that not only served as a vigorous workout but as a reminder at how much fun it is to get your groove on, even if it’s space requirements did make it an oddly solitary experience.

The same of which can’t be said for Sony’s Singstar; arguably the only series that can truthfully wear the “party game” moniker.  Singstar has often been criticised for being more restrictive than traditional karaoke but for me this is completely missing the point.  The scoring system is integral to what makes these games so special.   It gives you something to aim for rather than just shouting drunkenly at the top of your lungs (although this particular style of play is obviously more than welcome when the situation demands). The score cap of 10 000 points always seems tantalisingly close, playing with your perception of how good you actually are and allowing you to believe that you might actually be a measly hundred points away from Minnie Ripton.  The clean and some might say clinical graphic style meant that play was instinctive and it is telling that this system was lifted almost wholesale when Activision and Harmonix introduced vocalists to their instrument franchises.   But truly it was the inclusive atmosphere that made the series such a success.  Playing in co-op and totally smashing a harmony generates the kind of camaraderie that hundreds of team shooters can only dream of.  Cleanly and successfully holding a long note and then posing for the camera was a moment of high-fiving excellence.  Singstar is perhaps the simplest expression of the rhythm action mechanic.  You don’t even need to press a button anymore.  Just do what you do anyway and sing along.

Nintendo’s alternative take on rhythm action went in the opposite direction and made us do things we would never have dreamed of to music.  The Gameboy Advance game Rhythm Tengoku, which has spawned sequels on the DS and Wii, married a surreal sense of humour to some truly magnificent tunes and was one of the finest original titles on the system.  Often playing like a game of Simon Says, it combined beat matching to situations as varied as Japanese calligraphy, teaching a monkey to dance and plucking hairs from an onion.  Each stage had a memorable, distinctive track which then culminated in the ingenious remix levels.  These grouped together five stages and then blended the actions and music in a frenzied but brilliantly designed finish.  Rhythm Tengoku shares a development team with Warioware and it frequently shows; in the simplistic cartoon visuals, unusual choice of challenges and quick-fire, relentless nature of its play.  In fact, it can be argued that Warioware often displays rhythm action mechanics itself.  With its ever increasing tempo, catchy musical intros and simple inputs you often find yourself matching beats, albeit in a more detached fashion.

And Warioware isn’t the only title to have trends similar to that found in rhythm action without strictly falling within that genre.    The PSP launch puzzler Lumines never actually required you to clear the stacks of blocks in time to the music.  But to do so would rob the game of a good deal of its appeal and playing with the sound turned down is simply unimaginable.  The same can be said of the celebrated and astonishing shooter Rez, which weaved its soundtrack deep within the gameplay until separating the two became impossible.   Both games allowed you to play alongside the featured artists and join them in the composition of the tracks without ever actually punishing you for doing your own thing.  In many ways they are actually more expressive and creative than traditional rhythm action games.  In other ways they encourage you to actually make the music worse, sticking in out of time drum fills and guitar twangs in order to chase a high score or save your bacon.  Regardless, both titles are essential for anyone that enjoys games which integrate music into their play.

Lumines and Rez were also highly praised for their visuals and there are elements of their neon, techno art style in what I consider to be one of the finest games ever made.  Frequency became an obsession for me and playing it now gives me an instant rush of endorphins as I take hold of the pad and my muscle memory kicks in.  Frequency is what happens when you try and turn a Dualshock into an instrument; cramming an entire bands worth of drums, guitars, synths and vocals into three measly buttons.  Then, by introducing a scoring mechanic and power ups, it forces you to not only play the track well, but to play the game well too.  Routes through the ever twisting tunnel are meticulously planned, gaps and silences are carefully exploited and split second decisions are the difference between glorious victory and crushing defeat.  Frequency also boasts a brilliantly plotted difficulty curve.  Tracks that once seemed impossible to finish quickly become your bread and butter as you return to try and eek another few hundred points from their notes.  There comes a point for all players when they feel a disconnect between what they see on screen and what they’re consciously interpreting.   Zone gaming at its absolute finest; the inputs going direct from the screen and into your fingers, bypassing your brain entirely.  You’ll ask yourself “how the hell did I do that” as you dance from instrument to instrument like a techno Roy Castle.  Frequency’s intensity and purity was diluted somewhat by its sequel Amplitude, which is sadly the basis for the forthcoming game successfully funded on Kickstarter.  But when the core mechanics and gameplay are so ridiculously moreish it’s impossible to not be excited at another chance to take a ride along those undulating lanes.

Which bring us back neatly to the plastic instruments that are attempting a comeback later this year.  Rock Band 4 appears near identical to the earlier games in the series, preferring to allow cross generation compatibility and access to its already vast library of songs to reinventing the wheel.  Guitar Hero Live sees Activision go in the opposite direction, creating a whole new guitar and button layout and first person, live action visuals.  Which will prove the more successful remains to be seen, but in their earlier incarnations these games provided some of the greatest wish fulfilment in the entire medium.  Whenever I play a shooter or RPG, I’m still a guy sat on a sofa with a pad in my hands.  But sometimes, just briefly, when I’m playing Rock Band, I feel I’m genuinely playing sold out arenas with my best friends at my side.  The trick it plays is infatuating, turning the talentless into talented.  The sense of teamwork is wonderfully integrated, encouraging you to forgo your moment in the high scoring spotlight to bring one of your band mates back from the brink.  But crucially, it’s just so much damn fun to play. The differing levels of difficulty allow you to choose between stern tests for your dexterous digits or you can elect to stick it on medium and prance around your living room like a lunatic.  The breadth of options is vast, particularly in Rock Band 3 where you can even learn to play the songs for real if you’ve got the kit and the motivation.  The introduction of keyboards was like a whole other game and added to the already embarrassment of riches that the drums, guitars, microphones and two and a half thousand compatible tracks offered.

Regardless of how well the new games do, I for one will be dusting off the drums for another smashing up until my hips go.  Whether I’ll be doing this on a PS3 or a PS10 is up to the public at large but I urge them to give it another try.  There’s nothing else in gaming quite like the flair and thrill offered by some plastic tat, a fridge full of booze and a group of close friends.

Gamestyle Interview – Sam Barlow (Her Story)

It’s no secret how much Bradley loves Her Story, so when the opportunity came to sit down and chat with the games developer Sam Barlow, he jumped at the chance.

Brad and Sam talk about the game’s development, the choice of actress, what the game means and the overall reception it has achieved plus a lot more.

You can find out more about Her Story in the following places

Homepage | Facebook | Twitter | Steam

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Gamestyle Interview – Nick Robalik (PixelMetal)

Bradley sits down with Nick Robalik from PixelMetal to talk about his upcoming game Sombrero. A local co-op Battle Royale type affair with a Spaghetti Western theme.

The interview covers not only the game itself, but also what it is like in the industry as an Indie developer and much more.

Sombrero is due to release Q3 of 2015.

You can find out more about Sombrero in the following places

Homepage | Facebook | Twitter

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Listen and Subscribe on iTunes

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Reviews and Ratings

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Football Games… Or Soccer

I’ve been banging on about them in the last couple of podcasts and thought I should retire to my corner and mutter away to myself about my thoughts. Here are the results.

Football games are why I play videogames. If they didn’t exist I suspect I’d have given up the hobby sometime in the mid-‘90s when everything went 3D and I was at that awkward ‘must try to be cool’ age. Even fairly recently, with my 360 rattling into old age, I was thinking I might be done. ‘I won’t get another console’ I told myself. ‘The whole thing’s too much hassle and expense and I don’t have the time.’ But then I started to wonder what the next generation of football games might be like . . .

It’s not that I don’t play and enjoy other games; I recently finished the Witcher 3 and have a whole range of things in my Steam library and anyone who’s read anything else I’ve written here will know about my Mario 3D World obsession. The games I play the most though, the ones I always come back to, are the football games.

Sports games in general seem to get a tough time from game fans at conferences like E3, with all the mainstream coverage bemoaning the time the ‘sportsball’ games get given at the conferences of the companies that make them. So EA then. The thing is, if it wasn’t for games like FIFA selling fuckloads you wouldn’t get all the spare cash thrown at hipster wank-art projects like Unravel which everyone seems to be losing their barely controllable emotional wreckage over because the guy presenting it looked a bit nervous in a cunning ploy to make you go ‘Awww’ and buy his mediocre platform-puzzler with this year’s niche woolly art style. I dunno, it might be good, let’s move on.

I’ve played sports games as long as I’ve played games. I think the first game I ever played was Pole Position in an arcade and my friend only got me on his Master System by showing me World Soccer, quite possibly the first console game I ever played. While we’re at it, I think my first ever game on a computer was Footballer of the Year on his brother’s CPC 464. At that age, I didn’t really understand computer games but I had recently started to get into football in that obsessive way that 6 year-old boys do. The 1986 World Cup was on around the same time and that was it for me, suckered in for life.

Since then I’ve also enjoyed Ice Hockey and American Football games among others. In fact, my entire understanding and enjoyment of American Football is due to Joe Montana Sportstalk Football II on the Mega Drive. It was my friend’s only 2-player game so we forced ourselves to learn how to play it. Little did I know that many years later the same Joe Montana would team up with Damon Grow and dash all my hopes for a decent modern version at E3 2015 by announcing their much anticipated new game is some mobile phone piece of shit.

Back to proper football though and, by the time I got my own Master System, there were other options besides World Soccer available. Most of them were pretty crap but I remember forcing myself to have some fun with Kick Off. Coming from the world of Subbuteo and its real life little men, it was hard to put all the personalities I’d created in my own imaginary football world onto those tiny little pixel men. South Korea’s ‘Incredible Number Six’ (so named because I couldn’t think of any more Korean sounding names after the first five when making up a team sheet for my Subbuteo cup – yep, I used to do that) just didn’t have the same innate ability that a blob of glue had imbued his plastic version with after a life-threatening ‘snapping’ injury had looked like ending his career on the green felt. When football games started letting you create your own players in edit modes you can imagine how weird I got, but that was still a while off.

It was the Mega Drive where sports games first started to show how powerful they could be, both in terms of sales and entertainment. The under-appreciated European Club Soccer managed to capture some of the atmosphere of a European Cup game while ports of some more PC/Amiga oriented titles like Sensible Soccer showed console gamers the joys of lots of teams and fun gameplay, even if it wasn’t really much like actual football. At the time, EA were the sports game masters with EA Hockey and Madden regarded as pinnacles of the genre. Those double header cartridges were fixtures in many a UK home where the actual sports they represented were completely unfamiliar. Football was still being fought over by everyone else. You had Striker with its up and down viewpoint and insane pace and all sorts of World Cup tie-ins and arcade style knockabouts. Imagine, though, if EA made a football game. Imagine if they did for football what they’d done for Ice Hockey.

Let’s pause for a moment and ask the modern day equivalent of that question. Imagine if 2K made a football game. Imagine if they did for football what they’ve done for basketball. Licences wouldn’t be an issue if they included a decent edit mode. Imagine if they had all the graphics and presentation of the NBA2K series with the same best-in-class gameplay, just, you know, for football. Well, that’s pretty much how people felt about the idea of EA making a football game around 1993. Then EA made a football game.

I remember staring at screenshots of EA’s FIFA Soccer for months before the game came out. Back then, before all the scandals, FIFA had something about them. It meant something that they’d endorsed this game, it meant it must be good. Didn’t it? Well, it was actually really pretty shit but absolutely no one at the time seemed to realise, including me. I loved that game. It was solely due to the graphics which were unlike anything previously seen in a football game. The isometric viewpoint seemed like the future. I remember at the time thinking of what my ideal football game would be, one based entirely on wild fantasy, and it was roughly FIFA Soccer with real kits and players and commentary. Wow! Imagine if it had commentary! Be careful what you wish for kids.

Despite my love for FIFA Soccer, I never got next year’s iteration (‘’95? What, are they just going to make a version every year until like FIFA ’99 or something? I joked). I dabbled with the SNES version, which was possibly better, but never went back due mainly to another game that challenged for the crown. Well, let’s be honest, it didn’t so much challenge as walk in, grab it and keep it on its head for the next 13 years.

International Superstar Soccer and its bright yellow box. I remember seeing it in Future Zone and deciding to trade in something like half my life for it, except back then this involved selling games to video shops and the like rather than a simple in-store trade. It was worth it. I loved that game too. Its more arcadey style suited the technical possibilities of the time while still offering fairly deep gameplay. It also introduced varying performances from players in the form of the ‘bouncing babies’ as I called them – the pink bouncy faces or depressed blue ones your players could have before a game. It was an interesting idea that has gone on to be a huge part of modern football games.

The mid to late ‘90s was a strange time. As things transitioned to 3D all sorts of pretenders to the throne could be seen flailing their metaphorical legs at the virtual Mitre Delta of football game dominance. FIFA Soccer came out on the 3DO and we thought it looked amazing but I’ve got no idea why, it was terrible. Sega had Worldwide Soccer which was semi-decent and then there was every football game hipster’s favourite, Actua Soccer, which really was pretty good. Somehow though, Konami came through it all, and with the release of Pro Evolution Soccer they assured their superiority for years to come. It was as if Messi had just grabbed the ball, taken it round everyone and scored a wonder goal. Sometimes all you can do is stand back and applaud. Pretty much everyone except EA did just that. EA had the money and the licences you see . . .

FIFA, for anyone who knew their stuff, was shit for years. It was the game you got if your console didn’t have a version of PES yet. For example, I had a FIFA game on my GameCube but then I imported Winning Eleven 6 FE as soon as I could. Sorted. It continued to hang around because some people are obsessed with accurate names and kits more than gameplay and it had the money to market itself very well. PES, however, was just in a different class. I distinctly remember a period of five years or so where my friends and I wouldn’t say ‘put PES on’, we’d say ‘put football on.’ That’s how good it was. How can I describe its impact? Well, imagine if 2K made a football game . . .

As with all things though, those at the top become complacent. As technology moved on, PES didn’t really move with it and it started to look very dated when compared to FIFA’s fancy graphics and presentation. PES still had them beat when it came to gameplay but EA were getting closer and with FIFA 2008 the scales finally tipped. EA had taken enough of what made PES so good and incorporated it into their own game. When placed alongside all the things they’d always been better at, like the aforementioned presentation, it was enough to tempt people away. With subsequent year’s games they got better at it as PES seemed to get worse and it wasn’t until 2012 that things evened up again. By this point though, EA’s marketing muscle had ensured global domination for the world’s biggest selling game. PES 2012 and 2013 were probably better than the FIFA equivalents but no one really noticed. 2014 was perhaps a transitional mis-step for Konami and only EA had a presence on the new consoles, but in 2015 it all changed again. I enjoyed FIFA 14 but 15 was pretty terrible. Thankfully, PES was back and when PES 2015 came out the football gaming hardcore rejoiced in the return of the true leader. It was, and is, a fantastic football game.

And so we find ourselves in what is now the annual football game limbo. E3 has just been and gone and we’ve had our first look at this year’s offerings. 2K are still nowhere to be seen so once again it’s between FIFA and PES. Having rid myself of my PS4 I picked up PES 2015 for the PC only to discover it’s some sort of weird halfway house mix of old and current gen. It’s still a good game but a little disappointing. Never mind though, the next version will be out soon I thought. Once again though, it was revealed last week that PES 2016 on PC will also be ‘its own thing’ which I can’t help but believe means another compromised version. I want to say that I understand but I don’t really. The PC and console architectures are so similar now that it can’t be hard to release the same version across all formats like EA do. I suspect Adam Bhatti, Konami’s representative, is just as frustrated as everyone else about this and certainly doesn’t deserve some of the abuse people give him. It is what it is and I don’t understand why but there you go. If you’re a console gamer, this is of no concern of course. So which will you go for?

When I heard the news about PC PES I trudged back over to FIFA and took a look at what’s going on there. Hopefully the quality of Konami’s game will be spurring them on again and from what I’ve read it sounds promising. Konami, meanwhile, appear to be building on last year’s game with polish where it’s needed and a redesign of key modes like Master League. Both games look like they’re going to be good, which sounds like a cop out but it really does come down to what you prefer as, more than ever, they seem to offer different things.

FIFA conceded to PES when it offered the ‘alternate’ control method. It was an admission that most people had been playing Konami’s game and were familiar with that layout. Back then, FIFA wanted to be like PES but it’s slowly become its own thing. Now we have two distinct styles. To my mind, PES offers you the romantic football of Brazil’s 1970 team where you can create amazing moments and orchestrated passing moves, whereas FIFA offers you the realism of Stoke against West Ham in the middle of winter. Both approaches have their merits and it’s not to say that one can’t also do what the other does, but they have those different starting points. This year FIFA’s tag line is ‘Play Beautiful’ which suggests maybe they’re moving more towards that PES style, and struggling with adverbs along the way. Konami have spoken of improved ball physics and more animations allowing ‘free-er’ movement, reminiscent perhaps of FIFA’s looser style. Perhaps they’re both moving more towards a middle ground which might be a good thing, time will tell.

In the last week or so, I downloaded the FIFA 15 demo to reacquaint myself with that game’s controls. It’s not as bad as I remember (though by no means good either) and I decided to pick up a cheap key for the full game to fully prepare myself for FIFA 16. I’m not sure I would have bothered had there been a proper PES on PC this year but maybe it will be a blessing in disguise. There are some fairly militant camps in the football game world who’d have you believe you must be either FIFA or PES (usually the same sort of people that would eat you alive for using aim assist in a FPS but all use the default settings in football games – seriously, if you ain’t manual you ain’t playing) but the truly savvy flit between the two as it suits them. Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if there was a third 2K camp somewhere on the horizon?

We won’t get a perfect football game for a long time, if ever. The need to sell next year’s version means that inherent flaws that can be fixed at the expense of something else aren’t bugs so much as a business model. Maybe when everything’s fully digital it might happen in the form of some kind of subscription model. If they can be sure you’ll keep paying £20 a year for annual updates, maybe then they could perfect the game instead of having to artificially create reasons for you to update in the form of all these minor issues. Maybe that’s a cynical viewpoint but it’s informed by almost 30 years of playing these things. One thing’s for sure though, they do just keep getting better, which is a rare thing indeed.

For more information about this year’s games I highly recommend following Asim Tanvir on Twitter and reading his blogs which are full of the kind of information you want to know with all the bullshit stripped out. Be careful though, he has a knack of making you want to buy stuff.



Bradborne – Part 6

After another break, Bradley decides it is time to go back for another session of Bradborne.

This time it is another run at Father Gascoigne and another, another, another and yet another. Oh and another. It becomes repetitive and frustrating, but lessons are learned ready for another run next week.

Apologies for the quality, it will be improved next time.

Should you miss the live show, you can watch below on our Youtube Channel and be sure to subscribe.


Previous episodes can be found HERE.

Or if you want to watch live, then click the image below and follow us on Twitch.

Depression, Gaming & Me

It was around a year ago that I finally realised that I had depression and that it was affecting me much more than I expected, it took me another month to actually do something about it, but I knew I had it and that I was no longer in control of my own life.

The point I realised? It was at a friend’s farewell BBQ, I just didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to be around anyone and had spent the week prior pretending to be unwell enough that I could skip it, but not too much that I would be forced by my partner to get checked out.

Anyway, it didn’t work and I ended up at this BBQ. The moment it clicked for me, was when the meat was ready to be served. Everyone made a beeline for the table and started helping themselves, as you do, however I stood back and let them all go for what they wanted, deciding to wait for scraps at the end, should there me any.

Why? Because in my mind, I didn’t deserve to eat the food that had been laid out. Despite my partner providing some of the meat (her home made burgers which are to die for incidentally), I was worthless compared to these people.

These people who had done well for themselves, pilots, teachers, lawyers, business owners, police and so on. All of these people are better than me, they are more deserving than me. They had money, they have status, I am a cretin who begs for money from a job that fails to pay me properly. Who am I to mix with these people. I look down on myself, so they certainly must do too.

I stood there and I remember this thought as clear as day.

I could kill myself right now and not one person would really give a damn. I could end it all and make everyone’s lives that much better. I am a cancer on society and I bring everyone down with me. My own son and my partner would be better off without me. I am bad luck and by ending my existence they will go on to live long and successful lives.

Those were my genuine thoughts. I even surveyed the area to see if there was anywhere I could remove myself to and finish it there and then.

Luckily for me, an opportunity arose for me to be able to leaver early and return home to be on my own. I could make it known I was feeling ill, get a life back home and wallow in my own self pity.

It was a very low point for me. I wore a mask for years, trying to be someone I wasn’t so that I could be accepted. Accepted by people who certainly didn’t share my interests and love. Sure we all had a single thing in common that meant we we in each other’s company a lot of the time, but despite having them all around me, I still felt alone.

It’s always the same y’know. At an event or gathering “Why don’t you dance?”, “Why don’t you join in with the singing?”, “You look miserable”, “Get up and have some fun!”

Yeah fun, get up and have some fun. Singing, dancing, pissing around with others. I don’t have the mental energy. I don’t find that fun, it is an effort and one I really cannot put on a show for. If I sing, dance, prat around, I leave myself open for mocking. It happened at school, it happened in my early years and in my mind it would happen again.

I also felt I needed to be the one to help, because if I helped I would have a reason to be liked. Need to move home? Bradley will do it. Need a coffee run? Bradley will offer soon. This minor task, I am on it. I was helping and maybe, just maybe I would be accepted.

Yet the harder I tried, the more miserable I became, the more I sunk into the darkness of my own thoughts. It is that darkness that gets you, that consumes you and whittles away at every positive thought you have until there is no light left, there is nothing but nothingness.

However there has always been one constant in my life, from as far back as I can remember… Videogames!

I wrote an article a while back about how videogames saved my life (which you can read here) and it is always a recurring theme in my life. I can honestly say that a good videogame has kept me from completely losing my being on multiple occasions. It is better than any medication I have had.

Now I am on medication for my depression, as said about a month after that lowest point I saw a doctor and got help and I am now on the long road to recovery. It is hard and I still have some very dark days, but I feel I can pull myself from that darkness easier than I could before. I still have issues with confidence and positive feelings, but there is always a slight glimmer of hope.

Now before I get on to why videogames play such an important role I want to clarify one thing. The main reason I fight, is for my son and my partner. I love them with all my heart and if not for them I dread to think what my life would be like. I would do anything for them as they would for me. Life for us isn’t easy, it is beyond difficult at times. But we have each other and that keeps us all going.

So what is the role of videogames? Why are they so important to me? Because as I mentioned, they have been the only constant in my life. I have always had them to turn to. From getting my first Atari, to a Spectrum 128k, playing a C64 at my Nan’s, then the various SEGA and Nintendo consoles to the modern Playstation and XBOX, mixed with PC and my favourite of all, the Vita.

I have been privileged to have watched gaming grow from the tiny seed it was, to the worldwide cultural phenomenon it is today. It has been there with me every step of the way. It has helped me through many dark times.

I am not a big reader of novels, I think a lack of imagination these days means I cannot really turn the words on a page into images in my head, I used to be a good designer, a solid artist, but again I have nothing, it has totally deserted me over the past few years. So I cannot even hang on to that.

Yet, here are videogames. I can be anything I want to be, a videogame will allow me to do that, it doesn’t judge me if I want to go round on a mass murder spree, or manipulate art in a 3D space. It doesn’t care if I want to spend 5 minutes with it, or lose myself for an entire day. No matter my need, there is a game for me at that time.

Not long ago, I had a day where everything seemed to be going wrong, every action I took, every word I said, seemed to have a negative effect. I needed a release I needed to cause some destruction to relieve myself from the frustration I was feeling.

I boot up Steam and scroll through my list of games, settling on Just Cause 2. I jumped in, ignoring where I left off in the story and just blew shit up for a good period of time. It was so satisfying, it closed my day out and meant I felt I could face another day.

It isn’t just big games that allow you to cause mayhem and live out fantasies that would see you in prison in real life. I have had days where I have felt stupid, so I can rely on going to play Sudoku on the Android, Two Digits on Steam. Slitherlink on DS or break out Danganronpa to do some mystery solving.

Again they are all there for me and somehow knowing I can put on one of these games and prove to myself I am not an idiot, helps loads.

Then there are times I look at myself and wonder what could have been, what if I did this at school, what if I did that? What if I decided to be a sports person, get into racing. Well again I can live out those fantasies in videogames. I can be an NHL superstar, a racing legend, I can be the best golfer in the world, ride a superbike, hit a series winning home-run and so much more.

Sports games hold a special place in my heart, especially the NHL games as I am a huge hockey fan. So when you score an Overtime winner in a Stanley Cup playoff game with a character you have created and developed, it feels just so amazing, you have those moments of joy that you miss in your real life and somehow they carry on when you put the controller down.

It’s not all about fantasy though, I have never dreamed of being a little Italian plumber who wants to save the princess time and time again. Nor have I wanted to be a disembodied thing like Rayman, not a super-fast Hedgehog, or more recently an evolving pixel character. So there are games out there too that are just fun, pure unadulterated fun.

Mix that too with games that are fiendeshly difficult and are designed to do nothing but test your skills and patience. Super Meat Boy, Trials, Super Kaizo Mario, Guacamelee and so much more. There really is something for every taste and feeling.

Games have got me through so much of my life and have always been there for me. They don’t judge me, or care what sort of person I am. They are just there and can be anything I need to just get through another day.

They are the reason I am still being, they have opened a door for me, that I never though possible and have helped me grow a lot over the last few years and especially in the last 12 months.

There are two things I feel I am good at in my life. One of those is fatherhood and anyone who knows me, knows how much my son means to me. The other is talking about videogames. Whilst to some that may seem like a pointless thing to be good at, let me explain a few things.

I got into writing by accident really. On twitter I saw that a person I knew (Adam from this very site) had a game early and had got it for free. So I asked how this happened and was introduced to Gamestyle, told to submit a review and see what happens.

Somehow I wrote something that was deemed acceptable. My review for DiRT 2, which was then published on the site and gave me the opportunity to write more. I honestly couldn’t believe it, right there on the internet something I had written for the world to see and not just a personal blog, but a legit gaming site (15 years indie and counting).

Now I won’t lie to you. I got into doing this whilst work was still going ok and I was getting paid to do my job. I did this as a chance to blag myself a few free games. But it did something to me, it felt good, it was like a drug and I wanted more, thus more started coming.

Now for all I know I could be the worst writer in the world, I certainly don’t have an English degree and I did design at college, so nothing that really helps me as a writer. I assume my grammar does enough to get me through and my musings are coherent enough. But I don’t really care, I can do this on the side and it made me feel good.

Then something happened that nearly ruined it all. Gamestyle was the victim of a massive hack and we lost everything and I do mean everything. The site was so badly destroyed that it was pretty much going to be left for dead.

I couldn’t let that happen, I needed this site in my life, it gave me purpose, something else I could focus on, an escape from the darkness of my being. I managed to convince some of the guys who were part of the site to allow it to carry on. I would help it rise from the flames, even if it meant starting from scratch.

Well three years later and the site is still going strong and if anything is riding the crest of a wave as we go from strength to strength. I would love to name names here. But it would take too long, so to all those who have been part of this since we rebuilt…Thank You! You have also been a part of keeping me sane.

This next bit might be a little odd for many of you, but I have never really had a dream before. I have never wanted anything so badly I would do anything to achieve it. But over the past two years I have finally found ‘my calling’ no matter how cliche that may be. I want to be in full time games media.

Why? Well let me tell you two of my main influences.

1. Kyle Bosman from

Kyle is a normal guy, he has his weekly show ‘The Final Bosman’ and his style is that of just an ordinary person who loves videogames. He is hugely popular and is living my dream. He doesn’t have a dumb gimmick like a PewDiePie. Who, despite not liking to watch, I still respect immensely. Kyle comes across as the everyman, one person in the gaming media who I feel talks to me as a gamer.

2.The Giant Bomb team.

Why these guys? Well they are doing now what I had planned for Gamestyle. They have taken gaming in its current state and used it to provide entertainment on a level never seen before. They don’t rely on reviews, they aren’t handcuffed by corporate sponsorship and just know what they are comfortable doing.

I watch them and they just seem to have a great time doing what they are doing. I would love for Gamestyle to almost be the UK version of that. Hell I want to work for Giant Bomb, it is my dream job, I am not going to hide that. However they are based in the US and the likelihood of that happening it slim. But hey it is a dream and I have learned that you need your dreams and nothing is impossible.

Over the past year I have managed (with help) to turn Gamestyle from a site that could produce 1-2 reviews a week if lucky, to one that now has content on a daily basis. Ranging from reviews, to podcasts, written features to video content. I did this…ME!

For me to do the podcasting, the Quick Looks, Let’s Plays and more took a lot out of me mentally. I have never been able to really talk to a crowd before, never felt comfortable talking and being recorded, despite doing a short run on a hockey podcast. I just didn’t have that confidence. Yet I feel confident about games, so it was all or nothing.

I recorded the first Gamestyle Live with a couple of the other guys and I felt sick, I very nearly backed out at the last second. I didn’t and we have grown and evolved ever since. I did throw up immediately finishing that first recording, but it was out there. A video podcast. No turning back now.

I still feel nervous about each recording I do now, but I have to deal with that in my own way. But it turns out I am decent at it and that people do want to listen. I get sick to the stomach waiting for the numbers to come in, but I have found ways to deal with that.

Videogames and Gamestyle are a huge part of me, second only to my family and if there is a way I can make this work full time then I will take it. It’s not just about making this a living, it is a huge part of what stops my going down the rabbit-hole again, what keeps my head above water.

I am even writing this because of a bad day mentally, I needed a release and this allowed me the perfect opportunity. I don’t expect people to understand why I need this, I just know that I do.

Depression is still a massive taboo, one that is very difficult to talk about with anyone. It is very hard to express how one feels inside, despite their outer personality. You only need to look at someone like Robin Williams to understand how complex depression is. That was a shock to almost everyone, because like most of us, he wore his mask very well.

Depression in my mind is something I will never be free of, I can pinpoint the areas that may have had a say in causing it to consume me, but I know it will always be part of me. I will have days and moments where there seems like there is an easy way out. Yet I have learned I have things I can grab on to to stop me falling into that dark empty void.

The game’s industry gets a lot of bad press, it is blamed for so many bad things that happen. Shootings, society, the likes of Gamergate, but those make the good news stories and sure Gamergate and the online harassment does need attention bringing to it. I feel horrible for Anita Saarkesian and what she goes through, I look at her as what inner strength can be and admire how she won’t let herself be taken down.

Yet stories of how games do things that affect the world positively, or even an individual like me, those never make the news, they aren’t interesting to the wider world. You need to look deeper to see how they improve the lives of kids with special needs for example. Or how they help this depressive get though each waking moment and somehow want to face the day ahead.

Videogames once saved my life, now they allow me to live one!


Xbox One to Windows 10 Streaming

It was pointed out to me, that those on both the Xbox Preview Program and also the Windows 10 Preview Program, not only get access to the backwards compatibility with Xbox 360 games, but can also already stream from the Xbox One to a Windows 10 enabled PC.

I am not quite sure how I wasn’t aware of this already, but there you go. As soon as I found out, I jumped at the chance to test this out and let me tell you this. I wasn’t a believer in Witchcraft, magic or the dark arts, but I am a believer now.

But before I get into this, I want to first clarify how much of a fan of Remote Play I am with the PS4 to PS Vita. That is just fantastic, being able to play PS4 games on a handheld at home and out & about. However, the remote play does have a few limitations.

It is great for some games, such as the LEGO franchise and slower paced games, which don’t require twitch reactions to get the best from them. Also, for some reason it really struggled with NHL15 even if the connection was perfect and other games ran smoothly. But hey, this is a technology in its infancy so I accept the rough with the smooth.

Games such as Killzone Shadow Fall run great, but the lack of proper physical R2/L2 buttons meant it just didn’t quite feel right, despite the options to change the controls around. It still makes me yearn for a revised PS Vita with those buttons as standard, but clearly this will never happen now, so my only hope is that one of those customised grips makes it into full production.

But hey, I love me some remote play and it still gets used, showing to me personally that this isn’t just a fad and is something that is genuinely useful and would only get better as the years pass.

Which brings me to the Xbox One. I am not a fanboy, I own all three major consoles, I have been over this before. I have the best of all worlds and that makes me happy. An announcement a while back that said Xbox One to Windows 10 streaming would be a thing had me excited, but I was a little dubious about how well implemented it would be.

Well all those fears have been laid to rest after an evening playing around. Doing a few home tests and instantly seeing the future. Seriously, this is some crazy witchcraft happening here and had someone told my younger self, as I spent an age loading a tape deck to play my ZX Spectrum games on a very old style TV that had no remote and still had a tuner dial, I would have laughed in their face.

Well not strictly true, I would have been gullible and believed it, but you get the idea. Look back at yourself some 30 years ago, remember the games you were playing, how they looked and the effort it took to even start playing one.

The time taken to load, battling for time on the one shared TV in the house, crashes that meant another period of waiting just to load the game up again. Graphics that didn’t push the boundaries, single blocks representing characters, then crudely drawn characters that kind of looked like their box art if you used your imagination.

Now try and imagine yourself thinking how outlandish the claim would be that one day you will be able to play games that look simply stunning, some blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Not only that, but that you could play these games on another screen somewhere else in your home, as it is projected magically without wires and would be like you were playing those games on the TV the console is hooked up to.

It is an insane concept, it’s the reason I have no issues with things like graphical downgrades on Watchdogs, The Witcher III or anything like that. Why I don’t care about a game running in 1080p on one console but only 900p on another. I grew up playing Pong, Q*Bert, Space Invaders, Centipede, Defender, etc. Mortal Kombat was to me as real as it would ever get. But here we are, just look at what we get to view and interact with today.

So anyway, here I am sat at my PC as I boot up the Xbox App in Windows 10, which by the way is a really slick piece of software with a top notch UI. I boot up my Xbox One and sign in then head back to the PC and choose to connect via the app, before choosing the ‘Stream’; option.

Sure enough, up pops the Xbox Dashboard right there on my PC screen within a few seconds. I fiddle around with the controller and there seems to be no lag at all to my untrained eye. But that’s a dashboard, what would happen when we give it a stress test?

So I boot up Hand of Fate to give it an easy start. A card game that doesn’t require much in the way of quick reactions and yep this was fine, it was cracking quality on my monitor and it played exactly like it does on the console itself. An easy pass on the first test.

Next up I load Roundabout, an indie game that is essentially KuruKuru Kururin but with a limo. It isn’t a demanding game on resources, but requires the odd bit of quick reactions to get through some missions and again the streaming held up and I noticed no difference from playing natively. Another pass.

I wanted to try something more demanding, but instead felt I should have a fun test first. Backwards compatibility had been announced and as a preview member I can use it right now. So I boot up a couple of 360 games I have access to that are already set up for the program and give those a whirl.

First up is Hexic HD, a pretty simple puzzle game (very good by the way and free) and yep, sure enough I was playing an Xbox 360 game, via my Xbox One right on my PC. It works and all is good. Again though this is a pretty non-demanding game so I needed something that would need some twitch reactions, so on goes N+.

Once again I cannot find any fault with how the game played, it was like playing right there on the native console and there seemed to be no lag that affected my gameplay one little bit. So far it is four for four on tests.

One final test though. I booted up NHL15 with the idea of playing a game online. It is a game that requires split second inputs and concentration, the game must run smoothly or it is horrid to play. Plus I figured that the online aspects would really test the streaming to the PC.

All I will say is that I am absolutely lost for words. Despite a couple of dodgy moments when loading, it held up just fine and the only time it froze was when my opposition seemed to have connection issues. I lost our game due to being out of practice, but at no point could the blame be on the streaming. Five for five and I cannot believe what I am witnessing.

Now I would have loved to try this with a Street Fighter or other such fighting game, but had none to hand at the time. So I cannot say for sure this would be ideal for those sorts of games, where the counting of frames and so on matter. But then if you are playing those games seriously because you must win, or it is competition, then you probably won’t be doing it on another screen elsewhere in your home.

Now as I said at the start, I love the PS4 to PS Vita remote play, but Sony will have to react to this from Microsoft, because it is now a whole new ball game and for something that isn’t technically ready for release and likely still being optimised, then I am simply blown away.

The future is here and who knows where it will be in the next 20 years.

Gamestyle Podcast: E3 Special – Part 1 of 2

It seems everyone and their dog is doing some kind of E3 wrap show of sorts, so we thought why not us?

Brad is joined by Games Reviews partner John, Jonathan, Yann and PlusCast host Barry, as they discuss the conferences from Nintendo, PC, Ubisoft and EA.

They pull no punches as to their opinions both positive and negative.


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E3 Specials: Why Competition Matters

If there is one thing this E3 has proved, it’s that we as gamers need Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to be doing well. Why? Because if they have a reason to be at war, then we are the winners.

I am not a fanboy, I own all three major consoles, a PC and both the Vita and 3DS. I want great games to come out on all of them, to make my investments worthwhile. I need to see a mix of big Triple-A titles, Indie games and even ‘experiences’, because I love having as many options as possible and as many games as possible to match my current mood.

When both the Xbox One and PS4 were announced, it looked every bit like the PS4 would run away with the plaudits and the sales. However some internal changes at Microsoft has seen the Xbox One gain a lot of traction and help Microsoft get back to the top of their game.

Microsoft showing fight has seen Sony also needing to up their game, otherwise they stand to lose a lot of potential custom to their main rival. All whilst Nintendo do what Nintendo do best, make wonderful first party games that continue to be timeless.

As I said, this E3 is proof of why they need each other. Microsoft came out early and hard, with 2015 release dates for Tomb Raider, Forza 6, Halo 5, Fable Legends, as well as getting Rare back to what they do best, a new pro controller, backwards compatibility, HoloLens and much more.

Seriously, at this point it already looked like E3 was ‘won’ by Microsoft, it was a hell of a presentation and it ticked all the right boxes, getting the attention of everyone. It actually made me concerned that Sony would not be able to top it and would be on their heels a bit.

Then in the early hours in the UK (2am to be precise) Shaun Laydon walks on stage and after a brief welcome builds up a game, we all recognised what was being described, but we have been burned many times before. Not this year though, we only went and got THE LAST GUARDIAN, right at the very start of the press conference.

For me, this was it, the reason I wanted a PS3, so many years in the making, eight years of hurt. The light of belief fading away year on year, but here it was, it was real and I will soon finally be able to play it.

Sony wasn’t done there though. Back at the Playstation Experience we were left dumbfounded by a reveal of a port of a PC version of Final Fantasy VII. This isn’t what we wanted, not like this. However that ‘reveal’ seems like it was a massive troll attempt and maybe even designed to lead to this moment.

Final Fantasy 7 is getting a proper remake. We are getting something else we have wanted for years, but perhaps had given up hope of ever getting. So talking of losing hope, there are two other games that leave that massive hole in our gaming hearts. Half Life 3 being one, but hey that was never happening.

So how about Shenmue III… take that in for a second. Shenmue III is real and can finally give us closure. Now this isn’t an announcement of a release, but for a Kickstarter to get the game made. Yet it meant something, it meant we can get that game we have dreamed of. If it reaches the funding goal it is coming to PC and exclusively to PS4 on console.

Will it make the funding goal? Well it set a target of $2m and as I am writing just an hour after the end of the conference, it is already approaching $900,000 and by the time you read this it will have likely broke $1m and maybe even be funded.

This is going to break records on Kickstarter and to understand just how big of a deal this is, within minutes of the announcement Kickstarter itself was brought to its knees, because that many people flooded the site wanting to put their money down to get this done.

It is currently 04:15 GMT as I write this article, yet I am too hyped up to sleep. This for me is probably the best E3 I have ever seen. Not only has competition allowed Sony and Microsoft to push themselves even further, we also have Bethesda and Square-Enix giving conferences at E3 for the very first time.

Bethesda launched E3 with details on Doom and Fallout 4, including a 2015 release date, but also topped it off with an announcement for Dishonored 2 which, based on the original, will be another cracking title.

Square also must have something big up their sleeve. because why else would they choose to do this? Why now? Why this year? Plus we had EA giving us Mass Effect 4, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 and Battlefront. Then Ubisoft with the wonderful Aisha Tyler providing more The Division, Rainbox Six: Siege and also a new Ghost Recon.

Add to all of that we also have a 3 hour PC presentation to come. This shows me that PC gaming is getting back to the top and has some special stuff to show also. (Half Life 3?) It again is competition that is driving this, giving more reason for developers, publishers and platform holders to want our custom.

As I said at the start, all of this sees only one winner. Us! The gamer, we are being tempted with our wishes being granted, free games and innovation to drive us to certain products. It is impossible to now side with only one for the entirety of a generation, which is why the big hitters are doing so well.

I’ve not even mention the likes of No Man’s Sky, Recourse, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Dark Souls 3, Mirror’s Edge, For Honor, South Park, Trackmania and so much more. Because this E3 more than any other has just blown me away, made me excited for the coming months and even years with the variety of wonderful looking games we have to come.

Oh and also, Unravel, a game about a teddy bear(?) shaped piece of yarn that looks adorable and simply joyful, which came out of the EA conference of all places.

It’s a great time to be a gamer and if this competition heats up anymore, then we are in for a special few years.

Preparation of a Presentation – E3

Early June, mere weeks before E3. A large, south-facing corporate meeting room in the platform holder’s building. Large windows allow natural light in and a number of potted plants quietly photosynthesise. One man in a suit is about to open his test run of a presentation to another man in a suit…



“I think I’ll have to stop you there. Do the kids still say “hello”?”

“I don’t know. Maybe they don’t”

“Your phone is right there.”

“I don’t know any kids to call though. I could call a school, would that be weird?”

“What? Yes it would be weird. I mean search the internet with it.”

“Ah. Search, yes”

“You don’t know how to, do you?”

“Not on my phone”

“We made that phone.”


“No, really. We did.”


“We make lots of other things. They used to be the focus of the business.”

“Did they really?”

“They did.”

“Then why aren’t they doing that any more?”

“I think they thought they’d make more money from the games industry.”

“We make more money than movies, you know. It says that later in my speech”

“We’ll see.”

“That’s fascinating! Everyone loves movies. They had women in one of them recently too you know.”

“So what have you got after hello? We’ll mark that as a maybe.”

“I think we should get a focus group to work on that”

“Good idea, so what is after hello?”

“and welcome”

“Hm. OK, we’ll see what the focus groups come back with on hello and we might need to change that too.”

“I thought this year we could take out some of the sales figures stuff, you know, for the kids. They must hate that stuff”

“Oh god no.”

“What? Surely they don’t enjoy that stuff?”

“Oh, no. They hate it, but if we get rid of that we’ll have a twenty minute show and everyone will mock us.”

“I suppose. I’ll need to get some figures then”

“We’ll get the factories to confirm how many we’re building in the next five years and use that.”

“Can’t we use sales figures?”

“Now why would we do a silly thing like that? Anyway, what next?”

“I’d not got much further, I don’t know what we’ve got to announce”

“Oh, sorry. Pretty much nothing.”


“I mean, we’ve got a few things coming out in the next couple of years, but we’ve already announced those. There’s no way we can afford to do more than a couple of things a year, they cost way too much.”

“Third party exclusives?”

“No, but we’ve got a couple of timed-DLC exclusives.”

“Main single-player content?”

“Just costumes and stuff.”

“That’s not very good.”

“Well, no, but we can still invite Ubisoft on stage to demonstrate the game for ten minutes based on that. That’ll pad it out.”

“Even I know everyone hates Ubisoft, we can’t have them on our stage!”

“Everyone does hate Ubisoft, but everyone forgets they hate Ubisoft whenever Ubisoft announce something.”

“But if it’s only for the announcement…”

“It lasts. They remember being excited about the announcement, then they buy the game and…”

“…And then they hate Ubisoft.”

“Exactly. But as long as we distance ourselves a bit by Christmas we can give them as long as they want on stage.”

“Indie games!”

“Bless you.”

“No, I mean, I wrote indie games down here in my notes. They were huge the last two or three years, everyone loved the focus on them”

“You remember our meetings?”

“Well, yes, we might have only put them in as we didn’t have any real games, but…”

“I think people worked out that we made them up to fill time on stage.”

“We probably should have released some of them…”

“Probably, but we can mention them again this year at least. It’s not like they’re real indies anyway, they’re just developers too scared to pitch for triple A amounts of money”

“True, on both counts”

“Anyway, important part. Who is going to play us out? I was thinking Avicii…”

Bradborne – Part 5 (and 4)

So it seems after a huge technical issue last week, Brad forgot to upload part 4 of Bradborne. Well worry ye not, as it is here as part of a double header with Part 5.

It is a couple of weeks where things go bad, Brad somehow just forgets everything and becomes more and more frustrated. Yet in Part 5, he will bring out his evil side and show the glee he has when he finds new ways to murder his foes.

Also moments of survival that just defy the odds.

Should you miss the live show, you can watch below on our Youtube Channel and be sure to subscribe.



Previous episodes can be found HERE.

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The Future Value of Everything You Own

Right now on ebay you can buy a copy of Secret of Mana, cart only, for £30. There are fully boxed versions going for up to £200. If I still had the copy I bought in the mid-90s I could cash in, assuming any of these listings actually sell.

In recent years we’ve been inundated with special editions in tin boxes with collectible art books that retail at double the standard price or sometimes even more. Rarely do any of these hold their value, let alone increase in a way that makes them worth buying. I usually avoid special editions but I did get sucked in by the recent Bayonetta ‘First Print Edition’ on Wii U. Partly because I loved Bayonetta and partly because it’s one of a few games that might actually have some of the elusive internet cachet that leads to things commanding silly prices. The original game’s official guide book can be found for as much as £400, though I doubt it ever sells for that. Ico, in its original PAL cardboard arty box, was another supposed ‘rarity’ of sorts that I could have made a bit of money on had I had the foresight.

As I look at my stack of games now, I can see that almost 25 years of gaming and an obscene amount of money has left me with ten Wii U games and some worthless last gen tat, the value of which is lower than the cost of the additional calories carrying it into town to sell would consume. Everyone has their own metaphorical copy of Tiger Woods 2009 lying around somewhere. The ten Wii U games are interesting though. The fact that they’re there is due in large part to the fact that Nintendo games have always seemed to hold their value. Most of the ten are still for sale at full price, if you can find them, and it has the strange psychological effect of making them still feel relevant in a way that last year’s FIFA game never can. Another reason I still have them is because they’re great, timeless games that I want to keep and, with the Wii U being how it is, I don’t feel like I can sell them now and then pick them up again at a cheaper price when I want to play them in a year or so. They just won’t be there.

As we move inevitably towards the big, bold digital future all of this will change. Our cloud-based gaming libraries will eventually be filled with a decade’s worth of long-deleted sports games and will ultimately become the virtual reincarnation of the racks in those Gamestation stores that were full of Road to the World Cup ’98 for 50p a pop.

The point is, most games are eventually worthless. Apart from the few outliers that I touched upon above, almost everything you buy will lose all of its value, and that’s fine. As long as you get your money’s worth it doesn’t really matter, but all any of us are really doing is renting. If I buy PES 2015 and sell it a few months later, maybe to fund PES 2016, then all I’ve really done is paid the difference to rent PES 2015 for 10 months or so. There is nothing wrong with that but it does remove all value from the previous game and means that each iteration has a very small window in which to make all of its money before it’s seen as essentially worthless.

As someone who’s always traded games, right from my very first console in the early ‘90s, I perhaps have a more cold-hearted business-like attitude than someone who could maybe afford to hold onto things a little longer. I’m certainly not unique though. In the last 10-15 years trading and the whole pre-owned market has become huge and almost everyone does it. Any sentimentality about ‘building a collection’ is the preserve of the nerdy enthusiast in a world that went mainstream a long time ago. People have always said that games are becoming more like movies but so too has the way we consume them. In the ‘80s and ‘90s people regularly rented videos as a way to watch films; you might buy the odd one you really liked but amassing a huge catalogue was relatively rare. Whilst videogame rentals were a comparatively short-lived experiment that perhaps didn’t appeal to the gamer’s mindset in the same way, we’ve still ended up with a similar set-up where nothing is permanent, except for those few that really want it to be.

When you spend what is becoming the ever fluctuating £40 on a new game, what are you expecting from it? For me, it depends on the game. If it’s a football game I expect it to be my go to 30 minute bash for the next year before the new one comes out. If it’s this month’s hot new release, however, I expect to enjoy bashing through it in a week or so before quickly trading it in and maybe getting £30 back for it. I’ve pretty much just rented it for a tenner. Any extra modes or DLC will be ignored in favour of getting that maximum resale value. Occasionally though, you get a game like Super Mario 3D World (yes I know, again) which is just a masterpiece and instantly stakes its claim for permanent residency. These are the games where real world value goes out the window and something else takes hold, the games where you start to think you’ve conned someone by only paying £40 and, as such, would not accept double that yourself (were other copies not available of course). This is probably why I still have all ten of my Wii U games.

I do have other games though. My 360 sits in the front room with maybe 50 XBLA games on its hard drive, some of which are games I would have kept anyway and some of which I’d dearly love to be able to sell. In amongst my physical ‘last-gen tat’ I have SSFIV and Vanquish, both excellent games that are kept because of their quality and low resale value. As a long time game trader the digital future didn’t appeal to me but I’m starting to come around to it. I’ve had a Steam account since 2003 but never bought anything until recently as I hadn’t previously had a PC for gaming. I have 32 games in my account now and most of them were freebies, gifts, or small purchases for a couple of quid. I have no qualms about a digital game’s lack of resale value when it only cost that notional £10 or so ‘rental’ fee that I pay as a trader anyway; you’re not losing anything and always have the upside of being able to play that old golf game in 20 year’s time. Except do you? Will the servers be working? Will PCs remain compatible with older games? Well, who really gives a fuck? It’s all ultimately worthless anyway and who has the time to care? Gaming is a self-curating hobby and what’s good and matters and has value will always stick around in one form or another. What doesn’t will just fade away, and in a digital future it can just disappear into greyed out text, forever to be scrolled over as you click and load up another game of Road to the World Cup 2018

Making a Game by Yourself on Zero Budget

Early last year, I released Rocket Drop on all of the mobile stores (I’ve since removed it from the stores). It was a cheap-and-cheerful endless runner of a game. Not fantastic by anyone’s standards, but an entertaining distraction nonetheless. It cost precisely nothing to build, and was the result of less than a week of overall development. It did, however, give me a way into indie development; a low-risk, low-stakes development cycle to get an understanding of the production process and how the release system actually works. Plus, any sales from the first release were essentially a bonus (no development costs = 100% profit!). I also built it alone, which is a common practice for app developers these days. The low barrier to entry that the Unity engine provides makes this an option, but to someone attempting it for the first time, this can seem daunting, so here I’m going to talk about a list of resources and common practices that I’ve developed over time.


Congratulations! If you have the time and disposable income to read this, then you are in the top 39% of the world’s population! It also means you have a computer, so that’s your development hardware taken care of. Out of that 39 percent, you have a 63% chance of owning a smartphone already. If you’re in that 1.75 billion, you won’t have to pay for hardware.

I do advise that you should have more than one device to test with. Apple advise that you “test on many devices” before submitting any apps, but nobody does that because it’s expensive. In my experience, the minimum set to test with is one low-end and one medium-range device. There’s no point in testing on a high-spec mobile device, because of course your game will run at your target frame rate on a high-spec mobile device! Testing for lower end platforms helps to determine a minimum spec, and it “keeps you honest” in terms of content authoring (you’re less likely to create bloated game models if you need your app to run on a tablet from 2009).


Yeah, you need to learn how to do this if you haven’t already. No way around it. In terms of what to code with, I recommend Unity because it’s very intuitive for content authoring, it solves most of the problems inherent with releasing on multiple platforms, and it is extremely well-documented (you can type almost any error message from Unity into Google, and someone will have already solved it online). It’s also free to use and distribute with, but only if your annual sales are less than $100,000. Statistically, as an indie mobile developer, you only have a 25% chance of making more than $30,000 in your lifetime, so this is a good deal!

NOTE: If you’re developing Unity apps for iOS, be prepared to do a lot of reading! Compatibility between Xcode and Unity is always a bit of a shaky subject with each release of either program (when I authored Rocket Drop, the free version of Unity iOS didn’t work). Also, you’ll need to buy a Mac if you don’t already have one, because you can’t compile iOS apps on a PC.


If you intend to be a single-person studio, you need to be able to make art as well as code. It’s a rare skill set that can handle both. The standard workaround for this is to build an art-style on retro 2D graphics (this has an added benefit, in that nostalgia-bait is an effective marketing tool). However, this approach is starting to fall out of favour, as there are only so many 8-bit score-attack platformers that the market can take, so making the jump to 3D can be worth it! Having said that, there is still room for innovation in 2D art.

In either case, content authoring for 3D can get expensive (Maya and Photoshop are not cheap!). But there are free alternatives to literally everything a games artist would need to create great content. Anecdotally speaking, the user experience for free software is worse than that of their commercial counterparts, but their feature set is always competitive. Plus, they’re free!

  • 3D Graphics: Blender
  • 2D Graphics: GIMP
  • Normal Mapping: NormalMap-Online

When you get into trailer authoring for your app, Windows Movie Maker is a decent place to start (honestly, it’s not as bad as everyone says!). But when your trailers start to become more adventurous, I’d recommend a high-end video editor such as Lightworks or VSDC. Of the two, VSDC is easier to work with, but Lightworks has more features.


Having mastered both art and code by this point, you are now clearly some kind of unstoppable super-developer that can do anything. Good for you! Why not write your own music?

I recommend using LMMS for this. It’s free, it’s multi-platform, and it supports plug-ins for both general midi and VST. It also has a massive learning curve and minimal documentation, so you will need to set aside time to learn this tool! If you’re writing your own music, definitely spend some time downloading VSTs for your virtual instruments. I wrote the music for Rocket Drop using general midi, and in retrospect, the music sounds pretty awkward in that game.

Alternatively, you could use royalty-free music instead of writing your own. Royalty-free music is usually cheap. However, if a song is licensed under creative commons, it’s actually free to use, but not to sample (provided you credit the original musician!).

In terms of audio, there are plenty of sound effects available for download, either through public domain, or through the creative commons license. Alternatively, you could record your own sound effects. Some of the plugins that come with LMMS allow for plenty of “8-bit” style noises. For other effects, you can record from real life. For example, the engine noise in my game Chaos Ride is a sample of the noise my car made when one of its spark plugs broke!

Releasing the game:

Actually releasing the game is the only part of the development process where you will have to spend money. All of the various app stores have a one-off charge to submit apps; Apple charges $100, Google and Windows each charge $25 (though the Windows fee also lets you develop for Windows 8).

Scott is an industry veteran who has worked on a number of high profile games such as Burnout and Battlefield: Hard Lines. He also ran a start-up company by the name of sc0tt games for a brief time.

Space Beast Terror Fright – Preview

The first thing you see after firing up the current build of SBTF is a high score table in the ugliest 90s neon font plastered over the ugliest 90s 3D rendering of a space station corridor. What follows is the most harrowing, thrilling FPS I’ve played in years.

With a name so on the nose even Ronseal would be jealous, SBTF does exactly what it says on the tin. Playing as a lone marine (or split screen with a squad of up to 4) you blunder your way through a deserted space station trying to overload the facility reactor all the while being stalked by, well, space beasts. There’s no point beating around the bush, SBTF is Space Hulk. It’s Aliens. It’s James Cameron to Alien Isolation’s Ridley Scott and the purest distillation of its inspirations you could hope for.

Your helmet visor and the massive gun that sits at the side of your screen totally obscure your peripheral vision. The corridors are narrow and labyrinthine and you’re expected to memorise the station’s procedurally generated layouts on the fly. It’s an oppressive, claustrophobic game where getting disoriented is as dangerous as the creatures hunting you down. Faced head on, the aliens are cannon fodder but if one gets the drop on you then it’s instant death. Luckily there are sentry guns to activate and data terminals granting you power-ups ranging from gun upgrades to heat vision, turning combat into a glorious mess of Technicolor vomit. Each short lived game has a natural curve of escalation. The marines establish their defences and power up while the beasts create more hull breaches to spawn from. It takes just enough time for a favourable situation to turn sour for creeping dread to set in before near inevitable rout and carnage.

I emerged from my first play session brutalised and clinging to a single thought, “I hope they leave this just how it is”. Since then developer Nornware have wasted no time in adding an easy mode and navigation power ups. While they do make for a better, arguably saner game, I can’t help pining for that first horrific experience. There’s potential here for adding all the trappings of a modern FPS but apart from online multiplayer and LAN support there really isn’t anything else the game needs. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a massive old school list of game settings that let me drop out all the unnecessary extras leaving the core experience intact.

For the bare bones of a production in the earliest stages of early access SBTF is already worthy of your time. It’s a tense, bleak experience where survival is a rare occurrence and your frequent death offers some of the best jump scares gaming has to offer.

A Love Letter to ActRaiser

Well unless you’re Phoebe Cates in Gremlins, for whom the festive notion of chestnuts roasting on an open fire has an altogether darker meaning. But for the majority of us, Christmas is the most fun a kid can have, and the excitement begins three or four days before the day itself, building to a crescendo on Christmas Eve when thoughts of what might be under the tree makes sleep as hard to achieve as a sub 12 second lap on Mario Circuit 1.

In the build up to Christmas 1993 I’d been as subtle as a foghorn in a library about what I really, really, really hoped Santa would bring: a SNES. Damn, those lush grey curves and the promise of Street Fighter 2 in my house was too much for my young mind to take and it was boggled. Deciding a SNES is what I wanted more than anything else in the world, I set about Operation SNES accordingly. The chief tactic being to leave a magazine advert for the desired console in the one place I knew my dad would be a captive audience: the family bathroom, specifically next to the porcelain throne where the male Cookes would regularly do some of their best, and most prolonged, thinking.

Imagine the excitement on my little ginger face then on Christmas Day when the last, suspiciously console-sized box plucked from under the tree was handed to me! But what’s that? A smaller box? It must be a game cartridge! Oh, my giddy aunt, what treat did my p-unit deem worthy of my Christmas play time?! I tore off the paper, looked at the box, and mouthed the game’s title silently. Act…raiser. Huh?

“The lad in the shop said it was very good” my mum said with all the confidence of one of Kim Jong Un’s lackeys telling the Great Leader his morning toast is burnt. Bemused by the game’s strange name I cautiously fired up the SNES… and was immediately intrigued by the triumphant horns and ActRaiser logo rippling into view. Maybe the lad in the shop was on to something. Back then my only experience of games loading had been of a few Amstrad CPC464 tapes a-bleeping and a-blurping. This hypnotic load screen was truly a brave new world.

With fresh anticipation I started a new game and suddenly I found myself in what appeared to be heaven, being asked by a little cherub to create a name for myself. Still reeling from the majestic intro I came up with the super creative ‘Ben’, completely ignoring the then default tendency to be juvenile. The same could not be said a few years later when co-creating a team of female celebrities called ‘Babes XI’ on Sensible World of Soccer and selecting an all-pink kit because somehow this made the players look naked… So, yeah, teenage boys will sexualise pretty much anything. I think Pamela Anderson was very good up front for Babes, fnar and, indeed, fnar.

Sir Ben! The game called me Sir Ben! Okay, this is already great, I thought to myself. Later the game would tell me for perhaps the first and only time in my life that I was diligent and hard-working. Bless you, ActRaiser. Within moments of naming my avatar I was descending from Cloudworld or heaven (the Japanese was a little more explicit about the religious undertones) via the magic of mode 7, plunging into the dark depths of some sort of Hell Gate and a side-scrolling 2D hack ‘n slash world. It is worth noting here that, even now, ActRaiser’s soundtrack, composed by the brilliant Yuzo Koshiro, is absolutely bloody fantastic. I’ll wait here while you pop to YouTube and fire up one of the game’s compilations.

You back? Right, so coupled with this 16-bit audio masterpiece was the aforementioned hacking and slashing through woodland filled with nefarious beasts until, oooh change of tempo, you tackle the first boss. By now I was giddier than a tumbler on a merry-go-round. The opening of ActRaiser is a tour de force in how to capture the hearts of gamers and I can’t recall too many other games that have left me so compelled to continue within such a short space of time.

Yet ActRaiser had another trick up its sleeve beyond just very enjoyable hacking and slashing. Polish off the first boss and suddenly the town of Fillmore becomes your playground as the game switches to being a God sim, and your new quest is to guide a formerly down-on-its-luck civilisation to prosperity. You do this by rebuilding the plucky peoples’ homes and forging a path to the monster lairs dotted around the reclaimed land. Once these lairs are sealed, better structures can be built and your burgeoning civilisation can develop further, in turn increasing your hit points and SP, which is used to meter our miracles. A win win for everyone involved, well, except the monsters of course, but they deserve it for being so monstrous. They should have thought through their career path a little more.

The pairing of side-scrolling action and a town-building simulation is one rarely bettered in real life, let alone videogames. Reese’s peanut butter Oreos might come close to achieving the same level of shouldn’t-work-but-does harmony but kudos to Enix for rolling the dice and welding too very different game genres into something so beautifully right. As the game continues, more lands unlock and your population grows. Each land contains two side-scrolling levels, each one a warped nightmare of increasing difficulty, with inventive platforming and decidedly vicious bosses. Eventually, once all lands are rid of beasts and all levels are conquered, you move to Death Heim for the final confrontation with Tanzra, the game’s uber-villain. Although between you, him and a battle for the ages apparently set in space for some reason, lie all the previously vanquished end level bosses, back with increased speed to dish out even more damage. I’m not going to lie, I never defeated Tanzra, and he remains my Moby Dick. Or just a dick.

ActRaiser sold around 620,000 copies worldwide, which is about a 10th of what it deserved but did at least lead to a sequel. The follow-up, despite being a solid game, did away with the God sim aspects of the original. Without the sim mode, the sequel lacks a degree of charm. It is Wayne’s World 2 to Wayne’s World; enjoyable but missing something that made the first iteration so enjoyable. At least the downturn was not as dramatic as the drop in quality from Caddyshack to Caddyshack 2 or Grease to Grease 2 (the makers missed a trick by not just naming that particular sequel ‘Greasier’).

Happily ActRaiser was given a new lease of life in recent years on Nintendo’s virtual console. In these times of HD polishes and nostalgic reboots I’d like to think someone, somewhere shares the same affection for the original and is primed to release a souped-up version. It is said that we shouldn’t look back because we’re not going that way, but sometimes a glance over a shoulder can remind of us great moments and bring them back to the fore. If there was a videogame Hall of Excellence that we could all visit and play until our hearts are content, ActRaiser would sit in a pristine SNES atop a velvet cushion, ready to woo with its many, many charms.

So the lad in the shop was right, ActRaiser was, and still is, very good. In fact, he may have undersold it. ActRaiser is superb, an all-time classic and one that will remain a personal favourite, nestled comfortably alongside other treasures such as Resident Evil 4, Fallout 3, Red Dead Redemption, SWOS and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. Were it not for the lad in the shop, my love affair with videogames might never have happened, so to him, whoever this knight in a (probably) polyester shirt is, I say thank-you. To the rest of you, seek out ActRaiser and discover the joys that enraptured a thirteen year-old many moons ago and still continue to offer delights to this day.

7 Day Roguelike Jam 2015

For long term fans of the genre, the steady bleed of Roguelike mechanics into mainstream gaming has been an achingly slow process. Procedural generation, loot systems, countless overlapping layers of simulation and a cavalier disregard for human life all tried, tested and honed to perfection in ASCII. Filtering in to the wider gaming world over the course of decades. The potential to chop, change and experiment with the guts and DNA of game design, free from worries over production values has always been massive. Even now, when the genre can finally boast mass recognition, the tradition of lo-fi Roguelikes pushing the limits is still strong.

15th March was the closing date of this year’s eleventh annual 7 Day Roguelike Jam and a huge chunk of my gaming time since then has been spent wading through the finished entries in search of prime loot. There’s nothing here with the depth of Nethack or the sprawling scope of Dwarf Fortress, but there is invention and re-invention and some endearingly janky games.


Chitinous Crooks:

Lobster knights, guard snails, crab mercenaries. This game was made for ASCII visuals and letting your imagination fill in the blanks. It kicks off with a blurb about nefarious crustaceans using a stolen magic jewel to drown your home town and then you’re off to do battle in the briny halls of the lobsterfolk. Chitinous Crooks looks and handles like an old-school roguelike but in reality it’s a very modern take on the genre, stripping away all the RPG elements and leaving you with a limited supply of one use spells. It’s a tense, tactical little game where flight and stealth are frequently more important than reducing your foes to chowder. If you’ve never played a traditional roguelike, ASCII warts and all, this is the perfect game to find your feet.



My initial experience of RobberyRL was a full two minutes trying to type in my character name and accidentally sending the browser window back by pressing backspace. Once I’d overcome this first hurdle, safe in the knowledge that no-one saw me, I was faced with a side on, turn based stealth game. Game balance, presentation and interface are all borderline impenetrable but the novelty of navigating vertical space in a turn based game, scooting along rooftops, hiding in trees and sniffing out hidden passageways was enough to keep me playing. Levels are designed by hand instead of procedurally generated, allowing the player to learn from their mistakes and perfect run-throughs. An ultra lo-fi distant cousin to the Tenchu series.


Seventh Saga:

For my money, the most visually impressive entry this year casts you as a demonic overlord laying waste to an idyllic, chunky 3D landscape. The developer notes mention Dynasty Warriors and army level skirmishing and although the finished game doesn’t live up to the initial concept there’s still a definite sense of the epic. Sweeping across the landscape conquering settlements and destroying hordes of enemies is pure, dumb fun. There isn’t much Rogue in this Roguelike beyond the traditional turn based movement and some very primitive levelling mechanics, instead what you have is the bare bones of something with great potential.



Worth a mention for sheer strangeness, Hellion is an attempt to turn a Space Harrier / Galaxy Force style shooter into a turn based game. The mind breaking task of trying to interpret the positions of flat sprites in 3D space from turn to turn is most of the appeal, with a thin strategic layer of resource management and weapon configuration on top. It’s an odd little game that stretches the edges of the genre more than anything else that came out of this year’s jam.



This is as close as a turn-based game with ASCII visuals can get to being a no-holds-barred action game; Strive has you ploughing through waves of respawning enemies in open arena like environments. It’s surprising how well sniping exploding barrels, well aimed grenade lobs and back peddling with dual wielding shotguns translates into turn based combat. The notes I scribbled down while playing mention Doom, Halo and Warhammer 40K which says it all. The interface and controls are slick and the design philosophy is one of instant gratification above all other concerns. A perfect way to decompress after ploughing through countless other roguelikes.


Gamestyle LIVE – All Growed Up

A bit of a change this week on Gamestyle LIVE, as we take take discussion in a more serious direction.

Brad, Steve and Andrew discuss mature themes in games, how they are handled, both the good and bad. What constitutes maturity and why it still seems games struggle to deal with certain themes.

The look at the likes of GTA, Alice Madness Returns, Never Alone and more and discuss how games treat their audience has more to do with maturity than just the content alone.

Anyway, details below on how to catch this weeks show.

Reviews and Ratings

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After a week away, thanks to bank holiday and family time, Brad is back for some more Bloodborne action in this week’s Bradborne.

It is a session of learning and re-learning with much frustration but it all comes together late on again with the opening of another shortcut in preparation for the next leg of the journey.

Should you miss the live show, you can watch below on our Youtube Channel and be sure to subscribe.

Previous episodes can be found HERE.

Or if you want to watch live, then click the image below and follow us on Twitch.

DiRT Rally – Early Access Preview

And if your co-driver in DiRT Rally says “Don’t Cut” you sure as hell do not cut!

I had long given up on the rally genre. Colin McRae in the PS1 days, Richard Burns Rally and even the PS2 era WRC games all did a fine job of either being a super sim, or recreating the feel of rallying. By the way, the TV replays on WRC during that PS2 era are yet to be bettered in my humble opinion.

However, these types of rally games fell away as the introduction of the DiRT series changed up the format. There were still normal rally stages, but now we were introduced to many other formats of racing on mud, some welcomed and others not.

Many would lay the blame at the feet of Codemasters for this change, but in truth Colin McRae himself saw this new market for his own racing career and was really beginning to promote the X-Games style events, it was only his sad and untimely death that meant he never did get to fulfill his visions of redeveloping the sport.

So when games such as DiRT2, DiRT3 and DiRT Showdown moved further and further away from the traditional rally format, it seemed we would forever just have our memories of games gone by.

Now, I personally had a lot of time for the DiRT games, I liked the X-Game events, the wheel to wheel to wheel action, the various types of vehicle and even the much maligned Gymkhana events. Most of this was indicative of what was popular in the rally scene at that moment in time. Ken Block was rallying, he was the face and there is no doubting his talent.

New Rally games tried to reverse the trend, with WRC being relaunched by a new studio and going down the traditional format route. However, these games lacked that certain something. Neither were they complete simulations, nor did they full recreate the thrill of the sport. Licences and careers modes would do nothing to make these the must have games of the genre and in the end they became competent distractions.

So anyway, I was sitting there one afternoon, plodding along with reviewing another game when I get a message telling me about the new DiRT game… “DiRT4” I say to myself and go to look for some kind of announcement trailer. But instead I found something very different indeed.

An Early Access game for £23 on Steam, by Codemaster and released to no hype whatsoever. This has to be a new low for Codies, the once great publisher of some of my favourite games of all time. This is going to be awful, full of bugs and completely destroy the DiRT name.

I looked at the trailer, some screenshots and listened to some very early adopters. All of a sudden, it became harder and harder to hang on to my cash. I kind of want in on this, for the first time I have a good PC and I can give this a go. I’d had mixed results with Early Access games, so I wasn’t completely scared away.

Anyway, I bite the bullet, pay for the game and install.

I go through a bunch of menus, because essentially all I want to do is strap myself in and drive. Wales! Yes of course Wales, where else would I start. 5…4…3…2…..1…… Hit the gas and go go go… 2 corners in and I am into a ditch and needing to recover my vehicle.

It is clear from the very get go, that this isn’t a casual rally game and that I would need to rethink my approach. It was going to take many, many attempts to learn how the car handles and how it will handle different surfaces, etc. All of a sudden a quick test turned into a full on shakedown, trying to get the most out of the car as possible.

A rally car should feel like you are fighting to stay within the limits of control the whole time, striking that perfect balance between getting the best time and just keeping the car facing forwards and DiRT Rally succeeds at this nigh on perfectly. I come away from stages almost shaking from the pure exhilaration and the concentration and focus needed. It really is an amazing experience.

Yet here is the thing, this is a game with a severely limited number of cars and courses, it is in Early Access, yet it feels so much more complete than many, many full releases. As a game on its own merits, it is a fantastic package, but as Early Access this is something special.

Already included are career paths, daily, weekly and monthly community challenges, custom and private leagues with a working external website to keep track. All of these in my own experience so far have worked great, especially custom leagues.

Setting up a private league with set rules such as no restarts and forced headcam is wonderful to see and my participation in these has been wonderful. I may be 2nd from last, but I know that was due to a mistake, which meant I went from a good pace to game over almost, nursing the car to the end of a stage just so I can get it fixed and try to make it up next time.

Essentially, if you were put off by previous DiRT titles, because of the presentation, the fact that the disciplines were too fractured and the overall tone, then this right here is the rally game for you. Even at this stage it is something special and you need to get in and get muddy right now.

Gamestyle LIVE – Unplayable Teaser

Oh Konami, what have you done now?

Brad, Steve and Andrew discuss the week that was, including what on earth is happening at Konami. The removal of P.T from the store and maybe even revoking the licence of anyone who has it.

Also on the menu is recent Kickstarters, spiritual successors and much, much more.

Anyway, details below on how to catch this weeks show.

Reviews and Ratings

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Amiibo Fever

“Amiibo” is a word that is getting pretty close to being banned in our household. For some of you this new Nintendo Skylander-Infinity style may have passed you by until now, yet for others it has become an obsession.

November 2014 saw the launch of the first wave of Amiibos – small plastic Nintendo figures on bases with chips which interact through near field technology with the WiiU controller and the New 3DS with a select few Nintendo games such as Super Smash Brothers, Mario Party 10, and Mario Kart 8, as well as several upcoming games titles including Splatoon, Yoshi’s Wooly World, and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. For example, in Super Smash Brothers, the Amiibos can be used to spawn characters for use in-game, however they offer limited functionality in most other games and tend to unlock in-game bonus features such as costumes, music, and weapons.

The plastic figures are well made with great attention to detail and make an impressive display whether kept in their boxes or taken out to be loved and played with – which therein lies the problem, as collectors worldwide clamour to get the latest waves to add to their collection. Nintendo obviously hadn’t expected these to have been such a hit and subsequently there is a mass shortage meaning it is almost impossible to find the vast majority of the 41 Amiibos (35 for Super Smash Brothers and 6 for the Mario Classic Collection) which have already been released in your local shops for £10.99 to £14.99. This means that, currently, to obtain the full collection available to date you are already looking at around £450 to £615 at retail price…

Facebook and Twitter groups have been setup to try and help genuine collectors track down pre-orders and complete their collections. I’m not ashamed to admit that having received a notification I got up at 3am to hide in the bathroom with my iPad to make sure I got my pre-orders in before they sold out. The current record for pre-orders selling out appears to be the recent release of Jigglypuff and Greninja on the Nintendo store this month which were officially sold out within 30 seconds.

Yet there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for the poor Amiibo hunter as there has been no definite indication of whether reprints of the earlier waves are going to be available at a later date, and so many are having to resort to eBay to complete their collections with prices reaching as much as £60 for a rare Amiibo.

Furthermore, another 17 are already starting to appear for pre-order – 3 for Splatoon, 3 Woolly Yoshis, 6 available to pre-order for Super Smash Brothers and 5 to be announced.

Something that has become very clear from all of this is that Nintendo have once again managed to recreated that “Gotta Catch ‘em All” craze in the Amiibo.

Gamestyle LIVE – The Mod Squad

It’s been quite the week on the modding scene with Valve allowing paid for mods in Skyrim, but them and Bethesda taking a large cut. The internet doing what the internet does, followed by a reversal from Valve.

There is a bit of an argument over the value of Codemasters’ DiRT Rally and how cynical a move it is on their part. Bradley defends the game against the evil haters that are Steve and Andrew!

Game talk moves to movie talk off the back of the Batman Arkham Knight trailer, with a dash of Mad Max and Just Cause 3 thrown into the mix.

All this and more in this week’s Gamestyle Live

Reviews and Ratings

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Dirty Bomb Preview

Lifeless save for a few unconvincing pigeons and a bunch of rats that look suspiciously like someone round the corner is pulling them along on a bit of string. In a strange twist, Dirty Bomb the game feels like a preserved snapshot from the recent past. A class based multiplayer shooter rooted in the early 00s, only breaking from it’s old-school template to shoehorn in modern free to play mechanics.

After the likes of Titanfall and Destiny, Dirty Bomb is initially jarring. The lack of advanced movement abilities, coupled with the historic PC shooter twitch feel, can make it seem like you’re steering a block of polystyrene around. There is a wall jump but don‘t expect it to be much use without hours of practice. Where Titanfall set out to close the gap between player intent and execution, Dirty Bomb deliberately widens it. Gunplay is purely a matter of headshots and reaction times making face to face encounters feel dry, but amping up the satisfaction of outmanoeuvring an enemy before plugging them in the back of the cranium.

Developers Splash Damage have focused on objective based gameplay to the exclusion of everything else. Maps are asymmetrical defender vs. attacker affairs offering linear progressions through a handful of main objectives with side objectives opening or closing advantageous shortcuts. One highlight is the Underground map, playfully flipping the concept of high-ground advantage on its head with perilous runs down banks of escalators. Another prototype Millennium Dome themed map showcases a less constrained take on the formula, hinting at more variety in future updates.

Sadly the Mercs, Dirty Bomb’s MOBA influenced take on character classes, lack personality, amounting to a collection of accents pinned to drab character models. Aesthetics aside, they’re mechanically solid with the beta showcasing multiple takes on some classes. For example, one medic can drop a health station suitable for defence while another can throw down a stock of med packs to support teammates pushing forward. Mercs are monetised with two unlocked as default with another two temporary unlocks on weekly rotation. They come in two price points, which at £4.79 and £6.99 are a little steep although pack deals are available. There’s always the option to unlock them with in game currency and after 7 hours of play I’d grubbed enough credits through level-up bonuses to unlock a third but a fourth would take serious grinding.

There’s no option to customise loadouts either. Instead you get a handful of loadout cards detailing fixed sets of equipment and perks. Random cards can be bought with real or in-game currency and unwanted loadouts crafted into better cards. It’s an act of streamlining that presents newcomers with the familiar irritations of the free to play model but none of the fun bits. There’s no setting your sights on a coveted weapon or perk or splurging on an impulse buy. Progression, even with an investment of real money, is rooted in random chance.

As an online experience Dirty Bomb is stable and largely lag free. Visually the slightly cartoony depiction of London holds up well with liberal splashes of colour and the game ran smoothly on my ageing machine. The free to play aspects are transparent from the start and centred around unlocking options instead of crippling new players with pay to win dynamics.

There’s a good chance Dirty Bomb will find a loyal fan base, hungering for a pre-hat Team Fortress experience despite the excess free to play baggage. Crucially for me I enjoyed my time with it despite my ambivalence to that bygone era. I suffered my fair share of crushing defeats at the hands of far more experienced players, the old-school take on the genre being unforgiving but unscrupulously fair. I also fought through heroic last stands, steamrolling victories and tense cat and mouse encounters and, if you can judge an FPS by it’s moments, then Dirty Bomb delivers.


Except we all know that is a lie, because the first boss was massive!

Join Brad as he continues his journey into the world of Bloodborne for the very first time. Armed only with his wits and help from Twitch chat.

Bradborne will be a weekly series that runs for around 90 minutes every Monday at 8PM (GMT).

Part 2 doesn’t see Brad quite continue in the same way as Part 1, there is a lot more death and over confidence turns to cockiness which leads to death and frustration. But all that is soon forgiven as this week’s run finishes with a first boss encounter.

Should you miss the live show, you can watch below on our Youtube Channel and be sure to subscribe.

Previous episodes can be found HERE.

Or if you want to watch live, then click the image below and follow us on Twitch.


Controllers can be incredibly divisive things. In the run-up to the latest console releases they were discussed at length and started many an internet ruckus, but now they’re out and we all know which we prefer. For some it’s the much improved iteration of the DualShock and for others it’s the slightly refined One controller. In this piece I’m going to take a look at various controllers and let you know which ones I liked and which I didn’t, in a vaguely generational order.

As with any opinion piece, these are just my opinions. That much should be obvious and render the sentence redundant, but it’s important to state that I’m not being even remotely subjective here and will just be presenting my personal preferences in each case. With that said, I should let you know the pertinent fact that I have massive hands. Seriously huge. I’m 6’6” but my hands are still disproportionately large. They look ridiculous. Oddly, I don’t think this has really affected my controller preferences much but I thought I should let you know just in case you can read something into it that I haven’t noticed.

Nintendo NES Controller

I’m going to start with the NES and Master System. I think the Master System pad might have been the first home console controller I ever used and it was shit. Both consoles had similar blocky rectangle designs but the NES wins thanks to a much better d-pad and possibly better buttons. That Master System d-pad was just horrific.

That was easy then. 8-bit generation done, but before we move on let’s think for a moment about all those crazy devices that were around for the various machines of the time. The madness of the Master System left-handed stick for one. What were they thinking? I used quite a few things on my friend’s computers but never really owned any myself so can’t speak with any authority other than to say that I suspect none were very good. I did have a joystick for the Master System though, it was the Quick Shot one and it was awful.

Now we’re at the point where pads and sticks started to improve a lot, the 16-bit era. Again, my main experience was with Nintendo and Sega’s offerings, but the giant arcade sticks were cropping up in more homes and those Special Reserve ads for Neo Geos in the back of magazines made us all long for a big stick of our own. I’ve got one now, but at the time it was just an unobtainable object of lust.

As with so many things in gaming, I never had a problem with the Mega Drive pads at the time but now they seem terrible. Once again the d-pad was poor and the buttons were spongey. The 6-button version which came later was a huge improvement and I would imagine still holds up okay today. The texture on the d-pad was lovely. For me though, Nintendo win once again with what might be one of the greatest controllers ever. Of course, it would be almost useless for today’s games but these things need to be judged for their time and the SNES controller was perfect. The d-pad seemed the same as the NES one but improved in some intangible way. The buttons were almost touch-sensitive things that hardly needed pressing and the whole thing was so light you forgot you were holding it, surely the Holy Grail for any controller. Its weakness was the shoulder buttons which were a little clunky and often quickly broken. It’s still a stunner though and almost 25 years later those button colours sold a whole load of New 3DS machines to people of a certain age.

Sega Genesis Controller


The move to 3D in the 32-bit era demanded a different kind of controller, but it didn’t get one. I’m going to jumble this whole era together a bit as things went crazy for a while. One of the first ‘next-gen’ machines was the 3DO which had novel daisy-chaining controllers that were okay I suppose but owed more to the Mega Drive design than the SNES. I suspect this was possibly due to EA’s links with the console and their apparent preference in the time immediately beforehand for Sega’s hardware over Nintendo’s. The PlayStation, meanwhile, wore its Nintendo links on its sleeve with a broken up version of their d-pad and the familiar diagonal button arrangement. I remember thinking this pad looked amazing in pics before the console was released and it did end up being a good approximation of what the SNES controller had offered previously. The Saturn pad managed to somehow be a worse version of the Mega Drive 6-button pad where change for the sake of change ruined what was good about that controller. It was weird and angular where it shouldn’t be. There was a curvier revision but by then it was too late. (I might be wrong about the order of these Saturn pads but that would just make it even madder).

Other competitors included the CDi, which was just weird, and the Jaguar with its famous calculator pad. I actually didn’t mind the Jaguar pad to hold but it was hugely impractical and the buttons were at a disconcertingly steep angle. If you’re too young, or just don’t remember these pads, have a Google of those CDi, Jaguar and 3DO controllers and look at the horrors that might have been. I mean, CD32 for fuck’s sake! Think how lucky you are. I remember around this time, possibly later, I started to see Microsoft Sidewinder PC controllers in Dixons and places like that. I thought they were great to hold but never really used one and looking back now they seem a bit shit too.

I suppose the PlayStation won that generation’s war of the pads almost by default; none of their potential opponents really showed up, but that all changed in 1997 when Nintendo released the N64. What the fuck is that thing? I first saw the N64 ‘live’ and being used on Bad Influence as Andy Crane bumbled through the opening of Mario 64. He explained how you could hold the controller in two different ways depending on if you were using the stick or the d-pad. In reality, the stick caught on so quickly that hardly anyone had to worry about the d-pad and it became a largely redundant area of the controller that lived on the back of your left hand. So successful was the analogue stick that Sony quickly launched a revision that clumsily plonked two of the things in an awkward position on their existing design. A bit like when you run out of power in Sim City and have to whack a fusion reactor on the edge of your swankiest neighbourhood. It doesn’t matter, you’ll find a better place for it soon and knock that one down. Sony didn’t get around to doing so until 2013 and they didn’t so much move it as replace the nuclear power with solar power – it’s still in the wrong place but much less offensive.

Sony can be put to one side for the next few years as aside from Sixaxis and Dualshock shenanigans they didn’t change their core design. Nintendo continued to innovate with rumble paks, which were novel but didn’t add much at the time, certainly not enough to suggest that rumble would become the default feature it is today. The GameCube controller was the next leap, moving the analogue stick to the dominant position and thereby proving that this, not the d-pad would be gaming’s future input device. There’s a lot of love for the GameCube controller and I can see why. I too, was a fan, but it was also very much of its console. By that I mean that it was one of the first of Nintendo’s controllers that was designed for Nintendo games first and everything else second. I could play Winning Eleven 6 FE on it, but it didn’t feel completely natural doing so.

Xbox 360 Controller


It was Microsoft who would offer the next challenge with the Xbox. They fucked that up though. The controller was huge. Even with my massive hands I had issues. It wasn’t so much the size as the general design though. Something about it just made it uncomfortable. The buttons were in a strange parallelogram shape and squished too close together and the whole thing just felt clunky. If there’s one thing Microsoft (still) deserve credit for though, it’s listening. They released the new S controller and it was a revelation. It could be argued that it was the first ‘SNES’ controller of the 3D era in that it had what the SNES pad had but with the necessities of a modern era included in the right places.

Microsoft would continue this with the 360 controller, a slightly more ergonomic version of the S controller which became many people’s favourite. Nintendo meanwhile, went all waggly. I’m not sure how to class the Wii controller. It’s undoubtedly revolutionary in what it did but at the same time it’s not very good as a traditional game controller. I never really got on with it but I fully accept that I probably missed the point, or that the point just didn’t appeal to me, so I’m not going to comment too much on it.

That brings us on to the current gen and Sony’s first true design change, well, ever really. Before that though, I’m aware I’ve missed out all sorts of gems here. I’ve focussed mainly on first party pads but those third party offerings are their own mysterious world. Who is it that buys the GAME own-brand £9.99 controller and are they a step up from the person that buys the second hand crisp-encrusted GAME controller for £7.99? I don’t mean to be snobby here but why buy something which is very honest about how shit it is on the box? I’m amazed that this type of third party controller still exists but I suppose it’s for people who just want something for the occasional visitor to use. I both understand it and really don’t understand it at the same time. There are also the optional devices like arcade sticks and steering wheels. I still have two sticks and once had a fancy wheel set-up but one day you look at it and realise it’s maybe a bit much and start to feel ridiculous. For the more emotionally secure there’s a huge range of quality sticks and wheels that can offer all sorts of experiences for all sorts of prices. As someone whose first ever interaction with a videogame was probably through a Pole Position cabinet steering wheel I have a soft spot for the crazier set-ups but I’m happy to leave them in my youth now, I just don’t have the room.

Back to today then and we have three consoles on offer with three fairly different pads. Let’s quickly get the Wii U out of the way as I know most people don’t include it (despite it clearly being the best). It was a while before I tried the very odd looking GamePad in a GameStop in New York and I was surprised by just how comfortable I found it. Maybe it’s my big hands again but I found it to be much better than I expected and I still use it over the Pro Controller which is a fairly derivative 360 pad knock off. The lack of analogue triggers is an odd decision and there is a general feeling of ‘retro’ or even third party-ness about the Wii U’s pads but they’re perfectly serviceable and I’ve found them to be pretty decent.

The DualShock 4 then. Hailed as the second coming by many who tried it before release and dismissed by many others as soon as they saw the stick placements. I owned a PS4 for just over a year and found the controller to be excellent if a little fragile. Many people had issues with the sticks wearing away and I suffered this fate a few times – football games kill DS4s. However, for the purposes of this piece I’m not going to include durability as a factor and as such, the DS4 deserves praise for its comfort and the precision of its sticks.

Sony PS4 Controller


The Xbox One controller is a revision of the 360 controller, which was a revision of the S controller. You could argue that Microsoft haven’t really innovated much but then they didn’t really have to. I’d only played with this controller on demo pods until recently but found it to be comfy enough and chose it as my controller for the PC I built recently. Having used it more now I can say that it’s fine. Nothing more really and it’s a bit clicky in places, not that it matters, just a bit odd. I think if I had to choose I’d go for the DS4 at a push. Sony’s controller just feels a little ‘softer’ and I think I prefer it’s buttons. The sticks may also be slightly better. However, in the real world durability is a concern, as is customer service, which is why I’ve gone for the One controller on PC.

That’s it then, my self-indulgent trip through controller memory lane has come to a close. Add your own thoughts and let me know what I missed out or forgot about in the comments. What would you have on your controller desert island? For me, if I had to have one for all time? Give me that SNES pad.


Over and over and over!

Join Brad as he starts his journey into the world of Bloodborne for the very first time. Armed only with his wits and help from Twitch chat.

Bradborne will be a weekly series that runs for around 90 minutes every Monday at 8PM (GMT).

This first episode sees Brad feeling his was around the opening areas and staying alive a lot more than expected.

Should you miss the live show, you can watch below on our Youtube Channel and be sure to subscribe.

Or if you want to watch live, then click the image below and follow us on Twitch.

Satellite Reign Preview

Is it me, or is there something about games that use an isometric view? I mean, there is Bastion, Transistor, Shadowrun, Diablo and so many more games that look spectacular using this view. Well there is another to add to my list of stunning looking games and that is Satellite Reign.

Developers 5 Lives Studios have a clear influence here and it is that of Bullfrog’s classic Syndicate. The proper Syndicate that was a proper RPG, not the recently released shooter of the 360 era. We don’t want a game based around that, they are ten a penny.

You hear the term ‘Spiritual Successor’ thrown around like candy at a Macy’s Day Parade and we have been guilty ourselves in doing that. However, this is the second game in a matter of weeks that really is the true successor to something that has long been forgotten or totally destroyed by a large publisher.

You know… War for the Overworld and Dungeon Keeper. Well this is to Syndicate, as that was to DK. A smaller team who were clearly fans of the original inspiration wanting to give likeminded fans a taste of something good.

Satellite Reign is joy to play too, with controls that make sense and clearly set out objectives that will also allow you to experiement. This is an Early Access game, but it really doesn’t feel like one.

It has a few problems sure, but there is nothing about this game in its current form that can scare you off. It looks the part, it plays well, it feels a lot more complete than most fully released titles these days.

The Cyberpunk setting may well be an overused cliche these days, but it works really well here and no aspect is oversold to the point it was to shove the setting in your face. It feels like a near future and almost realistic in what technologies it uses.

The AI on the whole is pretty solid at this point, though it feels it could use some tweaking, but again there is plenty of time for this to happen.

The one aspect that does let it down a little at this point is the opening tutorial levels, which feel a little rushed and lack the direction you need. At points is feels like it is holding you back a bit too much, but at other points it isn’t quite explaining the mechanics as well as you need.

The thing is though, any issues I have with the game at this point are really minor and more in line with my own expectations of a game, rather than any major flaws you expect from an Early Access title.

Once this hits full release we can safely say that you should jump in, if you have any love for a tactical RPG, but we are confident enough to say… Get it now in Early Access, you won’t be dissapointed.


Driveclub – A Revaluation

One of the first things I did (after the hours of updates) when I bought my Playstation 4 last October was to pre-order Driveclub from the PSN store.  Evolution has a great track record when it came to driving games and from all the videos and photos I had seen of the game, it quite simply looked beautiful, and the social aspect of the game sounded really interesting as well.

Forward a week and my digital copy of Driveclub was pre-installed and ready for me to play.  12am arrived on October 10 and I immediately started loading the game.  Anticipation levels were quite high, so to be faced with an error message popping up right after the title screen, I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  Sadly this was only to get worse, a friend of mine was trying in vain to form a club and after around an hour or so and countless server error messages, he finally managed to create a club, but my attempts to join it seemed impossible that night.

These sort of problems more or less summed up just how bad the launch of Driveclub was.  Server issues continued to dog this title for many weeks, and players of the game like myself soon got used to the red text appearing on the screen when driving, informing us that Driveclub’s servers were once again down and things like times, ghost data and club progress would not be saved.

The game was receiving by now an awful lot of negative press and forums were full of people complaining and demanding some form of compensation for the mess the online and social aspects of Driveclub were in.  What made it worse, the actual game was bloody good.  Okay it may not have looked quite as good as the pre-release videos had made it look, but my God was it good fun to play and with a sense of speed I believe is up there with the best of any videogame there has ever been.  We here at Gamestyle originally reviewed it a few weeks after its release and were impressed with it, but bemoaned the server issues that were still plaguing it.

Four months after its release, playing Driveclub now is almost a completely different experience. Evolution Studios really have to take a lot of credit and praise for turning it around and saving a game which was the biggest exclusive the PS4 had over the recent Christmas period. Introducing new features like the simply quite stunning dynamic weather, which has to make Driveclub the best looking console game I have ever seen.  The free tracks and cars they gave away as a form of apology for all the server troubles, and lastly just making all the features the game was supposed to launch with work, including the addictive challenge mode  which has has me staying up many a night to trying, and usually failing, to beat my friends times over the nice varied track selection this game can now boast.

Driveclub, after it’s initial problems is now simply one of the most fun and thrilling driving games I have ever played. Sure there a still a few things wrong with it, for example there is still no option for private lobbies when playing online and the forthcoming replay feature will hopefully arrive soon, to further allow me to admire the sheer beauty of this game, but overall the current state of the game is now a million miles away to how it was when it first launched.

But to put it simply playing Driveclub now is a joyous experience, hardly a day passes by, where I don’t load it up, even if it is just to play a single time trial on one of my favorite tracks (for which there are loads of them).  This is helped by the arcade structure of the game, unlike for example Forza Horizon 2 with its open world take on the driving game, in Driveclub you are only eight button presses(and very little loading time) away from getting on the road and driving along some of the most beautiful vistas a video game has ever rendered.  It’s arcade nature also means its handling is lot less po faced and more accessible than other games, which means almost any gamer can grab their controller and be driving a beast like the Pagani Huayra with very little practice.

Maybe it feels like I am heaping just too much praise on a game that was in such a bad state when it launched, but honestly, I really feel it is all very much deserved.  I know this may be blasphemous to some people, but I am happy to say now almost all of it’s issues have be ironed out, I would rank Driveclub alongside Project Gotham Racing 2 as the best driving game of its kind.

Evolution Studios and Sony were quite rightly pilloried for the debacle that surrounded Driveclub when it launched and their slow response when it came to fixing the servers. But equally now, they  should also be praised for listening to all the complaints, and with a lot of hard, and I expect many, long nights, they now have a game they can really be proud of.  I personally believe they have been a shining example of a developer that has listened to their customers and have given gamers, after a little time, what we originally wanted from Driveclub.  A bloody great driving game, that is now one of the jewels in the PS4’s crown.