I specialise in writing feature articles on video gaming, and my work has been published on Eurogamer, Kotaku UK and Terminal Gamer. In addition, I am the author of two popular gaming blogs: A Most Agreeable Pastime and 101 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better. I’m particularly interested in the weird and wonderful stories behind gaming, as well as issues such as equality in the gaming community. Below are a few examples of my work.
If you’ve been very good this year, there’s a chance that Santa may have slipped a PS4, Xbox One or 3DS into your bulging stocking. But how many games did he stuff in there as well? I doubt there’d be room for more than one or two.
But fear not, there are plenty of ways to expand your currently skimpy game library for exactly zero pence, thanks to the grasping joys of free-to-play games. Let us raise our monetization shields and plough onwards! (read more)
The marketing campaign for Silent Bomber was cringeworthy. Massive cardboard cutouts of Jordan appeared in game stores up and down the country, depicting the glamour model clad in a skin-tight cat suit. Copies of the game stood in recesses beneath her heaving bosom, a comely gaze tempting passers-by towards the wares.
Even at the time it was laughable in its crassness. A relic from a time when ‘booth babes’ roamed the aisles of E3 and the gaming public, in the eyes of marketers at least, was all desperate, sex-starved teenage boys. There wasn’t even a link between the advertising and Silent Bomber: Jordan wasn’t dressed up as a character from it, and there were no tantalising glimpses of cleavage in a game that was actually about blowing things up… (read more)
Commander Neospike had all but given up hope.
He’d been roving around the deepest parts of the galaxy for months, logging millions of credits’ worth of exploration data. But a close encounter with a neutron star had left his spaceship critically damaged and running low on fuel. Worst of all, his fuel scoop was broken beyond repair, so it was impossible for him to gather fuel for his ship – and the nearest inhabited planet was around 3,600 light years away. There was simply no way he’d be able to make it back: it looked like his only options were to hit self-destruct or wait until he ran out of oxygen. He’d respawn in both cases, but his months of valuable research data would be lost.
All but resigned to his fate, he decided to log on to the Fuel Rats’ forum to see whether they had any ideas on what to do, any way for him to save his ship. What happened next was eponymously dubbed ‘Operation Neospike’, and would rightfully earn a place in the Fuel Rats’ log of ‘ Epic Rescues ’…. (read more)
Over the past few years, we’ve seen board game versions of Gears of War, Bioshock Infinite, Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil and Portal, to name a few.
But are the new video game tie-ins any good? And are they likely to tempt seasoned video gamers into joining the board-game fold?
I decided to try out a few of these cardboard video games myself to see how they compare to their silicon brethren… (read more)
I read Kotaku’s list of ‘Our Favourite Games from September’ with a mixture of joy and despair. Joy because there really seems to be an inordinate amount of good games out there at the moment, and seemingly unprecedented variety, too: everything from top-notch driving games to sailor simulators. Despair because there’s no way in hell I’m going to have time to play them all. I’m sure many people reading this will feel the same way.
It made me wonder whether there really are more good games out there nowadays, or whether the number of games is the same but I perceive there to be more simply because, as a new parent and full-time worker, I have far less time to play them… (read more)
The J.B. Harold series of games has allegedly sold 20 million, which is rather a lot considering that it’s a name that will be unfamiliar to most people reading this. It’s roughly the same as the total sales of all of the Far Cry games (although there’s some leeway with that comparison, seeing as we don’t have firm figures for Far Cry Primal).
And speaking of leeway in the figures, it’s almost impossible to verify the sales number for the eight J.B. Harold games. The last original entry was released in 2007, and the 20 million figure is widely quoted, but the only source seems to be the poorly written App Store listing for a 2011 North American iOS conversion of the first game in the series. Seeing as the original developer and publisher of the game are long since defunct, we may never know the exact sales figure.
But what we do know is that although these games never made it to Europe and saw apparently slow sales in North America, possibly due to their controversial content, they were wildly popular in Japan – and also quite interesting. Not only that, the developers went on to have a lasting influence in the Japanese games industry, having a hand in some of the best-received games of the past couple of decades… (read more)
As I was playing Threes on my mobile phone the other day, it occurred to me that there’s something intrinsically satisfying about tidying up in video games. Taking a messy screen full of numbers and shuffling them neatly into one big number is not only addictive, it taps into a strong desire to put everything in order. The same feeling pops up when clearing the screen in Tetris or mopping up all of those pesky flags in Assassin’s Creed. But where does this desire to tidy up come from? And what function does it serve?
“It makes total sense,” says Phil Robinson, director and curator of the Museum of Games and Gaming. “Back when we were hunter-gatherers, a messy camp would have attracted rats and predators. The humans with tidy camps would be more likely to survive, and they’re the ones who passed their genes onto us. Imposing order is a survival instinct.” (read more)
As I arrive at the Virtuality booth at Play Expo Blackpool, things aren’t going too well. The booth has just opened, and the first members of the public to arrive are having a go on Dactyl Nightmare, one of the earliest VR games. But the viewing screen shows that the game world in the right-hand VR pod is being tilted at a crazy angle.
The machine is one of two stand-up Virtuality 1000 VR coin-ops owned by Simon Marston, an enthusiastic VR collector from Leicester. Only around 350 of these machines were ever made, and Simon thinks that these two are the only working examples left in the entire world. If one really is kaput, I could be witnessing the last ever two-player game of Dactyl Nightmare… (read more)
Thanks to its endless references to 1980s video games, Ernest Cline’s 2011 book Ready Player One is hard not to like if you’re a gamer of a certain age. It makes for a rip-roaring read: the classic hero’s journey redone with Back to the Future shout-outs, Joust and John Hughes. And it’s soon to be a film, too: Steven Spielberg is scheduled to start shooting this summer, ahead of a March 2018 release date.
Set in the dystopian future of 2045, the book explains how most of humanity has retreated into a virtual world called OASIS to escape the misery of soaring energy prices, economic meltdown, high unemployment and devastating climate change. The OASIS itself is free – all that’s needed to enter is an OASIS console, a low-cost VR visor and some haptic gloves.
Now, with the release of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive virtual-reality systems, it feels like the future of Ready Player One is a step closer. In the book, the OASIS came online in December 2012, but back in reality, how near are we to an all-immersive online virtual world? And is the technology featured in the book still a pipe dream, or a taste of what’s just around the corner? (read more)
Thanks to the steady drip-feed of information and videos from Hello Games HQ, we now know exactly how big No Man’s Sky will be, and we have a fair idea of how it’s possible to create such a huge universe through procedural generation. (We’ve also seen how impressively big Sean Murray’s beard has got over the past year – we presume he’s growing it as some kind of metaphor to indicate the increasing extravagance of the project.) We know that you can explore billions upon billions of planets and find some kind of life on a decent proportion of them. But how big is No Man’s Sky compared to the real Universe? What are the actual chances of finding extraterrestrial life? And what would alien life look like anyway? (read more)
The ‘gaming backlog’ is a concept almost every gamer will be familiar with – a huge pile (possibly digital) of games that you have amassed, but have no hope of ever playing your way through. 2015 saw a slew of releases that each required dozens if not hundreds of hours of play time, leading to the question of how on Earth we’re supposed to play all these bloody enormous games. At the same time, games are cheaper than they’ve ever been thanks to cutthroat competition among internet retailers, digital distribution, Steam sales and the enormous secondhand market. It’s no wonder that we are developing a bit of a backlog.
But at what point does a backlog cross over into obsession? And could all these unplayed games be having some kind of malign psychological effect, as they sit there glaring at you from the shelf and screaming to be played? Even worse, what if your backlog anxiety is revealing some feared, fundamental truth at the core of your very being? (read more)
Every Star Wars Game Ever, From Worst to Best (Kotaku UK)
It turns out that Star Wars is a popular franchise on which to base a video game. This might be something to do with the fact that you can stick the name Star Wars on pretty much any old rubbish and it will still sell like hotcakes. Hello Kinect Star Wars, I’m looking at you.
But among the dire shovelware that stinks up the Star Wars game library there are a handful that constitute some of the most pioneering games of their age. And so, for your entertainment, here is every Star Wars game ever*, starting with the dog’s dinners and ending with the dog’s bollocks… (read more)
“Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough / For nothing there is living now”, wrote the poet Sir John Betjeman about the shabby English town on the M4 corridor. Well, the joke’s on you, Sir John, because in the year 2155 the bombs HAVE fallen… and now there’s plenty living there! Flush out a Super Mutant nest from the drab yet functional corridors of the mediocre Queensmere Shopping Centre, or take on the residents of the formidable Raider city that has sprung up in the ruins of Slough Trading Estate, once the largest privately owned industrial estate in Europe. Design your own base in the empty shell of the once mighty Tesco Extra out-of-town hypermarket, then stamp out the dangerous yet hilarious cell of fanatical David Brent impersonators who live under the bypass. Or you can simply wander the Heart of Slough wasteland, taking in it’s tarnished, rubbish beauty. The choice is yours… (read more)
It’s astonishing to think how much of the world has changed thanks to the internet. It’s difficult to think of another recent technology that has so totally changed how people experience the world – the invention of the telephone well over 100 years ago is probably the only thing that comes close. What felt to me like a gimmick when it entered the mainstream (I distinctly remember scoffing at the seeming pointlessness of the BBC adding links to web pages at the end of TV programmes in the 1990s) has now gone on to dictate how, when and where I work. I don’t even watch TV any more – it’s all iPlayer and online streaming.
But the swiftness and ubiquity of the revolution means that it can be difficult to imagine a time before the internet existed, a time when computers were mostly limited to offices and files were stored on floppy disk. As someone who started university in the late nineties, I’m privileged to be part of a generation that rode the cusp of the internet wave just as it was breaking, yet I can also just about recall the days when networked gaming meant carrying my Amiga to a friend’s house for two-player Stunt Car Racer.
But bizarrely, well before the advent of the World Wide Web as we know it, there was a game that was all about navigating the internet. Or at least, an approximation of it… (read more)
With Fallout 4 due out in November, gamers are once again set to descend upon the nuclear wasteland. Although this time around we also get to (briefly) experience life before the apocalypse as well as 200 years afterwards, when the main character eventually emerges from the safety of a Vault into a world changed beyond recognition.
At about the same time that the game was announced back in the summer, I found out about ‘Scotland’s Secret Bunker’, a real-life Fallout Vault about an hour-and-a-half away from my home in Edinburgh, just near St Andrews. This top-secret nuclear bunker was built in the early 1950s and only decommissioned and made public in 1993.
It got me thinking – what would life really be like in a Fallout Vault? Putting the crazed Vault-Tec experiments to one side, would it be possible for humans to live underground for an extended period of time? How big are the real-life Vaults? Would society be able to carry on inside them, just like in (some) of the video game Vaults? Would a real-life Vault even be able to survive a nuclear blast? I set off in my crumbly old Mondeo in search of some answers… (read more)
Thanks to the high-profile split between Konami and Hideo Kojima, the cancellation of the promising Silent Hills and a damning report that criticised working conditions at the firm, things haven’t been looking too rosy at Konami of late.
So with the last Kojima-authored Metal Gear on shop shelves and the future output of Konami looking uncertain, now seems as good a time as any to look back over the company’s illustrious history. And boy oh boy do they have a lot of fantastic games to their name – in particular an astounding run through the late eighties and early nineties in which they produced a slew of now-legendary franchises, from Castlevania to Contra... (read more)
After reading through all 120 pages of the notorious Metal Gear novel from 1990, I can’t decide whether it’s utter tosh or sublimely brilliant.
The book is part of the Worlds of Power series, which by all accounts was enormously popular in the United States (the ten books in the series sold a combined total of one million copies) – but as far as I can ascertain, they were never officially released in the UK. Each of the books was based on a different NES game, and there were entries for classics like Bionic Commando, Castlevania II and Ninja Gaiden, as well as slightly more obscure titles like Infiltrator and Bases Loaded II.
I only found out about the existence of the series very recently. The discovery came about after an eye-opening visit to my local branch of Waterstones in Edinburgh, when I chanced across a sizable section that was completely dedicated to books based on video games. I’d been vaguely aware that there were several books based on Halo and Mass Effect, but I was genuinely surprised at the huge range of video game novels that are now available… (read more)
The ZX Spectrum took the UK by storm after its launch in 1982. So much so that its creator was awarded with a knighthood the following year for ‘services to British industry’. But although we’re familiar with the story of how Sir Clive Sinclair’s wonder machine changed the face of British computing, his computer’s legacy on the far side of the Iron Curtain is less well known to western gamers. And it’s a legacy from which he never made a penny.
In the early 1980s, computers were hard to come by for the average Russian. Trading restrictions under the communist regime meant that it was almost impossible to import computers from the west, and the few that were smuggled across were hideously expensive by Russian standards. In 1983, the popular magazine Radio put together schematics for its readers on how to build a ‘Micro-80’ computer, one of the first DIY computers available in Russia, but it was difficult to put together, requiring hundreds of often difficult-to-acquire components… (read full article)
E3 2015 will no doubt be remembered for that astonishing Sony conference, when those impossible announcements came in quick succession: The Last Guardian, the Final Fantasy VII remake, Shenmue 3… Half-Life 3? Well, it felt like it could have happened. It was that sort of atmosphere.
But it was the resurrection of an entirely different gaming franchise over at the Microsoft conference that really set my heart racing. As the Rare Replay collection was announced, celebrating 30 years of Rare’s work, a game appeared that I never thought would see the light of day again, and certainly not on the next-gen Xbox One of all places. Solar Jetman, one of the very best games on the NES, is making a comeback after years in the wilderness… (read full article)
In Japan, 1986 was a momentous year for role-playing games. Dragon Quest and The Legend of Zelda were released to popular acclaim, each garnering millions of sales, and Final Fantasy was mere months away from being unleashed on an unsuspecting world. Japanese game designers had taken inspiration from western RPGs like Wizardry and Ultima and were busy laying the foundations of the JRPG, a genre that would dominate the video game industry throughout the 1990s and beyond.
Dragon Quest and The Legend of Zelda would go on to become household names across the world. But another role-playing phenomenon emerged in 1986 that, although perhaps less well known outside Japan, was arguably just as influential as Dragon Quest and its brethren. And it all began with a Dungeons and Dragons session… (read full article)
Starship Titanic, the greatest starship ever built, picked up speed, swayed a bit, wobbled a bit, veered wildly and, just as the crowd were about to scream out in disbelieving terror, it vanished in an event that would later became known as Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure (SMEF). But that was far from the end of the story. In fact it was just the beginning. The appearance – and disappearance – of this odd space vessel would inadvertently create an enduring meta-game that has no rules and no end, and that still lingers somewhere in a semi-abandoned car park of the internet… (read full article)
It’s a Monday night in Bristol in July 1983. Your parents are downstairs watching Coronation Street while you skulk in your bedroom under the pretence of doing homework. In reality, you’re hunched over your cassette recorder, fingers hovering over the buttons in feverish anticipation. A quiver of excitement runs through you as a voice from the radio announces: “and now the moment you’ve all been waiting for…” There’s a satisfying clunk as you press down on play and record simultaneously, and moments later the room is filled with strange metallic squawks and crackles. “SCREEEEEEEEEEE…” (read full article)
In Yugoslavia in the 1980s, computers were a rare luxury. A ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 could easily cost a month’s salary, and that’s if you could even get through the tough importation laws. Then in 1983, while on holiday in Risan, Voja Antonić dreamt up plans for a new computer, a people’s machine that could be built at home for a fraction of the cost of foreign imports. The Galaksija was born, and with it a computer revolution… (read full article)
If you’ve played games, you’re undoubtedly used to controlling an avatar in a virtual world. No matter how immersed you become in a game world on the television screen, though, your mind stays firmly on the sofa, fully aware that your hands are holding a controller. Yet it turns out to be surprisingly easy to fool your brain into thinking it’s somewhere else entirely. Two people from completely different backgrounds have both discovered that ‘freeing your mind’ simply requires a few leads and a camera – and that merging video games with real life can have profound effects… (read full article)
As you may have read already, Ubisoft creative director Alex Amancio caused a bit of controversy at the E3 gaming conference by saying that there are no female assassins in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed: Unity because it would have been too much work to put them in. His exact words were:
“It’s double the animations, it’s double the voices, all that stuff and double the visual assets. Especially because we have customizable assassins. It was really a lot of extra production work. It’s not like we could cut our main character, so the only logical option, the only option we had, was to cut the female avatar.”
Understandably, quite a few people were upset by the idea that putting women into a game counts as ‘extra’ production work, and the gaming media leapt on the statement. Similar revelations emerged around another Ubisoft game, Far Cry 4. Ubisoft stepped up to clarify the original statement, and Amancio claimed his wording was a “slip up”. But the furore surrounding the issue shows how contentious it is… (read full article)
It’s a rite of passage that all gamers will be familiar with: reaching a point in a game that’s so ball-breakingly frustrating that you hurl the controller at the TV, slam your fist down on the console ‘OFF’ switch and storm out of the room, possibly giving the cat a good boot up the behind for good measure. The best games will always see you returning eventually, whispering apologies like a spurned lover... (read full article)
I finished Far Cry 2 the other day, and I have to say I was pretty disappointed. The designers took on some controversial subject matter by setting the game in an African civil war, and they really don’t do it the justice it deserves. But before I get onto that, let’s look at the positives… (read full article)