I write about video games

I specialise in writing feature articles on video gaming. My work has been published on Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Kotaku UK, PCGamesN and Terminal Gamer, and I am also the founder 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.


Eurogamer

Here are a few of the articles I’ve written for the video-game website Eurogamer. All of them were commissioned from my own pitches.


Where do downloadable games go when they die?

A digital-only game based on licensed content is doomed to die right from the outset. At some point, months or years from now, that licensing agreement will expire – at which point the publisher can no longer sell the game. It will be summarily pulled from digital storefronts – sometimes with little or no warning – and is unlikely to ever resurface, unless the publisher is willing to negotiate those licensing deals all over again.

Last December, a slew of Transformers games were suddenly removed from Steam and PSN (and later from the Xbox Marketplace) with no warning from publisher Activision. Among them was Transformers: Devastation by renowned developer PlatinumGames, which had only been released two years previously. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Marvel titles published by Activision have suffered a similar fate… (read more)


A day in the life of an independent video game store

Places like this are too few and far between. Step into Console Connections in Shildon, County Durham, and it’s like walking into an Aladdin’s cave of games. Boxes reach up to the ceiling along every wall, and seemingly every console from the past four decades is represented in some way; from the PS4 display by the door to a boxed Amstrad GX4000 sitting proudly on the counter. Why can’t all game stores be like this? (Read more)


1 floppy diskYour Amiga games are likely dying

The Amiga 500 came out just over 30 years ago, seeing as many as 6000 games released across its lifespan and that of its two immediate successors, the Amiga 600 and Amiga 1200. But if you were to dig out your old Amiga from the loft and try to load up Cannon Fodder, Pinball Fantasies, Zool or any other of the machine’s classic titles, there’s a very good chance they won’t work.

The truth is that no one knows for sure how long floppy disks can actually last. “They don’t have a shelf-life, as such,” says James Newman of the National Videogame Arcade (NVA) in Nottingham. “There are so many variables, from the quality of the original media through to how often they were used and how they’ve subsequently been stored. Variations of temperature and humidity can affect the adhesives that glue the magnetic particles to the disk itself, and you can get oxidisation – there’s a lot that can go wrong! The simple truth is that these media weren’t designed with the kind of longevity we’re now expecting in mind – certainly it wasn’t anticipated that they’d need to last 30 years or more…” (read more)


the-witcher-adventure-game-3Video games remade in cardboard

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)


Jova Regasek (with beard) and Voja AntonićThe Story of Yugoslavia’s DIY Computer Revolution

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 more)


Avatar MachineEntering The Avatar Machine, VR’s Next Big Step

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 more)


GamesRadar+

I have written several extensively researched features for GamesRadar+ on topics like the future of high street games retail and the maths of microtransactions.


Battletech arcades were decades ahead of their time, holding global 3D matches before we’d even played a SNES – here’s their story

Imagine an arcade filled with rows of rectangular pods. As you climb into one and slide the door shut, the only illumination in the otherwise black interior comes from a huge monitor and a cornucopia of blinking buttons. In front of you there’s a joystick and throttle, along with two foot pedals. You’re in control of a 40-foot giant robot, and you’re about to enter into a deathmatch against other Mech pilots from across the world.

It sounds futuristic, but this is actually a scene from the early 1990s. You know it’s the nineties because Jim Belushi just gave you your mission briefing… (read more)


How long have video game stores actually got left (and can they save themselves)?

Our Price. Tower Records. Virgin Megastore. These music-retail giants once dominated the high street, but in a few short years they were swept away in a digital apocalypse. None of them were quick enough to react to the change in consumer habits as downloads replaced CD sales, and many towns that once boasted a range of music shops were soon left with none at all.

Now it’s happening again – but this time, the battlefield is video games. Game stores have been fighting competition from internet retailers for years, but now digital downloads look set to sweep away game shops just as they put paid to music retailers in the past. The past decade has already seen multiple store closures – could the next decade wipe out the game shop for good? And is there anything that stores can do to stop it? (read more)


Microtransactions and loot boxes in video games – are they pure greed or a modern necessity?

So you’ve bought a full-price game, only to discover that it has the cheek to ask you to spend more money on loot boxes / extra characters / nice hats. The outrage! The psheer indignity of it all! HOW DARE THAT GREEDY PUBLISHER ASK ME TO SPEND MORE MONEY! Quickly, to Reddit, prime the bile cannon, hoist the hot-air sail, launch the hatred torpedoes!

But, wait, wait, hold on a second. WHY are microtransactions in this full-price game? Clearly a large proportion of gamers don’t like them very much (and that’s putting it mildly), so why would a publisher risk its reputation, and possibly sales, by including them? Is it simply greed? Or is it just not possible to make AAA games without microtransactions and still turn a profit? (Read more)


Kotaku UK

Below are a few of the features I’ve written for Kotaku UK, which is owned by Future Publishing. Almost all of them were commissioned on the basis of my own pitches. The full list of my articles can be found here.


The Final Days of Grainger Games — As Told By Those Who Worked There

The closure of Grainger Games is likely to have come as a shock to many customers — but it’s been absolutely devastating for its employees. I spoke to three staff members about what it’s been like working for the company, how they reacted to the news of the closure and what they plan to do next.

Steph has managed to find a new job, but it’s a demotion with an accompanying pay cut. Stuart has only been able to find part-time work — and his wife has been forced to cut short her maternity leave to help support their four kids. Jane, meanwhile, has no idea what to do next. She started working for Grainger straight out of school a decade ago, and it’s the only job she has ever known… (read more)


Zelda breath of the wild in GAMEWhy Does Everyone Hate GAME?

This is a sample of the comments under a recent article about the launch of GAME’s Elite membership programme, which costs £33 a year, and apologies in advance for the language.

“Two words: Fuck Game. Actually, come to think of it, I’d like to add three more words: in the ass.”

“I avoid that place like the plague.”

“Honestly, GAME just needs to die already. An absolute shambles of a company. I can’t believe there are still people out there stupid enough to shop there.”

“Fuck Game.”

Almost every article published about the UK retailer attracts similar bile.

Why do so many people hate a high street store that, at bottom, is all about selling us lovely videogames, and letting us trade in our own?… (read more)


Starship Titanic box artThe Secret Douglas Adams RPG That People Have Been Playing for 15 Years

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 more)


Sinclair_ZX81_Setup_PhotoManippedHow People Used to Download Games From the Radio

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 more)


800px-NASA-HS201427a-HubbleUltraDeepField2014-20140603No Man’s Sky Versus the Actual Universe

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)


IMG_3421Inside Scotland’s Real-Life Fallout Vault

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)


Rattatoon for The FuelRatsThe Most Helpful Pilots in the Galaxy

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)



How Do 1993’s Future Predictions Stack Up 25 Years On?

The peerless Edge Magazine made its debut 25 years ago. The very first issue contained a feature called ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ in which luminaries like George Lucas and Arthur C. Clarke gave their thoughts on the future of gaming. It’s a seriously impressive roster of talking heads, so the obvious question is – how did they do? Let us turn the blazing eye of HINDSIGHT upon their desperate fumblings for future truth… (read more)


What’s Going on With GAME’s Reward Card?

At the end of January, GAME changed its terms and conditions so that you now have to spend twice as much to earn the same number of points on your Reward Card. Previously, you’d get a reward point for every 0.125p you spent – but now you get a point for every 0.25p you spend. You need 400 points to get £1 off a purchase, so whereas before you’d need to spend £50 to get a pound off, now you need to spend £100.

I contacted GAME to ask about these changes to the reward scheme and the reasoning behind them… (read more)


IMG_4703The Man Who is Keeping 1990s Virtual Reality Machines Alive

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)


ready player one paperbackHow Far Away is the Technology of Ready Player One?

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)


My gaming backlogWhy We Feel So Bad About Gaming Backlogs

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)


heard-620x349The 20-Million-Selling Game Series You’ve Never Heard Of

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)


neuromancer-header-620x349The Forward-Thinking Genius of Neuromancer

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)


800px-ZXSpectrum48kThe Land Where the Spectrum Lived On

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 more)


Deedlit the elfThe Dungeons and Dragons Session That Became a Real-Life Phenomenon

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 more)



Which Games are Made in the UK?

Many people might be surprised at just how many top-flight games are made in good old Blighty. The most famous example is Grand Theft Auto, made in Edinburgh (after starting in Dundee). The Batman: Arkham series is made in London, Elite Dangerous is made in Cambridge, and the Forza Horizon games are made in Leamington Spa. As might be expected, many games creators are based in the capital, but the UK developer map throws up a few surprises, too. Guildford in Surrey is an absolute hotbed of games development, playing host to Media Molecule, Criterion, Hello Games and Supermassive Games to name a few. The aforementioned Leamington Spa is also a bit of a developer paradise, boasting Codemasters, Ubisoft Leamington, Playground Games, and many more… (read more)


PCGamesN

PC Games Network commissioned me to write an investigation into the Thargoids of Elite Dangerous after my article on The Fuel Rats for Kotaku UK. I’ve since become a regular features writer for them.


What Star Citizen can learn from the Second Life players who break into houses and have sex

Last year, the developers of Star Citizen offered players the chance to purchase a beacon that would let them lay claim to a 4x4km plot of land in the game. The UEE Land Claim Licence can be thrust into the ground anywhere in UEE (United Empire of Earth) space to take ownership of a square patch of earth, with the benefit that your property rights will be defended by the UEE security forces – Star Citizen’s space cops.

But what are the implications – and potential pitfalls – of owning property in its virtual universe? And can you actually own things that don’t really exist, at least, in a physical sense? And what does any of this have to do with people breaking into your house and having sex in Second Life? (read more)


World of Warcraft blood plagues and religious fanatics in Civilization 6 – gaming’s funniest bugs

It’s hardly a surprise that bugs often make it into finished games. With thousands upon thousands of lines of code to write and check, it’s a mini-miracle that games work at all – especially as a single-letter mistake in any one of those lines can disable a key feature, or even break the game entirely. Here are a few notable instances of when coding went catastrophically awry, or seeded an error so subtle that it wasn’t found until long after the game was released… (read more)


How Elite Dangerous players saved a player stuck beyond the edge of the galaxy

“There’s nothing out there. Not for a long way anyway. Ahead is nothing but blackness. As I transmit these words I believe I am the furthest any human has ever traveled from Sol.”

CMDR Persera is currently drifting in the inky-black void beyond the edge of the Elite Dangerous galaxy, around 11 light years past the most distant star and around 65,650 light years from our Solar System. And it was all in an attempt to drop off some mugs… (read more)


Studying the Thargoids: the intrepid players facing Elite Dangerous’s greatest threat

Ever since the Thargoids turned up in the Elite Dangerous universe several months back, players have been studying this intriguing alien species and trying to work out their intentions. When they first appeared, they simply pulled ships out of hyperspace and scanned them before disappearing again. But, recently, they have been attacking military vessels, megaships, and a small handful of passenger vessels. And they have also been observed doing various other strange activities.


Terminal Gamer

I was a regular contributor to this gaming site. I mostly wrote news stories, although I did the odd feature here and there – like the one below.


Goldeneye-natalyaThe Top 5 Most Frustrating Gaming Moments Ever

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 more)

Advertisements