Almost at the halfway point

Like a worn and beaten library book that has been trodden on, torn, coffee stained and lost most of its index pages, I’m feeling utterly broken. Especially since last week; I must have sleep for a grand total of about 15 hours.

My second semester finally came to a close on Friday. I’ve done a massive amount of things in the past few weeks and I’m actually amazed I managed to initiate / complete even half of them.

Back in the quiet comfort of my hometown, I’m hoping to once again find the time to do a bit of exploring, in between finishing off all my leftover work.

Top of the agenda will be a trip to Central London, where a good friend and I will be checking out a few record shops, looking for deals on cheap games (hoping to pick up Borderlands) and hopefully coming across one or two exciting sights that I can use for the my photojournalism portfolio. A quick browse of Forbidden Planet and Kidrobot London should also yield plenty of interesting collectables to discuss – but we probably won’t be buying anything.

I’ve been feeling pretty swamped since the end of February. Running so many projects in parallel has been taking its toll on me. And I still have to get the PlayStation 3 fixed! Well, at least I managed to bag two tickets to see Gorillaz live at the Camden Roundhouse next month. Whoo!!

Yeah, bring on the hardship. There isn’t anywhere else to go but up.

A Wii Scare of a Special

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the story or art style in the Dead Space comic book when I first laid eyes on it in October 2008. Nonetheless, the bizarre fiction and engrossing backstory pulled me in more than any video game-based comic before or since, convincing me to take a gamble on the game itself (even though I’m hopeless at horror games).

One year later and EA have teamed up with Image Comics once again to bring readers an extended snippet of the game’s backstory in a one-shot produced for Dead Space Extraction (the Wii prequel to 2008’s Dead Space). The comic is again headed by the terrifying combination of Anthony Johnston and Ben Templesmith. And the results are truly bone-chilling.

Characters’ maddening eyes, the glum, slightly depressed look on their faces, the crude outlines with only the barest background elements for scenery. I wouldn’t call it pretty, but Templesmith’s artwork goes a long way in realising the claustrophobic feel and the crooked mental state of the Dead Space world. It’s curl-up-in-your-bedcovers-and-think-happy-thoughts reading alright.

On the story side, this mini-tale is still as enjoyable as its six-part predecessor. Events take place on the Ishimura and weave together the threads from the Dead Space: Downfall anime and the recent Dead Space Extraction game. It follows Isaac Clarke’s girlfriend, Nicole Brennan, senior medial officer on the planetcracker spaceship, as she selflessly tries in vain to save what lives she can.

Make no mistake, this is no tale of heroic triumphs, but I wouldn’t say it makes for ‘grim’ reading either. The cleverly shaped story, with its ominous art, just seems to tempt you into wishing you could change the crewmembers’ fates yourself. I’m still yet to finish Dead Space, so you know what? I’m going to see what one man, armed only with mining tools and a standard issue colony suit, can do to these alien leeches.

With Dead Space 2 looming in the distance I’m positively screaming for another miniseries from this class act to accompany it.

Caught again by bitter sweet moments

Things just aren’t going my way this month.

After purchasing the euphoria that is Plastic Beach, I really thought things were going to look up this week. Turns out they’ve done quite the opposite.

Throughout the week I’ve been busy working on recruiting and organising a couple new student reporters to dedicate their time to Platform Online. This has been time-consuming, but well worth the effort so far. However, all this time I’ve spent working on student media has left me with piles to do for my university modules.

Even worst was the fact that my brother text me Friday afternoon to tell me our 60GB PS3 has broken. I assumed it was the infamous March 1 error screwing with the system, but no, it’s definitely conked out – the yellow light has signalled its malfunction. It’s out of warranty too, which means Sony will charge me the full £150 repair bill.

And not only that, today I found out that I somehow managed to create a duplicate Gorillaz.com account and their system has locked me out of the fan site. So, now I can’t actually buy anything from the site – including the gig tickets I so badly want – until I can get customer service to sort out my case.

Utter nightmare!

It seems incredibly strange how life has such bitter sweet periods. Two weeks ago everything was going swell. Oh, well. Fortunately, I can still make things happen thanks to good, old elbow grease. My Slim PS3 is still operational and I’ve already started getting to work on the various university assignments that need my attention.

I must remember to post about my successes more often or else my diary entries will just become a history of unfortunate events, offset with the odd bit of comical foolery.

Hopefully things will be far, far better next month. But at least a time like this also happens to be just ripe for a link to a song from Gorillaz new album, ‘Broken (Demo)’ – it’s my mental medicine right now.

Pray for those Left Behind

Reading Jacinto’s Remnant, every so often I had to do a reality check and remind myself that this was a Gears of War book I was reading. Yes, despite the original game being less than Oscar material on the narrative front, Gears of War has blossomed into an adaptable and wide reaching franchise.

Following on straight after the events of Gears of War 2, this book tells how Marcus, Dom and the rest of the COG forces struggle to survive out in the desolate wastes of Sera. With Jacinto – the last human city – destroyed and the Locust threat seemly finished, humanity faces new pressures in this broken world.

As with Karen Traviss’ first Gears novel, the modus operandi is again to link the story’s current issues with events from the past. Still grieving from his final encounter with wife Maria, Dom almost has the worst of it in this novel, with ghost of the past returning to haunt him. There are some excellent chapters that will keep your retinas scanning long into the night, but really this isn’t what one would call ‘action packed’. It’s about the characters, their relationships and their history.

What fascinates me about Traviss’ literary additions to the Gears of War universe is how she manages to humanise it so well. I was worried this would quickly turn into an uneventful, slow burner of a survival story, but it’s actually very astute.

Hearing how most of the populated cities of Sera were sentenced to death by orbital lasers – fired by their own leaders in a desperate final attempt to contain the Locusts – is frightful. Yet what struck me most in the book (sadly for painful reasons I won’t go into) was a confession that one character had been the victim of a foul sexual assault at the hands of a Stranded gang.

Maybe it is just all the despair and sorrow of a post-apocalyptic community with nothing left to lose getting further under my skin, but I really quite enjoyed this one. And unless you’re from an isolated island community that has no knowledge of humanity’s fifteen-year war with the Locusts, I think you might too.

Welcome to the Plastic Beach

At long last, I have finally got my chilly mitts on Gorillaz’ latest musical extravaganza, Plastic Beach.

After making it through another month of restless work and managing to edit and upload a week’s worth of content to Platform Online (not to mention the long awaited Final Fantasy XIII review for you RPG fans out there), I broke through to a glorious, sunny Monday morning. Rising from my desk, I got ready and headed straight to HMV in Victoria Centre as early as I could to collect my divine goods.

As I write this I have just finished listening to the entire album, start to finish. I’m not going to pass comment or start comparing it to the band’s past works, because, as I mentioned some months back, I don’t want to impose self-styled expectations on it. However, from my first listen it is clear that Plastic Beach is more experimental than anything they’ve tried before, heavy with electro, knotted lyrics and a countless number of obscure sounds and instruments.

Right now, it is impossible for me to even anticipate what, where, when or how this new slice of audible art will connect with me in the days, months and years to come. Honestly, I’m just ecstatic that Gorillaz have added one more studio album to their discography that again has something meaningful to show listeners about the world.

In preparation for this day, I’ve have been topping up with the album’s lead single, ‘Stylo’ and it’s recent promo video, checking out the new beachsite and I’ve already paid a fee to join the band’s newly formed G-Club (in hope that I’ll be able to folk out yet more cash for some early gig tickets). Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough I’ve bought both the standard and ‘Experience’ editions of the new album. Yeah, I know, when it comes to Gorillaz I’m crazy!

Over the next few weeks I’m sure I’ll be writing plenty more on Gorillaz and Plastic Beach, so I hope you’ll enjoy my musings. And please do share your own thoughts on the band and their new album. For now, though, welcome back Gorillaz. And I hope you too will join me on Plastic Beach.

PlayStation 2 Turns Ten

It may be hard to believe, but exactly ten years have passed since PlayStation 2 was first released in Japan, on 4 March 2000.

Although certain avid gamers continue to bemoan some of the lesser titles that have been piled on the system in its twilight years, PlayStation 2 has become one of the most influential consoles in gaming history. The very fact that it has stuck around to last as long as its Japanese parent company said it would – which incidentally is far longer than any of its original competitors – is a testament to the ambition and overall execution of this 21st century entertainment system.

When the system first arrived there was an inimitable excitement around it which went beyond just that of the gaming faithful. In fact, excitement was so rampant that there were even fears that the console was powerful enough to launch an Iraqi missile attack.

It had DVD video capabilities, supported 5.1 surround sound and had the ability to display game worlds with stunning detail, thanks to the console’s custom-made Graphics Synthesizer and Emotion Engine chips. And the fact that all this fitted into a black box about the size of two phonebooks was all the more impressive. It was the first time a console felt like it was designed to complement the physical living space, rather than merely being a piece of awkwardly coloured plastic casing hiding high-tech witchcraft.

But it wasn’t just the console that was exciting; the raft of upcoming next generation games had people rooted to the spot when footage was shown on television. Early games from the PlayStation 2 campaign trail include: Tekken Tag Tournament, Dead or Alive 2, Dark Cloud, TimeSplitters and Zone of the Enders.

Clips of a Subaru Impreza and Toyota Celica rumbling along racetracks in Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec showed off the system’s graphical and lighting potential. Hideo Kojima’s long awaited sequel to his PlayStation espionage epic, Metal Gear Solid, was also a major attraction during the console’s infancy. And Final Fantasy X proved that pre-rendered cutscenes weren’t just a bit better in the next generation, they were now just as cinematic as Hollywood’s breed.

After a single year PlayStation 2 was already home to gems, such as Grand Theft Auto III, Devil May Cry, Silent Hill 2, Final Fantasy X, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, ICO and Jak and Daxter: the Precursor Legacy.

As developers became more accustomed to the tools, they unlocked more and more of the system’s potential. PlayStation 2 has played host to some truly remarkable titles in its ten years. Everything from vast open world landscapes, to the technicolor beauty of Rez, to the moment-to-moment thrills of Burnout 3. On top of all this, PlayStation 2 was part of the era when gaming truly gained mass social appeal. Titles like EyeToy, SingStar and Buzz! helped to break down the barriers of what people normally perceived as a video game. And though its online service was the poor cousin to Microsoft’s superior Xbox Live, Sony made PlayStation 2 a connected device, producing hits like SOCOM that paved the way for the future of the industry.

When that small charcoal black box was first revealed to the world nobody really knew what to make of it, and nobody could have predicted the enormous legacy it would leave upon not just the games industry, but the home entertainment industry. PlayStation 2 was a tremendously versatile piece of technology and will remain an important part of consumer electronics and gaming history for many years to come.

Red Herring Watch #6

Here we are at last, the final part of my Red Herring comic book watch. I’ve now read the entire miniseries and I’m ready to let you know what I think of this ‘grand’ conspiracy.

OK, just to put everything in perspective I’ll give a very short run down of a couple key events. Red Herring is told through the eyes of Maggie MacGuffin, our heroine who is attacked in a Washington park and soon finds herself entangled in a political conspiracy. Red (who is introduced as a government agent, but actually turns out to be a conman) isn’t sure how she came to be involved, but he’s willing to protect her – even if most of the time she ends up in harm’s way because of his past actions. Together they’re like a (less stylish) contemporary version of The Avengers. When Maggie goes missing everyone suspects her boss, Congressman Damorge Channel. Things get more confusing when talk of an alien invasion starts circulating. Throughout the story we meet a collection of shady characters, all of whom are hiding skeletons of their own.

So, after six issues of tongue-in-cheek melodrama and candid moments of brilliance, does Red Herring live up to the potential it so gloriously set early on?

Hmm…

Well, no, to be frank.

David Tischman and Philip Bond set the stage with the first issue, and then it looked as though some real eyebrow-raisers could be coming, but sadly issue six failed to give me the satisfaction I was hoping for – and deserved after hanging on to find out the truth behind it all.

This is becoming a ‘thing’ with some of the miniseries I’ve read. They’re good for four issues or so, but by the end they just run out of steam. It’s particularly unusual in the case of Red Herring. All the covers (by Bond) just scream of exciting moments of confrontation or possible exposition, but really they’re only loosely connected.

The characters are good, but it feels as if Red Herring is missing its ace in the hole. Namely, the big moment right at the end where everything gets turned on it is head and you’re left trying to figure it all out. Yes, there are a couple characters that don’t turn out to be who you think they are, but at this point that means very little. The comic doesn’t do anything meaningful with characters in its climax. It’s too neat, too mundane. There’s no ground-shaking payoff, and even the more human moments, such as Maggie saying goodbye to her mother, don’t feel special.

I don’t wish to shoot it down too much, as I do still really like the art style and I get the appeal of poking fun at conspiracy theories. Overall, though, it feels like a missed opportunity. So, Red Herring isn’t really ‘comic gold’, but it is an alright distraction for those who like to take Roswell a little less seriously.