Culture, Gaming, Technology

Conservative consoles: probing the shortage of original exclusives on PS4 and Xbox One

Xbox One / PS4 comparison, Nov 20, 2013, Mark Farrell (1280x720)The complexities of the modern console game have not had a positive effect on the number of original or exclusive titles for PS4 and Xbox One owners to play, so far, this generation.

This week, Naughty Dog told PlayStation fans, via the PlayStation Blog, that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Sony’s flagship PS4 release for this holiday season, has been delayed until 2016. Giant Bomb’s Jeff Gerstmann wrote an article about how scant both PS4 and Xbox One’s 2015 retail release lists currently look. Granted we’ve not been hit with the annual dollop of E3 announcements, but, despite grand promises, the current generation of game consoles have been plagued by a dearth of specially-created software worthy of their processing power and feature sets.


Halo Web Machinima

During my research for a recent essay on alternative media I came across this very cool fan-made website which recreates Easter eggs from Halo 3: Forerunner Terminal Network Archives.

If you’ve not played Halo 3, towards the end of the game you arrive on a vast intergalactic megastructure known as the Ark, which was built by the Forerunners. Here you can find terminals which contain broken fragments of diary entries from the Forerunners final days.

This website puts them all in one place. Very handy if, like me, you can’t actually find all of them, let alone remember what each one says so you can follow the course of events. Props to the folks at

Just Your Average Spartan Family

In the years since Halo 3, Microsoft and their various creative partners have proved that, though Bungie may not have intended to spawn such a wealth of side stories and prequels, they won’t stop building on the original skeleton until it has mutated. For the third Halo miniseries from Marvel Comics, the creative team of Fred Van Lente, Francis Portela and Ulises Arreola bring the story of a Spartan quartet to the fore. With all these skirmishes happening throughout the Halo timeline I’ve more or less lost track of the canonical parts. The story itself is nothing you won’t have come across in some form or other, but it’s certainly the most succinct and believable translation of Halo to comic book form, which is saying something.

Halo: Blood Line follows Spartan-Black, a team of four Spartans who’ve trained and fought side-by-side since their youth, as they are shipwrecked on an unknown planet. A group of Covenant have also suffered the same fate and the opposing factions soon come into conflict as they attempt to find a way off the planet. However, the warring factions are forced to form a temporary truce when members of both their groups are abducted by huge, tentacle-armed droids.

Although Blood Line begins as a classic ‘uneasy alliance’ script for the first couple issues, things get more exciting in the last two issues as the cast of superhuman characters have their own personal conflict. More so than Uprising and Helljumpers, this is the type of tightly woven side story that works well for comics, because it’s self-contained. The artwork throughout also captures a sense of monolithic scale in the ancient alien environments and characters are detailed with poses that speak volumes. Simply put, it looks like a scene from the game – and puts Alex Maleev’s dim, shadowy approach in Uprising to shame.

I know it’s far from the most original, or even surprising, comic book, but I enjoyed Halo: Blood Line more than thought I would. If you’re only going to read one of Marvel’s Halo miniseries I suggest you read Blood Line, it has all the visual style of the game wrapped around a story that anyone can dip into. Judging from the last page of the final issue, Microsoft and Marvel are planning yet more comics and yet more side stories. But even as they dilute the fiction further at least these different creative partnerships will sometimes yield bright lights.


Halo goes Anime Crazy

Like a particularly adaptable amoeba, the Halo series continues to grow and change. When Microsoft announced last autumn that they would be releasing a collection of anime shorts based on the Halo universe, I was doubtful, but none too surprised.

Produced by six Japanese animation houses and overseen by Microsoft’s Halo guru, Frank O’Conner, Halo Legends is another example of a franchise with Western origins and sensibilities colliding with the Far East.

There are seven episodes, which each explore a bit of the Halo universe. It’s nothing rapidly original, although, if you like Halo it should satisfy your own gun-toting dreams. ‘Origins’, a two-part short produced by Studio 4°C, is a brief recap of the main Halo story so far – worthwhile for the few bits of new Forerunner details. ‘Babysitter’, also from Studio 4°C, follows a group of ODSTs accompanied by a SPARTAN-II on a special assignment – shows there’s humanity beneath the armour. And Production I.G’s ‘The Duel’ has an exciting ancient samurai duel in it, which is stimulated by a believable representation of the Covenant fiction.

Special mention must go to ‘The Package’, created by Casio Entertainment. This slice of bleached CG animation represents the most first-person shooter-like action in the collection. It’s a space bound retrieval mission that stand up to even the likes of Battlestar Galactica. Not to mention the fact that it is a gun-blazing explosion-fest from start to finish.

While I didn’t automatically resent any of the shorts, I did find some of the tales to be a bit outlandish – although, they’re very tame by usual anime standards. ‘Odd One Out’ was a bit to moronic and senseless for its own good. And the Hollywood-beauty of Dr Catherine Halsey (the UNSC chief scientist in charge of the SPARTAN-II project) and the heterosexual illusion of her romantic intensions brings nothing to the narrative and only serves to confuse the fiction further from her original portrayal as a single-minded manipulator. She mutters exactly the same line as Cortana to Master Chief (“don’t make a girl a promise if you know you can’t keep it”), which suggests she secretly harbours deep romantic feelings for her charge.

I also find it extremely bizarre that Sumthing Distribution have released a soundtrack to accompany the DVD, when ninety percent of the music here has been reused or mildly remixed from the trilogy. Halo’s music is something I’ve admired from day one, but there’s little, if any, original composition to get excited about here.

The Matrix also released an anime compilation in the form of The Animatrix in 2003. Yet that series actually took many of its inspirations from the philosophies and cultures of the Far East. Halo, an embodiment of Western military might and a religious allegory, benefits from its translation to anime by feeling fresher. But it often seems at odds with its source material, and sometimes comes off feeling a bit like a bad post-Pacific Theatre propaganda campaign. If you’re uninterested in the Halo series or anime, they’ll be little here to change your mind. But it should satisfy any sci-fi fans need for a spot of light, evening entertainment.


Engage Shock-Absorbing Franchise-Retaining Dampeners

It’s fair to say that we’re all getting pretty bored with the Halo series at this point, well, I am at least – even though I’ve somehow convinced myself to continue buying into the fiction, at least while Bungie remain part of the picture.

With Halo: Reach billed as Microsoft’s big Xbox 360 autumn release this year we’re poised to face yet another year of full-on Halo-bombardment: books, t-shirts, fridge magnets, energy drinks and even anime (look out for my thoughts on what could possibly be the best/worst cross-culture endorsement of the year, Halo Legends).

In the meantime though, let’s look back at the recent past to talk about the accompanying miniseries to Halo 3: ODST, Halo: Helljumper. This five-issue series was produced with sterling efficiency, under the capable efforts of writer Peter David and artist Eric Nguyen, especially compared to its cousin, Halo: Uprising.

Despite feeling as if anything meaningful the series had to say has been told already, I quite enjoyed this comic. Worst thing I’d say about it is that its big mystery turns out to be a bit of an anticlimax and just forces a customary close-shave-escape. Helljumper is really a buddy picture with the actors in sci-fi armour – and I’m a sucker for a good tale of friendship, bravery and survival against all odds. I also dig the rusty, mild colouring to Nguyen’s art, it has a great contrast to that of the game’s usual glowing auras. On one hand this is just more Halo, but on the other it is an exciting, short story of two best friends making their way in galaxy.

(Quick mention for Marvel’s excellent recap pages: I’ve been reading a lot of DC comics lately and many of the Marvel comics I’ve read, and browsed, feel more approachable for newcomers because of their recap pages. It’s not hard, it’s just commonsense. Recap pages are a good thing, so start using them DC!)


Late Arrival

For a limited series that was planned to end back in September 2007, Halo: Uprising has been alarmingly late.

Originally announced as a four-part limited series in 2006, Halo: Uprising bridges the gap between the finale of Halo 2 and, its Xbox 360 follow-up, Halo 3. Though Halo 3 was released on scheduled, in September 2007, Marvel’s comic book adaption has taken almost two years to be completed. The writer, Brian Michael Bendis, and artist, Alex Maleev, are likely not the main reason behind these delays. A major licensed product like Halo must have many loopholes to jump through at Bungie and Microsoft before any story directions are approved.

All the same, I was pleased to finally have the whole collection in front me, tenderly bound in a hardback trade edition. Probably the biggest flaw in this Halo comic, which was billed as the heart-stopping prequel to the franchise’s third game release, is that the series main protagonist, Master Chief, is hardly featured for most of the comic. While other pieces of Halo fiction centre on various characters in the universe, the story in Halo: Uprising seems somewhat redundant in the grand scheme of things – I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as essential reading.

Spartan 117 (more commonly known as the armour-clad Master Chief) is hurtling towards Earth aboard a massive Forerunner Dreadnought. The leader of the Covenant, a conglomerate of hostile alien races, is also board the craft which is speeding towards the Ark to activate the galaxy-wide Halo array – ancient weapons of galactic destruction that destroy all sentient beings within their blast radius. Meanwhile, in Cleveland the paths of two civilians, Ruwan and Myras, become united as they escape Covenant bombardment and resist the invading aliens.

You might not expect a comic translation of an FPS to have much in the way of an impressive story, and this is more or less the case here. While I had set myself up for a mildly interesting story concerning Master Chief on the Forerunner ship, I didn’t expect the amount of shooting, explosions and general wordless action sequences that appeared. Visually, they look acceptable. Maleev has a good eye for capturing those memorable poses from the game, and the colourists have given the sci-fi world a suitably ‘lived-in’ feel with soft highlights amid the copious black shading. However, the story isn’t all that riveting. A tale of discovery, in the vein of the original game and Master Chief’s encounter with the parasitic Flood, would have been far better.

The majority of the comic is focused on the two human characters. Much of the first and second parts are devoted to them escaping Cleveland, all the while loudly voicing their ever-changing feelings and thoughts on each other. The final two comics are a lot better. The plot finally takes on a shape from the vague blur it was, connecting all the dots between the Key of Osanalan, childhood memories, UNSC covert operations and the Covenant invasion forces.

Halo: Uprising is an okay read, but not really that special – particularly if you’re invested in ‘Halo lore’. The story is a nice departure from the main series, but it doesn’t live up to what it was pitched to be.

Marvel already produced the Halo Graphic Novel (which sheds light on some of the less known side-stories in the universe) and they’re releasing a brand new five-part limited series in the build-up to Halo 3: ODST, called Halo: Helljumper, as well as Halo: Spartan Black (likely based on Halo Reach). Expect to hear more from me on these new series in the autumn.


Seeking ‘novel’ entertainment

Leisure time is scarce for many of us nowadays. If there’s one past time that relaxes and satisfies me in equal amounts after a long day it’s reading a good book. No TV, no loud music and no constant hum from my laptop. Just me, a literary work and my imagination. Bliss. Nevertheless, with all the writing, game playing and fact-related reading I’m doing these days, my reading list has been given far less attention than I had hoped to give it at the start of this year.

How fortunate then that books, unlike battery-depended portable devices, are immediately accessible. Whether I’m travelling around Nottingham, stopping off for lunch or relaxing in my not-so-comfy bed, I’ve always got a book to hand; ready to get me through the slow parts of the day. Tales of adventure, espionage, science-fiction & fantasy, local stories, myths & legends, humour, crime, horror and even romance.

Though I don’t dabble as much as I’d like these days, I’ve recently digested a few books, which certainly helps keep my expectations high for storytelling in other media. On the teen & older fiction side there’s Necropolis, Artemis Fowl and the Time Paradox and Superior Saturday. Some people – probably the ilk who feel smug about buying the adult editions of Harry Potter, when the normal editions are exactly the same – may consider me a little old for these books, but when I’ve been reading the work of these authors since primary school I most certainly shall read their newest works. Besides, some of their sagas still haven’t concluded yet, so I must see them through to the end.

About a month or so ago I finished Anthony Horowitz’s, The Killing Joke. Being one of the few adult books he’s written, I was unsure what to expect at first. All my doubts were soon put aside when his signature style of crisp characters, a motivating plot and intelligent humour shone through once again. There are even a few subtle jokes and references that will have anyone with a basic knowledge of theatre history cracking a broad smile. Crafting such brilliant novels time after time, he is definitely my favourite author.

The Silver Sword, a book recommended to me by my mother more than ten years ago, was another touching and reflective read. And just last week I finally closed Halo: The Cole Protocol – beyond the entertainment factor my reasons for reading it will become clear in a series of future posts that are coming soon. A slick first-half made me think I was in for a real treat when I got to the finale. Shame the plot tied itself up a little too neatly and avoided what could have been a climate finish. On the plus side the author did a great job of make the Covenant more than just ugly looking aliens, adding more weight to their history and dogmatic beliefs. On the flip side, there is a point where some of the military personalities become monotonous – a subtext of army recruitment and what it means to serve ones country is heavily embedded. OK, but not the best game-to-novel adaption I’ve read.

In the coming weeks I hope to fill you in regularly on what I’m reading, offer an opinion and give a few recommendations while I’m at it. At present I’m stumbling my way through one of the most taboo-ridden books I’ve ever come across. More on this criminal caper shortly.