During a walk around the outskirts of my local town, I saw this bin while grasping for cherries from the trees in the lane.

I found the brittle slate-like coating lifting from the corroding metal cut-out letters and bleeding into the white border utterly beautiful.

The shape of the space delineated by the coating's edge looks like a map (topography), fish or boat (side-view).

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AuthorI.B. Simpson
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So many games. It's cruel really. It hurts to think how many games I have bought but will barely or never play, as being a groan-up, there are only so many free hours in my week.

When I make the time to indulge in my lifelong obsession, by flopping onto the sofa and picking up a controller, or contorting my body back into the tortured shape of the workweek at my PC, I am often at a loss for what to load up.

My already exhausted mind tries to weigh-up what the most valuable return on my playtime would be. And so, I sit there; staring at my burgeoning Steam account, then at my new consoles, then at my old consoles and, sometimes, I just give up and zombify my night away on YouTube, Twitter, or go back to the seemingly endless but brilliantly strange book I've been reading since March 2016 (Infinite Jest by David Foster-Wallace)] [finished in December 2016, now ploughing through the Laundry Files by Charles Stross].

Steve Burns, previously of Videogamer.com called this phenomenon "shit-muncher paralysis", which I feel is a more authentic title in this context than "decision fatigue" or "analysis paralysis".

I've had some success in combatting this by pre-selecting what to play and committing to it without experiencing the remorse of a poor choice:

On 1st January 2015, at around 2am, I completed Zelda: Windwaker (Wii U version), and resolved along with my wife to play the remainder of the 3D Zelda games that year. If not for her, I never would have made it through the first 10 hours of Majora's Mask (I kept feeling very tired and drifting off when playing it for some reason).

By setting that as our mission and sticking doggedly to it, these masterpieces were very much enjoyed without the distraction of choice over a period of 6 months or so, and I now have very fond memories of journeying through these games to the finish for the first time, and of sharing that experience with my wife.

Such was the success of this, that I proposed our next series would be Final Fantasy (starting with VII, as it was my first and the one which most deeply affected my early pubescent self).

With its beautifully hand-painted backgrounds and a soundtrack that more powerfully than any other game I've played provokes all kinds of emotions, Final Fantasy VII was another masterpiece which we played through. I secretly worried that it wouldn't have aged well, and was so delighted and relieved to relive this experience and share it with my wife, who had never seen a JRPG before, and enjoyed the story, graphics and music too. Years before, I repeatedly exposed our firstborn in utero to the soundtrack, so there was a familiar nostalgia for us all.

Interestingly for me, the next game, Final Fantasy VIII, had much better writing and localisation, while somewhat annoyingly pushing the teen angst and cauldron of emotion and morbid ennui of lead protagonist, Squall. The other characters are far more interesting. Their interactions and character development outshine Final Fantasy VII, and replaying in 2015, I can say that the maturity of the writing, story and world makes it a much more adult and deeper experience than VII, though it lacks the raw power of the music. It also took me a while to prefer the steal and craft magic system in VIII to the materia combinations and MP of VII.

Following this we tried Final Fantasy IX. Sadly, even after fifteen hours, I felt no attachment to the characters or story, and the loading times and delay in starting each random battle, which of course there are many, were utterly dreadful. The same happened with Final Fantasy X, so it was back to the drawing board for 2016.

Three massive games took care of most of last year: Fallout 4, Stardew Valley, and Final Fantasy XV, with Stardew Valley being ideal for our busy family and work lives. Such a charming, colourful, relaxed, and utterly stress-free world. Pick up and play for twenty minutes or two hours and family-friendly too. The variety of activities, soothing music and feeling of accomplishment in building your farm and relationships with the villagers was immensely satisfying.

Fallout 4 was a very fulfilling open-world-a-thon which felt as good as I remember 2008's Fallout 3 being. And Final Fantasy XV was an interesting mess of superficial beauty, and a handsome boyband group of friends, which while plagued with many years of development hell, would have benefited from a lot more dialogue and a more complex story character development to flesh out the best part of the game—the friendship between your characters. My biggest bugbear was the repeated dialogue, which broke immersion so much as to become laughable and quickly spawned memes all over the net. "I've come up with a new recipe!"

The big game of 2017 so far is Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As of May, we've completed the main story, all the shrines, all the memories, most of the armour sets are fully upgraded, and we're still playing to explore and collect Koroks, with 160 of 900 in the game found after 140+ hours. That's some serious value for money, even considering the eye-watering cost of the Nintendo Switch, Pro controller and game.

Alas, I now feel my gaming feet itching for pastures new. The dopamine tickle from Zelda is still there, reduced from a bonfire to a bright candle now, and when I look elsewhere, all I can see is the fiery cold abyss and cranial tension of thousands of choices clambering for my evaluation and commitment.

A close friend has come to the rescue with a solution he has catchily named "35 by 35". This is his title for a project encompassing 35 new gaming experiences by the time he reaches 35 years old. His conditions are that each game gets at least six hours play a week for two weeks, giving a minimum of 12 hours per game (or until the end if it's a shorter game). Then after playing each game, he'll write a short review, then collate and publish at the end of the project.

So now, I'm off to tailor this approach into my own project, which I'll share in my next post. I'd be interested to hear in the comments how you, dear reader, select which games you'll play, and your current backlog.

You are launched into a dark street, with violent hoodlums looming into view and circling menacingly. Brawling through eight stages of unspeaking, violent thugs, your goal is to eliminate the clichéd gang lord, Mr X.

Streets of Rage is a rhythmic experience. The fusion of control, movement and music.

Feeling, seeing, hearing, thinking, reacting, planning ahead.

Immersing yourself into a state of consciousness where you feel directly and immediately connected to the cause and effects of the world you are traversing.

An abstract world, processed and enhanced by the capacity and range of your imagination and empathy.

Streets of Rage, Sega Megadrive Title Screen

Streets of Rage, Sega Megadrive Title Screen

Combination Lock

You move in eight directions, have a jump button, a special button, and a single attack button.

With that single attack button you are able to unleash a plethora of devastating combinations by varying the timing, pauses and rhythm of your button pressing. If you down a stronger opponent too quickly, they’ll spring up again, all the while your screen will be fill with other creeps. If you come to the brink of felling a powerful bad guy with your final blow, you can pause for a split second to break the chain, then resume with a fresh volley to put them down for good, or even use their death throes to launch their spent cadaver into a group of nearby unfortunates.

The beauty of the game comes from combining short and long combos with powerful judo throws, and controlling your position on screen to take cover behind human shields, and avoid getting swarmed.

To grapple, simply embrace a foe by walking into them, and for a few seconds you are free to decide what to do with them. A Glasgow kiss and a knee to the groin? Throw them over and behind you like a rag doll, spilling the enemies behind you like bowling pins? Reposition to their back by Jumping, followed by a quick standing spoon, and ending in a lethal suplex?

Whether your strikes meet flesh or air, they are punctuated by an impressive sound response. At times, your character grunts or whines with the focus of power. In Karate this is called kiai. The theory being that making a noise while you attack makes the attack more powerful, e.g., Sonic; Boom!

Kiai Aside

I am not entirely convinced of the efficacy in kiai, having seen its misuse by [a thankfully small number] of meatloafs in the gym. However, as a sensory and fear-inspiring climax to your attack, it can be quite impressive. Also, see Muad’Dib’s army of fremen and their sonic weapons, made even more popular in David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s brilliant novel, Dune.

Back to the Streets…

When the screen fills with enemies you can summon a police reinforcement special attack. This pans the screen to the left, a police car rolls up and screeches to a halt, then an officer pops his top-half out the passenger window and fires a bazooka into the play area, resulting in a wall of flames or raining fire, toppling bosses and eliminating weaker enemies on contact.

Withering Heights

Interestingly, there is no block button. A block mechanic might have added another dimension to the game but was not easily possible as the stock Sega Megadrive/Genesis controller only had three main face buttons and no shoulder buttons. By default the special summon attack is mapped to (A) but would have been far better off mapped to the (select) button; the amount of times I wasted a summon by my thumb slipping off (B) and onto (A).

While writing this pice, I imagined a block, attack, jump setup opening up even more attack options. For example, in the current game, if you press the attack and jump button together, you perform a back attack. What if there was a block button that let you parry or stagger the enemy? Akin to modern Batman brawlers. Upon reflection, the attack-only approach keeps the action moving forward at an intense pace, which is in perfect harmony to the music.

Cid[SID] is in every one

The game is accompanied by an absolutely banging techno soundtrack, which squeezes a lot of interesting sounds and voices out of the Megadrive’s Yamaha sound-chip. I'm not a big fan of most Megadrive tunes. I grew up with the gorgeous C64 SID chip which produced a richness of sound and symphony that made a lifelong impression on my soul. I now plug my C64 into a sound system far more competent than the little B&W telly I had as a child, and can relive the greats of my youth, such as Silkworm and Pit Stop II (both also hold-up well for two-player gaming today).

To my ears, the Megadrive’s sound often felt muddy, flat, and lacking in dynamic range. But Streets of Rage has a pulsing, throbbing techno-beat throughout, with the game's composer, Yuzo Koshiro, matching the mood of each level with a layered, thrusting effort. I've bought the soundtracks for Streets of Rage 1 and 2 from iTunes, which I listen to often, and they bring me great joy, even though I'm not sure if the remastering adds to the experience.

Sharp, Grimy, Fast, Sleek

From the outset, Streets of Rage burns grimy, neon patterns into your retinas. Outside the Pine Pot diner, its luminous sign shines upon a cold, blue cobbled city street. The player lands gracefully, and their sprite is expertly animated with a smoothness to their walking and jumping, and a snappiness to their attacks. This juxtaposition makes the whole movement of the game, the flow and fury, so slick and harmonious. Each of the levels has a distinct theme, graphically and aurally distinct from one other. There are incidental touches, like a gust of particle-filled wind as you enter the inner city, waves lapping onto the beach, the sickening bobbing onboard the ship, and the flashing beacons within the industrial complex.

The co-operative

The replayablity factor is huge as the core mechanic of gracefully beating everyone you see into pulp does not easily dull. The other timeless factor is the two-player mode, or in modern parlance: same-screen couch co-op.

This elevates the game into my top-ten of all-time, as you must carefully manage and adjust your tactics with your partner so as not to accidentally kill them with a misplaced combo, or immobilise them with a spoon embrace at a juncture where several "Nora" dominatrices/lion tamers[?] are funnelling towards you both with whips tensed.

You could also use the spoon embrace cooperatively, with the spooned player able to kick out their legs in front of them to knock down approaching enemies. Another tag-team move is to grab then vault over your partner to perform a high-jump attack on unsuspecting opponents.

Double the players also means double the bosses, which keeps things exciting. Also, when you make it to the end of the game and are invited to join forces with the evil Mr X, three endings are possible in co-op mode, with my favourite, the bad ending, occurring when one player wants to join Mr X, and the other doesn't. This leads to a duel to the death, followed by the bad player dethroning Mr X. A fitting end.

Then and Now

The Megadrive II has the superior sound-chip (to the Megadrive I), as Koshiro says himself. In 2015, a special remaster was published for the Nintendo 3DS which comes with many options, including MDI/MDII sound emulation switch, and an excellent stereoscopic 3D effect, which actually helps in aligning vertical position of self and enemies. The 3DS version also has a two-player mode (wirelessly connect two 3DS handhelds).

In my opinion, you can't beat playing on a big TV screen as part of the PS3/XBOX 360 Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, Steam, or even iOS (AirPlay).

Posted
AuthorI.B. Simpson

Note: This post is part of a consolidation exercise, and was originally published 16 September 2011 at http://ibsimpson.calepin.co

16 September 2011

Mulling over Hans Petter Eikemo's thoughts on iPhone photo lag. Echoing his sentiments; the problem occurs as I experience some fleeting event. I want to capture it. From my trouser pocket to taking the photo takes me about six seconds, three if camera.app was open and active before I locked my iPhone. I have missed the moment. No Henri Cartier-Bresson chance; the man has met the puddle.

Hans Petter Eikemo of Ideon proposes [for a future iPhone]:

  1. When the camera app is inactive, a press on the new [camera] button will launch it.
  2. Every press captures a photo, even outside the camera app. As a remedy for the most fleeting of photo ops; you shoot instantly from the hip, and when the app is ready, you may review the results or continue to shoot assisted by the viewfinder.
  3. Press and hold the button momentarily to record video. The subsequent press stops recording.

I am against a new button, because we don't need one. The shutter release (sic - pixel sensor ready and capture) could be initiated in different ways depending on the situation. Let's go through some [iPhone] scenarios.

The phone is asleep in your pocket. You want to take a photo. Quick! Take if out of your pocket and either:

  1. double-click volume-up button (hold for video)
  2. double-click volume-down button (hold for video)
  3. depress volume-up and volume-down button simultaneously (hold for video)
  4. depress-volume-up and home button simultaneously (hold for video)
  5. depress volume-down and home button simultaneously (hold for video)

Notes:

  • A setting would allow you to enable the feature to capture photos and/or video from sleep mode. Thus, Private Percy's Privacy is Protected from Prankster Peter.
  • A setting would allow you to launch into camera.app (or not) after taking photos from sleep mode.
  • Initiating video capture from sleep mode would launch camera.app while you are shooting that video.

Any thoughts?

Posted
AuthorI.B. Simpson

Note: This post is part of a consolidation exercise, and was originally published 12 December 2011 at http://ibsimpson.calepin.co

12 December 2011

Booted up the Playstation to have a quick game of Battlefield 3. However, Sony demands I download a ~180Mb update (version 4.00). In countryside broadband terms, that's an hour gone.

What is the frequency of Sony PS3 updates? Because it seems every time I turn it on (infrequently since I bought an XBOX 360 when HALO: Reach was released ☟), I have to download another system update.

Whereas, the XBOX 360 updates are occasional and very small in comparison. I've never had to wait more than ten minutes.

So, Battlefield 3, I'm afraid you'll have to wait. I'm going back to Battlefield: Bad Company 2 on the XBOX 360. And don't even get me started on the huge launch-day patch for Battlefield 3.

Perhaps I'l just buy a Dingoo A380 instead.

☞ Halo: Reach was a very disappointing game, I thought. Killzone 2 does it so much better and came out far earlier [than HALO: Reach] (Feb 2009 versus September 2010).

I delight in watching the whole process.

It begins with weird and wonderful egos and the initial inability to work in a team. Disgusting caterpillars.

Slowly, for the more diligent competitors, repulsive behaviour and ego is moulded into decency and teamwork.

As the process continues, you begin to learn about the individuals, and want the good ones to prevail.

Finally, a winner emerges and they have over the course of 3 months (our watching time, not sure if it's filmed over 3 months) emerged into a beautiful butterfly, their life forever transformed.

Posted
AuthorI.B. Simpson
CategoriesWriting

But remember, as it is, your new £300 PC can enjoy new games as-is, as well as a huge back catalogue of…every PC game ever made. It can easily emulate most old gaming consoles and computers too. That's 30 years of gaming at your fingertips, be it with keyboard and mouse hunched over a desk and monitor, or connecting to your TV and kicking back with a pad on the couch.

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AuthorI.B. Simpson