An entire VICE column that didn’t run in print, just for you

January 31, 2015

Zelda Wii U
My most recent column for VICE magazine didn’t run, due to a clerical error. It’s quite alright, and I certainly don’t take this kind of thing personally. But as the piece was written for print, it’s a little out of date (now) to make the move to the VICE website – and it also echoes some of the sentiments I already expressed in an online article explaining why right now is a golden age for video games. So I’m posting it here, in case you’re the slightest bit interested.

– – –

I’m a believer that the best is yet to come in gaming. The medium is so young still, with each hardware generation opening new possibilities, rich with staggering potential. And I don’t simply say that with reference to the epic scale of modern role-play games, or the detailed “realities” of Grand Theft Auto V or the forthcoming Batman: Arkham Knight, which will feature an interactive Gotham as you’ve never played it.

Today, games tell stories that can choke you up (I’m still recovering from The Last Of Us: Left Behind), and provide an essential escape for those feeling the weight of the everyday grind. They take you to places no other entertainment can – and you can be in the pilot’s seat. It’s generalising, but video games aren’t the toys they once were – just as the press of an A button is context sensitive depending on the circumstances, so too can a video game stir any number of contrasting emotions in the player. Our favourite games of right now regularly provide the feels, where once upon a time we merely felt our way through them.

Which is why I started the year by writing a piece for VICE online on how today is a golden age for video games – because, as clichéd as such a phrase is, there really is something for everybody out there, and while some genres might seem stale at surface level, (relatively) recent releases have gone a great way to shaking up tried-and-tested formulas.

Spec Ops: The Line dosed the third-person shooter up on heavyweight heartache; indie affairs like Braid and Limbo took puzzle-platforming in unique directions; Wolfenstein: The New Order brought real heart to first-person blasting; and Telltale have revitalised the adventure game with releases like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us.

Looking ahead, into 2015 and beyond, I see more of this – a pronounced transition, an elevation of the art of video game making, as even ages-old franchises like The Legend of Zelda, Elite and Silent Hill are refreshed for players who want the big experience, sure enough, but with intimacies, too. The colours run and mix in a way that a picture resolution of 256 x 240 could never convey.

I like the old classics, the evergreens, the foundational inspirations. But no period in gaming’s evolution to this point should be regarded as a golden age, because we have it better than ever right now. It’s the contemporary scene that is producing the most arresting experiences. I think so, anyway. Not everyone agreed with me, which they are completely entitled to do. But I did want to pick up on a few comments, and offer some feedback.

Wrote David Mobley, in the comments section of VICE’s US site: “The greed of publishers has ruined gaming in 2014 and beyond. We’re in a horrible age of gaming, and it’s only getting worse because people keep paying for it.”

I’m sorry you feel that way, David, but you raise a very valid point: some of the bigger publishers have taken the piss lately. Foremost amongst them is Ubisoft, which in 2014 put out the basically broken Assassin’s Creed Unity, and spoiled the potential of free-roam driving game The Crew by throwing an assault of repetitive micro-missions at a barely-there plot. I wanted the open road; I got offended, quickly.

The Crew also incorporated a currency called Crew Credits, essential for acquiring the very best vehicles. These could be earned, but also bought with real money, Polygon calling this economy “occasionally downright contemptuous”. As for Unity, there’s not enough space in this whole magazine to go into how much of a middle finger its restricted unlockables were to fans of 100% completion. What’s that? I can buy my way to better stats, necessary to pick all of these locks that remain otherwise resistant to my skills? See this? This is me, turning your game off.

The thing is though, David, so badly received was Unity that the next Assassin’s Creed really needs to excel, as buyers burned this time around simply won’t spend their hard-earned on another unfinished title that needs a series of patches to bring into a playable state. I genuinely believe that AC is in trouble: the Victorian London-set Victory had best deliver, but it need not be in 2015. If Ubisoft rush that out as they did Unity, and it’s just as buggy, it’s surely game over for the franchise.

Casey West, writing just below David, offered: “Ever(y) game… is a summer blockbuster… Pretty but shallow. My PlayStation 4 is a $400 Amazon Prime box. Video games are dead.”

Quite the striking statement there, Casey. I won’t get into an argument with you over how you use your PS4 – hell, I watch telly on mine, too. But I will point out some rather great-looking games that are coming out for the system in 2015, none of which are likely to fit your “summer blockbuster” description. You ready?

There’s the slasher-movie tension of Until Dawn, challenging dungeon crawler Deep Down, the colourfully Ico-recalling Rime, the breath-held stealth of Volume, the hands-on pleasure of Tearaway Unfolded, all the pixelated blood your retinas can take with Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number, and the handsome but hardcore retro-RPG Hyper Light Drifter. I’d include the very indie No Man’s Sky in there, but there’s so much hype for said game that it can’t not be a big hit, whenever it actually comes out.

I could continue, but “Weaponized Messiah” is on Twitter: “I come back to VICE saying that this age of nepotism, corruption, broken and overpriced games is a ‘golden age’… we need #GamerGate.” Well, Miss or Mister Messiah (it’s hard to tell, what with your Standard Anime Avatar), all I can really say to that is: we need #GamerGate in 2015 like we need a 60fps-locked HD remake of Kabuki Warriors and a reboot of the Postal series. Happy new gaming, everyone!


The Best Music Videos of 2011 – Part Three

November 24, 2011

A third installment of ten? Sure. Watch the rest by, like, looking elsewhere on this website thing.

Yes, I’m allowing myself Esben here.

Apparat – Song of Los (from the album The Devil’s Walk)

Spankrock – #1 Hit (from the album Everything Is Boring and Everyone Is a Fucking Liar)

Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math (from the album Simple Math)

Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – The Copper Top (from the album Everything’s Getting Older)

Polinski – Stitches (from the album Labyrinths)

Childish Gambino – Bonfire (from the album CAMP)

Peggy Sue – Song & Dance (from the album Acrobats)

Esben and the Witch – Warpath (from the album Violet Cries)

Roots Manuva – Get the Get (from the album 4everevolution)

SBTRKT – Wildfire (from the album SBTRKT)

That’ll do, pig.


Forgotten Noughties #7: Adam Gnade, Run Hide Retreat Surrender

May 11, 2011

Adam Gnade - Run Hide Retreat Surrender

Adam Gnade
Run Hide Retreat Surrender

Loud + Clear, 2005

Sometimes I can’t write, my fingers frozen by what’s unfolding in my ears, even several spins down the line. That happened here: I struggled to review this record. I did find interviewing its San Diego-born maker easy, though – you can read the piece on Drowned in Sound HERE. Adam’s music – “talking songs”: spoken-word explorations of the heart and all its bruises, set to folk imbued with worn-down soul, wearing spit-shined shoes and drinking from whatever bottle the hand can grasp the quickest and tightest; disaffected, malformed, inspirational – really had no precedent in my head. Of course it did in The Wider World. But let’s not go there when we can sink, instead, into a record that to this day can leave me just a little shaken up. I should be grateful, I suppose. At least I can move now – apt, as Run Hide Retreat Surrender (commas, optional) is a collection inspired by movement, by travel, and all the experiences that one can encounter in the vast unknown of the USA.

Adam Gnade – Dance to the War

Adam Gnade – Shout the Battle Cry for Freedom


Forgotten Noughties #4: Isis, Oceanic

March 14, 2011

Oceanic

Isis
Oceanic
Ipecac, 2002

I’ll keep this brief: one, because it’s late, and two, because this isn’t an album that’s forgotten, as such. Though it’s far from held in the regard it could (should) be by the mainstream. Then based in Boston – they’d later relocate for the sunnier climes of California – Isis were admired for their debut long-player of 2000, Celestial, but generally seen as something of an avant-metal makeweight, a band for fans of Tool to consider not quite up to the standard of their favourites. Well, that’s how I saw them, from afar – knew the name, but the music didn’t make much of an impression (at the time). Oceanic changed that. A sprawling, complex work, it took the heaviness of preceding releases and passed a magnifying glass over the nuances previously buried in the mix. Some called it seminal. It has since been called a masterpiece. I saw the band play it in full at London’s Koko in 2006, and it was an experience I won’t ever forget. Yes, at its heart this is a concept record – but it lacks the prog-rock frills that are commonly associated with the tag. Instead, it forgoes fancy showboating for focused repetition, for few things done superbly well rather than a multitude half-baked. Songs draw you in, tumble you around spit you out. Each roar and groan, crack and swell, feels like something colossal – like a tectonic plate grinding against another, or the teeth of some fantastical behemoth – and the vocals, while following something of a narrative arc if read, are executed as if bellowed by a being far beyond this world. At times there’s no clue whatsoever as to the language being spoken, but the effect is mesmirising rather than alienating. Post-metal, some have termed this style, perfected on Oceanic and developed on the following Panopticon of 2004. I don’t know about that. “After metal” just doesn’t fit for me. This feels as if it has grown from a tributary all of its own, an evolutionary freak. As for the post-Oceanic scene: plenty have called on it for influence, and continue to do so to this day.

And yes, this blog is named after one of this album’s songs. My favourite, in fact, if I can allow myself to have one. I wrote rather more on it back in 2006 for DrownedinSound.com – read those words here.

For fans of: Tool, Godflesh, Mogwai
Download: From Sinking, The Other, Hym

Isis – From Sinking (it’s all about when it kicks back in at 6.22)

Isis – Hym


Forgotten Noughties #3: Bluetip, Polymer

March 7, 2011

Polymer

Bluetip
Polymer
Dischord, 2000

Oh look, thinks the newcomer, another scratchy, post-punk-y band releasing through Dischord. I’ve got a Q and not U record already, thanks. Wrong. Washington, DC’s Bluetip might well have the sharp guitars of so much jagged-edge rock circulating at the turn of the millennium, from the stateside underground upwards, but the Jason Farrell-fronted four-piece had something of equal importance, which ultimately makes Polymer the brilliant album that it remains to this day: swing, baby, swing. Wheras other bands were deploying their razor-blade riffing with bubbling funk bass and cowbell percussion, Bluetip’s M.O. was a rather more under-the-radar manner of physical coercion; their slinky guitar lines and snapping drums were tippy-toe-tapping in their skittering classiness. They could be the last band at the last Under the Sea dance at the end of time; you and your best girl, you’ll meet your maker with a broad, beaming smile. Half a world away from the sweaty moshes of so many hardcore shows, this outfit were always brighter, always bolder, than so many contemporaries. A shame, then, that Polymer would be their final album. Farrell would go on to front Retisonic, but they never produced anything as box-tickingly brilliant as this set, which packs in several memorable (and graphic) vocal hooks – “chipped your teeth now your smile looks serrated” (New Shoe Premonition); “Walking around with dimes in my eyes” (Astigmatic) – between music that’s both muscular yet lean, taut yet flexible. It welcomes the listener and allows them to take everything in on their terms, never forcing the issue. In another universe, Bluetip are where the Foo Fighters are, and this is their …Nothing Left to Lose upper-stratosphere breakthrough. The artwork’s cool as, too, Farrell making the most out of jewel case limitations with a cleverly cut design.

For fans of: Rival Schools, Gang of Four, Foo Fighters
Download: New Shoe Premonition, Polymer, Don’t Punch Your Friend (For Being Slow)

Bluetip – Astigmatic

Bluetip – New Shoe Premonition

Forgotten Noughties #1: Ten Grand
Forgotten Noughties #2: The Rise


Video games. I play them. When I get an hour. Which is rare.

February 22, 2011

Weirdly I have become more interested in video games as I have got older. Yes, I had a console as a teenager (Master System, and then a Mega Drive; then, for no good reason, a Mega CD), but a few years ago I got made redundant, bought an Xbox 360, and the rest is Achievements history. So I figure it’d be a way to kill time nice thing to do, to post details of three games that I am looking forward to in 2011.

LA Noire

Now this, this, has the potential to be my game of the year. Granted, it’s looking a lot like Grand Theft Auto set in 1940s LA, just as Red Dead Redemption set GTA’s mechanics in the Wild West. But I’m all for a game that can be picked up quickly and enjoyed from the off. Release date is May 20. Excited.
Wikpedia

Batman: Arkham City

Loved Arkham Asylum, and this looks like it’s going to live up to high expectations. If the gameplay’s been tweaked – so you don’t just play the whole game in stealth/detective mode – then it’ll get an additional thumbs-up from me. Which would be three. And impossible. (LOOK! IT’S HUGO STRANGE!)
Wikipedia

Mass Effect 3

OMG! Reapers on Earth! Amazeballs… maybe. ME2 was my favourite game of last year – it kept me properly gripped ’til the very end (and I made sure I did everything). So this… this… this could own my life once it’s out, which should be before Christmas. And Clint Mansell‘s doing the soundtrack, which is amazing. Might go revisit ME2, to get ready likes…
Wikipedia


Some albums out in the next two weeks that you might want to care about.

February 4, 2011

Ghostpoet

These six albums/artists are enjoying some serious rotation. Do records rotate if they’re played on an iPod? Are they even records, then? You understand.

February 7th

…Trail of Dead – Tao of the Dead
BBC review
Summer of All Dead Souls on YouTube

James Blake – James Blake
BBC review
The Wilhelm Scream on YouTube

Ghostpoet (pictured) – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam
BBC review
Cash and Carry Me Home on YouTube

February 14

Lia Ices – Grown Unknown
BBC review
Daphne (feat. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver) on YouTube

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
BBC Review
The Words That Maketh Murder on YouTube

Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
BBC review
Rano Pano on YouTube