Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel was the killer

I’ve somehow managed to float through life blissfully ignorant of the exploits of Jack the Ripper. And I for one thank my lucky bloody stars for that, because to be quite frank if Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper is any indication, Mister Ripper was a tiny bit of a dick.  It wasn’t just the whole preying on prostitutes thing, it was the calculation and callousness behind the brazen attacks, not to mention the surgical nature of the mutilations.  I can absolutely see why the people of Whitechapel were living in fear of the man.  Or men.  Or woman.  Or women.

Welcome to 1888 I hear you say.

There’s a part of me that wishes that wishes I remained unaware of Jack the Ripper’s exploits and that I wasn’t compelled to read more about the real life cases.  But I don’t at all regret coming to know about the socio-economic and racial issues that plagued certain parts of London throughout his time.  While the game obviously takes some liberties in writing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective duo into Jack the Ripper’s London, its parallels to the gritty world that was perhaps the catalyst for his murders are striking, and the uncensored picture it paints is one that transcends some of the the rough technical edges of and rather contrived puzzle solutions in the game.

Perhaps it’s my Australian colonial mindset, but when one thinks of London at the turn of the century, one thinks of opulence and the height of the United Kingdom’s imperial power.  But life in Whitechapel in 1888 was far from that, and even in absence of a maniacal serial killer treating the ladies of the night as surgical subjects, day to day life seemed for most a struggle.  Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper doesn’t pull any punches in depicting the vicissitudes of life in London, from the religious persecution and racial tension between the Jewish community and the born and bred Londoners, to the mistreatment and commoditisation of lower-class young women and children, Whitechapel was far from a bastion of British imperial wealth.  And this greater understanding of the time and place in which Jack lived makes me surprised it didn’t happen more often.

If anything Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper taught me more about why and how Jack the Ripper managed to get away with the murders, rather than who Jack the Ripper actually was.  Whitechapel at the time was far from a cohesive society, one that created the perfect storm for a calculated and for all money wealthy person to prey on the weak, and leave the segmented communities to fight amongst themselves.  While it is a great adventure game in it’s own right and an engrossing detective tale at that, Sherlock Holmes vs Jack the Ripper is more an exploration of how far society has come in the century that has passed, and how much better off we all are for it.

But it’s also a lesson in just how fragile society is, and the immense importance of inclusion and cohesiveness, in order to ensure everyone shares in our future wealth and prosperity.  Jack the Ripper was a function of the society of the time and if we forget how far we’ve come, there’s a risk he’ll strike again, leaving a trail of blood and viscera in his wake.  And Sherlock most certainly won’t be here to stop his murderous rampage.

Elementary.

SHvsJTR_Frogwares

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“Capital-gate” is stupid.

coinOf all the stupid things to be outraged about in the video games industry, people’s attention has turned to not whether developers are independent or not, but rather how independent they are.  It’s all a bit Blur crying foul on being called BritPop, really, as just being indie isn’t enough to appease anymore.  The traditional-modern image of the struggling indie in their basement coding away eating nothing but scraps from the floor is long gone, which perversely is a shame because the market – hell the media – need a nice sop story about people selling their houses and dipping into their kids’ trust funds to make their game.

Something is killing the bearded indies and people are angry and they’re out for blood.

So the pitch-fork wielding mob closes in on the not-indie-enough big names taking to Kickstarter to fund their passion projects.  What they’re trying to say amidst all of the pontification is that the big-name developers turned indie are exhausting the market’s capital, taking funds from those that really need it to fund their masterpieces, and just perpetuating the big budget publishers that brought the indie movement about in the first place.  They’re not of course, and so begins the long-winded analysis of what essentially equates to capital-gate, along with a fair share of stone throwing and pseudo-economic analysis.

And I’m not having a bar of it.

It’s ridiculous really, to think that people have taken to analysing sources of capital, and arbitrarily dividing available capital up according to who is more deserving on what equates a welfare scale.  Kickstarter is a great tool for budding developers to fund their brilliant idea, and directly connect with its potential market, by putting the idea out to market.  But Kickstarter isn’t investment and funders aren’t investors, and it certainly isn’t a wealth transfer mechanism to give the smaller guys a go.  Creating a hierarchy of ‘indie’ – or even excluding those with an existing profile – won’t change this.  And nor should it.

Kickstarter is a market not a social welfare system.  And as such, unlike a social welfare system, there will be losers.  But that is no concern of yours.

Capital?  Not quite.

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The pursuit of perfection

There’s something about racing games that just click with me.  The act of driving around the same stretch of road, navigating the same corners, and veering through the same chicanes ad nauseam brings me so much inexplicable joy.  The hours i’ve dedicated to perfecting my racing line are slightly embarrassing, and my ability to push through severe bouts of hand cramp are damn near legendary, but despite the vicissitudes that come with the pursuit of speed I’m drawn to the simple act of driving around in circles.

And around.  And around.  And around.  And around again.  Each lap your relationship and understanding of the hundreds of horsepower that you’re sitting in grows.  Every pass through a corner – Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 3 – you’re edging ever closer to the ideal brake point as you fly through the perfect racing line.  The feel of accelerating perfectly out of a corner is unmatched, nailing the apex is a treat, and feathering on the accelerator to negotiate even the most sneaky of chicanes is near nirvana.

I’ve always loved racing games, but my compulsion for constant improvement and pushing cars to their very limit to shave hundreds of seconds off of lap times, started with Forza Motorsport 2.  While the career mode was great, and the social aspects of the game nothing short of groundbreaking, it was the sliver of the game dedicate solely to time trials that had me gripping the controller for hours on end while somehow still falling into a semi-hypnotic state.  Corner after corner I’d feel myself edging further and further away from the ghost, and lap after lap I’d creep ever-closer to that perfect lap that would yield the perfect time.  And when I finally got there my heart would race and – almost uncontrollably – I’d sit back and punch the air with a clenched fist.  For that moment I was a race driver.

It’s a wonderful feeling.

There is something paradoxically soothing and calming about driving at 250 clicks, edging close to the tyre’s traction limit, and braking at the last minute to gain that crucial tenth of a second on your opponent.  Racing games have arguably been the genre to benefit the most from advances in technology, with everything from the look and feel of the cars to the behaviour of the grid when the lights go out, bringing an unprecedented level of realism to the experience.  Sitting trackside or watching motor sport on the telly is one thing, but the ability to partake in those literally breathtaking moments where there are tenths of seconds in it without the need for a super licence, well that’s quite another.  And when after 50 laps you’re edging up on the rear of the car in front, mere seconds away from a podium finish while somehow still only a mistake away from ending your race, well they’re the moments you’ll be thankful for those hours poured into learning your car and learning the track.

So if you want to know what the appeal of racing games is, it’s that moment, it’s the pursuit of perfection.  And I’m not sure that is something that ever gets old.

ForzaCelebration

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There is nothing wrong with rose tinted glasses

DKong94AMAPWhen I was a young lad first learning to drive, like most, I had the car I was aspiring to buy.  It wasn’t my dream car mind – that was and always will be the Lancia Stratos – but rather it was the car that was a little bit special but just not out reach.  That car was the Ford KH Laser TX3 Turbo, the turbocharged hatchback that was the street legal version of the sort of car you’d see flying around dusty and dirty rally stages, and the sort of car my dad as a former police officer couldn’t help but picture wrapped around a stobie pole.  And he was adamant I wouldn’t be in it.

Needless to say I never ended up with that car – instead I purchased a rather more modest 1983 Nissan Pulsar – but years later I still have a serious soft sport for Ford’s classic turbo-charged hatch. Even if it is old and quite frankly a little shitty, in much the same way most mass-produced cars are after a good thirty years, I still see it the same way I did as a bright-eyed teenager craving the freedom car ownership would bring with it.

There is something about the one that got away, and whether it be the blood-and-guts film  your parents didn’t allow you to watch (for me it was Terminator 2) or the much desired game you just never owned.  It’s these mythical things from your childhood and early adulthood – the ones that got away – that drive a hell of a lot of our nostalgia in our older adulthood. And until the moment you finally set eyes on it or pick up a controller and delve in it’ll be something of a white whale that you’ll never stop dreaming of owning.

That game for me was Donkey Kong for the Game Boy, which despite renting and playing to death, I never owned.  And I tell you what the moment I finally picked up 10 years after the fact was a truly sweet moment.  But it wasn’t without compromise, and in the ten years that had passed, the game certainly looked like a game that had seen a few christmases.  If I squinted though, the game was everything I dreamed it was, and I was happy as Larry playing a game I’d dreamt of playing again since before there was hair down there.

And it was great for a game that was released in 1994.  Just like the TX3 was a great car when in 1989.  And if you contextualise things that way, you’ll never be disappointed.

You see I’ll likely never own that automotive object of my teenage affection, but I’ll always have the desire to own one, even when rationally that would be a significant down step from the car I actually drive.  But nostalgia is a magical thing, if you let it be, and rose tinted glasses can truly be your friend and prevent your childhood memories and aspirations from being sullied.  Because when you put things in context, every game is as good as it was the day it was released.  You just need to stop saying “it hasn’t aged well”, because that game could well be someone’s TX3.

Hasta La Vista, Baby.

Sir Gaulian is a self-confessed bogan, a racing game fan, and the (somehow still) proud owner of a Casio Edifice Red Bull Racing watch.  He dreams of a world where the next Formula One game is a little bit more like Persona.  Yes, really.

KFLaser

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Racing games need to work on simulating sunglasses

It’s been a pretty jam-packed 12 months or so for racing games, with Driveclub wowing some, Forza Horizon 2 wowing most, and Project Cars wowing all of those that aren’t absolutely over the genre yet.  For the most part racing games are tinkering around the edges, but they’re driving better than ever before, and certainly taking rather enormous graphical leaps toward making it at least look like you’re sitting in the driver’s seat of some of the world’s fastest cars.  And I reckon go you good thing, because no genre has traditionally said ‘technical showpiece’ better than racing games, something Gran Turismo made a point of shouting from the rooftops way back in 1997.  But that desire to have these games look as real as possible has started to grow a little sting in its tail.

And that sting is the enormous glowing ball of hydrogen and helium gases we know as the sun.  Imagine this.  You’re driving at a cool 250km/h down, finger poised over the trigger ready to brake, gradually easing off of the accelerator, knowing there is a corner somewhere ahead:

“It’s somewhere up here.”

” I can’t quite see.”

“Bloody sun is in the way”

“Hang on maybe if I squint….”

And then bang.  Before you know it you’ve hit the grass, your brakes lock up, and your car plummets into the track barrier at speed.  The race is over and with it your shot at the driver’s championship.

Lens flare and natural light effects look great, don’t get me wrong, but the extent to which it’s being used has become a little bit rampant. It was something I first noticed with Driveclub, which I didn’t think was a particularly great game at the time, but it certainly looked the part due in no small part to its amazing lightning and weather effects.  Well it looked amazing, that is you could see the bloody track, what with all the glare and flare.

And playing Project Cars – another stunner of a game – I came across the same issue.

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And just by way of comparison this was me in a car driving into the sun just the other day.

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Look, driving into the sun isn’t fun, alright?  So to all you racing game developers out there, enough with the lens flare, eh?  Or if you’re insistent on it, for whatever reason, at least let me pull out a pair of polaroid sunglasses so I can at least see the track.

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From The Armchair: Sega Sentimentality

ArmchairWhat-ho, chums!

So, Ms. D’s two lovely sisters came a-visiting recently, and we ended up chatting about their video game habits of old. It turns out that the sisters three were once enthralled by the Sega Mega Drive as youths, and would happily spend hours passing the controller back and forth through epic sessions of Streets of Rage 2, Sonic The Hedgehog and, to a lesser extent, Ecco The Dolphin (which left them “baffled” for the most part, a reaction I can empathise with).

After hearing of this winsome Sega nostalgia, I immediately fired up the trusty old PS3 and promptly downloaded Streets of Rage 2 for a pittance – much to the sisters’ delight. There ensued a highly enjoyable evening of ass-whupping, nineties style – and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Ms. D so enthused over a video game before. As I watched, nostalgia took its vice-like grip as the siblings were transported back to pre-puberty…

Sadly it was an emotion I couldn’t partake of. As a Nintendo-devoted teenager, I only played on a Mega Drive a handful of times, and certainly never owned one – and it’s difficult to be nostalgic about a game you’ve never played. But having said that, it was wonderful to leap back into a simpler time, when games only required a couple of buttons and a big helping of bloody-mindedness, particularly before save games were commonplace and it was de rigeur to play through the opening levels of a game several hundred times, simply because you had no other choice.

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But although I’ve never played Streets of Rage 2, I’ve heard lots of very good things about it, and I was keen to sample it for myself. And what do you know, it holds up surprisingly well for a game originally released in 1991. Yes, the gameplay is simple, but there’s just enough variety in the enemies and environments to make it engaging, and the artwork still looks fantastic. OK, some of the bad guys are recycled a little bit too much, but the combinations they’re presented in change throughout, and the final boss is fantastic.

Buoyed by the wave of retro-gaming nostalgia generated by SoR2, I went on to download Sonic The Hedgehog 2, which the sisters greeted with misty-eyed joy. Yet I struggled to warm to this one like I did to Streets of Rage. Back in the nineties, I remember playing Sonic The Hedgehog for the first time and being blown away by the speed of it. Yet very quickly it became apparent that going quickly was actually a recipe for disaster – at top speed it was impossible to see what was coming next, resulting in lots of unfair deaths from unseen spikes. So even though the game’s raison d’etre was speed, perversely it did everything it could to stop you going fast – and the same is true of the sequel. I found Sonic 2 initially fun but very quickly infuriating, and once we progressed to the later levels my long-held suspicions were confirmed: i.e. that the first levels in Sonic 1 and 2 are by far the best levels in each game, leaving little reason to progress.

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Still, Ms. D remains a Sonic fan, and while charity shopping the other day I came across the critically lauded Sonic Generations for the PS3 for a mere £3. I’m hoping that both of us can enjoy this update of the old Sonic formula, and that perhaps the 3D sections fix that old Sonic problem – by actually letting you see where the hell you’re going.

But through all this, and despite the D sisters’ Sega sentimentality, my nostalgia glands have remained dispiritingly unstimulated, purely because I’m coming to these games for the very first time. So over the weekend I decided to treat myself to an old Sega game that I HAVE played before – many times in fact.

OutRun was a staple of my youth, being my go-to arcade game in musty waterfront arcades from Portsmouth to Porthtowan on many a family holiday. Recently released on the 3DS, 3D OutRun is an utterly wonderful update of the arcade classic, laden with subtle improvements but still retaining the enthralling gameplay of the original. As soon as I began playing I was transported right back to that beachfront arcade, the ten-year-old me peering over the top of the sweat-slicked steering wheel as I frantically stamped on the sand-covered pedals…

Ah, there it is: that sweet, sweet, intoxicating hit of nostalgia.

Toodle-pip for now!

3D OutRun

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Most Agreeable Moments – Speedball 2

speedball_2_brutal_deluxe_2The road to the top is a long and bloody one for Brutal Deluxe.  Week after week the boys run out onto the field and pour their heart and soul into the game, putting their bodies on the line, all for a taste of that sweet Speedball victory.  They may start as a bunch of young Division 2 upstarts and plodding veterans, but one by one they take their opponents down, on their way to glory.  Damocles. Steel Fury. Violent Desire.  They’re all notches on your belt on the brutal path to the top of Division 1.  And what a violent and satisfying path it is.

Speedball 2 isn’t unique in the feeling of accomplishment it brings with it – there is just something about sports games that gets me.  Whether it be the number crunching of the Football Manager series, or the Master League that made Pro Evolution Soccer such a time sink for me in the Playstation 2 era, there is something to taking a bunch of wooden-spooners up the ladder to a premiership.  But Speedball 2 is a bit special in the way you do it.

And so you train your rag tag bunch of blokes, you work them to the bone in the gym, and buy them as many pairs of Bitmap Shades and Power Gloves you can carry.  But no matter how hard you train, no matter how much blood sweat and tears your boys poor into winning, you’ll need help from the superstars of the game. And so you pony up the big future bucks to buy the Robbens and Sneijders of the future sport world.

They may be expensive, but it’s these mutants, these freaks of the game, that will be the difference between success and failure. And that’s worth saving your pennies and enduring some hardships early on in your Brutal Deluxe campaign for.

I say mutants because they kinda were just that.  Blokes with bionic eyes and tattoos on their faces.  Fellas who look a bit like they’ve come from a galaxy far far away.  And a guy that looks a bit like the love child of Prince and James Brown.  While they look like a freak show though, on the metal arenas of the Speedball tournament, they’re right bloody monsters.  It was always a violent game, but with these freaks on the field the blood flowed thick and fast, along with the bodies of the heavily armoured players as they fell heavily on the steel floor.  It’s this controlled violence that set Speedball 2 apart from other sports games.

And the moment you take to the field with your first superstar is a moment you remember.  The pace of the game changes and the game slows to a halt as the ambulance takes to the field and the game’s casualties pile up.  Winning by points is a victory, but winning by taking out the other team, well that’s an absolute drubbing.  And it’s a drubbing that becomes a distinct possibility when you’ve got bloodthirsty half-cyborgs on your side.  Speedball 2 is a blood sport after all, and when you’ve got Raw Messiah on the ropes in the final, you’ll be thankful for every drop of blood your lads are letting onto the floor.

Ice Cream, indeed.

Speedball2Celebration

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