In retrospect: Did we skip “Emergence Day” this generation?

Gears_COGIt’s hard to explain the aura of respect that Gears of War commanded when it was released toward at the arse end of 2007, but I think it’s probably fair to characterise it as a bit of a ‘statement’. For Epic Games it was a statement that said the Unreal Engine had the horsepower to drive the next generation of games. For Microsoft it was a statement that it was its own second-coming and that it had the dog’s bollocks to take on the big boys.  Gears of War signalled, a whole year after the release of the console, the arrival of the Xbox 360 in earnest.

All the pre-release hype and all the hopes and dreams of both developer and publisher culminated in Emergence Day.  12-11-2006.  Murals were painted and Xbox 360 Dashboard themes were downloaded.  Posters with the now iconic cog skull emblazoned across them, “EMERGENCE DAY” boldly bordering the bottom, hung from the roof of what seemed like any store that had even brushed past an Xbox 360.  Gears of War was a bonafide industry event, and its launch was Microsoft pissing to mark its territory.

On the ground it was the game of the season, and it seemed that every little bit of information that was farted out, was met with an equal and opposite swoon from the game playing public and media.  Even I followed what was happening, sitting huddle in front of the computer monitor whenever a new trailer or screenshot hit, trying to comprehend just how a game could look that good.

And it turned out for good reason because Gears of War was a beautiful and infinitely playable romp.  It was like the first time you spot a simultaneous equation – only for your eyes – as the sheer amount of detail screaming across the telly was almost incomprehensible.  But as your eyes adjusted it just became ‘moreish’.  The gameplay was similarly compelling and had that rare quality that the sucked time away while you were playing it.  It was the sort of game that you couldn’t imagine how things were before it, making a fair swath of of games redundant in one fell swoop.  Being introduced to Gears of War was one of many defining moments for the still fledgling industry, and with all of the gameplay innovations it brought with it, it became an important historical milestone for video games more generally.

10 months into the 360’s life and next generation was finally here.

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition has put the spotlight right back onto arguably the Xbox 360’s first blockbuster, and trudging up all of these nearly 10 year old memories with it.  It is a reminder of the importance of the marquee titles early on in a console’s life cycle.  The kind of impact a larger than life marketing campaign and all of the pomp and circumstances that comes with it can have, nah perhaps should have.  The importance of an event, a ticker tape parade, complete with a skywriter etching ‘IT’S HERE’ across the blue sky.

And then I realised that it’s been 9 years for the last one.  That that’s what’s been missing from this generation.  That this generation has skipped its Emergence Day.  Because almost two years in and I still don’t feel like we’ve been properly introduced.



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15% off Most Agreeable T-shirts!

There’s a sale on! Use the code SAVENOW and get 15% off Most Agreeable T-shirts until 11th August!

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My name is Jacob. And today I die.

StateofDecay_Boxart_XB1Tales from State of Decay.

My name is Jacob, and today is the day I die.

Huddled cold in a public restroom, cold, tired and bleeding, waiting for my inevitable end.  It’s dark outside and I can’t see a thing.  But  I can hear them, scratching. They’re at the door.  They know I’m in here.  It’s just a matter of time until they break through.

“It’s a simple run up to Mt Tanner and back”, my sister Lily said.  And it was, should’ve taken five minutes. But how was I to know they’d have taken over?  That they’d be there, waiting?  It was an infestation.  If only I’d known, I’d have brought Alan along.  He’s a wanker, sure, but he’s good with a gun.  I could use that right about now.

I’d only taken a step into the Ranger Station before they swamped me, the decaying flesh on their hands tearing off as they grabbed at my arms.  There were hundreds of them in there, or at least it seemed like there were, and I didn’t stand a chance.  I had to get out of there.  I took a few down, swinging my axe, blood splatting everywhere.  But who was I kidding?   I’m not an idiot.  I couldn’t fight them all.

So I ran.  I ran until I was out of breath. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore, and until I sure as hell couldn’t fight anymore.  Just carrying the axe is starting to feel as heavy as lead, let alone swinging the thing at one of their ugly heads.

There was only one option.  I had to find somewhere to hide. I had to find shelter.

And that’s how i ended up in here, trapped.

It’s a shame it had to end this way.  Alone, huddled in a female public bathroom, of all places.  If Lily were here she’d be laughing.  “You’ve got yourself in a shit situation” she’d say.  And we’d be laughing.  How we’d laugh.

I wish she was here.

She’s not.  But they are.  And they’re at the door.  Banging at the door.

I’m exhausted but I’m not scared anymore.

I was Jacob, and today I died.


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That strange old Metal Gear novel

I pitched the idea of an article about the Worlds of Power books to Kotaku UK a while ago. Little did I know how long it would take to write…

Worlds of Power novels

The Worlds of Power books are a series of tie-in novels based on NES games that date from the early 1990s. They’re short, aimed at kids, and not particularly great, but they were hugely successful in the United States (over a million copies sold), and they were probably what really started the video games to novels genre. They’re also deliciously weird, thanks to a few circumstances which I describe in the Kotaku article – which went live today:

The Metal Gear Novelisation is Super Weird

Incidentally, one of the editors added that ‘super’ in the title – to my ears it sounds a bit Famous Five. Is this how the kids speak nowadays? [Shakes head in confusion.]

Anyway, I ordered three of the Worlds of Power books from the US, and they took forever to arrive – and by the time they did, I had a new baby and was somewhat preoccupied, as you can imagine. I’ve managed to snatch a few spare moments over the last month or so to work on the article, but this one was tough – I ended up going through two unused drafts before I hit on a format I liked. It took an AGE. Whereas previous Kotaku articles have been fairly straightforward to write, I really struggled with this one for some reason – perhaps due to a lack of sleep now Merriweather Junior is on the loose.

Anyway, despite ordering three books – Metal Gear, Bionic Commando and Castlevania II – I only actually used Metal Gear for the article because there was so much great stuff in it. Maybe I’ll end up writing about the others sometime… once I get some sleep!

Metal Gear novel

Buy Metal Gear (Worlds of Power) on Amazon.


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This Amiga book is my new favourite thing

I decided to treat myself. I bought the rather lovely book Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium from Funstock, and it is awesome.


At 30 quid it’s not cheap, but it’s worth the money – the book comes in at around 400 pages and has beautiful colour images throughout, in addition to some fascinating developer interviews.


I was a huge Amiga nut back in the early nineties. I inherited first an Amiga 500+ and then an Amiga 1200 from my uncle, and I dearly loved them both. My friend Alex around the corner had an Amiga 600, and we used to constantly swap Amiga games and magazines, as well as play link-up games like Stunt Car Racer (above). Great times.


The book covers pretty much all of the major Amiga games in chronological order. I’d heard of most of them, and it was a wonderful nostalgia trip to be reminded of classics like WizkidRuff ‘n’ Tumble and Putty. But there were quite a few early games I wasn’t aware of or didn’t know much about. I was particularly intrigued by Cinemaware’s games, like It Came From The Desert (above) – I’d love to play a few of these releases that I missed out on first time around.


There were quite a few games that I’d completely forgotten about. Bubba ‘n’ Stix (above) was one, along with Soccer Kid, Apidya, Brian the Lion and dozens of others. I remember religiously reading Amiga Power every month to keep track of the state of the Amiga scene – I seem to recall that Brian the Lion didn’t come off too well at the hands of AP‘s reviewers.


One game that it was particularly brilliant to be reminded of was Guardian (above), a sadly obscure release from Acid Software, who I think were based in Australia as far as I can recall. Guardian was basically a 3D version of Defender, and it was incredibly fast paced and addictive. I’m surprised it hasn’t undergone a revival, to be honest.

Anyway, Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium is a truly excellent book, and a poignant reminder that the Amiga was taken from us far too soon – it really was home to some of the most innovative and fun games of its generation. I’d love to play through some of those classics again…

Click to buy Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium from Amazon or from Funstock.

Click to buy Commodore 64: a Visual Commpendium from Amazon or from Funstock.

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Is understanding 90’s Sonic the Hedgehog ‘mechanically’ where SEGA is going wrong?

SG_3DS_CVR SHT_2xThere seems to be no game series that is more self aware of how it has evolved over the years than Sonic. Which is why it’s so hard to understand why SEGA is still unable to troubleshoot where exactly it all went wrong with the long-running mascot’s appearances. Sonic may take his steps at a lightning pace but SEGA’s steps toward making Sonic the genre stalwart he was in 90’s are a bit like a rapidly receding glacier.  Sonic was delectable, but SEGA seem to have misplaced the recipe

Or perhaps the recipe was just more like the avant-garde Heston than the traditional Childs.  Perhaps the recipe wasn’t as simple as it seemed.  Perhaps it was something more experiential.

I grew up around SEGA, and in particular Sonic. Let’s be honest for anyone living as a kid through the 90’s it was hard not to.  The 16-bit era was the time where Sonic could almost literally do no wrong, to the point where he was practically ever-present, his tapping foot and waving finger seemingly on every street corner.  I vividly remember the presence of Sonic the Hedgehog games, from the first game to Sonic and Knuckles, standing idle at Mega Drive demo kiosks in Department stores music blaring across the floor.  The (then unnoticeable) flicker of the cathode ray screens was hypnotising, the bright colours of Sonic’s world mesmerising, and .  It was an exciting time to grow up alongside video games, and even though I was never an owner of the system, SEGA were an enormous part of why.

While I never played sonic in earnest, I was around enough SEGA kids at the time to have seen the games start to finish, without even lifting a finger.  The Green Hill Zone music could be heard emanating from houses right the way across the neighbourhood as every kid and their dog strained their eyes trying to keep track of the eponymous hedgehog, as he whirled frantically through loops and zoomed left to right across the screen.  I’ve never finished any of the Mega Drive Sonic Games – and only a small handful of the subsequent ones for that matter – but the all-encompassing nature of Sonic has left an imprint on me that’s been impossible to shake.

But by Jove, if you asked me what made Sonic so great, I’d be at a loss.

That said, even for me there is something intangible about what made Sonic the Hedgehog special, and as someone who was merely a spectator of the phenomenon, the 3DS Sonic Generations perfectly captures that certain unidentifiable quality.  The cheese-tastic electric guitar licks and garish visual design – particularly the geometric shapes reminiscent of the side panel of an early 90’s Daihatsu Charade – are a type of faux nostalgia evoking the period rather than the game in a way that many games with 1990’s roots have left behind.  Sonic Generations successfully identifies and recreates, and then contrasts, the enormous evolution the gameplay has experienced in the past two decades.  And that’s undeniably impressive, putting old Sonic up against new Sonic is a minor stroke of genius, and one that at the very least reminded people how much subtlety there’s been in the change.  But that’s certainly not what had my radar blipping.

While the speed is nice – and it is undeniably nice for a large proportion of those who played and loved it- there’s something a little more intrinsic that made the series so special in the nineties.  It may sound a tad wanky, but Sonic the Hedgehog isn’t just about the speed or momentum, but its about the sum total of the experience.  The look and the feel of the game – the attitude, the music, the character design, the sound effects – it all came together as a perfect storm.   In short, there is no gameplay equation that made Sonic what it was.

And perhaps that’s where SEGA have misunderstood the appeal of Sonic.  For someone raised on a tidy diet of the more euro-centric Giana Sisters and Turrican, the speed of Sonic was always off-putting, and I came out of the nineties with a fondness for Sonic in spite of its speed.  But despite that the notion of Sonic is still an exciting one.  The jovial tune Palmtree Panic juxtaposed with the sound of Sonic’s spin dash brings back an instant feeling of jealousy for those that had SEGA consoles, bringing back memories of birthday parties and after school hangouts where of which Sonic were often a major feature.  Is it nostalgia, possibly, but for those there and then there was something undeniably appealing about the Sonic games, and that something wasn’t just running at a million miles an hour.

So perhaps recreating 90’s Sonic games isn’t necessarily the goal.  Perhaps its about recreating everything that made it a phenomenon.  Perhaps it’s about evoking the same feeling of playing a Sonic game without evoking the mechanics that made it so.  Perhaps understanding Sonic mechanically is where SEGA is going wrong.

Is Sonic Generations a good Sonic game?  You’re probably looking at the wrong person to answer that question.  But then again what is a good Sonic game?   In the end it doesn’t really matter.  For an entry in a series that seems to struggle with its own identity, the portable version Sonic Generations perfectly captures my own memories of Sonic.  And honestly, I don’t need the extent to which it’s Sonic quantified, I’m just glad to finally understand what all my childhood friends’ fuss was about.



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