Monthly Archives: August 2016

J.B. Harold: the multi-million selling series you’ve never heard of

A while back, I was curious as to which games have sold the most overall, so I found myself browsing through a list of the best-selling titles of all time. It included the usual suspects – Super Mario, Call of Duty, etc. – but one name jumped out at me: J.B. Harold.


I’d never heard of the J.B. Harold series of adventure games before, despite the fact that they’ve supposedly sold 20 million copies. But it’s hardly surprising that I’ve never heard of them, as the games never made it to Europe, despite their popularity in Japan and their western setting. The first game has been ported to everything from the Turbografx-CD to the Nintendo DS to the iPhone, yet it still hasn’t been released in my home country.

I wrote about the series for Kotaku UK, and it was particularly interesting to join up the connections between this game and Dragon Quest, Hideo Kojima and Level-5. You can read the article by clicking the link below:

The 20-Million-Selling Game Series You’ve Never Heard Of


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Spiffing Reads: Lemmy’s legacy, Atari box art and why they say games rot your brain

This week on Spiffing Reads we start off with that old bone of contention – mainstream press railing on about how games rot your brain.

doom skeleton

Why Mainstream Reporting on Video Games is Still Often So Negative (Kotaku UK)

A brutal but enlightening look at why games still get bad coverage in the mainstream press. Short answer: negative stories get more hits, and most mainstream journalists still don’t understand video games.


I Played No Man’s Sky With an Astronomer to Separate its Science Fiction from Facts (Kotaku UK)

I did an article for Kotaku UK a while back where I compared No Man’s Sky to the actual universe, but having an actual astronomer talk through the game is fascinating, and well worth a read. I love the fact that ‘Lemmium’ in the game references the real-life efforts to have an element named after Motorhead’s Lemmy.


No Man’s Sky is the new Destiny (Polygon)

This article makes the excellent point that often the game we see at launch bears little resemblance to the game we end up with perhaps a year down the line, thanks to transformative updates. It reminds me of something I wrote a while back about how the head says it makes sense to wait and buy games many months after launch, when the problems have been fixed and they’re cheaper – but the heart just wants to jump in to the bubble of excitement around launch day.


The ‘handsome weeping boys’ paid to wipe away your tears (BBC News)

OK, I admit, this has nothing to do with video games, but it’s fascinating. A company is trying to bring Japanese office workers closer together by making them cry while a ‘handsome weeping boy’ dries their tears. Gimmicky, yes, but it also gives an insight into the formality of Japanese office culture.

super breakout

Ten times the Atari VCS promised too much (Digitiser 2000)

I love this article. It reminds me of times spent gazing at the fantastic artwork of games like Centipede, and trying to transpose the blocky graphics into something resembling the box art in my head while playing.

Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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Quick Offload: Boring conversations

I’ve always found the notion that there’s a natural split between people that like Call of Duty and Battlefield and people that don’t more than a little bit rubbish. I’ve written before about how manufactured gaming culture is; and nothing demonstrates the arbitrary split between the self-proclaimed intelligentsia and the rest more than the vitriol from the ‘nerd’ side of the fence and the most popular shooters in the world.

It’s no secret that I happen to be a bit of a fan of the campaigns of the world-beating shooters that dominate the sales charts for much of the year. And although i’m lagging behind a tad, having played both Battlefield:Hardline and Call of Duty Advanced Warfare recently, I can say they’re bloody good examples of why in their own ways. They’re both good looking, adrenaline pumping actions games, held together by threadbare storylines that do just enough to make the twists and turns somewhat meaningful.

Much to my surprise they also both share something in common with a lot of people whose skin crawl at the very mention of their names: a deep reverence for Star Wars borne out through clever references to the 1977 original.

So to those who feign some level of superiority over choice or taste in video games, and critique others for theirs, I say this: Are we not human? If we pick [Call of Duty or Battlefield], do we not bleed?

Quick Offloads are short posts when we need to get things off of our chests but don’t necessarily want to waste too many words on them. But please add your words in the comments below.


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Maybe the new Prey does have a sense of humour after all

A while back I wrote about my worries that the new version of Prey from Arkane Studios and Bethesda might be lacking the anarchic sense of humour that made the original so memorable. Well, maybe I shouldn’t have worried after all.

As revealed in a new Gamescom trailer, the new game lets you turn into a coffee cup. Good work, everyone. 

See that mug? That’s you, that is.

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Spiffing Reads: Rubbish Game Logos, Proto-No Man’s Sky and Japanese Faxes

This week on Spiffing Reads, we kick off with a look at how magic in video games is in need of a radical overhaul.

elemental magic

Putting the magic back into magic in fantasy games (Eurogamer)

It amazes me just how influential the ideas of Tolkien are in the modern age. We still have countless video-game dungeon adventures with elves, orcs and familiar magic spells, like fireballs. But as this article shows, various novels have very different ideas about how magic can be represented, and video games could well learn from them. China Mieville, for example, imagines a much grittier form of magic powered by fossil fuel. And another example (which isn’t discussed in this article) is the representation of magic in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch (Amazon link), where performing spells actually rots your brain.


Modern Game Logos Are Rubbish (Digitiser 2000)

A cracking article that compares modern logos for games like The Last of Us and Battlefield with logos of old. Gosh darn it, modern logos are bland aren’t they? Most seem to be some sort of minor variation on the Impact font, probably in some misguided attempt to appear ‘grown-up’ and appeal to everyone. But they just end up being forgettable.


Playlist: The games that shaped No Man’s Sky (Eurogamer)

I was well aware of the debt that No Man’s Sky owes to Elite, but there are several space-exploration titles here that I’d never even heard of before. Captain Blood from 1988 sounds especially interesting.

japanese fax machine

It’s 2016 and I’m Buying a New Japanese Fax Machine (Kotaku UK)

When I lived in Japan, I distinctly remember having to fax someone to get tickets for an event. Bizarrely, faxes are still prominent in the country, as this great article expounds on. I also remember that in 2004, all the kids I taught had minidisc players rather than mP3 players, you could still buy VHS players and cassette walkmans in department stores, and practically no one used debit cards – everything was done in cash. Even buying stuff on Amazon involved posting off cash or postal orders as I recall. Japan – incredibly advanced and staunchly traditional, all at the same time.


Cognitive Dissonance and Contradictory Beliefs in the “Dead Space” Series (Philosophy and Video Games)

The first Dead Space game was so bloody good, wasn’t it? And Isaac’s ongoing visions of Nicole were one of the very best things about it.

Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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From The Armchair: Breezing Through The Backlog

ArmchairThe traditional ‘summer games drought’ comes as something of a relief for those, like I, who are imbued with a phenomenal gaming backlog. It’s a chance to dust off some unplayed titles and finally give them some time in the gaming spotlight before the inevitable deluge of games arrives in time for Christmas.

Then again, the summer games droughts of today are nothing like those in the past – even during the hottest months (or coldest months, if you’re down under), we still have a steady dripfeed of decent games thanks to the astonishing proliferation of games in recent years. A couple of titles have piqued my interest recently – notably Fire Emblem Fates and Tokyo Mirage Sessions: FE. In fact, I was most annoyed to have missed out on buying the lovely special edition of the latter (Amazon link here), only learning of its existence after it had sold out. I don’t normally go in for these types of thing, but I loved the Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water special edition, and I’m most miffed that the Tokyo Mirage Sessions one evaded my grasp – and now goes for silly money.

Look at it. It's so beeeaaauuuutiful.

Look at it. It’s so beeeaaauuuutiful.

Still, I’ll get around to buying both games eventually – along with No Man’s Sky, which I’m fairly certain I’ll enjoy, even if it utterly failed to float Sir Gaulian’s boat. And speaking of No Man’s Sky, one reason that I’m racing through my backlog is to sell my finished games and put the money towards buying a PS4, so I can finally, FINALLY, join the current generation.

I wrote about Journey and Uncharted 2 earlier this week after finishing them, but I’ve also dipped back in to Killzone 3, which came bundled with my PS3. I’d previously played about two-thirds of it before eventually drifting away, and I headed back in last week with the idea of finishing it. But in the end I decided I just didn’t have the patience to see the whole thing to the end. It’s an odd game really – despite being set in space, it feels more like a Call of Duty game thanks to its preoccupation with military tech, and the way it features lots of soldiers shouting at each other in military speak. It also reminded me a little of Gears of War, except the protagonists are instantly forgettable, unlike Marcus Fenix and company. It also sorely lacks great big ugly aliens.

Pew pew pew pew pew pew!

Pew pew pew pew pew pew!

Still I was grinning at the ludicrousness of the Helghast, a.k.a. Nazis in space. The ridiculousness of the setting made it feel like an entertaining B movie, along the lines of Iron Sky. I was also impressed with the graphics, which still look astonishingly good after five years. But in the end, as I fought my way through various factories and corridors, I just realised I wasn’t enjoying myself very much. It felt like a battle of attrition, lacking the light touch of Halo’s better entries, and not sufficiently OTT to rival Gears of War‘s better moments.

It’s basically just OK. Not bad, but not amazingly good either. And judging by my reaction to it, I doubt I’ll bother playing Killzone 2, which I picked up for an absolute pittance a couple of years ago.

Last week I also dived into Sonic Generations, which is reputed to be one of the better Sonic games of recent years. The hook this time is that you get to play as classic Sonic on 2D levels as well as modern Sonic in 3D, the latter with his trademark skinny legs and beach-ready tummy.

"Where are we going?" "Do you mean direction-wise, or as a franchise?"

“Where are we going?” “I don’t know!” “That’s the problem!”

It’s no secret that Sega have struggled to recreate the highs of 1990s Sonic games, but I’m of the opinion that even those early efforts weren’t all that great. They were fun to play at the time, but ultimately the gameplay is incredibly shallow. And the concept also seems to be fundamentally flawed – the main fun to be had is in going really fast, but going at any sort of speed in the 2D levels means that you simply can’t see any obstacles in your way. Sonic Generations‘ solution is to feature lots of on rails segments where you travel at phenomenal speeds but basically have little or no control of where you’re going.

I played through the first few levels, and they were pretty good fun, but I felt my interest fade very quickly. I bought the game a while back, thinking that perhaps this would be the one that might finally make me ‘get’ Sonic. But I’m still mystified as to the appeal. And as I finally realised a while ago, I just don’t like 2D platformers that much.

So, having knocked off a few games from The Mantelpiece, I’m scanning the teetering pile for my next target. I’m on a roll now – could this finally be the year when I clear out my gaming backlog? Possibly. Although there’s always the danger that I’ll just end up buying more… Ooooh, look, Virtue’s Last Reward is down to £9.99 on the Nintendo eShop!


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Quick offload: No Man’s Sky isn’t going straight to the pool room

I knew something was wrong when my wife didn’t want to explore the galaxy in No Man’s Sky when I offered. “No thanks” she said, “let’s watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure“.

And after two days with the game I was about ready to watch its bogus sequel.

Planet one was a boring mess of a place that had me trek 30 minutes to shoot a rock and collect a mineral. Not that I minded at the time; every grand journey starts with a monotony of sorts. Just read The Fellowship of the Ring. But Lord of the Rings didn’t have seven hours of Hobbits piss-farting around in the Shire. Sure you’ll travel the galaxy and see new things, – but in No Man’s Sky you’ll never feel like you left Bag-End.

Perhaps it’s my fault.  I made the mistake of taking No Man’s Sky out for a game of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016. But when I picked up the cover and reflected on my first few hours with the game I didn’t want to put it back in. And from there it went straight to the back of the shelf where it’ll probably sit gathering dust forever after.

I don’t want to labour on if the game is objectively good or bad. So here you go: No Man’s Sky is utterly boring. Whether fifteen blokes situated somewhere in Guildford made the game or not is completely and utterly irrelevant. I’ve seen teams of five model entire economies and teams of two review multiple-hundreds of pages of legislation. Video games aren’t magical. They’re not special. And making them isn’t any harder than any other job on the planet. And if they’re treated and critiqued as if they are then we’re all missing the bloody point.

In short: No Man’s Sky isn’t going anywhere near the pool room.

Quick Offloads are short posts when we need to get things off of our chests but don’t necessarily want to waste too many words on them. But please add your words in the comments below.

This isn't an animal...


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