Thursday, November 10, 2011

What I've Been Up To

Too Much Sex & Violence #1 is out!



I've not seen a copy yet, but it's been getting good reviews. Rol has pencilled me in -- pun sort of intended -- for a few pages in the third issue, and I should be getting a script for that in the next couple of weeks. I had good fun drawing the introduction of vampiric DJ Gary Gore and I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a tiny bit of jealousy that someone else is drawing him in #2 -- and maybe #3 too -- but I'm looking forward to seeing what I get in the next batch of pages.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Future Is Not So Much Dark, But Boring (Part 2)

Remember UFO: Enemy Unknown -- or X-COM if you're a Colonial -- that great strategy game that took the mechanics of the wonderful Laser Squad and bolted them on to a setting not altogether dissimilar to Gerry Anderson's UFO? It was quite popular.

Just like Syndicate it's coming back! Just like Syndicate it's coming back as a first-person shooter.

Sigh.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Future Is Not So Much Dark, But Boring

I was, for just a moment, excited that there's a new Syndicate game on the way, as the original was one of my favourites back in the day. I had most fun running around the cities and using the Persuadertron to brainwash every living thing. So, yes, excited. Then I read the article and saw the screenshots and, oh look, it's another first-person shooter -- or Doom-clone as we called them in the old days -- and that's killed my interest stone dead. What's wrong with the video game industry these days? Why the chronic lack of imagination?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Xenobonus

I ordered the new Wii rpg Xenoblade Chronicles, but I decided I wouldn't start playing it until I'd cleared at least one game from my current backlog. I've been near the end of Final Fantasy XII for a while, but I've been reluctant to go for the final push until I'd mopped up some of the subquests and side missions. As of today, I've done that, so I cracked open the Xenoblade box.

Hang on, what's that little flash of blue there under the clip that holds the manual?

Well, that's unexpected:

It's not much, but giving away a little freebie like that is a nice touch. Well done, Nintendo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Too Much Sex and Violence


Starting September - a new comic written by Rol Hirst.

Issue #1 art by Andrew Cheverton, Paul Rainey, Kelvin Green, Nigel Lowrey, Mark Renhard, Martin Eden, Adrian Bamforth and Rob Wells. Design by Dave Metcalfe-Carr.

Future issues to include art by Dave Metcalfe-Carr, Chris Askham, Tony McGee, Ryan Taylor, Neil Cavenham, Stephen Prestwood and others...

To be sure you don't miss the latest updates, sign up at rolhirst.co.uk

Monday, July 18, 2011

Again, Not Dead, Just Rubbish

I've been busy. Work -- the thing which I once enjoyed but now only tolerate -- has picked up, but due to cutbacks and layoffs, there aren't enough people to do the work, so there's that. The big drain -- although drain implies something negative, and this is anything but -- on my time at the moment is my art. I have been producing a lot of art in the past few weeks, often to short deadlines, and I haven't had much time for much else.

I've also not been able to talk about it much, or rather I'd prefer to go into detail when the stuff is released; I've got some art in a number of upcoming publications, a couple of which should be coming out soon, and some others coming out towards the end of the year. The big news on that front is that people are starting to pay for this stuff, and I've made a tidy profit over the past few weeks, although given the cost of materials, almost anything above a quid is a profit.

My PJANG! strip is going nowhere, although I am working on something else -- I don't know if it's been announced, so I won't go into too much detail -- with Rol in the meantime, and I'm still trying to plough through Don Quixote; I passed the half way mark a few days ago and the second half of the book is much more interesting. It's all gone very self-referential and one almost expects Cervantes himself to turn up in a fiction suit.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Madame Vastra, Consulting Detective


A very quick sketch of Madame Vastra, a Victorian sword-wielding lizard detective, introduced in the Doctor Who episode "A Good Man Goes to War". She's a fantastic character with a great deal of potential, and if there's not a spinoff forthwith, I shall be disappointed indeed.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Das (Re) Boot

This week sees my first exhibition. Sort of. A few months ago, a friend of a friend asked if I could provide some artwork for her media practice degree project, the original plan being some kind of mural. The mural was kiboshed by those in charge, so the image got reworked as a large canvas that is to be hung as a background to the main piece:

The Re-Boot Sale is an interactive installation that questions the proposed ephemerality of media in the digital age. Conceptually grounded in tactical media practices, it aims to demonstrate the political and environmental repercussions of a society over-saturated with new technologies. Notions of technology fatigue are also explored in order to examine the possible emotional effects that such saturation may have.

The Re-Boot Sale encourages participants to have a traditional, mechanical interaction with objects and invites them to bring an unwanted piece of media to leave behind, explore the media already there and leave with something ‘new’. Visitors can also record feedback about their swap on a replica arcade machine. This prominent feature both encapsulates the change in technology as it too has become replaced by modern counterparts, and also by creating a lasting record of the event, challenging proposed notions that digitisation produces intangible art.

With original art work by Kelvin Green, designed specifically for the project, a panoramic canvas portrays our future waste sites. Littered only by unwanted media that has become passé, undesirable or forgotten; mirroring the space which it adorns.

Now to be honest I'm sort of dreading seeing my art up on the wall for all to see, but on the other hand I'm not sure I'm going to have this kind of opportunity ever again, so I'm staring in any direction other than that of the gift horse.

If you're in the area of the University of Sussex between the third and eighth of June, then do pop in and have a look.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Quickie Film Reviews: Ponyo (2008)

Splash meets The Fifth Element, with a little bit of Coccoon. Beautiful -- and defiantly non-3D non-CGI -- animation, and perhaps the most pleasant post-apocalyptic film I've ever seen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gave Up On Thrones

My problem with A Game of Thrones was that everybody in the A plot was a self-destructive idiot, while the B plot -- the Conan and the Horse Lords stuff -- was dull, which is quite the achievement when one's dealing with rampaging barbarian tribes, mysterious witches and legendary dragons.

The good news about the TV adaptation is that it's very faithful to the book. The bad news about the TV adaptation is that it's very faithful to the book.

Of course, everyone loves it, and a friend of mine posits the cretinous ramblings of the cast as a plus point, saying it's more realistic somehow. No. It's not realistic, rather it's the equivalent of those rubbish slasher movies where teenagers wander off alone to investigate that noise in the cellar. Now I'm quite a fan of the rubbish slasher movie, but this one is running to five hours and counting, and that's pushing it.

In fairness, the TV show does improve on the book in some places. The cast is excellent -- aside from Lena Headey, who does her usual squinty, frowny "I'm trying to remember something really obscure" acting -- and the writers have the benefit of knowing what's coming up in the next few books, so they've gone back and fleshed out some of the characters with that in mind.

They're all still idiots though, and I can't watch any more of them doing incredibly stupid things just so the plot can progress.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Who's Going On?

I can't wait to see what Rol says about last night's Doctor Who; he's made his dislike of Neil Gaiman's work very obvious in the past, but I had very few complaints -- and those minor -- about the episode. In fact, my only real complaint was that the "old" console room was just the previous one, as I would have liked to have seen one of the proper old consoles make a one-off return.

There wasn't much of the metaplot this episode, beyond an obvious reference to River Song, but there were some loose ends and notes that may yet prove significant.

I'm still convinced that the Future Doctor is from a rotten timeline and it's our Doctor who kills him off in order to stop the rot spreading to other realities. I also think that Phill may be on to something with his theory about parallel universes, and not only because it ties in neatly with my own.

Speaking of The Rubbish Pirate Episode, in that story a character went missing between scenes; the general opinion at the time was that this was bad writing, bad editing, and further evidence of Steven Moffat's destruction of the Who franchise. In Gaiman's episode, another -- more prominent this time -- character disappears, and there's a bit of handwaving to explain his absence, so I'm beginning to wonder if there's something going on there. Probably not -- I suspect I'm being something of an apologist -- but watch out for disappearing characters in future episodes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Arrival!

This is Rol's fault. He's uncovered a wonderful site that can tell you which Marvel comics were on sale the day you were born, and of course I couldn't resist having a look for myself.

It's not a bad month, although the comics on sale the week I was born are not too impressive. That said, there is this:


I'll take that.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Do You Take This Police Box

Much of the preview material for "The Doctor's Wife" features a prominent female guest star, and it's clear that the BBC want us to believe that she is the titular spouse. This is going to be a bluff, and the wife referred to in the title will be the TARDIS.

The Doctor's time machine is often referred to with female pronouns, and the TARDIS is the only companion constant enough to be considered a "wife". The message from the other Time Lord is a fake, intended to draw the Doctor to a specific location so that some force can steal his vessel, and I suspect that Amy and Rory will be trapped inside, resulting in a long-awaited explore-the-TARDIS episode.

That's my guess anyway.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

More Moon

"You will bring the silence."

That's what the Silence said to -- a possibly pregnant -- Amy Pond in "Day of the Moon". What did they mean? Is her potential child something to do with them?

Moon River (Song)

Well, it's clear that this year's Doctor Who is going to be all about hints and mysteries. "Day of the Moon" answered some questions, but posed a lot more.

There is certainly a strong suggestion that the Girl in the Spacesuit -- and why did the Doctor decide it wasn't worth chasing after her? I hope this is deliberate, rather than choppy writing, as it was the only duff note in an otherwise strong episode -- is Amy's daughter, if indeed Amy is pregnant, which seems to be uncertain at this stage. The ending of the episode also suggests that the Girl is a Time Lord (!) or at least has a "time head". So, are we to believe that Amy's pregnancy is complicated by the energies of time travel, resulting in a quantum baby and a child with the power to regenerate? Who knows what's going on there.

At one point, Amy refers to Rory "dropping out of the sky" just one episode after River Song uses the exact same words to describe the Doctor. This is probably only to allow Rory to have his comedy misunderstanding regarding Amy's affections, but it's still interesting. Regarding Rory, we had something of an answer this episode to the question of whether he's still an Auton; he certainly remembers his two thousand year vigil outside the Pandorica, which suggests that the Big Cosmic Reset of the previous series did not return him to a fleshy existence.

River seems to have misjudged her relationship with the Doctor, thinking that he should have been intimate with her in his past, when this does not seem to be the case; we might need a flowchart to work this one out.

(On a not-unrelated note, I think I've figured out how River knows the Doctor's secret in "Forest of the Dead"; there's been all sorts of outlandish and elaborate speculation on this point ever since the episode was shown, but I think it may not only be very simple, but also right there in that episode, and it's been overlooked such is its simplicity.)

Speculation will focus on the end of the episode, and the Girl's display of Time Lord abilities, but the most tantalising tidbit for me was the unexpected appearance of a one-eyed woman peering at Amy through what seemed to be some kind of window in reality, and referring to her in the manner of a scientist or doctor. Why is Amy being observed my multidimensional cyclopes, and why do they refer to her as "dreaming"?

My big hope is that Steven Moffat and his writers don't fall into the Lost/X-Files trap and start stringing these mysteries out without a clear plan; from what we've seen from him before, Moffat knows what he's doing, but it's a worry. Still, it was a fun episode, setting up lots of mystery for the coming series, and we've got pirates next!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Possible Astronaut

This is not so much a theory, but more what I would do if someone were stupid enough to let me write Doctor Who.

The TARDIS team are all worried about starting off a paradox, but there's already one in action and all of the Future-Doctor's manipulations are aimed at fixing it. The astronaut on the beach in 2011 is not the same one we see in 1969, and it's the Doctor himself under that helmet.

(This is a theory based entirely on that one scene where the Doctor puts on an astronaut helmet and claims it's what "cool aliens" would wear. I think this is foreshadowing from Moffat.)

So the Future-Doctor is, by a work of cosmic irony, a product of a paradoxical timeline caused by the TARDIS crew trying to save the Future-Doctor's life, and in order to stop the paradox, the Future-Doctor has to die. Who better to do that than the Doctor himself? After all, as River says in a different context, who would you trust above all else to undertake such a task?

(This is also more or less the plot of Donnie Darko, but anyone who's read The Time Traveller's Wife knows that Moffat is not above borrowing from other sources.)

I do wonder if it's River under that visor, and if her killing of Future-Doctor is what has her incarcerated in Storm Cage, but that little throwaway scene with the Doctor wearing the astronaut's helmet strikes me as significant, in much the same way as that bit in "Flesh and Stone" where the Doctor comes back to Amy shortly after leaving her in the forest and begins speaking to her out of context. I knew there was something off about that bit, and I was proved right; I think the helmet scene will be much the same, and if I'm right, it suggests that the Doctor strikes the killing blow.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Quickie Film Reviews: Red Cliff (2008)

John Woo finally remembers how to make a decent film, in doing so upstaging Peter Jackson's The Two Towers and The Return of the King, but also remembering to include the requisite fight-while-holding-a-baby, Mexican standoff, and unnecessary flurry of white doves.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Electropop Cowboy

You Got Some Lord of the Rings in My Thundercats



One of the more interesting things about the original was that the Thundercats were invaders from another world, and that Mumm-Ra sort of had a point in wanting them off his lawn, as it were.

Also, there's not nearly enough Panthro.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nice Belt Buckle

In response to the Acrobatic Flea's post here:


Cap demonstrates the dangers of improper font choice.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lobster Thermidor aux Crevettes

From the BBC News Technology page:


I can't tell if this is a random glitch, clever manipulation of deliberate page hits, or someone at the BBC having a laugh. Given that the volume dial on the iPlayer goes to eleven, I wouldn't be surprised if it were the latter.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Carry On Fighting On

Fight On! -- the magazine of funny shaped dice and pretending to be elves -- has released its eleventh issue, and I'm in it.

Observant readers may notice that the image above is not my cover, but I did get the back, and I have a couple of other pieces in there. Doxy makes an appearance, of course.

If you also like funny-shaped dice and pretending to be an elf, you can order a copy -- in print or pdf -- from the link at the top of this post.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Death Note (2006)

Despite its popularity, I have never been tempted by the manga Death Note and its many spinoffs and adaptations; it seemed to be all goths and pretty boys, exactly the kind of manga I cannot get into. Lovefilm delivered the 2006 live action adaptation the other day, and I don't know how close it is to the source material, but it's really quite good.

Genius law student Light Yagami becomes disenchanted with the justice system when he discovers that many of the worst criminals get away with their crimes either through various technicalities, or a lack of confidence and courage from their accusers. It is then that he meets Ryuk, a god of death, who gives him the Death Note, a book with prophetic abilities; if a name is written in the book, then that person will die in whichever method is detailed by the writer, or a heart attack if left unspecified. Light sees this as an opportunity to restore justice to the world and sets about doing away with criminals. The police suspect that the deaths are no coincidence but can find no connection, so turn to another genius, L, so reclusive that he speaks to them through a laptop, his image hidden and his voice disguised. The bulk of the film details the battle between Light and L as they attempt to outmanoeuvre each other.

It's something of a cross between The Silence of the Lambs and that rash of US oddball-genius-solves-crimes shows, and on that level it's more than satisfying, with plenty of fun crunchy bits as we see the pair's plans to defeat each other play out step by step. That said, what impressed me most about the film, and where it has a surprising depth, is in the moral questions it asks.

It starts out as a bog-standard musing on vigilantism and the limits of the justice system, but as the story goes on, it gets more complicated as a result of how the characters develop. Light comes across as a cocky little git right from the start, although it's clear that he cares about people, and it's this combination that leads to his use of the Death Note; that would be enough characterisation for many scriptwriters, but they go further in this film -- I can't go into any details for fear of spoiling it -- and by the end, it asks the viewer some tough questions about their view of the protagonist.

This is all mirrored and somewhat inverted in secondary protagonist L; he's as clever as Light, but sees the investigation as a game to be won or a puzzle to be solved, and the larger question of right and wrong seems to be irrelevant to him. He also seems arrogant but it's less a sense of superiority and more like a detached distance, as he sees only patterns and numbers; he is quite happy to risk and even sacrifice people to draw out his quarry, again forcing the viewer to ask who they're rooting for in this tussle, and why.

For its part, Death Note doesn't provide answers. It presents two characters, each with merits and flaws and each tied into a number of difficult moral quandaries, and then rolls the credits. Like Princess Mononoke's intelligent examination of environmental issues, the film says that there are no easy answers, that life is too complicated, full of compromise and synthesis, and leaves the viewer to figure it all out. It's one of the most subtle, clever and philosophical films I've seen in a long time.

As such, one would think that Ryuk, larking about Light like a Sisters of Mercy version of Roger Rabbit, would spoil the whole thing, but the irony is that this black-clad god of death lends a light-hearted edge to the film. He hangs around as a buddy of sorts to Light, watching TV in his room and eating the family out of apples, and I have to admit that the character design is quite good. The cgi used to realise the character is a bit rough around the edges at times, but he's not in the film enough for it to be a major issue. His inclusion doesn't make the story any less grim or rob it of its depth, but it does rescue it from any possible danger of devolving into navel-gazing self-importance.

Death Note itself is only the first half of the story; a second film was released the same year, and that has now been pushed to the top of my rental list. We'll see how it compares.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Been Human

The producers of Being Human have always been good at putting together a finale, and last night's was no exception, going some way to making up for what's been a choppy third series. This series took a while to get going, with a fair bit of filler in the early stages, such as the zombie plotline that went nowhere, and the introduction of the teenage vampire Adam -- I have this suspicion that they're going to bring him back into the main show, or worse, import the whole junior Becoming Human team in some kind of ill-advised Defenders of the Earth type setup -- but it picked up again with the return of Herrick, long overdue following the second series' cliffhanger ending.



SPOILERS BELOW!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Quickie Film Reviews: Night of the Comet (1984)

It's The Omega Man meets Clueless and it's very, very 80's. It's not as good as I remember it being when I was a child, but it's much better than it should be.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

So Real!

One of the reasons I bought GoldenEye 007 over Call of Duty 17 was because the former seemed more light hearted than the po-faced seriousness of the latter franchise, all macho posturing and un-ironic Dad Metal soundtracks. So it pleased me no end to see this:



It's an actual -- if short -- game, and it's also a reminder that there are some people in the games industry still with a sense of humour.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Quickie Film Reviews: Franklyn (2008)

Love Actually + The Matrix + steampunk = Why didn't more people see this film?

Quickie Film Reviews: The Black Swan (1942)

A bit slow to properly buckle the swash, but it has good performances, a great script, and a big fat Welshman who says "look you" a lot, none of which feature in the 2010 film of a similar name.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Inadequate

People are literally fighting for their freedom on the streets of Egypt. People are being beaten and shot just for demanding the right to vote. And David Cameron comes out with:

These are despicable scenes that we’re seeing and they should not be repeated. They underline the need for political reform and, frankly, for that political reform to be accelerated and to happen quickly. We need to see a clear road map for that political reform so that people in Egypt can have confidence that their aspirations for a more democratic future with greater rights is met, and that change needs to start happening now and the violence needs to stop.

It's cowardly, non-committal garbage, utterly inadequate in the face of events. For better or worse — no prizes for guessing where I stand — you are the leader of this nation, Cameron. Start acting like one.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Which Your Author Expresses the Opinions of a Traitor

I see that Toy Story 3 has been nominated for Best Picture, marking the first time that the eighth instalment in a franchise -- because let's face it, The Incredibles, WALL-E and Up aside, they've been making the same film over and over since 1995 -- has got the nod. It's also been nominated in the animated category, which it will almost certainly win, not least because it's up against only two other films and anyway, Pixar Always Wins.

It would take a goof of As Good As It Gets or Forrest Gump proportions for the Academy to give Best Picture to Toy Story 3 this year with such a strong pack around it, but that's not why it won't win. It won't win because it's a cartoon, and cartoons aren't Proper Films. The thing is, despite my hatred for the ruin Pixar has visited upon the animation industry, I would almost like to see them win it this year.

As the story has it, the Academy panicked when animated films started to be taken seriously -- in the US that is; everyone else was already grown up enough to realise that cartoons could be more than trashy Saturday morning fodder --- in the 1990's, with Disney pulling their socks up and getting Beauty and the Beast into the nominations, The Lion King shortly after, Miyazaki not content with the traditional single masterpiece, and yes, Pixar's arrival on the scene. Being, at the end of the day, a bunch of stuffy old snobs, the Academy set up the Best Animated Feature award in 2001 so that there would be no danger of a mere cartoon showing up the real life actors. This backfired when pretty much everyone in the world asked why Wall-E didn't even get a nomination in 2009, despite being the best film of the previous year.

It's a petty, patronising little trinket designed to silence fans of animation and nudge them off into their own little ghetto, and it should be done away with. Even if it means Pixar pick up a Best Picture statuette.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Brain Eater

My primary artistic influence has always been comics. I devoured them as a child, reading them cover to cover then grabbing a pencil or pen and drawing my own stories on any bit of paper I could find. It's fair to say, however, that I was also influenced and inspired, in no small part, by the imagery of fantasy gaming. Now, since I was a bit of a solitary sort, this meant that I spent a lot of time reading issues of White Dwarf with no real understanding of what the articles were about, as I wasn't playing the games. For kids like me, there was also Fighting Fantasy, which allowed us to pretend we were playing Dungeons & Dragons, even if we had no mates. The books also had some great art -- and let's be honest, the art was often much better than the story/game in the text -- and because the British game industry was a bit isolated and incestuous back then, you'd see the same artists popping up in different publications from different companies. As a result, British gaming products of the time developed a unique look, quite distinct from the visual style of the American gaming culture.

So while the Americans would be getting this:

We'd be getting this:

No contest.

One of my favourite artists from that time was Russ Nicholson, whose work combined an eye for fine detail with a talent for making the fantasy seem eldritch and strange. His style wasn't all that similar to that of John Blanche or Ian Miller, but they all shared a proper evocation of the weird that you just didn't see in American fantasy art.

I was pleased to discover that Nicholson was not only still working, but had started a blog, and when he ran a competition to win a piece of original art, I jumped at the chance.

I won:


I've never been one for chasing original art, and I'm not sure why, as it's great to have a piece by one of my favourite artists. Thanks Russ!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bloody

Games Workshop's Warhammer is a juggernaut of a franchise. Its runaway success has changed the company from a single hobby shop in Hammersmith to an international corporation, and the game has expanded beyond the tabletop into board games, role-playing games, video games, MMORPGs, novels, comics, and even, in the latter stages of 2010, a straight-to-dvd film, although reviews haven't been too good on that last one.

Warhammer is the company's core product, but there's also a horde of lesser games, lost to the mists of time and commanding high prices on eBay, stuff like Chainsaw Warrior and Lost Patrol. Somewhere in between is a middle tier of games that have never been huge money-spinners, but have remained popular enough to remain in production, on and off, throughout the company's life. Blood Bowl is one of these, a Warhammer-ised version of American football, with orcs and goblins beating seven shades out of dwarves and elves, and with maybe a touchdown or two thrown in. In the game, players take it in turns to advance their teams up the pitch, seize the ball, and through applied brutality, agile footwork, or dead-eye accuracy, attempt to get the ball into the end zone to score. Their chances of doing so are modified by their teams' skills and statistics as well as a significant amount of luck, as generated by the rolling of dice.

In 2009, Blood Bowl was released to a number of video game platforms, including this DS version. It lacks the 3D environment of the PC and console releases, opting for a isometric viewpoint; while some may view this as a negative, and it does at first glance seem like a retrograde move back to the 16-bit era and a waste of the DS' capabilities, the viewpoint works in the game's favour, allowing for a wider field -- pun intended -- of vision, as befits what is, after all, a game of strategy.

Similarly, the lack of a real-time mode turns out to be a missing feature which is not missed, as the end result is something which is more or less a straight translation of the board game into electronic form. The original board game is strong enough that 3D graphics and arcade-style gameplay are not improvements but unnecessary distractions, and for whatever reason they were removed from the DS edition, it has resulted in a better game. The fidelity to the source material also means that those players who want a quick game of Blood Bowl, but can't find an opponent or don't have the space to set up the board, can instead whip out the DS and indulge. There is also a rudimentary local multiplayer option, as well as a "hot seat" mode, which may be a misnomer on a portable system.

All that said, some features are indeed missed, such as the wilder players and options some of the teams bring along with them, and while eight types of team are included it is disappointing that evocative races such as the dark elves and undead have been overlooked. It is possible however that only those familiar with the original game will miss these bells and whistles, as the core gameplay offers plenty of complexity to keep strategic thinkers happy. On the other hand, those same strategic thinkers may not be quite as happy with the difficulty of the game; while the single-player mode will prove a challenge due to an aggressive CPU, the AI does on occasion seem to engage in some wild and hare-brained schemes, such as sending players to the far corners of the pitch to await passes which are never likely to come, or withdrawing strong blockers from the front lines, and so on.

The game benefits from good graphics, with good designs and smooth animation, although it would have been nice to have some variation in how the players moved. There are some neat cut scenes during the game, with the referee stepping in to conduct the opening coin toss and adjudicate fouls, and so on, and there are is a brief appearance from the game's commentators, familiar to those who have played the board game. Perhaps the most important cut scene of all is that which plays when a touchdown is scored, and alas this is the most disappointing, with dodgy-looking cheerleaders and no variation in the animation at all; it would have been a neat touch to have included burly orc cheerleaders, ethereal elven cheerleaders, bearded dwarven cheerleaders, and so on. The game also lacks much in the way of music, with only one or two tunes in evidence, although perhaps a wise move to shun in-game music, which could have become annoying with individual matches taking up to an hour to play.

This lack of polish can sometimes be an annoyance, but the game survives. There are some glitches in the code that may prove to be a more fatal issue. Outside a match, the game can sometimes take a long time to move between screens, which could be put down to loading times were it not for the simple fact that Blood Bowl is a cartridge-based title. At times, the game can lock up during these pauses, necessitating a restart and the subsequent loss of data, most annoying during a league game where a team has built up money and experience over a season. Other editions have been fixed by updates, and a new version of the game was released in 2010, but neither have made it to the DS alas.

All in all, Blood Bowl on the DS is a very basic game, and the lack of features and polish can be a bit disappointing at times. That said, the core gameplay is strong, a faithful adaptation of a great board game and at the end of the day, it's the gameplay that matters most.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Where in the World?

The old laptop on which I'm typing this right now has seen better days. It should have been replaced a long time ago, but I was reluctant to splurge on a new machine, so I staved off the inevitable with some more memory. Then the hard drive failed, then the power supply began to fail, then the USB ports began to fail, and it became clear that the poor thing was heading for a complete system implosion.

So just after Chrimble, I decided to take the plunge and took advantage of the sales to buy a new laptop. Free delivery within three days, they promised, which was dead handy as I had the week between Chrimble and New Year off. Such are the --meagre-- joys of working in education. I paid my money, and got a confirmation email, so far so good.

A day later I got another email saying that I should expect delivery. I was a bit concerned, as I was told that they would specify the method of delivery in the email, but there was nothing of the sort. Three days passed and there was no delivery, and we were heading into the New Year weekend, so I sent an email to the company to ask if they could let me know what was going on. Update me they did, but more of that in a bit; all in all I had a sinking feeling that it was going to be delivered after I'd gone back to work, and so the endless dance of "Sorry You Were Out" cards would begin.

The night before my first day back I got an email -- from the delivery company -- to say that the computer would be shipped overnight, and they gave me a tracking number. Why they couldn't have shipped it overnight the day I bought it, I don't know. Sure enough, upon checking the tracking number the next morning I saw that it was on its way, and might even arrive before I left for work.

At the office, I checked the tracking site a number of times during the day, discovering that they had delivered the item just after lunch -- five hours after it set out from the depot -- but that there was no answer at my flat -- because I was at work, checking the tracking website -- so it had been returned to the depot. I then received a reply to my email from a few days before, saying that they'd delivered it but no one was home. Excellent customer service there.

I knew how this was going to go, so instead of attempting to rearrange delivery, I requested that it be held at the depot, and I would just go and get it myself. I'd be losing the free delivery, but the money spent getting to the depot would be a tenth of the amount saved by buying online, so it would still work out in my favour.

So this morning, I got up early with a plan to nip over to the depot, get the package, and get back in time for work. The first bit worked. I got to the depot -- which is further away from my flat than the place from which I bought the computer -- and discovered that the laptop wasn't there. Why not? Because it had been put on the van for redelivery.

"But hang on," said I, "I asked for it to be held here. Which is why I've come here on the train, and walked through the rain."

"Oh," says the depot person, "Well the van is still here, so I can go check for you."

"Yes. Please do that."

Indeed, the laptop was on the van, but because the van had "already been packed" they could not give it to me. Instead, they could deliver it to my house.

"Appearances to the contrary, I am not a man of leisure, and I have to go to work. Can you deliver it there?"

"Oh yes, we can deliver it there. In fact, we do a lot of deliveries to your workplace, and it just so happens that your package is on the van which goes there today."

"Well there's some luck!" I may have said, with sarcasm.

Back I go -- PAST THE PARKED VAN IN WHICH MY COMPUTER IS SITTING -- through the rain to the station, and then to work. At this point I discovered a hole in my shoe and the resulting wet sock. Back at the office, I kept an eye on the tracking website, fully expecting it to say that they had attempted to deliver the package to my home again, but in the late afternoon it indicated that the box had been delivered! Huzzah!

I nipped over to the caretaker's office and picked up my new computer at long last. I haven't booted it up yet, but I bet it's broken.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Neuph


Another image for James Maliszewski's upcoming Petty Gods, this time Neuph, the god of silent, isolated places.