Life Is Strange: Before The Storm- Video Games As Art

The first Life is Strange series was a surprise hit for its creators DontNod. It explored the relationships people have with each other and the way our actions have consequences, good and bad. With a time-traveling mechanic, it definitely had some gamey tropes but at its heart was a missing person mystery that pulled you in like the very best teen drama series, police procedural or Twin Peaks even.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm, is a prequel that explores the town of Arcadia Bay again but this time we control Chloe Price, the brash antagonistic teen from the first game who does not have the power to manipulate time like her friend Max Caulfield from the first game. What we have instead is a more intimate game about relationships we have and how nothing is simply black and white, but rather more nuanced shades of grey.

The dialogue can be a little too Whedon-esque and 'edgy' but it is heartfelt, earnest and most importantly honest. The game puts its heart on its sleeve and in this day and age it is easy to sneer and be cynical but it is a brave, intelligent game with soul. For me to experience a game that left me questioning the way I interact with people, is a remarkable achievement.

Streets of Rage 3- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

The early to mid 90's were a great time for gaming but it was still seen as a childish past time by many. When the Playstation released it tapped into to the burgeoning dance market where House and Trance tracks were popular and consistently hitting the charts. It seemed like a perfect mix; edgy games and oh-so-zeitgeisty music. However before Sony's miracle machine we 16-bit gamers did have a saviour of coolness and that was the inimitable Yuzo Koshiro. The composer behind the first two Streets of Rage games was a pioneer when bringing the sounds of the clubs into games. The Streets of Rage soundtracks are amongst the most highly regarded of the 16-bit era and rightly so. Whilst The Orb, The Prodigy and Orbital were getting into the charts, Koshiro was applying the music styling of the genre into his soundtracks.

Streets of Rage 2 was a high watermark on the Megadrive/ Genesis for both gameplay and music, so it was with bated breath that people waited to see what Sega would produce with the highly anticipated Streets of Rage 3 which would be released on a 24 meg cartridge!

The Streets of Rage Vinyl Soundtracks are things of beauty!

Upon release the Streets of Rage 3 game was made harder for the Western market, frustrating many with its butchered state and missing elements. The soundtrack was the same but tonally very different from what had come before and as a result quite divisive. The soundtrack was once more created by Koshiro but this time he was joined by Motohiro Kawashima, who had also worked on Streets of Rage 2 alongside Koshiro. The soundtrack was influenced more by the hardcore and minimal techno scene and so wasn't instantly as catchy as the original two soundtracks. The techno scene hadn't reached mainstream in the Western markets and so the grindy, repetitive discordant sounds didn't appeal to many.

At the time it was politely forgotten by the masses but as time has passed many have cited it as formative and an important video game soundtrack. So is the Streets of Rage 3 soundtrack worth your money and time? 

Well, first of all, being a DataDisc product the vinyl is impeccably produced and the sound quality is second to none. The double disc set contains the remastered version of the soundtrack that you remember from years ago. It has a lot to follow in the undeniably stunning SOR 2 soundtrack but in terms of production it succeeds. The soundtrack itself however is more difficult to judge. I have been a fan of old skool trance and dance since the early 90's but the discordant sounds and constant thumping, often without a discernible pattern, makes it a difficult soundtrack to listen to in its entirety. There are some standout tracks like Disco, Boss, Shinobi Reversed and stunning The Poets I but these are few and far between. The rest of the soundtrack is fine but nothing that you would want to go back to and revisit in your down time.

So is the soundtrack worth buying? For a completist a definite yes but for someone looking for a soundtrack to listen to and love? No. I'd go for Streets of Rage 2 or 1 as these are more instantly likeable and listenable. However, this being a Koshiro joint, you can't go too far wrong... even when he experiments and goes a little too left-field.

The Unofficial SNES/ Super Nintendo Visual Compendium- Book Review

Gamers like me have an affinity for pixel art as we grew up with it, nostalgia is a wonderful thing and we don't need to apologise for it. Pixel art itself was born out of necessity, this economy of design came about due to the various technical limitations but often where there are limitations that is where creativity prospers and thrives.

Over the last few years there has been a boom in quality books celebrating retro video game culture, including pixel art. Bitmap Books, one of the most profilic and consistently excellent producers of such books, have just released what is arguably the console which showcased the peak of pixel art... we are, of course, talking about the might Super Nintendo Entertainment System (the Super Famicom as it was known in Japan or the SNES to Brits like me who like to abbreviate everything). 

I kickstarted the softcover edition of the book for £25 and for this I got:

  • a softcover book
  • a scan line bookmark
  • a multimedia version of the PDF, which I was able to download
  • my name in the book
  • access to the backer updates

However what of the book itself? Well, the entire package is a thing of beauty as it comes coming protected in a tough slipcase with a snazzy lenticular cover. The book itself is a snug fit and has a spot varnish cover which gives it a feel of real class. The pages themselves are vivid and brightly coloured and make no mistake, this is a weighty tome with high quality paper that feels great to the touch.

Over the course of 529 pages the SNES/ Super Famicom: A Visual Compendium showcases the very best pixel art and box art. The book features over 100 classic games, with articles from leading developers, interviews with key figures in the industry and mini-features on subjects such as homebrew games, unreleased games (including the very recently released Starfox 2) and company profiles.

This all sounds great, and it is, but a real highlights are the occasional fold-out sections on games such as Street Fighter 2, Super Mario World and Chrono Trigger which showcase the beautiful pixel art in all its stunning glory.

The interviews with creators, programmers and various people involved in the industry gives real insight in small 200 word mouthfuls that break up the artwork nicely, offering a look inside the industry at the time.

The compendium is another excellent addition to the Bitmap Books roster of video game art books and it well worth the price. Buy it now as you won't be disappointed!

The Evil Within 2- Video Games As Art

The Evil Within was an intense and exhilarating survival horror video game which was released 3 years ago. The game by legendary game director Shinji Mikami wasn't without its faults but as a whole it was a fun experience and was artistically pleasing. The game cast you as protagonist Sebastian Castellanos, a ex-cop who was pulled through a distorted world full of nightmarish locations and horrid creatures. This sequel finds Castellanos trapped in an otherworldly American every-town of Union that exists on an alternate reality only accessible through a matrix-type machine. So far so video gamey. But what sets the game apart is the artistic stylings of the game as the antagonist is a wannabe artist who creates art installation from hell. Walls adorned with close up pictures of eyeballs, beautiful waif like figures contorted in strange ways whilst covered in barbed wire and bodies projecting spectacular showers of blood. The game is disturbing and well deserving of its 18 age rating but the art style is often spectacular and twisted, like the television series Hannibal. The Evil Within 2 is a striking game and well worth a look.

The video game is an 18 rated game and so some of the images may be unsuitable for those under the age.

The Last Of Us: Left Behind- Video Games As Art

I've already spoken about how wonderful the The Last Of Us was as a gaming experience and as an art form. The DLC, Left Behind tells us more of Ellie's backstory, illuminating us as to her motivations and worldview. At just over two hours the game is not long but it is still beautiful and filled with moments of awe and wonder. I won't spoil it but check out some of the gorgeous screenshots below.

The Last Of Us- Video Games As Art

The Last of Us is an action-adventure post-apocalyptic video game developed by Naughty Dog. The game was first published by Sony on the Playstation 3 but I only recently played the remastered edition on the Playstation 4 and what an amazing experience it was. You play the role of Joel, a smuggler tasked with escorting a teenage girl, Ellie, across a post-apocalyptic America as she might hold the key to saving humanity against the virus which has turned most of the world's population into rage zombies. So far so stereotypically game trope-y, but what sets the game apart is the excellent story, voice acting and gorgeous visuals. The whole game plays like a movie and some of the visuals are truly cinematic. Have a look at the gallery below and see if you agree.

Developing Healthy Discussion in the Time of Social Media

I blame the Mysterious Cities of Gold, this charming Japanese-French co-produced animation which charted the adventures of a band of ragtag children and adults in the new world, the Americas in the early 16th century, made me think differently about past civilisations. Was there such a place as Mu? Did the Olmecs, Mayans, Incas and Aztecs have a profound knowledge of the world which was beyond our comprehension?

Searching in the Ancient Civilisation sections of my local book repository, Barking library, I found the works of Erich Von Daniken, author of bestsellers like Chariots of the Gods. In his bestselling books from the 70s he postulates that aliens brought advanced technology and knowledge to the humans. Were aliens really the reason that these ancient civilisations had such profound and deep knowledge of the cosmos and achieved feats of technological marvels that we would have trouble recreating in this modern age? I blame Von Daniken!

Or do I blame the glut of quasi-science/alternative history offered by authors like Graham Hancock, Maurice Cotterell, Robert Bauval at al. In the 90s and early 00's they sold many millions of books and offered 'evidence' and 'scientific proof' of the origins and age of the pyramids at Giza, how they lined up to Orion's belt and how the different shafts within the pyramids pointed at specific constellations in the sky. The technological know-how and mathematics involved would be way more advanced than scientists and archaeologists would ever have suspected of such an ancient civilisation. The fact that the Mayans had developed a calendar and 2012 was potentially the end of the world or at least the deadline of a seismic change shook me, and millions of people who came up with doomsday scenarios. As for Atlantis, did it exist but due to the shift in global temperatures it sunk without a trace under the oceans and due to the shifting continental plates might now be under the ice in Antarctica? I blame Graham Hancock and the quasi-scientists of the 90s and 00s.

Then David Icke told me it was a massive government conspiracy by an elite few shape shifting blood drinking aliens from another dimension who want to keep the world silenced and take our resources for themselves. I blame David Icke.

Then I read The Da Vinci Code, the international bestselling fiction book which took the premise of the bestselling book by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, two of the three authors of The Holy Blood And The Holy Grail, which provided 'evidence' that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene and the bloodline continued in France. Was there a secret society protecting the lineage whilst another group, maybe the Illuminati, Bilderberger or Freemasons were seeking to control this ancient bloodline for their own nefarious means? Well I blame Dan Brown!

... And then I realised, there was a pattern emerging here.

We started off with the whimsical (MCOG) moved onto the fantastical (God was an alien), moved onto the 'analytical' (pseudo-science), then the dreadfully macabre (bloodsucking shape-shifters) and then the more sinister (secret societies controlling the world) and now we're moving to the neo-technological (post truth). This is an era where we have more information than ever at our fingertips but also live in a world with the knowledge that we are monitored, watched and scrutinised more than ever before. In this era I blame no-one but me, or us, the individuals. We have the wherewithal to research and look at facts carefully and concisely and with this information we can say or share something that can have a profound effect on individuals or the world- be it positive or not, yet many of us pursue the path of 'truthiness', a knowledge that certain views and opinions may not be actually based on fact but as they feel comfortable and truthful we hold on to them e.g. Trumps rhetoric of 'Make America Great Again?' To which the logical question would be, when was America great and how do you quantify this? Was America great for everyone in this period? Do African-Americans and other people of colour agree?

I've also noticed that with social media we have created a stage for constant artificial high dramas. To quote Jon Ronson:

Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It's all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people. What rush overpowers us at times like these (to judge and shame people)? What are we getting out of it? .... Nobody wants to ruin it by looking at the cost...

Where's the cognitive dissonance? The price for the lives ruined and broken in the court of social media? With fake news and conspiracy theorists being given free reign we live in a time where the Nazis are back, Science is seen as an opinion rather than empirical fact and those escaping persecution and death are seen as a 'swarm.' We live in a pretty apathetic age, yet we are surrounded by a huge amount of information about other people. If you felt like it you could gather that information yet we still hardly seem to know anything about people.

The former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined in 2007, and became its vice president for user growth, recently said that he felt  “tremendous guilt” about the impact his former employer has had on the world; “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works... The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops (like thumbs-up or hearts) we’ve created are destroying how society works...No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it’s not an American problem — this is not about Russians ads. This is a global problem.”

I think the rise of online harassment, social shaming and constant sense of outrage is due to the powerlessness people feel about the world around them, who do we blame for the economic crisis in 2008, Wall Street and the City sure, but who individually is to blame? It's much easier to be a SJW (Social Justice Warrior) when you see an individual as doing the wrong thing... Maybe we are aiming our ire with impunity at the wrong places and at a disproportionate level.

We live in the most amazing of times, we have the possibilities to change the work profoundly through our inter-connectedness ... But are we utilising it in the best way? I don't know but as a teacher I want my pupils to know the profound impact they could have on the world, either through their direct action or in the virtual space. I want them to be a force for good and look at things critically and evaluate the evidence presented rather than being in a constant state of outrage. There has to be a better way and we need to educate our pupils to be that better way.

Perfect- Video Games As Art

Perfect is an immersiveVR experience which allows you to move around and interact with three different environment, during the day and night. The environments are all realistic and the level of detail is pretty good for a download only experience, I say experience as it isn't really a video game but as a learning tool or an exhibition piece it has a lot of uses. We have used it in lessons as a stimulus for writing in English, connecting it to our unit on Kensuke's Kingdom.

Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia- British Museum Exhibition Review

The British Museum is one of my favourite places in the world. I visit the museum every couple of months and always find something new or interesting that I have missed previously due to the sheer number of objects on show (about 80,000, which is about 1% of its catalogue of 8 million)
The museum runs some pretty amazing exhibitions but occasionally something extra special comes along, something that blows your mind and the current Scythians: Warriors of Ancient Siberia, is one such exhibition.

The British Museum is a stunning building which houses the spoils of Britain's colonial past and its interest in antiquities.

For those not in the know the Scythians were fierce tattooed horse riding nomadic tribes, who at their peak controlled territory that stretched from the Black Sea to the north border of China. They didn't leave behind any writing behind but various historians from the time, including Herodotus, left detailed descriptions about them. Much of the primary evidence has been gathered from preserved burial mounds which were often left untouched in the Siberian permafrost for centuries.

Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia from 1682 to 1725, organised expeditions in the 18th century that retrieved many objects, and also handsomely rewarded the Russian people who brought forth items they may have found.

I have to be honest and admit that I went in knowing next to nothing about the Scythians. The only experience I had had with them was through the lens of the video game Superbrothers: Swords and Sworcery, a stunning surreal action adventure game in which you play as a young female Scythian hoping to end the evil she unwittingly brought onto the world by acquiring an ancient yet forbidden tome. So far so video game trope-y but it must have had an influence on  me as when I heard this exhibition was on I knew I had to go!

Swords and Sworcery had a beautiful art style and it was the inpiration for the background of this very website.

Swords and Sworcery had a beautiful art style and it was the inpiration for the background of this very website.

In the Sainsbury's wing of the museum the Scythian exhibition is on show until mid-January 2018. It is a large dimly lit place with ominous soundscape music playing.
The first section of the exhibition contains the famous gold plaque of the mounted Scythian which has graced the promotional covers and posters. The detail of the piece are stunning and considering that it is over 2000 years old, all the more amazing.
As you enter the main hall the remainder of the stunningly worked golden belt buckles are here. The level of detail and their impressive state of preservation show a people who were skilled artisans in the most challenging of environments.
Moving onto the next section, we get a further insight into everyday life. There are markings and artwork etched onto stone, many showing animals such as horses and camels.
There is the head of a Scythian in extraordinary condition on show with his accoutrements. It is all a bit macabre but fascinating nonetheless, like the fact that they liked to dress up warmly with squirrel and stable lined clothes. The men wore large pointed hats which gave them a very distinctive look, it belies the fact that the repertoire of weapons they carried was fearsome including aerodynamic poison dipped arrows, short swords and battle axes which looked more like picks.
The Scythians also may have used fake beards for ceremonial reasons and one is in a good state of repair here. It's all a bit puzzling as accounts from the time say they liked to have long hair and beards and only shaved for death rites but this piece shows that there must have been a need for it somewhere in their life.
There are also signs that they liked to get high and drunk with accounts of the time saying they were fearsome drinkers of Greek wine. They also liked to get high by throwing hemp seeds into a fire in sweat lodges to bond. I have to say that they sound positively delightful and it makes a change from the typical polite dinner parties I occasionally go to now.
The highlight here though is the saddlebag which contains 2 small lumps of cheese which are 2500 years old! That's mind blowing for someone who only likes Cheddar, Baby Bell, Dairylee Triangles or Cheese Strings when he's feeling a little adventurous.

The rest of the exhibition shows the influence of other people who they either traded or fought with the Scythians, and with this interaction came an intermingling of ideas and beliefs. There is a cauldron with a distinctively Chinese styling and as the Scythians did get as far east as China this seems perfectly likely.
Over time the Scythians were overtaken by other groups and their life and their history was forgotten for a time. However through Peter the Great's endeavours and various expeditions into the inhospitable Siberian landscape we are lucky enough to have some their finest works at the British Museum.
The exhibition is only until January and is one loan from the Hermitage in Russia, so this may be the only chance to see it. If you have even a vague interest make sure you do pay a visit.

Thomas Was Alone- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

Black Screen Records and composer David Housden have teamed up to release the original soundtrack to Mike Bithell’s meditative indie darling game Thomas Was Alone on 180g vinyl.

For those not in the know, Thomas Was Alone is a minimalist 2D platformer about friendship, teamwork and sacrifice. In the game you take control of Thomas, who is initially alone, but along the way you meet and control many other characters all who have special individual powers and differing personalities. Over the course of the game you guide your group of quadrilaterals through a series of obstacles, using their different skills together to get to the end of each environment. So far, so video game 101. However what elevates this game to multi-award winning heights is the stunning soundtrack which accompanies the beautifully wistful yet soulful narration read by comedian Danny Wallace. The story that's told is more complex than many AAA games I have played and the music accompanying it adds to this drama; I have cared more for these quadrilaterals than many other protagonists in other games, heck I even bought the 'action figures' when they were released a few years ago. Yup I bought a collection of 3D quadrilaterals because this game and its music connected with me on some profound level.

The soundtrack features minimalist pianos and ambiences fused with lush strings and ethereal synths. Although this album only has 13 tracks, which feature a lot of repeating motifs, the consistency and effective re-use of simple chord progressions and melodic phrases make each track seem different but complementary to what has gone before. As a whole the soundtrack feels like a tapestry, each track is part of a bigger whole with familiar themes and motifs.

My favourite track off the album is 'A Time For Change,' a powerful emotive track that is triumphant yet tinged with sadness. It is played at a key point in the game and so carries with it a lot of weight and power. I listen to this album daily, which at the point of writing is over 5 years old.

Sometimes in your life you find that you connect with something, it could be a book, a film or a track or album. It gets under your skin and becomes something more than the sum of its parts and I think this game and especially the soundtrack is that something for me. It's not something I can explain but this album and the majesty of some of the tracks gets me every time I listen to it.

I loved the game so much that I even made it part of my websites wallpaper.

The vinyl is a stunning release and I am extremely pleased with it. This album is a must have for any fans of shoegazing etherealness.

No Man's Sky- Video Games As Art

As a kid the idea of discovering new planets and flying in my own little space- ship in a galaxy that stretched out to infinity excited me when playing make-believe. Now No Man's Sky brings this to reality with its procedurally generated space exploration game. There are many different modes but if you start on Create mode you are given all the tools to hop into your craft and head to the stars. There are millions of planets to explore and all are enticing, some with vibrant foliage, interesting strange alien creatures and stunning sunsets and landscapes. When initially released a year ago the game had a few issues as the planets were, more often than not, often brown rocks with a few plants strewn around however with the new free update the planets feel more alive. With the new photo mode you can take stunning pictures at any time and I below I have taken a few to show off the artistic side of the game. I will be using the game as a stimulus for writing when we compose a fantasy/ sci-fi setting for our writing.

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier - Book Review (No Spoilers)

Twin Peaks: The Return premiered in May of 2017, and consisted of 18 episodes. David Lynch described the work as an 18 hour movie and for fans of the director that's exactly what they got, a confounding and occasionally frustratingly long movie with his usual level of abstraction, ambiguity and strangeness.
Many questions that were left unanswered since season 2 were left unanswered at the close of this new season and the fate of certain characters and the time line of events meant that much was open to interpretation. Added to that were the myriad of new questions that arose from the latest season and the interest on online forums and message boards reached fever pitch as people tried to figure out exactly what was going on.

When co- creator Mark Frost, announced a new book that would help to fill in the gaps and answer the many many loose ends fans were excited. Last year, with The Secret History of Twin Peaks, Frost provided fans of the show with the rich storied lore of the town and its people. It was written in a creative and unique style with archival images, newspaper clippings, FBI reports and annotations by the 'Archivist.' It added much to the series and enhanced the viewing experience for many, me included.

The Final Dossier answers almost all of the main questions, or at least gives the reader enough information from which to draw their own conclusions. Written from the point of view of FBI Agent Tammy Preston, who was ably played by Chrysta Bell in the show, we get extra background information on many of the unique residents.

A beautiful looking book but for me the contents was underwhelming.

For those left miffed at Audrey's minimal time on the show and shocking reveal you are provided with information on her background if not her fate as shown in the programme. We learn who funded the observation and operation of the mysterious glass box and what exactly happened to Major Briggs.
Also for those seeking a resolution to the season 2 cliffhanger, we finally find out what happened to Annie!
The information contained in this book is important and explosive for fans but also feels strangely underwhelming. It's hard to explain but it's like reading the Cliff Notes of a Shakespeare play or seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time as a low resolution jpeg. When  taken alongside the stunning limited television event, groundbreaking original series, operatic Fire Walk With Me film or even Frost's The Secret History of Twin Peaks, this book, although essential, seem like a lesser piece of work.

Not only are there no entries for the Palmer, Deputy Hawk, Dale Cooper or Diane but the writing style is lacking the verve and sheer excitement of Frost' s other book. I know that as an FBI dossier it is supposed to read as matter of fact but for the reader it is difficult to get excited about what amounts to little more than a brief outline of what happened to each character.

This is a difficult book to evaluate as it contains essential information for any Twin Peaks fan but is also quite dry. Also, as is often the case with revealing too much, the mystique is lost. For example the monsters that were Hannibal Lector, the vampire Lestat or Darth Vader were better before their origins reveal. Did anyone walk away feeling better after knowing Darth Vader was a petulant teen named Anakin who took the death of his wife Natalie Portman so badly that he had to slaughter many Jedi children and turn to the dark side? No, no-one gained from that reveal, it was underwhelming and poorly executed. This is not as grievous as that wrong but I do feel that the heart of something beautiful has been lost with this book.
This book then is a must read for those seeking closure on many of Twin Peaks questions but it comes at the price of revealing too much in my opinion.

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Return- Complete Series Review

LINK- The Secret History of Twin Peaks- Book Review

Rime- Video Games As Art

Rime is a beautiful, melancholy adventure game in which you play the role of a young boy who is washed up on a mysterious island. Over the course of 6 or so hours you solve a series of environmental puzzles to piece together just what happened to your character and how you ended up on the island. The game is similar to Ico in terms of gameplay and stylistically like Journey, but lacks the heart and soul of either title, however it is worth a play to enjoy the stunning art and powerful ending.

Moomins and the Comet Live Re-score

I have a love for the Moomins as many of you may know. I've discussed the Moomins multiple times before, when talking about the 80s stop motion animation, the recent vinyl soundtrack release from the 80s animation, the exhibition at the Southbank Centre and my visit to Moomin World in Finland. 

Well I am excited to announce that one of the original composers for the 80s Moomins show, Graeme Miller, will perform a re-score live at the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room. He will be joined by Jamie Telford and the pair will be using a kitchen table-full of small instruments (including a box of cornflakes), whilst the episode plays on the big screen

This is a rare chance for Moomin fans old and new to experience Film Polski’s charming herky-jerky animation with a live accompaniment. I purchased tickets for my wife and I and am extremely excited to see this score played out in front of us. The show is only an hour long but hopefully will be a joyous celebration of Tove Jansson's marvellous creations.

The recently released vinyl by Finders Keepers is brilliant!

The recently released vinyl by Finders Keepers is brilliant!

Our trip to Moomin World was amazing.

Our trip to Moomin World was amazing.

Lore- Series 1 Review

Monsters are creatures we run from, beasts we warn our children about and fiends that haunt our darkest dreams. Yet, there is something enticing, mesmerising even in their appearance. Terrifying as they might be, we cannot help but look even closer, parting our fingers that our covering our eyes to peer again at the horror. There is no getting around it: Something about monsters fascinates us. They may be the stuff of nightmares that make our hearts beat faster, sweat profusely and make our hairs stand on end but we cannot get enough of it.

It may be that at the most basic level, monsters represent fears held by society, fears associated with the dangers perceived in the often vast, uncaring world. The origins of some of our most deep rooted fears has been the focus of Aaron Mahnke, who since 2015 has been releasing bi-weekly podcasts called 'Lore.'

At the time of writing there have been more than 70 meticulously researched podcasts on a wide variety of themes from vampires to evil dolls. 'Lore' has now been turned into an anthology television series by Amazon Studios and for season 1 looks at a variety of popular horror tropes and their origins. Currently there are only 6 episodes, which are all presented with interesting visuals, which are a mix of live action dramatic shorts alongside archival footage, images and animation. All this helps to bring the show to life and presents the matter in the most visually interesting way. The episodes are:

They Made A Tonic- Before we knew how disease spread, medicine was as much superstition as it was science. And in the small New England towns of the 1800s, there is a belief that consumption can only be stopped by making sure the dead are actually dead.

Echoes- Dr. Walter Freeman is the father of the icepick lobotomy. He believes the ten-minute procedure will all but end the need for the mental hospital. He has the best of intentions but winds up creating an entirely new kind of horror story.

Black Stockings- In 19th century Ireland, folklore has a strong hold. Michael Cleary is convinced his wife, Bridget, has been replaced by a fairy called a changeling. And his belief drives him to the most extreme act.

Passing Notes- In 19th century America, at the height of the Spiritualist Movement, a haunted house is not just the stuff of ghost stories. Many believe the dead can talk and, sometimes, will come back from the other side to wreak havoc on the living.

The Beasts Within- Werewolves are now movie monsters. But they were once thought to be all too real. In 1589, villagers in Bedburg, Germany, are convinced that a werewolf is killing women and children only to discover the killer is really one of their own.

Unboxed- Robert Gene Otto is a child without friends. That is, until he receives a doll as a gift. He names the doll after himself, Robert. They become fast friends and soon the boy believes the doll is real. But to everyone else...Robert the Doll is a curse.

Mahnke's sonorous voice works well on the podcast as it is cold and unsettling, however it works less well when put through the filter of visuals but overall the information is compellingly put together that it is a minor gripe in what is a fine scary, campfire-like storytelling anthology series. The acted scenes are suitably moody and there are some fine actors involved including Robert Patrick and Adam Goldberg.

The show never gives a definitive answer as to whether the phenomena shared are true or merely fabrications, it merely presents the meticulously researched historic materials and documentation and leaves it up to the viewer to decide as to what they believe. If you want to be spooked but like the more cerebral kind of horror this show (and podcast) might just be what you are looking for!

Little Nightmares- Video Games As Art

I recently completed the darkly beautiful Little Nightmares, a puzzle- platformer game with horror elements. The game was developed by Tarsier Studios and casts you as a young girl, called Six, who is trapped in The Maw – a mysterious vessel which caters to the depraved needs of sick and powerful creatures. As you make your way through the ship you come across various grotesque creatures, the designs of which will remain in your consciousness long after you finish the game. It reminds me of various shows including Jim Henson's The Storyteller, the work of the Bolex Brothers and the unsettling creatures created by stop-motion supremo Jan Svankmajer.

The art style is grotesque and even though there are horrific scenarios the imagery it creates is beautiful.

Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated- Series 2 Review

Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated season 2 kicks off a few months after the downbeat ending of the first season. Last we saw, the gang are all split up and scattered to the winds. Within the first few minutes we find that Scooby is in a pound and kept in the hotbox Steve McQueen 'Great Escape' style, Shaggy is Private Hippy in a military school, Fred is a hobo going door to door looking for his real parents and Velma is alone In Crystal Cove watching the whole place go to wrack and ruin due to a clown man baby (naturally)

We see the gang reunite but initially without Daphne, who rejoins later. That is one of the most wonderful thing about this series, the writers make the many moments feel earned and true to the characters that they have spent many episodes rounding out.
As the series progresses the team start gathering the remaining segments of the planespheric discs, the fate of the original Mystery Incorporated is revealed and Fred and Daphne's will they/ won't they relationship dynamic is finally resolved in the most dramatic and powerful way. There are moments of true drama as some characters have heel turns, turn good and die in the most heartbreaking way. However there is lots of levity with pop culture references sprinkled throughout including Rorschach (yes, of Watchmen fame), the Man from Another Place (the backwards talking little man) from Twin Peaks, Werner Herzog, Nosferatu, Johnny Quest, The Brady Bunch and many other eclectic series and movies.

I've said it before in my first series review but this series is the best that Scooby Doo has ever been, in fact it is one of the finest animated series I have ever seen and I've seen hundreds! The fact that a 'children's' cartoon deals with Mayan legends, end of the world prophecies, parallel universes and extra-dimensional beings like the Anunaki yet still retains its wide eyed innocence and playfulness is astonishing. Next to Gravity Falls this is one of the best animated series ever in my humble opinion and the fact that it leans heavily on Twin Peaks confirms that it is a series with some serious pedigree and solid foundations on which to build off.

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Season 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

Twin Peaks: The Return- Soundtrack Review

I thoroughly enjoyed the return to Twin Peaks recently and a huge part of that was due to the extraordinary soundtrack. There are few composers as gifted as Angelo Badalamenti, who can create stunning unearthly sonic soundscapes that swell, ebb and flow whilst running the gamut of emotions from euphoria to earth-shattering sadness. His music is a key component of the series and at it's best enhances the visuals and what is seen on the screen.

David Lynch, who was the Director and Sound Designer for Twin Peaks: The Return, has said that “cinema is sound and picture, flowing together in time,” and this soundtrack conveys that sentiment well. This album is the companion to a separate collection of the music from the series that features guest stars who appeared at the Road House, usually at the end of an episode. This CD features mainly the instrumental music that Twin Peaks fans of old will be familiar with and some new ones thrown in for good measure.

  1. Twin Peaks Theme (Falling) – Angelo Badalamenti
  2. American Woman (David Lynch Remix) – Muddy Magnolias
  3. Laura Palmer’s Theme (Love Theme From Twin Peaks) – Angelo Badalamenti
  4. Accident / Farewell Theme – Angelo Badalamenti
  5. Grady Groove (feat. Grady Tate) – Angelo Badalamenti
  6. Windswept (Reprise) – Johnny Jewel
  7. Dark Mood Woods / The Red Room – Angelo Badalamenti
  8. The Chair – Angelo Badalamenti
  9. Deer Meadow Shuffle – Angelo Badalamenti
  10. Threnody For The Victims Of Hiroshima (with Warsaw National Philharmonic Orchestra) – Witold Rowicki/Krzysztof Penderecki
  11. Slow 30’s Room – David Lynch & Dean Hurley
  12. The Fireman – Angelo Badalamenti
  13. Saturday (Instrumental) – Chromatics
  14. Headless Chicken – Thought Gang (Angelo Badalamenti & David Lynch)
  15. Night – Angelo Badalamenti
  16. Heartbreaking – Angelo Badalamenti
  17. Audrey’s Dance – Angelo Badalamenti
  18. Dark Space Low – Angelo Badalamenti

Badalamenti revisits old classics like the Twin Peaks theme, “Falling,” and “Audrey’s Dance” but also has six new compositions which are specific to scenes from the series. There are many other tracks on the album create by other composers and individuals and they are all great. Special mention must be made of Witold Rowicki’s “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima," which is performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra Warsaw. This piece is shown in the avant-garde nuclear tests in episode eight and is an assault on the senses that suits the abstract imagery of the creation of a death bringer and evil, in this case BOB.  Another track I particularly like is Johnny Jewel's Windswept, a relaxed jazzy number that recalls Badalamenti's style yet adds its own modern sheen. I checked out Jewel's Windswept LP and can say that it is a great album and well worth a listen in its own right.

As for the six Badalamenti pieces, they are stunning and worth a further look individually.

“The Chair” is from episode nine where Bobby Briggs is given a secret scroll of information by his mother from his father Garland. The chair has been in the Briggs’ living room since his father’s mysterious passing yet held the secret for 25 years. The track itself is suitably melancholic and has an air of sadness yet still has that trademark speck of hope.

“The Fireman” comes from the experimental arthouse episode eight, where we see The Giant create the golden globe containing the essence of Laura Palmer to combat the evilness of BOB who is released after the nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico. This is my favourite new composition from Badalamenti as it is a sombre, emotional piece which has a lot of power.

"Dark Mood Woods/ The Red Room" plays when Agent Cooper is in the Red Room and is trying to escape but gets confused in the mazelike space and also in the casino Mr Jackpots scene. It is otherworldy track with a deep brooding vibrating soundscape which slowly moved to and fro but later is interspersed with sharp jingles.

"Dark Space Low" comes at the end of the series as we are dealt the suckerpunch when Agent Dale Cooper, with Laura Palmer in tow, asks, "What year is this?" This piece has a kind of empty but longing feeling, like waking from a nightmare to find that you are in a worse situation.

"Night"plays after the scene when the Log Lady phones Hawk to say that she is dying. It is a heartrending scene, especially as the actress playing the Log Lady, Catherine Coulson, actually died of cancer four days after filming this scene) The track is somber and deeply sad yet beautiful in its melancholy. This track is the perfect eulogy to this wonderful charcater and actress.

"Heartbreaking" plays at the end credits of episode 11 and also when the homeless lady who won big at the casino, thanks to a fugue state Agent Dale Cooper, sees him again and tells her how he changed her life for the better. It is a heartwarming scene and even the 'badguy' Michum Brothers see good in the world and seem changed as a result. This is a beautiful piano piece which is full of hope and yearning.

"Accident/ Farewell Theme" plays in episode six when Richard Horne runs over a young boy crossing the road and Carl (Harry Dean Stanton) sees the boy's spirit leave the body as he comforts the mother. This track is ethereal ambience at its best, starting off full of sadness and despair but calming later, reflecting the shock and grief of the scene and the letting go.

Overall the Twin Peaks: The Return soundtrack is a triumph. It suited the mood of the series well and fit in when it was needed yet is still listenable in its own right. The soundtrack is an extremely atmospheric album and is worth a listen.

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Return- The Series So Far Review

LINK- The Secret History of Twin Peaks- Book Review

LINK- Xiu Xiu Cover the Twin Peaks Soundtrack

LINK- Twin Peaks Soundtrack Vinyl Re-release

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Return- Complete Series Review

The Last Guardian- Video Games As Art

The Last Guardian has been a decade in the making. Fumito Ueda, the creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, started the game in 2007 but it seemed like the game would never see the light of day, missing a whole console generation in its development. However the game, which casts you as a young boy with strange tattoo-like markings on his arm trying to navigate a mysterious world with an the unusual giant bird/ dog/ cat hybrid, Trico, was well worth the wait and is a game of gorgeous majesty. The images below are screen shots I took on my play through and I hope show that video games can have the power to inspire and awe, like the best art does.

Roller Girl- Comic Review

I am a huge fan of comics and believe that it can help promote reading, especially among the more reluctant readers. Last year I placed several graphic novels (collected comics) in my book corner and saw many children take an interest in the medium and this year I am adding to the catalogue.

Roller Girl Graphic Novel

Roller Girl is a story about the world of Roller Derby, something I know practically nothing about (apart from the fact that Drew Barrymore directed and starred in a film about the sport called Whip It which also starred Ellen Page) However this story is more than just a love letter to the sport, it's more a story of growing up and changing friendship dynamics set against the background of the sport.

Astrid and her best friend Nicole have been besties for years but are slowly growing apart. They used to do everything together, but this summer things change when Astrid signs up for a roller derby summer day camp whilst Nicole signs on to a ballet summer day camp. The story is centred around Astrid figuring out who she is and what kind of person she wants to be in the formative years of her life.

Astrid herself is presented as a well rounded character so it's easy to identify with her, even though I'm an Asian man in my thirties and she's a tween girl. I'm sure that we’ve all felt like we didn’t know who we were or felt like we didn’t belong somewhere at some point in our lives. These are universal themes that are not bound to age or gender because we are all familiar with them. We can empathise with what Astrid feels and we want to see her grow and develop as a person. There is a moment of reckoning where Astrid breaks down and tells her mother everything and it rang true, Astrid is not perfect and is not presented as such. She often is selfish, rude and well... human.

This graphic novel is a great read and even though I didn't know much about the sport I do now and it was all presented with relative east without info dumping or technobabbling.

Roller Girl is well worth a read and I'm looking forward to having it in my book corner in school alongside the various other graphic novels I've put there. These books are always popular with my children and I think this one will fit in nicely too.

LINK- Comics in the Classroom (article)

LINK- What Comics Have Taught Me