To Infinity And Beyond with the Into the Unknown Exhibition at the Barbican

This summer the Barbican is hosting a centre-wide festival-style exhibition exploring the works of various creators in the world of science fiction. The exhibition shares over 800 pieces from a wide variety of backgrounds including Jules Verne, Ray Harryhausen, H.R. Giger and Soviet posters from the space race era. There are suits and items from films such as Star Wars, Interstellar and Star Trek on show. 

I have booked tickets and will be going this Sunday and will feedback here my thoughts on the exhibition but needless to say that I am very excited!

Twin Peaks: The Return (Series so far review)

Wonderfully quirky yet full of menace, Twin Peaks: The Return is nothing like I expected yet everything I didn't know I needed. I watched the first two episodes on the night of their premiere and even though Episodes 3 and 4 were made available for streaming on Sky Atlantic here in Britain on the same day, I held off to fully appreciate the first two episodes and reflect on what I had just seen.  Watching those first two episodes, I once again became entranced by the world of Twin Peaks. I had no idea what was going on and still have no clue to be honest but Lynch and Frost's work has sunk its hooks into me and I want to find out more, I need closure!

 I don't know what future episodes will bring, but the series has so far subverted my expectations by being deliberately slow paced and oblique at times- counter to the current binge watching state of most series. It requires patience and thought; people hoping for a quick resolution to 'Where's Annie?' and what has happened to Dale/ doppeldale are going to have to wait and see. 

 The new episodes (6 at the time of writing) are not artificially structured to allow for adverts and so we have some extremely long scenes which last several minutes, this allows the show to present its dream logic in an uninterrupted way. This could go disastrously wrong, and there are a few scenes where I believe it does, but for the most part Twin Peaks: The Return is essential viewing.  

 Moving on to episode 3 and 4 we finally get to spend more time Dale Cooper but not as we once knew him. Out from the Black Lodge after 25 years he spends his timeacclimatising to life back on this plane and it is slow going. There are scenes that will make you laugh and some have led to memes galore, HelloOOOoo Mr Jackpot, but as a whole the deliberate slow world building has enraptured fans of Lynch's work whilst turning off some viewers who do not like the more Fire Walk With Me direction that The Return persues.

 From episodes 5 things seem to ratchet up. In episode 5 but particularly 6, there is swearing, nudity and violence but it is all indicative of Lynch's auteur style. In episode 6 there is an incredibly brutal stabbing yet in typical Lynch fashion the scene has an absurdist humoured take on violence. Later on in the same episode there is an incredibly moving scene of a mother mourning the death of her son as he is run over whilst crossing a road. The scene is shocking and Lynch lingers on the mother's anguished face, yet there is lightness as a passerby sees the soul of the young boy ascend to the heavens and comforts the mourning mother. This is also where the first real new score by composer Angelo Badalamenti comes in, which heightens the emotions of whole scene further. 

 So how is the return of Twin Peaks? Well, the new episodes are like a fever dream, things don't make sense and for every moment of wonder and joy there are two for dark and disturbing. Some of the cast return but for the most part we are introduced to new characters, it has been over 25 years after all. It is starting to come together, I'm not sure where it will lead but I'm sure that it will be a journey that is both wonderful and strange, and I for one am going to enjoy the ride.  

Digital vs Physical Media

Over recent years there has been a push towards digital media. There are many positives to this including the fact that it saves space and resources. As a father of 1 with a small house space is a premium, I can have tonnes of digital media and it won't take up any more physical space. Also a lot of the time digital media is accessible from different location via online services like Netflix or the cloud, this makes it really convenient to access resources from many different locations and there is no risk that the digital media can be lost or stolen. Digital media can be cheaper to acquire the physical copies, especially when it comes to rare or retro games. For example Mother on the SNES used to trade on eBay for over £100 but now is available from the Nintendo online store for only £6.49.

Earthbound costs a fortune for a mint boxed copy but now it is available for under 7 quid on the Nindendo store.

There are many pros for buying digital but I have my concerns.
Physical media has a resale value. With some games costing £60 on release I like the fact that if I like it I can keep it in my collection but if don't or I don't think it is worth having permanently I can sell it on. I can afford now to keep all my physical games but as a child I depended on trading to purchase the next game, otherwise there was no way I could have afforded it on my £2 a week pocket money.

However my concern with digital media is mostly to do with the legacy.
PT, the free Silent Hills demo from Sony, is no longer downloadable on the PS Store.  Many Sega games have been taken down from iOS, only downloadable to those who bought them initially and can download again but not for new customers.
If Metropolis, Fritz Lang's masterpiece were a digital only release made now it would have been lost to the digital ether, same for F. W. Marnau's Nosferatu. Games such as Silicon Knights Too Human, which was successfully destroyed due to copyright infringement would no longer be available in the digital marketplace.
Many modern games use online servers to play multiplayer, but after some time the servers are turned off meaning the multiplayer is no longer accessible.

But its not all doom and gloom. The internet creates tribes and ardent fans, there will always be someone or a small group who preserve something of interest and disseminate its. As a Mysterious Cities of Gold fan it was thanks to joining the Goldlist mailing list that I was kept up to date on developments on the new series. YouTube uploaders also preserve classics like Quatermass and emulators upload roms of classic and obscure games onto websites.

Fans often keep obscure or niche products and media alive.

So the whole issue is pretty complex but for me physical media is the way for most ways to consume most media but there are occasions for digital media.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold- Retro Soundtrack Review

I am a huge fan of the animated series Mysterious Cities of Gold, it is my favourite programme of ALL time and was a formative part of my childhood; single handedly creating my interest in anime, manga, South and Central American culture and synthesizer music (It's why I love Jarre, Vangelis and Oldfield).

In my mancave I have a MCOG medallion, an original cel, a French book discussing the making of (even though I haven't studied French since my GCSE's 20 years ago) and a model of the golden condor. However no mention of The Mysterious Cities of Gold would be complete without a mention of the mesmerising soundtrack. There have been some amazing soundtracks for TV shows over the years but the synthesizers and futuristic sounds used in the soundtrack gave this series a unique, mesmerising atmosphere all its own.

I made this influence map 7 years ago and as you can see the MCOG features prominently.

I don't know my arpeggios from my elbow but hopefully I'll be able to describe the tracks with such flourishes of description that you'll get the gist of what I'm saying and trying to convey; layman's terms.... don't begrudge me my enthusiasm and flights of descriptive fancy.

I got this CD for much cheaper than it is currently going for... this OST is in high demand!

I got this CD for much cheaper than it is currently going for... this OST is in high demand!

The album starts with the French opening credits. It has the instrumentation that we all know and love but with the vocals of French pop star of the time Noam Kaniel. The track is okay but holds no real nostalgia for me, that'd be track 16, the extended version of the English vocal track that played over the opening of the show. Track 15 is the instrumentation of the opening credits so if you feel like having a Philip Schofield moment this is the one to do it on!

Track 2, Heureux Esteban (Happy Esteban), is the track familiar to many as the 'to follow' music. It played at the end of the show and teased you as to what would happen in the next episode. The track itself is an upbeat and jolly track with a gentle pulsing synth and wonderfully joyful instrumentation.

Tracks 3 and 4, Theme de Zia and Theme de Tao are both French vocal tracks. Zia's Theme is airy and light and the vocals are like a ballad, it suits the character well. Tao's Theme starts with a driving drumming beat and then the riveting rhythmic music kicks in, I don't understand the vocals but the chorus is instantly singable.

Track 5, L'aventure de Tao (Tao's Adventure), is a driving track which starts with a blaring bit of brass and then sounds like a marching band with some triumphalism. It is a very memorable track and often occurred at adventurous moments of the show, usually when the children were enacting out a plan to save someone or get something.

Track 6, L'aventure D'Esteban (Esteban's Adventure) is an instrumentation of Tao's Theme and so this has me thinking that maybe they got the track listing mislabeled for track 5 and 6- the old switcharoo. Anyhow this track sounds like a calypso track with a lush steel drum sound playing over some nice percussive bass.

Track 7, Les Tristes Cites D'or (Sad Cities of Gold), is a bit of melancholia and levity amongst the bombast. It has a flute playing winsomely over some soft instrumental music. Then the chorus comes in and you know that this is a song of reflection. The whole piece is beautiful and evocative of early morning sadness.

Track 8, Le Vol du Condor (The Flight of the Condor), is one of the signature tracks of the show. It’s a work of fragile magic, a hypnotic combination of beautifully breathy sounds and exquisitely gorgeous melodies and soft-spun instrumentation. There is much serenity in this piece of music and it lifts the spirits.

Track 9, En Naviguant (By Sailing), has some of the soundtracks lushest and most organic synthesizer sounds. There are little zephyrs that punctuate the strong synthesizer sound, adding a sense of scope and wonder to this dreamy track.

Track 10, Les Incas (The Incas), is a joyful track that combines traditional flute sounds with Spanish guitar to create vivid imagery of the andes. It is a very evocative piece of music and one of my favourites.

Track 11, Esteban Dans La Vie (The Life of Esteban), is one of the more emotional tracks. It played when Esteban and Zia both meet their fathers, moments of great gravitas. As such it is suitably downbeat and dramatic, verging on melodrama but without the negative connotations that implies. A great track worth a listen.

Track 12, La Grand Tempete (The Great Storm), is a track that was used in the He-Man cartoon series too. It is a swirling whirlwind of drama and conjures up images of storms with its deep resonating sound and brooding score. A truly great track that builds up slowly and spectacularly.

Track 13, Les Dieux Des Incas (Gods of the Incas), is one of the greatest tracks ever written in my opinion. when people talk about soundscapes they discuss Eno, Tangerine Dreams, Popul Vuh and various artists of the same calibre but this track shows that Saban and Levy should be included in the pantheon. This track is an otherworldly journey through a sound cosmos to the higher dimensions of sound. It is so powerful and evocative, almost primal. This is one of my favourite albums of all time and this track is one of the reasons why.

Track 14, Les Aventures Electroniques (Electronic Adventures), is an upbeat slab of pop electronica, it is a fast paced track that surges forward with excitement and vitality. This is one of the best tracks on the album and I remember that it occurred at high octane moments in the show. The track itself is a wonderful flute melody playing over a stirring synth production with several joyful moments and pauses. Another great highlight.

There are a few omissions on this soundtrack that disappoint me though and one of the most glaring omissions is St. Elmo's Fire (also known on other versions of the soundtrack as La Passage Secret), known to many fans as the Song of Mysterious Awesomeness. The sense of awe and wonder this music piece brought in me at the time was palpable, I would shake with excitement as this track was reserved for only the most special moments of the series. It is used when a new discovery is made or when the characters experienced a grand phenomena. The juddering driving synths mixed with the whoozy flow of the main tune lend the piece an otherworldly air which perfectly suited the air of mystery. I have extremely powerful memories of this track as this music was used on the maiden flight of the golden condor. The point when the machine comes online for the first time and flies is etched in my memory. I've seen this episode more than any other (I watch the series annually) but I still get goosebumps when the music kick in. The link to this moment is below and I would recommend you watch it (it kicks in at 56 seconds).

Overall the album is a beautifully crafted electronic masterpiece bubbling with synths and tones, all exquisitely held together with crystalline pop production. It is an evocative suite of synth music which perfectly captures the feel of the show. There are moments of true euphoria but it's not all happy electronic music, there are some moments of menace and levity. I love the whirling feeling of weightlessness on some compositions but then it can be followed up with wafts of dense symphonic mist that emerges floating up from the speakers. For fans of electronic music or fans of the show, this is a must-have. Okay it's not the complete soundtrack but the tracks on here are clean and pristine with no crackle or hiss.

Let's Play with the Programmers

Personally, I dislike Let's Play videos, especially because a lot involve someone being loud and annoying trying to crack 'jokes'. However, I do like developer commentaries as they provide very insights into a games creation, and may talk about cut features and what could have been. With the increasing popularity of Let's Play videos, we actually have gotten some interesting developer Let's Plays over the last couple years. These are a few of the developer and creator commentaries that I like.

Conker's Bad Fur Day

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis...ZWUEV0vaSL4rHf
(older NeoGAF thread)
A few of the ex-Rare staff get together to talk about the creation of the game. It's fun and relaxed and features a lot of swearing.... would you expect anything else from Conker?

Wolfenstein 3D

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amDtAPHH-zE
(He starts playing 8:44 in, but it's a good listen anyway)
John Carmack reminisces about the game with a lot of interesting insight and commentary, from gameplay to tech. It's more serious and technical than the Conker one, and he only plays for about 15 minutes, but it's still quite a treat.

Bayonetta

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwvSd4kcfdk
Hideki Kamiya talks about Bayonetta for over seven hours. As he's doing it solo it does drag on a bit but it does give some insights into his favourite games.

Day of the Tentacle

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qumYnE2wYhA

Tim Schafer talks about this point and click classic. He is an interesting guy to listen to and his humour is pretty awesome!

These are a few of the commentaries that I like. If you have some that you like please let me know!

DC: Art Of the Brick Review

Lego has been enjoying a resurgence in the past decade, very nearly bankrupt in 2004 the company now has a multi-media empire, including video games, an Academy Award Winning film (for Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, for Everything Is Awesome by Shawn Patterson) and many, many playsets. Now artist Nathan Sawaya has used more than two million Lego bricks to create art pieces inspired by the comic book world of DC. Over the course of exhibition you will find numerous Lego models and dioramas of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Flash as well as the rogues gallery containing, amongst others, the Joker, Harley Quinn and the Riddler. The exhibition has many different art pieces and the level of detail is astonishing. The level of patience and craft shown is immense and I doff my cap to the artist. 

The standout piece for me was the Batcave section of the exhibition as the music from the animated series played and a screen projection of Gotham looked impressive against the Lego made Bat signal.

The exhibition is being held in a  purpose-built tent, just minutes away from Waterloo Station and whilst this is fine, the fact that I went on one of the hottest days of the year made the whole thing uncomfortable to walk around. It was warm and there was very little fresh air in there

 If they couldput some ventilation that'd be great but otherwise this is well worth a visit at £16.50.

Anime Background Exhibition at the House of Illustration

When Akira was released upon an unsuspecting world in 1988, people were blown away by the animes detailed depiction of a sprawling dystopian megacity. A few years later Ghost in the Shell hit cinemas and again moviegoers were floored by the detailed vision of the near future. Both films have been cited as inspirations behind many major Hollywood films such as The Matrix and Ex Machina and been influential in other media. 

A major new exhibition at the House of Illustration, Kings Cross, London is now showcasing the backdrops to these and some other classic anime. It is a dying art as most anime are now computer generated but back at the time of these productions most were hand drawn. 

Over the course of 3 rooms you are given the opportunity to see pencil drawings, water colour paintings and other types of medium to understand the artistry involved when tasked with creating impressive but also believable cityscapes.

The anime films covered include Rintaro's Metropolis and Oshii's Patlabor, Ghost in the Shell and Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. What is astonishing is seeing how different artists and directors had such differing views of the future, some of the artwork seems almost eerily precient.  

Seeing the research photographs of Japan and China, the original pencil sketches and then the final painted backgrounds is interesting as you can see the process from beginnning to end.

I've seen all the anime and read most of the original manga that the films are based on but whether or not you have seen them doesn't matter. The artistry and futurist imagination is what is on show here and this exhibition places that left, right and centre! This is a must see exhibition for anime, manga, film and sci-fi fans alike.  

Video Game Papercuts

I love video games and I also like taking photographs, so the idea of merging the two appealed to me. Over the past several months I have been taking characters from various video games and placing them in the real world and these are the results so far. It's a small portfolio but hopefully I'll add to it over time.

Twin Peaks Retrospective

We are mere hours away from the return of Twin Peaks. After nearly 25 years, and that cliffhanger, the show is returning with many of the original cast as well as a veritable smörgåsbord of new characters and actors. 

I've been binge watching the original 29 episode run of series 1 and 2 on DVD over the past few weeks and recently read the Mark Frost book Secret History of Twin Peaks. I have loved immersing myself in the haunting world of Twin Peaks once again. 

Whilst doing the rewatch of the show certain images were as clear and vivid as I remembered them from 20 years ago when I first watched the show. David Lynch's visuals are very haunting without the sound but when you lay in Angelo Badalamenti's unforgettable score and the sound effect mix something magical, almost operatic happens. The sound and images truly complement one another, so much so that several images have been seared into my consciousness; the swinging traffic lights, the dark trees swaying in the breeze, the beautiful waterfall and the hues of brown that permeate the show. There is a poetry and synergy between the images and music that I haven't seen in any other TV series since.

The show itself moved at a leisurely pace, especially when compared to many modern shows, but it was never a slow show, there was always a sense of something lurking just beneath the surface; it could be something terrible, exciting or indeed magical - whatever it was it was never something boring... There was a wonderful dream-logic reality which meant that anything could happen at any point of the show. You want a backwards talking dwarf? Check. You want a unicorn? Check. You want a mysterious giant? Check. How many other shows could do that yet still make a sort of sense?

This unnerving other-worldliness of the series was hinted at in the pilot with the red room shown briefly, but it was really cemented in episode 2 when we meet the sinister backwards talking dwarf in a room of red curtains and chevron flooring.... All this added to the unnerving peculiarity of what could have become just another also-ran police procedural. However after the scene with the empty bottle in the forest and Buddhist philosophising you know you are watching something that is unique and special, how many other shows features FBI Agents trying to work out a murder's identity by trying to break a bottle with a stone?

Throughout the course of the entire show light and dark contrasted heavily, often within one episode, for example the cliffhanger of season 1 when Cooper is shot and the oldest waiter in the world serves him (slowly) whilst he is bleeding to death on the floor, Cooper waits patiently and politely for the waiter's return.

This weirdness continues with the introduction of the giant, a figure famous across nearly all cultures. The duality between the giant and the dwarf makes you consider dualities further and adds to the light / dark dynamic... Are humans just the playthings of creatures and being from another realm? 

When the killer is revealed in episode 14 the question of personal responsibility and whether we are responsible for our own actions Is asked. Is our life predetermined? Are we merely puppets in a greater play or do we have to accept personal responsibility for our actions, even when we may have no control over them?

The series does undoubtedly dip after the reveal of the murderer of Laura Palmer, with the introduction of the pine weasel and Benjamin Horne's spiritual epiphany, but after a few episodes it found its feet again with the introduction of antagonist Windom Earle,  further lore reveals with the Black and White lodge and a look at Agent Dale Cooper's past.

The series reaches a crescendo with episode 29, when David Lynch returned to helm the arthouse horror final episode which ended with the possession of Agent Cooper. Since then fan theories and video essays have abound as to what happened next but with the release of The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost, we have a small insight as to what happened to most of the characters of the show as well as the history of the area.

I cannot wait for the new series and hope that it takes me to a place both magical and strange. After 25 years I hope the wait was worth it, I have a firm belief that it will be. 

The Moomins- Cartoon TV Review

The Moomins are beloved characters created by the Finnish artist and storyteller, Tove Jansson. I am a huge fan of the creatures but I wasn't always this interested. I first came across the series as most children did through the weird felt stop motion show from the 80's. I've spoken before about how the creepy music and unearthly jerky felt character movement weirded me out at the time but with time I've come to appreciate the music, but what of the show?

Well being older and braver I finally decided to eat that frog and re-watch the series and give it a re-evaluation.

The first series of The Moomins is now on Amazon Prime and whilst it is the classic series from the 80's much has changed. From the start things seem off, the creepy introduction music has been replaced by a cheesy pop track and the well recognised title card has disappeared too.

The iconic title card is removed from the Amazon Prime series.

The complete soundtrack has been replaced but also the charming narration and voice-work by Richard Murdoch, replaced by a variety of voice actors who now play the different characters. The new narrator sounds bored, speaking v-e-r-y slowly and without much enthusiasm. All these may not sound like much but collectively it changes the whole feel of the thing and as a such the series loses it's otherworldly charm. In the original first episode, Thingummy and Bob, the scary character of the Groke makes an appearance and the music is suitably dramatic and unsettling. The foley work is impressive with a deep growling sound combining with the dark synthesizer sound. However in this version this is replaced with a more modern dramatic piece of music which although sinister doesn't compare to the original composition.

I persevered for a couple of more episodes but as a whole the feel of the show was 'off.' In the same way that Turner Classic Movies recoloured old films like 'Citizen Kane' and 'The Big Sleep' to appeal to a newer, younger audience, or for more contemporary take, George Lucas' constant meddling with the original Star Wars Trilogy led to worse films, this playing with the Moomin animation of old does no favours to what was a classic if slightly unnerving animation series. If you can watch the originals then please do but this version on Amazon Prime is a poor option.

Inspector Gadget- Retro Soundtrack Review

Inspector Gadget was a staple of 80s cartoons for many children. The crazy adventures of a confused Clouseau-esque cybernetically enhanced policeman, who is rebuilt with many attachments may sound horrific and slightly reminiscent of the Robocop storyline but in the hands of Haim Saban and Shuki Levy it became a crazy farce that filled 86 episodes! I watched the cartoon regularly and even though it was never my favourite I still watched to see where Gadget would end up going each week. The soundtrack realy struck me at the time and the stunning introduction animation and theme song struck a cord with many people, being instantly hum-able even now.

Several soundtracks of the show were released in the 80s but they have been incomplete or suffered from noise distortion after being mastered from vinyl originals, Télé 80 released a CD in 2013 but it only had 22 songs, missing much from the series but the CD is still highly sought after by retro animation collectors.

The 2012 release of the soundtrack is incomplete and not worth getting. Also it is pretty expensive to purchase.

The 2012 release of the soundtrack is incomplete and not worth getting. Also it is pretty expensive to purchase.

However a few years ago they released the updated Inspector Gadget 30th Anniversary Special Edition, which is the most complete collection so far published of Shuki Levy and Haim Saban's score. It contains all the surviving compositions known to exist and Levy provided the master tapes for the new CD himself so the quality of the tracks is pretty clear. So what of the soundtrack? The whole album is composed of 30 tracks, some vocal but many instrumental pieces from the show. The first 3 tracks feature French vocals over well known Inspector Gadget instrumental pieces. They are fine if you are into that kind of thing but they're not really for me. However the album starts properly with track 4, Gadget Sur Mars (Gadget on Mars) which is a moody slice of 80s synth with a deep wubby bassline. In parts there are sounds that are similar to some Mysterious Cities of Gold tracks. 

  • Track 5, Le Fantome (The Ghost) is a warbly piece of music which sounds like a synthesized zither. You can imagine it being played in a ghost house, all jaunty and kiddy scary.  
  • Track 6, Musee De L'art Fou (The MAD Art Museum) is an upbeat piano piece, it moves from dramatic theatricalopening to a quick piano piece which wouldn't be out of place in a stereotypical Western saloon scene. Then the main Inspector Gadget motiff plays over what I can only describe as the sound I hear when people are trying to hide in cartoons. You'll know what I mean when you hear it.  
  • Track 7, Gadget in Japon (Gadget in Japan) is the stereotypical Japanese music, almost comically racist if it wasn't so charming, it opens with a gong and moves along to a rendition of chopsticks and then has a traditional flute sound. It is a rather whimsical and a wonderful piece. 
  • Track 8, L'usine de Chocolats (The Chocolate Factory) is a rather bouncy track that reminds me of ska music with its use of piano and trumpets. The track moves at a cracking pace and the Gadget motiff is there popping up every now and again. 
  • Track 9, Rodeo (Rodeo) is the Gadget motiff played in a American mid-west like dancing tempo, lots of fiddles, trumpets and piano combining energetically. 
  • Track 10, Theme of the Dr's Gang (Theme of Dr Claw's Gang) sounds wildly different, like an 80s cop show, it is all marching beat and jazzy and has a poppy trumpery sound with some cool bass and wailing bass guitar sinuously working its way in under some serious cello.  
  • Track 11, Hero's Dan's La Jingle Africaine (Heroes of the African Jungle) sounds like your stereotypical African sound, all drumming and pulsing jungle beat but then it changing tempo and a trumpet comes in to give it a little verve and variety, before going back to the traditional drum sound. 
  • Track 12, Gadget Chez Les Incas, (Gadget With the Incas) is a piece all panpipes and traditional folk guitar and flute. The piece reminds me of Tao's Theme from another series from the time, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, and is well worth a listen 
  • Track 13, Fai's Gaff (I'm not sure what this means) is one of my favourites tracks, it was often used when Brain the dog had to help Gadget from certain death. It changes rhythm quite a bit moving from dramatic driving synth to jaunty ska-esque high-jinks.  
  • Track 14, Gadget en Difficulte (Gadget in Trouble) was often used when Gadget was just about to fall into Dr Claw's trap, it moves around quite a bit from scary synth to ska. 
  • Track 15, Desert Arabia, (Arabian Desert), is your stereotypical Middle-Eastern sound, all flute, jingly percussion and boingy drums. 
  • Track 16, Gadget Le Sophistique (Sophisticated Gadget) sounds like a lounge piano piece, all classy and slow and then it devolves into jazzy brass and almost big showtune-esque. 
  • Track 17, Theme Du Train (Train Theme) is a fast pulsating synth piece, the Gadget motiff plays quickly at a fast pitch with a bass sounds that recalls the sound of a train in the tracks.  
  • Track 18, Le Royaume (The Kingdom) is a majestic soaring piece with a marching sound that goes into dreamy hazy territory before coming back to marching music. 
  • Track 19, Le Course de Voitures (The Race of Cars) starts of judderingly then move at a quick pace, with keys moving up and down and the pitch changing constantly, it sounds frantic and driving. 
  • Track 20, Les Pharaons (The Pharoahs) is another stereotypical sound with flute and tambourine playing over a beautiful drum beat. It certainly creates a vivid image of Egypt in your head.  
  • Track 21, Le Theme de Finot (Finot's/ Brain's Theme) a jaunty piece which is very joyful, usually when Brains is trying to help Gadget.  
  • Track 22, Gadget En Italie (Gadget in Italy) is very quick and stereotypical with the sound of fast folky guitar.  
  • Track 23 is the Gang Theme reprised and has more wailing guitar sound and a heavier burst of trumpets. 
  • Track 24 is the opening theme in instrumental and is just as wonderful as you remember. 
  • Track 25 is one of the highlights of the album for me as it is Sophie's Theme (Penny's Theme), a beautiful brass piece playing over a cheerful and jaunty beat. 
  • Tracks 26 to 30 are different versions of the opening and closing tracks and track 27 gives us the English-language opening theme in true stereo.
This is the soundtrack that any fan of the show should get as it has many of the tracks used in the show, more than any previous soundtrack release.

This is the soundtrack that any fan of the show should get as it has many of the tracks used in the show, more than any previous soundtrack release.

Overall this is an excellent soundtrack with some really strong pieces that sound similar in instrumentation to MCOG. The album itself if wonderfully eclectic but brought together with the constant Gadget motiff. The album is well worth getting and as it has been remastered from the originals, probably the best you'll get of this fondly remembered series. 

The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers: Volume 2

I was a big fan of volume 1 of The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers and praised its remarkable insight into Japanese game development. For any gaming fan volume 1 was an essential look into the often secretive world of 80s and 90s gaming and a lot of what I've said about Volume 1 holds true for this volume too.

The cover art by Satoshi Nakai is pretty cool. ©CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

The cover art by Satoshi Nakai is pretty cool. ©CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Volume 2 kicks off in spectacular style with a frank and deep discussion on the yakuza and their involvement in the entertainment industry. This is the first in-depth and honest discussion in mainstream media by my reckoning, nothing like this has been investigated before and the extent to which the yakuza influenced and helped grease the wheels of the video games industry is astonishing to read. The names of theindividuals and the companies involved have been redacted but this is still remarkable testimony of how the yakuza protected many arcades and ensured that the game boards weren't stolen to be cloned. The interviewee presents it as a necessary evil for many companies but also discusses how his daughter was kidnapped by the yakuza and only freed when he dropped an arcade machine from a well-known company outside their headquarters, it was a threat of sorts but it worked and his daughter was released. Accounts like this are remarkable and I for one am glad that they are being collected as they would be lost forever. 

The rest of the 29 interviews are interesting and cover many different aspects of the industry but of particular delight were: 

  • the interview with Hudson's #7 employee Takashi Takebe, who discusses the origins of this well respected but poorly documented company, famous for Bomberman and Pang amongst many other properties. It was interesting to hear how it changed from supplying computing hardware into a software house when it saw an emerging market. It was one of the first Japanese companies to see potential in the burgeoning micro computing market in 80s Europe and so many of its titles were converted to these machines. 

  • There are a few interviews with people who worked for Zainsoft, a company that produced interesting if buggy messes of games. Some if the interviewees' were very candid and spoke about these 'black corporations', companies that treated their workers extremely poorly and were often violent towards them. There are recounts of people being locked in their offices and being forced to work for 20 hours a day, being unable to go home for months on end and even having computer monitors thrown at them. This all seems far-fetched but with so many people from the same company saying the same thing consistently it does sound like this occurred and was actually quite common, it must have been to be given a label of 'black companies'. The most violent and shocking account is by Kensuke Takahashi who worked for the company for 4 years, it is a look at the darker side of game development. Another revelation is that Sega was involved in these practices too and this was one of the reasons that it went into deep decline as many people shunned their products in disgust.

  • The origins and the closure of one of my favourite game companies Westone is covered with a couple of interviews including an in-depth interviews with Ryuichi Nishizawa, Kouchi Yotsui and Maki Ohzora. Nishizawa was one of the creators of Wonder Boy and the Monster World series, including one of my favourites, Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap. The discussion about who benefits most from home conversions is really thought provoking as even though arcade game producer Westone made two long running series it was the conversion licensees who benefited most. Nishizawa comes across as a kind and creative figure and this interview is a real highlight. 

  • Ohzora was the character artist for Westone and hearing her discuss her inspiration for the world's she created is really insightful and well worth the read. 
  • Shinichi Sakamoto was a composer for Westone and worked on Wonder Boy in Monster Land and Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap. It is an extremely short interview but as the composer of one of my favourite video games, very insightful.  

  • Professor Yoshihiro Kishinito, formerly of Namco, shares a credit list of early Namco games, something that is invaluable for gaming historians as many creators were only able to sign in pen names in games.  

  • The interview with Human alumnus is interest as the company produced some interesting titles in its time but according to the interviewees it was the vision of the individual creators rather than company ethos or vision that developed this mentality. Producer Taichi Ishizuka discusses Mizzurna Falls, a pre-Shenmue open world game with a Twin Peaks style mystery. I came across this game a couple of years ago and much like Deadly Premonition it is a diamond in the rough kind of game. The discussion behind its creation is great and considering the tiny team and budget it had, all the more extraordinary. Szczepaniak recommends viewing a Let's Play by Resident Evie and having seen this play through a few weeks ago I can recommend that this is the best way to experience the game as it seems janky and awkward to play, but has an intriguing enough premise to watch the 9 or so hours of video.

The book ends with Szczepaniak dismissing the Japanese game development Downfall Myth, the idea that Japan is becoming bankrupt of gaming ideas with many of the games companies going onto the more lucrative mobile gaming sector, but he provides a list of over 100 Japanese games from the last generation (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PC) that defy the myth that Japanese game development is declining. It's a powerful rebuff to the Microsoft perpetuated Downfall Myth which aimed to promote western games, a sector where the Xbox is doing significantly better than in the east.

As a book archiving years of Japanese game development history this is a marvellous work. As with the first it is a tough read from cover to cover, as naturally there are some interviewees and topics that are more interesting than others for me and whoever reads this but it is great stuff nonetheless.  This book is an unprecedented account of Japanese game development from the people who were there and that is why volume 1 and 2 have been such an important piece of work that will hopefully improve our understanding of this period of time. I find these books are essential and hope that volume 1 and 2 are successful enough to support volume 3. 

Ulysses 31- Retro Soundtrack Review

A warm fuzzy feeling, that feels like unconditional love, emanates from my heart when I watch television shows and cartoons from my childhood. There are a few very special shows that make my heart flutter all-the-quicker and one of these is Ulysses 31 (the others are The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Dogtanian and Around the World With Willy Fogg if you're interested). I first came across the show when it was first shown in the mid 80s on the BBC but I saw it in my formative years again in the early 90s on Channel 4, where it was shown daily at 6:30, just before the Big Breakfast. I remember thinking how cool and ahead of it's time the animation was but the moody, evocative and exciting synthesizer soundtrack complemented the show well... heightening the sometimes very dark cartoon well. Being a huge soundtrack nerd I tried to track it down but to no avail. The soundtracks that were available were the original vinyl printings from 1981 and these were far from the complete soundtrack, often vocal remixes over the scores.

I purchased a Tele 80 Ulysse 31 soundtrack a few weeks ago but unfortunately it contained lots of French vocal tracks and only about 6 instrumental pieces from the show.

This album has mostly french vocal tracks and only 5 instrumental pieces so is best avoided by those looking for the phenomenal score used in the show.

To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement, however in my search I did see that as 2016 was Ulysses 31's 35th anniversary a collector's edition of the complete soundtrack would be available on double CD for the very first time. The release would include the complete score by Denny Crockett, Ike Egan, Haïm Saban and Shuki Levy and all the opening and closing credits sung in the French and English!

The album was only produced in limited numbers and was fetching a very high price on Amazon and other websites but I managed to get the soundtrack at a reasonable price on ebay, shrink wrapped and brand new. And so, without further ado... here is the review of the Ulysses 31 soundtrack.

This is the album you want if you are looking for the complete musical score... it is truly wonderful and impeccibly presented.

The first thing to notice is that the soundtrack has a bit of weight to it as it is a double CD set (containing 165 tracks!)with a 16 page booklet explaining the creation of the show, with interviews of the the creators, composers as well as a detailed account of the remastering process. Unfortunately for me the whole thing is in French and having not spoken the language since secondary school my translation is patchy at best, however I have a wonderful teaching assistant who speaks French fluently and I will try to get her to translate it for me.

The music here is crystal clear as it has been remastered from the original masters by Ian Jones at Abbey Road Studios.  This is the way the soundtrack was intended to be heard as even on the DVDs the music can sounded distorted and warbled.

I've listened to the album a few times now and the majority of the themes I remember are all here. I'm not sure how the album is sequenced but I think it is in chronological order, with many of the familiar themes near the beginning and the more uniquely used tracks or incidental tracks being later on in the collection.

I'm not going to go through every single track here as that would be long and incredibly tedious for your to read so I'll pick out the highlights.

On disc 1:

  • Track 2 is Overture- The Base of Troy, which sounds quite majestic and sweeping, just what you'd expect for a space opera but it morphs into late 70's disco with a funky beat. Definitely a track of it's time but charming for it.
  • Track 3 is energetic and driving as it underscored moments of space battles and actions. Attack of the Tridents is a very short track, being only 20 seconds long, but is very effective.
  • Track 4, Unknown World, is a beautiful piano piece with moody synthesizer bloops and beeps creating an unsettling soundscape. This piece was used in times of tension and mystery and you can see why.
  • Track 5, Noumaïos's Theme is a beautifully melancholic piano and flute theme. There is very little synthesizer sound used for this piece and this adds to its wistfulness- a definite highlight.
  • Track 10, The Curse of the Gods #1, is one of the signature pieces of music from the show. It has a dramatic steady drum beat which is added to by a deep synth sound which adds a spooky element, then the trumpets kick in and add a shrill element. This is another absolute must listen for fans of the show!
  • Track 15, Olympus, is a wonderful piano and deep synth sound which is further enhanced through the shredding guitar. It sounds broody and dark and is another signature theme from the show.
  • Track 16, Space Battle, sounds like an 80s soft rock band just jamming with drums, cymbals and shredding guitar combining to create a fast paced track.
  • Track 21, Calypso, is a soft piano piece that sounds melancholy and thoughtful at first then the flute and drum kick in to add another layer of sadness. Another beautiful must listen.
  • Track 25, The Sirens, sounds unearthly and ethereal. The whoosy airy synth sounds mixed with the strange whale-like squeals give this piece a unique sound. It ends with strange cries and moans of the type you'd find in scary horror films. it is quite unlike anything else on this album but in a good way.
  • Track 31, Ulysses Battles the Cyclops, sounds suitably epic. It builds with a deep bass guitar and thumping drum and then the weird synth kicks it adding to the drama, throw in a few violin and trumpet sounds and this piece kicks it up a notch until it reaches the dramatic end.
  • Track 40, Goodbye, is a poetic flute and piano piece that flutters by sadly. It was often used at the most tear-jerking moments of the series and you can hear why.
  • Track 53, Ulysses meets Ulysses, is a strange Spanish guitar piece interspersed with some dramatic strings.

CD 2 continues the good work of the first but has less of the well known tracks but does still contain much worth listening to.

  • Track 3, Tales of the Legend, is a dramatic track with organs and what sounds like some harmonised vocals, lending this piece an otherworldly air.
  • Track 4, Odysseus, sounds like an 80s guitar solo from a soft rock band, all shredding guitars and a cool base in the background.
  • Track 30, The Heart of Olympus, has a deep baritone noise underscoring a dramatic piano peice... very unnerving!
  • Track 40, Universe in Harmony, is pure funky disco celebrating the success of Ulysses. A fitting groovy ending to the series!

Overall the soundtrack is brilliant and has stood the test of time well. There are tracks that are undeniably relics of the time but the whole score sounds like it belong to a lost sci-fi feature film rather than a 35 year old animated series. This is a must have soundtrack for all fans of the show and for fans of synthesizer music with that late 70s / early 80s feel. Essential!

Lumberjanes/ Gotham Academy- Comic Review

Over the past couple of years the comics industry has gone through a huge shift to become more diverse and inclusive in it's mainstream publications and in the process has started to attract a new wave of readers... tweens. There have been many successes (not least of all Raina Telgemeier) but two of the most popular with an ardent and loyal fanbase are Boom! Studios’ award-winning Lumberjanes and DC Comic's Gotham Academy. Both series are about groups of girls investigating supernatural mysteries, with one group of girls being at a camp and the other at a boarding school in Gotham City. It seems logical and likely that their worlds would meet through some incident or nefarious means and so it is that when Isla MacPherson, a teacher at Gotham Academy goes missing along with Lumberjane Camp Director, Rosie, the characters of Olive, Maps, Colton, Pom, and Kyle meet with April, Jo, Mal, Molly, Ripley and Jen to figure out what is happening with only an outdated birthday invitation as the clue. The clues lead them to a house in the middle of the woods and this is when the escapades begin.

I won't spoil the story here but over the course of 100 or so pages the characters from both series are given time to shine, with my particular highlight being the two kawaii (cute) characters, Maps and Ripley) meeting and bonding and committed to writing in snail mail (letters) to each other.

BOOM! Studios and DC Comics have teamed up to bring Lumberjanes and Gotham Academy together and in the process created an exiting and interesting mystery which still contains the heart and messages of friendship that their original series do. This is a wonderful comic and a great addition to any book corner of a classroom.

LINK- Females and Diversity in Mainstream Comics

LINK- A Shout Out to Comics Creator Raina Telgemeier

Reflections of Resident Evil 7

After nearly 14 hours and many Friday nights after school we finally reached the end of the game today. It has been an amazing journey full of jump scares and phenomenal set-pieces that will stick in my gaming mind for a long time to come. The PSVR really did help to add a lot to the game, immersing us in the damp, hot and humid Louisiana bayou. The horrifying Dulvey Mansion and the fearsome creatures within, which provided us with many jump-scares and moments of pure terror, bonded us in our collective fear.

The game is a triumph of action, tension and puzzles that has taken the best elements of the previous Resident Evil games but refreshed it in innovative ways to avoid the creeping sequel fatigue that had begun to plague the series to create something different and new.

After the suitably epic final battle, which had been building up for a couple of hours with some freaky hallucinogenic flashes, we reached the denouement where the twist was worth the wait. After the credits rolled there was a moment of elation of having worked together to complete this wonderful game but also a moment of reflection of what to play next.

So as of now we are looking for a new game to play but it will have to be something special to match or even beat the experiences we have had with Resident Evil VII in PSVR.

New Zelda Game is a Breath of Fresh Air

We live in a time of constant news coverage with access to information 24 hours a day and when it comes to gaming we have tonnes of information available at the tap of a few buttons. 

When Zelda: Breath of the Wild was announced a while back I thought I knew what to expect, 8 dungeons getting progressively more difficult, each containing an item which would open up another area of the map. There is nothing wrong with this format however I feel that it was perfected in 1998 with Ocarina of Time and since then all the mainline Zelda games had been iterations of this format, with the possible exception of Wind Waker and Majora's Mask. The offshoots and quirkier games of the franchise emerged and some of these felt fresh and inventive but the mainline series had reached a creative plateau for me. 

Prince Sidon is a very... charismatic character. I dread looking at Deviant Art :S

However after watching a couple of trailers and reading a little in gaming magazines I grew more intrigued and excited but a bit wary, the amount of times I'd heard, "You see that mountain over there, you can go there," made me pessimistic... After years of game creators over-promising (I'm looking at you Peter Molyneux) I had grown a little jaded. However when I heard the heard the term 'open world' I was ecstatic and decided to open my heart to the possibility that an open world Zelda would be everything I had dreamed off with Nintendo game designing philosophy, which I'm sure would respect my time and avoid the usual open world problems of 'Go there and touch some random doodad' or overwhelming me with pointless fetch quests.  

Upon starting Zelda you awake in a cave and as you exit the panorama that greets you is truly awe inspiring. The cursed Hyrule Castle is there in the horizon and you can go to face Calamity Ganon straight away but it's not recommended as you are under-powered. You are left to your own devices to explore but only after you visit the 4 initial temples to hone your skills and gain the glider which opens up the huge game world. Having the whole of Hyrule available within the first few minutes of play and not being told to 'listen' by a NPC or given guidance of where to go gave the world a sense of authenticity and scale that I hadn't known before. The fact that the world is full of treasures, side quests and secrets not marked on the map makes the whole game a wonderful experience as it allows each person to experience the game in their own individual way. This game has given me a sense of childlike wonder and curiosity that I haven't felt for a long time. There are moments that will stick with me for a long time; discovering Kakariko Village after a long time in the wilderness, finally making it into Zora's Domain after being confused for a couple of hours, witnessing immeasurable moments of beauty as the sun sets and rises over the land of Hyrule.  The scale of the game is mind blowing and rather than following the critical path through the game I'm loving just pootling around and exploring this wonderful world.

So after 12 or so hours of gameplay I'm still just a short way in but declare that this is a masterpiece, a true gem. I love this game and when I'm not playing it I'm thinking about it. So here's to about another 100 hours or so of gaming!

The Moomins- Retro Soundtrack Review

To kick off the first of hopefully many retro soundtrack reviews I've got a spectacular starter, the vinyl of the 1980s Moomins series. I've spoken previously about how as a child the jerky, awkward animation style and the creepy title music spooked me but with time I've come to respect the art choices and direction taken with this work and have come to appreciate similar works by the Bolex Brothers and Jan Svankmajer 

Getting the vinyl itself was an interesting story worthy of Tove Jansson herself; Drift Records had procured a sizable chunk of the initial 600 vinyl shipment but on the day of their arrival into the UK the box was mislabeled and the vinyls were taken elsewhere to another warehouse with over 1000 other containers. It took over a month for the box to be found and the Moomins to be rediscovered... truly a wonderful tale for such whimsical characters, but what of the record itself? 

The record is beautifully presented within a large image from the 80s show and on the back is the track list with the blurb which reads: 

Imagine, if you will, a foreboding homemade electro-acoustic, new age, synth driven, proto-techno, imaginary world music Portastudio soundtrack for a Polish-made animated fantasy based on a modern Finnish folk tale, created for German and Austrian TV, composed in 1982 by two politically driven post-punk theatre perfomers from a shared house in Leeds!

Yeesh! Maybe I should have chosen a simpler, more straightforward album to review but this album was too good to pass up on so on we go!

This blurb is a good indicator of the musical journey you take over the course of the 30 minute or so it takes to finish the record. 

It kicks off with the Moomin Theme and it is wonderful to hear the completed piece with an elongates ending. The whole piece sounds a bit like a broken Victorian carousel mixed with a calliope falling down the stairs.

The Travelling Theme suits the title well and is a measured gentle plodding piece, almost metronome-like in its style. It has a simple beat which plays under a wonderful ethereal flute sound. This is an early highlight of the album.

Hobgoblins Hat is suitably mysterious and atmospheric with an arabesque woodwind sound and a throbbing synthesizer pulse underneath it.

Leaving Moomin Valley is grand and sweeping with gentle strings adding a sense of longing.  

Moomins Partytime sounds almost calypso in its rhythm and beat but is punctuated with whoops of joy and guttural throaty sounds which almost give it a tribal feel.  

Hattyfatteners Row is a frenetically paced track with deep throaty shouts of 'row' whilst a drum beat persistently beats. It is a driving track and almost sounds like an early garage or jungle track.

Woodland Band is a whimsical piece which brings together the sounds of various woodwind instruments and forest sounds together. The piece is quite sweet and has a 'regular' musical sound. This is another beautiful highlight of the album.

Most Unusual is exactly that; unusual. It sounds almost like a theremin mixed with a metallophone and is quite muted and moody but pleasing to the ear.

Midwinter Rites is a spooky piece which starts off with a deep percussive drum beat and strange guttural voices which growl and moan to the driving beat whilst in the background other higher screams are heard. An Indian sounding pungi piped instrument slits in and adds to the peculiarity. A strange piece indeed but an unusual highlight.

Piano Waltz is an elegant waltz piece and one of the more conventional pieces on the album but no less wonderful for that fact. 

Creepers sounds like a gamalan piece with lots of gentle rhythmic thumping and beeps flitting in and out. A melodic relaxing piece.

Woodland Band (Far Away) is a reprise of sorts of Piano Waltz but done in woodwind, it sounds so gentle and calming.

Comet Shadow is a haunting piece with howling wind and echoing whistles and a reverberating low synthesizer sound, this piece sounds moody and sinister. 

Comet Theme is a piano based theme with the same few notes played in different keys, getting faster and faster as the comet approaches I guess! 

The Moomins Theme (Ending Titles) are the same as the beginning it shorter and by my reckoning faster but I could be wrong. 

Overall the album is unlike anything I've heard before, apart from this show which I occasionally caught in my youth. It is unique, both beautiful and strange and so it is a difficult one to recommend to everyone. For people with niche tastes and quirky sensibilities this might be your bag but for most this is an uncomfortable and strange listen. I love this album and even though I know I won't listen to it very much, it's just not that sort of album, I'm glad I've got it to listen to on occasion when the need to be terrified/ whimsified takes me. If you'd like to listen to a sample of the album follow the link here.

Retro Soundtrack Reviews

There has been a recent trend in releasing soundtracks of classic and well-regarded children's television shows from the 80s and 90s.

Recently Inspector Gadget, DuckTales: Legend of the Lost Lamp, Ulysses 31, The Mysterious Cities of Gold and many others have been released but there are many others have had recent re-releases. 

Maybe as the children of the 80's are now at the age where they have expendable cash and are in the awkward position of never being likely to get on the property ladder they've embraced nostalgia of things past and that's what seen this revival and remembrance of things past. Whatever it is I love it and embrace it fully. 

For me the prize release is the MCOG soundtrack. In my childhood it beguiled me and in my formative adolescent years when I revisited the series in the early 90s on The Children's Channel I fell in love with the Shuki Levi and Haim Saban music all over again. Since then I've been collecting the old soundtracks and can boast to owning lots of them.

Some of the soundtracks I've bought have been great and some others less so. I'll be sharing some of my thoughts of them here in a new section called Retro Soundtrack Reviews.  

The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers - Book Review

Japan has a rich history when it comes to video games but this has been rarely discussed or documented, at least in the West in english. There are a myriad of excellent books that discuss the history and legacy of video games but often they are from a western viewpoint and discuss the impact of gaming in the west like Game Over by David Sheff, Console Wars by Blake Harris or Power Up by Chris Kohler.  With so many Japanese developers there must be some amazing tales to tell but with the passing of some gaming legends like Fukio Mitsuji, creator of Bubble Bobble and Masaya Nakamura, founder of Namco, it is a case of now or never to get these stories told and written down for posterity.

Step in retro video game journalist S.M.G Szczepaniak, who has written for many gaming publications including Retro Gamer and Gamasutra, which is where I knew of his previous work. He started a Kickstarter in 2015 to create a book with the aim to get some of the stories and history behind the often secretive Japanese game development scene and shed light on this era of gaming. What follows is a 500 page plus book of interviews with honest and candid answers from the people who were there at the time video game history was being made. Without the PR people acting as gatekeepers of information what comes through is intriguing reading, and whilst there are some NDA (Non-Discolosure Agrements) in place for some of the interviewees, there is a rich vein of information here which is expertly mined by Szczepaniak.

The interviews are informal and you can see that for many of the interviewees Szczepaniak is well-versed in their history and impact on the gaming culture and so what emerges is a sense of kinship and understanding as some of the game developers have their moment in the sun and thus share information freely. Reading the book you start to get a real understanding of the Japanese culture at the time and of the huge economic bubble. Whilst I did not recognise all those that were interviewed the sheer number of interviews and the breadth of topics covered ensured that I was engaged throughout. Whilst not all interviews or topics interested me I did read it all from cover to cover over the course of a couple of weeks. I am not sure I would read the whole book again but I know I will dip in from time-to-time to re-read certain interviews I like or to research certain creators like Yuzo Koshiro.

Overall the book is an essential for gamers, covering a part of video game history that many of us do not know enough about. Anyone with an interest in retro games and Japanese culture should pick this book up and there is plenty contained within to engage.

Drone Racing: A Sport of the Future?

Drones are everywhere. In the past couple of years the commercial availability of drones has risen whilst their prices have dropped, this has led to this past year being the Year of the Drone, with the gadget high on many people's Christmas list. As a teacher and the Future Technology lead at my school, charged with preparing our pupils for the future and potentially disruptive technology which could change the way we use and think about technology, I have been following the emergence and rise of drones closely and thinking about how they could be used in an educational environment.

As an avid gamer I think it was the game Wipeout which first attracted me to the idea of racing through tech-filled landscapes in futuristic hovering machines in fluorescent colours, it may have been F-Zero on the SNES but Wipeout on the original PlayStation was the game where I was first woken to the possibility of such a sport.

I am obviously not alone as the past year has seen a huge interest in drone racing as a sport, with the Drone Racing League, the National Drone Racing Championships and the Dubai World Drone Prix forming. In fact the Dubai World Drone Prix had a prize winning pot of $1 million, a record for the fledgling sport, which was won by a British 'pilot'. Many entrepreneurs are seeing the potential of the sport and are staking their claim to be the next Bernie Ecclestone whilst others see their chance to make money from their hobby, much like e-sports.

As teachers we should encourage our pupils to take part in whatever interests them and so in this spirit my school purchased 3 Hubsan X4 H107C to develop their basic piloting skills, 2 Hubsan X4 Mini FPV to develop their first person flying skills, 2 Boblov Eachine FPV flight goggles and a few air-gates to practice our skills. The whole package came in at under £500 and was researched to be the most cost effective and accessible way into the sport. 

I have been testing some of the equipment myself over the past few days but tomorrow will be working alongside my colleague to get our Digital Leaders, pupils with an interest in Computing and all things tech, to look through our resources and plan a course of action of starting our own Drone Racing League, with the intention of starting an inter-school competition sometime in the near future.

Flying drones whilst wearing FPV (First Person View) googles is an unsettling, dreamlike experience but once you get used to it truly immersive and engaging. I hope that this sport does take off and by providing our pupils with the resources and skills needed to compete in the sport maybe we will inspire our pupils to engage with the sport and maybe create future pilots.