Hilda- Complete Series 1 Review

Hilda is a graphic comic series and now Netflix animated show about a young adventure loving girl. The 13 part animate series is adapted from the multi award winning and highly acclaimed graphic novel series by Luke Pearson.

Protagonist Hilda lives with her mother in a cabin near the woods and mountains, away from people and it is in this landscape that Hilda goes on her first few adventures.
The first two episodes are a delight, reminiscent of Tove Jansson's Moomins, in that fantastical adventures are had and magical creatures such as the woodsman, stone trolls and giants are met against the backdrop of the wilds. The weirdness and slight tinge of unease reminds me of Over The Garden Wall, with episode 2 being especially melancholic and touching.

After the events of episode 2, Hilda and her mother leave their cabin and move to the city of Trolberg. Hilda then adapts to life in an urban setting, meeting new people and the complexities that brings. She begins to understand the beauty that can exist in the city and develops friendships through the Sparrow Scouts group she joins and it is here that the main thrust of the series is pushed forward with each episode being an amazing and whimsical adventure. There are elves, stone giants, a Thunderbird and even a nightmare inducing teen thrown into the mix and it all ends up making sense as the world is a tapestry of story and character with its world building logic.

The stories are often simple standalone adventure tales but there are elements of continuity as each episode has repercussions for all that follows. The episodes often have a lot of heart and are touching, something I've been seeing a lot more of in 'children's animation' over the past few years.

The animation is stunning and the colour palette beautiful at conveying the mood. The fully realised characters are beautifully animated and even though they may look quite basic, have warmth and depth.
The voice acting is superb, especially the voice actress of Hilda, Bella Ramsey.

The soundtrack is also really something, all synthy and atmospheric, it has elements of the 80s but is definitely its own thing. The title track by one of my favourite singers, Grimes, is a triumph and interspersed throughout the series' moments of wonder are individual tracks that create whimsy and joy. The standout for my daughter and I was when Hilda was riding of the water spirit in the Lost Clan episode. And that is what this series is about, a programme for adults and children alike. My daughter is nearly 4 years old and loved the episodes I showed her but some of the episodes I didn't let her watch as I knew for prior watching that they would scare her.

I binged the series over the course of an evening and a day and loved it. It reminds me of Gravity Falls and Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated and that is very high praise indeed as those two series are some of the best animated shows I've ever seen. If you get a chance watch Hilda, you won’t be disappointed.

LINK- Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Series 2 Review

A Hat In Time- Video Games As Art

A Hat In Time is a gorgeous cartoony 3D platform game that was successfully Kickstarted a couple of years ago. The game comes from Gears For Breakfast, a single person endeavour that grew into a larger volunteer group who contributed from around the world. What this has done is create a game that is tight and reflects the best of the genre (Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie) whilst avoiding the annoying collectathon that was Donkey Kong 64. I completed the game and had a blast as each new world felt fresh and exciting. It helped that the game was gorgeous to look at too!

V and A Video Games: Design/ Play/ Disrupt- Exhibition Review

The world famous Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) is currently running the Video Games: Design/Play/ Disrupt exhibition. The real boon of the exhibition is that it allows the wider community to understand the gaming community and the lure of the virtual world.

The beautiful V and A museum in London is a great setting for the Video Games: Design/Play/ Disrupt exhibition.

Many contemporary video games are creative, immersive and innovative and some are having a huge social and cultural impact across the globe, not always for the best but it is important to consider the positives alongside the negatives which is what the media seems to focus on. The exhibitions focus is quite narrow as it doesn't really look at the history of video games but rather issues around the medium including the portrayals of violence, race and sexuality, which I feel are very important in an artform that is still quite young and seen as the enfant terrible of pop culture.
Across the exhibition well known big budget games and characters rub shoulders with some indie and cult classics but all are accorded respect and lovingly curated. There are large-scale immersive multimedia and interactive installations alongside the usual display stands and cases.

As I entered the space I was welcomed with a rush of colour and a wall of sound, with an extremely large screen showcasing some of the games I would be seeing.

 A large screen greeted me as I entered the exhibition.

A large screen greeted me as I entered the exhibition.

Passing a material mesh doorway, there was another large screen, this time showing the beautiful images from Journey. Austin Wintory's BAFTA winning soundtrack played and its beauty washed over me. The design documents and concept are from the game were on show and the information accompanying the pieces was informative and rich. The concept art sketches and paintings were wonderful to behold and creator, Jenova Chen, had his storyboard based on the classic Hero's journey on display.

The next doorway led to The Last of Us and had the same layout, a large video screen showing images from the game and some of the minutiae that went into its creation. A highlight was the original cork board from creators Naughty Dog with the notes and ideas that helped to consolidate the narrative arc of the game and characters. Within the same room was Bloodborne, the classic hard-as-nails gothic horror game by From Software. There was a playthrough of the Beast Cleric with a voice over by hilarious YouTuber Matt Lees that discussed the strategies needed to defeat the boss and play the game. Also featured were original sketches and a short documentary  covering the creation of the soundtrack.

The next room did a complete volte-face as it featured one of the most colourful games of the current generation, Splatoon. Some concept art and early prototypes were on display but the wall featuring the logos and street art inspired fashion was the thing to look for here.
Also in the same room was an indie game I had never heard of called Consume Me. It was a fun mobile game with elements of Tetris but with food and details of its calorie content. It features a cute aesthetic and I can see why it was placed with Splatoon.

Following on, we had Kentucky Route Zero, the magical realism game which features beautiful art. The original Rene Magritte painting Le Blanc Seing was beautiful to behold and spoke about the inspiration for the game.

On the other side of the room was Tale of Tales' The Graveyard, in which you play an old woman with a walking stick walking through a graveyard and remembering her past. I had played the experience many years ago and found it moving, however I remember there being a backlash amongst many gamers as they claimed that the title wasn't really a game but more of a walking simulator. The sketchbooks and original wire frame animation offered a real insight into how Tale of Tales came up with their concepts. Their 10 point manifesto challenged what video games could be and how they could emotionally resonate with people, much like the Dogme 95 manifesto did for film.

Afterwards I entered a room which contained No Man's Sky, the much maligned but recently patched and actually wonderful procedurally generated space exploration game. As you entered there was a wall of screens, showing GIFs of the worlds you could explore in-game. It was beautiful and looked like an art installation. There were also animal concept art and books that inspired the look of the game, including Asimov’s Foundation books and Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars film art.

The next room was a large one and had several stations which asked deeper questions: Are video games political? Why are video games so white? Why are video games aimed primarily at boys? There was a super wide screen that features talking heads discussing these questions and asking the audience to consider their opinions.

After weaving my way through a black curtain I entered a large room with a huge screen showing a variety of e-sports, showcasing how huge it had all got. There were montages of Eve Online battles, Overwatch matches and League Of Legends world finals. There was also a video on the creation of Westeros from Game of Thrones in Minecraft.

After that I entered an arcade area that reminded me of entering a beachfront arcade in the 80s in Southend or the like... Some muted neon lighting added to the industrial look of the area but it was good to play some of the experimental games.

V and A Video Games: Design/ Play/ Disrupt

And so I had reached the end of the exhibition. So, after all this was it worth a visit. In a word, YES! The whole exhibition was well crafted and placed video games in an interesting space that requires people to examine it further. There is more that can be done but as the first major exhibition of its kind in London it is very worthwhile.

Night In The Woods- Video Games As Art

I've been playing a game called Night in the Woods recently and it has had me reflecting on a lot of things. The game follows college dropout Mae Borowski, who returns home to the crumbling former mining town of Possum Springs. We follow her as she meets old friends and realises that the town she knew has moved on, and not always for the better.
The game rang true on so many levels for me: coming back to a place to see how much yet how little it has changed, how people you knew have moved on or not at all and how tough life has been for some people, who live within the shadow of one of the richest places on Earth, nearly a decade after the economic crises.
Barking in East London is a crap hole but it was my crap hole, it had issues but it did have a sense of community amongst its high rises, empty shopping centre and prevalence of gambling, cheap barely edible vegetable bowls and pound chicken shops.
As someone who spent pretty much their entire life in the town until quite recently I have half remembered memories of Vicarage Fields opening and the whole town seemingly coming out to welcome it and partake in its free peppermint lollies emblazoned with the logo, the cool bookshop on the top floor and the video game shop Whizz Kids selling the latest system and offering playable Atari Lynxes with Chips Challenge. Now it seems like an empty shell with cheap clothes stores and stalls selling phone accessories and plugs.... A shadow of the promise it offers in its youth.
Night in the Woods resonated with me as it sensitively showed that the memories in our mind are often rose tinted and don't actually show the real world situation. As I’ve said, Barking was a crap hole, and even though it didn't have a cosmic horror entity or a death cult like in the game, it never truly felt safe, however I barely remember the bad things… the very high crime stats, the scary train station full of hood rats, the malevolent Vicarage Walk, people asking for a ‘spare 20p’… all horrendous!
However Barking seems to be rising from the ashes of Ford in Dagenham closing as the old 70s high-rises are being knocked down to make way for the new low wise apartment complexes, feeding the lifeblood of the city as it turns into yet another commuter town. This is an improvement after about 20 years of decline but it does feel like an end of something and that is something Night In The Woods captures very well. Who says games can’t be art? Art speaks of the human condition and Night In The Woods does that is spades.

Planet Jarre Celebrates 50 Years of Jean Michel Jarre

With a career spanning 50 years in electronic music, it seems like the appropriate time for Jean Michel Jarre to be releasing a new ‘best of’ compilation album. His music has been a huge part of my life ever since I heard his music on the Landscape Channel in the late 80s/ early 90s. The track, Oxygene 4 is a masterpiece and I have been enamored with Jarre ever since, have heard all his albums and owning most.

This influence map was created as the first piece of work for this webpage way back in 2011 and it shows how prominent a part Jarre’s music played in my life.

In 1976 struggling musician Jean Michel Jarre released Oxygene on an unsuspecting world. It became a huge commercial success and brought Jarre to the masses, becoming one of the most successful French albums in the world. Oxygene has stood the test of time to become recognised as one of the most influential ambient electronic albums of all time and Jarre is on the right side of history, seen as a pioneer and master of the craft. A handful of successful albums and record breaking world tours followed and Jarre dipped back into the Oxygene well 20 years later to release Oxygene 7- 13 in 1997.

A period of experimentation and mixed success followed with highs such as Metamorphoses and Aero but also low lows such as with the much maligned Téo & Téa. It seemed that Jarre had lost his edge, his relevance... but in an extraordinary tale of redemption Jarre came back bigger and better in 2015 and 2016 with the impressive Electronica Vol 1 and 2 albums and a stunning world tour. It seemed like the time was right for Jarre to recapture his crown as the ambient electronica master and so, after 40 years from the original release of Oxygene we had Oxygene 3. When I heard about the release to say that I was excited would be an understatement. I consider the album to be one of the most influential in my life and it is probably my most listened to album ever. I was please but also worried that Jarre wouldn't be able to recapture the magic. It is difficult for many artists to have the fire and creativity of their youth but when I heard that Jarre was taking a back to basics approach and creating it within a 6 week time frame, just like he did for the original, I was sold. This new album was never intended to be a lavish polished production, instead it sounded rough in places but it had Jarre doing what he did best; creating haunting, ambient soundscapes that would stay with you for a long time and transport you to another place. The album was a return to the Jarre of yore, and his old self but with the added wisdom that comes with age.

And so we arrive at this current point in time with Jarre back on form, firing on all cylinders and touring around the world again. I’ve pre-ordered the Planet Jarre album and am super excited to hear my old favourites rearranged according to the four different themes: Soundscapes, Themes, Sequneces and Explorations. The track list is:

 It’s a pretty decent tracklist and I look forward to hearing how they all flow.

It’s a pretty decent tracklist and I look forward to hearing how they all flow.

Jarre has been releasing short videos over the past few weeks reflecting back over his career and it is inteersting viewing.

Resogun- Video Games As Art

I love shoot 'em ups, (shmups as they seem to be called nowadays). Ever since I played R-Type at Heathrow airport the balletic dance of moving and firing whilst avoiding bullets has appealed to me, but in the past couple of decades shoot 'em ups seem to have been replaced by bullet hell games, in which you avoid hundreds of usually neon coloured projectiles. Luckily, Resogun is a shoot 'em up that strikes a nice balance between the two; great shooting mechanics mixed with stunning voxel graphics. The game takes place on a cylindrical plane, which allows you to see the enemy approaching from both sides. What results is a frantically paced shoot 'em up that requires much practice to master. However, when a game looks and feels this good that isn't a problem.

Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

After nearly 30 years of The Simpsons and nearly 20 years of Futurama, Matt Groening (ably assisted by Simsons alumni, Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley) have created a new animated series. Disenchantment is the tale of Princess Tiabeanie 'Bean', the hard drinking and burping princess of Dreamland, a medieval fantasy land straight from many tales of yore. She is fated to be married to a Prince of whatever land her father sees as the most politically advantageous. However, Bean is a driven woman and her fate is linked to Elfo, an elf who escapes his magical land of pure maniacal happiness and Luci, a demon with a dark and mysterious past.

The trio end up together and the scene is set for an emotional roller-coaster for Bean as she battles her good and bad sides with the literal manifestations by her side.

In a crowded animation market with the meta Rick and Morty, darkly philosophical Bojack Horseman, gently family-centric Bob's Burgers and those stalwarts South Park, Family Guy and of course, the grandaddy, The Simpsons, how does this new show fit in?

Well, first of all the art style, whilst being unmistakably  Simpson-ish has a less garish colour palette. In places the show is quite beautiful with lots of carefully lit scenes, lent some oomph with flashy computerised transitioning shots. The standard medieval setting is beautifully realised and the attention to detail is astonishing, especially when it comes to sight gags such as the shop signage.

 The animation in Desenchantment can be beautiful at times ©Matt Groening, Netflix

The animation in Desenchantment can be beautiful at times ©Matt Groening, Netflix

The voice acting is too notch with Simpson/ Futurama regulars Billy West, John DiMaggio and Tress MacNeille joined by Abbi Jacobson, Eric Andre and Nat Faxon. The standout voice actor is Matt Berry who plays the pompous arrogant Prince Merkimer with booming voice and faux gravitas. He gets the majority of the best lines and delivers then with aplomb, however he only appears in a few episodes and so feels underutilised.

The series has a mix of standalone episodes, where we get to know the characters and world further and add to the whole tapestry of the world. The episodes are:

Episode 1- Teabeanie is a hard drinking, hard fighting Princess of Dreamland and is set to be married against her wishes. She rebels and runs away, only to be pursued by her husband to be, Prince Merkimer.

Episode 2- The King attempts to use elf blood to create the Elixir of Life and so Elfo goes through progressively worse forms of torture. Bean tries to get rid of her betrothed with a visit to Mermaid Island.

Episode 3- Bean, Elfo and Luci steal a horse and carriage and go on a joyride whilst drunk on mead. They then move onto harder stuff and fall in with a bad lot and steal from Bean's family crypt. The King hires an exorcist to get rid of a demon he thinks is controlling his wayward daughter.

Episode 4- The King goes away for a few days and so Bean throws an immense party in the castle. Problems arise when the Viking horde gatecrash the party.

Episode 5- Bean is banished from the castle for her constant errant behaviour and so has to get a job in the 'real' world. She soon realises that she isn't cut out for menial work.

Episode 6- In an effort to teach her about responsibility King Zog has Bean represent his Kingdom as an ambassador when they travel to the land of the Dankmire, but things don't go according to plan when Bean gets drunk and offends the Dankmirians.

Episode 7- The trio visit a drugs den and under the influence of Bliss, have hallucinations. Elfo lies and tells Bean he has a lost love girlfriend, Bean then proceeds to find the figure, in the shape of a giantess. What could go wrong, right?

For the last 3 episodes the series is more narrative driven with a story arc and has a more emotional core. King Zod is still after the Elixir of Life but things take a turn as Elfo is kidnapped. A crusade is mounted to get him back and it leads to the lost city of Cramorrah and the Eternity Vial, the key to the elixir of life. The mission succeeds but things don't go according to plan.

This is a promising narrative arc that has clear influence from Indiana Jones and many other adventure matinee shows typical of the genre however, it all rings a little hollow as you are not invested in the characters as they haven't been developed enough. This is the main issue that I have with the series so far: the stories, while fine, are just not interesting enough overall. The final 3-parter does see an improvement in developing the characters and world along and hopefully in the second season (if there is one) there will be more of an emphasis on the bigger picture. Oh, whilst we are talking about the bigger  picture, stay for the end of episode 10 stinger a la Marvel films.

The show succeeds on some levels but not in others. Whilst more mature in content with its 12 rating, the writing isn't as crude or as acerbic as in South Park or *groan* Family Guy, or as clever as in The Simpsons at its peak or the characters as well developed as in Bob's Burgers. This all sounds unfair as all those series have been going for many years and the shows have got better and we've seen character development so I'm optimistic that Disenchantment will grow like Futurama did in the 2nd and 3rd season. In far smaller scope Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated managed to deliver a story full of mystery and humour in just 52 episodes and Gravity Falls within 39 so it shows that series don't have to go on forever to deliver.

Overall, if you catch the series you won't be blown away but there is the promise of something building if it is given a chance.

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Season 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Season 2 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

Groove Coaster- Video Games As Art

Groove Coaster is an iOS and arcade rhythm game developed by Taito and released in 2011. The game is a spin off from Space Invaders but is a totally different beast, being more of a synesthesia game where visuals and music merge to create an explosion for the senses.

The beauty of the game is difficult to convey through still images but I've tried and the results are below,

Disenchantment- 1st Episode Review

After nearly 30 years of The Simpsons and nearly 20 years of Futurama, Matt Groening and his alumni, Josh Weinstein and Bill Oakley, have created a new animated series. Disenchantment is the tale of Princess Tiabeanie 'Bean', the hard drinking and burping princess of Dreamland, a medieval fantasy land straight from tales of yore. She is fated to be married to a Prince of whatever land her father sees as the most politically advantageous. However, Bean is a driven woman and her fate is linked to Elfo, an elf who escapes his magical land of pure maniacal happiness and Luci, a demon with a dark and mysterious past. 

 The adventuresome trio. ©Netflix, Matt Groening

The adventuresome trio. ©Netflix, Matt Groening

This trio end up together and the scene is set for an emotional roller-coaster for Bean as she battles her good and bad sides with the literal manifestations by her side. The first episodes ends on a literal cliff hanger and the scene is set for an animated series with a real story arc. 

In a crowded animation market with the meta Rick and Morty, darkly philosophical Bojack Horseman, gently family-centric Bob's Burgers and those stalwarts South Park, Family Guy and of course, the grandaddy, the Simpsons, how does this new show fit in? Well, first off this show is definitely more mature and aimed at the teen and adult market. There are a few adult jokes in there, for example in the beginning there is a hanging scene and the phrase, "For once I won't go all the way," are said.
As for the art style, it is very Simpson-ish but with a less garish colour palette. In places the show is quite beautiful with lots of carefully lit scenes, lent pizzazz with flashy computerised transitioning shots. The humour is tres Simpsons, and as such the ebb and flow of the jokes are all present and correct. 

The story is there and with the potential to world build with interesting characters, such as the extremely humble puritan farmer and wife, the old fairy who does 'tricks' and the arrogant but persistent Prince in pursuit of the Princess, the series could really take off. 

For a first episode Disenchantment is off to a decent start. There is a long way to go before it becomes the hits of its predecessors but there is promise. I'm hoping to complete the rest of the series over the next couple of days and so will put up a whole series review later this week but if you haven't seen it, check it out. All 10 episodes have been put up for binge watching.

Bollywood Posters- Book Review

Bollywood is the largest film industry in the world. Every year over 1000 films are made, more than triple that of Hollywood. The colourful and often vibrant posters pervade the streets of India, becoming more than just a form of entertainment; films are often a tool to bring warmth, comfort, escapism and real social change in the country.
The posters have changed over time but the classic film posters from the 1950s to early 1990s show a glorious explosion of color, form, and typography. The appeal of books like Bollywood Posters by Jerry Pinto is that, as well as appealing to the Bollywood fans, its appeal also extends beyond that to graphic designers and artists who will find much to inspire them as well.

This book has some great scans and photos of Bollywood posters through the ages. Whilst in no way a comprehensive look into the subject, how could it be? The book provides a wide and varied compilation of posters, categorised by genres. Some of the posters only have Hindi wiring and so it is occasionally difficult to ascertain what some films are titled as but as a look into the often underappreciated art-form, this book presents a brilliant collection. There are some rare posters shown and often next to each poster the merits of each film is explored with a short synopsis.

The modern film posters are more photo based and utilise tools like Photoshop, which are both fine, but I like the artistry shown in the hand painted posters of the bygone era. This book is a wonderful look at the evolution of  Bollywood posters and as a niche product is essential for Bollywood, graphic artists and simply fans of art.
 

Tacoma- Video Games As Art

Tacoma is an exploration game set aboard an abandoned space station in 2088. The player controls Amy, who has been assigned by hyper-corporation Venturis to enter the abandoned Tacoma station, find out what happened to the crew and retrieve the station's AI, ODIN.

The game is by Fullbright, the team behind Gone Home and follows the same style of gameplay where you explore a location to find out what happened. The game has an amazing visual style and feels like a real lived in space with lots of minutae adding to the atmosphere.

Nier Automata- Video Games As Art

NieR: Automata is a sort of sequel to NieR that tells the story of androids 2B, 9S and A2 and their battle to reclaim the machine-driven dystopia overrun by powerful machines. So far so video game trope-y, but what sets this game apart is the philosophical and ethical questions it asks. I played the game for just under 40 hours and in that time it made me consider deeper questions in life like why are we here? Is life cyclical? Is there a God? I haven't been this mentally stimulated for ages, maybe since Twin Peaks or even Evangelion back in the late 90s. Anyways, the game is stunning and well worth your time and money. Play it, it's one of my favourite games of all time.

Reflections on Twin Peaks: The Return

It's been a year since Twin Peak: The Return was on television and I have been reflecting on the series recently as we come up to its first anniversary. Last year the series lit up the screens and the fandom was reinvigorated and excited to see the saga unfold with Agent Dale Cooper lost in the Black Lodge and Bob possessing the body of Cooper and repeating "How's Annie?"
There was a high level of expectation and hype surrounding the series after the 25 year wait. However the new series defied expectation and forged its own path, free from most of the shackles of its past and as a result, was the finest mixture of art and television I have ever seen.

Twin Peaks: The Return was a sublime limited series. Each episode was like a mini movie with gorgeously framed shots and haunting imagery that stayed with you long after the episode had ended. The story meanwhile moved at a deliberate, some would say glacial pace, especially for those who didn't like the Dougie Jones portions of the story, yet the story was multilayered and open to interpretation. Even now I am still working through theories and ideas in my head and, through Facebook groups, building and developing my understanding of the world Lynch and Frost created.

Episode 8 of the series was the high watermark in my opinion and one of the finest hours of television I've ever experienced.

A year on the series still haunts my dreams and I hope that this mercurial series is remembered for the masterpiece it truly is. In the meantime I'll try to get to sleep without the echoes of Carrie Page's scream reverberating in my ear.

LINK- Twin Peaks Retrospective

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Return Series Review

LINK- Secret History of Twin Peaks: Book Review

LINK- Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier Book Review

Shadow of the Colossus- Book Review

I'm a habitual podcast listener and have been following a couple of gaming podcasts for over 7 years. Whilst listening to Retronauts, a retro gaming podcast, Nick Suttner discussed his book Shadow of the Colossus which he stated provided an analysis of how Shadow of the Colossus (and Ico) helped reshape the video game industry and influenced the direction of many games that followed it.
I purchased the book based on his insight of the games during the podcast, hoping it would be an in depth study of the game and its history. When it arrived I was surprised to see how slight it was, yet having read it the length seems just right for the subject matter.

A slight but essential book for fans of the game.

The book has a distinct structure, the chapters start with Suttner talking about his life at the time of playing the game in a memoir format, he then talks about his playthrough and then he reflects upon what the game and its creators are telling us. The book had me thinking about the Shadow of the Colossus and how it has been, retrospectively, a formative game for me.

I remember, waited with bated breath for the release of Shadow of the Colossus. Ever since I had played Ico, the stunningly beautiful puzzle platformer that had been released 4 years beforehand I knew that Team Ico were special and Studio Director Fumito Ueda was a true auteur.
I owned an N64 and also a PS2, but I pretty much only bought Sony's machine for Ico to be honest. Obviously, I loved the PS2 and its amazing catalogue of games but Ico was my impetus to pick the machine up in the first place.

I picked up Shadow of the Colossus on the day of release from my local Game store as soon as it opened at 9:30am. I remember vividly walking home with that special feeling that comes from buying a sealed game and I wasn't disappointed. As I opened the shrink wrap I was pleasantly surprised to see that, like Ico, the game box was a cardboard one and postcards were contained within. I still have my original copy of the PS2 game that I bought all those years ago, unable to part with it even when it had quite a high resale value.

 Ico and SOTC games and soundtracks.

Ico and SOTC games and soundtracks.

I played Shadow of the Colossus over the next week. I sat immersed in my bedroom night after night until I finally beat the game. This involved defeating 16 huge colossi in a boss rush before that was a thing. After finishing the game I knew that it was a classic and it went straight into my top 5 gaming list. I realised at the time that this was a singular visionary game quite unlike anything that I had played before but I didn't know that it would remain that way almost 15 years later. I find that moments from the game or the music drift back to me and I am transported to a university me, transfixed in front of the screen cross-legged on my blue carpeted bedroom floor.

At that time, my thought was that, while it was perhaps not my favorite game ever, it was probably one of the best I'd ever played. As the months went by I found that my mind would often drift back and that it had become a formative part of who I was. At the time I thought Shadow of the Colossus would lead to a different genre or way of making games but this didn't come to fruition until years later, with the game cited as influencing Journey, The Last of Us, Dark Souls and many indie games too.

When the PS3 remaster of the Team Ico Collection came along I avoided it. I very rarely visit games from the PS2 era as so few stand the test of time and I didn't want to ruin my wonderful memories of the game. However, when it was announced that the PS4 would be receiving a ground up remake of the game I became intrigued. A lot of the mechanics of the original SOTC were great for the time but now would seem archaic, so hearing that there would be the option of the original as well as a new control scheme had me intrigued. Plus Blue Point is an amazing studio with an excellent pedigree at remakes. I bought the game on pre-order and it has joined my gaming pile of shame but I hope to get to it within the next couple of months. I look forward to revisiting the Forbidden Lands and reflecting upon the game Suttner style.

Overall, the book is an interestingly structured text that works because I have a deeply personal connection with the game and reading Suttner's memoir sections had me reflecting on how the books, comics, anime, manga, music and video games in my life have affected me similarly to how Shadow of the Colossus affected him.

The World of Moomin Valley- Book Review

The World of Moomin Valley is a lavish book looking at the weird and wonderful creatures created by Tove Jansson.
The book is beautifully presented with an embossed cover and gold detailing on the numerous characters from the world of the Moomins. Inside, the premium feel of the book continues with high grade paper stock and many reproductions of Jansson's illustrations, which are beautifully presented in exquisitely clean images.

The foreword by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, an essay which looks at the origins and meaning of Jansson's works, is an incisive and insightful look at the relevance and legacy of the Moomins. The book proper then starts.

The writing style by author, Philip Ardagh is informal and easy to read. The book starts by presenting biographies of the various inhabitants of Moomin Valley that most people, even casual acquaintances of the books and animations will already know, but some of the genealogy was surprising to me and it was great to get things clarified, especially in the very useful family tree diagram.

The second section looks at Jansson's childhood and examines her family life, including her early sketches and foray into political cartoons. The inspiration behind some of the Moomin characters are examined, including Jansson's lifelong female partner Tuulikki Pietiläs, supposedly the foundation for Tootiki. The biography is quite a brief section and for those looking for a more in-depth look at Jansson's life, may not be satisfying enough but in the context and style of this book, it fits in.

The World of Moomin Valley is a beautifully illustrated and easily accessible guide to all things Moomin. The book is a wonderful primer for people new to the Moomins or for the Moomin fan in your life. It is such a gorgeously packaged book with lots of information and images containers that it is a must buy.

 I visited Moomin World in Finland in 2017 and loved it!

I visited Moomin World in Finland in 2017 and loved it!

Quentin Blake to Auction Artwork

Quentin Blake, beloved author, illustrator and former Children's Book Laureate is selling over 170 pieces of his original art work in an auction. The art pieces span over 40 years of his illustrious career. The works are to be sold through online auction and at auction house Christie's in London to raise money for House of Illustration, Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity and Survival International.

I've looked at the pieces and there are some stunning art works from a wide variety of books but with the cheapest lot starting at £200 and rising to £15,000 it's a bit too steep for me on my lowly teachers wage.

I'd love to own a piece but it's all a little hot for me.

However if you want to get involved try:

Browse the lots
148 original illustrations are being auctioned online from 3-12 July.

Go and see the work
An exhibition of Blake's illustrations is open to the public at Christie’s from 7-10 July.

Join us for Christie’s Late
On Monday 9 July between 6-8pm Christie's will hold a free open evening with art, music and specialist talks.

Come and see the live auction
On Wednesday 11 July from 5.30pm 30 works will be auctioned live at Christie's and anyone can come along!

LINK- Quentin Blake Auction at Christie's

Lulu in Hollywood- Book Review

Louise Brooks is a film legend, at the time when silent movies ruled the world her natural acting style was very different from the overly dramatic styling of many of her peers. A hack at the time wrote, ''Louise Brooks cannot act ... she does not suffer ... she does nothing.'' 
This is unfair as watching any of her higher tier films shows that she had range, nuance and emotion. However, her true skill lay in writing as Lulu in Hollywood shows. Brooks comes across as an intelligent, witty and strong woman yet also quite self-destructive woman at a time when women's rights were not quite as established as they could be.

 A short read at only 115 pages but full of annecdotes and insight into a oft-forgotten era.

A short read at only 115 pages but full of annecdotes and insight into a oft-forgotten era.

Over the course of 6 essays Brooks covers everything from her childhood and early years to her final years in Hollywood when the system chewed her out. The essays are:
- Kansas to New York
- On Location With Billy Wellman
- Marion Davies' Neice
- Humphrey and Bogey
- The Other Face of W. C. Fields
- Gish and Garbo
- Pabst and Lulu
- Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs

This book is only 115 pages long but is a fascinating insight into the world of the 20's silent movie era and the beginning of the talkies. The stories of the prominent players of the period are intriguing; William Randolph Hurst, Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Greta Garbo, Lillian Gish and Humphrey Bogart as well as studios MGM and Paramount are all prominently placed and discussed. For an actress who starred in such few movies in a short period of time, Brooks has produced an excellent commentary on the times, the industry and critically, herself.

The iconic Louise Brooks (Credit: BFI)

The chapters are all fascinating, it is interesting to learn about Brooks' early life and her role in Pabst's Pandora's Box but for me the most interesting was chapter 6, Gish and Garbo, in which Brooks discusses the influence of the bankers and money men on film production and the wages of the female stars. In her usual incisive manner Brooks selects quotes from articles written at the time which helped to undermine the star power of its leading ladies in order to reduce their wages. Lillian Gish, one of the most successful stars of the time, was on 7500 dollars a week, and for the money men this was too much. They used their connections in the media to play this up as an absurd amount and underplay the true draw of the stars. Greta Garbo was brought from Europe at a relatively cheap price and starred in a heavily promoted yet unremarkable film, The Torrent. Gish's film, the wonderful yet barely promoted La Boheme, did fine but financially did not make anywhere near as much as the Garbo vehicle. This marked, says Brooks, the exodus of many leading ladies who were cast out by an uncaring Hollywood system who were all about the bottom line. However Hollywood suffered as the lack of stars and the financial crisis in 1929 led to mass closures of cinemas across America. So maybe the Hollywood money men did regret their actions. 

The epilogue, Why I Will Never Write My Memoirs, is also a fascinating insight into why Brooks never wrote a tell all autobiography. She states that people miss out key points that may portray themselves or certain people in a bad light. She says that what's the point of 'telling all' but missing out names and events because it's not convenient to do so? She may have a point but instead what we get is a wonderful smorgasbord of experiences and recollections of this intriguing time.

Lulu in Hollywood is an excellent read that is essential for anyone with even the slightest interest in the period. 

Until Dawn- Video Games As Art

The weather is brightening up, the sun is shining and there isn't a cloud in the sky... so what do I fancy playing? Yup, creepy teen horror inspired Until Dawn! I heard about Until Dawn a while back but just never got around to playing it upon release due to having a massive back catalogue of games (including Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey) but with those games completed I felt like I needed a palette cleanser and this game fit the bill perfectly. Set over the course of one night you control various teenagers who go to a cabin in the mountains to commemorate a tragedy that befell their friends the year before, but something is them thar woods and it's up to you to save the crew from the horrors that lurk in the dark as well as uncover the truth about the area.

The game is great and over the course of 10 hours I was gripped, like cheesy horror trope-y gripped but gripped nonetheless. It's well worth your time if you fancy a mature Scooby Doo like escapade... with more blood!

PlayStation in Concert- Review

This evening I was lucky to be at a world premiere of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performing the music of PlayStation games at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

I purchased the tickets a couple of months ago as I love the Royal Albert Hall for its acoustics and atmosphere, and the chance to hear some of my favourite video game soundtracks performed in such a space by arguably the foremost orchestra in the world, was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Me, chilling outside the Royal Albert Hall before the concert.

The day before the event I received an email notification to download a free app called EnCue, which provides information on the track being performed and details about the composer and the game. I was a bit reluctant as I thought it would take me out of the moment but I did download it, however on the night I didn't use it, preferring to let the music take me on a journey... and what a journey it was!

The ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall is a thing of beauty. The sound dampeners look like magic mushrooms!

The presenter for the performance was Jessica Curry, one of my favourite video game composers who, as well as soundtracking 'Dear Esther' and 'Everyone Has Gone to the Rapture,' hosts the Classic FM video game soundtrack show 'High Score.'

Her compering was short and brought context to the pieces, an amuse-bouche for the ears if you will. She encouraged audience participation via Tweets and read a few out between pieces after the interval. Her witty repartee and jokes at the expense of Hastings and Shropshire were hilarious and endeared her to an already enraptured and enthusiastic audience.

 My rather blurry panorama of the Royal Albert Hall.

My rather blurry panorama of the Royal Albert Hall.

The music itself was exhilarating, to hear some of my favourite pieces performed by a full symphony orchestra with a sympathetic light display was magical. The pieces took me from the deepest depths of the oceans to vast desert vistas to the post apocalyptic near future where robotic dinosaurs ruled the world.

The music was played roughly chronologically from the ps1 era right through to the current PS4 and the tracks were:

CRASH BANDICOOT- Medley
WARHAWK- Theme
RESIDENT Evil- Medley
MEDIEVIL- End Titles
ARC THE LAD- Victorious Fanfare/ Main Theme
ICO- Castle in the Mist and You Were There
DARK CLOUD- Main Theme
flOw- The World of Flow
LITTLEBIGPLANET- The Gardens
ECHOCHROME- Prime #7
SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS- Suite
MOSS- Quiet As A Mouse... With A Sword
KILLZONE 2- Birth Of War
WONDERBOOK- Book of Spells
JOURNEY- Apotheosis
THE LAST OF US- The Last of Us
BLOODBORNE- The First Hunter
HORIZON ZERO DAWN- Years of Training and Aloy's Theme
EVERYBODY’S GONE TO THE RAPTURE- The Light We Cast
THE ORDER 1886- The Knight's Theme
BLOOD AND TRUTH- Ryan Marks
GOD OF WAR- Main Theme
THE LAST GUARDIAN- Overture: Lore
UNCHARTED- Medley

Some of the tracks, like 'The World of Flow' from 'Flow' and 'You Were There' from 'Ico,' were intensely emotional and touching whilst the 'Dark Cloud' theme and the 'Little Big Planet' track were playful in a big band kind of way, full of jazzy brass and swagger. There were definite highlights for me, the tracks from 'Ico,' 'Shadow of the Colossus' and 'The Last Guardian' were particular favourites as they are some of my most listened to soundtracks ever and also because the rose tinted nostalgia I get from recalling when I played those games at certain times in my life. The choral piece from 'Everyone Has Gone to the Rapture' was enthralling and deeply touching and the encore, an 'Uncharted' medley was a fitting way to end this celebration of PlayStation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and hope that it is the start of something annual as it is a great way to bring a lot of people, who may not traditionally visit places like the Royal Albert Hall or attend classical music performances together for a magical, almost otherworldly experience. Also, events like this bring the music of video games to the forefront, challenging the misconception that video game music is all bleeps, bloops and chiptunes and that all games are inherently violent wastes of time. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra might be solving the problem of reaching new, younger audiences via video game soundtracks and I for one am glad. The beauty of the music shows that there is another side to video games; an artform. I only wish that Sony had got their act together and sorted out some merch as they would have made a killing and the fans would have gone away with a momento of a magical night.

Strider- Video Games As Art

There are few cooler characters than Strider Hiryu. The character, who is jointly owned by Capcom and Moto Kikaku, has only starred in a few games and some manga but his amazing character design made him popular enough to star in numerous Marvel vs Capcom games. I recently played the 2014 reboot and loved it, but due to the severe spikes in difficulty I couldn't complete it. However the game is great and a must play for Hiryu fans, if only to see the ninja in motion.