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.

Resident Evil 7 in VR is a Marvel

As a teacher I've been intrigued by virtual reality for a while and the wonderful possibilities that it holds as a means to engage and excite pupils, however as a gamer there hasn't really been anything released that has appealed to me. All this changed when it was announced that Resident Evil 7 would have VR features, this had me intrigued as I have felt that the series had lost its way by becoming more action orientated, and so I bought it on the day of its release.
I played the first couple of minutes at home in my man-cave at home but it felt wrong, I had the feeling that games like this should be experienced with friends using the old unwritten rules; life, level or up to a save point. Back in the day that's the way I used to play that with my friends and that the way I wanted to play this, so one Friday after school I put up a poster welcoming my colleagues to play the game, only 3 people responded and so in we went, us steadfast four, headfirst into the old Dulvey Mansion, in Louisiana; the setting for this game.
The few gaming teachers and I shared the VR headset and swapped around, as per the rules, but still experienced mostly the same thing as the system was connected to the interactive white board with the super loud speakers. The PSVR really does add a lot to the game and it is a lot more immersive than seeing it played out on the interactive white board but playing the game for long periods in VR is quite disorientating and so swapping regularly helps. 
Being winter it gets dark early and so the stage has been perfectly set for immersing ourselves in this game. The mood whilst playing the game has been one of camaraderie punctuated with moments of on-screen horror and jump-scares that have bonded us in our collective fear.

The game itself is wonderfully claustrophobic and as we are 8 or so hours in I look forward to the rest of the game and whatever surprises it may bring.

I have heard people decrying the game saying that it doesn't feel like a traditional RE game but as a long-time fan of the series with plenty of experience I can tell you that when you have to collect 3 dog head sigils to open a door then you're definitely in old skool RE territory. Friday after school has become RE 7 night and I love it!

The Secret Garden BBC - Cult TV Review

There have been many adaptations of The Secret Garden, but the Agnieszka Holland directed film from 1993 starring Kate Maberly and Dame Maggie Smith with music by one of my favourite composers, Zbigniew Preisner, is the high watermark for adaptations. I have, however, heard much praise heaped on the BBC children's TV series and so I thought I'd better check it out.

The story is a classic and tells the tale of young Mary Lennox, the spoilt girl from India, who comes to live in a big, remote house in Yorkshire when her parents pass away from cholera. She is taken under the guardianship of a distant uncle who doesn't seem to have time for her. For Mary the house contains many mysteries including the sounds of someone crying at night and tales of a secret garden contained on the grounds. Over the course of several months Mary solves these mysterious and brings warmth and light into the dark, dank manor house.

The series first aired from January to March 1975 and was very popular in its day. As expected from the BBC the period detail is spot on and the charm is there with an impressive performance from the cast all round, especially the lead Sarah Hollis Andrews. She adds a layer of characterisation and sympathy to her initially spoilt Mary Lennox, so you can see her character grow and mature over the course of the episodes.

During the 7 episodes, weighing in at 200 minutes,  Frances Hodgson Burnett's story is allowed to breath and come to life in a most pleasing way. The story is told at a slow deliberate pace and this allows you to appreciate the acting performances, cinematography and delightful musical score, which complements the whole work and brings it all together. As someone who has never seen the series and thus holds no nostalgia I can say that The Secret Garden is well worth a watch; it's a calm relaxing programme that is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. It is a great story to read and a wonderful story to watch on this DVD.

For the love of Oxygene 20

I did a review of the third Oxygene album a while back and said that overall it was a return to form and worthy of the Oxygene name. I selected a few tracks that I liked but onto that would like to add an extraordinary track that has grown on me and is one of my favourites and that is Oxygene 20 

It starts off with a driving synth and short arpeggios that recall the work of John Carpenter or Goblin, the Oxygene wind motiff plays underneath, then a short almost muted version of Oxygene 6 plays. Then the whole piece changes, a moody string piece slowly builds towards something, you sit and wait for the moment but then the organ kicks in and drives loud bursts of melancholy across the whole piece. You sit and wait for something to kick in, something triumphant but instead the piece fades out and ends with what sounds like a log fire burning. I'm probably not selling it but it is a profoundly moving piece reminiscent of the Waiting for Cousteau side b 45 minute epic track in that it creates a soundscape in which you have visions of fantastical and wonderful landscapes.

This whole piece seems like a remembrance of things past, driven initially with the 70's Carpenter sound and Oxygene 6, but ending on the sound of not synths but a log fire burning and cracking. 

I'm not sure what Jarre is trying to say with this piece but it seems like a denouement of the human condition; the fact that we will destroy each other but life will begin again. Or that maybe we will leave this Earth and travel amongst the stars and settle there. The funereal dirge sound combined with the dramatic explosions indicate the death of hatred and new beginnings. 

I could be, of course, talking outta my hat but this piece is really resonating with me and I wanted to share my feelings and opinions.  

Have a listen and tell me what you think when you hear it?

The Unofficial NES/ Famicom Visual Compendium - Book Review

Over the past few years Bitmap Books have been releasing visual compendiums of retro game consoles. They have done some sterling work for the ZX Spectrum, Commadore 64 and Amiga but when they started a Kickstarter last year to raise funds for a NES Visual Compendium I quickly backed that and so did many others, it sailed past its goal raising 8 times the required amount!. I've spoken at length about my love for the NES before and the chance to grab a book full of stunning pixel perfect artwork from some of the most formative games in the medium was too good a chance to pass up. I backed the 40 pound tier which meant I would get the book in a lenticular case, a chiptune CD, 50 glitches NES postcards and a Famicom Disc System laptop sticker and a digital copy of the book.  

So after what seems like a millennia I finally received my copy of the book this weekend, but was it worth the wait?  

Well to start off with the lenticular case enveloping the book snugly is a thing of beauty; sturdy and impressively weighted this feels like a premium item, not one built to cash in merely on nostalgia but to be a reference or coffee table book of substance. The book itself has a slipcase and the paper stock of the pages is of good quality, with the book containing over 500 pages it is a hefty tome but expertly crafted with sewn binding. The printed images are immaculate and crystal clear and the occasional interviews and smattering of quotes are nice touches. The reflections of gamers on individual NES titles is a thoughtful and personal touch and shows that this was a true labour of love.  

There are a few titles given the privilege of gatefold pages which lay out the artistry behind these titles and a few of my favourites include Mario Bros 1, Punchout and Kirby's Adventure 

So the book is a very worthwhile purchase and a must for any NES/Famicom fan. The glitch postcards are a nice addition and as I've done some glitch art in class myself I really can see the beauty behind the broken. The sticker is fine and whilst not the finest of print quality it looks alright. The CD is a nice bonus and whilst I can't imagine listening to it that often it was a good incentive for the tier I bought in on.  

Overall this is an essential purchase for NES fans and gamers as a whole as some of the art and games contained within have left a long lasting legacy in gaming. Beyond that, it's just a darned pretty book! 

Children and Video Game Certification

(Film clips not suitable for under 18's and this is an opinion discussion piece)

As a teacher and a renown gamer (at least in my school) I occasionally get parents coming up to me asking for my advice about video games and whether specific titles are appropriate are suitable for their children.
I normally tell the parents that they should look at the game cover as there is an age certification there. This way I cover myself by making sure I follow the school policy but also ensure that the parents are following the video game certification system, of which they may be unaware.

This got me thinking about when I was a kid and the media I consumed which was often way too mature for me. My father would get VHS's of Jaws, Rambo, Robocop, Predator and many other 80's action films which featured high body counts and blood but it doesn't seem to have desensitised me or warped me in any way, well not that I can tell anyways!

However I do remember once going to a friends house when I was 8 years old and him excitedly telling me that he had a copy of the latest Freddie Krueger film. I proceeded to watch Nightmare on Elm Street 3 as Freddie invaded a young girls dream, turned into a giant worm in her dolls house and proceeded to swallowed her. I had nightmares for months afterwards and this scene was seared into my mind.

I'm guessing that my father was aware of the film age ratings and content but he allowed me to consume the media from an educated position, he never brought home psychological horror films or anything salacious but blood and guts were fine.
Every year without fail I see queues on parents with their young children buying the latest Call of Duty or Halo game and usually I find myself tutting to myself, thinking that the parents are ill-informed or not taking the responsibility of parenthood seriously, and this may be true for some but recently I've been thinking in this day and age of easy information and research maybe the parents have looked into the video game that their child wants and made an informed decision. Speaking to a few of the children at school on the matter some interesting points were made on the issue of age rating, a few children said that their parents allowed them to play Halo as they were killing aliens and there was no red blood, only goo coming out. Others said that they played the more violent games with their parents only and were not allowed to play it alone. Yet others said that their parents didn't mind the violence but it was the swearing and more adult material that they were protected from.

I have a daughter who is 23 months old at the time of writing and I am very conscious of what media I consume around her. I never play any video games around her but I hope that when I do I'll make sure her screen time is minimal as I know from friends that once you introduce electronics to kids that's it, they'll be very hard to focus on physical real-world activities. I'm not sure if I'm doing it right but I hope by making informed decisions I can help my daughter develop and consume media healthily and raise her to make her own decisions on what she knows works for her and what doesn't. There are no easy answers and in this day and ages when everything is available online I'd like to hope that she make informed decisions based on her knowledge of herself and her character, like my parents did for me.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer - Comic Review

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer is an interesting mix of comic and meticulously researched notes.

The comic starts off as a pretty straightforward account of the working relationship between Victorian geniuses Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace. The book looks at the creation of the never-to-be-completed Analytical Engine, the first programmable mechanical computer. However the story ends sadly with Lovelace dying at the age of 36 with cancer and Babbage never completing his masterwork and becoming a bitter and twisted older gentleman. So rather than stopping the book 28 pages in Padua creates a fictional story which takes place in an alternate 'Pocket Universe,' where the Analytical Engine is complete and Babbage and Lovelace are agents for Queen and country. The pair fight crime, battle economic chaos which threatens to destabilise the worldand also meet many Victorian peers like Wellington, Brunel, Dickens and 'George Eliot,' actually a lady called Marian Evans as Eliot was a pen-name.  The aesthetic is suitably steampunk and the whole work is marvelously illustrated and footnoted heavily for your clarification needs,  if that is your wont.

The footnotes deserve special mention as they are detailed and meticulous, fleshing out what is happening in the story and what happened in real life. Sometimes the research explains the jokes and at other times it provides insights into Victorian life and provides context such as when famous poet Coleridge is writing Kubla Khan but is disturbed by Lovelace! The evidence is convincingly presented but there is one detail which argues against the fact, Lovelace was born 18 years after the fact. This is just one example of the humour (love) laced throughout the comic.... sorry, I'll get me coat!

Apart from the initial 28 page biography there are a few other stories which take part in the Pokcet Universe. My favourite story is when Marian 'George Eliot' Evans has her book destroyed by the Analytical Engine but the visit by George Boole, innovator of mathematical logic, comes in a close second.

Overall the comic is a work of wonder and if you are interested in the Analytical Engine, Babbage or Lovelace then this is a must-read. I'm now planning my next visit to the Science Museum, London, to see the completed Analytical Engine which was finished from Babbage's diagrams in 2000. Reading this comic I feel more prepared to take in it's majesty and over 100 year journey to a fitiing conclusion.

Whimsical Moomin Exhibition at the Southbank Centre

The Southbank Centre is currently hosting a Moomins exhibition as a part of its wider Nordic Matters season. The exhibition brings the well-loved characters to life by focusing on the characters and the life of their creator Tove Jansson

For those not in the know the Moomins are hippo-like creatures who exist in a weird and wonderful world and have many adventures and philosophise about the human condition, the world around them and the meaning of life but through beguilingly innocent stories. The characters include Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll, Snork Maiden, Little My but many others exist in Moominvalley, a fantastical wondrous place.

The characters found popularity outside Finland in the Fifties when the stories were printed as comic strips in newspapers. In the late 70s/ early 80s there was a stop-motion animation series which scared the heck out of me, and a popular 90s animated TV show that brought the characters worldwide acclaim, and even led to the creation of a theme park in Finland, which my wife, daughter and I will be visiting in the summer.

Over the course of the hour long guided tour I was transported to snowy woods in the night with a full moon and the stars providing the only light whilst we looked for the Groke. I sat in a dark gloomy cave to escape the devastation of the comet. We sat in a tent around a campfire and listened to the crackling of the logs. The guide had said we needed to bring out the inner child and I readily complied. Being a guided tour there were only 12 people including 3 children and this intimacy made the whole experience rather special.
Walking through the various locales you could understand the influence that living in such wondrous landscapes would have had upon the author. The books frequently talk about how the best things in life are free and how a beautiful world benefits everyone.

The exhibition had more than 40 original drawings by Jansson, her paintbrushes and the first Moomin dolls, which were all wonderful to see up so close but the absolute highlight for me was the recreation of the studio in Finland where Tove Jansson wrote and illustrated her comics.

I've been to many exhibitions and shows and this was one of the best in that it was interactive, immersive and presented the subject matter in a fun and relaxed way.

So overall, was the exhibition worth it? For the hour long tour and guided talk into this singular creator- yes it was. The exhibition runs until 23rd April so please do give it a look if its your kind of thing.

Robots Exhibition at the Science Museum Astonishes

The Science Museum is running a Robots Exhibition from February 8 to September 3. The exhibition explores 500 years of robotics and based on pre-released material promised to have one of the most comprehensive collection of robots in the world. As a teacher, Future Technology lead at my school and early adopter of most new technology this appealed to me and so off I went to see the exhibition for myself.

It kicked off well with a creepy wall of skulls and as you walked by they tracked you. The three layers of the robotic skull showed the complex wiring and was an unnerving introduction to the exhibition.

This creepy wall of skulls track you as you walk by- it is unnerving.

The exhibition proper was organised into 5 areas encapsulating different times and places; marvel, obey,  dream, build and imagine.

As you walked into the first section, marvel, your eyes had to adjust to the low neon purple lights, and is it did so you made out an animatronic baby attached to a tessellated square plastic wall. The baby was surrounded by a glowing halo of light and the provenance stated that this robotic baby was like the ones used in movies. Going around the baby you could see the wiring involved, it reminded me of an umbilical cord but this one went into the spine instead of the stomach. As the first exhibit you see it was quite jarring and unsettling but it laid out the foundations of what was to come well; the fear people have of humanoid looking machines.
The rest of this part of the exhibition was primarily concerned with automatons and the religious and spiritual quandaries it raised at the time. There were various Jesus and religious figure automatons from hundreds of years ago, including a creepy looking monk from over a 400 hundred years ago. For me the highlight of this area was the silver swan automaton. It wasn't moving but there was a video showing it in motion and it looked intricate and stunning. As a primer I was intrigued and pleased with this first section.

The next section, Obey, looked at the industrial revolution and on show was a single shuttle loom.

Section three, Dream, discussed the march of robots into our pop culture consciousness with many classic robots on show including the robot Maria from Fritz Lang's masterpiece Metropolis, the T-800 from Terminator and the humanoid robot George, the UK's first humanoid robot made in 1949 from scrap aluminium. The full size Maria was marvelous and beautifully showcased, deservedly so for a landmark film.

Build looked at the rise of intelligent machines and on show was the Honda P2, the first robot in the world to walk up stairs in 1996, although this drained its hefty battery life in 15 minutes. There were other impressive examples of robots on show and it showed clearly how people have evolved the robotics technology forward, building on what has gone before.

Imagine was the busiest area with many robots on show and most were working. On show was Asimo, famous for the Honda advert but also intriguing was the iCub, robot toddlers that learn through experience. The provenance behind each of the robots was amazing and it shows how different organisations have been using robotics in their work space.

Overall the exhibition was very impressive and it was wonderful to see the evolution of robots all under one roof. The exhibition is a must-see for technology and robot enthusiasts.

Using the PSVR in School

I've spoken recently about how at my school we recently purchased a Playstation 4 and a VR headset. The PSVR headset arrived a couple of weeks ago and there was a sense of excitement amongst the pupils and teachers, although for many of the teachers there was also a sense of trepidation of another thing to learn, another potential 'hot new thing' that would be gone soon. To try to get the teaching staff on board I organised an after-school demo session where they had a chance to experience the technology for themselves. The results were extremely positive and many of the teachers were converted, seeing the possibilities such technology could bring into the classroom to excite and engage the pupils.

I have used the headset with my own class, connecting it up to the interactive white board with relative ease. This way the whole class could see what the individual could see within the VR headset and they could also be part of the experience. VR is here to stay I believe and to get on board it needn't be prohibitively expensive. The PS4 and PSVR cost just under 600 pounds in total and with time I'm sure it will get cheaper, which may make it one of the best ways to immerse children in an interactive and immersive digital world.

A few of the Digital Leaders, children inspired by and advocates of the use of new technologies, researched what software was available and carried out inquiries on how they could be used to be a art of the curriculum. I will be sharing their research and lesson plans here at a later date but what they did find was very intriguing, they saw possibilities of its application in software I hadn't even considered.

Personally I have used the platform to play Resident Evil VII (out of school time obviously and not with any children present) and the game is unnerving and immersive. The experience was unlike any other I have had in VR and has sold me on the possibilities of its use in gaming.

Phenomena- Cult Film Review

Dario Argento is an Italian director who is most known for his work in the horror genre, specifically the giallo 'slasher' films. Phenomena is one of his lesser known works, often forgotten behind his other films like Susperia and Tenebrae. I have watched his other films but came across this one on Amazon Prime so decided to give it a watch and these are my thoughts.

The plot focuses on a young girl Jennifer Corvino, played wonderfully by Jennifer Connelly, who attends a remote boarding school in Switzerland who discovers she has psychic powers that allow her to communicate with insects. She also discovers that there is a serial killer nearby who has been murdering and beheading young girls in and around the school and she must use her powers to stop him. She is assisted by Forensic Entomologist John McGregor, played wonderfully over the top by Donald Pleasence and his assistant the chimpanzee Inga.

As you can probably surmise from the brief blurb this is a pretty strange film but the whole thing is beautiful filmed and the location shots and Georgio Armani costumes are stunning. The plot moves at a good place and the climax is truly gruesome and gory... just what you expect from the Italian horror master. 

The version of the filmrestores some of the footage from the severely cut 'Creepers,' which was what the American release of the film was called after it was edited and cut to pieces. Most of the gore and missing scenes are returned but there is a weird disconnect when the film lunges from English to Italian to English again. You can make out what is happening and it all adds to the surreal dream-like quality of the film but it is a little jarring.

Special mention must be made about the soundtrack which features Argento regulars Goblin, but surprisingly it also features rock legends Iron Maiden... not bad at all!

So is this film worth watching. I'd say if you are a horror film aficionado with a penchant for the weird and surreal then yes but for your more mainstream horror fan this might be a bit too weird, stick to your Final Destinations.

Using PSVR as a Writing Stimulus

At school we recently purchased a Playstation 4 and a VR headset. The PSVR headset just arrived today, after meeting the huge backlog in demand and Christmas rush, but we hope to use it as a contextual hub for learning. I've spoken many times before about how video games can be used as an instrument to hang learning on but with VR you can BE there, in the world.
I have been using the past few weeks since the PS4 purchase to play and record a few games which I feel can be used as a writing stimulus and will be working alongside my colleagues in creating exciting and fun lesson plans based on these soon. Today, with the arrival of the PSVR I played the demo disc, which contained several experiences of varying quality, and again hope to be using these to assist in developing the English curriculum.

VR could be an integral part of education and PSVR seems to be one of the most affordable commercial ways to get in on the ground level. Whether the potential is realised is to be seen but at my school we'll be giving it a good shot!

The PSVR does require a lot of wires.

The headset itself is extremely comfortable and adjustable, even for a glasses wearer like me.

The Last Guardian - Video Game Review

It's been over 11 years since video game auteur Fumito Ueda released his last game, Shadow of the Colossus and so after a protracted development period, which saw a whole console generation go by with no release, to say that I was ready to devour The Last Guardian whole in big gaming chunks on release is an understatement. As a huge fan of both Ico and SOTC I, like most of the gaming world, was excited to see what Ueda had been working so hard and long on but instead of playing it from start to finish I decided to savour it like a nice glass of Shloer and I'm glad I did.

The game itself is a slow, meditative game centred around the interactions between the boy and a bird, chicken gryphon-type creature called Trico. Their relationship is beautifully realised and the trust that builds between them feels well-earnt over time. Unlike other AI in other game I have played Trico feels like a real being with his own thoughts and feelings. As a former cat owner the love Trico gives you when you stroke, talk and pull out the spears from his flanks feels wonderful and has a truthiness to it .

There are times in the game where I have wanted to stay in the moment with Trico and not move forward, because I am afraid of what might happen to him. I know that Ueda creates wonderful narratives but they always end in a powerful downbeat way and I don't want that for these characters, maybe that's why I'm playing this game so slowly and cautiously. Instead I'm enjoying seeing Trico run through the fields after struggling through tight corridors, and I'm loving seeing him roll in a huge puddle and shaking himself dry.

Ueda is a world builder but he does it all through symbolism. In this mystical, silent world less is more but it feels like there is a whole mythos and backstory there if you look hard enough for it.

The music is beautifully subtle and complements the game, emerging at key moments and there is no onscreen HUD, except for controller hints which I wish I could turn off, and so the beauty of the world is there for you to enjoy.

The game has its faults and does feel unpolished which is surprising for a game which has been in development for over 10 years. The camera and controls can be clunky, some gameplay elements and transition scenes aren't smooth or clear and it's not always clear which route to take but all this didn't ruin the game for me. Ueda has created something, which like the rest of his back catalogue is timeless, it isn't perfect and many will gripe at it's shortcomings but for those willing to look beyond these it has been well worth the journey. I've enjoyed it so far.

Video Gaming Bucket List

One of the perks of being old, and there are only a few that balance out the failing health, mortgage payments, the 'man' getting you down etc, is to be able to look back and recall fondly on what has gone before. No I don't mean in the 'Only 80's Kids Will Remember This' type of thing but rather really recall things.
I have had the privilege of living through the most exciting time in computing history. I was there when the British microcomputers emerged, thrived, then gave way to the Nintendo and Sega 8 and 16-bit console wars. I was there when the future seemed to be in FMV gaming (Hi Night Trap, I'm looking at you) and I was there when disc based gaming blew open the possibilities of what games could look and sound like.

Night Trap looked to be bring a new maturity to gaming- it didn't do very well.

When choosing an aesthetic for TheDeadPixels, which I started 4 years ago, I selected a predominately 8 and 16 bit look as these was the most formative years of my gaming when I was aged between 8 to 15.

People often ask me if I still play retro games and my honest answer is yes, not as often as Id like to as being a father and running a house takes up a lot of my time, but whenever I'm between modern games I often go back to revisit old classics, often to fill myself with the glow of nostalgia or to beat games I didn't have a chance to in my youth, either due to not being good enough or simply by not owning it.

Recently I've been working through my gaming bucket list, a list of video game achievements I'd like to fulfill before I die. This list is due in part due to my tendency to be a completist or to feel like I really have enjoyed all the best that the medium has to offer.

I went to PLAY Expo Margate and fulfilled a couple of my dreams by playing Tempest 2000 on the Jaguar and Musha on the Megadrive 3. This got me thinking as to what else I'd like to achieve in my time on this mortal plain and this list is what followed:

  • Complete Rainbow Islands on the Amstrad CPC 464- I got near the end when I was 11 in 1992 but never finished it.

This game is very hard to complete, even though it looks all cutesy and sweet it has a rock hard heart!

  • Finish a Dragon Quest game as they are a big deal in Japan.
  • Play Final Fantasy 5 and complete IX. I have completed FFIV, VI, VII and VIII and own IX but haven't completed it. I haven't ever seen a FF V cart in the wild and I'll be darned if I play the iOS version!
  • Play any Football Manager. I feel that as a Brit I'm letting the side down by not getting on this most British of institutions.
  • Complete Majora's Mask. I completed Ocarina of Time and it is my favourite game of all time but I only played Majora's Mask briefly (I own the cart), moving onto the PS 1 at the time.
  • Complete Monkey Island 1 and 2 as they are a big deal. On iOS I recently completed other classic point and click adventure games such as Beneath a Steel Sky, Broken Sword 1, 2 and 5 but having bought the first two Monkey Islands on iOS I haven't got around to finishing them.
  • Complete Persona 3 and 4. I own both and have poured about 30 hours into them but this is Persona and over 100 hours are needed for each game. Who has time for that?
  • Play Skyrim. I bought it years ago and just never got around to it. I find I'd rather play games with a finite amount and feel like I'm making progress.
  • Complete Fallout 3. I bought this a few weeks after it came out and after 5 hours gave up, the pace is deliberately slow and world building but I want progress darn it!
  • Play the Zelda Philips CDi games even though they are supposed to be terrible!

The Zelda CDi games are supposed to be terrible but I'd like to play them!

  • Complete all the Metal Gear Solid games. I've played a bit of 1 and Peacewalker but that's about it. I really should rectify this tout-suite!
  • Complete Super Mario World. I have it and was working through it recently but with the housing renovations being done I had to move out and left my RetroN5 at home. It still awaits my return!
  • Complete Streets of Rage 3. I've finished 1 and 2 plenty of times but played 3 briefly at a retro games centre as I never owned it due to it being really expensive at the time and it coming out right at the end of the Megadrives life span.
  • Complete any original Megaman game and Megaman X. I didn't own a Super Nintendo as a kid so never played X but I did play the first two Megaman games around a mates house and 9 on the Wii when it came out a few years ago. They were brutal but I'd like to revisit and complete them.
  • Play Thunderforce 5 as I completed 3 and 4 on the Megadrive and thought they were brilliant.
  • Complete Okami-den. I loved Okami on the PS2 and completed it. I also purchased it for the Wii as I though the motion controls would enhance the game further. Okamu-den was a rare DS game and I only managed to buy it recently at the London Retro Gaming Expo. It's the game I'm currently working through.
  • Complete Zelda on the SNES. I completed Links Awakening and Oracles of Ages and Seasons as I had a Gameboy and whilst I have played up to the forth dungeon in ALTTP I haven't completed the game.
  • Complete Castlevania: SOTN and Super Metroid. I love both these series and have complete Metroid Prime 1 and 3 (I didn't taken to 2 with the Dark World mechanic) and I have completed Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Super Castlevania but I haven't played what is widely considered the high watermarks of the Metroidvania genre.
  • Complete Wonderboy IV. I loved the Wonderboy game in the arcades and on my Amstrad but the high point was Wonderboy 3: The Dragons Trap. It was the jewel in the Master System crown and I felt a huge sense of accomplishment when I completed it. I bough the Monster World pack via Xbox Marketplace but haven't put much hours into 4, I feel I need to do this as its supposed to be amazing and was unavailable for a long time in England.

I'm not even sure that this was released in the UK but boy does it look wonderful.

  • Complete Mario 64. I played it lots but never got all the secret stars.
  • Play Panzer Dragoon Saga. I loved Orta on the Xbox but heard that this was much better.

Panzer Dragoon Saga fetches a pretty penny nowadays.

That's pretty much my bucket list. As I work through these I'll highlight these in red and date when they were accomplished. As well as playing current games, being a father and doing my day job this is a pretty comprehensive list of things I'd like to achieve in my life. Let's see how many I can do Give me your gaming bucket list in the comments section below

Top Chiptune Soundtracks You Don't Know

Soundtracks nowadays are similar in style and vein to movie scores, full of cinematic scope and bombast, which is great as it leads to fantastic scores like the ones for Journey, Thomas Was Alone or DMC. However there was a simpler time where space was limited and the sound files had to be compressed and optimised to fit on a cartridge with 8 or 16 megs. This economy of scale led to thoughtful and creative masterpieces that are still iconic even today.

Now we could rattle off the famous game soundtracks that usually fit into many of the 'greatest Megadrive / SNES / NES soundtrack compilations' which you can find on YouTube but I want to choose a few pieces that time has forgotten. This is away from the usual Castlevania, Sonic, Megaman and Mario soundtrack scores as everyone knows them and loves them. I'm talking about the rarely heard soundtracks of yore. Here are a few of my favourites, maybe you could tell me yours!

This music plays during the Underwater levels from the Disney game World Of Illusion. It also plays during Mickey's Coral Reef section.

Music from R-Type 1987 by Irem- this level could be described as looking like the contents of a stomach, possibly after eating genetically modified food.

Thunder Force 3 - Stage 5: Ellis. This music was so upbeat and rocking that I loved leaving it to last!

The Offworld Collection - Book Review

I started this website in 2013 for a couple of reason, to show my passion for video games and share my thought but also to move the conversation forward on gaming culture. I found that often there was a culture of insularity among many gaming sites, often only covering the big titles. I wanted to cover the weird, quirky, strange and fringe games from the view of an educationalist, a teacher, as I think some games can be a contextual hub for learning. There are a few sites I have found along the way that I feel move the conversation forward and allow the marginalised and non-mainstream to share their views but the most prominent for me was Offworld -BoingBoing, curated by Leigh Alexander and Laura Hudson.

The goal of the website was to focus on the writing and game design work of women, people of color and other marginalised people.

In the words of Site Editor Alexander:

"Offworld is a place for curious and playful grown-ups... there will be an unequivocal and uncompromising home for women and minorities, whose voices will comprise most of the work published here," reads the site's initial statement. "We're looking forward to loving games again".

Over the course of a year the website published diverse, personal and insightful writing about video games from the perspective of an often underrepresented audience. I found the articles spoke to me and the pieces made me think about games and gaming culture at a higher level. I knew of Leigh Alexander through her work at another excellent website, Gamasutra and her articles in Edge magazine and had been following her work for many years. I find that she is often a champion for the underrepresented and marginalised and so when the Kickstarter for the release of the Offworld Collection book started I supported it as I felt that it was important to back something I felt so strongly about. Also the book looked pretty kickass; highlights from the website in luxury hardback format, sign me up! So, after a very long preamble, what of the book?

Well, the book is handsomely presented in an embossed hardcover with quality heavy paper within. The anthology starts with a foreword by Alexander which discusses her motivations for the work she did on the website.
The book proper is split into 58 essays, each covering a wide range of topics that should suit everyone's tastes. I won't go into detail about all of the essays here but will choose a few of the pieces I particularly liked.

The books starts off with Gita Jackson's 'We Are Not Colonist' which is like a call to arms: it states proudly that minority voices are now being heard, they did not just appear out of thin air, they were always there but were not always being heard.

'Should You Kill Monsters, Or Try To Save Them?' by Laura Hudson looks at the intricacies of Undertale, discussing the choices that the player is given, the simplicity of the sword or the path of compassion. The essay considers how even the smallest, silliest decisions have repercussions within the game and how the story stays with you for a long time.

'I Love My Virtual Untouchable Body' by Aevee Bee, which is written from the point of view of a transitioned individual, looks at character design and how it can be empowering to design an avatar and be who-ever you want to be.

'Video Games Without People of Colour Are Not Neutral' by Sidney Fussell, considers how the heroes of fantasy worlds are often white heroes who exist in white worlds. Defenders of racially homogeneous period fantasy say this destroys the illusion and quote quasi-historical sources to support their claims. This is a strange argument but for some non-white characters in fantasy games are less ''realistic'' than dragons.

Games can deliver ethically sophisticated social and political commentary, many game makers are acutely aware of this and in these increasingly complex times I am glad that there exist forums, website and in this case, a book that provokes critical and reflexive thinking. Engaging with things we don’t know about or understand has the power to open a new world to us, to introduce us to new ideas, cultures and experiences that we would maybe never otherwise encountered.

The Offworld Collection is required reading for anyone who wants to have a deeper and more meaningful understanding on what video games can mean. It is a fine anthology book and the variety and depth of essays is remarkable.

What Comics Have Taught Me

Comics are amazing as they can open our minds to a whole world of imagination. There are many comics and graphic novels which are based on real life and tell us about a wide variety of historical and biographical events but I have also enjoyed comics which talk about the human condition and humanity but may not be based on real life. It is these that I want to share with you here.

Video Game Soundtrack Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs is a British Institution. The format is simple: a guest is invited by the host to choose the eight records they would take with them to a desert island. Since it was created in 1942 the show has had hundreds of guests including such illustrious people such as Tom Hanks, Lily Allan and Bill Gates.

However rather than just doing a list of 8 songs I thought I'd do the 8 video game soundtracks I'd take on the desert island with me instead. Many gaming music composers were anonymous and they didn't realise until recently that their music had a profound effect on millions of people across the world. For many of us it was the soundtrack of our childhoods. These are tracks that have scored my life.

Shadow of the Colossus - By Kou Otani - 01 Prologue.

This is one of the greatest soundtracks of the Playstation 2 era. The soundtrack is orchestrated wonderfully and works well to create some very emotional sounding pieces of music that echo the lead character's determination to save his loved one, as well as the loneliness of his quest and the land that it's set in.

This track is used right at the beginning of the game and introduces the protagonist through an epic cut-scene which sets the mood wonderfully.


The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker - Koji Kondo et al - Dragon Roost Island

I love the Zelda score and all the games have an amazing soundtrack but this track is just wonderful. It has a light breezy mariachi band feel which is punctuated with staccato castanets under the floaty panpipes. Whenever I listen to this track it reminds me of my time sailing around the world.


Beyond Good and Evil - Christophe Heral - Redemption

BGE is an underappreciated gem that didn't get the recognition I feel that it truly deserved. As well as having a wonderful female character and brilliant gameplay the soundtrack was astonishing. There are moments of real beauty contained and it was hard to choose but this track near the end of the game perfectly captures the essence of the game.


Thunder Force III - Toshiharu Yamanishi - Ellis: Take a Chance

Thunder Force III is one the the best shmups ever and has very fitting upbeat music. Each stage and boss has a unique sound set specifically for it. While the usual mechanical sound of the Sega audio chips is present, it's not very distracting since the game is meant to be futuristic. Ellis is the ice world and the track for this level is pretty awesome. Whenever I hear the music it has me hyped!


Thomas Was Alone - David Housden - A Time For Change

Sometimes a game comes along and surprises you. It may be for any number of reasons but for me Thomas Was Alone is the game that most surprised me. It made me feel things... for a bunch of quadrilaterals. Yup, a bunch of squares and rectangles had me feeling things, emotional things. The game is a simple puzzler but the witty heartfelt writing and majestic score raised the stakes on the emotion front higher. This track is wonderful and I still listen to it most days, especially when I'm in one of my soul-searching moods.


Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze - David Wise et al. - Seashore War

The Donkey Kong soundtracks are all amazing, especially when the great David Wise composed them. Out of all the great soundtracks that stick with me the most recent game, Tropical Freeze has the track that still send shivers down my spine. Seashore War is majestic and sweeps along beuatifully. The track appears near the end of the game. After a long, tough battle to get close to the finishing post this track seems like a balm giving you hope and motivating you to beat the game. A true gem that I listen to daily whilst marking my pupils' work.


Journey - Austin Wintory - Nascence

There are few games that you know you will remember for the rest of your life. For me Journey is one of those games. It is a short experience but within that limited time you questions the meaning of life, universe, everything. The game is gloriously scored by Austin Wintory and his wonderful orchestration touches the heart. A profound yet beautiful score which will stick with me forever.


Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Michael Jackson (?), Brad Buxer, Cirocco Jones - Marble Gardens Act 2

This is a bit of a weird one I know but I love it. The original 4 Sonic games had some amazing soundtracks but this one stuck with me for some reason. I just loved Sonic 3 and even though Marble Gardens is not a good level by any means the soundtrack was amazing and even now I still hum the tracks occasionally.

So these are my 8 video game Desert Island Discs. I'm sure a lot of you are thinking 'what the heck, you missed blah blah blah' but this isn't an official top 8, just my personal favourites. So what are your favourite tracks and why? I'd like to know and if doing 8 is too much just give me your one favourite in the comments below.

Virginia - Video Game Review

Virginia is an interesting new piece of work by 505 Games. The story places you as a young female FBI Agent, a new recruit who is partnered with Agent Halperin to solve a missing persons case in the beautiful and sleepy town of Kingdom, Virginia. The story is deeply involving as your agent is tasked with monitoring her partner as well as dealing with the missing persons case.

As a video game this premise is an intriguing one and the game itself is difficult to categorise, as it is a walking simulator but not in a way that many gamers see as negative, it creates a compelling narrative without a word being uttered and moves at a cracking pace. There isn't the usual traipsing from place to place slowly, don't get me wrong there is a lot of walking but the game designers were intelligent enough to edit the work so that quick cuts happen often and are cinematic and effective, thus you may find yourself walking down a flight of stairs one moment and in the next you are in a car on the way to Kingdom. As a result the game comes off more as a fast-paced police procedural as you try to figure out what just happened.

Over the course of the two or so hours you follow clues and enter mysterious red doors which act almost like portals to another place, a place out of time. It would be lazy to mention Twin Peaks but the fact is that it is an obvious influence, as is The X Files and many modern cop shows with fast edits and quick pacing.
The game is visually beautiful and the art style is evocative of Thirty Flights of Loving by Brendon Chung of Blendo Games, who the creators of Virginia cite as an influence. There are moments of stark beauty and emotive moments that are scored wonderfully by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. For a piece of work with no words said there are moments that will stay with you for a long time.

The visual style and the lack of dialogue make for a really surreal and unsettling atmosphere. I was legitimately enthralled and surprised by the story and once the game was over I sat for a while contemplating what it all meant. The Writers Guild of Great Britain has announced the nominations for its annual Writers' Guild Awards, and one of the three games nominated with a chance of winning an award for Best Writing in a Video Game in Virginia. This is high praise indeed and hopefully will propel Virginia into the limelight so it gets the attention it so deserves. Do yourself a favour and play it... you won't regret it!