Lumberjanes/ Gotham Academy- Comic Review

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Colton, Pom, and Kyle meet with April, Jo, Mal, Molly, Ripley and Jen to figure out what is happening with only an outdated birthday invitation as the clue.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

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

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

LINK- Females and Diversity in Mainstream Comics

LINK- A Shout Out to Comics Creator Raina Telgemeier

Reflections of Resident Evil 7

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

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

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

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

New Zelda Game is a Breath of Fresh Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moomins- Retro Soundtrack Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Retro Soundtrack Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers - Book Review

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

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

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

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

Drone Racing: A Sport of the Future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.