Teaching Civil Liberties in Volatile Times

We live in an interesting time where surveillance paranoia and Orwellian dystopian nightmares seem to be coming true.
Edward Snowden informed the general populace of the extent to which governments spy on their citizens, often through 'special relationships' which create legal loopholes around the principle of a right to privacy. The mass sharing of intimate and private celebrity videos and photos through 4chan, Gawker and other sites, Theresa May's Investigatory Powers Bill,   the sharing of the Panama Papers, drone warfare and the Internet of Things show how relentless the march of technology has been but at great cost to our liberties.

As our relationship with technology has becomes more complex the likelihood of exploitation has grown greatly. As teachers we need to inform our children of the dangers that exist in the virtual world. A lot of us do this through e-safety lessons and embedding e-safety week into our curriculum but with emerging technologies we need to consider aspects that we haven't even thought of. For example the use of personal drones with recording facilities allows anyone with the kit to make recordings without the permission of the people, however more worrying is the systematic processes by which the government is taking information without our permission through the use of 'disruptive communication' (i.e. spying and media tapping). With the Investigatory Powers Bill, the British public may have just apathetically allowed their privacy, liberty and freedoms to slip away. In real terms we may just have condemned us all and our future generations to virtual psychological imprisonment and enslavement.
The right to exist freely is a human right but as governments challenge this by seeking to control and spy upon their citizens not only do we need to make our pupils aware of dangers from outsiders but also the more insidious dangers from within. We need to ensure that whilst they have a level of trust for those in authority they are prepared to question and think about the angles and perspectives which those in positions of authority may be pushing.

Technosoft Aqcuired by Sega

It is with great excitement that I bring the news that Technosoft games licenses have been bought by Sega. This may not seem particularly exciting but anyone in the know will be aware of the fact that Technosoft is most famed for its wonderful Thunder Force series which were highly praised and well-received shoot 'em ups on the Megadrive (Genesis) back when 16-bit consoles rules the world.
Thunderforce 3 and 4 were two of my favourite games on the Megadrive but I never got to play the later games in the series as it moved onto the Playstation and were rare or never released in England.

Technosoft had been acquired by Pachinko manufacturer Twenty One Company in the early noughts but the company didn't do much with the license at all so it's great news that Sega now has the license and may move the series forward. In Japan Sega will be releasing a compilation collection called Sega 3D Classics Collection 3: Final Stage on the 3DS, it will feature such heavyweight titles including Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Streets of Rage 2, Gunstar Heroes and Turbo Outrun.
Whilst this is a step in the right direction I would love to see Sega proactively use the license and resurrect this amazing series by creating some new games and getting the amazing composers back on the series. A new Thunderforce with retro style graphics and new Technosoft soundtrack... Yes please!

Adventures in Moominland Exhibition at the Southbank Centre

This winter the Southbank Centre, London will be hosting an immersive, interactive exhibition on the wonderful world of the Moomins. For the uninitiated the Moomins are whimsical hippo-like creatures who go through many adventures, philosophise and discuss the bigger questions in life. I enjoyed the Moomin cartoon in the 90's after being scared witless of the 80's stop-motion animation and have a deep love for Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll, Snorkmaiden, Little My and their friends.

The Adventures in Moominland Exhibition is being called highly experiential as it will use archival objects from Finnish creator Tove Jansson's life to allow the audience to become closer to the artist and understand her motivation. Audio narrative will be supplied and by being led through seven immersive and interactive worlds people can understand the inspiration behind the many well-loved stories.

The exhibition will run from Friday 16 December 2016 to Sunday 23 April 2017 and time slots will need to be booked as it is a guided exhibition. I hope to be going very soon and will share my experiences here. 

Tetris: The Games People Play - Comic Review

Tetris is a video gaming phenomenon which known the world over and played by hundreds of millions of people on pretty much every device from smartphones to calculators. It was one of the first games that crossed generations and cultural boundaries, being one of the first computer games to be on permanent display at MOMA in America. In the 80's it allowed the world to glimpse what was behind the iron curtain at the height of the Cold War.

Tetris was created in 1984 by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov as a side project whilst he was working on artificial intelligence and voice recognition software. It was initially passed hand to hand by floppy disk before gaining worldwide acclaim and fame through very convoluted means.

Box Brown looks at the birth, rise and the behind the scene legal issues surrounding the game. The detailed legalese and business negotiations which make up most of the graphic novel may not appeal to everyone but Tetris’ story is full of surprising twists and turns so it is well worth exploring the issues about chip shortages, copyright infringement and the carve-up of markets in several different confusing contracts. As well as detailing all the players and the complexities that followed Brown provides a philosophical and anthropological view of humanity’s relationship to games and play, which appealed to me as I studied Anthropology in university.

Brown has a distinctive art style and whilst it may not appeal to everyone I thought the simple yellow, black and white palette was clear and uncluttered allowing me to focus on the complex legal maneuverings of the individuals; in this graphic novel narrative is king although the art style is distinctive.

Tetris: The Games People Play succeeds in being an informative documentary about the chequered history of the game but is less successful with the biographical aspects of Pajitnov's life,  apart from cursory drop-ins on his life we see little about his family or his personal circumstances. However for the uninitiated this graphic novel is engaging and informative without being too obtuse with the legal aspects. A solid graphic novel well worth a read but not as accessible as his other work Andre the Giant: Life and Legend which was a more straightforward biography.

LINK- Retronauts Podcast on Tetris

Dead Of Night- Cult TV Review

Back in 1970s the BBC invested a lot into its drama production and in this period there were numerous wonderful programmes created. I've already reviewed Supernatural, which was released in 1977, and now I'm here to review its other highly regarded anthology TV series called Dead of Night. The series ran from 5 November until 17 December 1972 with seven episodes, each of 50 minutes duration. However only three of the episodes have survived as the BBC purged its archives from 1967 to 1978, fortunately the British Film Institute have put the remaining episodes on DVD which is what I watched for the purpose of this review.

The first thing to mention is that the three episodes are all uniformly good in quality with high production costs evident and the acting is solid throughout. I will now share the individual stories and my opinions on them below.


The Exorcism

Synopsis: In a remote cottage in the country, four wealthy, middle-class friends gather for Christmas dinner only to find that their meal is ruined by strange occurrences in the house and the possession of one of the group by someone/ something with a grudge to bear; the house holds a tragic past and those present must mourn the past.

Out of all the stories in this collection this is the standout. There is a great central performance from Anna Cropper, who plays the possessed individual. It almost verges on over dramatic but just about reins it in to be deeply affecting with a great payoff at the end.


Return Flight

Synopsis:  An air pilot, who has recently become a widower, nearly has an air collision over Germany. However things take a strange turn when there are no signs that there was another plane in the area. As an investigation is carried out his role in WW II and his mental state is brought into question. Did the pilot avoid a mid-air collision with a mysterious plane or is he losing his mind?

This is the weakest story of the three as I found in meandered for the first 40 or so minutes but the final 15 minutes are tense and really draws you in. The conclusion provides closure about the state of mind of the pilot but as a whole the story is very slow and poorly paced in my opinion.


A Woman Sobbing

Synopsis: A married couple with two kids are living in a house in the country. Every night the wife can hear a woman sobbing in the attic however her husband cannot hear anything; so is she mad or is it that only she can connect with this spirit?

This is a great story with a shocking conclusion but there are slower moments which look into the married life of a wealthy middle/ upper class family which seem to drag. Anna Massey, who plays the bored and troubled housewife, puts in a powerhouse performance as she questions whether she is actually hearing the crying or whether she is going slowly hearing voices in her head. Her frenzied performance has a ring of authenticity.

The whole DVD package runs at around 150 minutes, and overall is well worth a watch. The classic ghost story is given a modern (at the time it was produced at least) makeover and whilst it won't scare you or shock you like many of the more modern horror films, it will stay with you for a while after you've watched it.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks- Book Review (No Spoilers)

Mark Frost, co-creator and executive producer (alongside David Lynch) of the legendary series Twin Peaks, has been teasing the book The Secret History of Twin Peaks for a while now. When it was first announced a few months ago I, like many Twin Peaks fans I'm sure, promptly per-ordered it to find out the fate of the characters and delve deeper into the world. Well I waited with bated breath to receive my copy and it was delivered a week ago. I read it between my other commitments and I finally finished reading it yesterday and these are my thoughts. I won't spoil it for you so please be aware that this is spoiler free territory.

First of all I should state that rather than a novel this is a beautifully produced dossier of faux historical documents, newspaper clippings and articles, revealing a series of historical events and conspiracies about the town of Twin Peaks and the Washington area over a period of over 200 years. For those expecting a more linear narrative this may prove to be disappointing as I know fans are looking for detailed account of what happened to the characters after the events of the cliffhanger in season 2. However what this dossier does provide is immersive and rich resources which are clearly designed to show how paranormal activity has been surrounding Twin Peaks for hundreds of years; this deepens and broadens the scope of the series and gives the events of the series much more context.

The book starts off with a letter from FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole, who was played by Lynch in the original TV series, asking an agent to go over the contents of a box found at a crime scene that “appears to have a relationship to an investigation conducted in northwest Washington State many moons ago.”

The mysterious Archivist, who produced the dossier contained inside the box, has been carrying out research on strange phenomena and the history of Twin Peaks. The dossier starts with the taking of the land that would become Twin Peaks from the indigenous Indians and moves over to prospector gold rush times to the rise of the logging mills at the turn of the 20th century. It then moves into X-Files territory with reports throughout concerning Roswell, UFOs, Nixon, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, Project Blue Book, the Majestic 12, Alistair Crowley, L. Ron Hubbard, Jack Parsons... and Jackie Gleeson (of Honeymooners fame). All pretty heavy stuff full of intrigue and mystery but probably not what fans of the series were expecting when they purchased this novel.

The dossier provides the history of a few of the prominent families and individuals and it does reveal the fates of a few of Twin Peaks character's from the cliffhanger in season 2 but the majority of this patchwork dossier focuses on the relatively obscure character of Mayor Milford's brother Douglas, who emerges as the closest thing to a 'lead'. This proves to be a little disorientating but I have found it incredibly enthralling and have been carrying out research on the prospectors of the time, D.B. Cooper and Project Blue Book. The last time a TV series made me do this was Lost or even Evangelion, so that is high praise indeed! The book is similar in style to House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, not in content or style but the feelings it evokes... A sense of mystery and unease, very much like the show itself.

The book doesn't initially seem to give too much away about the mysteries of Twin Peaks as I'm sure they're leaving that up to the upcoming season 3 but I think that the book merits repeat readings as I feel that throughout there were hidden meanings and secrets waiting to be discovered. The plethora of diagrams, photographs and sketches draw you in and make the whole dossier feel 'real'.

Overall I'd say the book was not what I expected but it took me on a journey that was both strange and wonderful. There are a lot of profound truths about the human condition contained within and there were moments of revelation that left me questioning our place in this world.

Well worth a read with a cup of coffee and a piece of cherry pie!

The Secret History of Twin Peaks is a beautifully presented book ©Macmillan/ Mark Frost

Mortal Kombat- Cult Film Review

Ah Mortal Kombat... or should that be MORTAL KOMBAT!

The arcade game arrived in a baptism of fire with controversy surrounding it in 1992. I enjoyed the visuals and gore and the game held me in thrall at a newsagents I frequented on my way to school. There were many times when I was nearly late for school due to playing the arcade game and getting quite far as I spammed Raiden's flying torpedo move. I loved the games series in the 90's on the Megadrive and when the movie was announced I was intrigued but not enough so to watch it at the cinema. Whilst looking through the available films on Amazon Prime I saw the film was available and so I finally had the chance to scratch this itch and so I took it!

This move made completing the game pretty easy.

The plot is basic fighting game 101; Mortal Kombat is a once-a-generation tournament in which fighters battle for the fate of their worlds. The evil sorcerer Shang Tsung and his evil underlings have won 9 tournaments in a row and if they win the tenth one, they will gain the Earth. Three humans are manipulated by Raiden, ably played by Christopher Lambert, to take part in the tournament and defeat this evil whilst also fighting their own demons (metaphorically speaking). Liu Kang, wants to avenge the death of his brother, actor Johnny Cage wants to prove that he isn't a fake martial artist and military officer Sonya Blade  wants to avenge her partners death at the hands of Kano, an underworld boss.

Will the ragtag group overcome their personal issues and win Mortal Kombat? Of course they will but it's the journey that matters in this story.

The movie is incredibly cheesy with one-dimensional characters but the well-choreographed action sequences make it all worthwhile. The dialogue, whilst corny, has Johnny Cage deliver a few great one-liners and the techno-trance beat soundtrack sits well alongside the high octane fight scenes. The film design should be praised as the atmosphere of the first 2 games is conveyed well with the set and the lighting in the film being quite impressive.

Overall the unpretentious nature of the film gives it heart, in its earnestness to tell the ridiculous story the film has a lot of personality and character. Paul W. S. Anderson is an able if unremarkable director, he is most famed for his sci-fi and video game film adaptations (the most popular of which is the Resident Evil film series) and this is one of his best adaptations.

If you are looking for a guilty pleasure then this film is definitely worth your time, it is good cheesy fun!

Dear Esther Concert Was Emotional

Dear Esther is the game that helped to create a sub-genre in video games upon its full arrival in 2012; the walking simulator. As I've mentioned before the genre divides opinion amongst gamers but for me it doesn't matter. As soon as Dear Esther started and I was confronted with the sound of crashing waves, views of an old abandoned building and a melancholic voiceover I was invested.
But even more than the game it is the music that has remained with me. Even after all these years I can still remember the sound of the delicate piano theme.
I am a big fan ofthe composer and game co-creator, Jessica Curry and it was through this game that I discovered her. So a chance to see the score performed live with a playthrough of the game with Dan Pinchbeck, the other co-creator of The Chinese Room and Curry's husband , was unmissable for me and I can honestly say that I wasn't disappointed. The venue, the Milton Hall at the Barbican, was a sellout and there was a diverse range of audience members. On a huge projected screen the game was set up ready to be played, the opening scene left for all to admire as the auditorium filled up.

I wasin the front row and so had an amazingly close view of the concert.

Upon starting the game Pinchbeck made his way through the game, stopping at opportune moments to show the beauty of the game, and the live narrator read excerpts from the games script, which sent warm waves of nostalgia through me. The orchestra played the entire soundtrack andalongside the perfectly frames shots, it shows that Dear Esther is still a handsome game.
The concert lasted 1 1/2 hours and was a wonderful experience, reducing the elderly lady sat next to me in the front row to tears. At the end of the concert Curry came on stage to receive a bow and thank the orchestra and her husband. After the concert I headed down to collect my bag from the cloakroom and overheard many people sharing their opinions about the game and reminiscing about the game, it was great being amongst my nerdy peers and the environment being inclusive and non-toxic.
I hope this concert starts a trend for other game studios to perform their soundtracks live with a playthrough of their games as I do feel that there is definitely an audience for it.

Great Retro Finds in Charity Shops

I love trawling through charity shops as you never know what you are going to find. There's a lot of random rubbish but every now and again you find some 'treasure'. Come on a wonderful journey with me through the musty shops from around England!

And when Jack got to the top of the beanstalk he found a giant Cyclops.

Poor old Bagpuss, he's always left on the shelf.

This film used to scare the heck outta me as a kid. This novelisation was a bargain at 1 quid but this gets me a-thinking, what's happened to all the novelisations?

Polly Pocket was huge when I was a kid, for boys there was Mighty Max.

You don't find anything to do with Farthing Wood for ages then two come along at once... this book was in another charity shop but two finds in a few days is great for this elusive series.

I bought this for my daughter for 3 quid and she loves it!

 This ThunderCats puzzle is pretty expensive but I'm sure a fan of the show will snap it up.

This ThunderCats puzzle is pretty expensive but I'm sure a fan of the show will snap it up.

 This Bread game costs a lot of dough

This Bread game costs a lot of dough

Not sure I'd call it a classic animation, classic game definitely!

Space Invaders... 50p a credit!

I used to love this series as a kid, now..... hmm, not so much. However I still love the sad piano theme.

I loved the Animals of Farthing Wood as a kid and found these videos in a shop but the tapes weren't all there.

The cult classic at a snip... under a quid! Well that'll do nicely, so long and thanks for all the fish!

Action Man was never that popular a cartoon... but using 90's street words like 'extreme' is not going to help sell it to kids, they're too smart to fall for that!

How Games Move Us- Book Review

Reading through my copy of Edge I came across an advert for three books which look at various aspects of gaming. I am always looking for books that look at the impact of gaming on society and so purchased a copy of How Games Move Us.

Katherine Isbister's How Games Move Us is an interesting critique of the current conversation surrounding video games and how the talk has not really moved on, even there have been some amazingly profound and deep games created over the last few years that require a higher level of thought and conversation to be had.

The first part of the book titled A Series of Interesting Choices: The Building Blocks of Emotional Design looks at the strategies and techniques used to create an emotional experience. Isbister examines the role of NPC's, avatars and the meaningful choices presented within games that invest you in the worlds. It's an interesting look at why humans can attach meanings to inanimate objects and illusory 'real-world' choices. I found the examination of 'Love Sims' particularly insightful as this is a real example of the real world being affected by video games which depend on emotions. In Japan there are many men who 'date' their virtual girlfriends at the cost of getting real world girlfriends. The trend is so worrying that Japan is the only country in the world with a contracting and aging population.

Avatars, NPC's and meaningful choices encourage rich emotional experiences and Isbister covers this well in her first chapter. She looks at how there has been a move to allow customisation of avatars but also how there are characters with no discernible characteristics that could be anyone, this universality calls to mind the points made by Scott McCloud.

The second chapter, Social Play: Designing for Multiplayer Emotions looks at what happens when gamers play with other people. It does away with the idea that gamers are solitary players who engage in video games in isolation but rather that most gamers are social and play with others either online or from within the same room. It looks at research that corroborates anecdotal data that people like playing games against real people rather than the computer, there is a need for human interaction and intimacy occurs through social play and having active experiences. It delves into the building blocks designers use to provoke an emotional response: coordinated action, role-play, and social situations. The chapter is fascinating and especially when discussing the changing world of MMO's when new rules are introduced but players have a sense of etiquette and do not abide by the new rules but follow the collective older orders.

Chapter 3, Bodies at Play: Using Movement Design to Create Emotion and Connection, looks at how physically moving creates a connection between the avatar and the individual. The Nintendo Wii is discussed here and so are the Kinect and Move, all ways to get people moving in their sedentary hobby of video games. Dance based video games are discussed and DDR is talked in the context of creating lots of social connections and groups. There are a variety of indie games cited and they all look suitably wacky. The international senior citizens Wii competition, which allows people in old people homes to compete against one another is wonderful inventive. The results of the research show that people who share physical activity and have a mutual gaze have a longer positive social effect, in short people bond easier when they are together physically. In an age of wearables and movement based controllers the social and emotions connections forged can be deep. However it could lead to issues with identity and who is the real you?

The penultimate chapter; Bridging Distance to Create Intimacy and Connection, looks at the changing face of connection. Initially connection meant that players would be in the same room playing together, humans are designed to not be alone but rather a part of a community. With networked connections and online play connections can be created in different ways. The chapter considers Words With Friends, people challenging each other over potentially long distances without any bonding but the through the act of playing together bonds can be formed. In the game Journey your character collaborates with a random person on the Playstation Network and through in game sounds you can communicate but it is not any language that could be expanded to have a meaningful conversation.  Together you head towards the light at the top of the mountain and only together can you do some of the activities or see the wonders. At the end of the game as both avatars are reaching the zenith of the peak the snow falls heavily and it is only through the use of each others' body heat that you can ascend, and even then you don't make it. Journey is a profound experience and is better shared, the connection formed with the people who joined you has been said to be spiritual for a lot of gamers including me. The chapter looks at how games like Journey are creating intimate bonds between random strangers on a network.

The book finishes with Endgame: A Few Last Thoughts in which Isbister provides a fitting conclusion about why videogames should be talked about on a higher academic level than they currently are.

How Games Move Us is a well written and well researched book which attempts to present new ways to think about and appreciate video games. Isbister tries to move the conversation forward and that can only be a good thing. This is an enlightening and interesting read for anyone interested in the power of games and I recommend it for anyone who is engaged in gaming but also wants to think about the impact it has culturally and socially in our lives.

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.

Offworld BoingBoing was a site I'd visit daily for its insightful writing.

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 Alexander herself:

"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, it 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. I won't go into detail about all of the essays here but will choose a few of the pieces I 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 person, 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.

Bjork Digital Exhibition Review

Iconic Icelandic singer Bjork has been making music for over 30 years and in that tine has collaborated with some of the world’s best filmmakers, visual artists and programmers. Bjork Digital is a celebration of her career and the exhibition covers her work right up to the present day.

Bjork Digital is designed to be an immersive experience and through the use of virtual reality (VR) technology takes you into her avant-garde world. There are more conventional screens that show her videos in regular 2D but as a pioneer of new technologies the emphasis is definitely on the new and emerging technologies.

The exhibition is guided for the first four stations and is restricted to about 25 people to ensure that everyone is comfortable in the spaces and that there are enough VR headsets available. The activities are:

Black Lake
The first room in the exhibition is a dark room which contains two widescreen TVs mounted on walls that are facing each other. The video for 'Black Lake' starts and shows two aspects of the same video, so on one screen you see Bjork singing in the Icelandic hillside and in the other you see the view she is seeing, the video constantly swaps around and so you see different aspects of the same video. The sound surrounds and envelops you, the floor vibrates with the bass and the whole effect is immersive.

Virtual Reality
The next two rooms are virtual reality experiences using the Oculus Gear VR and Bowers and Wilkins headphones. Through the use of 360 dome cameras the videos are filmed and stitched together to give you complete 360 degree freedom, this does give you a sense of presence but the downside is that you cannot move forward but only look around.   

Stonemilker places you in the 360 degree landscape of Grótta beach in Iceland. Bjork sings the song and during the course of the video multiplies, at one time there are three Bjork's singing! The detail is impressive and even though the technology showcased is quite old the effect is wonderful as you feel very close to Bjork physically as she sings and sashays to her lyrics and music. This is the closest most of us will ever get to the pioneering musician.

Mouth Mantra
Mouth Mantra is a VR video again and has the same technical set-up as for Stonemilker but is a very different experience, placing you inside Bjork’s mouth. The VR video shows very white teeth, no fillings and lots of tonsil and tongue... I was fine watching this but I can imagine some people really struggling to watch this.

This VR experience was the highlight of the exhibition for me. Using a real-time graphics engine the image of a glowing orange mask with decorative lines sings, as the song progresses a body starts to emerge and starts to shoot out neon sparks. It reminded me of the patterns found in a Cave bullet hell shoot'em ups videogame mixed with the visuals of the video game Rez and the entrancing quality of a Sharon Apple concert from Macross Plus. This VR experience shows the potential this medium can have, the music dynamically changing as you moved. This experience really immersed me and I can see the possibilities of VR concerts.

These were the guided and timed part of the exhibition but the rest was available to go through at your own pace. 

The Cinema
Bjork has worked with some of the finest music video directors on the business and this room shows her back catalogue of music videos. People were sitting all over the floor and watching her videos, I entered the room just as the music videos from her last two albums came on. I sat for their duration as I have seem all the others due to the fact I have them on her 2 part DVD collection, Volumen but haven't seen any of her video since. It was wonderful to see how Bjork's music videos had changed over time and I had a chance to appreciate it with my fellow Bjork fans.

In one of the side rooms there were numerous tablets set up with the Biophilia suite. I've spoken about the app before but for the uninitiated Biophilia is an education app that combines music with technology, musicology is you will. The app is excellent and I have used it in class to teach music theory. The fact that it contains a voice-over by one of my favourite humans, Naturalist David Attenborough is an added bonus.

Overall the exhibition is well worth a visit. Fans of Bjork will find much to like and experience and for the uninitiated the VR experiences may convert you into this technology.

The Children of Green Knowe - Cult TV Review

For the Cult TV reviews I like to watch stuff that is almost forgotten to time. The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy Boston's time-slip novel, is exactly this. A series that is fondly remembered by those who saw it and forgotten to later generations. I only came to it by finding it in my recommendations after purchasing The Secret Garden BBC series on DVD (which I will be reviewing next) and thought to give it a try. Apparently faithful to the original source material the series is a story about a young boy, Tolly, who comes to live in an old country house with his grandmother. However the 17th century Stuart inhabitants of the old family house appear to young Tolly but remain elusively aloof. As time passes his grandmother tells him tales of horses, a gypsy curse and a creature that haunt the grounds. All young Tolly wants to do is meet and talk to the ancestors of the house and break the family curse but this is more difficult than it seems.
The role of Tolly is earnestly played by Alec Christie and that of his grandmother is wonderfully acted by Daphne Oxenford - who gives a warm performance. The pacing is deliberately slow and gentle and the characters are given time to develop and breathe, the relationship between the grandmother and her grandson is sweet and has the ring of truth.

Special mention must go to the beautiful music, composed by Peter Howell with the help of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (who also created the Dr Who theme), which complements the stunning scenery and wonderful cinematography. The interior shots of Peterborough Cathedral and the rousing music during this particular scene are a particular highlight.

In the 70s and 80s the BBC invested heavily in producing quality children's programming and it is often these series that have stood the test of time, some better than others. The atmosphere and charm that make it impossible to dislike this series and it is a shame that this gentle time-slip story has been almost forgotten. As someone who has never seen the show before I'd say that if you are looking for a gentle way to unwind for a couple of hours you couldn't go far wrong with The Children of Green Knowe.

Now "Make up a great blaze and I'll tell you a story!"

New Tate Modern Building Is Brutal(ist)

The Tate Modern opened its doors in 2000 and welcomes about 5 million visitors a year. On 17 June 2016 a new building was opened to allow the curators to display a greater variety of artworks and show more artists from around the world. I went today to see what the new exhibition but more interestingly the building. I found the artworks to be okay but the building was interesting, beautiful in a brutalist way. If you get a chance go and see it as it has a few video exhibits which are photo montages of Thailand and the political system.

Abzu, A Meditation on Gaming

Abzu is a new game from Giant Squid, a studio founded by Flower and Journey art director, Matt Nava. He formed the studio after leaving thatgamecompany in 2013. The game is the studio’s debut release and is a non-violent, exploration-focused game which aims to effectively convey the emotions and feeling of being a diver underwater. Abzu’s journey is conveyed through stylised graphics highlighted by a vibrant colour palette, but the emotivemusical score by Journey composer Austin Wintory sitting alongside the stunning visuals kept me in thrall for the duration of the game.

Progression through the game is linear but the environments are designed to be explored; the different acts of the game are set in different areas of the sea including caverns, deep oceanic areas, coral reefs and flooded ruins. The game does not have goals or levels but primarily involves you just swimming around freely and this is intrinsically rewarding. There are a few cut-scenes but the story is told primarily through environmental storytelling; it is up to the player to dwell on what they believe happened to the ancient ruined civilization.

Abzu is a beautiful stylised game with a vibrant colour palette.

Playing the game I felt a lot of different emotions in the game but the primary ones were relaxed, intrigued and awed. The game was obviously designed to be immersive but simplistic to keep players in the state of zen or flow and it achieved this in the couple of hours it took me to finish the game.

Having played the game I believe that it could be used in a similar way that I have used Endless Ocean to help in the teaching of a sequence of Literacy work. The open ended exploration of the game world allows a lot more freedom than Endless Ocean offered and the upgrade in graphics and sound would definitely be more inspirational for the pupils. I hope to be using this sometime this coming academic year and will, of course, share my work here.

Dear Esther Concert

Dear Esther is a walking simulator following the story of a shipwrecked castaway on a remote Hebridean island. The game was created in 2012 by the Chinese Room and impressive graphics and dialogue wowed many, including me at the time, however the soundtrack has really stood the test of time. Composer Jessica Curry, who would later create Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs and Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, created a marvelous score which is haunting and stays with you long after the game is finished.

There are many video game soundtracks I've enjoyed over the years, but my enjoyment of them has been influenced often by my playing of the game, and even though I loved this game the music stands apart and is exceptional; it stands alone as a piece of work. So when I heard that the Barbican was hosting a live concert of the music on Friday 14th October 2016 I was ecstatic and purchased a ticket straightaway.

The description of the concert is below and I have included a link to purchase tickets if you are interested:

A deserted landscape, memories of a fatal crash, a book written by a dying explorer – explore an island shrouded in mystery in this live performance of The Chinese Room’s immersive videogame Dear Esther.

Starting on a small beach, with only a brooding cliffs and a small lighthouse in view, BAFTA-nominated narrator Nigel Carrington takes you through the game, journeying from the desolate Hebridean island to a car crash on the M5, a crisis of faith of a guilty heart, the lost shores of a dreamed shoreline and a final ascent through the waters of madness to the release of flight. With the playthrough of the game on-screen accompanied by live narration and a live performance of BAFTA-winning composer Jessica Curry’s powerful score, the story is even more brought to life here.

LINK- Dear Esther Concert Tickets at the Barbican

Comics in the Classroom

I introduced comics and graphic novels into my classroom at the beginning of the calendar year to promote reading. I am a huge fan of the medium and believe that it promotes reading, especially among the more reluctant readers. I had several pupils in my class who I believed would benefit from immersing themselves in the comics and now, as we approach the end of the year, I decided to have a chat with my children to find their opinions on the media.

All Star Superman- not a comic I had in my classroom but I feel that he is a good role-model and shows that heroes can be pure and good (ignore the killing of Zod in the awful 'Man of Steel)

I purchased a wide variety of graphic novels including The Lumberjanes, The Babysitters Club, Adventure Time and a range of Silver Age Spiderman, Ironman and Hulk collections.

The Lumberjanes graphic novels were extremely popular with the boys and girls, even though the protagonists are all female. My pupils said that they liked the characters and that they were really appealing. They loved the 3 trade paperbacks and were eagerly awaiting the 4th.

The Baby Sitters Club was popular with the girls. I found that the quieter girls liked this as the story took more time to develop and it was a much longer graphic novel to read.

The smattering of Silver Age Spiderman, Ironman and Hulk were popular with the children, most of who have watched the films and enjoyed learning more about the Marvel universe. A lot of the boys especially stated that they were surprised that some of the stories in the comics, which were over 40 years ago, had stories which they recognised from the movies.
Overall I think that the comics and graphic novels have converted quite a few of my pupils to reading and introduced comics to a wider group, some of who assumed that comics were 'geeky' or 'nerdy'. I hope to introduce more comics with my next class and will look at what books the children liked.

The 3rd London Gaming Market

I went to the 3rd London Gaming Market today and am happy to say that it was as busy and amazing as before. Last time I went I picked up a few bits but this time I got a few more items which I have been looking for for a while. I picked up Warioland 2 for the Gameboy Colour, Okamiden for the DS and Thunderforce IV for the Megadrive. My white whale of Thunderforce V for the PS1 wasn't there but I will go on with my search...

The Witches and the Grinnygog- Cult TV Review

I heard about the Witches and the Grinnygog whilst purchasing Moondial and saw that it was recommended in my Amazon feed. The premise was interesting enough for me to look into and I saw it that the whole series was uploaded onto YouTube and so over a couple of days I watched the whole thing.

The Witches and the Grinnygog is a 6 part children's television series made by Southern Television Productions in 1982. The series was adapted from the book by Dorothy Edwards which concerns the Grinnygog – a strange statue of ancient origin which goes missing when a church is moved. The statue is found by a woman who gifts it to her elderly father as a garden gnome. Shortly thereafter, three eccentric old women,who seem to be looking for something lost or hidden from many years before, arrive in the town and the mystery begins.
The series is interesting as it looks at the history of pre-Christian traditions, considered in the middle ages to be witchcraft, surviving into the modern world, and deals with various themes related to English folklore, ghosts and time slips... heady concepts for a children's TV show.
Each of the 6 episode lasts around 25 minutes and it has all the usual elements that make children's shows from the 80's so interesting; great story, great actors (including the child actors which features a young Adam Woodyatt- Ian Beale from Eastenders),  good english folk music and great location shooting.

I liked the series and even though I've never seen the series before and hold no nostalgia for it I found it watchable enough but not at the high watermark set by Children of the Stones or Moondial. The series is worth a look but don't go out of your way as it is pretty forgettable stuff overall.

IT16 Conference and Exhibition- Ashford, Kent

Today I was lucky enough to attend the EiS IT 16 Conference which had keynote speakers, hands-on workshops and a choice of electives. I had been fortunate enough to attend the BETT Show earlier this year but this was a chance for a more relaxed and calmer approach to computing rather than the rush to see everything in the intensity of the BETT weekend.

The Conference started off with a brief introductory message from the event organiser which was followed by a keynote speech by Tim Rylands, who went through a myriad of ways to engage pupils through the use of many (free) tools, apps and resources to engage them in the topic of animals , although any topic could use the resources shown. I came away full of ideas and inspired. 

The next session I went to was my favourite; a hands-on session with the BBC Micro:Bit, the small easily programmable device which is being provided, free of charge, to every year 7 school pupil in England. The session only lasted 40 or so minutes but in that time I was able to easily programme the LED lights, create a simple animation and scroll a message to playfully insult a colleague.... wonderful!

After a short break I attended a session about coding and how to show progression in coding through the use of tools such as Kodable, Scratch Jr and Tickle on the iPad. This was an excellent session as it allowed me to think about our current practice at school and think about how we could use programmable robots and drones to help show pupils how coding works with real world examples

The second keynote looked at the strategies and practices of a variety of case-study schools in their implementation of mobile digital devices. It threw up a lot of questions but mostly spoke about how ownership of the object was important for the pupils to get out of it and also how mobile device use should be integrated into daily practice instead of sporadically.

The final elective I chose was with Tim Rylands again and concerned using video games to inspire games based learning. I found it interesting and satisfying going into this quick 30 minute session as I had been par of the Redbridge Gaming Network for several years and in that time we had used numerous games as a contextual hub for learning. On this website I have discussed and shown how I have used Endless Ocean, Limbo and numerous other games to get the children inspired to write. It was great to see one of the originators of the idea speak.

Overall the conference was a great event and even though I could be more verbose and thorough of my review, it is late and I am fasting tomorrow so I have kept this brief. If you get a chance to go, please do as it is well worth it... even just to network and share good practise.