Video Gaming in Saudi Arabia

Six weeks ago, my wife, children and I left the UK to live and work in Saudi Arabia. We were excited to leave but I was a bit concerned due to the fact that I thought that by going to Saudi Arabia I might have to put a lot of my pop-culture hobbies and interests behind me. Yes, it’s a first world problem for sure but from what I had heard and been led to believe, the availability of pop culture paraphernalia and video games was limited and, as an avid gamer, this could pose a huge problem for me.

Gaming is a huge part of who I am. I first discovered it when I was 6 and lived opposite a video rental store in East Ham, East London. The shop had a few arcade machines including the sit-down cocktail Pacman table, Space Invaders and some other ones which I can't remember. I fell in love with the colours, lights and sounds and blame it for getting me run-over when I was rushing with my pocket money across a busy street. Luckily, I only had a graze on my head and lived to tell the tale and play games.

I asked my parents for a computer but money was always tight so I had to content myself with playing my friends' computers. They had a ZX Spectrum and Spectrum +2 and the games wowed me but when my best friend got an NES for his 10th birthday my whole world changed- Nintendo was in my blood now. Together we would play our way through Double Dragon, Mario 1 and 3, Zelda, Micro Machines and many more. At the time I was playing my best friends NES, my parents bought an Amstrad CPC 464 with a green monochrome screen for my birthday. I loved the aged Amstrad machine, particularly enjoying Rainbow Islands, Bubble Bobble, the Dizzy games and Target Renegade, but wanted an upgrade and so worked hard on my car-washing round to purchase a Master System (as the NES was still very expensive). The Master System was a good machine but the NES was much better in terms of its gaming catalogue and so I still played it much more around my best friend’s house.

When the Megadrive came into the picture with Sonic, my friend got that for Christmas and again I played through many of the best games with him, including Streets of Rage 1 and 2, Aladdin and Street Fighter 2. These were the times of the console wars and you were either Sega or Nintendo but never both. I was definitely Sega but this changed when another friend of mine gave me his beat up old Gameboy. It was scratched up real bad and had no back for the battery casing but that didn't matter, I loved it! So between my fix of the Megadrive and Gameboy I was all set. Later on I would swap my Master System and library of games to get a second-hand Megadrive (I had to sell the shirt off my back to Rodney’s Books and Games for that!)

Rodney’s Books and Games was a staple of my weekend.

Rodney’s Books and Games was a staple of my weekend.

I missed out on the SNES as none of my close friends had it but I came back to it once the new console generation began. This was when Nintendo would become my gaming constant. I got the N64 second-hand and completed Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and Goldeneye. The N64 was awesome at the time but, due to the huge gaps between games, I also purchased a second-hand Playstation and loved that too- completing amongst others Final Fantasy 7, Syphon Filter and Parasite Eve II.

When the Gamecube came out in 2002 I bought it on the day of release with my brother, giddy from the money from my weekend jobs at Peacocks Clothing, a clothing chain, and a youth centre. It was the first ever console that I bought brand new and so it has a special place in my heart. Even though it had quite a small library it did have some of my favourite games ever including Zelda: Windwaker, Metroid Prime, Beyond Good and Evil and Resident Evil 4 (an exclusive at the time). As the consoles library dried up I purchased a second-hand Playstation 2 specifically to play Ico. The game had me intrigued and so I brought a shrink wrapped copy of that game and the console one Saturday after work at the youth centre and devoured the game in a few days. Of course I played loads of other PS2 games but Ico was my ‘in’, a strange ‘in’ to be sure.

I then bought the Xbox 360 in 2007 and loved that system; it's online service was amazing and I played some phenomenal games including Bioshock, Assassins Creed 2, Gears of War, Red Dead Redemption and Deadly Premonition. However I noticed something; all those achievements and the quest for useless XP points was getting in the way of the games for me. The simplicity of the games were being diluted with fetch-quests and the search for random doodads, a lot of the games coming out had no respect for my time and I started to dislike them for this; why did I need a 3 hour tutorial on how to move my character around a screen?

When the Wii was released, I was one of the lucky few who had pre-ordered from Game and got it on the day of release. The system was a revelation and yes I am one of those people who have the story of 'my parents never played any computer system but they did play Wii Sports.' The image of my dad playing tennis with my older brother by waggling the Wii-mote around is a happy memory for me and not at all as sinister or sordid as it sounds. The Wii had some amazing games including Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Muramasa: The Demon Sword, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 and Donkey Kong Country Returns but, as usual, the games dried up and the shovel-ware came in.

When we moved to South Woodford, my man-cave was pretty awesome!

When we moved to South Woodford, my man-cave was pretty awesome!

When my wife and I moved to Cambodia to teach for 2 years, she bought me a cracked Wii and I had over 200 games on it. She went away for a girlie weekend and found me in a catatonic state, sleep-deprived and I'm sure a bit smelly as I am a completist and had stayed up pretty much the whole weekend playing loads of the games worrying about how I would complete them all. That is obviously not a good state to be in and so I decided to relax about games and not get caught up in the whole 'complete everything' spiral. I went back to the Xbox 360 but was very picky in what I played as so many were very padded experiences; I started critical pathing some of the games which made them still very worthwhile in my opinion. I also only played the Wii games I was interested in and completed pretty much all the ones I had wanted.

I then bought a Wii U and even though it has been a commercial failure, it has had some phenomenal games; Bayonetta 2, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (which incidentally has one of the greatest soundtracks ever) and Rayman Legends. I even found myself more relaxed about my gaming habits and, again, only played the games that interested me and respected my time.

That brings us up to the present. My gaming life has been impacted over the years by the introduction of children into my life, but my interest in video games has not wavered. When coming to Saudi Arabia, I brought along my Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4. I play Nintendo games for the unique and refined experiences they provide. I've found that even though I have more responsibility in terms of finances and family, Nintendo has been a constant. It offers me hours of comfort and, pound or pound, has given me more joy than any other medium. I often get people asking me when I have the time to play games and the funny thing is that even though I don't have the time I used to have when I was in my adolescence or teens, I do have a spare couple of hours most evenings.

Most of my old gaming systems are in storage now.

Most of my old gaming systems are in storage now.

My daughters go to sleep at 7-ish most nights and my wife is close behind at 9:00, being a lark whilst I am most definitely an owl. This means I get a couple of hours gaming in most nights and over the past month I’ve spent the lion’s share of my gaming time on Skyrim, a game I’ve bought twice before (on the Xbox 360 and PS4) but never actually got around to playing before.

After a busy day at my school, we often go to the swimming pool for a bit, my daughters have dinner and a bath and then it’s bedtime for them. My wife and I have dinner and then we do a couple of hours school work (yup, I do school work at home most evenings now- my school has a heavy emphasis on planning.) I take a brain break (and body break from the heat) with a journey into Skyrim, a Norse-mythology inspired land full of tundra, lush woodlands and clear waters. Bethesda’s Skyrim has been available on most systems over the past few years and is not a Nintendo property but only with the portability and freedom of the Nintendo Switch have I actually got around to playing it. Okay, it’s not perfect and some quality of life patches which modders have created for the PC version aren’t available, but the fact that I can lay on my couch, legs in the air and headphones on and immerse myself in the world of dragons, vampires and mages has drawn me in. I have the PS4 with God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spiderman and a few other titles stored but it’s been all about Skyrim for me!

This is not to say that other video games are hard to find here in Saudi Arabia. Having been here for several weeks now, I can state that video games are definitely available and haven’t been restricted, at least from what I can see. I went to the Sony Store in a shopping centre and saw God of War heavily promoted with cracking GOW omega logo t-shirt; this was not what I had expected in a land apparently not big on visual entertainment and technology. So it seems that video games are here to stay for me and I look forward to many more years of uninterrupted gaming!

LINK- An English Geek in Saudi Arabia

LINK: Japan: My Journey to the East

LINK- Battle Angel Alita: And So It Ends

LINK- The Moomins 80's Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Retro Soundtrack Review

LINK- Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

LINK- Manga Exhibition at the British Museum

Count Lucanor- Video Games As Art

Count Lucanor is a strange little game. It is an indie title that owes a debt to Zelda, Clock Tower and a smidge of Silent Hill, being a top down light RPG game with creeping dread horror elements. The game is presented in an 8-bit art style but that doesn’t detract from the intriguing story and weird creatures that exist in this world. As a young boy called Hans, you have to explore a spooky castle to find the name of a kobold to gain access to the treasure of Count Lucanor, sounds simple and at 3-4 hours it is, but the journey is well worth having. Some of the images are disturbing, you have been warned.

Mario Odyssey- Video Games As Art

Mario Odyssey has been another home run by Nintendo. By taking Mario once more into an open world and giving him possession powers the various worlds became playgrounds where anything was possible. The art style in the game is curious, with many realistic elements (namely the T-Rex and citizen of New Donk City) blending strangely with our squat cartoonish hero, however gameplay is king and this game has it in spades. Over the course of 15 or so hours I visited the numerous worlds and enjoyed the beautiful art style. Have a look at the screenshots I captured below.

Maturity in Gaming

It's a topic that keeps cropping up every now and again, usually when Nintendo release their new console: should video games 'grow up?' People often criticise Nintendo for only appealing to children or an immature audience, saying they should provide more "mature" games on their platform. However I really value having excellent games that aren't trying to be ''edgy'' or '' dark'' all the time. Don't get me wrong, I love serious and intense games but it's a relief sometimes to play a game that isn't all about blood, guts and killing. Shooting everything that moves has its appeal but there are lots of game that do that.

Nintendo isn't just for kids, as a parent I play a lot of Nintendo games in front of my daughter as she won't get nightmares but feels engaged too.

Nintendo isn't just for kids, as a parent I play a lot of Nintendo games in front of my daughter as she won't get nightmares but feels engaged too.

The older you get, the more you realise how horrible and cruel the real world can actually be, so why would I want my video games to emulate that? Over the past few years it has often felt like we are in the darkest timeliness with some truly horrendous things occurring all around us. We are constantly barraged with horrific imagery, news headlines and 'hot takes' on some dreadful world events so for many  video games are an escape from the real world;  refuge from the general crap storm happening all around us.

Video games have the potential to test the limits of the imagination and induce a sense of wonder and awe that is often lacking in real life. That's part of the appeal for evergreen games series such as Mario and Zelda.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that all mature content games are bad. Many of them actually tell beautiful stories and have great gameplay, like Nier Automata or The Last of Us. But I believe the people who only want to play gritty games and complain about the vast variety of games that are out there (including walking simulators or simple puzzle games) are themselves immature.  Maybe they don't truly understand what video games are capable of and the potential they have to be a unique art-form. As books have a multitude of genres, some which appeal to individuals and some that definitely don't, video games has the same situation developing. Not every game is for you and the sooner some gamers realise that the sooner the medium can move forward and lose some of its toxicity.

LINK- Nintendo: My One Gaming Constant

LINK- The Beauty of Walking Simulators

The Unofficial SNES/ Super Nintendo Visual Compendium- Book Review

Gamers like me have an affinity for pixel art as we grew up with it, nostalgia is a wonderful thing and we don't need to apologise for it. Pixel art itself was born out of necessity, this economy of design came about due to the various technical limitations but often where there are limitations that is where creativity prospers and thrives.

Over the last few years there has been a boom in quality books celebrating retro video game culture, including pixel art. Bitmap Books, one of the most profilic and consistently excellent producers of such books, have just released what is arguably the console which showcased the peak of pixel art... we are, of course, talking about the might Super Nintendo Entertainment System (the Super Famicom as it was known in Japan or the SNES to Brits like me who like to abbreviate everything). 

I kickstarted the softcover edition of the book for £25 and for this I got:

  • a softcover book
  • a scan line bookmark
  • a multimedia version of the PDF, which I was able to download
  • my name in the book
  • access to the backer updates

However what of the book itself? Well, the entire package is a thing of beauty as it comes coming protected in a tough slipcase with a snazzy lenticular cover. The book itself is a snug fit and has a spot varnish cover which gives it a feel of real class. The pages themselves are vivid and brightly coloured and make no mistake, this is a weighty tome with high quality paper that feels great to the touch.

Over the course of 529 pages the SNES/ Super Famicom: A Visual Compendium showcases the very best pixel art and box art. The book features over 100 classic games, with articles from leading developers, interviews with key figures in the industry and mini-features on subjects such as homebrew games, unreleased games (including the very recently released Starfox 2) and company profiles.

This all sounds great, and it is, but a real highlights are the occasional fold-out sections on games such as Street Fighter 2, Super Mario World and Chrono Trigger which showcase the beautiful pixel art in all its stunning glory.

The interviews with creators, programmers and various people involved in the industry gives real insight in small 200 word mouthfuls that break up the artwork nicely, offering a look inside the industry at the time.

The compendium is another excellent addition to the Bitmap Books roster of video game art books and it well worth the price. Buy it now as you won't be disappointed!

Video Game Papercuts

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

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!

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.

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! 

My One True Gaming Constant in Life- Nintendo

In late March 2015 my wife and I welcomed our beautiful daughter, Jasmine, into the world. In the last couple of years since her birth we've been through a massive amount of change- some of it good and some of it bad; staying up most of the night to her howls and calling NHS Direct worriedly at 3 a.m. only for her to fall asleep inexplicably happy after half an hour, hearing her say her first word ('Dada' if you were interested) and seeing her walk for the first time with a huge grin on her face. As a parent these moments of joy and and fear make up much of your waking life and you'd be surprised at how quickly you adapt to it- it becomes a part of your life as naturally as breathing. I've written already about how my gaming life has been impacted by the introduction of a baby into my life but something that has not changed in all this is the presence of Nintendo

My second mancave was in a much smaller room which I was given as a favour from my wife. It was full of DVD's, CD's, graphic novels, models and plushies. It was great but felt a bit crammed!

I first came to gaming when I was 6 and lived opposite a video rental store in East Ham, East London. The shop had a few arcade machines including the sit-down Pacman table, Space Invaders and some other ones which I can't remember. I fell in love with the colours, lights and sounds and blame it for getting me run-over when I was rushing with my pocket money across a busy street. Luckily I only had a graze on my head and lived to tell the tale and play games. I asked my parents for a computer but money was always tight so I had to content myself with playing my friends' computers. They had a ZX Spectrum and Spectrum +2 and the games wowed me but when my best friend got an NES for his 10th birthday my whole world changed- Nintendo was in my blood now. Together we would play our way through Double Dragon, Mario 1 and 3, Zelda, Micro Machines and many more. At the time I was playing the NES I was bought an Amstrad CPC 464 with green monochrome screen for my birthday. I loved the aged Amstrad machine, particularly enjoying Rainbow Islands, Bubble Bobble, Dizzy and Target Renegade, but wanted an upgrade and so worked hard on my car-washing round to purchase a Master System as the NES was still very expensive. The Master System was a good machine but the NES was much better in terms of gaming catalogue and so I still played it much more around my best friends house.

When the Megadrive came into the picture with Sonic my friend got that for his birthday and again I played through many of the best games with him, including Streets of Rage 1 and 2, Aladdin and Street Fighter 2. These were the times of the console wars and you were either Sega or Nintendo but never both. I was definitely Sega but this changed when another friend of mine gave me his beat up old Gameboy. It was scratched up real bad and had no back for the battery casing but that didn't matter, I loved it! So between my fix of the Megadrive and Gameboy I was all set. Later on I would swap my Master System and library of games to get a second-hand Megadrive. I missed out on the SNES as none of my close friends had it but I came back to it once the new console generation began. This was when Nintendo would become my gaming constant. I got the N64 second-hand and completed Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and Goldeneye. The N64 was awesome at the time but due to the huge gaps between games I also purchased a second-hand Playstation 1 and loved that too- completing amongst others Final Fantasy 7, Syphon Filter and Parasite Eve II.

My bedroom was spacious, light and piled high with my 'pile of shame'... comics, books and games I wanted to complete.

My bedroom (which I'd had since I was 11) was a geeks paradise and very spacious.

I even had a projector plugged in to play games. This was especially good for scary games like Project Zero 2 on the Wii.

My projector is used a lot to play games on this portable machine. The sounds not great but the gameplay is spot on.

The image is pretty clear on the wall but it's a definite step down from my original room.

When the Gamecube came out in 2002 I bought it on the day of release with my brother, giddy from the money from my weekend jobs at a clothing chain and a youth centre. It was the first ever console that I bought brand new and so it has a special place in my heart. Even though it had quite a small library it did have some of my favourite games ever including Zelda: Windwaker, Resident Evil 4 (an exclusive at the time) and Metroid Prime. As the consoles library dried up I purchased a second-hand Playstation 2 specifically to play Ico. The game had me intrigued and so I brought a shrink wrapped copy of that game and the console one Saturday after work at the youth centre and devoured the game in a few days. Of course I played loads of other PS2 games but Ico was my in, a strange in to be sure.

I bought the Xbox 360 in 2007 and loved that system, it's online service was amazing and I played some phenomenal games including Bioshock, Assassins Creed 2, Gears of War, Red Dead Redemption and Deadly Premonition. However I noticed something; all those achievements and the quest for useless XP points was getting in the way of the games for me. The simplicity of the games were being diluted with fetch-quests and the search for random doodads, a lot of the games coming out had no respect for my time and I started to dislike them for this; why did I need a 3 hour tutorial on how to move my character around a screen?

When the Wii was released I was one of the lucky few who had pre-ordered at from Game and got it on the day of release. The system was a revelation and yes I am one of those people who have the story of 'my parents never played any computer system but they did play Wii Sports.' The image of my dad playing tennis with my older brother by waggling the Wii-mote around is a happy memory for me and not at all as sinister or sordid as it sounds. The Wii had some amazing games including Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Muramasa: The Demon Sword, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 and Donkey Kong Country Returns but as usual the games dried up and the shovelware came in. When my wife and I moved to Cambodia for 2 years she bought me a cracked Wii and I had over 200 games on it. She went away for a girlie weekend and found me in a catatonic state, sleep-deprived and I'm sure a bit smelly as I am a completist and had stayed up pretty much the whole weekend playing loads of the games worrying about how I would complete them all. That is obviously not a good state to be in and so I decided to relax about games and not get caught up in the whole 'complete everything' spiral. I went back to the Xbox 360 but was very picky in what I played as so many were very padded experiences, I started critical pathing some of the games which made them still very worthwhile in my opinion. I also only played the Wii games I was interested in and completed pretty much all the ones I had wanted.

I then bought a Wii U and even though it has been a commercial failure, it has had some phenomenal games; Bayonetta 2, Super Mario 3D World, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (which incidentally has one of the greatest soundtracks ever) and Rayman Legends. I've found myself more relaxed about my gaming habits and again have only played the games that have interested me and respect my time.

And so on to the Nintendo Switch. I've pre-ordered it and am awaiting it with bated breath. Even though many of my friends and colleagues are worried about it as they feel Nintendo's last few entries into the console market have been underwhelming, for me it doesn't matter. I play Nintendo games for the Nintendo experience. They very rarely create games that have fat and take liberties with your time. Their games are usually polished and refined to the highest degree and this is what I pay for.

I've found that even though I have more responsibility in terms of finances and family, Nintendo has been a constant. It offers me hours of comfort and pound or pound has given me more joy than any other media. I often get people asking me when I have the time to play games and the funny thing is that even though I don't have the time I used to have when I was in my adolescence or teens, I do have a spare couple of hours most evenings.

My daughter goes to sleep at 7 ish most nights and my wife is close behind at 8:30, being a lark whilst I am most definitely an owl. This means I get a couple of hours gaming in most nights and have smashed through tonnes of games in the past couple of years. I could spend a few hours working my way through tutorials on some 360 games but most Wii U games don't have long-winded openings and so I just jump in and there I am collecting bananas and trying to stop my island from freezing, or there I am trying to smash Peach off the arena with my Falcon Punch... it goes on.

Nintendo is a constant in my life and even though the company doesn't always get everything right, what it does to is provide a library of bonafide classic games that stand the test of time (for the most part). I hope that as my daughter grows up I can share my passion for gaming with her and show her the Nintendo universe and the wonders contained within.

Video Gaming Bucket List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panzer Dragoon Saga fetches a pretty penny nowadays.

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

The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses Concert Review

Concerts based on video game soundtracks have been a staple of entertainment in Japan but have only recently been gaining in popularity in the West, mainly due to the hard work of Tommy Tallarico and his Video Game Music Live concerts which have been going strong for many years.  The soundtracks to games are gaining prominence and airplay on the radio too and a wider audience is being reached. Bands like Anamanaguchi, who use old video game sound chips to help score their music, have further brought the video game sound to the mainstream and so people from all walks of life are developing a taste for video game music, in fact 3 out of the top 20 Hall of Fame tracks on Classic FMs poll last year were from video games!

This diverse audience for video game music was reflected in the Zelda concert where the audience ranged from early teens to people in their 40's and 50's. Most of the Arena was full and there were many people out in cosplays from the series. 

I was extremely excited as Zelda: Ocarina of Time is my favourite game ever and the series holds a special place in my heart. Joining me was my older brother, we had fond memories of working through Ocarina of Time and Link's Awakening in our youth.

Before the concert started there was a moments silence for Prince and then the concert began.
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra were amazing, bringing alive Koji Kondo's scores. The music was accompanied by stunning video footage of the various games in the series on huge screens and this made for a sense of synaesthesia, a real overload for the sights and sounds.
At just over 2 hours the concert went through a lot of classic tracks but my favourites were the Zelda Title track, Dragon Roost Island, Song of Time and Gerudo Valley.


What made the night even more special wad that there were pre-recorded interviews spliced in of people involved in the Zelda franchise including Miyamoto and Aonuma. This broke up the wonderful music and gave us an insight into the thoughts and feelings of the Nintendo staffers. Overall the evening was highly enjoyable and it has made me determined to finish Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, taking over 100 hours getting me motivated to do that the gig must have been inspirational!

Nintendo Quest Review

Nintendo Quest is a Kickstarter-funded documentary based on a simple premise; a young man, Jay, has to find all 678 original NES video games which were released in North America within 30 days. This sounds like a simple enough task right? In this day and age of the internet auction sites and online shopping it's a no-brainer, but to make it more challenging no internet or auction sites can be used and his current collection cannot be included.

This is a promising set-up, full of potential for insights into Nintendo history, a deep look at gaming and collectors and a look behind the recent surge in interest in retro gaming collection.

The documentary starts by talking heads saying things like, "It'll be a transformative experience", "He's going to go on a journey and find a lot out about himself" and so on, all set to background fast paced rock music! He's not after the holy grail, it's NES carts!

As an avid collector I love the thrill of finding carts in the wild but I would never be as hyperbolic as this documentary is. When Jay is finding the carts there is a UI (User Interface) that shows his money level and his NES cartridge count but there isn't a monetary value represented and the cost of the games isn't shared either. In some scenes I expected Westlife's 'Flying Without Wings' to be playing in the playground, all set to slomo images of the protagonist, Jay, digging through the carts.

When compared to something like 'From Bedrooms to Billions', again a documentary about gaming but this time about people making games in the 70's/ 80's, the information was interesting but well paced and not so hyperbolic, it made it a much easier viewing experience.

Nintendo Quest  fails to be insightful on what is a fascinating topic. For a documentary all about the vintage gaming scene it is fails to look at the reasons behind the scene, the cost of the hobby and even why there is a resurgence in old skool gaming. The documentary has a lot of potential but ultimately fails to deliver, being quite meandering and unfocussed.

Amiibos and the Rise of Swag

For many our possessions become extensions of the self which we use to signal to others and ourselves who we are and what our interests are. However our relationship with our stuff is in a state of flux. For many book and music collections are stored on the cloud, no longer taking up space on dusty shelves. This flux is no longer confined to mere material possessions but also to our identity, we carefully construct our online profiles; choosing the best pictures, the funniest or most profound status updates and informing everyone of how wonderful (or not) our lives are. The self has become extended into technology, with the different online services acting as a memory bank.

Now unless you have been living under a rock you have probably heard the great furore surrounding Nintendo's Amiibos. For those who have been under said rock Amiibos are the Big N's foray into 'toys-to-life' gaming accessory business that also includes Activision’s Skylanders and Disney’s Infinity. These pieces of plastic have been spectacularly popular, but the issue surrounds supply and how many of the figures were on a limited run and are fetching incredibly high prices, some figures originally cost about $12.99 but are selling on ebay for over $70. Surprisingly, or not maybe, most of the people who purchase Amiibo's are the older males, most in their 30's. Why is that? It can't all be due to resale value or collecting for the future (like Beanie Baby speculators).

What I'm looking at in this article is the demand for the Amiibos and not just the Amiibos, but the rise in just 'stuff' in gaming. Amiibos are just one aspect which has seen a rise in physical products. Many people were proclaiming the end of gaming consumables, what with the move towards a digital only future where entertainment is consumed via online services however this is patently not true. I believe that there is a reason for this rise in demand for stuff. People want to show their affiliation and affection for their hobbies, its the reason I buy physical comics, magazines and games. Also it may be due to Kickstarter and the need to own something tangible, maybe the game will be crap but at least you got a cloth map, figure or limited edition card!

I love Amiibos, its great owning an official Nintendo product but there is also an issue where scalpers, like ticket touts, have artificially led to inflated prices... the issue is exacerbated by the limited run of Amiibos. First world problems for sure but  I love the chase of finding certain Amiibos, I don't want all of them but there are definite characters I want. I keep them in a box as I am a collector but am not 'that guy' that buys multiple copies of figures I already have and then resell them at a higher price.

Living in a small apartment with my wife and child I have had to de-clutter, and I'm sure that this is true for many people, but our relationship with our possessions remains as important as ever although the nature of the relationship is changing. I'm sure we all know people who have a huge Steam library of games they have downloaded but never played, or tonnes of albums bought on iTunes which haven't been listened to, or albums purchased on vinyl even though they don't have a record player. We all dream of some halcyon future where our past-times and pleasures will be revisited and so until we can let go we will buy stuff and that's okay.

LINK- Wired Article What Nintendo Did Right And Wrong With It's Amiibo Figurines

LINK- Article Vinyl: The Return of a Format