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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Battlefield 2

We sprinted from the stairs to the building wall, taking cover from the sniper covering the square. The order came from the Sarge to make a run for it across the open ground, to get into the safety of the alleyways and on to our target. But my attention was elsewhere.

The UAV was up in the air, an American tank could be seen moving closely up the street on the radar. A soldier from another squad paused his frantic run towards me and let a rocket fly from his shoulder mounted launcher. As he scrabbled past under a hail of bullets from the tank a shell from the cannon exploded against the ground to our right. As my vision shook and blurred, the sound of the fighting echoing around my skull in new and truly terrible ways. I saw my chance to finish off the approaching tank so I hurled my shaking body into the street and let loose the rocket on my shoulder.

As my body parts scattered across the street I remembered my Basic Training:
Do NOT fire rockets point blank into a wall!

Having finally giving in and purchasing Battlefield 2 last Friday I’m now four days into my latest online addiction. For all its technical wobbles it’s stonkingly good fun. It’s amazing how different the online play is to the rather empty feeling single player skirmishes. Previously I’d judged 1942 and Vietnam on these limp experiences and some two player & bots filled LAN attempts. Apparently a mistake as this time I ignored my impressions of the demo and relied on the PC Gamer UK review, website enthusing from PC Gamer employee Tom Francis and the opinions of three online friends.

Despite initial plans to move my Enemy Territory medic favouritism to modern warfare I’ve actually found the bullet attracting Anti-Tank class to my instant preference. In BF2 he’s a class with a real purpose – taking out the swarms of vehicles rolling around under the control of the opposing side. Skittering from cover to cover, a different position for each rocket, bullets peppering the run down Middle Eastern streets around you. Oh, and the joy of arcing a rocket, through basic after shot guidance, into the side of a Blackhawk helicopter and sending it down in flames…

It’s a deliciously explosive game, in every sense of the word. The simple idea of making nearby tank blasts blur your vision for a while and leave your sound muffled and ringing is one of my favourite effects on the gameplay. Being under the path of a huge artillery bombardment, desperately hugging the side of a building and hoping to avoid death is almost equally wonderful. I can’t fly a chopper without spiralling into the ground but I can man the side guns as part of a small squad of friends on voice comms. I’m too laughably frightened to even attempt to get into a fighter jet but I can stare up into the skies and see fantastic dogfights being fought over my head as I track down my next armoured target.

Usually with online first person shooters (my own experiences of note being Quakeworld, Quake 3, Quake 3 Fortress, Enemy Territory and CounterStrike:Source) to play on your own is ok but to play with friends is much more fun. Well Battlefield 2 is so far pushing this to new heights for me (reminding me the most of the Q3F heyday). Playing on my own has so far been bloody great, especially in a squad of competent comrades. On the other hand, playing with friends in a squad on voice comms can be absolutely excellent as we become a tight knit unit of excellence (okay, our excellence may be somewhat suspect!).

I’m sure it can’t last forever but I get the feeling I’ll have got my money’s worth many times over by the time I’m done. Many tanks, APCS, jeeps, buggies and helicopters will have exploded by my hands before then.

[My Stats]

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 7:34 PM 3 comments

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tuesday Book Club

The far too intelligent Steven Shaviro offers up a review of the new Bret Easton Ellis novel Lunar Park. Before I heard about this a month or two ago I was prodding the internet to find out what had happened to Ellis, so it’s good to see the new novel surfacing. Shaviro’s super brain offers up a somewhat wordy review and look into the book and it sounds an interesting one. It’s a welcome change to have an Ellis central character that feels something. Now the long wait for the paperback begins.

Today I finished The Great Shark Hunt – a hefty collection of Hunter. S Thompson articles from sixties through to the end of the seventies. With only one or two exceptions it was a great read with Thompson at the height of his powers, and a fascinating look into that time period through the ever twisted eyes of the late Doctor. I also found it rather interesting to read some of his earlier pieces done before his energetic style blossomed and they form a nice contrast by appearing in the middle of the book between chunks of the more familiarly constructed material.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 4:10 PM 3 comments

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Text Adventuring

Mark Wallace’s piece (The History Of My Adventure) over at the ever excellent reminded me of my own first few years of computer gaming. Whilst I’d played a fair bit on my friend’s aged Atari 2600, it all began with the Commodore 64 my mum’s father got me & my brother for Christmas 1991. It was rather a late time to be getting into such a machine but there were still plenty of years left in the old beast. Initially games of Dizzy (a classic), Colony (I still have a hatred for bugs that eat solar panels to this day!) and freeware shooter Moonsweeper were amongst my first proper gaming experiences.

It was not long after that grand Christmas holiday that I got my first issue of the legendary Zzap! 64. It was issue 81, the issue to contain a review of Creatures 2 (a game that became something of a holy grail for me – sadly never obtained until I discovered emulators). As well as devouring the contents I was practically exploding with joy at this tape attached to the front full of free games and demos. Free. Games. And there, beneath Gribbly’s Day Out (controlling a floating, inertia filled frog in one of Andy Braybook’s classic games – great stuff!) was the text adventure Nythyhel.

I’d never imagined that computer games could take the form of text adventures before that magazine. I was used to playing Fighting Fantasy books to my heart’s delight but the concept of interacting with fiction on a computer screen was to me at the time, very much a “wow, I didn’t know they did THIS kind of thing!” moment. Through the Zzap! covertapes of that and subsequent months I enjoyed my first brushes with the field of text adventures, most of which usually resulted in death. Death or getting lost. Much like some of my experiences with Fighting Fantasy books at that time, actually…

It took another few years for me to truly appreciate the games, aided in part by picking up back issue after back issue of 1980s Zzap! magazines (some excellent stuff there) and reading what was then a much more extensive look at text adventures. The selection of adventures from the newer covertapes was fair enough but it was my purchases of various collections of text adventures from Level 9 and a few Infocom titles that really gave me enjoyment. I even found myself attempting to write my own text adventures, first in BASIC (a task that quickly became too involved to be worthwhile) and then in G.A.C. – the Graphical Adventure Creator (free on the front of an issue of Commodore Format – the less accomplished rival to Zzap! and later Commodore Force, I felt). G.A.C. made adventure creation quite easy and fun to do, even allowing (as the name suggests) the creation of large images to sit above the text when you enter certain locations. In G.A.C. I created my own, quite large and quite fun to play text adventure. I still never finished it, but it was great to create nonetheless.

I feel a gamer misses out on something if they’ve never been able to sit down and enjoy a well crafted and fun to play text adventure. I’m not sure what that is, though. Perhaps they’re more likely to lack an appreciation of a well crafted environment and a good narrative, but I couldn’t say for certain. I just feel it’s one of those things that was great to be able to enjoy as something current, without feeling like your playing a backwards and outdated form of video game. Because these days the average gamer can get that kind of experience complete with passable voice acting and beautiful scenery. Sure, they’re not usually entering text into a parser to interact with their world, but the spirit of the games has moved on to these shinier and more advanced shells. Me, I’m feeling a very slight tinge of nostalgia for some N, N, LOOK, EXAMINE ROCK action.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 2:32 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Review: Every Extend

"One day suddenly, you receive 12 UCHU- guided bombs. What do you do? 'Suicidal explodion' game with new feelings. Blow up self to involve enemies!"

Everyone has, I hope, their own personal favourite “simple yet addictive game”. For many it’s the tried and tested lure of Solitaire but for us gamers it’s likely to be something not bundled with Windows, though no less simple and addictive. For me that game is the infinitely enjoyable Every Extend – how I could I not love a game that tells me to “Destory them all!” (it’s by a Japanese person(s), so occasional bouts of amusing ‘Engrish’ are part of the charm).

Explosions are the key point of Every Extend. Your goal is to create large chains of explosions amongst the moving spinning blocks arranged into triangles of various sizes. The more blocks you can get into one chain of explosions, the more points you get. In the basic mode, green blocks drop transparent points cubes, and the more of these you collect in a row before you next decided to blow yourself up (or smash into something), the more points each transparent cube gives. These green blocks form the point of a triangle, attached to a number of white blocks either side. Lone pink blocks also whiz across the screen occasionally, and blowing up these will drop a spinning transparent pink cube, collecting which will up your speed modifier. Now, only a stupid person (ahem… what can I say) would think that was the speed of your pointer – no no no, it’s the speed of the triangles of blocks whizzing across your screen. The faster they come, the greater the potential for huge chains as the screen gets busier.

As I’ve already indicated, points are your goal in Every Extend. It’s more than just points though as you have a time limit and also a maximum number of times you can blow yourself up. In the basic game this second feature is irrelevant – there’s a counter and an indicator of how many points are required to add another self detonation to your otherwise decreasing counter, but you never run out – the “Extends” that add to the counter are too easily obtained. The time thing is your real nemesis.

Every time you lose a craft by accident (smashing into blocks rather than deliberately blowing yourself up) you lose 5 seconds from the ever decreasing timer. The only way to increase this timer is by collecting the transparent brown cubes dropped by the bullet firing bosses that appear every so often (and must be dispatched by exploding yourself or, ideally, hitting them at the end of a chain of explosions). Finally, at a certain point towards the end of the timer you get to dispatch a final boss object that splits into a new stage after each “death” before finally dropping.

Phew. So that’s Every Extend explained, at least. The heavy mode is basically the same but with added delayed explosion bomb-blocks and a much harsher position on the Extends and number of detonations.

It’s hard to really convey the joy to be had when you’re chaining explosions together. The extra smile when you manage to con the game into upping the speed of the blocks seven times instead of the usual limit six. Firing off a well timed blast that ignites dozens of blocks only to return to the fray in time to chain another set of explosions onto the total at the opposite end of the screen. Skirting in-between the blocks hurtling this way and that to collect green transparent cube after green transparent cube for an ever mounting bonus. Wiping out a stage of the final “boss” by placing him on the end of a 30 or 40 block explosion chain. Watching the entire play area and beyond erupt in explosion after explosion as you smash all previous chain records.

I’ve spent many a half hour in the evening carving a new entry into my scoreboard in Every Extend. Unlike many enjoyable freeware games I’ve played, I came back again and again after the initial burst of enthusiasm had worn off. In fact I’ve played it almost every weekend of these past few months as I rekindled my love, a thirty minute session here and a quick ten minutes before something on TV there. It’s free and it’s likely you won’t love it quite as much as me, but give it try.
[Download Link]

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 10:00 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Review: Battlestar Galactica Season 2 1 - 6

I was going to do this as an episode by episode review of the rest of the series as it comes out, but then I realised “bugger that, I don’t want too many weekly commitments that I’ll never meet” so I went for a half-season opinion piece instead. Overall I really enjoyed the first season of the new Battlestar Galactica, and its two part opening mini-series. It’s a dark, post-Babylon 5 and rather Space Above And Beyond influenced Sci-Fi TV show. It plays to my love of the hopeless, end of all things, we’re going to lose & die scenarios, especially when they’re continued as part of an ongoing piece of fiction. We’re now what I presume is about half-way through the second series (episode 7 is next).

Season 2 has continued the onslaught of punishment, both mental and physical, heaped upon the survivors of the human race. Season 1 left us with the Cylons having completed almost total genocide, with the Galactica fleet as the sum total of humanity’s sorry remains (with the exception of the man on Caprica, obviously). The perverse mental torture & psychological experimentation at the hands of the human-looking Cylons gave things an added edge and just increased the nightmare the survivors were living in. Which was all good stuff, dark and full of death and the continued possibility that anyone could be a Cylon as even we viewers (who did know more than the crew) clearly don’t know anywhere near everything.

For Season 2 we’ve continued the loss of human and human-Cylon life, as well as tormenting various main cast members in new and exciting levels. The assumed control of the fleet by the military after imprisoning the president for her actions in sending Starbuck off to Caprica (against orders) has been particularly good. Who do we, the viewer, root for? We know their survival depends on them all working together, we know military control is a very, very bad idea indeed and unsustainable without resorting to real levels of oppression (at least I hope, no matter what side of the political spectrum the viewer falls on, that the real world has taught us all that much). We know democracy has to continue, we know democracy ruins military operations like the minor matter of keeping the remains of humanity alive, we know the President did wrong and we know the military has a very valid problem with her actions. It’s a nicely presented grey situation, and top marks to the writers for pulling it off.

The problem is perhaps the fault of TV as a medium. We’re pretty certain that the President shouldn’t be locked away for good and so on, but we’re not entirely sure why. If they just elect a new one, what harm has really been done? She endangered the lives of the civilians (by reducing the pilot strength) and asked a soldier to disobey perfectly decent orders. TV, however, has taught us to assume that the President, as a lead character without any obvious malicious intentions, has got to remain. I think the situation they’re in was always going to be a “whatever decisions are eventually made, everybody loses” one, but it’s really strengthened by our expectations of TV shows, not the story by itself.

I do have two actual problems with season 2, rather than the above which is just a concern (I don’t sit there watching each episode and worry about TV conventions damaging that situation, I just think of it afterwards and shrug a bit). The first is the emergence of the religious aspect. I’m an atheist and this very likely colours my opinions here, but I felt the part of religion in the show was not sufficiently built up. It all arrived a little too quickly. There were occasional mentions of it during the mini-series and first few episodes of season 1, but no real indication of the apparently serious role it plays in their society. The female Cylon has always banged on about it (er, no pun intended), but they’re so separate from the humans they resemble that I don’t find that a valid build up for the human side. Certainly nothing was established that might explain why a previously sane character would endanger possibly the last 50,000 members of the human race on a sudden increase in religious conviction.

So yes, I think the religious fundamentalism of the President, whilst a valid and potentially very interesting part of the story, was not built up credibly. Despite my own lack of belief, I do enjoy plenty of fiction makes use of religion, often to similar extremes and produces an excellent story out of it. Here though I find myself unable to fit the President’s messiah complex and the blind following of half the fleet into what’s come before in the Battlestar Galactica universe. She comes across less as someone caught up in her beliefs (which may be bang on) and more like a crazy person.

My second problem with season 2 is Starbuck. Now c’mon, did anyone really want to see our favourite cigar smoking, ass kicking, arrogant star pilot humanised to such an insane extent? It’s one thing to have some sexual tension between her and Apollo, and for her to have one night stands in the same way that a male pilot of a similar personality would. That works, as probably would a relationship with Apollo. It’s another thing to turn her into a weepy, falls-in-love in a James T. Kirk fashion with resistance fighter leader on Caprica, traditional TV woman. That doesn’t work, at least not for Starbuck. Sure, it’s a swing from one stereotype to the other, but they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s not been subtle and it doesn’t read like an expansion/progression of the character by the writers, it reads like they sat down and said “shit, we need to make Starbuck more human” and just flicked a switch one episode. The old Starbuck was fun to watch throughout season 1, the new Starbuck has not been during season 2. Bah.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 2:42 PM 5 comments

Thoughts On Firefly 1 - 3

The ship's cowboy captain.Over the weekend I rented the first three episodes of Joss Whedon’s Sci-Fi TV series Firefly. I’ve been a big fan of Whedon’s Buffy related TV shows and I am well aware of the good internet opinion of the show, so I was hoping for good things. So far so good. It’s a literal Western in space, down to the guns being six-shooter influenced designs, the space cowboy clothing and the intergalactic saloon bars on distant dusty worlds. Oh, and the rather pleasant Westerns music in the background. It’s more than just visual (and audio) style though, the “wandering honourable outlaws in almost lawless lands” thrust of the show is also obviously a Western trope. It’s not a new influence for Sci-Fi by any means, but it is the best interpretation I’ve seen on TV.

The Western genre is quite a natural fit for Sci-Fi, especially those stories featuring the roaming character(s) and the lawless, frontier lifestyle. Committing a high-tech train heist, tense exchanges in the desert and the looting and investigation of dead ships have made for an enjoyable first three episodes. I don’t know where the show is going and Whedon’s comics influences tend to ensure some form of continuing plot arc (in this case I guess it’s the situation involving the Doctor’s sister), but I’m looking forward to enjoying the sadly short ride.

I think Whedon’s doing a good job of restraining his standard dialogue style, whilst still leaking it in when appropriate. The characters don’t sound like teenagers fighting vampires and the “big bad”, they generally sound more adult. One problem with Angel was the tendency for the characters to continue to converse like the teenagers in Buffy, with too little difference despite their increased age. Nathan Fillon, a man I recognise primarily as The Girl’s boyfriend/husband in Two Guys And A Girl (in my defence, that show did have its moments!), works very well as the honourable scoundrel type of ship’s captain. He’s the character most firmly routed in the Western influence. The rest of them are all solid enough personalities so far – the engineer and the pilot being the more interesting ones to watch at this stage. The doctor and his sister are perhaps too much out of the stock bin of plot devices, but there’s room for them to develop. At worst they’ll be above average examples of those standards, so it’s not a major criticism.

Now if Screenselect can just ship the second DVD to me for this weekend…

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 10:28 AM 0 comments

Friday, August 19, 2005

Review: Gundam SEED Destiny 43

It’s a little advertised fact that I’ve actually been quite enjoying the latest Gundam anime TV series. SEED left me decidedly nonplussed and uninterested after sticking through the first 13 episodes but Destiny has grabbed me sufficiently from day one. Now we’re in the end stretch of what has been a slow but consistently enjoyable Gundam series, not without its flaws and silliness but also not without plenty to enjoy.

Episode 43 is the tail end of the battle for Orb (in theory the neutral, largely pacifist nation in the SEED world, dragged into the war by a shift in leadership). We get an injured Athrun entering battle in a version of the Justice to save Kira’s enhanced Freedom in a fight with Shinn and Rey. Shinn continues to ping around in a frenzied state without ever stopping to form an opinion on what’s going on around him. He’s easily manipulated by the chairman & Rey and his fixation on the death of his family leads blind hatred of Orb and its supporters, irrespective of the realities of the situation. Even though this makes him an irritating person to watch, I quite like this bit of characterisation. He is blind to how he’s being manipulated and what’s really happening but there are clear reasons for it.

I have nothing interesting to say about most of the other characters, who progress as expected and do what you’d think. I’m glad to see Cagalli turned into someone who doesn’t make me want to inflict pain every time she weeps and gapes her way through a scene. Now she actually acts like you’d expect the representative of a nation to act. The detached airs of superiority that Kira and the real Lacus exude work well in the context of the series. They are these unflappable forces for what they believe in, and have worked well in the background for most of the series. To focus solely on their messianic actions for 50 episodes wouldn’t have worked, but the Shinn/Minerva focus for most of the series kept things balanced.

Assuming you can accept Destiny at all, this was a good episode. The low level plot and action carries it for me, and the basic characterisation works well enough. It’s a series that is unlikely to rank as your favourite but if you can look past the silly Mecha, the terrible character designs and sit back & enjoy the ride then it’s good fun. Obviously many people can’t get past these flaws, which is fair enough. It’s also entirely possible that a good fit of fun will colour my enjoyment of a show far more than other people’s, which is also fair enough. When it comes to Destiny I scoff at just as much as I chuckle in enjoyment at but for the most part I have fun.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 7:22 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

When The Going Gets Weird, The Weird Turn To Wikipedia

I’m currently in a bit of a Hunter S. Thompson mood, sadly not extending to my writing abilities. My vastly increased travel time, due to a move into the concrete tower of the Bracknell office, has greatly upped my reading time. I’m now reading the (so far) excellent The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time - collected writings of the late Hunter S. Thompson from the mid 60s to the late 70s. It’s also huge, which is a bonus. As part of my reading I thought I’d have a look at the Hunter S. Thompson information on Wikipedia (a resource I’m only recently getting into using, but so far so good).

Wikipedia led me to quite a good site for a good site for all things Hunter (currently being rebuilt, so start here if you're interested). It turns out that the Gonzo Cannon has been constructed in Thompson’s longterm hometown of Aspen, funded by Johnny Depp and ready to fire (reg. required but includes pictures of it covered - as an alternative, this article is text only) his ashes over the valley this Saturday, August 20th. I’d wondered what had happened to this, as I read about Johnny Depp & Ralph Steadman working out how to do it back around the time of his death. “Buy the ticket, take the ride”. Indeed.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 4:16 PM 0 comments

Monday, August 15, 2005

Gaming Seeds Of Temptation

The universe hates me and wishes to both empty my bank account and fill my shelves with games waiting to be played. In advancement of this, Eurogamer brings me a tempting preview of Burnout: Revenge (which is curiously not Burnout 4, as perhaps that’s being saved for the next-gen consoles). Burnout 3 was one of the first titles I picked up for my free Xbox, lured by tale after tale of its extreme fun. Four copies later and the mysterious alignment of planets caused by a visit from friend Stu enabled me to actually start playing it, a mere three weeks or so ago. I may be a year or two late to the party but damn that’s fun. So yes, looking forward to the next instalment, which looks jolly nice and the changes to the crash mode sound like they’ll make it all a bit more free and a bit less pre-determined.

The other evil temptation is Fahrenheit, which sounds very good indeed (so much so that it needed a second review, apparently). Since Planescape:Torment and Knights Of The Old Republic cemented themselves in my mental “best games ever” list a couple of years ago, I’ve been looking out for some fresh heavily story driven games (important word that) with lots of conversationalising (a word so good that I just invented it). As I’m feeling rather biased towards the Xbox with my recent purchases, I think I’ll be waiting to see the PC Gamer UK review first, and then hopefully getting it for my lovely beige box. Who needs money anyway.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 4:25 PM 0 comments

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Review: Fortnightly Comics Parcel 1

I figured that rather than restricting myself to writing big, incoherent reviews for the main site (whenever it resurrects), I'd try returning to the mini-review format for a few things. These days I buy altogether too many western comics, and every other weekend they arrive at my door in a nice and chunky parcel. So every fortnight I'll attempt to whiz through them, in a style similar to The Savage Critics, I suppose. Onwards.

Supergirl 1: As this is a first issue there's the inevitable several page catch-up of the "story so far" from the pages of various Superman/Batman issues before we kick into the real tale. The JSA fight is very nice to look at, and the surrounding conversation between Stargirl and Supergirl is a pleasant enough start to establishing Supergirl as a character (rather than a plot point). When it comes to the confrontation with Power Girl (yes, her), the "same person occupying a single space", repelling thing is an interesting slant on having two characters that are essentially the same (also a better excuse for a hero vrs hero fight than we often get). Whether it's something that will play out in the pages of this title, JSA or DC's Infinite Crisis mega-event thing is another thing altogether though. I think it would be a shame if the launch issue of this title raises a plot that never gets further explored in the same title. Generally this felt a bit short but pretty solid - a good title in the making as long as we don't roll through countless hero vrs hero fights. I enjoyed Ian Churchill's pencils, and loved some of the work the colourists did. The art raises this from a 3.5 to a...

Toxin 5 (of 6): Toxin has been a rather middling miniseries - a strong artist on the wrong material, a decent writer failing to stretch into his best stylings and a generally uninspiring premise. It's not been terrible, but it's never filled me with desperation for the next issue. It's technically fine, but brings out no form of passion (or even interest, perhaps) in the reader. Darick Robertson's art is bastardised by totally incompatible colouring (the average in-house Marvel colouring is dreary and unflattering these days) and, strangely, a rather brutal ink job from the usually very compatible Rodney Ramos. Peter Milligan could be having so much fun with the Toxin character, especially given his often wonderfully off-beat writing, but instead it's all bit somber and lacking in energy.

Iron Man 4: Adi Granov finally delivers the fourth issue of this re-launched title under writer Warren Ellis. The previous issues have been solid, if overly decompressed, comics with some nice points here and there (usually as a result of Ellis slipping slightly into autopilot though). This issue was quite a pleasant step up though, with Iron Man choosing to take the dangerous Extremis treatment to mesh properly with his armour and stop the Extremis treated guy running rampage. Good action and good talky/dying stuff, with the usual pretty paintings from Granov. I still think Ellis could do better with Iron Man and he shouldn't have taken 4 issues to get to this point, but I'm hoping this bodes well for another pair of quality issues to retain the quality of this arc's second half.

Majestic 8: A pretty consistent title so far, with moments of higher quality and the ever present promise of that first issue of the DC universe limited series... Not much to say about number 8 though - an uninspiring ending to the last storyline, but there wasn't much that could be done about it. In terms of starting a new main plot, there's not much to say so far. A standard fight ensues and some chatting, which is nice enough I suppose. I continue to enjoy Neil Googe's pencils but his panels can often seem a bit empty and open. Solid, generally. Could be better though.

Ultimate Spider-Man 80: Bendis & Bagley deliver a generally good issue, certainly better than some of the worse stuff they've done during the last year. It's missing the teen spark though, and is generally a bit more of a downer than it should be (thanks to the "Peter Parker no more!" and Mary Jane break-up plot points, I suppose). Good but should be better.

Ultimate Fantastic Four 22: I really enjoyed the first 18 issues, and the Mike Carey fill-in was solid stuff (as was the first issue of Mark Millar's run). His second issue is all a bit too much of the nastiness and not enough of the snappy interactions (or, if no snappy interactions are to be found then at least fun fights). It's not clicking with me really, and Greg Land's art style is the worst possible fit for this book.

The Ultimates 2: Annual 1: Here we have an annual for the currently running Ultimates 2 series, a stand alone issue by regular series author Mark Millar but with art from the esteemed Steve Dillon (of Preacher). For an Ultimates annual, there's not so much of a focus on the main members of the team as there is on the entire Ultimates setup, especially the volume 2 additions of "mass produced" super people. We get a new super soldier, various giant men and folk in old Iron Man based armour, as well as a nice few pages looking in on the Defenders (with Millar doing, I think, his best Garth Ennis-lite impression for Dillon, which works better than you'd expect). This doesn't directly feed into the main book plot (at least not yet), but it does further the themes of Ultimates 2 nicely, with the added plus of some delightful Steve Dillon art.

Zatanna 3 (of 4): Comics parcels are always better when they come with some Grant Morrison "Seven Soldiers" goodness. Zatanna rolls onwards, with an issue that fills out more of the overall Seven Soldiers plot & background, as well as explaining a bit of who Misty is. The previous two issues hadn't clicked quite as well as some of the other Seven Soldiers stuff, but this did. Ryan Sook's art isn't quite as tight as it has been but still looks good.

The Intimates 10: I've generally enjoyed what Joe Casey has been doing with The Intimates, and up until issue 9 he was partnered with Giuseppe Camumcoli on art, which was a real treat. For now though we have our second issue without Camumcoli, and the art really isn't working for me. It's mostly that Camumcoli, Casey & The Intimates had become a complete package in my head, but also that the art this issue & last has been somewhat muddled for the story it's trying to tell. The plot advances nicely and the characters continue to develop, but the art won't let me enjoy it as much as I think I should.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 5:20 PM 0 comments

Friday, August 12, 2005

Super Sized

If you delve through the full spectrum of western comics past and present you can find plenty of well written, well drawn, mature stories about many and varied subjects, featuring excellent characters, so on and so forth. However, the vast bulk of western comics concern super heroes (though there are mountains of material in other genres these days, past or present) and you can often find something that typifies exactly why superhero comics are labeled as adolescent power fantasies: super strength required for a pair of rather obvious reasons. Jim Lee, ladies and gentleman. A very competent comics artist, shaper of the early 90s comics art style and easy way to shift a good 200,000 comics in the US. Also a big fan of cheesecake. Original Newsarama piece can be found here, with accompanying comments for your amusement.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 7:01 PM 0 comments

Random Gaming Comments 1

Yesterday, despite a mountain of more important things to be doing, I found myself flitting between several games. I bought the heavily recommended Darwinia when it released a while back, aware that I wouldn’t be able to play it for a while but wanting to give Introversion my cash straight away. I finally installed it last night, still with no time to properly play it but I couldn’t resist firing it up. Loved the intro sequence, especially the SID-style music. A nice “world map” and gentle intro level as well.

I also got my hands on a copy of Star Trek: Birth Of The Federation, which is a five year old turn based strategy game in the mould of Imperium Galactica II. I was quite a big Star Trek fan as a young teenager and this was one game that always appealed to me, even after I’d gone through that phase. As with IGII, BOTF (abbreviation frenzy!) takes a while to get used to all the details of basic operations. I started playing as the Federation and then spent hundreds of turns with only three systems under my control as the empire borders hugged close to my home planet. It took me quite some time to relearn the basic principle of games likes this – build up your production facilities first so that building things doesn’t take you an entire evening! I also seem to be rather inept at the basics of diplomacy, but never mind.

In stark contrast to the two strategy titles I found myself knocking about with Marvel vrs Capcom 2 and Burnout 3 on my Xbox. I needed to unlock as much as possible for Friday evening (tonight) in anticipation of some multiplayering. Long story short, I finally found myself able to enjoy MvC2 as I gradually got used to the insane controls & tactics required to actually win. Burnout 3 continues to bring me joy, though races are tending to be a bit more fun than crashes at the moment. As pointed out in the latest Edge magazine’s preview of Burnout: Revenge, the power-ups tend to make crash junctions a join-the-dots affair, with run after run engaged in to try and hit all the best points. Oh well, let the carnage continue.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 1:59 PM 0 comments

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Notes: Regarding Diary, by Chuck Palahniuk

The following are the notes I assembled for my never completed review of Diary by Chuck Palahniuk. These are posted here mainly so that I don't lose them, incase I want to actually write up the damn thing.

* CP's writing style is always a pleasure to read but it's generally obvious it's CP
* Danger of falling into self parody
* The topics he covers in all his novels are suitably varied and the characters all rather different and interesting to read
* The "you can make all kinds of explosives from household items" writing seems now to be a bit of a comfort blanket - as if he's convinced this is what makes him different, that this is what makes people keep reading
* I simultaneously want him to change and don't want him to change - I'm just as comforted by the similarities that I enjoy that he is

* Strangely compelling build up
* Weak ending - anti-climax
* Left a little unsure of reality - what really happened and how did things really happen
* Intriguing characters as always, though none of them particularly likeable
* the build up to the end had me reading to the point of sleep deprivation (quite appropriate when reading a CP novel) - it starts a bit slowly, but that doesn't last too long and the rest of the book should grab you and refuse to let go

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 12:22 AM 3 comments

Review: Kingdom Of Fear, by Hunter S. Thompson

"To use 'real' when looking at Thompson's work is a little dangerous. I'm not too interested in that though - I don't want to know what happened and what didn't. For me the reality of Thompson's writing does not matter. Almost all of it is to some degree fantastical, but then there's a constant air of believability about it all. Most of it could happen, so whether it really did is quite simply irrelevant. The possibility of this madness happening in the way described is all that's necessary." [Review Link]

My review of Kingdom Of Fear, by Hunter S. Thompson. This was the second of two reviews I completed for Word Matters, and is even rougher than the first, but it just about says what I want it to.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 12:17 AM 0 comments

Review: Connected, by Steven Shaviro

"Perhaps the most endearing side to Connected, apart from the energy I get from reading the discussion of someone so very much more intelligent than I, is the gift of an enhanced perspective on the nerd's paradise we're all some part of. In his introduction Shaviro lays out his intention to "try to write cultural theory as science fiction". As the Real World, or at least the opportunities within it, bring us closer to Neuromancer or Transmetropolitan this book provides a fascinating investigation of what it all really means. What will society be like ten or twenty years from now?" [Review Link]

My review of Connected, or What It Means To Live in the Network Society, by Steven Shaviro. I took part in an attempt to create a group blog of book reviews called Word Matters, the only criteria being that we read and wrote about two books a month. Sadly we all failed to continue past our first month, but there's still quite a nice selection of reviews up there if you fancy a read.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 12:10 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back In Business

My website has been languishing untouched for months and months now, with a semi-completed redesign similarly stalled. Now, whilst I may not have the time to revive my main site at the moment, I do at least want somewhere to post things and slap up random stuff, so I figured I'd fire up the blogging machinery early. Who knows what, when and how stuff will appear here, it'll be as much of a surprise to me as it is to anyone who happens to stumble into it. Don't expect anything profound or well written, but I'll attempt to make it vaguely interesting - as best I can, anyways.

The design is temporary until I hook it up properly to my website, rather than running off a Blogspot address, but the main URLs of and will always work, as will the address of the old blog at

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 11:52 PM 3 comments

All original content is copyright Alex Hopkinson 2005. Other content is copyright the respective owners. To contact the author email: alex [at]

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