The experience of gaming

I’ve always maintained that playing games with friends, especially in co-op, can make even the most mediocre game a fun fucking time.

It’s only more recently that I’ve begun to understand why I feel this. Why do I and three friends recall fondly our 30-or-so shared hours in Dead Island? Why did I play more Assassin’s Creed multiplayer than the actual game itself? Why is my Halo 3 Master Chief helmet proudly on display when I shrug at the idea of more Halo?

I finally figured it out this weekend. As I spent the last few days couch-hopping* around London suburbs so I could play hours and hours of the new Smash Bros with ten of my closest friends, I realised it was the experience around this (and other games) that truly elevated its standing. Laughing and shouting and jeering and cheering and making jokes as we all shared in our utter joy of discovering what the game had to offer, it helped me realise the answers to the above questions.

Stupid Sexy Shulk...

This image means a lot to my friends and I. It will mean nothing to you.

In Dead Island, the four of us made our own fun. We didn’t take the story or the world or anything about the game seriously, we embraced its janky nature as we hurtled down roads in awful cars, ganged up on individual zombies to kick them to death and came to each other’s rescue more than once.

Three friends and I would regularly team up in Assassin’s Creed Revelations to spend hours killing Templars and each other. We yelled at each other over Skype to co-ordinate capture the flag defence and attack strategies when together. Insults flew when one of us suddenly realised we’d been sneakily poisoned by the other. We made up our own story about ice cream and it was important to us.

My friend excitedly sent me a message when he saw this. "The ice cream is REAL" it said.

My friend excitedly sent me a message when he saw this. “The ice cream is REAL” it said.

Halo 3 arrived for me at 6:45 am on the day of release. I’d had about five hours sleep and work in the evening, but I’d just got my shiny new AV setup finalised and I was raring to go. Throughout the day my three housemates jumped in and out of co-op and online multiplayer with me, and when I headed to my three hour shift at Toys ‘R’ Us my colleagues spent the whole time talking about the game. I got home and finished the campaign before heading to bed, an almost perfect day of playing one single videogame.

These are just a few of the memories and stories I have surrounding videogames, and I’m sure everyone else has their own to tell. It’s these stories that can turn any game, regardless of quality, into a favourite game.

Experience games with other people. Make your own memories. The game only needs to be part of the experience.

*actually I slept on an airbed in one person’s lounge the entire weekend, but that’s less dramatic.

Power Rangers! The movie! 2!

You’ve probably all heard that the Power Rangers are getting a new movie based on the original series. I’ve seen a lot of people excited by the news and others still already calling for the original cast to return.

Let’s take a step back for a second. I understand the mainstream excitement: there’s a lot of nostalgia for the original series. It was great! However the franchise is not what it used to be, in some ways for the better but in many ways for the worst.

I should know, I’ve watched every single episode of Power Rangers and both films. I’m not active in the fan community but I keep a close eye on it. I know how the show has evolved over the past twenty years both on the screen and behind the scenes. With all that in mind here’s my expert opinion:

Don’t get excited yet.

Yeah whatever, expert on Power Rangers, it’s not something I brag about as a real thing but it’s relevant today. Let’s break this down.

The facts

  • Saban Brands, the owners of the Power Rangers franchise, has teamed up with Lionsgate to make a Power Rangers Movie
  • Official synopsis: “The new film franchise will re-envision the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, a group of high school kids who are infused with unique and cool super powers but must harness and use those powers as a team if they have any hope of saving the world.”
  • This is all we know about the film. No dates, no cast, no writers, no crew

Sounds inoffensive so far. Let’s tackle the issues though.

Bring back the original cast

Let’s not kid ourselves. This is a re-imagining/reboot starring teenagers. The original cast are in their fourties now. Thuy Trang who played Trini the yellow ranger tragically passed away in 2001 in a car accident. While the surviving cast do participate in fan conventions and such they’ve moved on now. Many of them no longer act and frankly none of them could pull off the role of a teenager. They barely could in the Nineties.

The current state of Power Rangers

It’s no secret that the quality of Power Rangers has taken a nose dive in the last few years. I mean you know, relative to Power Rangers that is. During the Noughties the franchise was owned by Disney and production was moved to New Zealand. There were good and bad seasons due to many factors such as cast, crew, writers and source material.

At the beginning of this decade Saban Brands bought back the Power Rangers franchise and since then has put out two seasons of questionable quality. Power Rangers Samurai was full of bad acting, miscasting and a quick, dumbed-down version of the source materials script. Power Rangers Megaforce has taken over 100 episodes of footage from two separate sources and mashed them together into one hurried season with little character development and slightly better acting.

Right now the production team for Power Rangers is not good. Terrible may not be an overstatement. I do not think they’d be able to put together a good film based on the Power Rangers going by the current quality of the show.

Source Material

Power Rangers uses source material from the Japanese series Super Sentai; this is why they get new zords and/or suits every year. However the original movie did not use any of this source material outside of designs for the Megazord. For the upcoming film this may or may not be a good thing: the Japanese footage restricts the story the writers can tell, however the cinematography and stunt-style is an integral part of the show.

Future of the franchise

There is hope for the production of Power Rangers though: next year veteran PR crew member Judd Lynn will be returning to the franchise. He was largely responsible for some of the better seasons of the franchise, fan-favourites such as Space, Timeforce and RPM. This may help with the quality of the show, although nothing is certain at this point.

Movie crew

The film may have a different production crew entirely! As mentioned earlier there is no information about staff for the movie and if they plan to film it in LA the crew will be different anyway.

It’s for kids

Even if it is a reboot, it’s still a franchise largely aimed at children. It’s more likely to be skewed towards a younger audience, even more so than the Avengers. While this may necessarily not be a bad thing, it’s my way of saying it won’t be a gritty reboot.

Here’s the thing: it may be excellent. If they get the right writers, directors, producers and actors on board it could be suitable for kids and still an excellent film. Power Rangers has moved on quite a lot in the last 20 years, and so has the world.

Just reserve your judgement for now.

Valentine’s Day, Year of Luigi

“Hey babe…” Vinnie greeted his girlfriend as he came in through the door. His voice was dripping with lust. After all, it was 14th February 2014 – Valentine’s Day. “I’ve got a surprise for you…” he continued, his left eyebrow slightly raised as a smirk crossed his face. He produced a non-descript plastic bag from behind his back.

“Ooh!” Paulina responded. She’d been eagerly anticipating his arrival, and was more than a little curious as to what was in the bag. “What’ve you got there, stud?” she said, licking her lips like a hungry lioness ready to pounce.

“Babe, I was thinking. As we both know, today is the last day in this, The Year of Luigi.” Vinnie sensually said, sliding down beside Paulina on the couch. “Sure, Vin,” she replied, her voice getting heavy and husky, “President of Nintendo Satoru Iwata came through and gave us a whole year of Luigi themed games. Reggie Fils-Aime, President of Nintendo of America, confirmed it himself that this, The Year of Luigi, ended today.”

Vinnie’s lust briefly overcame him, and he kissed his girlfriend passionately. “That goes without saying. So I thought we’d do something…special…for Valentine’s Day…” his voice trailed off as he produced a Luigi outfit from the bag.

Paulina squealed with delight. “Oh babe, you read my mind…but I’m afraid you’re too late.” She slowly opened her dressing gown to reveal she was already wearing the iconic green jumper and overalls. “I’m-a Luigi…number one!”

“Oh…Paulie…it’s been a great year to own Nintendo consoles!” Vinnie was able to moan before Paulina affixed her mustache and leaped onto him.

Power Rangers – A 20 year catch-up

It was 20 years ago today that the Power Rangers first front-flipped one-by-one over a camera before posing for children everywhere with a television (or at least those with fancy satellite TV services). The heavily adapted Japanese import’s legacy is undoubtedly huge – just about everyone in their 20s knows the original six rangers, and has their favourites.

Like Tommy, the Green Ranger, who now looks like this.

"Jesus Didn't Tap"

“Jesus Didn’t Tap”

Time moved on. Kids grew older and forgot about the show, and a younger audience took their place time and again, leading us up to today and huge plans for the Power Rangers anniversary.

Some of us didn’t stop though. One of those ridiculous weirdos is me, and I have watched just about every episode of Power Rangers to date. Because of this, I sometimes get a lot of questions on what happened to the Power Rangers story. What happened to certain characters, story beats, zords, etc.

So here I present to you a quick catch-up on the last 20 years of Power Rangers. You might want to read it if you plan to watch next years big anniversary series, where Pirate Power Rangers have access to all of the previous teams powers. And some of them make cameos. Like Tommy!

Oh hey, Tommy's back again!

Oh hey, Tommy’s back again!

Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers

This bit you’ll know. Five teenagers with attitude get wicked cool dinosaur themed powers and robots and fight a witch on the moon. A sixth one joins them, but not before he’s possessed by Rita Repulsa and fights them. He has the fucking Dragonzord, and the Dragon dagger, and he has a shield and he was the best.

He lost his powers, got them back, and then lost them again. Jason the Red Ranger got his shield and zord to control.

Then Lord Zedd arrived, destroyed their zords, and they got new THUNDER ZORDS. More toys to buy! (I bought them) (they were cool). Tommy came back as the White Ranger, and Jason, Zack and Trini (the asian chick) got replaced with JOHNNY YONG BOSCH, VOICE OF VASH THE STAMPEDE FROM TRIGUN, ICHIGO KUROSAKI FROM BLEACH, THE HERO FROM PERSONA 4 AND ZERO IN MVC3 and a couple of other people.

I have a serious man crush on this handsome gentleman

I have a serious man crush on this handsome gentleman

Rita and Zedd joined forces, blew up the Thunder zords, and they got new NINJA POWERS and NINJA ZORDS which they again used to do the same thing with. Kimberly, the Pink Ranger everyone loved, left and was replaced by an Australian woman. There was some stuff where they were turned into kids and had to find parts of this super powerful “Zeo Crystal” to keep it out of Zedd’s hands.

There were Alien Ninja Power Rangers as well at this point. They went through a car wash in one episode to “hydrate”.

This is where people started to fall off. Things changed, a lot, leading into:

Power Rangers Zeo

Billy the Blue Ranger is now a technical advisor, the command centre was blown up but rebuilt into a fancy new set, and everyone gets new suits and zords and stuff. They have a new enemy, the machine empire, a load of weird robots living on the moon trying to blow up Earth or something. They fight them, they win, then they lose, then a mysterious Gold sixth ranger shows up voiced by one of the VR Troopers who turns out to be alien triplets.

True Story.

Jason, the original Red Ranger, gets the Gold Ranger powers. They fight some more. Billy fucks off because everyone keeps calling him a fag on-set.

Then the climax! For the first time, the Rangers properly beat the bad guys, and then Zedd and Rita show up (who had been spending the series travelling around the moon in a Winnebago) and blow up the leaders of the machine empire.

The End.

Until…

Power Rangers Turbo

The rangers “shift into turbo” with new powers based on cars and fight a sexy demon space pirate lady that lives in a submarine who once tried to resurrect the literal devil or something. The latino Blue Ranger is replaced by a kid who grows into an adult body when he morphs.

And then suddenly, the “original” rangers leave as they’ve graduated school, and new people join. There are no longer any of the original six left, Zordon has disappeared and Alpha 5 has been replaced with the street-wise Alpha 6. Also they drive ridiculous giant cars and in one episode they were baked into a pizza.

Blah blah fight, blah blah new zords, then suddenly the sexy bad lady gets her shit together and fucking storms the command centre, with the Rangers valiantly trying to hold them off at the gates before wearing out their Turbo powers. Command centre is destroyed for good, and smelly pirate hooker is called back by her evil master dude that looks like the monster from the black lagoon. They also head to space by stealing a rocket and leaving the kid behind so that they can be…

Power Rangers in Space

The evil board meeting is happening. Rita, Zedd, the Machine Empire (somehow rebuilt?) and space pirate lady are all in attendance. They speak to their EVIL MASTER, who has somehow captured Zordon (remember him?) and then suddenly a new Red Ranger shows up before surfing away on a space surfboard. Radical.

The four remaining Turbo rangers land on the moon, which is consistently shown to have a breathable atmosphere in Power Rangers, and gets completely owned by some bad guys before the new Red Ranger surfs in and shoots them up. After some persuading, they get new ASTRO MORPHERS and become Space Rangers. Also, for some reason, their Earth space shuttle can dock with the Red Ranger’s alien spaceship to become a Megazord.

They fight across the galaxy searching for Zordon so they can save him. They meet the Ninja Turtles, and my bro JOHNNY YONG BOSCH also returns for a one-off episode to train the latino Black Ranger, as a former Black Ranger himself. I marked out.

A femme fatale with less cleavage than the pirate lady opposes the rangers with evil Ranger copies (the Psycho Rangers), until it turns out she’s the Red Rangers sister. She defects, they find Zordon, and in an attempt to wipe all evil from the Galaxy, they shatter his energy tube. Rita and Zedd turn into humans. Other bad guys turn to dust. Everyone is saved!

Until they reboot the franchise and sever pretty much all ties with the previous few series.

Ayacon 2013 – A Post-Apocalyptic Report

It feels crazy to me that its been a week since Ayacon 2013 ended. As my first big summer anime convention, I’d been really building it up in the weeks prior to the event – thinking about staying in a sizeable chunk of a University campus with anime, manga, Japanese culture, games, friends and weeaboos as far as the eye could see. I’d even spent a couple of weeks beforehand finally finishing my very first homemade cosplay.

And it was all over too quickly.

It’s a fucking ridiculous and cliché thing to say, and I frankly hate myself for not only thinking it but actually typing those words down here. Ugh. What a jackass I am. I should have expected it, but at least I didn’t really leave the con regretting not making the most of it.

My Ayacon journey started the day before – Thursday. Convention tradition with my good buddy Stephen is to meet up, get some food, and then head out from one of our places to the con. While I wanted a bit of a relaxing day to get myself prepared for some late nights, I was still creating cosplay stuff the entire day. Crafting armour, taping together cardboard, even buying some wellies. This was my first con attempting to cosplay for three days in a row – and it showed. I ran out of spray paint before finishing, and still had to draw a bloody robot lady face for my cardboard cosplay. It’s a thing, trust me.

This thing specifically

This thing specifically

I definitely don’t regret doing it, it was fucking fun to make a suit and play with thermoplastics, and even better to walk around with the odd person wanting to take a photo. It was a learning experience.

Then came the fabled day. Friday, the start of Ayacon.

My Dad once sat me down, which he never usually did, and told me a tale. A tale about the fabled “A34” between Winchester and Oxford. He said: “Look, Rob, don’t drive on the A34 if you don’t have to. It gets gummed up at the drop of a hat.”

I never understood why he’d made a point of telling me this in such a manner, I think I was 20 at the time. I’d frankly forgotten this advice though, and after sitting in a half an hour of traffic coming out of Bournemouth, we sat in another hour more leading up to Oxford. What should have been a two and a half hour trip was quickly over four hours. And I still had to draw that face thing for my cosplay that day. And assemble it with duct tape. Long story short, I missed a good portion of the stuff I wanted to see and do that day, including the karaoke I had made the cosplay for. Oops.

However, I still had a great day. I got to see friends and acquaintances and awesome cosplays, and we shot some photos in a car park in the dead of night. The Warwick Uni campus is great for cosplay photoshoots – there’s wide open fields, wooded paths, foresty bits, whatever. Most nights were spent taking pictures of our different costumes, and it was really fun scouting out the locations and setting-up some great shots.

akibaranger cardboard

See! The lady robot face! Photo courtesy of Liara K Crane

Saturday was the big day for me, finally debuting my M. Bison costume after I finished it in the morning. I’d sprayed the rest of my shoulder pieces the night before, and all I had to do was attach them to my costume. That obviously did not go well because I was trying to quickly attach armour to fabric in five minutes and I’d never done it before, so after some fun morning panels I could be found sewing velcro to my costume in the Cosplay HQ.

The Cosplay HQ is possibly one of the greatest things I’ve seen done at a con. A fully-stocked costume fixing area for most simplish/common issues. I.e., a shit load of glue and a sewing machine.There were other tools in there though, as well as experty folk handing out great advice. And photographers taking professional pictures of your costumes.

I did, unfortunately, miss a panel about making armour while trying to fix mine. The irony lays thicker, as the type of material I used for my armour is the speciality of the woman that gave the talk. Again, all part of the learning experience, and it was awesome walking around and people yelling Bison-y things at me. I was in a Jeopardy style quiz where one of the categories was “Of Course!”, which I made the most out of.

The rest of the day was great, with an awesome masquerade of great costumes ending with an eight-foot tall Blood Angel Space Marine that won a qualifier event for a European cosplay contest. Then more photos, SPOOKY GHOST STORIES (which were sometimes spooky) and me awkwardly dancing to Sakura Kiss from Ouran High School Host Club while trying to get drunk enough to not care that I was doing it.

Kiss Kiss, fall in love!

That didn’t really work out so I went to bed early at like midnight.

Just like that, it was the final day. I rolled up to breakfast on my own, and met up with some friends as we discussed Power Rangers and Anime. Only at a fan convention could I start the morning with a breakfast buffet, the best type of meal ever conceived, while talking about next year’s Power Rangers series and the current line-up of Anime.

Sunday I was wearing a much simpler cosplay, a modified version of one I wore before that was more practical than Saturday’s. Mainly because it had pockets. It was much more relaxed day: I got to see Kamui, the armour lady from the day prior, talk about making awesome looking props; HIM from the PowerPuff Girls fight Captain Falcon, Catbug and Loki in Cosplay Chess; and videos about Kickstarters, Weeaboo Police and ANIME.

That Man Team Giblets Ayacon Skit

Get a hot face-full of anime

More photos, awkward dancing and a midnight finished ended the con for me. Having breakfast with everyone on the Monday was a nice way to sort of cool down the convention, but the long drive home just reminded me about how quick it had been, and how I’d never be able to go back there. It was almost heartbreaking to think it was the very last Ayacon, especially as it was my first.

It made me think though about how different anime conventions are from other fan conventions. Comic book conventions are full of dealers, celebrities, and promotional panels for upcoming films. Games conventions are all about playing upcoming games and maybe the odd announcement. Anime conventions are, for the most part, not industry driven. Fans put on talks, shows and quizzes about every aspect of Anime fandom, involving everyone and making them all welcome. Maybe that’s why the gender balance is much better as well.

To a degree, this report does seem a little pointless and more than a bit self-serving. I can’t convince you to go to the next Ayacon as there won’t be another one. However, while there won’t be another Aya, there are still plenty of other UK Anicons that are well worth checking out, such as Amecon, Kitacon and Minamicon.

I took away a few things myself from the convention. Firstly, don’t learn how to use a sewing machine one week until a convention. Secondly, by extension, don’t rush cosplays a week before the con. And lastly, I need to go to more bigger conventions. They are awesome.

Also I can walk around as M. Bison and try and buy things with Bison dollars.

Brothers: A Tale of Unexpected Feelings (Spoilers)

Massive Spoilers for Brothers (sort of) below. You have been warned.

So finally, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons is out. Hearing pretty much universal praise on Twitter is pretty heartwarming, and frankly validating of my own opinions towards it. There’s something very important in the way its story is told, and I’ve been wanting to talk about it for a while now.

Brothers is a game about death that makes you think about death.

There are other aspects to it, sure, but death is the core theme running throughout the story. The reason that this stands out is because I don’t think video games handle death well at all. Whenever death is supposed to be important in videogames, it’s either a story beat that doesn’t make sense in worlds with Phoenix Downs or first-person shooty-man bullet sponges, or it’s a game mechanic poorly masquerading as important story decision making.

Every now and then you get Morden Solus* though, and while that has impact, it’s a single story beat.

Brothers does this differently by having meaningful and affecting death from the moment the game starts until it ends. It’s the first video game that has made me truly think about death, and especially its consequences. A lot of people are comparing it to Journey, I’m assuming as another fantastic, story-driven indie downloadable game, however it’s a little ironic in that regard. To me, Journey is about life and an afterlife, while Brothers is about death and how you choose to deal with it.

And while it doesn’t quite give a definitive answer on how to cope with death, it did make me think a lot about it.

Also, blah blah it’s a great looking Scandinavian fantasy world with some cool game mechanics and a griffin-owl thing that is awesome.

*Mass Effect wasn’t without its game mechanic deaths though