Don’t Look Back in Anger… Fresh Meat Season 4.

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I discovered Fresh Meat during it’s first season, hearing about this new university sitcom aiming to bring a modern twist to the university sitcom, something which had been oddly missing in the last decade of TV. Being in the final year of my university degree I gave it a try, hoping it’d be a true reflection of the university I knew as opposed to the shouty over the top antics of The Young Ones, which I’d never got on with and frankly found ridiculous. I quickly fell in love with the series, Jack Whitehall’s breakout role as the rich idiot we all knew at university, Josie and Kingsley’s will they/won’t they romance, Oregon as the pretentious fresher trying to leave their beige past behind them for a new alternative multicolour future and Howard, the personification of those individuals for whom university social life simply isn’t a selling point and almost a spitting image of someone I knew at university.

I watched over the next three series as Oregon plotted her way to Student Union Presidency, Kingsley and Josie edged closer to a relationship and random laconic Dutch girls intervened in proceedings (I also lived with a Dutch girl during my last year strangely enough). The gang bumbled from one disaster to another, marrying Mexicans and abandoning them in generic British malls, drinking a cellar full of wine in Cornwall and heading to London for the student protests/riots of 2010, another event that I managed to get caught up in during my uni years. I’d love to say that I was on the front line being kettled but instead I was stuck in London Victoria waiting for a coach home, while being beset by delays caused by my colleagues smashing up Conservative HQ. Vive La Revolution. All the while the gang combined this with dealing with the ever looming desire to achieve a 2.1, deciding whether Drama or Geology was the subject for them and trying to have the ‘experience’ that uni is sold as. Cheers New Labour. It was my uni show in a way that I’m sure that many 80’s students felt about The Young Ones, the fact that so much paralleled my own uni experience only exacerbated my feelings. Once I’d graduated in 2012 it almost became a form of wish fulfilment, prolonging my now departed uni days as I came to grips with life back in the real world.

When Season 4 failed to follow in it’s usual Autumn timeslot and radio silence ensued I slowly accepted the show was over, doomed to never conclude in a similar, although significantly less highbrow, way to Deadwood. Jack Whitehall  had become a genuine UK star, staring and writing in his own sitcom, selling out stand up gigs and becoming a regular on the UK chatshow circuit. Zawe Ashton and Charlotte Ritchie were becoming regulars on UK TV, Joe Thomas was well..still Simon from the Inbetweeners and Kimberley Nixon had starred in Hebburn…yeah but it seemed like schedule conflicts would forever doom the show to being over. Then in mid 2015 came the announcement that a fourth and final season was on it’s way. I was overjoyed…but I shouldn’t have been.

Season 4 fast forwarded the show from the mid Year 2 end point of Season 3 straight into the final year. On the face of things this was a sensible decision, final year is ripe with dramatic potential and new circumstances to bounce off. JP’s brother Tomothy is a brilliant harbinger of the realities of life and living up to your families expectations and Vod’s financial worries scarily reflected my own broke status at the end of uni, although significantly exaggerated. However the show decided that in it’s rush to tie things up, it’d act as though the time gap did it didn’t exist while failing to deal with some of the hanging plot lines. This was just the beginning for a season of up and down quality which totally ignored the characterisation that had been built up over the past three seasons.

Oregon, previously the pretentious try hard trying to re-invent herself for uni but with a softer side to her personality, turned into a caricature of a self unaware idiot going as as far as sleeping with a married man and in the end being entirely reliant upon Tony Shales for her future success, undermining her character arc of moving away from him and becoming more comfortable in her own skin. Kingsley went down a similar route becoming a parody of a Radio 6 listening hipster with a total lack of confidence. His previous somewhat nuanced background of coming from a single parent family having to look after his disabled mother and finally being given a bit of freedom by university life, thrown away in favour of making jokes about an overbearing mother, a lack of libido and wanting to avoid returning home at all costs. Both Oregon and Kingsley are entirely unlikable throughout the entire series and while this may be intention on behalf of show runners who in Jeremy and Mark created two of the hardest to like characters in the history of TV, it jars against the previous three seasons of Fresh Meat. Howard, Vod and JP come out of the season slightly better, mainly retaining their previous characterisation and building off this, with the episode involving Howard getting lost in London coming the closest to regaining some of the shows previous glory.

However the biggest casualty of the hit and miss writing of the final season is the Kingsley/Josie romance. The core of the previous three seasons and what was left hanging at the end of season 3 is barely covered. Practically ignored throughout the season in favour of a Josie/JP romance that is uncomfortable at best and baffling at worse. Josie/JP was always something that happened because of Josie’s drinking and poor decisions, a recurring silly mistake that symbolised university life. Turning this into a full relationship makes little sense and there never was any real conclusion to the Josie/Kingsley relationship, it was dealt with as something resolved and final despite the show runners comments about a love triangle…although considering the way Kingsley’s character was so grating, I’m not surprised Josie avoided him. Even a Shoreditch resident would give him a wide berth based upon his Season 4 characterisation.

Such is the problem of a TV show that is written by numerous different writers, each with their own unique slant on the characters. Characters are likely to change and morph given each writer’s views and unless a firm hand is kept on the show by the show runners, it can result in poor character continuity, as often seen in American TV and it’s massive 20-24 episode seasons. Fresh Meat had largely avoided this in the past three seasons but is a case study in it’s final season and it strangely disappointed me. I hadn’t realised how much I had tied up in these characters, how much their university experience paralleled mine and when I graduated how much I held onto uni through them, until they started acting out of character. I didn’t care when Buffy made Spike a lovelorn fool despite him being one of my favourite TV characters and I only mildly cared when House destroyed the character of House from the moment he drove into Cuddy’s front room but this was oddly anger inducing and unfortunately resulted in a Season 4 that just didn’t like up to the previous seasons for me.

For all my disappointment in the final season, the one scene that absolutely nailed the pathos of the final year of university was the very final scene of the series. Josie walking around the now empty Hartnell Avenue, staring into her former friend’s empty rooms wistfully as the episode ended not with a bang but with a contemplative look back, remembering the memories, the sounds and the people. My final day of university felt exactly this way, after years of crazy events, new experiences and highs and lows, that last day is so deflating, so insignificant, so unimportant and feels like it should be something more, something different, that it just feels wrong. Fresh Meat nailed it and for all the faults in the final series, largely nailed the uni experience over 4 seasons. For me this show was as much a part of my uni life as the actual uni experience, it’s just a shame that it stumbled a little in tying up all the loose ends but then don’t we all after uni?

 

Don’t Look Back in Anger… Fresh Meat Season 4.

Why I’m Voting Remain – Sorry Nigel

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There are only two days left until the referendum and the polls are neck and neck to an even greater extent than during the Scottish IndyRef. Unlike in that referendum, someone has stupidly decided to give me a vote this time around and I’m intending to wield it with all the subtlety of Prince Phillip on a foreign visit.

I have no great love for the European Union, all too often it is bureaucratic, overbearing and leeches sovereignty away from national governments, striving to become a federal government against the will of it’s people.To suggest otherwise is nonsense, the founding principle of the organisation was and still is to an extent, ever growing integration. Nor do I feel a particularly close affinity in cultural terms to our European neighbours, as a nation Britain is culturally closer to our cousins in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States than we will ever be to Poland or Slovakia or Greece. However for the reasons below I’ve come to the opinion that to vote to leave is too risky and contains too many unknowns to make it the sensible decision.

Perhaps I’m talking crap and perhaps I have too much free time on my hands, make up your own mind:

The Economy: Simply put, unless you’re already wealthy, a vote to leave the EU is too risky. While they have vested interests, the business world has been overwhelmingly in favour of Remain. Britain benefits from it’s position as a competitive market economy within the EU, with many overseas companies investing in production facilities in order to export their goods to the rest of the EU, such as the Nissan factory in Sunderland. A single market of 450m people with a larger combined GDP than the United States is an invaluable asset to the health of the British economy and provides massive opportunities to our companies. So many of our main industries rely upon this market to be successful and to tap into economies of scale.

What is the alternative we have been provided with? Vague promises of free trade agreements with countries that will not prioritise us, even the United States has been blunt on this matter, the Donald aside. The restored right to be able to increase tariffs and import duties to support failing British industries? The right to set a low VAT rate? It’s not really much compared to the opportunities that being within the EU provides. Even if the EU nations were in a conciliatory mood and decided to allow us access to the EEA post Brexit, we’d be stuck in a similar situation to Norway, having to apply the majority of European laws, funding them and yet having no say in how they are formulated (click)This is an undeniably worse position than we have presently and that is before you even begin to contemplate the costs to business of adhering to legislation that will be changed in the years after and the inevitable recession that the country would be plunged into initially as the financial markets adapted to our departure.

The economic argument for Brexit is shaky at best and seems to be based upon the idea of Britain buccaneering across the world and trading with exotic lands from a position of strength like we were still an Empire. It’s not 1860 any more unfortunately. Thank god for that as dying of cholera isn’t high on my list of priorities. Have you seen how it kills you?

This being said the prospect of an 18% drop in house prices (click) is mighty tempting given how my generation has been screwed over in terms of owning a house, while boomers and those born shortly after continue to gain ever more wealth through their housing stock, while we (18-35 yr olds) pay the mortgages on their buy to let investments. Yay social mobility! However this isn’t enough to ignore the rest of the economic warnings or the wider economic damage that will be caused in the advent of Brexit. Remain wins here by  a landslide.

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The Lack Of A Viable Alternative: For all Boris and Gove’s grandstanding about taking back control of our nation they have utterly failed to put forwards any concrete or realistic plans for what our country would look like after Brexit. There’s been loads of high charged lacking in substance talk about taking back control of fisheries (which only employs around 14k people – click ), £350m extra for the NHS (which was false), a massive cut in immigration, avoiding a wave of Turkish migrants and avoiding an EU Army (I work in this sector, it’s not going to happen) but they have utterly failed to grasp the nettle of what will happen after Brexit.

When asked how long negotiations with the EU will take or how we’ll trade with Europe or the consequences of a drop in the £ to average people, they react with bluster, lack of answers or in the case of Gove a belief that everything is worth it in order to obtain the Holy Grail. Which is all well and good when you have a net worth of £1m (click) but when you’re one of the average people, a credible plan for this jump into the unknown is the least that should be expected. I wouldn’t make any major day to day decisions without knowing the likely results, so I don’t see why I should make a political decision without knowing. It’s a shame, as if they had provided a stronger alternative I could have voted to Leave. Moderate Eurosceptics such as myself are exactly the market they need to win over.

For all I dislike the SNP, at least they articulated a coherent vision, even if it was utterly torpedoed by their lack of economic logic. The Leave campaign’s vision is a mess of assorted grievances, populism and outright inaccuracies thrown together to see what sticks.  Sorry Boris, as much as I like you and think you’re underrated as a politician, your campaign has been poor and answered none of the questions posed of you.

Immigration: This is the one subject which the political class has utterly failed to grasp. Predictions on the numbers of workers who would arrive after the 2004 EU enlargement were frankly laughable. Since that moment immigration has soared and become an increasingly divisive issue, bringing out the worst of this country on occasion.

While undeniably good for our country in macroeconomic terms and helping to drive down the average age of the country, it has had a negative impact on many parts of the country, often the most economically deprived. In my home town of Torquay and it’s surrounding region of Torbay, large numbers of EU workers have helped keep wages down in a region already economically deprived and reliant upon low paying jobs. Other places such as Boston have had to deal with 10% of the population changing in a decade, bringing with them new cultures, new languages and new ways of living. While the idea of migrants ‘stealing’ jobs off British people is a load of old toss, there is no denying that they deflate wage markets and hurt the working class the hardest. Those with degrees in professional jobs have little to fear and ignore the problem, failing to understand the issue and blaming it on ‘racism’ and other easy generalisations, only fuelling the issue. The rise of UKIP in areas like Torbay and Labour’s heartlands is no surprise and while they undoubtedly have racist elements to their support, within their ranks they also contain thousands of normal people concerned at the pace of change and the economic impact of globalisation.

The EU is blamed for this and the freedom of movement it provides definitely causes issues, however leaving will not suddenly resolve the issue. It ignores the fact that the majority of immigration is non EU (click) and the underlying economic issues in the regions that suffer the most will continue to exist. There is not suddenly going to be an end to package holidays, bringing the British seaside back to it’s 1920s prime. Blame should be placed upon the government for not doing more to assist economically failing regions. For example, in this day and age with fast broadband connections, do we really need all government departments based in London? Why couldn’t some be moved to decaying towns such as Torquay, Blackburn, Blackpool etc whose previous economic reason for being is fading to the detriment of the people who live in these regions. A slow start has been made with the creation of Enterprise Zones but far more needs to be done. Incidentally EU development funds have achieved much success in this area.

Immigration is an issue that will continue creating headlines for the coming years, Brexit or not. In the coming years real efforts will need to be made to tackle the issue, increase social cohesion and truly come to grips with the concerns of those people who feel angered and left behind by rapid change, rather than ignoring them and deriding them as ‘racist’. Leaving the EU is not a silver bullet to fixing these issues nor will it eliminate immigration altogether, turning the clock back to  the early 00s. It may have a restraining influence on the numbers coming here but the social impact of the recent arrivals is here to stay. Developing better ways of integrating new comers, creating cohesive communities and turning around struggling communities is a far better option than turning to isolation.

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Our Standing In The World: Britain. Britain. Britain. We’re a member of the G7, the UN Security Council, have one of the strongest armed forces in the world, produced Gareth Gates and invented the Terry’s Chocolate Orange. We are a highly influential nation but we still need our alliances and relationships. Without NATO we would cut a less influential figure in military affairs and without the EU our economic clout will be reduced. No longer would we be able to influence trade deals to the same extent and derive maximum benefit as one part of a large trading zone. It is likely that in time we’d enter into trade agreements with most of the major nations in the world but it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be on such favourable terms.

This being said, it’s nonsense to suggest, as some have done, that leaving the EU would leave us small and insignificant, a fading former power, the Nottingham Forest of world politics. Our economy, our army and our wide ranging soft power (recently voted the highest in the world by The Economist – click ) would ensure that would never happen but leaving the European Union would have a detrimental impact on our economic clout and for this reason it makes sense to remain.

Scotland, the United Kingdom and It’s Future: I don’t particularly like being blackmailed and I don’t particularly like Nicola Sturgeon. I remain a Unionist and want Scotland to remain part of this country. Voting to leave the EU would open a whole can of worms in relation to Scotland even if recent polling suggests they would vote to stay in the UK after Brexit (click) and raises concerns surrounding the Northern Ireland peace process. This country has already undergone enough political turmoil with coalitions, Corbynites, AV, IndyRef, European Referendums, an economic crash that we’re still working our way out of and the last thing we need is for the Scottish question to be reopened. A vote to stay will undermine the SNP’s adversarial politics of driving a wedge between England and Scotland and emphasis our joint principles and shared beliefs. While not my main reason for voting Remain, it has had an impact upon my views.

For these reasons and others I have had time to write about such as employment legislation, I’m voting Remain. The EU is not perfect but it’s too much of a risk to vote Brexit. We should stay within the Union and improve it, reforming the parts that don’t work and ensuring that a British voice is heard loudly. We’re not without allies, Germany, the Netherlands and Finland amongst others have on many occasions expressed similar views. We should work with them to continue moving forwards. The economic crisis has laid bare many of the old myths of the European Project and ‘ever closer union’ is no longer a sacred cow. A Europe of a strong alliance of states working together for the better of all is the way forward whilst rejecting isolationism.

This is not to say that many elements of Brexit are not attractive but the Leave campaign has failed to put forwards an attractive alternative, suggesting for our future a ghostly quasi existence somewhere between Switzerland and Norway (Dortmund? Yeah I’m trademarking ‘DortmundOption’- hands off Daily Mail). To make such a radical decision the alternatives provided are not good enough. The Leave campaign’s failure has made even long term Eurosceptics such as myself turn away from leaving in preference to staying and working from within to improve the EU. To nick a phrase from the summer of Salmon, we are Better Together.

That’s a quick summary of my views, you may think I’m an idiot or wonder why I’ve typed this all up instead of doing something more productive but whatever your views are, the important thing is that on Thursday you go out and vote. This is a referendum where your vote counts, no matter where you live, no matter whether you are the Prime Minister or Joey Essex. If you don’t go out there and vote, you’ll have no right to complain on Friday morning when the vote goes against you.

Why I’m Voting Remain – Sorry Nigel

Top 20 Video Games: Part 1 – Burnin’ Rubber and the Best of the Rest

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Burnin’ Rubber. Those were the days. Look at those individual blades of grass accurately swaying in the dynamically generated wind.

My history with video games dates back to early 1996 where I had the dubious experience of being handed down an Amstrad GX4000, with a built in copy of Burnin’ Rubber, one of only 15,000 GX4000s ever sold in the UK. The GX4000 was Amstrad’s one and only entry into the console market and was quickly blown out of the water by the Sega Megadrive and SNES, games being few and far between as the console flopped. It had been dead for years when I was handed mine in a tatty white cardboard box which had probably been stored under a bed since Christmas 1990, the previous owner relieved to get rid of some space to store the box for their new 3DO, the console of the future.

Aged 7 and generally more interested in outdoor activities than gaming, unusually for my generation, the GX4000 never captured my attention in a way future consoles would, the lack of games being a big impediment as my letters to various publishers about their future games went unanswered (this was the pre-internet era where unless you read specialist publications, information was few and far between). The GX4000 quickly became a second thought as I moved onto more interesting things such as watching England lose to Germany at EURO96, beginning the long process of the English football team brutalising my childhood, while my parents played the console more than me. Despite this in many ways both the GX4000 and EURO96 were the beginning of  interests that continue to develop as I got older.

Later that year building upon my brief foray into gaming with that useless box of white plastic, my mother bought me a Sega Mega Drive II (I long wondered what the Mega Drive I was before Wikipedia, the reality being significantly less interesting that I had dreamed about) along with a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. This was when my love for computer games really began to develop. Sonic was like nothing else I’d played until that moment, although when the competition was Burnin’ Rubber and the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Game Boy game it’s not saying much. I’m still not sure what the mid 90s aversion to ending their words in G was about.

Many hours were sunk into Sonic although I never managed to complete the game until 2008 when I picked it up on PS2 for a nostalgia trip and finally got beyond Metropolis Zone Act II, my previous nemesis all those years ago. Tails was as he still is now, a complete and utter bastard but the rest of the game was a multicoloured frenetic experience from the now iconic Emerald Hill zone and it’s theme tune to the bloody annoying oil slicks on Oil Ocean Zone. That game was what hooked me on gaming and from Sonic I went onto other classic Mega Drive games such as Micro Machines 2, Ecco the Dolphin, Comix Zone (fairly certain I was too young for this), the original FIFA and some ancient Avengers game that I had promptly forgotten all about until the recent avalanche of Marvel movies re-ignited that particular dormant memory. I always played as Captain America because of his ability to throw his shield being great for clearing out screens of enemies without having to go too close. Now I think Captain America is by far the most boring of the Avengers. How things change.

By the end of my particular Megadrive era, trailing a few years behind the actual Megadrive era, I had well and truly become a gamer. Following the Megadrive, I owned a Playstation, Game Boy Colour, Dreamcast, Playstation 2, Game Boy Advance SP and three gaming PCs. Roughly around the time of the Playstation 3 era, as a result of leaving school and later heading to university I dropped out of the console scene but have been an avid PC gamer ever since, playing most of the major multi-platform releases. Aside from my long hoped for PC port of Red Dead Redemption I’ve never felt like I’ve missed out. I’ve seen the industry evolve from it’s mid 90s days when it was still overtly kid dominated, console mascots roamed wild in the field and licensed Disney games were amongst the best-selling games, through to its maturation in the PS1 era as gaming became more cool and mainstream, through to its mainstream acceptance in the PS2 era and then the recent mobile and digital download revolutions. The industry has changed for the better in many ways and for the worse in many other (bad DLC practices, micro-transactions, F2P abuses etc) but I still try and find a few hours in each week to play some kind of game.

As a celebration of 21 years gaming, this is my list of the Top 20 games I’ve ever played. This is not a list of the top 20 games ever, indeed you’ll notice a significant lack of Nintendo games given my lack of Nintendo consoles and dislike of the same games slightly tweaked every generation, but instead the 20 games that gave me the greatest enjoyment and memories over these years. I intend on writing this as three separate posts, firstly those games that just missed out and two later posts dealing with games 20-11 and 10-1. Let’s do this.

Best of the Rest

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All the cool kids had an Amstrad GX4000.

Burnin’ Rubber – I don’t really remember too much about this game aside from the fact it functioned along the same lines of a modern endless running mobile game like Temple Run but with more freeform moving between lanes. It claimed to be a racing game but it’s not something that modern racers would recognise, instead it’s something much more along the lines of 90s arcade racers with you driving on an long road, the background changing as you progressed and more obstacles being thrown in your path to increase the difficulty. You accelerated and dodged other cars on the track and obstacles and if you went off on the grass for too long your car blew up, probably due to being constructed in France or something. The graphics were pretty cack  from what I remember but this is where it all started, god bless you Amstrad and your 90s Xtreme attitude towards naming games, without you I might have actually done something productive with much of my childhood.

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Usually the result of me accidentally dropping a grenade rather than the shot of the century.

Worms Armageddon – I can’t count the amount of hours I devoted to playing Worms games in the late 90s and early 00s. Strangely enough having to play the games on a PS1 and having few friends that had even heard of the games, the majority of my time was spent playing the AI. It was only later in my life that I discovered the ‘revolutionary’ feature which was online play. Nevertheless what started as a minor obsession with the original Worms game exploded into a full on obsession with Armageddon. The sheer amount of extra weapons, scenario types, customisable rules and obscure accents with which to equip your Worms kept me interested for at least a hundred hours even playing the AI. I became a genius with the ninja rope and able to fling a banana bomb from half way across the map as second nature, or at least I considered myself so, had I actually played online I imagine I’d have been quickly humbled as I have been with almost every online multiplayer game I’ve played.

Since then the series has never lived up to this high for me. I played Worms 3D and at its best it felt uncomfortable, the series never feeling right in a third dimension and losing some of what made it Worms. When I heard about Reloaded coming out on the PC, I was overjoyed, finally a chance to play the game on it’s best format and against actual human players but Reloaded was an utter failure with half the modes and weapons stripped out, limited number of Worms, crap online matchmatching and a general lack of content. In sum it lacked all the customisability and variety that made Armageddon so good. Revolution which came along a while after and was slightly better but fell victim of the modern day DLC profiteering while failing to fix many of Reloaded’s issues. Since then I’ve largely ignored the almost annual rehash of basically the same game that Team 17 puts out, having long since lost the faith that they might produce a version of the game that the modern MP era deserves but for a few years Armageddon ruled my world. Especially those rare moments when I actually managed to get a real human to play again and schooled them with my ninja rope abilities and darksiding to the point of frustration.

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It’s more interesting that this screenshot makes it look.

Dark Chronicle (Dark Cloud 2)– A unique JRPG fusion of RPGing and city building with a gorgeous art style and absolutely jam packed with content. I can’t remember how I came across this game but I’m glad I did, from dungeon crawling for extra items to help me rebuild settlements via the Georama system, teleporting into the future to see them in a whole different light, to spending a ridiculous amount of time on the fish breeding and fighting minigame, it was a blast from start to finish.

The dungeon crawling was difficult at times but never felt too grindy or unfair, lacking much of the annoying random encounters and large periods between save points that other JRPGs, especially the Final Fantasy series, fall foul of. The story wasn’t the best part of it but this was more than made up for the sheer variety in environments, Veniccio being my favourite, and things to do. It remains the only JRPG I have played other than Final Fantasy and makes me feel as though I should give them more time in the future, Xenoblade Chronicles looks interesting but is unfortunately is only available on the Wii U.

Level 5 have long moved on from this series to being more interested in collaborating with Studio Ghibli but I harbour a secret hope that they might one day return and give us a modern take on the series. This was another game that I didn’t manage to complete when I first played it and although it recently came to the PSN, I’ve long held the frankly crazy hope for the game to be ported to PC at some time, just to be able to play it through to completion. Along with Red Dead Redemption I remain waiting…

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Dynasty Warriors 4.

Dynasty Warriors 4 – Probably the ‘worst’ game on this list in terms of mechanics and variety, nevertheless Dynasty Warriors has exerted a strange hold on me ever since first stumbling across the Dynasty Warriors 2 demo on an Official Playstation Magazine demo disc. The huge scope of the game, the frankly ridiculous Musou attacks and the sheer power you feel from playing as a superpowered hero ploughing through thousands of conscripted peasants who just want to be at home tending their fields are unique to this game. As a history graduate I really appreciate the admittedly simplified take on Ancient Chinese history it provides, an area of the world that British schools totally ignore and which can be hard to find the right place to start with. Plus nothing can compare to the first time I came across an elephant on the battlefield, promptly saddled it up and proceeded to stomp across dozens of regiments of fleeing men. I called him Stompy.

I missed Dynasty Warriors 3 but returned to the series with 4, which perfected the formula by adding unlockable weapons, stats building and a more meaty story mode. Since 4 the series has been whirring it’s wheels, largely producing the game every iteration or throwing in something random like Zelda or Gundam Robots, taking one step backward for every one and a half forward. The potential for a truly great game remains lurking, ready to be developed if Koei really made an effort to develop the RPG systems and add more depth and subtlety to the combat but I doubt it’ll ever happen, the current model works too well for them.

Dynasty Warriors 8 was recently added to Steam and despite little changing since the last time I played a Warriors title I was severely tempted to pick it up. That was before I saw the price tag and the avalanche of DLC coming in it’s wake, oh Koei nice to see you haven’t changed since the XL, Empires, super whizz bang nonsense I was used to.

Despite the series’ problems little can match the sheer excitement of ploughing your way through thousands of peasant soldiers before running away from Lu Bu like the base yellow coward you are…except perhaps the next game in this list. Dynasty Warriors you are truly my guilty pleasure. One day we will return to each other.

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Usually I’d put a screenshot here but I absolutely adore ArkhamCity’s threetone concept art.

Batman: Arkham City – Batman finally done right, after years of awful movie tie-in games. I’ll lay my bias in the open here and state that I adore the Nolan movies and consider the Nolanverse the definitive Batman. When internet nerds rant about how the Nolanverse takes liberties with the depictions of characters I can’t help but roll my eyes. I’ve find comic books a hard medium to get into and a medium that I do not enjoy reading due to the way they are structured, so aside from Knightfall which my father strangely bought for me one summer despite the fact I’d never shown any interest in comic books, my experience with the comic book universe was limited to the animated series’ particular take upon them. Rocksteady took the comic book universe, in a time when most people were far more interest in the Nolanverse, put their own artistic spin on it (still my favourite renditions of Harley Quinn, Talia Al Ghul and The Riddler)  and created one of the best games of the PS3/Xbox360 era.

Asylum was a great restrained start to the series, one which I spent far too much time playing during my first year of uni, but City took everything that Asylum did and expanded it out to the full canvas that it needed. The fighting system, the only one that’s ever given me the same sense of power as Dynasty Warriors and copied by seemingly every game since, was given more depth and challenge, there are far more side missions and quests and although sprawling and unfocused at times, the storyline is much more grand. At times it can almost become a victim of it’s own size, many of the Riddler trophies becoming a little tedious and verging on the edge of Assassin Creed’s collect-a-thons but on the whole it’s a brilliant game.

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This was a looker once upon a time.

Age of Empires – The epitome of this series in many people’s opinion was the sequel Age of Empires II: Age of Kings but I’ve instead picked the original. Back when I was a poor 11 year old I picked it up for about £10 from a local Staples (strangest place I’ve bought a game) and was engrossed in a game that had all the appeal of Command and Conquer but with historical flavour as well. One of the best things about this game was the gorgeous thick instruction manual that came with it, packed full with historical details about each of the game’s factions. I read through that manual almost as much as I played the game. I miss the days when publishers made beautiful detailed instruction manuals for their games rather than just a one sheet piece of paper with a link to an online .pdf. One of the things that the games industry has got worse at as the years have passed.

The game itself felt like a slower historical spin on Command and Conquer (more on that series later) but with a far greater choice of factions and more along the lines of my interests, with my sci-fi interest not developing until much later. I would spend many an afternoon crushing the AI, much like with Worms, and messing around with the map editor to create ridiculous maps and scenarios with huge amounts of resources and elephants stampeding around the place. Looking back at it, I seem to have had a thing for  elephants, weird.

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Tomb Raider (Reboot) – As Three Lions was playing in seemingly every pub, restaurant and shop in the country and I spent my weekends watching Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, I was possibly the only PS1 owner that wasn’t interested in Tomb Raider. My one attempt to play a Tomb Raider game, well after the craze had died down, was Tomb Raider III and I found it slow and finicky with an awful control system, overly reliant upon pin point platforming and with not enough action to interest me. It was with this in mind that I first heard about the Tomb Raider reboot, the focus on survivalism, more action and the artistic style piqued my interest but it wasn’t until the game was on Steam sale that I picked it up and I’m glad that I did.

While borrowing a lot from Uncharted, the game seems genuinely fresh as a Tomb Raider game. The story while hardly original drives things on with a certain gusto and the development of Lara is well done, if you ignore the oft noted sudden switch from being scared to kill one man to mowing down enemies in their dozens. The game even attempts to deal with some issues that video games often shy away from, dealing with said issues in a much better way than the media uproar before the game suggested. The tombs included within the game are at just the right level for someone that never really enjoyed the puzzle aspect of the original games and the liberal sprinkling of Japanese culture and history is interesting without becoming too overbearing. The platforming elements are far less annoying than in the original series and I genuinely enjoyed scaling up cliff faces and getting higher and higher, revealing new nooks and crannies and various routes across the large environment. The graphics are also gorgeously and ridiculously well optimised, looking brilliant and running mostly smoothly when I played it using an Intel HD3000(!).

I’m now eagerly awaiting getting a chance to play Rise of the Tomb Raider but as my laptop is older than sin and I’m just as poor, I doubt I’ll get the chance to play it any time soon but as is usual with my experience with games, a couple years down the line I’ll finally get the chance to play it and I can’t wait for that.

Other games that came close to getting a nomination for best of the rest but were just short were Smash Court Pro Tournament 2 – I’m not usually one for sports games but this has the best career mode I’ve seen in a tennis game and the perfect balance between simulation and arcade gameplay and Dragon Age: Origins which was a perfect throwback to old 90s RPGs while having all the polish and graphical finesse of modern games. Shame they screwed up the rest of the series.

Next time around we reach the actual top 20 with numbers 20-11 being listed. Until then I’m off to find another game where I can wreck elephantine destruction on my enemies.

Top 20 Video Games: Part 1 – Burnin’ Rubber and the Best of the Rest

Another Bad Football League Reform Proposal

Yesterday the Football League announced its latest proposal to revamp its structure and supposedly benefit the lower leagues and English football *cough* the EPL *cough as it struggles against the juggernaut of European football, the EPL and 24/7 televised football.  Excuse me if I’m feeling a little jaded but reading through the proposals, this seems like another ill thought out attempt to appease the EPL and their captive prisoner the FA. Much like the much derided proposal roughly a year ago to insert EPL B teams directly into the Football League (which the current plan bears all the signs of being a reworked version of) and the plans for adding those same teams to the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, I can’t see this plan as being positive for the lower league game.

Let’s start with taking a look at the proposal. From a current Football League of three divisions of 24 teams, which has remained largely unchanged since the late 1920s aside from some regional rejigging, the League would expand to incorporate four leagues of 20 teams giving a grand total of 100 teams in the professional league structure, and 80 below the EPL. Details on how the extra 6 teams will be provided are scant at the moment although it has to be assumed they’ll come from the National League unless the Old Firm head south, which is a whole different can of worms, Rhyl FC fancy a return to English football or The New Saints while in a fevered state fancy a crack at English Football.

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Park Hall, the stadium of the New Saints, if you look closely you might be able to see one man and his dog.

The Football League’s argument is that it will reduce the congested fixture list including a large reduction in mid-week games and that the Football League teams will experience no financial loss, season tickets rising as a result. Also intended is to maximise Bank Holiday matches, protect the Play-Off Finals as the last event of the domestic football season, standardise relegation processes across the leagues and other minor stated aims. Rather bafflingly also stated is that reserve football will increase in importance – I fail to see why this is a goal for the Football League, reserve team football is designed to bring players back to fitness, blood youngsters and keep fringe players fit. The importance of the struggles of reserve team EPL teams is an issue for that league and its clubs not for the Football League.

Let’s look at the problems with the proposed league structure to begin with. The first issue that springs to mind is the problem with inserting an extra league into the structure, this will have a negative impact upon forwards thinking clubs and those enjoying their brief moment in the sun. Would a team such as Burton Albion, who have steadily advanced their way through the leagues through savvy management and now facing the enticing prospect of matches against Newcastle United and Aston Villa next season ever have reached such heights if they had to progress through an extra league? The amount of things that could have gone wrong during that extra season are numerous and may well have stolen from Burton’s fans the frankly unique experience they’re going to enjoy next season. Likewise, but perhaps less romantically, the amount of local football fans that invest millions into their local clubs in order for them to have a brief period in the spotlight (Crawley, Fleetwood etc.) will surely drop when they face the prospect of another year’s competition amongst equivalent sized clubs to get to that level of football. While some may argue that the game is better off without these flash in the pan clubs, it’ll certainly be less interesting and the great stories that people tell in thirty years’ time will die away to a degree.

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Not likely to see this very often in the future if the Football League have their way.

Likewise the reduction in league sizes will stratify the leagues to a greater extent. As they currently stand with 24 team leagues there are always a number of teams playing above their level and getting the opportunity to face much larger teams. Burton Albion as previously mentioned, Rochdale in League One, Yeovil in the Championship the season before last.  During recent years when my hometown team Torquay United were in League Two, we played against teams such as Bradford, Huddersfield, Portsmouth, Luton etc. We beat Portsmouth at Fratton Park, less than six years removed from them winning the FA Cup and playing AC Milan in the UEFA Cup. This kind of opportunity will be much reduced under a system of 4 separate leagues, the chances of fallen giants falling down another league is lessened, likewise the chance of being promoted up another league for small teams. Instead what you’ll get is League Three containing the lower end of League Two and upper part of the current National League with major teams finding their way down there few and far between. League Three will become a glorified limbo zone between the old Football League and National League, which may be ripe for the insertion of EPL B teams further down the line as English football culture is further eroded at the hands of TV and commercial logic. If I was feeling particularly cynical I’d suggest that this league is being set up to struggle along, in order to help revive the B teams discussion further down the line.

Another of the League’s stated potential benefits, the standardisation of pro/rel is worrying. I can only assume this will mean 3 up/3 down in each league, scrapping the 4 up/4 down between League One and League Two. The reason this structure exists is to increase the mobility of teams in the lower league structure, mixing it up and giving those teams the odd glamour fixture that sustain their fanbases through 20/30 years of suffering, the new structure will limit this movement. Interestingly it doesn’t mention standardisation of this system with the National League but more of that later…

Moving on to the ideas of fixing the congested fixture list. This smacks of the EPL’s continued search for a solution to their millionaire players complaining about playing too many games and to the FA’s desire to incorporate a winter break into the game to help the underperforming national team (here’s an idea guys – how’s about actually giving youngsters a chance in EPL teams?). The FA’s lack of interest in the lower league game has been blatantly shown again and again in their suggestions to incorporate EPL B teams into the lower leagues and the current plan to bring them into the Football League Trophy (a little less offensive).

One of the things that contributes mosts to the Championship’s legendary unpredictability is its long season.  Most Football League teams cope fine with the calendar as it is, indeed their most precarious time is during the summer where they have no income, and the intensity of the schedule gives young players their opportunity. Teams towards the bottom of the league structure rely upon the money the extra games bring in to keep functioning, is the EPL really willing to increase their solidarity payments enough to cover this loss in revenue? Because season ticket sales aren’t suddenly going to spike at  Morecambe because mid week games are eliminated. Past history and the current morsels on the table suggests not. There is no benefit to this proposal with the possible exception of the reduction in squad size stated by the Football League but then this reduction will be a necessary if you remove four games and the income from that from the calendar. Furthermore it could also have a negative impact on youth players being given their chance in the first team, something that is already in critical health further up the football pyramid.

The reduction in games seems custom made for the EPL bringing in a winter break of some kind but in concert with the entire league structure, so that the Football League doesn’t gain greater exposure during the break and god forbid some of the EPL’s compliant customers actually take a greater interest in their local clubs. The ones they actually have a community link to. The FA have pushed for this on many occasions and it will happen within the next ten years, if the EPL is the only league that incorporates it due to the concentration of England players within that league, then it only stands to reason that the Football League will benefit greatly in this period if it continues playing. The side mention of the potential for a revamp of the Football League Cup’s structure, including the introduction of group stages is laughable, group stages were tried for that competition in the 80s and scrapped because they didn’t work. Football League Cup matches are the worst attended matches during the season, in the early stages of that competition at least, because of the lack of interest in it, adding more matches isn’t going to help. Especially cutting League matches to do so.

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What to do with a problem like the Football League Trophy? Here’s an idea – leave it alone!

As previously mention the one thing that the League’s proposal does not reference is the idea of a third pro/rel spot to the National League indeed even the retention of the two existing slots, while taking great pains to mention the EPL spots. As the plan likely assumes that the absorption of the best 6 teams from the National League, leaving the National League and non-league football weakened, taking most of its professional teams away, it probably believes this is not need. Which calls into doubt the future of promotion from the National League and the potential for developing clubs such as Eastleigh and Maidenhead being locked out of the club as was the case until the 1980s. Furthermore the way the 6 extra teams will be picked is perhaps as worrying. For teams like Tranmere, Wrexham, Torquay or Lincoln, historically much larger than the other teams currently in the National League but sometimes struggling, for the Football League to absorb the top 6 placed teams of the National League in one particular year while leaving them behind despite their greater fanbases could be fatal. A lot of thought will need to go into how to pick those teams, which will be contested bitterly leaving behind a lot of disgruntled fanbases.

There are benefits to the proposal such as the reduced long distance travel for fans but the fans that often make those journeys are the hardcore, the ones who revel in the glories of a Torquay-Carlisle journey and antics in a M6 service station. Would they really want to give up such experiences? Experiences which are in many ways the attraction of being an away fan.

Accrington Stanley and Bradford City have already come out against the proposals and with a need for 65 out of 72 current league teams to vote in favour, it can only be hoped that the proposal is rejected and thrown out forever and the Football League teams move instead towards the real battle of the next 5-10 years. Not reducing their fixture list and kowtowing to the EPL as usual but instead leading the fight to gain much greater solidarity payments from that particular league. The frankly ridiculous amounts of money flowing into the EPL these days, going straight into the pockets of the players, their agents and the foreign club owners must end. While the grassroots of the game, vital for its continued health, need to stop being ignored. Enough is enough, it’s time for the Football League to start looking after itself rather than begging at the EPL table.

The Football League has worked in its present structure since 1958 and it works. It doesn’t need radical change. For the league that needs radical change and to reconnect to its community you need to look up not down.

Another Bad Football League Reform Proposal

The Problem With FIFA – Democracy

Last week Gianni Infantino was elected the new President of FIFA, almost by default thanks to his own boss’ corruption and the developing world’s inability to stand a candidate who hadn’t identified his own players for torture or been named after a randy Japanese aquatic mammal. It’s not needed to go into the various abuses of FIFA’s position that Blatter and his predecessor the equally corrupt Joao Havelange presided over but they were many and great. The story that broke over last summer laid bare what many football insiders had know for many years and which arguably the mainstream public had known since Qatar was handed the World Cup. FIFA is corrupt.

As we’ve been counting down the days to the election, we’ve had to endure a number of months of Blatter playing the idiot and attacking anyone who criticised him, an utter refusal to engage with any practical reforms by most of the FIFA power brokers and where reform has been proposed it’s been weak and ineffectual. All of which deserves it’s own analysis elsewhere but the core of the matter is that FIFA is institutionally corrupt not only because of the figures involved at the top of the game who have used it to enrich themselves at the cost of the public but because of it’s structure.

The 1 nation/1 vote structure that FIFA employs is supposed to be the ultimate in sporting democracy, a signal that FIFA respects all nations and all races, an important creed for some in the organisation after it’s foot dragging over incorporating Africa and Asia during the Rous era. However this is exactly the structure that left the door ajar for the kind of corruption that Havelange, Blatter and their lieutenants became so adapt at.

The core of the issue is that football is not equally important on a country by country basis, nor are there the institutional structures in many countries to hold their representatives to account. Until very recently it was a minor sport in the United States, seen as played by minorities and the children of soccer moms and confined to those interest groups. In places like Venezuela and Cuba it trails behind baseball in popularity and across swathes of Africa and Asia, engagement with football has come recently and primarily via televised European leagues rather than an engagement with football in their own nation. In many of these countries, the average football fan let alone citizen would be hard pressed to name their FA head and FIFA representatives let alone hold them up to scrutiny.

When a lack of interest in the game, either as a whole or nationally exists it enables those in control of the governance of the game to make it their own personal fiefdom, free from scrutiny and oversight as Chuck Blazer, Jack Warner and Jeffrey Webb did in the Carribbean or Issa Hayatou (still a FIFA ExCom member) has done in Africa. With no public scrutiny of their role, they are free to engage in corruption. The fact that their votes when allocating World Cups or deciding media contracts hold as much weight as the likes of England, Japan etc, countries with well developed developed scrutiny processes and who contribute far more to the global game is what enables and encourages people to bribe them.

Havelange, always a smooth operator, was quick to identify this essential feature of FIFA, indeed he was behind a great deal of it’s development as he evangelised spreading football into Africa and Asia and increasing World Cup participation amongst these nations, culminating in the now standard 32 team World Cup from France ’98 onwards. In exchange for this, he was quick to cultivate a strong network of minor nations who were loyal to him and would support him on any matter, allowing his corruption in exchange for him turning a blind eye to theirs and increasing their representation in the World Cup and on FIFA committees. Blatter continued his approach with particularly strong support from Africa, Asia and the Carribean over the years, even as late as 2015 with the organisation mired in controversy Blatter still maintained strong support amongst these nations, who actually feigned anger and surprise at why people could possibly want him to stand down. Where Havelange and Blatter went, dozens of developing nations reliant upon them for patronage followed.

This bloc of nations would not be a problem if it were not for FIFA’s 1 nation/1 vote rule, where because of this strange commitment to democracy FIFA is an institution where UEFA, a confederation which provides nearly all the major footballing leagues, the majority of the world’s best teams outside of South America and the bulk of popular competitions has only 13 more votes than CONCACAF, a confederation known for it’s endemic corruption, sparsely populated nations and which outside  the USA and Mexico (genuine world football powers) has provided almost nothing to the World game, the odd World Cup run aside. When you combine this with the aforementioned increased propensity for corruption in minor footballing nations, giving confederations such as CONCACAF this power is beyond dangerous to FIFA and yet amongst the latest reform proposals, nowhere is there the suggestion to reform voting rights.

World Rugby does not accord the same voting rights to minor nations as it does to the major nations who provide much of the competition and financing of the game and to it’s benefit. The stakeholders who contribute the most to the game thus have the greatest say over it’s governance. Although the Rugby administrators and nations can be accused of being resistant to change and old fashioned, they are capable of change where it is needed such as accommodating the growth of Argentina and it is noticeable the lack of corruption accusations surrounding World Rugby compared to FIFA and the previous poster boy for sporting corruption the IOC. The world’s two largest sporting events, the Olympics and the Football World Cup have both been subject to highly damaging corruption scandals, the Rugby World Cup has not been. It’s not a coincidence.

Yet it can not be denied that corruption has also found it’s way into the established footballing powers, Michel Platini’s actions over Qatar and his subsequent fall from grace for accepting suspicious payments from Herr Blatter being the obvious example. The German World Cup bid committee for 2006 is under heavy scrutiny currently as is Franz Beckenbauer and even England has been accused of minor infringements in their own bumbling way. This being said FIFA’s attempt to finger the blame at England over the 2018/22 bid scandal in the redacted Garcia Report was one of the most ridiculous actions in a long line of ridiculous actions by Blatter. Especially when the Russian bid team had casually, many would say deliberately, destroyed all their bid documentation and FIFA accepted it with nothing more than a casual shrug of their shoulders…if only we all could just destroy anything with incriminating evidence about us.

The ultimate solution to this problem is not giving women a certain number of positions on the FIFA board, nor limiting Presidential terms to a frankly ridiculous and pointless 12 years (more than the US President!) as voted for in Switzerland last week. It’s in fixing voting rights within FIFA. To do this the following should be applied, taking into account World Rugby’s usage of weighted voting rights.

Every four years directly after a World Cup, an independent outside auditor should use the following criteria to allocate every footballing nation to one of five ranks:

Voting Criteria (in no particular order)

  1. Historical Significance
  2. Current FIFA Ranking after World Cup
  3. Performances in the last World Cup and Confederational Tournament
  4. Contribution to World Game (aid payments, providing coaching, improving admin of developing nations etc)
  5. Corruption index based upon independent audits of the national FA and other stakeholders in the country

Once every nation has been ranked on these criteria, they should then be split into 5 tiers of nations with the following voting powers, 15, 10, 5, 2, 1. This means that the games largest stakeholders (Germany, the United States, Japan etc) will always have a certain weight in FIFA structures but can be penalised for long term poor performance, corruption scandals or lack of engagement with the developing world. Likewise emerging nations such as Belgium, Colombia etc in the last World Cup will reap the reward of their good work and on field performances by moving up the weighting ranks and gaining more influence at FIFA for the next four year cycle.

Only once a new voting structure such as the one laid out in this article has been created, along with a whole other raft of transparency reforms, such as finally moving the HQ out of Switzerland and to a respected audited location such as New York City, Berlin or London, will FIFA ever shed it’s corruption and become truly an organisation for administering football rather than filling the pockets of corrupt ‘administrators’ worldwide.

Without a fundamental reform of voting at FIFA then the organisation will never change. Any reforms will merely be tweaks failing to alter the rotten core of the organisation’s structure. When you can bribe someone like Jack Warner, who held nearly a 5th of all of FIFA’s voting power as his own personal fiefdom, it’s never going to be that hard to corruptly acquire media rights and World Cups. It’s no surprise that Warner’s eventual replacement was Jeffrey Webb, the same Jeffrey Webb who was arrested during those dramatic arrests at Baur au Lac last year and the same Jeffrey Webb that Sepp Blatter was lauding as an agent of change within FIFA just weeks before.

The Problem With FIFA – Democracy

Moving to Bristol

So after almost two decades of living in deepest darkest Devon, also known as Torquay, three weeks ago I made the biggest decision of my life in moving oop north to the great northern powerhouse that is Bristol. I wonder if they call dinner ‘tea’ up here in the lands beyond the Wall. I’d love to say that I’ve always had it in my heart to live here but the reality of the situation is that raw brutal economics were at the heart of my decision and the prospect of a better career has wrenched me from a life wasting away on the beaches of the deceptively advertised ‘English Riviera’. No longer will I find myself living amongst 100,000 pensioners, a load of manky fake palm trees and one local couple who thought they were moving to Turkey.

Having made the move up the M5, the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of work initiations, cursing at the numbers of idiotic cyclists around this place (they may be green but screw the planet they’re a bloody pain in the arse) and getting to grips with a new city. Bristol has already revealed itself to be an incredibly varied city with many surprising aspects. A quick stroll down Gloucester Road revealed a street that feels more like Shoreditch or Camden in London than anything else I’ve seen in the West Country but just a few streets away in Cotham the city feels more like a swanky spa town. Indeed despite it’s geographic location and self described status as ‘Capital of the West’ Bristol feels very different to the likes of Torbay, Exeter and Plymouth and more like London than a super-sized Exeter. Hopefully as the months go on Bristol will continue to surprise me as much although hopefully the bastard cyclists will start to surprise me just a little less.

As part of the move up to Bristol, I’ve finally decided to do something that I’ve been promising myself for a while and write a blog containing my random thoughts, which will probably consist of moaning about this country, football, moaning about how Generation Y are screwed, history, general moaning, politics and moaning about this country. All very British I’m sure you’ll agree. As you’re reading this right now it’s a good sign that I’ve not been overwhelmed by my general laziness and for once actually engaged my monkey brain into following something through. I don’t expect anyone to read this but here goes…

Moving to Bristol