A weekend to remember


I wouldn’t say I’m a massively outgoing person as far as venturing far and wide, but in recent years I’ve tried to broaden my horizons, at least when opportunities arise.  Two such opportunities arrived the weekend just gone, not entirely planned as such but I jumped at the chance to go and see my favourite band once again … and then another opportunity came around to see a personal favourite TV sketch show’s live tour.

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Probably over a year ago I booked tickets to see Garbage again in London as well as meet up with a friend I’d made last time I went.  Some months later VIP meet & Greets were announced, and so yeah, once again I was going to meet the band and get a photo taken.  The whole experience this time around was even better than I’d experienced in 2016 at The Troxy.  For starters at Brixton Academy, the meet & greet q&a part of the VIP experience was in the same room where the photos were to be taken and it was a small, intimate affair with me sitting amongst 50+ fans within touching distance of the band (!!).  It was so surreal as it wasn’t as if I was sitting before my favourite band, but almost like old friends … it all felt so nice and relaxed and really f’ing cool.  I didn’t say much, as I knew I’d clam up (again) but did get a chance to say how fantastic I thought they were and that Version 2.0 (of which the tour was celebrating it’s 20th anniversary) was my favourite album of all time, by any artist.  I got my photo taken which turned out to be more of a fun thing, with me posing with the band and all pretending to be zombies, with outstretched arms etc. lol.

The VIP experience also meant early entry so I was pretty much at the front (one short girl in front of me, so I had an awesome view) and what was the actual concert like?  In short Garbage (Shirley Manson, Butch Vig, Duke Erikson and Steve Marker) were on electrifying form, belting out the hits as well as more obscure b-sides both word-perfect and with an energetic response from a sold-out Brixton Academy crowd.  It was intense, heart-pounding, utterly feel good and the best I’ve seen them perform.  Garbage are such a skilled and talented band and once again delivered an evening of rockin’ good entertainment that didn’t disappoint.

LoG

Two night’s later I was heading off to Liverpool to see The League of Gentlemen at the Echo Arena and this British sketch comedy four-piece that started out on radio before creating a cult TV show of the same name were utterly brilliant.  They went through a plethora of their most famous sketches and iconic characters to deliver a 2hr+ show of bonkers humour, one-liners, political satire and toilet humour with no end of imagination and charisma.  Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gattis and (behind the scenes / co-writer) Jeremy Dyson are one of the best comedy groups Britain has spawned since Monty Python and that … is not said lightly.  Translating the sketch-based comedy of the show worked well on stage and the sets and costumes were all very well done and seemed to go off without a hitch, aided by what appeared to be some funny ad-libbing and natural glimpses of the guy’s personalities.  This show was partly a celebration of their 20th anniversary as well as a hinted at farewell to the characters unless this talented four-piece find a way to work together again at some stage … we’ll see.  For now though, me and a couple of friends as well as the sold out crowd had a ball.

As far as my usual weekends go, this was pretty intense, rather exhausting but utterly fulfilling, creating memories I’ll look back on for years to come.  So a big shout-out to Garbage and to The League of Gentlemen for making the past few days so very special.

Craig.

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Burt Reynolds dies


Sad news.

A movie industry legend and a genuine hero of mine in the 80s with the Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run movies has died today. Burt Reynolds was set to star in Tarantino’s latest Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, due out next summer.

1936 – 2018

R.I.P. a true star.

Update


The first thing I wanted to write about was a little game I’ve been playing lately called ‘Life Is Strange’ a game that has garnered good reviews and a bit of a cult following.  As a change from what has become the norm in gaming for a while now (let’s be honest if you’re not killing ‘something’ it’s not a game in most regards) so sitting down to play this narrative-driven adventure was refreshing.  You play the role of Maxine, a girl who returns to the home she grew up in to attend a prestigious academy.  However whilst there she discovers all is not well in Arcadia Bay and after getting re-acquainted with her childhood friend ‘Chloe’ she begins to unravel a mystery surrounding the disappearance of a local student.

max_and_chloe__life_is_strangeI liked the writing here, the well-defined characters, a few bitchy stereotypes and shifty villain-types but not everyone is what they appear to be on the surface.  Add to this clever gameplay mechanics that include time travel and as the game progressed in it’s episodic chapter structure, I found myself thoroughly absorbed.  This game has made me feel things only a good TV show or movie has and it felt totally alien to the hobby but very welcome.  I felt sadness and excitement and wonder, and it’s all done so well.  If you are yearning for a break from all the violence or button-bashing thrills and want something to really make you think and feel, I highly recommend you give Life Is Strange a go.

Garbage 2018

In other news, guess what?  I’m gearing up to go and see my favourite band ‘Garbage’ again and will be heading to Brixton Academy this month. The last time I saw them at the Troxy in London I did the whole VIP meet & greet thing and got to meet the one and only Shirley Manson!  Well, I am doing it all again; meet & greet, early entry, watch them rehearse, q&a etc. and I’m so excited.  The concert is part of a tour Garbage are embarking on that begins this weekend (first date: the Electric Picnic festival in Ireland) which celebrates the 20th anniversary of arguably their finest album ‘Version 2.0’ which personally is my favourite album of all time by any artist.  To hear certain tracks live is going to be such a treat and one of those once-in-a-life-time experiences.  As you can tell I’m totally looking forward to this and will undoubtedly report back on it all once I’m back home.

That’s all for me for the time being.  Please check back again for more reviews and stuff soon.

Craig.

E3 thoughts


e3-2018

I had mixed feeling in the run up to this year’s E3 conference … the biggest event on the gaming calendar, where the big companies, publishers etc. showcase their plans for the coming year and beyond, often revealing games and services for the very first time.  It’s always very exciting, but with the recent slight fall from grace Microsoft and it’s Xbox brand had experienced with a drought of AAA exclusive games compared to it’s immediate rivals, Sony and Nintendo – I was also concerned.  So below I’ll go through my brief thoughts on the various conferences shown followed by a few highlights.

Microsoft

Microsoft had a lot to prove.  The army of Sony fan-boys loved sticking it to the American giants that the platform was lacking the big name exclusive games compared to their beloved PlayStation, and I can certainly understand where they are coming from.  Where’s Xbox’s God of War?  So watching the near 2 hour conference was nerve-wracking … but, Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer came out swinging, with an immediate reveal of Halo Infinite (just a CGI trailer sadly) and then went on to present a very confident presentation showcasing many games and several exclusives, including the likes of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Crackdown 3, Forza Horizon 4 and  Gears of War 5.  However the big news was the acquisition of 5 game studios that will now be working on first party games for the Xbox platform … the big surprise being the purchase of Bafta award winning studio Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senora’s Sacrifice).  Microsoft shot down the nay-sayers that would presume Xbox isn’t interested in exclusives anymore and set in motion a future that well really, should have been set in motion years ago – but at least now that future is more promising that it had seemed before E3.

Crackdown 3

Outside of exclusives, some games that will be appearing elsewhere also, were shown for the first time including Devil May Cry 5, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Cyberpunk 2077.

I would have liked to have seen a Fable announcement or the rumoured Perfect Dark game, but that elusive, big name exclusive title that would wow me and surprise me, was sadly absent.  Microsoft did a lot right here to build confidence in their brand and to pave an exciting future ahead, along with a brief mention of new Xbox hardware on the horizon … but in the present, they still for me didn’t do enough to sway those not already invested in Xbox.

Nintendo

Super Smash Bros UltimateWith Nintendo riding high on the success of the Switch, and it being my preferred platform of choice for the best part of the last twelve months, I had high-hopes for their presentation.  Much more low-key it turned out than Microsoft, with no on-stage conference just a 45 minute Nintendo Direct.  Games like Daemon X Machina, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Super Mario Party and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate were revealed for the first time along with several indie titles and more footage of previously announced games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.  However an absence of Mario Tennis was odd and especially disappointing was no mention of Metroid Prime 4.  The follow-up Nintendo Tree House event showcased Smash as well as an in-depth look at the forthcoming Pokémon Let’s Go games … but my overall impression was that Nintendo really didn’t pull anything out of the bag this year, perhaps a little too confidence with the Switch’s continued success.

I’ll certainly be getting my hands on Smash Bros as it looked a ton of fun and Pokémon interested me a lot more than I expected.

Sony

Sony went for a rather unconventional approach to their conference, hosted in a tent for starters and focusing on previously announced games rather than any new reveals (for the most part).  It was not what I expected from Sony, who are currently the industry leaders by a large margin but I guess they can relax and show they don’t really have anything to prove anymore.  So yeah if they want a banjo player on stage, then I guess they can have that.

Ghosts of Tsushima

So we got to see a lot more of The Last of Us: Part II, Death Stranding and the first full details of Ghost of Tsushima and Spider-Man.  Flute players, banjo players and a running commentary …different, but what’s E3 without a few bizarre moments?  I am excited for The Last of Us definitely, it looked incredible as did Ghost of Tsushima.  I was however surprised to see a Remedy game showcased, namely ‘Control’ but it’s a multi-platform title so they hadn’t jumped ship to Sony after mostly working with Microsoft for years.  Several games for PlayStationVR were also announced even if VR doesn’t interest me.  The big surprise for me was a remake of Resident Evil 2, arguably my favourite Resident Evil game of all time.  Not exclusive to PlayStation but an exciting announcement all the same.

The overall feeling I got from the Sony conference was that PlayStation were sitting very confident in their line up of games, not really showcasing anything ground-breaking for the future, but that’s probably something to do with the persistent PlayStation 5 rumours.  It’s clear to me Sony have some very good studios in their pocket and they’ll continue to dominate the market for the foreseeable future.

The other conferences etc.

I didn’t take a great deal of notice of the other conferences other than checking out highlights from EA, Ubisoft and Bethesda, all of which showcased some exciting stuff including Rage 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the impressive looking The Division 2.  As with all games shown, taking what we’re seeing as actually what we’ll finally get should include a hefty pinch of salt but damn… were there some stunning looking titles showcased this year.  The future looks healthy for all 3 major platforms and the games industry as a whole is making leaps and bounds in technology and innovation to bring us, the gamers so much for the coming years.

Update


Well it’s been a bit of a quiet week as far as this website’s concerned and I’ve had a few distractions what with life and work etc that has meant I haven’t had the interest to really watch any movies.

On the other hand, I have been playing games and trying to get as much out of my shiny new Xbox One X as I can.  One game I’ve played at length so far is Far Cry 5 – a real showcase for the system, with high quality texture detail, fantastic lighting, bright, sunny vistas, lush forests and quality NPC animation as well as a huge world to explore.  The only real puzzling aspect is the rather bland water (games like Witcher 3 and Sea of Thieves do water so much better).  The gameplay is fairly par of the course for open world games, but is quite engaging, helped by some movie quality shoot-outs and plenty of atmosphere with the ability to approach most tasks however you see fit.  The backdrop of a religious cult taking over a southern community is both topical and intriguing, and something not that explored in other games.  I’ve also dipped in and out of older games in my possession like Gears of War 4 (which looks stunning), Mafia 3 (finally the game runs smoothly!) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (probably the best looking game I’ve played on the X so far).  In addition to these I’ve recently got hold of the five times Bafta award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which is a different kind of hack and slash game, where the focus is less on combat and instead that of the fragile psyche of the lead character and her journey into a hellish underworld to free her lover’s soul (I think), and explores aspects of mental health quite unlike any game I’ve played.  It’s also gorgeous.  This former PlayStation 4 exclusive looks fantastic on Xbox One X and is another showcase for the system, especially once you start getting further into the game.

Hellblade

Hellblade on Xbox One X

I’d like to blog more about games and am thinking of doing a post on favourite games of all time, although it won’t be a top ten.  I also have much interest in game-graphics and with such boundless power these consoles have now it seems, why do we still see games like Far Cry not have mirrors in bathrooms (usually they’re broken and therefore non-reflective…really?) it’s a pet peeve but I’ve seen them done perfectly in much older games (Max Payne 2 comes to mind) without a hitch.  Mafia 3 attempts them but they are all messed up (even still after the X patch).  Do game developers really struggle with this seemingly simple thing??  By now things like mirrors, realistic weather and convincing water effects should be a given … some games pull it off great (check out the still industry leading rain effects in Watchdogs).  The snow and blizzard effects in The Division are also great, but most games never seem to cover all things to the same level, excelling in some areas but letting themselves down in others.  It’s rarely the complete package.  So are we still a little ways off fully impressive looking games that just simply nail everything as far as realistic effects creating convincing real-world representations?  It’s clearly more about development shortcomings and less about the graphical power at hand.

Below are two examples of great looking graphics,

captured directly from the Xbox One X

Quantum Break   Witcher 3

With Gaming PCs, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X now available, and hints of next-gen around the corner … when will such graphics reach a standard where nothing, and I mean nothing seems out of place and the overall impact is jaw-dropping.  We’re close I know it.  Just not quite there yet.

Craig.