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English bloke. Binge drinker and ASBO gamer. Player of old games and new, I like tattoos, strong drinks, loud music, Scottish sun sets and traveling. I am also Determined to convince people of the merits of Fox McCloud's' thousand yard stare.


I look like this in my mind:

I actually look like this:

I've changed my avatar to Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, I look a little like this in real life...

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The question of a favourite game is harder than it first seems. I, like many of my fellow D-toiders have a space in our hearts for the classics, the cult favourites and the unique gems, and we will (and happily do) argue about where they belong in the great ranking and why people should play them. But to pick one and raise it about all others has to be a personal thing. There is a inherit danger of picking a “safe choice”, a Silent Hill 2 or a Bioshock, because these are widely loved, we can be blind to their failings.

 Therefore I think to pick a game to be your favourite game of all time; you have to love it for its failings. You have to love it no matter what, and to para-phrase Twilight, you have to love it unconditionally.  And that is why, for me, Starfox 64 is the greatest video game ever made.

Picture if you will, a young boy of twelve on a cold Scottish Christmas morning, he rips at the festive wrapping paper of a suspiciously big box, he knows what it is. It’s the game he’s wanted for months and months. Its Lylat Wars (Starfox 64 in the rest of world) for the Nintendo 64, and with that gift came hundreds of hours of fun and adventure.

Buuuuut, there’s far more to this story that sheer nostalgia. I could tell you about my obsessive playing of its predecessor on the SNES- Starwing, I could tell you about stealing my father’s phone headset so I felt more like I was barking orders at my fellow pilots, even though it was plugged into NOTHING. I could tell you how it played in black and white because I couldn’t afford a colour television. But they’re not the reasons why Starfox 64 is my all time favourite. It’s my favourite because of a few simple reasons that are seldom matched, never bettered.

Simple, elegant precision.

Hammering the fire button will kill the bad guys, waggling the stick moves the plane, pretty simple right? Yes its very simple, but building from this simplicity Nintendo were able to put each and everyone of us behind the controls of an arwing and be able to pilot it quickly. But with time and practise, particularly in the games “all range” free combat sections, you could duck and weave, somersault and lock on, barrel roll and bomb like the Luke Skywalker/Top gun hybrid you’ve always known you were.

“Simple to pick up, difficult to master” might as well be the mantra to making a good video game. Grasping the subtly of the Arwing, the Landmaster and the Submarine took hours and hours of the players life. To score the highest points, to unlock all the secrets and to explore the Lylat system completely required this level of graft. But it wasn’t a requirement. If you wanted to blast through the baddies and save the universe, you could- In a couple of hours, if you were pretty good to start with. At no point does Starfox 64 force you to come back, but you will… to see the next set piece, meet the next boss or visit the next planet. And that will take dedication.


Admit it... you wanted the medals

More than a new world…a new universe.

Too much is explained these days, not enough is left to the imagination. And a young pre-teen with a fascination for talking animals in space has A LOT of imagination. Starfox 64 tapped into this perfectly, and represents one of several “loveable flaws” I spoke of earlier. A new Starfox game will undoubtedly have a fifteen minute intro explaining the Lylat system, Falco’s favourite type of hand cream, what a G-defuser is and what exactly a Slippy is. Not so in the nineties! “Here come the baddies, fill in the rest yourself” might as well have been the blurb on the back of the box. This “choose your own adventure” style of video game writing works perfectly, as you are thrown into a higgledy-piggledy world which makes no sense. So you begin to piece it together your self, making up back stories and ill fated love affairs between the characters.

  The desolation of Zoneless, the evil of the Star wolf team, what Andross even IS… these all were left to the player. And boy did it make the game better. Stories were traded in school yards, lore was hinted at but never delivered as characterisation was expanded by brief snippets of dialogue:


And so a legend is born. 

All building to lend the game a film like quality, but a at the same time being so much more than a film as you were controlling it. It was Star Wars, Independence Day and the Labyrinth all at once. Perhaps I have my rose tinted hindsight goggles on, but this was the first post Metal Gear Solid game to improve on the “gaming movie” template. It improved on it because it wasn’t trying to be a thriller, it was trying to be what it was- a frankly ridiculous space opera about animals with lasers. 

Feels… its got them.

So it’s a good game. So it takes ages to master. So its fun to shoot things. So its got crappy but enduring bits. Loads of games have that. What pushes Starfox 64 into “best game ever” territory? It story changes depending on how good you are. And if your really, really good you get to see one of the most magical moments in all gaming. But ONLY if you’re a bad ass. Like megaman’s haddoken, the secret ending to Starfox 64 represents a sorely missed era of gaming, where graft and persistence were awarded.

Picture the scene.

You’ve basted through the hard path scoring staggeringly high point values on every level, none of your co-pilots have crashed out, you’ve  taken on the thrills and spills of that persistent Starwolf team… when you greeted by a SECOND version of Andross. The grotesque floating brain provides a truly memorable dog fight as you duck and weave to avoid its clutches. The final laser shot seals the deal, and the screen whites out…. until….

It’s your father. Your long dead father, reaching from the grave to guide you to the safety he so heroically missed. Is it a dream? Is he really there? There’s no time to wonder about life and death as the complex is collapsing around you. Franticly you follow your fathers’ ship’s trail to the surface, elated to know your re-untied with you father once more. Fox McCloud looks across the emptiness of space for his fathers Arwing which has faded from view, as his colleagues ask if he’s okay he replies with stoic courage:

 Nothing... nothing's wrong.

Not a dry eye in the mutha fukin house.

Its part star wars, part matrix, part daddy complex and part fairy tale. But it comes together at  that moment to make such a lasting impression that even now 15 odd years later, Starfox 64 is still my favourite game. Like I said at the start, an all time favourite has to be personal, and it has to be flawed, and what’s more flawed and personal than a Space fox with iron shoes on missing his dad?

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I'm sitting at home on a Friday morning watching re-runs of the Shield. The dreaded lurgy is swarming all over my beloved city infecting and polluting fine citizens such as myself, so perhaps now is not the ideal time to write an investigation but I feel it's a worthy topic. I warn you, this might be a bit more of a long read than my normal posts. It's more about culture than strictly video games. It'll also be less dick jokes and more social policy, either way, I hope you enjoy. 

   I work an office job. Without giving too much a way (official secrets and all that) it's for the British government. To obtain my lofty appointment, I studied Politics at university, I've always been interested in the way people interact with each other, and particularly I've always been interested in different political theories to promote a better society and ways in which we can cultivate this either through policy or at a grass routes level. Philosophical ideals of a utopian society as well as activism can be fascinating and encourage genuine change in social ideals.
What the hell has this got to do with anything? Well recently I've noticed a number of references to Social Justice Warriors, always in a negative light. From the top echelons of gaming media such as Yahtzee Crowshaw's YouTube channel to common grass-type comments on D-toid articles, I've seen references to social justice.
This threw me, as personally I've always thought of social justice as a good thing. The traditional definition of social justice is to encourage better behaviours in your fellow human and your self by being aware if how your words and actions can affect others. It's about being socially aware, considerate and respectful. On a philosophical level, it encourages the same values of some religions and moral thoughts but with a societal angle, promoting the improvements to a society as a whole through this considerate attitude, rather than "because god tells me to" or even "because it's wrong". For more information consider some of the teachings of the Buddha, or Glasgow's own Franz Ferdinand:


So imagine my surprise when people seemed to think this was a bad thing. Shouldn't we as a community encourage right thought? Arn't racism, sexism and homophobia bad things? I'm sure we can all agree on that right? In fact before my little investigation I would have considered some of our game journalist heroes encourage social justice, promoting good behaviour, calling out those who damage us as a community and promoting unity when possible. Sound familiar? Yeah, it's pretty much what Destructoid promotes. (To me anyway, sorry if this is not universal)
So imagine my surprise when I googled Social Justice Warrior.


For those who don't know (and I didn't, I miss internet things regularly because of work) a Social Justice Warrior takes these principles to the furthest degree. Blaming people and cultures with no evidence or thought process, making massive leaps of logic without forethought, and best of all clawing and biting at people who don't agree with their often convoluted thought process. Here's an example-


This is not good. This is not progressive. This is just stupid.
I'm of the opinion that we shouldn't just point and laugh at people who subscribe to this thought process. There is more to learn from this that just another corner of the internet full of deluded people.
The first thing to consider is that despite this often being poorly thought through, and very often without merit, the intention of the poster is reasonably admirable. Okay, so I am assuming that your average SJW isn't just attention seeking, but those who genuinely mean it do so from a good place. Remember it wasn't that long ago that causal homophobia was wide spread, and those who stood up to it we're labeled quickly and harshly. Watch Eddie Murphy's stand up if you don't believe me.  So while some of the attitudes of these SJW's can be difficult and sometimes downright irritating and patronising, on occasion they're highlighting genuine causes,  and drawing attention to causal language that might cause offence can encourage gradual grass roots change.
An example you can try at home!

Sadly, this does not apply to the majority of these SJW's... In fact after a little research it seemed the majority of these people are more interested in the attention and the Tumblr points rather than actually provoking right thought and right action. As someone who can sometimes play the moral police to my friends and colleagues I know that understanding the issue is paramount to understanding. Lecturing others on your views will never, ever help anyone when it is not thought through, when it is not supported and when it is not welcome.
The latter brings us back to video games, once I had noticed the prevalence of SJW's on certain internet sites I couldn't UNnotice them. Where I work we are encouraged to promote positive attitudes, but only when it is welcome. Social issues are not to everyones taste, some people just straight up do not give a fuck. And when mountains are made out of non existent mole hills, is it really much of a surprise when social action promotes such a negative reaction? Take for example this cutting regarding to the new Smash Bros game...


It doesn't take a genius to pull this one apart. But underneath all that screaming, there maybe a genuinely good point about the perception of those who use keep fit software, race in Nintendo games and promotion of good body image. Is this the place to discuss it? Christ no.
Are these people trolls then? "Maybes aye, maybes naw" as we say in Scotland. Some are, that's for certain, some are desperate for attention and some are trying to score points amongst their contemporaries. But some may genuinely trying to improve things. The old adage, "Don't feed the trolls" seems most fitting, rather than screaming abuse right back at these people, we should be pointing out that now is not the time, encouraging them to explore their ideas in community blogs rather than slap dash comments.
It can be hard not to rise to caustic comments particularly when they are about something we love and care about. But the video gaming community is in no position to exclude people or be cruel about their views. Remember  for better and for worse, we are the people who scream racist abuse over Call of Duty, send death threats over twitter, and there's  all that unpleasantness with Miss Sarkisian.
I don't know about you, but I've been persecuted and teased for my choice of pass times. Things have moved on leaps and bounds since the old days of strictly for the nerd-core. But the reality is, the common perception of those of us who love our hobby to the existent we love it is that we are socially maladjusted, nearly always white, straight and male, and often opinionated. This maybe thoroughly incorrect, but it is the perceived reality. 


If we can encourage positive attitudes without them being labeled and bullied as SJW's, we might just be able to improve the perception of our community. We should aim to be welcoming, promoting discussion and forward thinking. Obviously, there are some people who need to be chased out of the barn, but we need to differentiate between the trolls and the attention seekers from those who are genuinely looking to stimulate discussion and change.
SJW's remind me of feminism ten years ago. People hear the activist who is shouting loudest, without realising that there are so many people who want to have a nice discussion and change things for the better. That shouting activist may very well not be an activist at all, but an angry bitter individual. If so, just like in the past, we can politely show them the door. But perhaps we could be a little nicer? There may be some good ideas underneath all the noise. But some of these people are vomiting on keyboards, just like so many voices screaming out for attention. They should be pitied not bullied.

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After a little break I'm returning to my game collection to dig out an old favorite and show why it should be remembered more fondly. Today we're gonna look at Super Ghouls'n Ghosts for the Super Nintendo, the sequel/re-make of the NES' Ghosts'n Goblins. With refreshingly old school plot, Arthur rushes to meet his royal lady only for... Oh no! A monster to capture her. So begins a classic horror platformer romp like only the 16 bit generation could provide. 


But here's the thing, Super Ghouls'n Ghosts was a little different from Zombies Ate my Neighbours or Castlevania..... It's Viagra hard. When I call this the Dark Souls of the SNES it's not because of its playful gothic vibe. Like the modern classic by FROM software, SGnG punishes those who rush into situations, cruelly demoralises the arrogant and forces the player to repeat huge chunks of the game when they make a mistake. When I first played this game i made me feel the same way as Super Star Wars did, that I sucked at games and by logical progression so did this game.
But just like that story set a long, long time ago, I got better. And gradually I uncovered a really interesting but nerve shreddingly difficult game. You have to learn the patterns, master the deceptively simple controls and take your time (but stay within the limit) to conquer this game. But like Dark Souls and Super Star Wars, this gem is rewarding and thoroughly enjoyable.


If your good, (and I'm really really not good enough) you can upgrade Arthur's armor with various magical versions. This is nearly impossible as, like other versions in the series one hit reduces Arthur to his under pants, and one more hit puts him six feet under. This is the cruel level of difficulty that I adore about SGnG, just two mistakes and your right back at the start of the level. This one really isn't for the fainthearted, and that's not to mention you have to complete the game twice to get the final ending.

The level design is cleverly built around the simple controls, so simple jumps become more challenging. Unlike your Mario's or Megaman's, You're unable to control Arthur's jump trajectory once you've begun the action. This means that the player needs to be able to know the exact distance Arthur can reach, and also be able to change this on the fly using the double jump. Like all great control gimmicks this seems simple, but is far from it when it comes to crunch time.


  Like some of its 16 bit bed fellows, SGnG manages to walk the line between spooky horror and playful fantasy. Making it more Scooby Doo than Saw, so even when it's at it's most infuriating it's impossible not to enjoy its bright and colourful art style. The levels all hit the familiar spooky notes, haunted ships, graveyards and layers of hell all make welcome appearances. and for those who can stick with it, there is a wealth of well put together levels,
SGnG was lost in a maelstrom of good games for the SNES, whilst it did well at the time it is long forgotten. the series has more recent appearances, but none in my view match the perfect leveling of SGnG. This is a series BEGGING for a New Super Mario Bros U style remake, and it would remind people that Team Meat did not invent the hard platformer, some of us have been masochistically punishing ourselves for years!

You can get SGnG on pretty much everything in one way or another, I would recommend either Capcom Classics on PS2 or the Wii U version as that save state function will prevent hair loss. 
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So I’m currently playing Earthbound, after years and years of it being talked about in hallowed terms I knew it was a game I would have to devote some time to. But despite its engaging story and great characters I couldn't shake off one stand out point…
these kids parents are awful.
And I mean really, really bad. They show next to no concern for their child’s safety and often are a comic relief interspersed with the occasional cash injection.
And from this it got me thinking. We have discussed and debated about women, gays, trans and minorities in gaming, but have we ever looked at the portrayal of parents? The answer is a resounding maybe.
Once I’d started I couldn't stop thinking of more and more examples of neglectful, incompetent, cruel and sometimes damn right homicidal parenting figures. Screaming right in at number one, “Dad of the Year” himself, Ethan Mars from Heavy Rain might display emmutttuns (never gonna stop being funny) but he is a dreadful parent! Even at best possible play through, his actions are all reactive rather than protective and forward thinking. Ethan, as the protagonist represents the playable parent, which is somewhat of a rarity in games. What is very common is the idea of reactive parenting, which Ethan has in spades.

Reactive parenting is as lazy a plot device as DESTINY is. No, not the plot to Destiny, I mean the idea of a protagonist reaching their destiny is lazy…. My god Bungee did you give video game bloggers a second thought when naming your game?!..... rude frankly.
Think of how many games that have replaced “it’s your destiny” with “because of your family”. It’s a staggering amount. From the basic “because Daddy says so” of Assassins Creed II, to the slightly more caustic “because I’ve murdered them” of God of War, the sins of the parents are visited upon their children. This is a cheap and easy plot device, and it is a particularly potent one. As we all have parents in one form or another.
And this is when the options begin to open up…. A bad or abusive parent provides a good antagonist that people can relate to. Just like Limp Bizkit, we’ve all got mad at mom or dad. Perhaps the parents were killed? Or perhaps they were captured? Or hurt? Or displaced? All very easy ways of making the player emotionally invested as they can relate on a basic level to this parenting nightmare.
Maybe our hero does not have parents? Well this means they are completely free to pursue the adventure. The player can build on that initial fragility of being alone and isolated, and begin to be empowered into the portrayal of the character. Whilst it is perhaps lazy story telling, it does mean that the player does not need a frame of reference. And particularly empowering to younger players, who a sense of adventure and independence is mostly a fantasy.
This is perhaps why Earthbound and Pokemon jarred with me. There was no tearful scene of loss, Momma kissed our protagonist on the check and wished them luck as they set out to risk life and limb. Without one of the aforementioned lazy plot devices, it seems very very strange to allow a young hero to risk everything, and this some how be FINE for their parents. But by getting rid of them through, they present both catalyst for adventure, but also a breaking of society’s chains, allowing a young hero particularly to do the extra ordinary. Similarly this is true of when cast in the role of the grieving hero, the (relate able) loss works well to spur on the protagonist to complete their adventure and save the day/princess/universe/last sandwich/what ever.
Does any of this really matter? NO! Of course it doesn’t! It is a simple observation of how parental bonds (and the lack there of) provide regularly used plot devices to frame our interactive dramas around. Lazy it may well be, but it is an emotive one. And when on the rare occasions a protagonist does have a happy family life, it seems somewhat strange. Although, to paraphrase Futurama, “I’ve noticed it…. I can’t un-notice it!”

I may have ruined video games….
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Do you remember that episode of the Simpsons where Bart and Lisa find the old alternative ending to Casablanca?

That. That’s why there shouldn't be a sequel to The Last of Us. Or at least, why there should not be a direct sequel.
Let me explain, The Last of Us represents a watershed moment for video games. Not just because it’s a superb game with well crafted characters, but it is nearly unique in this medium in that it is a complete story from beginning to end. The end does not represent “I have defeated the boss”, the antagonist is not vanquished and the princess is not saved. The story does not focus around those tropes which makes it one of the very rare occasions when a video game story can come to a complete conclusion.

What sets it ever further apart from other games is that the journey of Ellie and Joel cannot be repeated without utterly diminishing the first game. Imagine if you will, that after Super Mario Bros, Mario and Luigi were so exhausted from their adventure that they decided to arm themselves with revolvers and gas up the 4x4 in time for Super Mario Bros 2. This is a ridiculous comparison, until you consider the world of The Last of Us, where planning and paranoia as a result of experience is the basis of the universe. To reduce Ellie and Joel to the same people they were at the start of the first game would to not only undersell the sequel, but would detract from the fantastic work of the original. Even more crucially, to begin a sequel with these two war torn, broken souls would change the face of the game play and undermine the universe its set in. It would be inconceivable for Joel to risk anything ever again, and it would be impossible for Ellie to return to her childlike innocence. After the experiences of the first game, it would be very difficult to have believable character arc that DIDN'T involve paranoid fear and isolation.  

 Not making a direct sequel would also be good for the industry and for us as consumers of it. It is not impossible to imagine that in a few years it will be possible to study video game criticism at university. Just as my parents balked at the thought of a degree in Film and Television, so too will my generation wonder if these kids are throwing their lives away. But to even have this as a possibility (and for games to be art, they must be critiqued) then we need to make sure that the industry that they belong to is not constantly ruining debate in pursuit of the almighty dollar. It is conceivable that assassins creed could be studied for its some what devil may care attitude towards history. However, I would be very surprised if its story was ever to be studied in any depth. One of the main reasons for its unpleasantly convoluted meta-story is that emphasis was placed on making yearly installments ad infinitum, rather than putting together a beginning, middle and end style story. 
That’s not to say that Naughty Dog’s world should be left to be forgotten about. The Universe itself has plenty of potential. Even further stories involving one of the two protagonists could be a successful continuation, building on the previous story and fleshing out the character and the way they have developed since. But if they go the easy route, and re-hash the whole thing, It will only be to the detriment of all that The Last of Us has succeeded in achieving.

I hope you see my logic. I’m not trying to spoil anyone’s fun I’m really not. I think the greatness of The Last of Us will only truly come to light years from now. Reminiscent of the Shadow of the Colossus band wagon, The Last of Us will only gather momentum, but shameless cash grabbing could de-rail that wagon and drive it straight into Disappointment Gorge, only to come to a rest at the bottom of Shattered Dreams creek.
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Dear Tim,
There's something I've got to tell you, but I don't want to make you uncomfortable. It's time I'm honest about my feelings, you've been such a positive element in my life. Don't worry, I'm not in your garden peering through the window, that's probably Brittany, but you have created some of the most wonderful games I've ever played and I wanted to say thank you.
Picture if you can, a young boy of about eleven years old, sick as a dog and staying home from school.  He reaches for a game his parents had bought him For Christmas, that game was The Secret of Monkey Island.  That little boys life was changed for the better.


It[font=Arial Unicode MS, sans-serif] i[/font]s a trite phrase that gets thrown around far too quickly, but truly this game changed so much for me. It was like discovering Monty Python or Jack Daniels for the first time, something that makes you want to stand up and shout THIS! THIS IS WHAT ITS ABOUT! Truly Monkey Island did this for me. I've never laughed so much, scratched my head so much and most of all been swept up by the adventure so much. I played the game to death, day and night, constantly getting stuck on the puzzles. And it being the pre-internet days, when you got stuck in an adventure game, you[font=Arial Unicode MS, sans-serif] a[/font]re really stuck. Eventually I finished the game, but not before my heart had been filled with quick quips, pirates and the second biggest monkey head I've ever seen. The impact I can't understate, thank you Mr Schafer.
But it's not just one game, lots of developers have released one game that sticks with a young nerd. You see, a little later on you brought out another game that made my heart leap. It might not have been to everyone's taste, but I adored Full Throttle.


Again, it perfectly hit the level of action, story and adventure, I remember it fondly as well as it was the first game to make a tear come to my eye. When Ben found Corley's body I remember laughing back a touch of sadness as our hero does the same. It's a game full of quotable moments, and like all great adventures it was full of wonderful characters. But the part that made it truly special, was Ben himself. I didn't play full throttle until I was a teenager, and at that perfect time of angst and rebellion I could relate completely to Ben and the Polecats, and escaping into the dystopia of Full Throttle was perfect.


So as you can see I really do enjoy your output on more than just an entertainment level. But there's one game left that I want to thank you for. A game about love, a game about death, a game called Grim Fandango.



Another one of your superb adventure games again with a cast of memorable and lovable characters, but what made Grim so special was the poetry of the writing. Manny was a wise cracking protagonist, but he had a heart and was following it to the ends of the afterlife.  Grim Fandango for me, encompasses all the different emotions that one can go through in a love affair, without cramming emotions down my throat it shows had even those who have been hurt can learn to love again, and when love touches you, it will consume you completely for better or ill. See, the funny part is, I missed a lot of this on my first play through. I was a young man and thought I knew the world. Now that Im a gnats pube away from thirty I can see some of the more subtle aspects of it. Now I have loved, and I have lost, and whilst I still having skin, I have learnt the hard way love is for the living and see myself in that chain smoking skeleton. Wrap all that in a macabre art style that I adore and has influenced my heavily tattooed body, Grim Fandango has a very special place in my heart.
So thank you Tim, you've made three games that hold a special place in my heart. They might not be to everyone's tastes, but they are classics and perfect to me. Keep doing what you[font=Arial Unicode MS, sans-serif] a[/font]re doing good sir

Thank you. 
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