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5:11 AM on 06.01.2015

Fanart: Plastic Fantastic

I'm quite ill.
I had something lined up for today, but I'm in a state, my head is full of nasty goo and just isn't functioning.
Seriously, my bedroom looks like Splatoon.

Instead, I thought I'd share with you all some of my pixelbead works. For those unaware, these designs are made from "Perler" beads. You can use them to create 1:1 replicas of videogame sprites. You may have seen them around the Information Superhighway.
Each bead is 5mm, so as you can imagine, pieces tend to scale up in size pretty rapidly. The large character portraits below are about 13' x13' for example, even though they're based on GBA sprites.
It is a painstaking process to find the correct colour palette, then construct it, bead by bead, before finally fusing it together under an iron, whilst keeping the whole thing from falling apart.

Anyway, I have been doing this for several years now, though things have slowed down as of late.
Hope you see someone you like. These are either representation of original sprites or of others' customs:





































I have an abundance of others, which I can post some other time. But hope you enjoyed this technicolour trip.
Now, I must return to my germ-ridden realm of bad medicine and steam baths. Adios.

Thanks a lot for taking the time to check out my humble tributes to these great games and characters
Are you a fan of pixel art, or maybe a pixel artist yourself? Do you have a favourite set of classic sprites? Visuals that perhaps instantly teleport you back to your childhood. There are many indie-games that utilise classic pixel art, which are your faves?

The floor is open, so grab the mic, friends..


(^ This Boo's for Dreamweaver, In honour of his nefarious nocturnal activities)

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5:30 AM on 05.29.2015

Easy Ammunition: How no good comes from Hatred

Since I first watched its infamous debut trailer, which seems like an age ago, I was not a Hatred fan. Many people weren't, and I personally thought that was refreshing.

As violent as videogames can be, and often are, it was comforting to see entire communities take to the internets to lambast the actions of the game's protagonist (antagonist?) as he swept his way through the suburbs, murdering wave upon wave of pleading civilians and hapless cops, fueled by little more than an exaggerated "Fuck the World" mindset, usually held in reserve for angsty teens having just fought with their parents. We are always being told that we, as gamers, have become desensitised to violence, and the disgusted outrage at Hatred went someway toward addressing that issue.



I don't like Hatred, I find its gleeful murder of innocents deplorable and its Nu-Metal mentality cliched and childish. As Darren Nakamura put it succinctly: "Hatred is gross." Plus, I tried to watch that seven minute gameplay video posted on Chris Carter's review, and I was bored as fuck by it.
In the game's favour, it has good atmospheric lighting, and the physics seem very solid, but I could also say that about Sonic Boom.
Wait...No I couldn't.



Hatred's actual offence, the one that does disappoint me, is the potential harm it can do to us all as an already vilified community of gamers.
I took a ton of shit off of people throughout my childhood for being into videogames. I was labelled by school-friends and family members alike as being a outcast at best and a massive dork at worst. This was in the late 80s/early 90s, way before the days of "geek chic" sold out comic-cons and billion dollar Marvel movies.
As I got older, these labels became more sinister, and being mocked in the playground matured into being mocked on the news, hearing straight up lies about how I was now this "basement dwelling weirdo", someone who lived purely to destroy. As the years passed I went from wanting to murder innocent women in Night Trap to lavisciously drooling over all that sodomy in Mass Effect.

All gamers supposedly lived in this fantasy world where we couldn't make friends, couldn't get laid, and never saw the sun, roundly heralded by news, sitcoms and movies as pathetic loners to be ridiculed and ignored.
This was bad enough but then, in 1999, The Columbine tragedy happened. All of a sudden, in the eyes of the world's media, we weren't just laughable nerds anymore, we were now potential killers (as you'll remember, Columbine happened entirely because Doom is a thing, that and Marilyn Manson.)



In recent years, the socio-political furore has exploded with force, with online movements, internet anonymity and the casual handing out of disgusting rape threats allowing vocal minorities, or straight up trolls, to become an easily Google'd hive of soundbites. These can be used by news outlets at will, in whatever context they choose, to paint videogamers as Fucking Monsters.
In the ever-hysterical eyes of the mass media, encouraged by the Breivik massacre and similar violent acts, Gamers have transitioned from the mean-spirited stereotype of pasty-skinned, virgin misfits to this modern, more alarmist stereotype of human-hating sociopaths, thirsty for digital carnage and merely one step away from tooling up and taking to the streets, eagerly acting out our depraved GTA-inspired fantasies in the real world.

We are the Kill-Bot Factory.



So, why do we need a product such as Hatred adding fuel to this ridiculous fire? a game that you could throw up on any TV show, display to the world without context for 10 seconds and falsely claim "This is what videogames are now and this is what gamers love playing"
As you're well aware, many people have had a negative reaction to Hatred, from devs, to distributors, to gamers themselves. But we are, all of us, way too savvy to know that such a viewpoint is irrelevant to the news.
The stance shown by the press wouldn't be "This game is viewed as morally reprehensible by many gamers" it would be "Gamers are LOVING this new game, some are saying its 'really funny' and 'the best game ever!'" (whilst quoting some anonymous Youtube comments)
I've already seen such an article in a popular UK tabloid, which only espoused positive reactions that Hatred had received, as well as being sure to tie-in the games supposed links to Columbine with the seemingly forever-blameable trope of "black trenchcoat".



Destructive Creations have claimed that Hatred was born out of their frustration of the increasing "political correctness" in gaming. Hatred was designed as an answer to the loss of videogames as a form of pure entertainment, to be played without agenda. But, if Destructive truly cared about games as a medium, then why on earth would they conceive a product that can only cause negative press? Merely furthering the ill reputation of the industry in the eyes of the world. To be a videogame lover and to create a game like Hatred is self-destructive, you have made a weapon to be turned against the very business you aspire to hone your craft in. You are doing your harshest critics work for them, and you are making it really easy.

At first, I didn't want to weigh in on this debate at all, and although I am firmly of the belief that the game will fade into obscurity (as even AAA games tend to do in this day and age of rapid-fire releasing) I was in the camp of "Don't talk about it and let it quietly go away"
But that's when I realised why I should write this, because, in my own small, totally insignificant way, I want to be one of the articles that, should Hatred blow up, people can point at and say "See, many gamers DON'T view products like this as acceptable entertainment, some of us ARE turned off by its cruel violence, innocent slaughter and hate-filled protagonist"



I'm nobody.
I'm just another guy writing on the internet about yet another flash-in-the-pan subject of controversy. But if the witchhunt starts or if, God forbid, Hatred ever gets scapegoated down the line for some miserable real world event, then when the finger of blame is inevitably pointed squarely at us "the gamers" I want to be able to stand up and say "Hey yo, don't lump me in with your bullshit, catch-all headlines" such is my right to defend against accusations levelled at myself, my fellow gamers, and anyone reading this who feels the same way.

Hatred, If you do ever recieve the mass media attention you clearly crave, then congratulations, but wave that banner of infamy on your own.
Not in my name.



Thanks for reading my personal opinion on this touchy subject, I need to clarify a few points:
- I respect Hatred's right to exist and to be sold, as much as I respect the people's right to critique it, or the rights of distributors to not sell it.
- I don't think people who want to play Hatred are "wrong" Each to their own, it certainly isn't for me though.
- This isn't an "outrage" article. I'm not overly offended by Hatred as a product, I'm disappointed the media has a new "easy weapon" to use against gamers.
- I'm fully aware there is no mass mainstream hysteria about this game yet, and hopefully, there may never be. This is more a pre-emptive strike.
- My thoughts on Hatred's violence are minor compared to my thoughts on how irresponsible I feel it is to make such a news-baiting game.
- This is my opinion. I don't expect everyone to agree, and I understand that.
No offence was intended toward any reader.

So many have already had their say on this old-hat subject, and are likely dang tired of repeating it, but if you'd like to express your thoughts, all feedback is welcome. I'm not looking to have an argument with anyone, so any views on the matter will likely go untested by myself.

Thanks once again for reading, It's always appreciated. The floor is open, so grab the mic, friends.

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7:22 AM on 05.22.2015

Knightmare: 80's Kids in Chromakey Carnage

"Welcome, Watchers of illusion, to the Castle of confusion..."

Twice in as many weeks I've found myself discussing Knightmare in the comments section of front page articles, receiving replies from people who remember it well and those who are blissfully unaware of its existence (Understandably, as I don't believe it was syndicated outside of Europe)

Knightmare was a staple of UK childrens television. A gameshow that exploded onto way back in 1987, appearing in the much-coveted "after school" timeslot on advertismenti-funded channel ITV. Created by Tim Child's company Broadsword and produced by Anglia TV, Knightmare was unlike anything that had been on television to that point, and kids absolutely lapped it up.



The show was a hybrid of a gameshow, videogames and DnD-style roleplaying. The basic premise was that a team of four kids (roughly aged 11-15) would attempt to conquer a dungeon known as Knightmare Castle, situated in the fictional world of Dunshelm. One of the team became the "dungeoneer" and wore a viking-styled helmet that blinded them (not literally, as that would be fucking hideous)

The dungeoneer would be then verbally guided through a sequence of computer generated corridors and rooms by their three friends, watching on a monitor (or "magic mirror") back in the dungeon's antechamber.



The team would encounter a host of traps, situational dangers and a cast of varying dungeon inhabitants, who would either help or hinder the team on their quest, and all played by awesomely over-the-top jobbing actors, working real hard for their equity cards. The advisors would have to keep their dungeoneer alive by solving riddles, collecting items, casting spells and avoiding the physical dangers chroma-keyed onto the green-screen set.


If you haven't shit your pants at the above image, you're a stronger reader than I was an 7 year old

If the team was able to guide their dungeoneer through three "levels" of deathsville, then they would conquer Knightmare Castle, usually vanquishing some final boss, and the be free to leave Dunshelm as heroes. Should they fail, then the dungeoneer would come to a predictably sticky end (But don't worry kids, they were always shown alive and well afterwards, lest young viewers be traumatised by the senseless child slaughter)

The entire journey was overseen by a dungeonmaster, Treguard of Dunshelm, played with delicious malice by Hugo Myatt. Treguard remained in the antechamber with the advisors, offering exposition and advice, and clearly hurrying them on when they were taking far too long to get their shit together.

Treguard is the backbone of the show, and has a special place in the hearts of anyone who was a fan. The character was wonderfully dry and delightfully sardonic, and his "Oooooh Naarrrrsty" catchphrase, uttered whenever a player was killed off, is stuff of legend. Treguard was joined in later series by annoying assistants, a pixie named Pickle who was the Scrappy-Doo of the series, and a genie girl called Majida who welcomed me, hormones raging, into puberty.


I wrote into the show to get an 8x10 photo of her.

The key to Knightmare's success, as well as its contemporary use of fantasy settings and state-of-the-art (Amiga 500) graphics, was that it was Rock. Fucking. Solid.
Over the course of 8 seasons and 112 episodes, only eight teams ever completed the dungeon. Death would sometimes come from missing essential items and clues, though usually (and hilariously) the grim reaper beckoned due to the kind of inept teamwork that would see your best buddy walk you headfirst into a pit of snakes or the fangs of a giant, super-imposed, tarantula.

This made the show essential viewing, as you simply had to be there to witness the rare moment a team completed the game, as well as gagging to see the more obnoxious kids blunder their way into total annihilation.
Observe:







The show maintained steady ratings well into the 90's but, as is often the case, fooled around with the format a little too much in the later years, and, as the show's original viewerbase matured, ratings steadily declined until Knightmare's cancellation in 1994.
Despite its ultimate end, Knightmare is a stalwart veteren and oft-remembered masterpiece of children's programming. Its conceptual and technological ideas were beyond anything that had come before. From its badass opening sequence to its awesome-o visuals and its rare representation of death on kids TV, it was light years ahead of its time.



Branded merchandise was available in the form of a series of choose your own adventure books, a board game, and some terrible computer ports that bore little resembalance to the original show.
Knightmare never received a DVD release, but many seasons are viewable on YouTube. The show remains an indelible mark in the minds of those who loved it, and last year successfully kickstarter'd a fan convention.

Watched today, Knightmare can be scoffed at with ease, coming off a bit slow, simplistic and occasionally clumsy in execution. But for me, my friends, and the legions upon legions of other kids who watched it when it aired, it was absolute gospel.
"The only way is onward...There is no turning back..."



Thanks for reading.Way more information I chose not to add can be found at the encyclopedic Knightmare.com The show can be experienced in ugly videos on Youtube. Were you a fan of Knightmare? What did you watch as a kid? Any other kids gameshows stand out for you? What are your memories of post-school television? Any and all stories and opinions are gratefully received.

The floor is open, so sidestep to the left, and grab the mic, friends

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7:09 AM on 05.18.2015

Ball 1 Locked: A Brief(ish) history of Pinball

I love pinball.
Cool story, bro, but I do.
There's something about that idea of a kinetic universe under glass. A fast, exciting journey through alleys, ramps and bumpers, with flashing lights, blaring music and wild sound effects all providing a visual and aural soundtrack to the chaos.
Pinball is built around Pavlovian satisfaction, with the addiction for many players coming from the brain recognising success. A small self-congratulatory feeling sent throughout the body whenever a solid shot is achieved or a difficult goal reached. You know that feeling you get when you hurl a ball of paper into a bin and nail it? Imagine if, every time you did that, a fanfare played, lights flashed and a sultry voice screamed "JACKPOT!!!" at you.
A lot of people would probably chuck out a lot more paper, that's for dang sure.



Pinball is a deceptive game. Like many casino games, Pinball is brilliant at convincing you that you are in complete control of the situation, and that everything is going to plan, when in actuality, that's probably not the case. A cash-guzzling monster, its essential design is to take money from the player, which it does via a hypnotic sensory experience, teamed with a constant tease of "Oh, you nearly got it that time, why not try just one more time"
Good pinball machines are essentially mechanical strippers. Convincing you that "Hey, you're so cool, You aren't like the other guys who come in here." and the next thing you know you're out of cash and ass-first on the street, wondering where you went wrong, and convinced that you'll get her number "next time"

Ok, maybe I'm reaching. But terrible metaphors aside, Pinball is great. It's exciting, fast-paced, skilfull, heart pounding, gorgeous looking, satisfying to play, and great competitive fun for all the family.
Y'know, like Strippers. (...What is WRONG with me??)



Pinball was originally introduced to bars up and down America as Bagatelle, a simple table-top game where you fired small ball-bearings into a playfield of pegs and, well, hoped you "won"
During the Depression, this was seen as a cheap form of casual entertainment for barflys of the time. It was very successful, and by the 1930's the industry was blossoming, led by upstart companies Gottlieb and Bally.

You know who doesn't like it when people are having fun? that's right: Everybody.
Pinball felt the sting in the 1940's when Mayor La Guardia banned the game in New York, as it was a commonly held belief that they were a form of gambling. Raids were carried out, Untouchables-style, and thousands of pinball machines were destroyed across, in very publiicised manners such as mass smashings and bonfires. Pinball had become the devil's spawn and must be destroyed for the good of humanity, like Beatles merchandise or Nickelback records.



The leading manufacturers stayed alive by shipping their games over to Europe, where pinball was fast finding a new audience. The machines themselves constantly evolved. First they became coin-operated, then started featuring more complex electrical components. The biggest innovation that would change the shape of the entire industry came in 1947, when Gottlieb outfitted their new release Humpty Dumpty, with two player-controlled flippers.
This minor design idea would become single-handedly responsible for the phenomenom to follow.

Back in America, Pinball was finally freed from its questionable status as a country-corrupting monster in 1976. A man called Roger Sharpe testified before a governing committee that Pinball was a game of skill, not a game of chance and was therefore not a gambling device. Sharpe played some games before the committee, using his skills to hit specific shots and correctly predicting the balls trajectory. It was decided that the ban was to be abolished in New York immediately, and many states followed suit afterwards.



It was on, and Pinball absolutely flooded the American market for the following decade. Almost every single store, garage, laundromat, and street corner was outfitted with games as the manufacturers poured out thousands upon thousands of machines. By the 1980's Pinball was absolutely EVERYWHERE, and, coupled with technological advances, talented designers, awesome artwork and popular licences, it would head into the 1990's stronger than it had ever been.

At this stage arcade giants Williams (incorporating Bally) had become the masters of the industry, having leapt in feet-first as soon as the U.S ban was lifted and banging out a series of fantastic and hugely successful games. Bally/Williams continued to rule the roost throughout the early 90's with its popular range of movie licensed games, often featuring excellent Dot-Matrix animation and fantastic sound, speech and light shows. Sega and Capcom also wanted in on the burgeoning market, and began producing their own games. Gottlieb, sadly, did not adopt to the modern industry fast enough, and the very first Pinball kings fell from grace hard and fast, before bowing out in 1996.



Gottlieb would soon be joined on the unemployment line, however, as pinball suffered a huge decline toward the new millenium, as the generation who grew up alongside it found life moving them on, whilst the generation replacing them had access to far more reliable, portable, powerful, and cheaper technology in the form of home consoles, the internet, mp3 players and Saved By The Bell: The College Years. It wasn't long before Capcom, Data East, and Bally/Williams closed their pinball divisions, all within a very short space of time.



Fast forward to today, and only one (major) company remains, Chicago-based Stern Electronics, who continue to produce games at the rate of one or two a year. There are some small independent companies attempting to gain ground, but, in such an expensive niche business, they are frequently failing to deliver upon their plans and promises, leaving many investors and customers angry, out of pocket and in some cases, straight up cheated.

Moving into editorialising here, with an opinion that is unpopular amongst my fellow silverball fans. Pinball cannot regain its 90s stranglehold as people like to believe it can and will. Every single day there is a new article written somewhere that "Pinball is making a comeback" and this article has been rewritten again and again for over 15 years now.
Looking at things from a pragmatic standpoint, the games are incredibly expensive, physically huge in size, require constant maintenence, are costly to ship overseas, have unstable software and are expensive and difficult for beginners to play. All this whilst competing in a world where people can get so much easy entertainment, in their back pocket, for free.



Whilst that seems like a low note to end this piece on, let it be known that pinball also can't ever be classed as "dead"
There are still thousands of these machines in existence, lovingly restored and cared for by fans and collectors. There are many ways for people to experience these games digitally, and various national leagues, tournaments and coin-op expo's are held around the world, which you can attend in order to experience and play these beautiful works of art. You can still find new games out in the wild, though obviously a little more sporadically than you could a decade or so ago.



The world of entertainment has changed too drastically in the last 20 years for pinball to be a viable venture that will mass populate the laundromats of the world. But that doesn't mean it can't still be played and enjoyed today as a nostalgic museum piece and reintroduced as such to all future generations. Pinball lives forever as a marvel of a time capsule, and a constant reminder of how successfully a phenomenom of pure and unashamed fun can capture the heart and spirit of an entire population.

Pinball's place in the rollercoaster history of Interactive Entertainment cannot be denied. It's a colourful, fantastical and indelible mark on the roadmap of the industry that we all love.
At one point, it was making more money than the entire movie industry, and whilst it may not reach those dizzying heights again, it is absolutely wonderful that we ever had it at all.
Shoot again.




Thanks for reading. This is a VERY-abridged version of Pinball's storied, 70-odd years of history. But I just wanted to share a basic synopsis of how pinball came to become the global monster of the 80s/90s.
This is part of a short series I intend to write, keep an eye out for a list of my fave games, some of pinballs worst art, and some fun trivia.
Are you a pinball fan? Is it an era that passed you by? What licensed themes would make good Pinball today? Do you play Pinball video games? I'm very interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences.
Thanks again for reading. The floor is open, so grab the mic friends.

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