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Age: 27
Just graduated - comic book artist and hobby game developer.

Current Big-Ass project: Promoting my prototype Unity game
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Hey guys. Hope this isn't too spammy a post! This is a screenshot from my first Unity game, Bound. It is a 2.5d exploration platformer with a silhouette art style, developed over 16 weeks as my final student project. It's my first large Unity project, though I have dabbled with other software before.

You play as Joot Lightray, a down on his luck explorer who has crash landed on an alien planet, and must use the native gravity altering technology to find a way to escape! The main gamepley hook is that for every Gravity Shard you collect (think Mario's coins or Sonic's rings) your jumping ability is ever so slighty increased. The more you collect, the higher you jump!

Like I say it's a student project I created whilst learning how to code, so it's still fairly buggy, but please check it out and let me know what you think!

The demo is free to download here: michaelarby.itch.io/bound

If you dont want to download, gameplay footage can be watched on vimeo here: vimeo.com/97774368

Critiques and feedback are welcomed! let me know what you think here or via twitter @michaelarby


(Pretty much everything there is to be said about piracy has been said already, and if you frequent games journalism websites you've probably already heard and formed an opinion on every story going. The following article is one of several essays I wrote for a Business Law class in College. I figured I'd throw it up here- like I say theres maybe nothing in here you havnt heard before but some of you might find it stimulating. Also- Since I actually hand in the final draft next week, I'd welcome any comments, criticisms or retorts! Enjoy!)

Ever since the first double deck cassette tape player was released and people figured out how do duplicate tapes, they have been constantly looking for new ways to save a dollar and undermine the system. In 1996 the WIPO Copyright Treaty extended the Berne Convention of 1886 to include copyright protection for computer programs and databases. It also imposed nations to provide effective protection against technological methods of theft, and enforce strong punishment for infringement. Currently, plaintiffs can win statutory damages of $30,000 dollars for ordinary infringement of each work and $150,000 of each willful infringement. (Emerson, 2009)
However, a recent study endorsed by Columbia University entitled ‘Copy Culture’ (Karaganis & Remkema, 2013), has shown that despite the risk of such punishment, over 46% of the population of the USA has copied, shared or downloaded music, movies, TV shows or videogames. Additionally, only 11% of those when asked deemed the practice to be morally ‘reasonable’. So why then do people continue to steal digital media? What is the industry’s response, and is there in fact any justification for such practices?

Video game publishers claim that piracy will be the undoing of the modern media industry. But is piracy really the problem they claim, or do its methods actually spread the influence of artistic expression, suggesting a more democratic future for the way media is published. Is it in fact the publishers who cause more harm than the pirates? I feel that despite its drawbacks, piracy is beneficial as it entices more convenient distribution of products, helps market and promote the games of small developers, and gives gamers a way to protest the unethical practices of large publishers.

One important characteristic about piracy is that it isn’t done just for the sake of getting something for free, but instead is also a matter of convenience. I have written before about the nightmarish Digital Rights Management (DRM) software that publishers are currently employing to check the validity of software- everything from requiring a constant online connection, to limiting the number of installs before software becomes unusable. Consider also the piracy of old games no longer on sale – a practice referred to as emulation. When a consumer wants to buy a product but the seller is literally making it impossible, is this justification for turning towards piracy?

"In my opinion, the amount of piracy is equal to how easy the pirating is, and the game developer has nothing to do with it. [Piracy is] definitely more easy than setting up an account on iTunes or Google Play, filling out large forms and answering all security questions." Marek Rabas (Gauntlett, 2012)

Online file sharing has been around ever since the first internet modems were made available to the public, and these methods that were once the exclusive ‘trade routes’ of pirates have now found themselves to be more and more an important part of the legal distribution chain. So much so that some developers are considering doing away with traditional boxed retail altogether to save on the associated overheads. With services now available including Itunes for music, Netflix for film and TV, and Steam catering to gamers, high street stores continue to close in light of falling revenues. The case can be argued that illegal file sharing was just the collective subconscious way of saying ‘this is how we want our content delivered’ - the precursor to today’s much more successful and efficient business model.
Further evidence of this desire for convenience is found in the ‘Copy Culture’ report regarding television programme consumption. US viewers have more legal options than their German counterparts – including streaming services such as Netflix etc. As a result, they found that among young people, 57% of TV and movie files owned by Americans aged 18-29 were illegally sourced, compared to 71% among Germans. (Karaganis & Remkema, 2013)

Publisher Ubisoft says piracy of their games on PC is between 93-95%. Ubisoft are also one of the publishers most commonly associated with incorporating DRM. Meanwhile Polish developer Cd Projekt claim that when they released a DRM free version of ‘The Witcher’, piracy dropped to a ratio of 5:1 – about 83% . This is still very high, but suggests some small link between ease of use and piracy rate. Additionally, CEO Marchin Iwinski goes on to state: ‘DRM does not work and however you would protect it, it will be cracked in no time. Plus, the DRM itself is a pain for your legal gamers - this group of honest people, who decided that your game was worth the 50 USD or Euro and went and bought it. Why would you want to make their lives more difficult?’ (Cushing, 2011)

In the ‘Copy Culture’ report, (Karaganis, 2012) the Author reports that US music downloaders buy 30% more digital music legally than their non-downloading friends and as a rule consumed significantly more music overall. This suggests something interesting- that pirates aren’t merely freeloaders, but are rather just an untapped source of paying customers- a market yet to be cracked. A small number of independent developers are making pioneering efforts to actually connect with pirates rather than vilify them, and are seeing surprisingly positive results. ‘Mcpixel’ is a game created by Sos Sosowski, and in 2012 was the first game ever intentionally released for free on notorious torrent website ‘The Pirate Bay’. Offering a link to his website and a pay-what-you-want donation button, he managed to effectively sell over 100 copies to those who would otherwise have never played, nor even heard of his game. (Mataluf, 2012)

Developer tinyBuild saw a marked increase in sales when they tried a similar strategy. "You can't really stop piracy," they said "all you can do is make it work for you and/or provide something that people actually want to pay for." (Priestman, 2012). One of the biggest problems faced by independent developers is getting the exposure necessary to generate sales. With the resurgence of the so called bedroom coder in the internet era, thousands of new games and developers enter the market every year, and just as many are forced to leave when they fail to make any impact. By embracing piracy as a marketing tool, canny developers are making their names known, generating goodwill and recognition among gamer communities, which in turn not only leads to new sales opportunities, but more importantly awareness for their upcoming projects.
Some developers don’t even necessarily do it for the money- some just do it purely for love of the industry. Jonatan Söderström went so far as to provide tech support to pirates of his game Hotline Miami, when they couldn’t get pirated versions to work properly. “Feel free to buy the game if you like it,” Söderström said. “I know what it’s like not having money though.” (Bishop, 2012)

The arguments against piracy are most prominent from the large scale publishers with revenues in the billions of dollars. But do these publishers actually bring the worst of it upon themselves? For the second year in a row, The Consumerist magazine has rated publishing giants EA as the worst company in the world, recieving 64.03% of 250,000 votes, beating out Bank of America for the number one spot. Gamers have a poor opinion of the company, believing that it willfully sacrifices quality and value for short-term profit. EA’s ‘Sim City’ released in March 2013 is the latest example of terrible release ethics and post production DRM problems. Requiring a constant online presence (for a game series traditionally associated with solo, offline play) the game was unplayable upon launch, with insufficient server allocation to cope with the large volume of online traffic. Review aggregate site Metacritic at one point scored the game at 2.7% based on average user review scores. Those who bought the game in stores were able to return it, but those who purchased online were unable, leading to the suspension of sales on Amazon. If this is the current state of the industry, why risk buying a game that might be broken when you can just eliminate that risk by taking it for free. It doesn’t justify theft, but isn’t putting salt water in a bottle and selling it as miracle elixir also theft?

EA tries to pass the buck of being voted worst company- not from its poor sales ethos and customer services, but having the audacity to blame conservative groups who dislike the companies pro LGBT games. (Two of the company’s recent successful games, ‘Mass Effect 3’ and ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’ allowed the player to start virtual romances as part of the games branching storyline- the gender of these partners was left up to the players discretion, in no way being forced on the player). To blame the entire public opinion on such a specific reason which would have offended a small minority is not only ludicrous, but typical of corporate marketing spin.
According to IndustryGamers.com, the Sims 3 was illegally downloaded around 200,000 times prior to the game’s release – but former EA CEO John Riccitiello doesn’t mind.
Astoundingly, Riccitiello himself endorsed piracy of EA’s games: “By the way, if there are any pirates you're writing for, please encourage them to pirate FIFA Online, NBA Street Online, Battleforge, Battlefield Heroes... if they would just pirate lots of it I'd love them. [laughs] Because what's in the middle of the game is an opportunity to buy stuff.” He contines to say “Do you think Blizzard gets upset when someone pirates a disc of one of their online games? While we don't want to see people pirate ‘Warhammer Online’, if they're going to give us a year's subscription it's not exactly a total loss.” (Brightman, 2009) So its not just the independant developer who sees the benefits of piracy- even the publishers most against it are savvy enough to turn it into a money making opportunity.

Although publishers such as EA often focus on their games being downloaded and played for free, there is another somewhat more reprehensible form of piracy that has found its way creeping into the industry in recent years- rather than the ‘Robin Hood’ piracy of merely sharing files for free on-line, some unscrupulous game developers have taken to copying the work of their peers and rereleasing it for profit, usually only thinly veiled under a new name or art style, if at all. Independent developer Zeptolab has faced this problem with its popular mobile game ‘Cut the Rope’. They say that many illegal downloads of their products are from ‘unwitting pirates’, making an honest mistake and unaware that they had been led to bootleg copies of the game. They claim their problems stem mainly from the Android store, and as such have declined to release their latest products on Android enabled devices.

The trouble is- this practice of idea theft is hard to effectively punish. Not only are the tens of thousands of Apps on the Itunes and Android stores notoriously difficult to regulate, but many of those infringing games are technically not breaking any laws. The Computer Software Act of 1980 granted copyright protection for software. However, it only protected from copying, not from independently developing the same or similar programs (Emerson, 2009). An example? ‘Angry Birds’. With over 1.7 billion downloads and 12 million sales on the iTunes store alone, as well as lucrative merchandising deals and a feature film in pre-production, ‘Angry birds’ is the dream come true for previously little known Finnish developer Rovio. It also features exactly the same gameplay mechanics as ‘Crush the Castle’, developed by Armor Games and released a year before, but with trebuchets and knights replaced with cartoon birds and pigs.
Is this a crime? Maybe not. Does that make it any less reprehensible? Definitely not.
But why then do I defend one type of piracy (to an extent) whilst vilifying the other. Tommy Refenes, Developer of the hugely successful indie game ‘Super Meat Boy’ sums up the situation perfectly:

‘Team Meat shows no loss in our year end totals due to piracy and neither should any other developer. Loss due to piracy is an implied loss because it is not a calculable loss. You cannot, with any accuracy, state that because your game was pirated 300 times you lost 300 sales. You cannot prove even one lost sale because there is no evidence to state that any one person who pirated your game would have bought your game if piracy did not exist. From an accounting perspective it’s speculative and a company cannot accurately determine loss or gain based on speculative accounting.’ (Cushing 2013)

By this logic, the arguments made by EA, Ubisoft and their ilk, claiming for lost revenue is rendered toothless. The same cannot be said however for companies like Rovio. Whilst their Angry Birds was a rare case of the copycat outselling the original (and perhaps admittedly, being the superior product), is it not worse that many small developers are having actual tangible sales taken away not by consumer pirates, but by their supposed peers in the industry?
When questioned on their stance on using DRM to combat piracy, Zeptolab CEO Misha Lyalin commented that many of the strategies would not be user friendly, or wouldn’t meet the company’s quality standards. Rather than trying to tackle pirates directly they choose instead to alter their business model, using ads and in App purchases to generate revenue. (Gauntlett, 2012)
Although some developers have embraced the possibilities of accepting piracy as a business tool, it would be unfair to imply that this was a universal or even a majority opinion, just like it would be unfair to imply that piracy is harmless mischief rather than a genuine crime. Cliff Harris of Positech states "The positive effects of [piracy] are surely outweighed by those people who live in the relatively affluent west. They have broadband internet and a decent gaming PC (all paid for) but will make the argument that they are as poor as the kid in a third world country. People do an amazing amount of dodgy rationalising when it comes to justifying getting free stuff." (Priestman 2012)

The issue of piracy is so contentious simply because no one can agree on just how damaging it actually is. Publishers argue that they lose millions of dollars in revenue, industry insiders claim that this is mere fear-mongering in an attempt to control consumer’s wallets as well as their playing habits, whilst small developers claim it to be a vital if unorthodox marketing tool. No doubt the act itself is a crime. But where do you draw the line? Is listening to a copyrighted song on Youtube a punishable offence? Does listening to music on Pandora deny artists of sales? What constitutes idea theft in the games industry, and what constitutes healthy evolution? And when a crime is so pervasive in an industry, either the industry is flawed, human nature itself must be held accountable. People are lazy- hence the popularity of ordering online rather than walking to the store; and people like to get things for free. If it’s genuinely easier to steal something than to actually buy it, then you can’t blame people for going with their nature. Instead, publishers should be held accountable for their own inability to protect their produce. You can’t accuse them not trying - experimentation with Digital Rights Management technology continues to evolve, albeit in ways more and more infuriating to the legitimate customer. However, when data suggests that 90 percent of software activations are pirated, perhaps they might be barking up the wrong tree altogether?

So how do you combat piracy? Tommy Refenes, of Team Meat thinks he knows the answer: ‘People have to WANT to buy your software, people have to WANT to support you. People need to care about your employees and your company’s well being. There is no better way to achieve that than making sure what you put out there is the best you can do and you treat your customers with respect’. (Priestman, 2012)

On writing this essay, I tried to prove three things- piracy is beneficial as it entices more convenient distribution of products; it helps market and promote the games of small developers, and it gives gamers a way to protest the unethical practices of large publishers. One thing I think everyone could agree on though- no matter what side of the fence you fall on, no one wants their work to be so bad that no one will even try to steal it.

Emerson, R. W. (2009). Barron’s business law. Fifth edition. Hauppauge, NY: Barron’s Educational Series.

Bishop, R. (2012, 26th Oct). ‘Hotline Miami Developer Finds Game on Pirate Bay, Provides Technical Support to Downloaders’. Geekosystem LLC. Retrieved from www.geekosystem.com

Brightman, J. (2009, 22nd June) Interview: John Riccitiello on E3, Fighting Piracy, Metacritic and More’. Industrygamers Inc. Retrieved from www.industrygamers.com

Cushing, T. (2011, 2nd Dec) ‘Despite being Pirated 4.5 Million Times, ‘Withcer 2’ Developer Refuses to Annoy Paying Customers with DRM. Floor64. Retrieved from www.techdirt.com

Cushing, T. (2013, 20th Mar) ‘Super Meat Boy Developer to EA: DRM Hurts your Bottom Line More Than Piracy Does’. Floor64. Retrieved from www.techdirt.com

Gauntlett, A (2012, 3rd Aug). ‘Popular Android Dev Blasts Pirates for Forcing Him Freemium’.
Alloy Digital LLC. Retrieved from www.escapistmagazine.com

Gauntlett, A (2012, 22nd Aug). ‘Ubisoft Puts PC Piracy Rate at 93 – 95%’. Alloy Digital LLC. Retrieved from www.escapistmagazine.com

Gauntlett, A (2012, 21nd Aug). ‘Cut The Rope Developer Speaks out on Piracy Problem’. Alloy Digital LLC. Retrieved from www.escapistmagazine.com

Karaganis, J & Remkema, L. (2013) ‘Copy Culture in the US and Germany’. Columbia University. Retrieved from www.piracy.americanassembly.org

Liddle, J. (2012, 26th Nov) ‘Skull and Crossbones Vandalise Studio Games’. YoYoGames
Retrieved from www.gamemakerblog.com

Matulef, J. (2012, 8th September) ‘McPixel is the First Game Endorsed by The Pirate Bay following Developer Support’. DX.NET. Retrieved from www.eurogamer.net

Priestman, C. (2012, 24th Feb) ‘Should More Indie Developers be Saying ‘Just Pirate It’?’ DX.NET. Retrieved from www.eurogamer.net

Unknown Author. (2013, 12th Feb) ‘Game Developer connects with Pirates, Sees massive Support and Deletion of Torrents’. Floor64. Retrieved from www.techdirt.com

In a story published on Eurogamer today, D3 publisher has officially announced EDF 4. No details or screenshots as of yet, but good to know theres more insect exterminating fun on the way.

A teaser site for the game recently went online here: http://www.d3p.co.jp/edf4/

After the somewhat abysmal EDF: Insect Armageddon (read my thoughts here: http://www.destructoid.com/blogs/michaelarby/from-an-edf-fan-insect-armageddon-utter-crap--207291.phtml) it remains to be seen if this game is being made by original developers Sandlot. Hopefully so, as much of the series' charm was lost in translation when handed over to western developer Viscious Cycle for EDF: IA.

Ill be keeping a close eye on every scrap of news that comes available for this- most importantly whether or not it gets a western release!

I've been playing a lot of Mass Effect 3 recently. Nothing particularly enlightening about that- I'm sure I wasnt the only one. But apart from not importing my character (at all), the whole ending debacle I've heard all about, and several other niggly issues I cant be bothered mentioning now- the main thing stopping me from liking this game is that its just too damn difficult! Sure I'll complete it, but I bloody well wont enjoy it!

Think back to the last hard game you played. Was it Modern Warefare 3 on Veteran? GOW on Insanity? Dark Souls on well, normal? All difficult games, but not unfairly so- these games required skill, patience, common sense- you got better at the games the more you played them, learned their rules and generally knew what do do if you wanted to survive the next encounter.

Now think of those others such as Star Wars: Force Unleashed, Infamous, Dead Space 2, Jak 3 (yes JAK 3 I'll explain in a minute!) or whatever else was your personal videogaming hell. For me, as mentioned its Mass Effect 3. These were difficult for different reasons. Not because they required skill- not because they wanted to challenge you. No- they were simply... wankers.....

Some context- I'm an achievement whore. I like going for as many points as I can. Not usually the full 1000, but as close as possible. I'm also a busy guy, so I dont often have time for repeat playthroughs. I always play on the highest difficulty setting right off the bat. Takes a bit of getting used to at first, but its fine.

So I stuck on ME3 on Inferno and on average have spend about 3 hours on each combat mission because its just so infuriatingly, unfairly difficult.

I know what you're thinking- 'PUSSY!!!!' Right?

Probably. But I've been gaming all my life and rarely do games trouble me so. Its led me to believe that there are two fundamental difficulty level approaches employed in games- one of which is a pain in the ass but ultimately rewarding, worth persevering through for the sense of achievement it brings; the other infuriating, joyless, causing a boiling fury of rage and hatred and controller throwing madness as you fantasise about putting your fist through your expensive 32 inch plasma!

Respectively, I call these 'Skill' hard' and 'Wanker' Hard.

Mass Effect 3 is 'Wanker' Hard. Why? Picture the scene: Im fighting off the 20th cerberus Centurion. This battle has raged on for twenty minutes (without a checkpoint) as I slowly whittle away the enemies health before they send in another 5 goons. Im in a room 50 yards long, and hiding behind cover. Another centurion enters the far end of the room. Barely half a second passes- without the AI taking the time to scan the room and locate me- without me even popping up from behind cover to give my location away, a grenade lands at my feet. Not the other side of the wall- my side. At my feet. So I roll out of cover away from the galaxies most accurately thrown grenade, (number 372). Whereby another enemy, who came from behind me unnanounced, strips me of health. Down I go. twenty minutes of my life wasted. Again.

Thats basically my whole experience of Mass Effect 3 summed up in one paragraph. Enemies storm forwards, shrugging off full clips of ammunition until they are on top of me, meanwhile as many more stay back lobbing grenades and shooting. I cant stay in hiding. Nor can I change position. My only option is to die. Unfairly. The game isnt difficult because I'm bad at the game- the game is difficult because frankly, its being a wanker. Its imbalanced. Its unfair. Its broken.

Jak 3- tiny platforms to navigate and jump across, but I cant simply turn on the spot- the animation always moves me a few feet, usually off the edge to my death. Again. Wheres the fun in that?

Infamous- I'm soo weak and underpowered compared to the several thousand binmen who can shoot me with a machine gun from a rooftop 200 yards away. Wheres the fun in that?

Force Unleashed- I'm strong and overpowered, except all the enemies are immune to my powers. And suddenly the lightsaber- coolest and deadliest weapon EVAAAR, is about as mighty as a wet toilet roll. Wheres the fun in that?

Dead Space 2- Take Dead Space 1, turn it into an action game but dont give the player an action game control scheme. Have twice as many enemies charging at you, but without upping the characters aim or movement speed to compensate. Wheres the fun in that I say!

Compare these examples with something like Gears of War 3. Insanity on GOW3 is hard. Very hard. But not unfair. If you pop your head out of cover for too long, you will get shot. Action, and its consequence. But you wont have grenades land at your feet, as you get sniped, as you have several enemies come to melee distance. Epic have polished their game to keep the AI fair - it still takes clips of ammo to kill an enemiy, but you'll get the time to shoot all those clips if you're patient. You'll still die easily, but you wont die if youre careful.

Same for Demons Souls- If you let your guard down for a second, you'll die. If you challenge an enemy too powerful, you'll die.... If... Thats the key- The enemy wont unfairly kill you with an unblockable attack, the enemies wont all charge at you the instant you enter the map. The game is fair. The game is playable. The game is beatable- The game is fun.

I think ultimately its a QA issue. Those games that are more refined and polished are in general more enjoyable and less infuriating. Some 'Wanker Hard' games are hard because the developers adjust a few sliders- enemies have more health, you have less etc. Other games are glitched or poorly coded- Dark Void, a game I otherwise very much enjoyed, still angered me when my health was depleted during a QTE- I was getting shot, whilst I wasnt in control - there is no justification for this.

I dont know that this essay will achieve anything. Its not gonna change the status quo of the industry and you might not even agree. Im just glad I got this issue off my chest.

This is an essay I was tasked to write for my 2nd year animation module in University, taking a brief look at an animation topic of my choice. By chance I had come across a few bits and bobs about 60′s pop culture, and decided that could be worth a look. Its by no means comprehensive- I had a 1000 word limit, but figured some of you guys might enjoy it:

Television changed things. Not just for animation- for the entire entertainment and cultural spectrum. In 1964 an estimated 90 percent of homes in America had a television- compared with just 0.5 percent following World War II. Television became the number one form of entertainment in the modern world- surpassing reading or listening to the radio, and causing a dramatic downturn in movie theatre attendance.

It was in the 1960s, some 30 years after the first national television broadcasts, that it’s potential as a medium for animation was first properly explored. Children made up a much larger audience demographic than first anticipated, and TV executives were keen to capitalise on it. Across the world studios were established to meet head on the possibilities and problems presented by Television.

The major problem facing studios was budget. In America, the typical budget for a televised short was about $3,000- about ten percent of what was usually given to a theatrical feature of the same length. The situation in the East was even more dire- before the War, it was often cheaper to import features from the west, than to produce them domestically, so studios in Japan tended towards small, low key productions. After the War, in a period of stoic nationalism where foreign influences were banned, native studios began to flourish, but still struggled with the same impossibly low budgets.

One western studio determined to succeed in the difficult but promising industry was H-B Enterprises, better known today as ‘Hanna Barbera’. Formed in 1957 by veterans of theatrical animation, H-B revolutionised the field of animation with a variety of cost effective time saving measures that would come to be known as ‘limited animation’, a process still used by the majority of animators today. By only animating certain parts of a character in motion, such as an arm or head on a stationary body, features could be created on television budgets.

Huckleburry Hound- Note the Bowtie, separating the head from the body, allowing each to be animated separately

These methods were not without their critics however, Chuck Jones of Warner brothers described their cartoons as ‘Illustrated radio’, whilst Disney commented that ‘They didn’t even see them as competition.’ Despite this, H-B Enterprises were the only studio hiring in the sixties, and their accelerated production schedule allowed them to produce a roster of some 2000 characters throughout the studio’s lifetime.

Part of Hanna-Barbera's extensive character roster

Disney themselves never devoted much of their resources to Television animation- instead producing live action series such as Zorro, or hosting their own classic shorts and feature length animations on the ‘Disneyland’ show, which broadcast until 2008. The show was revamped several times throughout its history, and in 1961 changed network to NBC- the first to broadcast in colour, and was even hosted by Walt Disney himself until his death in 1966. It wouldn’t be until the 1990s that Disney would take a serious stake in the TV animation market, with classic shows such as Gargoyles, Recess and the Rescue Rangers- but that’s another story for another time.

DIsney's Zorro

Meanwhile, back in the East, the industry was being remade by a figure now legendary in anime circles- Osamu Tezuka. Tezuka’s first manga work appeared just months after the end of the war, and his hugely successful series Tetsuwan Atomu (Known in the West as ‘Astroboy’) holds the distinction of being the first animated production broadcast on Japanese TV. Astroboy was an interesting case- the story of a nuclear powered robot boy facing oppression and prejudice from his human neighbours, struck an unlikely chord with an audience still very much coming to terms with the devastation of the atomic bomb.

Osamu Tezuka's 'Astro Boy'Osamu Tesuka, the 'God of Manga'

Thanks to Tezuka, the Japanese anime and manga industries shared a much closer correlation than in the west- with artists often working on both animated and printed content. Today this link can best be observed in how animated adaptations of comics differ between America and Japan- According to Christopher Hart in his book ‘Manga Mania’, in the west, the idea is that a more fluid motion makes for a ‘better’ animation, so characters adapted form other media are drawn with greater simplicity allowing them to be animated more easily. In the east, greater emphasis is placed on preserving the subtlety and integrity of the original comic book drawings, at the expense of fluid motion. (This helped to later enforce the mecha genre as a staple of 70’s anime output- robots being less mobile and therefore simpler to animate than humans.) Tezuka trained many young manga artists still working today and is credited with writing the first ‘How to draw Manga’ book- his legacy living on with as much gravitas as that of Walt Disney himself.

Mobile Suit Gumdam- A highly successful entry in the mecha genre that would prove popular in the 70's

Cultural differences between the East and West resulted in widely differing stances of what was deemed suitable viewing for children – In Japan violence and even death were an accepted part of anime. This contrasts with the American view that the audience were to young to deal with topics such as death, Tezuka’s Astroboy being the first of many imported cartoons to receive cuts for violence and tone. Even domestic productions- H-B’s own Space Ghost and Frankenstein Jr, tame by Japanese standards, were eventually brought off air by pressure from parents groups.

Despite this, the 60’s saw the introduction of The Flintstones, Hanna Barbera’s first cartoon with more grown up sensibilities. Scripted like a traditional sitcom the Flintstones combined animated slapstick with clever adult humour and situations, resulting in a series popular with audiences of all ages- a precursor to modern animated greats such as The Simpsons and Family Guy.

The Flintstones paved the way for grown up humour in animation

Following the 60’s animation as an industry continued to grow- better budgets were allocated, shows became more complex, and anime would take on mainstream cultural approval in the East. The lessons and experiences of the experimental swinging sixties still have a lasting effect on the industry today, from the retro stylings of Dexters Laboratory and the Powerpuff girls, to the techniques employed in modern flash animation.

The Powerpuff Girls were strongly influenced by the stylings of the early Hanna Barbera cartoons

So much more could be said about this important era in animation history that a mere thousand words just isn’t enough- we didn’t even get to discuss the introduction of Scooby Doo, or touch upon what was happening in theatres (One hundred and one Dalmations by Disney, 1961), or other parts of the world besides America and Japan, or look more in depth at how the liberal, experimental counter cultures could have effected animation, and perhaps vice versa. For now let’s just accept that the sixties were a time of great change for the industry, perhaps more so than any other.

NB: All images ripped shamelessly from google images. Ta

First of all- let me say that I am a huge Earth Defence Force fan- I spent countless hours honing tactics and learning the intricacies of the previous two games, so this review is biased compared to if I had never played the series before. I would also add that this review is more orientated to fellow fans of the series wanting to pick this one up.

In brief: If you're new to the series, pick it up- you'll probably enjoy it, and hopefully it will tempt you to try the other older games. If you're not new to the series, then avoid this game. It pales in comparison to the others. Sad, but true.

Why do I say this? Well please allow me to explain the changes which I personally feel have hindered rather than helped this entry- I imagine a lot of this will apply to you too.

Firstly- Graphics. Or to put it another way- style. In theory, EDF:IA is an improvement over the previous game, EDF 2017. The graphics are higher res, the framerate smoother and everything has been given more polish. But thats the problem- the charm of the old game's naff visuals have been totally lost, leaving a flat, generic visual style, totally unremarkable in todays gaming culture.

Lets compare the two:
- in EDF 2017, the comically bad physics provided unexpected joy when you could literally send a giant ant flying 500 feet through the air with a shotgun blast. The explosions, whilst not technically beautiful, felt like they had real weight, often lingering and filling the screen, shaking the camera. In addition- the EDF trooper was soo charmingly mediocre (he literally looked like a Kwik Fit mechanic with a crash helmet), that it added to the games goofy offbeat style.
-In EDF:IA, by comparison, the explosions are dissapointing feeble, enemies fizzle away as soon as they are killed, and our trusty mechanic has been replaced by four power armoured soldiers. Granted, these armours do look great, but power armour space marines are soo overdone in todays games that they lose all impact and just look dirivitive. In another game they would fit better, but not in EDF.

Now onto the meaty part- the actual gameplay. It left a bitter taste in my mouth when I finished the game after just 2 days- the 50+ quickfire, almost puzzle-like missions of EDF2017 have been replaced by 15 twenty minute long missions, all taking place in the same generic looking city environment. Additionally, the number of difficulties have been reduced from 5 to 3.
These longer maps do not benefit the gameplay very much- the objectives basically ammount to fighting off different waves of enemies, and given the games focus on repeated play and grinding to improve our character, artificially increasing stage length only detriments the balance.

Of further detriment is how the enemy spawning is handled- in 2017, a great sense of panic was often created when dozens of enemies suddenly spawned at the start of the stage and rushed towards you. In Insect Armageddon this has been adapted so that perhaps a few dozen will spawn at once, and each time one is killed another will spawn in its place until a set number are killed and the wave is destroyed. You can see the problem here- whereas previously special care had to be taken with weapon choice, and strategic movement to counter the enemies approach (the puzzle-like element I mentioned before), here its basically a case of choose your most powerful rocket launcher and hold the fire button until the enemies stop spawning. It stops being a fight for survival against an approaching horde, and becomes a war of attrition, seeing who can frankly be bothered for longest.

The enemies themselves are pretty underwhelming- particularly the spiders, which previously could make a grown man gibber like a baby when they appeared on the map, are now merely cannon fodder- again this is largely due to the issue of how they spawn one by one rather than all at once. There are also fewer enemy types than before, and they all seem to be shoved in your face right at the beginning of the game, rather than introducing them as fresh elements as the game progresses. remember in 2017 how there were at least half a dozen levels before the first Hector robot appeared, and when it did the stakes felt as if they had been upped significantly? In Insect armageddon, Hectors are introduced on the very first level, and appear on most thereafter, which lessens their impact, and serves only to make the levels feel too similar to each other, as opposed again to the unique puzzles that were provided in the older games. And to elaborate on this point its worth mentioning that all levels take place in the same city environment- the caves, beaches and mountains of the previous games are gone, making the game feel repetitive, and the scale of the alien invasion feels much smaller.

Lets talk about the classes. In insect Armageddon, there are four character classes, each of which can use 4 or 5 different types of weapons, and have unique abilities- one can fly, the other can place turrets, one has more health etc. For the record- I really like how the class system was introduced and the diffrent ways of play that each allows. This is one of the few steps forward that this game makes, though even that isnt perfect- Apart from the jet class, all teh others are basically just the same guy from 2017, but with different abilities removed- weapon types, turrets etc. Also, for balancing issues, you now no longer increase your max HP by collecting armour pickups. Instead, each class has an experience level from 1 to 8 which provides a set boost to HP each time you increase. It works sort of similarly to the old system- you collect exp instead of armour pickups, and the health boost is a large boost rather than a slow trickle. It makes sense this way of course- it meant the developers could always keep the 'Heavy' class with the higher HP advantage over the more nimble Jetpack Class, for example. But when you max your class and theres still a lot of grinding to be done to complete levels or track down weapons, removing this 'instant micro reward' of a few extra HP makes the process a little bit more tedious. I'll admit though that this is a minor issue, one that niggles me rather than actually detriments the game- not so much as the other issues ive mentioned anyway.

As for weapons- well theres something... I've yet to decide upon really. Remember I said each class has a rank from 1 to 8, and gain exp for killing enemies? well now you also gain cash, and most weapons can only be purchased and used once you reach a high enough rank. Again, I quite like this system- I'll admit its a bit different than we're used to but it still maintains the sense of gaining power the more you play- the weapons fall into classes as before- assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, and each is basically an upgraded, more powerful version of the one before. One advantage of the shop system is that you can save your cash and buy a powerful weapon, rather than having 20 obsolete models in your inventory (they cant be sold back, if you're wondering). Another is that it removes the frustration of 2017 where you would spend hours looting the random weapon drops looking for a partcualar weapon. Oh, actually wait a minute- no it doesnt.

Yes, random weapon drops return in EDF:IA.

Approximately a third of the 300 weapons are found from enemies, rather than bought in the shop. Again, these are limited to certain class levels, so finding them doesnt mean you can use them right away. Im glad this feature was retained, as it was part of the heart and soul of what makes an EDF game, though like so many other things in this installment, the developers just didnt seem to 'get it'. Remember again how I mentioned levels were now up to 20 minutes long? and longer on higher difficulties? Well that is of course detrimental to the grinding process where you quickly need to loot and reloot until luck is on your side and fate grants you that almighty bazooka you were waiting for. This would be bad enough, except for one GLARING error on the developers part- now, only boss enemies drop weapons. In EDF if you had the patience you could kill wave after wave of enemies, collecting multitudes of weapon drops in the hope of getting something new. Here, only the one or two boss enemies drop weapons, which are of course random- theres no guarantee you get anything new. Combine the length of time per level with the miniscule number of weapon pickup chances and you can see how the grinding process has now taken a turn for the ridiculous.
Perhaps this system could have been refined- for example you would always obtain a new weapon corresponding to your difficulty level, until you collected them all and only obtained duplicates thereafter. At least that way the time invested in playing would be rewarded.

The developers should be commended for introducing online Co-op mode to the game- this is the one feature that everyone wanted in EDF 2017. Offline splitscreen also returns (though the developers deserve a hefty slap for originally deciding to remove it). Players can now revive each other if they die, which is good, especially online where it would suck to have to sit there whislt another guy from god knows where has all the fun finishing the level without you.

To increase longevity the developers also included a survival mode, where players try to last as long as they can against wave after wave of opponents. A nice addition, but when you play it you are restricted to the vanilla soldier class, can only pick from certain weapons, AND DO NOT GAIN EXP or cash, rendering the whole thing a bit of a waste of time really.

That about covers it I think. All in all this is game is a disappointment- a halfassed effort from a seemingly lazy developer. A few other minor features have been added which do improve the gameplay- a sprint ability, and you can now reload at any time- these are some of the few features which I would hope are taken from this mess and used in the next EDF game. Otherwise this one does nothing but detract from the series, and I would strongly advise (if you havnt gathered by now) that you avoid this game and go back and play EDF2017, or play Global Defence Force on PS2.