EGX Rezzed 2018 Review

I just attended the Rezzed games event in London for the first time. This is a spin-off from the main EGX (originally, the Eurogamer Expo) with a primary focus on indie games. It also seeks to attract young budding games-makers and journalists to the industry. The weekend had a very relaxed theme and people were immensely friendly. The location in London’s Tobacco Dock was also well-ventilated (very important when there are lots of gamers), there wasn’t much queuing required (often none), and it made for a thoroughly pleasant experience for a Spring weekend.

There were a number of games that I enjoyed both playing, and looking at. Here are some of my highlights:

Onrush

Codemasters.com

There were, of course, smatterings of “triple A” titles, and the one which I enjoyed the most was a racing game developed by Codemasters called Onrush. This was a fast-based arcade-style racing game with various types of vehicles on a hilly terrain and it was setup as a 6vs6 competition in the expo. It reminded me of the Excitetruck remake on Nintendo Wii and MotorStorm on Playstation. The gameplay was very crisp, and it was obvious that the makers have put a lot of time testing the game to make sure it plays beautifully. The soundtrack was outstanding too. The release date is 5th June 2018.

Homo Machina

http://www.homomachina-game.com/

This gorgeous 2D exploration game from Darjeeling Productions is inspired by the medical illustrations of Dr Fritz Kahn. Think of the concept of the Pixar film “Inside Out” with tiny little humanoids controlling your actions. I just wanted to watch the game, can’t wait for it to come out on mobile and tablet formats.

Bad North

https://www.badnorth.com/

This game caught my eye in the Nintendo Switch section (though it will be released on all formats) – a compact little real-time strategy game on rotatable islands inhabited by humble island dwellers who are under attack from Vikings. It may look simplistic but the minimalist charm and movements (e.g. the way the arrows and rain drop) were zen bliss.

Phogs

Image: Bitloomgames.com

This was such a wacky offering from Bitloom Games – you and a friend control a double-ended dog as you solve puzzles on various floating islands, with the aim being to feed a giant worm with either an acorn or a globe-shaped light bulb (!) The cooperative mechanic (both players sharing one controller) was amongst the finest I have every played, and the lovely pastel colours were joyful to look at. Loved it!

Me sitting on some Phogs-theme upholstery

Strange Brigade

Image: Strangebrigade.com

This cooperative third-person shooter by Rebellion Developments had an exuberant 1930s theme to it, I played a level as one of four diverse heroes fighting hordes of mythic beings in some kind of Egyptian setting. The visuals were stunning and the gameplay mechanics felt great, but the main attraction of the game was the over-the-top British pulp style narration.

Knights and Bikes

http://foamswordgames.com/

This hand-painted game set on a British island seemed to have an ET/Stranger Things/Super8 style theme to it, with an 80s feel and coming-of-age theme. In the small part that I watched, there was a clear emotional underpinning to the game which suggests a lot of heart has been put into the writing and design.

The Leftfield Collection

There were some awesome little indie games in the Leftfield Room – the ones which stood out for me were Wobble Garden:  a spring and light based installation which provided a sensory experience unlike any other game I’d played before. Haiku Adventure had a beautiful Japanese ukiyo-e inspired landscape scene in a puzzle game which seemed to involve using Haiku to chill out a flock of assorted wildfowl.

Other Comments

The show also had some very nice retro games, and also had a few multiplayer units for games which had already been released. I particularly enjoyed re-awakening my old puzzling skills in Sega’s Puyo Puyo Tetris. My younger brother Sina The Doc, who first suggesting we attend this expo, also enjoyed meeting some of his podcasting heroes and had a go on a game which appears inspired by the classic Theme Hospital, Two Point Hospital:

My younger Brother on the left, Sina The Doc

A nice weekend, maybe I’ll come again next year!

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Isle of Dogs Review: A Ruff-around-the-edges treat for humans of all breeds

No Spoilers in this Review

Isle of Dogs is a surreal treat for humans of all breeds. Could this stop-motion dog-themed movie set in a future Japan be the flick to get the mercurial Wes Anderson some long-awaited mainstream adoration?

I saw this film at a Preview Screening at a local Picturehouse Cinema, the fantastic CinemaCity in Norwich.

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A cute canine cast – from Metro Weekly Full Link

Plot and Themes (No Spoilers)

The plot, as already outlined in the trailer, centres around a young boy called Atari who arrives on an island full of junk to find his lost dog Spots. It’s not a simple boy-and-dog story, however as Wes Anderson and his writing collaborators Roman Coppola and Jason Schwarzmann have created a pacy critique on contemporary political lunacy set 20 years in the future. The underlying premise is that a disease called Dog Flu forces a Japanese provincial government to quarantine and remove all canines from the mainland. Atari ends up befriending a group of dogs on this Trash Island, including a lovingly characterised antihero called Chief, a stray voiced by Bryan Cranston. The rest of the story mixes broadish political commentary brush-strokes with heartstring-tugging momentsin a beautifully-realised world which left me itching to stay in my seat for another viewing.

The dogs speak American English, though the humans in Megasaki speak Japanese using simple expressions (and no subtitles) which are designed for the viewer to “get the gist of”. This is a fascinating idea which almost works, though there just doesn’t seem to be any obvious reason for it. I do wonder whether Anderson could have predicted the social media uproar about stereotyping Japanese culture, however well-intentioned his homage appears to be.

Cultural appropriation aside, it is hard to avoid the word “quirky” when describing a Wes Anderson flick, and yes the film does have an eccentric narrative. But this is the closest I’ve ever felt emotionally engaged with a Wes Anderson film, where often I find his style and worldview a little too idiosyncratic to fully embrace the immersion his worlds entreat. In this offering, however, the emotional core of the film is studiously crafted, from the relationships between the human characters and between human and dog. There were a few sniffles in the theater.

Visuals
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A panorama of Megasaki – from It’s Nice That Full Link

The stop-motion visuals are, predictably, stunning to look at. Anderson brought over a sizeable portion of the visuals team from his first animated effort Fantastic Mr. Fox to create a fictional Megasaki City using 240 sets and 130,000 stills. The result is a beautifully handmade-style film, and even the piles of garbage in Trash Island conjure a minimalist beauty. Together with more standard cartoon animated elements used for television clips and intriguing takes on classic Japanese artwork seen in various backdrops, this film really is gorgeous to look at.

As with Anderson’s previous work, everything on screen has been meticulously selected for inclusion. Even if the amount of content on the screen is often Spartan, there is still not enough time to take in all the little screen delights, so most viewers will be looking forward to DVD and Blu-Ray releases in order to ingest all the delicious treats that Wes Anderson throws.

Performances
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A typically stellar group of actors for Wes Anderson – From Foxsearchlight.com Full Link

This director knows a lot of people. The cast-list for Wes Anderson films can be farcically imposing, and this film is true to form. Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton… you get the picture. Special praise must go to young Canadian Koyu Rankin for his performance as 12-year-old Atari. As with Fantastic Mr. Fox, the voices of the actors resonate through the animated characters they portray and each role appears to be hand-crafted for the voice talent.

Soundtrack

If I’ve made it clear that the first star of this film are the visuals, the second is the music. There are classic tracks from Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and Drunken Angel films, together with psychedelic rock and swing jazz from the 1950s and 1960s. These are the dressing for a stunning original score from Alexandre Desplat, who just won an Oscar for his work on The Shape of Water. If you’ve heard his name prior to that, he also won an Oscar with another Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Taiko Drumming provides the centrepiece for the score, although there are some whimsical forays into dreamlike electronic music and more jazzy interludes. It is a triumph

Quirks
wes-anderson-isle-of-dogs-040.jpg

Pro-Dog protestors in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki – from technobuffalo.com Full link

The oddities in Wes Anderson films often provoke reactions similar to those toward a yeast extract spread. This film gave me moments of intense pleasure and annoyance, with the balance strongly in favour of the former. His labelling of items on the screen was pure pleasure for a cataloguing aficianado. As were the bizarre moments when characters wistfully looked into the distance. This happened once in the Fantastic Mr. Fox film when Mr.Fox suddenly stares at a wolf for no solid narrative reason. Why not? Similar scenes exist in this film, though not as indiscriminately.

Less successful was the reliance on sudden camera movements in the early parts of the film, whereby the only angle in which characters’ heads could move was 90 degrees, and usually in the direction of the viewer. It was the cinematic equivalent of the non-existent word überkook.

Overall
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Atari looks back at Rex, Boss and King – from thatericalper.com Full link

Anderson’s second animated offering is a cut above his first. It is a genuinely beautiful film which provides a lot of treats, though is ruff around the edges. The clumsy cultural tourism is outweighed by stunning visuals, fantastic performances and a beautiful soundtrack. Barring an upset, this ought to win the first Academy Award for Wes Anderson in 2019.

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Film Review – Black Panther

No significant spoilers in this review

I just saw the latest offering in the Marvel stable in IMAX 3D – Black Panther. Alongside Moon Knight and Hank Pym (who both suffer from inner demons), I’ve found the challenges of Black Panther one of the most interesting in the Marvel comics universe. Chiefly, his turmoil as he struggles with the duties of a king and his own personal values as a person and responsibilities to the world as a whole.

Black Panther from Captain America: Civil War. Source: Marvel.com

This is explored deftly in the new film, which gives us a socio-political quandary right at the beginning – can the isolated secret technology-rich African nation of Wakanda accept responsibility to the rest of the world (and its own continent) and open up, using its resources to help other peoples? It’s a real-life problem that many countries face, and is rendered more stark by the fact that the fictional nation of Wakanda is surrounded by poor neighbours.

Map and Location of Wakanda. Source: Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #12 (December 1983).

This is a great popcorn film, full of well-choreographed action sequences, stunning costumes and beautiful cinematography and computer-generated imagery. In particular, the combination of these during the fights in water at a cliff-edge were pure eye candy. It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed looking at a film so much, and the key feature here is the balance: there is never too much to see on the screen, but just enough for one to appreciate. I would highly recommend watching this film on an IMAX rather than standard screen, although the 3D elements of the film weren’t particularly crucial to the experience.

Cliff Edge water fight scene. Source: Nerdist.com, Marvel.com

The performances in the film were decent, though not perfect. Chadwick Boseman was very good as T’Challa, as were Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira as his warrior queen and general respectively. I didn’t quite find Letitia Wright’s Shuri as convincing, but that may be personal taste as she is a good actress in other films I’ve seen. Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi was outstanding, and this actor is quickly showing the range in his performances – from an excellent Black Mirror episode, to Sicario, to Get Out and now this performance laiden with subtleties. He’s come a looooong way since playing a pretty stereotyped London Nigerian parking attendant in Harry and Paul. I’ve loved Martin Freeman since his role in the UK’s Office but I found his Everett Ross performance a bit ham-fisted. Andy Serkis was outstandingly over the top as Ulysses Klaue and you can’t help to think he is wasted in his many motion capture roles, I want to see him on-screen! He reminded me of Sharlto Copley in District 9 except even more unhinged. Michael B Jordan as the thuggist Killmonger didn’t do it for me as a principal antagonist – I never felt invested in the character and why he turned out as he did, and was left thinking “What if Daniel Kaluuya had played this role…”. But this is a minor gripe given the variety of great performances throughout the cast.

Cast of Black Panther. Source: www.facebook.com/MarvelCinematicUniverse

My only other criticism of the film was that the humour wasn’t as up-there as I thought it would be – there was a particularly weak joke about “sneakers” which I’m sure was intended to be funny but the cinema was silent. This could be because I had been spoilt by Taika Waititi’s outstanding Thor:Ragnarok which had me in stitches from the beginning to the end. But the themes in this film are, perhaps, such that comedy isn’t really an important element to the story, whereas the third Thor outing had invested itself in being a comedy showpiece, which is executed expertly. In any case, I can’t complain as both films, and indeed so many of the recent Marvel Cinematic offerings, were pure entertainment. Indeed, this studio is struggling to put a foot wrong, with the exception of the absolutely awful Inhumans series.

I would thoroughly recommend this film as a piece of entertainment with some interesting questions throughout.

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I just wanted a mattress…

The health benefits of looking at videos of humours cats on facebook remain under-reported.  After a stressful day at work,  I was feasting on funny felines and generally enjoying life.

This put me in a relaxed mood, and a facebook advert of a mattress made me think “I really need a mattress for my flat”, as sleeping on the hard surface of a bed frame is uncomfortable.

The advert was for LEESA, a mattress which has three layers of foam! Support foam, memory foam and avena foam!  And it rolls in and and out a box!  Plus, I can try it for 100 nights and if I don’t want it they’ll just come round and pick it up again.

I thought “I’m getting this mattress and nothing and nobody is going to stop me”. I clicked on the link and was about to order the mattress when another advert came up on my facebook , from a young lady with inhumanly white teeth and shiny eyes:

This is the SIMBA, and has springs!

It also comes in a handy little box, and also has a 100-night sleep guarantee! Weird huh? OK the shiny teeth have sold it to me. Click to order, but WAIT! Here’s another mattress-in-a-box and this one is yellow! It’s called EVE:

I want it, because there aren’t enough yellow mattresses in the world. It’s also comprised of foam, has a 100-night sleep guarantee, and comes foldable in a box. That’s it, I’m sold, this one’s….. WTF?

Another one?!? CASPER? Also foldable foam mattress in a box and with a 100-night trial?!? The lady is meditating with lots of white balloons, and it’s named after a fucking friendly ghost. How could I choose anything else? But what the hell there’s another ghost-themed foldable foam-filled bed around and it’s called GHOSTBED. Are you shitting me? This time it’s got a 101 night trial (like a mini Arabian-nights)

This couple and their dog seem really happy about their Ghostbed.  A bit too happy… if you ask me.  They’re just having too much fun on a bed. These two look more serene in the scandinavian DREAM ZEBRA:

But if I’m getting a Scandinavian mattress, I want the world to know about it. What’s the point of getting something if it has a name, however cool it is, which doesn’t say “I’ve got Ice-Cold Scandinavian style”. Enter,  HÜGGE:

You’ll be AMAZINGLY surprised that this mattress also is foldable, has layers of foam, and has a 100-night trial. But what about the similarly-featured OTTY? This young lady looks content, at least:

And she even has mini-mattresses for her dogs:

OK this is getting sillly now, maybe I should just stick with something simple, like BRUNO?

“Sir, is this another foam-filled foldable boxed mattress with a 100-night trial” you ask? Why yes. And the symbol is a bear. But do I really want to sleep on something called Bruno…? Not really. I prefer EMMA:

OK, I’m checking out. Life’s too short to spend so much time on foldable mattresses.  But there’s another one just as I’m about to check out FFS. And this is called THE MINISTRY OF SLEEP:

How can I ignore something called The Ministry of Sleep? It makes sleeping on a foldable foam-filled mattress delivered in a box with a 100 night guarantee sound more official.  OK i’ll… Oh COME ON….

I think I’ll sleep on the floor

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GORN – A ludicrously violent (but in a cartoonish way) Virtual Reality gladiator game which gets you sweating!

I’m going to put my hands (together with my sword and shield) up and say I really enjoyed this over-the-top outrageously violent arena based combat game. It just works.

The physics of your controller movement is crisp, the hits connect and have satisfying results, it has a nice moving mechanic using your arms which is better than teleportation and helps burn a few extra calories.

There are a number of other arena based games on the HTC Vive and I’m yet to find a dud personally, but this has to rank as one of the better ones.

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