HBO’s ‘Silicon Valley’ is back!

For the next several weeks I’m going to be watching the final scenes of every episode of the new series of Game of Thrones.

But it isn’t because I’m too lazy to watch anything except the cliffhanger endings, and it’s certainly not because I care about the fate of that weird-looking throne thing – no, I’m tuning into Sky Atlantic every Monday at 10 so that I can watch the long-awaited series two of Silicon Valley, scheduled after GoT.

silicon valley sky atlantic

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before but my favourite book of all time is Microserfs by Douglas Coupland; written in the mid-90s, it’s about the employees of a small tech start-up company in California as they try to rediscover themselves following many long and thankless years working at Microsoft. Coupland’s characters are obviously a bunch of weirdos as per their creator, and I always imagined what a great TV series it would make.

Silicon Valley is as close as it gets – co-created by Mike Judge, it shares many of the same hallmarks; a fledgling software company, its neurotic yet relatable employees and the downright bizarre behaviour of a culture that’s building the roads toward a supposed utopia of tech with all the turf wars and misguided predictions it would bring.

And it’s funny as hell, with a great cast and some inspired interplay between them. I already liked Zach Woods from In The Loop and Veep, and especially for his role as Gabe in later, admittedly Carell-less and therefore weaker seasons of The Office, but as the unassuming former corporate exec Jared, he’s a great foil for the boisterous Erlich Bachman, played by TJ Miller, who’s on board as the wannabe-rockstar face of the company. The real brains of the operation are supplied by founder Richard (Thomas Middleditch, who played Dwight Schrute’s brother in that backdoor pilot for The Farm, which thank goodness didn’t get made if it meant missing out on this) and his ‘odd couple’ argumentative staff of Dinesh and Gilfoyle.

The first episode of season two of Silicon Valley neatly (and very funnily) dealt with the offscreen death of Pied Piper backer Peter Gregory, who was played in series one by Christopher Evan Welch until his real-life death halfway through filming the episodes. He’ll really be missed as the programme progresses, but his replacement (played by Suzanne Cryer) was pretty decent in her opening scenes, displaying some of the same social awkwardness as her predecessor.

I really can’t wait to see the rest of the series – it’ll be tough to replace the scene-stealer who was definitely my favourite thing about series one, but I’m confident that the first-season nerves are over and we can now settle in for some even greater stories and jokes.

For geeks, it’s “what are you into?” not “what do you do?”

I read a great article the other day about social etiquette. When introducing someone with more than just a name, how do you normally do it?

“[My friend] ends up feeling like her occupation is the only way she can connect with people, and if they don’t find her work interesting enough, then she must not be very interesting.

And that’s a lie, of course.”

When you’re watching an old film where a bunch of characters are talking at a party – it happens in most Woody Allen films if you’re stuck for an example – you always hear them say “this is Frank, he’s a lawyer” or “this is Wade, he’s a professional wrestler.”

Well, Wade, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.

bad news barrett gif

More and more we’re seeing that a person’s job doesn’t have to be the very thing which defines them, if they choose not to let it.

For some it’s fine if you love and are dedicated to your job, but there are many people who prefer to be known for another aspect of their life – their hobbies, fandoms and other features.

Etiquette in geek culture

It’s especially true of geeks, for whom to paraphrase one of geekdom’s icons Simon Pegg, is about wearing your geek status with pride. Whatever you’re into the most is surely the most interesting thing about you to others – even if it’s for them to wonder how you can get so obsessed with Star Trek or zombie movies, you can always take the opportunity for a mini-squee. If nothing else the people you meet will certainly find it an interesting experience!

For me personally, meeting a new person gives me the chance to find out what they’re into, and find out if there’s some common ground we share.

In fact, more often than not you’ll find me very obviously displaying my own influences on what I’m wearing! Today for example, I’m rocking a Mirror’s Edge logo t-shirt, but even on a colder day you’ll be able to spot the SEGA badge on my jacket.

We’re thoughtful like that sometimes, us geeks. And I’m not suggesting you incessantly grill a new acquaintance to find out something interesting about them – just a few polite questions like:

  • What are you into?
  • What was the last film you watched?
  • What have you been listening to?

Even if you don’t manage to figure out a talking point, you’ve at least passed the time getting to know each other, which is still very much a positive – I’d be very pleased to spend some time shooting the breeze with new people, especially as I’m currently trying my best to get out of an especially socially awkward stage of my life.

All it takes is a bit of positivity and no more than the usual dose of geeky enthusiasm. Try it yourself!

 

The Week in Geek: D’oh!

It’s time for another geek culture round-up, this week covering The Simpsons, Daredevil and a band I’ve been listening to a lot lately instead of updating the blog.

week in geek culture news

No more Simpsons home video releases

 

As tweeted by showrunner Al Jean, The Simpsons will no longer have a home video release on DVD or Blu-ray, with season seventeen being the final available set on disc released last December.

He went on to state that DVD sales were no longer profitable, and with the recent launch of a dedicated streaming service for individual episodes, you can’t really argue. The Simpsons archive has also found new success Stateside as the FXX network bought the rights to screen it for three quarters of a billion dollars. It now shows 24 hours of Simpsons per week.

So with the newfound ubiquity of the world’s most successful TV show, maybe the time is right to cancel those home releases. A certain collector may tell you that he gave up buying after season 13 anyway because that’s when the show went waaay the hell downhill – and perhaps even the hardcore fans gave it four more before the drop in sales – but whatever.

Daredevil drops on Netflix

Speaking of on-demand streaming, I predict confusion ahead on Ben Affleck’s Twitter account (if he even has one) when a torrent of comic fans start tweeting their love for Daredevil on Netflix.

But sadly for him, they’ll no doubt be referring to the brand new Netflix-exclusive series starring Charlie Cox and Vincent D’Onofrio. All 13 episodes were released simultaneously for binge-watch appeal, which takes anyway any of the agonising waits fans are currently exposed to for the likes of Arrow, Agents of SHIELD and, (shudder) Gotham.

As my out-of-control DVD collection can attest to, I’m not a subscriber to the service but with the release of this series and the promise of more to come, me and my lady are currently in advanced negotiations to sign up – mainly so I can enjoy the small-screen return of Mr D’Onofrio, whose performances in Law & Order: Criminal Intent were a massive highlight of what’s still one of my favourite cop shows.

…and on a personal note

Seems I’m not being as active on the blog as I’d like to be. Apologies. I’m working on a few new ideas which will hopefully see some upturn in terms of a regular blogging schedule.

To say I’m sorry, here’s a clip of Fugazi frontman Guy Picciotto hanging out of a basketball hoop. We cool?

 

Mirror’s Edge: Blue Sky Gaming

When I first found the archive of retro gaming fandom that was UK:RESISTANCE, I remember being very taken with their campaign to put the Blue Sky back into video games:

“We want to play in a HAPPY PRETEND LAND, not a shit version of an American slum full of mixed-race gangsters wearing licensed sportswear!”

A pretty strong message, aimed solely at the developers who were trending towards having all their games as dark thematically as they were graphically. Even taken at face value, I found myself wishing for more classic Mario/Sonic, and less Call of Duty.

It’s good to see that at least one game got the message – again, in terms of look if not the feel.

mirror's edge review

When I first played Mirror’s Edge, the first thing that struck me about the visuals was just how…blue the sky was, and how everything I ran past/jumped over/slid under was so sleek and brightly lit. Simply gorgeous. A game this brightly designed will have stuck out like a sore thumb on the shelf next to Gears of War 2, Fallout 3 and GTA IV, but I’m hoping that those who took a chance on this game (if not because it’s the only one I’ve mentioned so far which wasn’t a sodding sequel) enjoyed it as much as I did.

Set in a nightmarish future whose citizens live in fear of a Big Brother-type surveillance society, you play Faith, one of a handful of skilled couriers known as Runners, who use their parkour skills to evade detection as they carry messages between bands of resistance. As you complete your tutorial mission by delivering a package to a fellow Runner, you head straight into the plot: a murder mystery/conspiracy involving friends, family and your trusted allies, the people who are striving to smash the system.

The story is rather exciting stuff if a little basic, it’s got some great characterisation but the plot development feels a bit underdone. Then there’s the slightly cartoonish cutscenes which are said to have divided opinion, they’re very well made but for me are a bit jarring against the gameplay sections.

But that’s only because the gameplay is so brilliant. I mean, running away from armed guards and everything can be very cool when the suspenseful music starts up (oh, and THAT music), and a lot of the puzzles are fiendishly fun, but that’s all stuff which other games have done, and some of them have done it better I must admit.

mirror's edge review

No, it’s when you kick open a fire escape and head to the rooftop just to see all this…blue right in front of you. And then ambient music begins to play, and you take a minute to look above and see this beautiful sky and realise that everything is up there and out there and then as you start to run, it’s just you and your wits against gravity, getting from A to B through sheer self-control and trying not to panic when you’re hanging off a ledge or getting the rush of realism when you start to fall in what feels like slow motion, god it’s glorious!

Part of the appeal of the UK:R Blue Sky campaign is making you feel something again when you’re playing a game, whether it’s a nostalgic pang for the games of old or just that sensation of serenity. With Mirror’s Edge I feel like I got both, and it’s a beautiful thing.

The Week in Geek: Seth Rollins, Bruce Campbell and Smash Bros.

Happy Easter, everyone! May your day be fun and chocolate-y.

week in geek culture news

Wrestlemania 31 – the best in recent memory?

I’ve watched Wrestlemania 31 twice in the past week – once, as it unfolded, and a second time over pizza and beer with friends, trying not to squee too hard at the conclusion of the main event, which saw Seth Rollins cash in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Aside from a few dodgy bits, I really must say that this year’s Wrestlemania was my favourite since I started watching them again – so since about 27 or 28. I haven’t been up to date on every single detail in that time but this event featured a lot of good-to-great matches and even the weaker ones had some great moments – notably the entrances for Sting vs Triple H, which were as understated as ever in the latter’s case.

With Rollins’ capturing the title and Brock Lesnar’s resigning, I’m suddenly optimistic about the title picture again, while the secondary titles in the hands of John Cena and Daniel Bryan should also make things a lot more interesting. More than anything though, Seth Rollins as a smarmy heel champion is going to be brilliant.

Ash vs Evil Dead

Well, the new cinematic remake certainly didn’t do the franchise any favours, but the release of a poster for a new ten-part TV series starring Bruce Campbell in his most famous role might be cause for celebration.

ash vs evil dead poster starz tv

Starz has a reputation for a certain grit in their production, and I’m sure that the channel which made Spartacus will have no issue with goring up a new TV instalment of the iconic film series, set to debut in the autumn.

Of course I’m a little concerned as to whether the original gang can pull off another successful visit with Ash, and there’s always the concern that we’re sinking even further away from fresh and original ideas (as we’re bombarded with yet another summer of TV remakes and long-since-unnecessary big screen sequels) but given the self-awareness Evil Dead always had, it could be dealt with quite nicely during the TV run.

Who should join Super Smash Bros. next? You decide!

Well, not YOU, but as reported by GameInformer (on April Fool’s Day) you can visit the official Nintendo website and put forward your suggestions for a new character to join the ranks of the Super Smash Bros. roster. There’s been some confusion over whether or not suggestions are limited to Nintendo-only games, but at the time of writing it does appear that ANY character can be submitted. So while some may root for the more Nintendo-friendly characters like Toad or even Bayonetta, it looks like you won’t be overly ridiculed for thinking maybe the likes of Gordon Freeman should be in there. Hmm. Actually, that is a great idea…

Puck Nuts hockey podcast: gone but not forgotten

I’ve been back listening to a rather old podcast series lately, and have only just realised that I never professed my love for SmodCo-produced Puck Nuts on the blog. Lasting a little over 40 episodes and five years old now, it doesn’t have the hardcore following of the original Smodcast or the ongoing quality of Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave, but it’s a show I always return to for some great laughs and real sporting passion.

puck nuts podcast tesd

In September 2011 I went to watch a live show by two of my three favourite podcasters: Bryan Johnson and Brian Quinn from TESD made the trip to the UK under the ‘Space Monkeys’ banner sans Walt Flanagan, for dates in Leeds, Manchester and London.

(The show was great, and even better I was lucky enough to spend some time at the bar with a quarter of the Impractical Jokers. Upon seeing my Green Lantern t-shirt, the man better known as ‘Q’ advised me ‘do NOT go see that fuckin’ movie’. I still haven’t.)

When Bry and Q returned to the States and reported back on their UK jaunt on the next episode of the podcast, Q told Walt of one thing which baffled him.

“They LOVE Puck Nuts over there, Walt. The amount of questions – in Leeds alone – about when it’s coming back…”

(I asked one of those questions!)

Despite there being some form of organised national ice hockey league here in the UK, it’s certainly not popular enough to be nationally recognised on the same lines as football or rugby. So why all the love for a podcast about an NHL team which was in the process of recording, bar none, its worst ever season?

“Dealing with the Devils and the NHL…”

As the man himself once said on one of his multiple podcasts, when you think of Kevin Smith you think of three things: films, comics and the New Jersey Devils. It was actually Smith’s friend, hardcore Devils fan Walt Flanagan, who got Smith into the game – so who better to lead a podcast about them?

Excited for the new season ahead thanks to their side’s retaining the services of stupidly-expensive star Ilya Kovalchuk, the Puck Nuts podcast was launched on the then-SIR network in September 2010 with a panel consisting of Walt and Bry, plus TESD recurring guest Ming Chen and a relatively new podcasting personality known as Sunday Jeff.

sunday jeff puck nuts

(l-r) Walt Flanagan, Sunday Jeff and Bryan Johnson of Puck Nuts.

“It’s an indoor league.”

Personally I’d argue that Sunday Jeff alone – he works Sundays at the comic book shop – was the reason for so much fan love; his chemistry with Walt and complete podcasting inexperience were the source of much of the show’s humour, and Q still refers back to some of Sunday Jeff’s best work on TESD. As Jeff expressed an opinion – on ice hockey, lingerie leagues or his favourite theme park – Walt would often verbally jump on him like a heroic sergeant smothering a grenade, and equally as explosively, only half-joking as he rubbished whatever Sunday Jeff had to say.

As Ming gamely fought to carry the real content of the show, self-professed NHL rookie Bry (and occasional guest Q) would TESD-size proceedings and ensure a thorough de-railing of the conversation. And although Walt was the most passionate fan at the table, opinionated and knowledgeable enough without ever becoming boring, all too often he too would join in the fun and ensure the conversation took some swift and very funny detours.

While the Puck Nuts shared their thoughts on the latest win – or loss – the guys at the table were consistently funny, and just as frustrated as the real narrative began to take hold about five episodes into the run.

“I’m really not doing it, bro!”

As early as Episode Two, Walt pledged to get a tattoo with his fellow Nuts once the Devils raised the Stanley Cup in June. But in Episode Five, Walt opened the show by giving up on it, confirming that “shit has gone south” for the Devils just a month into the season, and he was handing over the reins to a nervous Ming. For the Devils, it was sad but for the Puck Nuts podcast it was meant to be.

As sad as it was to hear of the bad form which plagued the team for the rest of the season, this doom and gloom set the tone for the Nuts to up their comedy game for a further 35 episodes in its original incarnation; Ming took the reins of the show and received abuse like clockwork for his mix of inexperience and overzealousness; Sunday Jeff got ever more defensive against a rebellious Walt, resulting in some classic comebacks; and Walt and Bry put on some of their best podcasting performances as the bullies at the back of the classroom, chiming in with great hockey insight (Walt) and hilarious ignorance and disinterest (Bry).

The result is a podcast whose subject matter is seeing its wheels slowly fall off, as the Devils limped to a midseason coaching change and resurgent form, which came too late to save them from the ignominy of their first finish outside the playoffs since 1996. The added dimension of frustration gave the show a second wind (and took it completely out of Ming’s sails) in the mid-20s, and the original Nuts called it a day after 40.

The secret of Puck Nuts’ success

The original Puck Nuts series took on an ironic glory all of its own – ever the professional, Ming didn’t appreciate what a glorious mess the show became – and an ownership dispute was later to break out on TESD in what would become ‘Brian Quinn’s Puck Nuts Minute’ on the main show.

In the short term it didn’t have much of an impact – other than a regular target/regret on TESD – but for me it changed the entire dynamic of the crew which would later become TV’s Comic Book Men.

You can see why Walt won’t be calling it a podcasting gem any time soon; it’s a horrible reminder of the times he had to sit around and discuss the decline of one of his great loves week after week, a hobby I’d equate with eating glass or listening to One Direction. But it’s on Puck Nuts that Walt’s love for the Devils was spun into intelligent, sharp and always funny conversation – three hats which he wears proudly on Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave! to this very day.

As for Ming, the promotion to leader of Puck Nuts got him enamoured with podcasting, and he later made the jump over to talking comics with fellow Comic Book Man, Mike Zapcic, on their show I Sell Comics along with many others. At first completely bereft of confidence, Ming’s developing ability to return witty shots across the bows of Walt and Bry on Puck Nuts gave him the gift of, and love for, the gab.

In turn, both became more able and willing contributors to the story of Tell ‘Em Steve-Dave, whose later success led directly to their roles on hit reality show Comic Book Men…

…which has also occasionally featured Sunday Jeff, who I feel is the main source of the ironic great/not great arguments. And he’s a massive fan of the indoor leagues, too.

Puck Nuts, you are missed.

Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar vs Booking Logic (WM31 Preview)

In which wrestling fans pray for logic at Wrestlemania 31.

Well, it’s been a while since I managed the first part of this Wrestlemania 31 preview, and since then the Powers That Be have seen fit to reduce the importance of the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal even further by shifting it into the pre-show. I know it’s still a big event to be happening on the night of Wrestlemania, but the ‘pre-show’ thing still makes me think of those awful Free For All matches you’d see during the WWF New Generation and be expected to order the PPV as a result.

Wrestlemania 31 card

So here’s the rest of the card in brief, aside from a Fatal Four Way for the tag titles that I can’t even be bothered to look up.

AJ Lee & Paige v The Bella Twins

I can’t stand the Bella Twins. Paige and AJ (I‘m really hoping they go with ‘Pai-J’) are two of the WWE’s most talented and popular women’s wrestlers. Too bad they’re not the stars of a completely separate reality TV show (every time I’ve switched that on, which sadly has been more than once ever, it’s one of the Bellas arguing with her boyfriend/husband) otherwise they might have a chance. Should be a good way to end…whatever this is though, as Wrestlemania can sometimes do. But who knows.

Undertaker v Bray Wyatt

I wanted to write a completely separate post to set this one up; as people are so keen on saying that Wyatt needs a good rub from winning this one, I’m not even convinced he’s going to. The Undertaker’s legacy is now, sadly, built on wrestling and winning once a year. If he loses two of those in a row then it does rather tarnish the whole thing. And as good as Wyatt is at promos, this whole thunder-lightning, Johnny Cash-quoting thing is starting to get a bit hokey again. If anything, I want The Undertaker to win just to prove how once-in-a-lifetime Brock Lesnar’s steak-ending victory was. The Streak can still count for something if the WWE can prove that losing it was simply unavoidable.

John Cena vs Rusev (United States Championship)

John Cena’s been acting like quite the prat lately. After having been refused a rematch for Rusev’s US Title after making Cena pass out to his Accolade hold, Cena clamped in his own submission on Rusev on Monday Night Raw during a surprise attack. When Rusev himself passed out, Cena revived him with a glass of water…and locked on his STF again until evil manager Lana gave in and agreed to the rematch. Rusev is the man who won a match fair and square(ish), and is well within his rights to refuse a rematch. That’s not being a bad guy, it’s just acknowledgement that he might not be so lucky next time. Meanwhile, Cena’s been insulting them left and right between surprise attacks and random patriotic outbursts. I’m fairly sure Cena isn’t supposed to be the bad guy here, but nothing he’s doing is convincing me otherwise, especially as Rusev isn’t being especially heelish. Sadly we can expect Cena to win this one, as his losing two in a row is unheard of.

Seth Rollins v Randy Orton

I really wish I cared about this; Seth Rollins is the Man. His performance in the WWE Championship triple threat match against Cena and Brock Lesnar has been the wrestling highlight of my year so far, and I really wanted his match against Randy Orton to be a more cut-and-dried affair. As it is, Orton’s return on Raw a few weeks back to attack nearly the entire Authority was completely undercut just days later as he tagged with its members. It completely stalled the momentum of a surprise return and massive kicking to Rollins; one which Orton has recently delivered on Mr Money in the Bank anyway, with a huge RKO through the announce table. It’s certainly going to be a fiery enough affair which, if Orton wins, ought to end the rivalry and allow Rollins to move on to bigger, beltier things…

Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar vs Booking Logic (for the WWE Championship)

…like cashing in on the winner of the main event which, up until Brock Lesnar signed a new contract was looking like a fairly foregone conclusion; Roman Reigns would get his moment in the sun.

You see, despite Reigns’ steady improvement in the past month or so, he’s still nowhere near toppling the man who has, through a steady string of sound booking and (uncharacteristic for the WWE) logic, become an absolute beast – incarnate.

I am so, SO psyched that Lesnar is staying because losing to Reigns without at least one rematch wouldn’t feel like the solid enough dose of credibility that Reigns desperately needs. No matter how this match turns out, knowing we haven’t seen the last of the part-time world champion is reason enough to stay hopeful that he’ll do it again.

Through either blind luck or a systematic build of such effectiveness that you wonder why it can’t be arranged for absolutely anybody else on the roster, Lesnar has become the very best example of an invulnerable threat in years. Having Reigns two-moves-of-doom his way to the gold against a man who broke Triple H’s arm, ended The Streak, and brutalised John Cena would just feel like a massive leap in logic.

Oh crap, I’ve jinxed it with this logic stuff haven’t I. If logic decides to take its leave, and Roman Reigns lifts that world title, all you can do is pray for Seth Rollins and his briefcase on Sunday night.

Why did Tom DeLonge leave Blink 182?

I heard about not one, but two rather distressing attempts to ruin my adolescence this week, but rather than a film director who literally doesn’t know when to stop (as he keeps changing his mind), we’ll get into something about punk rock music instead.

When I heard that Tom DeLonge had quit Blink 182, I’d honestly forgotten that they were at some point in the recent past still together anyway. What I thought were just a bunch of reunion gigs in 2009-10ish actually turned out to be the promotion behind an album. Thinking back, I struck upon the last time this kind of creative and personal conflict came up between the three punk kids done good.

box car racer blink 182

Box Car Racer

I was 17 when Box Car Racer released their only album in 2002; DeLonge wanted to do something that “didn’t feel locked in to what Blink was”. Having found Blink at precisely the same moment as everyone my age – after ‘Dammit’ but before ‘What’s My Age Again?’ – you could see how much of a departure this album was for DeLonge, but apparently not so much of one that fellow 182ers couldn’t be involved. (Travis Barker was the band’s drummer just so DeLonge didn’t have to stump up for a session musician, while Mark Hoppus sings on one of the tracks.)

When Blink returned in 2003 with their self-titled fifth album, there was certainly a mix of both early Blink and Box Car on there, you could see how the side project had to take place for these fresher songs to emerge.

Hoppus was understandably rather offended that he wasn’t invited to fully contribute, but I guess the record company and management wanted the next Blink record to be strictly Blink – the likes of ‘I Feel So’ and ‘All Systems Go’ wouldn’t have been acceptable for a band world-famous for dick jokes and spiky pop-punk riffs.

Hiatus and the death of Jerry Finn

Blink took another hiatus in 2005 while artistic and personal differences reared their ugly heads. This time, Hoppus snagged Barker for a new band, +44, while DeLonge spread his wings into Angels + Airwaves. Both did alright, but neither were Blink.

The sad death of producer Jerry Finn – if you like any band from California in the 90s (and I did), chances are he was at the console – got the three bandmates talking again, and soon they were back in the studio, differences resolved and alternate artistic outlets suitably chased down, ready for another go.

Reading some news stories today I discovered that their sixth album Neighbourhoods was recorded in different cities: DeLonge in San Diego, Hoppus and Barker in LA. It’d be one thing if they were on different coasts, but even in a state as large as California I don’t see the need for this distance unless there were still some wrinkles to iron out. Unsurprisingly, they were unhappy with the results of recording, as were their label with its sales.

So when it came time to record for their new one earlier this year, DeLonge said that, with A+A back on the road and several film and book projects in the pipeline, he found it “hard as hell to commit”. Hoppus responded by alleging that DeLonge was “holding Blink 182 back” from carrying on, and have since played a live show as Blink 182 with a new guitarist/vocalist. But we’ve covered that already.

Why did Blink 182 split up?

why did Blink 182 split up

image author: IllaZilla

Look back along the timeline and you may see a key event which led to something of a breakdown in communications between two lifelong friends: Box Car Racer. You can understand DeLonge’s frustration at, as he’s called it, not being allowed to use any more than one colour on the canvas Blink were painting, but in choosing to release a new album with one bandmate and not the other, you can also see why Hoppus felt some resentment about the whole arrangement, especially as he didn’t see the need to nip out for a sandwich between meals like the others.

A ten-year ripple effect of personal and professional problems has led to DeLonge’s departure from one of my teenhood’s most influential bands – itself very much predicated on an ‘us vs them’ attitude which punk rock gives us – which leads me to wonder why, short of fulfilling some distinctly non-punk legal obligations to tours and an album, Blink 182 can’t just call it a day for the third and final time.

Matt Skiba joins Blink 182

Twenty years of growing fame, family commitment, near death experiences and professional pressures mounted on Blink 182 guitarist Tom DeLonge, leading to bandmates Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus announcing his departure from the band.

But at the time of writing, Blink 182 have played two shows and are on the bill for another with a brand new guitarist-vocalist.

The new line-up played a warm-up at The Roxy in LA on 18th March, and here’s a song that Tom should be singing:

 

It’s a bit blurry, so in case you didn’t recognise him by his vocals or the loud F-bomb he drops during Mark’s verse, here’s a new photo:

Matt Skiba Blink 182 Alkaline Trio

In his resplendent Hurley t-shirt you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s just his head photo-shopped onto Tom’s body, but – holy crap – that’s Matt Skiba from Alkaline Trio!

Billed as ‘Blink 182 with Matt Skiba’, they’ll be headlining MusInk Festival on Sunday night.

From the video it’s kinda hard to tell with so much crowd participation – and Travis Barker’s usual enthusiasm on drums – but you can tell Matt’s very into it. (You could say he’s feeling this…I’ll get me coat.)

For now it’s a temporary gig, as Skiba’s already announced he intends to continue with his bandmates in the Trio. Did you ever think this would happen?

It’s blowing my mind a bit more than it really should, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot ever since I saw the above footage for the first time last night. I’ve had plenty of ‘dream band’ discussions with friends at practices and after a few beers, but I never thought that lifting Skiba out of the Trio and into Blink would figure in the equation.

And to be honest, it still doesn’t – I much prefer Skiba’s musical talents over DeLonge, but Blink 182 just isn’t right without Tom. Alkaline Trio were once one of my very favourite bands, in fact they probably received the baton from Blink once I’d heard Private Eye for the first time, but in the days before I Miss You and Feeling This, Blink were much further along the poppier, sunnier side of the road than Alkaline Trio ever were, a gateway band into punk rock for me along with The Offspring.

If nothing else at least it’s a fun novelty.

Whether that fun novelty should ever find its way into a recording studio is another debate entirely. I’ll be posting later in the week about Blink 182 – let’s see if we can nail down the root of the problem.

A rant about Pokemon Shuffle

Nintendo, Pokemon Shuffle and the slow death of traditional gaming

I received a ‘gift’ from Nintendo the other week on my 3DS; the much-hyped Pokemon Shuffle. Now as I’ve never really played one of the actual games, my experience with the iconic franchise doesn’t extend much beyond semi-regular viewing of the cartoons in my teens (along with a bang-on impression of Bulbasaur’s voice) so I wasn’t sure what to expect with this ‘free-to-play’ puzzle title.

Ahh, free-to-play. We’ve all got opinions on freemium games, haven’t we. Some say it’s a clever use of in-game mechanics to reward the more devoted fans with the chance to play as much as they like, while others see it as a cynical cash grab driven by game companies who simply need to spin their franchises into a big pile of moneys, plural.

People can, and do, spend a lot of moneys on these games as a result. Whether it’s the disposable income or just phenomenal levels of fandom for the games, it does happen.

I get that Candy Crush Saga and the like can be addictive games to certain players, really I do. But I’m not the type of gamer who’s willing to spend money on an otherwise completely free game just to get the hearts, jewels and extra lives which I can get just as easily by spending my time, rather than my money, waiting to play again.

And of all the guilty parties that try and throw something together in the name of building up their Scrooge McDuck-style coin vaults, Nintendo has become, for me, one of the very worst offenders.

Pokemon Shuffle – the mini-review

In an attempt to get in on that freemium action they’ve released Pokemon Shuffle; where you gotta catch ‘em all within a set number of moves by matching Pokemon symbols into rows of three or more. Once you’ve won the battle, you get to tap the screen to throw out your Pokeball and, if you’ve finished the fight with enough moves to spare/have gained enough points, you’ll catch ‘em.

But if you need a little competitive edge – and god how I hate that the very definition of ‘competitive edge’ has become this – you can always do a cheeky couple of microtransactions to boost your catching power or buy another few lives.

Maybe it’s just that this attempt to get in on the freemium action has come far, FAR too late to make a meaningful dent on the market – or maybe it’s that Nintendo has underestimated the X factor needed in getting you to part with your money once the action gets too hot and you only need another jewel or two to advance – but…

Pokemon Shuffle is BLOODY RUBBISH

pokemon shuffle review

My sentiments exactly, Ash.

Really. It is such a waste of time. No denying it looks gorgeous – we all know Nintendo can make a game look amazing. After all, the gorgeous graphics they continue to develop is 33% of how they’ve survived the various console wars for all these years. Sadly the other two thirds – accessibility and originality  – are absolutely nowhere to be found here.

So let’s address each guilty count.

Originality, that’s simple enough – Nintendo has made a business decision to keep nipping at players’ pockets by creating this godawful attempt at a Candy Crush clone, and used one of their very best franchises to do so. Pokemon is simply one of the best game concepts of all time, and even their bi-annual glorified roster updates do very well as there’s always a new hook to keep the audience interested.

Accessibility – the same thing that got a whole new generation of players off their arses and playing some Wii Tennis; the simple yet genius concepts, rewriting the rules of every genre they try their hand at. There’s a reason Nintendo was the first love of a hell of a lot of people, and that’s because Nintendo continually changed the game. Now, by charging you money to get ahead in Pokemon Shuffle, they’re actually blocking access to 99.9% of people who otherwise are enjoying the game but don’t fancy stumping up for an extra life. At best it’s an unusual approach, at worst it’s tantamount to exclusion.

But with the recent announcement that Nintendo’s branching into mobile games – signing a partnership with a leading Japanese mobile developer rather than taking time they don’t have to establish an in-house operation – this sort of thing could come to have been expected sooner or later anyway.

pokemin shuffle

Here’s a picture of Squirtle to cheers us all up.

For the die-hards it’s a tentative step in the depressing direction that former nemesis SEGA ended up taking – these days it seems you’re never more than ten feet away from a new Crazy Taxi conversion – but if there’s one thing Nintendo knows how to do, it’s diversify. Let’s just hope that the next step isn’t as equally backwards and debasing as Pokemon Shuffle.