Comic review – ‘House Party’ by Rachael Smith

Nostalgia is a big thing for geeks. Literally meaning ‘aching for a return home’ it’s typically used by cynics who will always tell you that things were better in their day. I felt a fair amount of it last night at a party as I listened to songs which remind me of the good old days.

And it’s the good old days that the main characters in Rachael Smith’s new graphic novel ‘House Party’ are out to recapture.

Rachael Smith House Party comicFinding Michelle, Siobhan, and Neil now we learn about each of their passions and how real life has taken them down a different path to the ones they’d rather be on. Michelle used to be a writer and the darling of the university cool kids but now she works in an office and misses that great inspiration, while Siobhan’s art and Neil’s stand-up have gone much the same way.

In order to regain their rockstar status, the three decide to throw one of their legendary house parties, just like the old days – and with Smith’s compelling mix of relate-able characters, humour and drama you’ll find out how that turns out for them.

All my life, nostalgia is something I’ve struggled to get my head around. Even when those best times of my life were supposedly happening, no doubt I’ll have been too busy fretting about something or other to properly enjoy it. This near-existential angst is a universal experience and within the pages of House Party, Smith has expressed brilliantly those exact same struggles and curiosities we all feel about the way things used to be and how we strayed so far away from them.

Rachael Smith House Party review

As I mentioned in an earlier review – for the equally wonderful I Am Fire – you wouldn’t expect such deep and meaningful issues to hit home in a comic when there are far weightier books to do the job, but here as always Smith has created a full and frightening world in which the reader can understand and sympathise with her characters as they make the hard decisions and express their turmoil very effectively, with great writing and art working so well together.

If you’re of that certain age where life was just better back then, dammit – I can’t recommend House Party enough.

QuakeCon 2014 vs DashCon 2014

Con season is upon us…

…and while fans of fragfests gathered online and at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas for QuakeCon, organisers of another convention are throwing out apologies like confetti as the DashCon trainwreck rolls on.

QuakeCon 2014

QuakeCon 2014 looked like the usual massive success you come to expect from a company whose fans started throwing it for them in the first place; with a new Doom 4 reveal (which turns out to be called just Doom) and some sweet tournament action which I streamed on Twitch – and didn’t understand a word of the commentary. Something about stacks, apparently they’re a handy thing to have, and LGs – which I eventually realised meant Lightning Gun. Okay, I’m not much of a deathmatcher, never was. But there you go, at least it looked like everyone was having fun…

…Unlike at DashCon, an event so dedicated to Tumblr users that Tumblr wouldn’t let them use the name for fear of association. And rightly so; the first thing non-attendees were treated to was a video of the organisers asking those in the main ballroom on opening night to donate everything they could towards a funding shortfall of $17,000 – or risk having the con shut down by the hotel then and there.

I remember the first time I ever booked bands to play upstairs at a pub, and all the advice I received from a lot of very knowledgeable people who out-and-out told me that I should not only be ready for, but expect to lose money. We’re talking fifty quid for the PA, a twenty-quid deposit cheque for room hire – to be cashed if anything was broken or missing – and a reasonable amount of petrol and beer money for the bands who played. Nonetheless I still assumed that, with the bands I had playing, how could I not make it all back and then some, even for only three quid on the door?

Luckily I still took the advice on board and wasn’t feeling (financially) hurt about the fact that a lot of people who promised to show up did not. I was okay with it because I looked at it a different way; I had a fucking great time watching my favourite bands and seeing some friends. Totally worth the investment, and totally worth not attempting again for a long time afterwards.

Now imagine you’d already paid the best part of fifty quid to hang out at a con, see some celebrity guests and have a great time. Now imagine the celebrity guests won’t be coming. Now imagine you’re being asked to give even more money to keep it going. Tough sell, isn’t it? To the tune of almost twenty grand, yes, that’s a tough sell.

There are many good accounts of what happened that weekend from people who went, people who went but left, and the people who memed the shit out of that ‘free extra hour in the ball pit’ nonsense – look them up, there are plenty of posts.

DashCon 2014 ball pit extra hour

The DashCon organisers themselves have an account of what went down that weekend on their front page (as do one of their guests – theirs is much funnier), but from the mountains of unnecessary screenshots of bank statements and email exchanges, it’s another lesson they’ll have to learn…before they apparently start organising next year’s event.

If even DashCon aren’t too disheartened about all the abuse they’ve taken for this, then goddamn, maybe it’s time I booked another gig. Oh, but I’m sorry to announce that Queens of the Stone Age have pulled out, and I need £500 from everyone in this room by 9.30 or else the landlord’s gonna kick us all out.

Remembering: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater

Commemorating Neversoft closing down with a look back at their seminal video game.

Anyone who hit a certain age and cultural taste at the same time as I did will be just as upset to learn of the closure of game developers Neversoft this week – 20 years after they were founded – to be absorbed by Activision-owned Infinity Ward; I expect they’ll be working on Call of Duty 36 before long rather than one of Neversoft’s older, more original games, but it was one of their earlier hits which I can honestly say is responsible for one of my all-time nostalgia pangs.

Neversoft took over the Guitar Hero series of games from its third instalment onwards, and while I had a lot of fun playing those games, they weren’t made for me; I was already in bands – and that’s quite probably down to one of their own earlier games!

THPS1 Tony Hawk's Skateboarding

The first time I booted up a copy of Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding on the Playstation, everything about immersive gaming came together so beautifully for me, starting with the drum roll intro to the first song on the soundtrack as I rolled down that ramp in the Warehouse for the very first time. (‘New Girl’ by the Suicide Machines, but you knew that already because you own that album as a result of this game too, right?)

I couldn’t afford to buy many games when the Playstation came out, so something had to be really, really special for me to risk it. I didn’t buy this game myself either, to be honest, but it was the very first really, really special game that also turned me onto the whole ‘alternative’ thing. I was already on my way to buying punk rock albums and dressing a certain way – but playing the first Tony Hawk game really made me feel like there was all that cool stuff out there waiting to be discovered.

It’s from 1999 so the graphics have obviously improved these days but back then it looked gorgeous, and in playing terms I felt like there was absolutely nothing like this game out there at the time: fast and furious gameplay, actual mastery of controls to be had (unlike the usual button-bash-fest we were getting from beat-em-ups at the time) and the concept of levelling up skill points to prepare for the harder levels. The first Hawk game also gave me the one key thing that I never had the patience for with games before: practice, practice, practice.

 

I wanted to get better at this game for a variety of reasons. I wanted to see every board design, play as every character, try every move. I also had a bunch of rather competitive friends at the time and wanted to see if I could beat them at H-O-R-S-E. (I never could; as much as I practiced I still had, y’know, a life compared to most of them.)

Most of all, it was just cool. It made me pay closer attention to games and music, not realising until then how beautifully they could come together like they did. I saw a good three or four bands that were featured on that soundtrack (including The Suicide Machines in about 2002, whose singer introduced ‘New Girl’ by saying “anyone here play VIDEO GAMES?”) and bought up all the cool skater stuff I could get my hands on; it’s safe to say I made some…interesting fashion decisions at the turn of the millennium.

But that’s the whole thing about learning to express yourself: if something comes along at the right time with just the right amount of potential, and the right amount of craft and care put into it by the people who love it and embrace it and want to see others sharing in those experiences – games, music, books, it doesn’t matter – then it’s really something special.

The Tony Hawk’s series, and the first one most especially, did that for me.

Plus Guitar Hero was pretty sweet for a while, until they started taking the piss with all the band add-ons.

Thank you, Neversoft, for giving a young man something to obsess over after school and at weekends with his friends. And for putting ‘Bulls on Parade’ in GH3.

Ridiculous Rumours – Steven Moffat and Star Wars

Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat to leave for Star Wars?

Sometimes when you read a rumour online, before you race off to check its authenticity with the star/director/writer you’ll take a moment to stroke your chin and have a really good think about how that might turn out.

I’ve had my share of these in the past; my first real experience was probably a big footballing name being linked with joining Leeds United, or more frequently over the past decade, leaving; before he defected was wished well on his transfer to Fulham last week, Leeds striker Ross McCormack was rumoured to be going to just about any team with a vowel in its name for months. As I mused over each of the possible destinations for the league’s top scorer last season I had a good think about where he would be better off; finally settling on ‘any club that doesn’t treat its players like dickheads’. Call me crazy, but all power to Ross for deciding his future didn’t lie in Leeds. The fact that the club appears to have no ambition right now is, for me at least, a solid enough foundation for a rumour like its best player deciding to leave.

In TV land, it apparently gets even more cut-throat sometimes, but the rumour that TV producer/writer/ninja Steven Moffat is set to take the reins over some aspect of a future Star Wars  production is, again for me, an absolute non-starter.

Doctor_Who_-_Current_Titlecard

I really can’t see why some fans give Moffat a hard time over his showrunning on Doctor Who; I’ve much preferred his run on the show to that of predecessor Russell T. Davies. Moffat is a seasoned storyliner, and while there may be some sci-fi-type blips here and there, he’s been faithful to the programme’s mythology since the get-go; his characters develop smoothly, the performances from his cast have been brilliant, and what’s more – a charge I do lay at Davies’ door in particular – Moffat builds up a story at great pace, neatly and tidily introduces all the necessary plot elements, and can hit all the right notes without the requirement of someone swanning in and deus ex’ing their way to a satisfying conclusion. (I know I’ve mentioned that before, but it was a real issue for a long time.)

With all that (and Sherlock, which I’ll just come out and say I don’t watch) to go on, and the announcement that there will be a series nine of the rebooted Who, why would Moffat choose to move on to Star Wars?

I know there are a lot of people getting hot and bothered about Disney’s plans for a continuation of the Star Wars universe (I myself am maintaining a dignified poise about the whole thing; after all, they’re making more, not deleting current entries) but it strikes me as common sense that they wouldn’t have waited this long and got this far into the whole revival thing before they started tapping up producers of other hit programmes to try and lure them into the fold. JJ Abrams will have been doing absolutely nothing for the past year as he starts to get his head around the whole nasty business of expanding the Star Wars story; isn’t Moffat still well into filming series eight?

Peter Capaldi for Doctor Who?

It’s a daft rumour, it really is – as confirmed by his wife Sue Vertue who tweeted “that’s news to him!”

I firmly believe he isn’t doing it, and only because it’s obvious how much he loves doing this. Any kid who grew up dreaming of being in a Star Wars movie has another chance – but judging by the statement he released when confirmed as the showrunner in 2008, Moffat is already living the dream:

“My entire career has been a secret plan to get this job. I applied before but I got knocked back because the BBC wanted someone else. Also I was seven.”

I also remember during an episode of the Moffat-created criminally underrated sitcom Coupling when lead character Steve does one of his once-a-series monologue rants, lamenting that cushions on a sofa serve no purpose, unlike the sofa itself which you could hide behind in case of…

“…Daleks!”

It’s hardly solid evidence here to dispell a job change, but It’s the little things like that – and bear in mind that Coupling was made a good few years before Doctor Who returned – that make me feel like the programme’s going to stay in Moffat’s good hands, and that there’s precious little danger of him stopping right now; not when there’s a new Doctor to get excited over!

Doctor Who Peter Capaldi

Pioneer Space Sim

The freeware Frontier is an inspiration – if it stops crashing long enough.

When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut. (How many blog posts do you think have ever been written with that opening sentence?) Nowadays it isn’t so much the literal NASA dream – that looks like far too much hard work – but the chance to explore strange new worlds and…sell five tons of carbon ore to make a bit of profit.

Space travel never looked so inspirational to me as it first did on my Amiga 600. That was thanks to Frontier: Elite II which was basically a whole galaxy on a single floppy disk. Floppy disks held a maximum of 1.44MB. Think about that for a second. You’d barely fit a song on it these days, but somehow they managed to fit on a game about the whole galaxy. Awe-inspiring, no?

Pioneer Space Sim Frontier Elite 2

It’s a shame it was so bloody difficult to play at the age of eleven as I didn’t have a basic grasp of the controls – or science – and wondered why I kept invariably blowing up whenever I went near a planet’s atmosphere.

Along with the sci-fi fixes supplied by my dad’s taste in books and films, this game meant a whole hell of a lot to me – which is why I was amazed to stumble across Pioneer a few weeks back. It’s a space sim game by a rather qualified dev team, one of whom used to work on the X series, who came together to lovingly recreate something which blew them away as much as it did me.

 

Just like Frontier, Pioneer puts you in the pilot’s seat of a spaceship and allows you to make a living searching the stars. You can ferry passengers between systems or deliver packages; import and export goods. If you prep your ship for battles you can even take on assassination missions or harbour fugitives from the mafia, police or one of the warring galactic governments. It takes a long time and a lot of money to get there – and it’s still something I haven’t achieved – but the idea of going into deep space dogfights is quite an alluring prospect if that’s your thing. I’m content just to travel between space stations and land on exotic planets to deliver goods, parcels and passengers for a fee so that I can work on upgrading my ship’s cargo and cabin facilities.

As the game it’s designed on is twenty years old, it sort of predates the idea of having complex branching storylines – in fact there’s no storyline at all. It’s just you, your ship and the beautiful planets you sail on by. It’s quite brilliant just to sit and admire the view, if you like that sort of thing.

Pioneer Space Sim

Most frustratingly though, I’ve been having a bit of trouble keeping the game working; for whatever reason the game doesn’t like my computer at the moment. As the game is free though (with Donations welcome) it would be rude of me to complain; a labour of love like this will come together in the end.

All these years later, playing a game that’s as exciting and awe-inspiring as Pioneer is still my favourite form of peace and quiet. And the ambient music is pretty great too actually.

Game Dev Tycoon

There was a run of really good weather here in Yorkshire last month, and as my social media accounts were flooded with pictures and news of my friends and colleagues making the most of the sunshine, I played the heavily-stereotyped role of the Indoors Geek. Sure, I could’ve spent more time outside reading in the garden than I did, but thanks to my discovery of Gog and Steam, I’ve been chained to this PC slaving my way through some great games instead.

One such game was a unique insight into the actual production of games, a simulation which allows you to found a games company and put out some winning titles as the head of your very own software empire. Start a game of Game Dev Tycoon and you’ll see your avatar’s modest beginnings in a garage sometime back in the 1980s, beavering away on your home computer in a bid to create and sell games using combinations of clever design and capable technology.

Game Dev Tycoon review

Choose your character name and outfit, then a name for your company and before you know it, you’ll be tasked with creating your first game! Tickle the sliders on your development panels to put the right amount of effort into each game’s engine, gameplay and level design among others, then sit back and wait for the reviews to come in.

Each time you create a game you’ll receive Research Points to spend on new game topics, technological innovations and ingredients for each progressive game engine. Once you’ve sold enough copies of your games you’ll be able to upgrade to your shiny new office and hire some employees to help realise your new gaming visions for modest publishing fees and the dream of the perfect score.

As time goes on you’ll get news of new console and computer releases, as well as a knowledge of your potential audiences and the ability to create games with them in mind.

I really enjoyed Game Dev Tycoon because of the creators’ great depth of research into gaming history; each console release and which markets were best suited to playing them. The substitution of brand names became a little annoying over time (for example, as they can’t use the name ‘Sega Genesis’ they went with ‘Vena Oasis’, which is especially annoying for me as it was called the Mega Drive here!) Given each console’s obvious similarities and importance to the gameplay though, I can see why it had to be done. Also, I want to buy a Playsystem.

If you know your consoles, you’ll know exactly what sort of games you need to make for each one to be successful. While some genre/topic combinations make more sense than others (eg you would think a Hospital/Simulation game would work better than a Dancing/RPG), it’s important to get the right platform down too. It’s this sort of attention to detail which I loved – a great homage.

Game Dev Tycoon review

But it’s that attention to detail which can be annoying too; the development sliders seem completely arbitrary sometimes and don’t make for good games unless you place each of them just so. It was very frustrating when I started getting a run of bad reviews following a run of good ones when I wasn’t really doing anything different.

On the whole though, I can definitely recommend this game – a game about making games? They should’ve just called it Gameception – which by the way was what I called the game I produced using the Game Dev topic.

Dungeons & Dreamers: a book about global gaming

You kids, with your Halo and your hip hop – you don’t know what real gaming is.

Well before you were telling your console to switch itself on, or before you could physically wave your controller like a tennis racket, or even before you were holding funny-looking pads with buttons in your hands, there was a kind of pad where the deepest, most immersive and imaginative kind of gaming got played – on a notepad.

Gaming legend Gary Gygax came up with the miniature wargame Chainmail in 1971, which was based simply in medieval times, and devised rules of combat among ordinary men. However, Gygax’s fellow gamer Dave Arneson would add elements of fantasy into the game, bringing spells and mythical monsters into the mix. One year on this modified version of Chainmail would be repackaged as a standalone game called Dungeons & Dragons, and the rest is history.

The unique combination of fantasy and role-playing elements was something that inspired video game designers and programmers through the years as advancing technology began to produce all kinds of weird and wonderful computer programmes. As computer gaming became more popular, it was the hardcore groups of D&D gamers of these times – close-knit communities brought together to slay dragons and forge long-lasting relationships – that tried to find a way to bring people together online to enjoy their hobby.

It’s this struggle to unite questing gamers from the 1970s to now which is covered in Dungeons & Dreamers: A Story of How Computer Games Created a Global Community – an extremely insightful book that explores the role of games in bringing together players from all walks of life to the same dungeons, space stations and virtual worlds to bring (massive) multiplayer fun.

Dungeons & Dreamers

The narrative of the book is seen in turn through the eyes of key figures in gaming history such as Richard Garriott of Origin Systems, and the two Johns – Carmack and Romero– at id software (whose Quake title was a character from their regular D&D games). It contains plenty of informative reporting on world events which shaped the industry such as the Columbine shootings that tried to vilify games as forms of violent escapism, alongside great insights on the industry itself whose users wanted the very best in technology and design to enjoy fresh new worlds – leading to innovations like Ultima Online, World of Warcraft and Second Life.

There’s also plenty of discussion going to show the dedication of the players who found a new calling in life through these offerings, like the annual QuakeCon events which continue to attract Deathmatchers from all over the world. Much as I enjoyed seeing from the creators’ point of view how their games matured and became new worlds of their own, it’s great too to read about how the players found themselves a part of these worlds.

One other thing which struck me was the great comparisons drawn in which two of the featured companies told the story of relocating offices across country as if living in Frontier times – changing their own landscapes in order to create more of their own, with Origin splitting their bases across Texas and New Hampshire, and id hitting the trail between Louisiana and Texas to form their company. (Romero also worked in New Hampshire for Origin at one point!)

Dungeons and Dreamers is a great read if you’re interested in how gaming got to where it is today in terms of reach and the pursuit of that killer multiplayer experience, written so knowledgeably and with real reverence for its subject matter.

Sensible World of Soccer 96-97

Retro gaming and football – a good mix?

The funny thing about nostalgia is you have no sense of retroactive quality control.

Having grown up watching what I thought at the time was a Golden Age of Wrestling in the WWF between Summerslam ’94 and Wrestlemania XII, I was very disappointed to revisit this period through cursory glances of YouTube videos and current wrestling podcasts which decry the entire era. Knowing what I do now – that all the good wrestlers were over in WCW during the mid-90s and Duke ‘The Dumpster’ Droese was not in fact ‘over’ at the time – my faith in what I used to love is still unshakeable.

And that’s how I felt about Sensible World Of Soccer 96/97 – until I played the damn thing this weekend having purchased it from gog.com.

Sensible World Of Soccer 96-97

I’m fairly sure I never owned this particular version because I don’t seem to remember many things about it, like the very, very basic commentary by Jonathan Pearce doing me no favours on account of his irritating me even back then, when Leeds United were on Channel 5 a lot in the UEFA Cup.

The same things which I first found charmingly nostalgic when playing as a kid – the wobbly ball control and the fact that I could never, ever score a goal when shooting downwards – are now suddenly the most horrible things that ever happened to computer gaming. However, now that it’s become retro gaming and the current iterations of PES and FIFA could easily be mistaken for real life (if not for the erratic playing styles of human controllers) I do still love the little badly-painted blobs that I control on the pitch.

But there’s one thing which struck me more than anything else during this last few days of frustrating play-throughs – Sensible World Of Soccer 96/97 is really fucking difficult.

If you’re a competent enough player at current football games then you shouldn’t have too much trouble playing as a moderately-skilled team in overcoming what is, on paper, a better set of players. (You can definitely do it against the computer with the offsides off at least.) However, unless you’re a SWOS master you’ll need to play as Germany or Brazil in whatever tournament you choose – and even then it’s going to be very difficult. The game isn’t advanced enough to grasp the concept of difficulty levels, and so basically the better the opposition, the faster they can pass and move, the faster the game moves around your slug-like runs and tackles back, and the sooner you’ll be 3-0 down in a three-minute game – another frustrating feature which you can’t change in tournament mode when all you need is an equaliser from a tricky corner kick.

With all this in mind, I still had a hell of a time playing a version of this once again. For about 90 seconds at a time at least; shooting downwards is still bloody impossible so I can only really enjoy one half per match.

England Football Songs – 2006: Embrace The Crappy Metaphors

The World At Your Feet, chortle chortle. (And I reveal what actually IS the best football song of all time.)

With an overwhelming stench of aspiration and desperation worse than the one I was assaulted with at the cinema the other night, it’s time for the penultimate chronological instalment of the Alpha Signal Five Guide to English Football Songs – and just in time too as their first game is only a day away.

England world cup songs Embrace 2006

Okay, summer of 2006, let me think. I’ll have just finished my second year of uni and moved out of The House of Pain in Withington (represent). I’ll have been with my lady for a year by then, which means I was still not quite prepared to grow up – hence my doing stuff like nicknaming my modest three-bedroom student accommodation ‘The House of Pain’. And I’ll have been listening to a lot of Real Radio round at her house, ploughing through Smackdown vs Raw GM Mode on her PS2 while she was at work.

That’ll have been where I heard this…this. The thisness that is this.

 

(My favourite bit: the obvious staging of the band watching David Beckham curl in the free kick against Greece that got England into the tournament, as if for the first time – and the way the guy with the laptop makes a face like ‘and CUT – was that reconstruction good enough, lads?’)

We went from burying Britpop to satirizing lad culture, to two ubiquitous Geordies. How did we get from that to…this thisness? Embrace? Not my cup of tea, mainly because the jauntiness of this song compared to most of their others made me doubt it was even the same band.

This explains a lot about their sound, from a BBC interview with singer Danny McNamara:

[asked if the success of New Order’s England song intimidates them] “New Order are one of my favourite bands. Joy Division, the band before New Order, were one of the reasons I got into forming a band.”

Yeah, that’ll do it. That’ll do it when all your other songs are painful to listen to, and not in the good way like Joy Division’s were. Okay, low blow, but this was an unexpected move! From the plodding dirge of melancholy that their previous singles sound like to me, to this awe-inspiring uplifting track! It’s a bit off. It’s a bit…

(Okay, I’ve just listened to it again, and it’s genuinely dawned on me in the space between this paragraph and the last that the chorus of this song is a note-for-note copy of Lucky Denver Mint by Jimmy Eat World. You know when you’re humming a song, and then start accidentally humming another because it fits together so well?)

“[McNamara was] inspired by the nation’s love of football when the team does well.”

It feels like there’s a bit missing from the end of that sentence, like “…but since that hasn’t happened since before he was born, the band had to make do with stringing a load of old clichés together.”

“The song features the lyrics “there’s no-one you can’t beat” and “you know it’s going to be our time” but does not mention the word “football”.”

Yes, but then you press play on the video and your eyes are assaulted by nothing but gaudy red and white England flags and overpaid footballers for nearly four bloody minutes – you couldn’t physically be any less subtle about football. That is unless you happen to be the creators of what is actually my favourite football song of all time, since you asked.

 

When was the last time “the team” did well anyway? Was it Three Lions or World In Motion? I can’t remember any more. The England team in 2006 was pretty good, to be honest. Well, they had a former Leeds ‘keeper in goal so I had someone to care about at least. Joe Cole showed some promise with a great goal against Sweden; Michael Owen not so much by having to literally roll off the pitch due to injury in the same game.

England limped past Ecuador in round two before yet another quarter-final meeting with Portugal – and yet another penalty shoot-out loss. Lampard, Gerrard and Jamie Carragher were the guilty parties, with only Owen Hargreaves scoring. England missed two of their prime penalty takers for most of the match, with flare-ups of Beckham’s ankle and Rooney’s temper occurring in the second half.

And so, reduced to ten men on the hour, Brave England were bravely brave for the next half-hour of normal time as well as an additional thirty minutes of bravery in extra time, but then missed out when it was discovered that a good spot kick trumps bravery every brave time. BRAVE.

Next time: the official 2010 England song (there wasn’t one) and the 2014 release (they changed their mind and didn’t release it again for the World Cup). 

Me and cinemas

I don’t like going to the cinema. For the most part I absolutely adore the films I make the effort to go and see in the cinema, but that’s a far lower number per year on average than a film buff like me should admit to.

At my local multiplex it starts with just the usual stuff – it’s expensive, the drinks are syrupy and the seats are uncomfortable, of course – but the whole film-going experience is usually soured for me before the blurry BBFC certificate even comes up.

Bernard Black cinema quote

Seat allocation

Cineworld is now allocating seats, which is all well and good for an opening Friday night, but me and my lady went to see X-Men: Days of Future Past (which was bloody BRILLIANT by the way – I’ll have more on that soon) on a Tuesday afternoon, 3pm screening. The screening room wasn’t empty but there certainly wasn’t any jostling for position – we took our pre-determined seats near the back without any cause for confusion with other ticket-holders. The onscreen placeholder now says “Seat Allocation – are you sure you’ve got the right seats?” before the film starts, to which I felt like – even if we haven’t, it would be silly of someone to try and get them when there are so many free ones, and not to mention a bit creepy if some random decides to get their seat next to yours in an otherwise empty room.

I don’t even like sitting in a full screening – I realise the value of a live comedian playing to a full room, but sure as hell don’t get the appeal of watching a film in a room that’s jam-packed with mouth-breathers laughing and/or gasping. (In fact I don’t mind admitting my own out-loud reactions as the film played: mainly “euggghh” every time Halle Berry appeared.)

The ads

Then comes the adverts. Not the trailers, the adverts. Commercials are for television, a platform that’s mostly commercially-funded, but if I’ve paid cash money to watch a film in the cinema then why should I have to sit through ads before the film starts? I hate it. They’re not even the usual TV ad fare – the tone is even more sickeningly aspirational than you’d see on the box. It wouldn’t be such a problem but I’m here in this case to watch a (prequel to a) film about (the) Apocalypse – the rise of the machines which are coming to destroy an entire race of people. I’m not about to wish it all away just to sip soft drinks with my grinning idiot friends or eat pizza without a crust on it. I’m here to escape from real life, dammit, not be reminded of how aspirational and smug its inhabitants can be.

Worst of all, having spent the past ten years telling you to turn your phones off before the film begins, they’re now telling you to keep them on and use their app during the special adverts! Thanks to the wonder that is Cinime you’re supposed to leave your phone on until the film starts!

“Once you’ve got your snacks and drinks and found your seat, switch your phone to silent and leave your cinime app open. It’ll respond and interact with the screen while you sit back and enjoy the ads, delivering content, offers and discounts directly to your phone.”

I cannot begin to describe how much this outrages me. I work in marketing, for fuck’s sake, and even I’m sick of the word ‘content’ being bandied about when it’s not a part of my bloody job! I shouldn’t be offering consumers ‘content’, I should be offering them words, pictures, music and videos. It’s a bloody lazy thing to do, it really is. For advertisers it seems that turning your mobile off at the cinema was just fine until they realised they could try to make money from you by ignoring the rules of common courtesy and getting you to leave them on.

(To be fair, the one advert they ran during this special section – which came with a special intro and outro and so looked very odd to only contain one ad – was for Scope, a charity that’s doing such good things for such deserving people that I don’t even mind giving them the link.)

Luckily my cinema-going experience improved mightily as about half an hour into the film I knew it was going to be awesome, and it was. But the whole painful preceding part is enough to make me stay away from the cinema almost entirely these days, and that’s not only sad but also quite probably responsible for so much of the ‘downloadin’’ that the guy from that GI Joe PSA takes so much offence to.

For me to pay a lot of money for cinema tickets, food and drink, and then have the piss taken out of me at every turn by money-grabbing shits all the way up until the film starts – more than half an hour after the screening starts by the way if you include the trailers which obviously vary in intrigue – is just interminable. The film has to be really, really promising for me to even bother any more. And that makes me sad.