BBC drama ‘The Gamechangers’ – show, don’t tell

When I read that Harry Potter and Hudson from Aliens were teaming up to tell the story of the controversial battle between rebellious Rockstar Games and righteous attorney Jack Thompson in 2002, I had mixed feelings.

‘The Gamechangers’ was produced by the BBC as part of a season to promote some digital initiative or another, and aired last month to a general negative reaction.

While there’s certainly a good story to be told about one of the most controversial games of the new millennium, for me it needed to be drawn from as wide a range of sources as possible in presenting the tale of Rockstar’s ducking and diving, their colossal PR blunders and Thompson’s overzealous efforts to clean up the act of American pop culture.

Sadly, what we got was Jacked: The Movie Of The Book – less than that, even, considering its running time and what they had to try and cram in.

‘Jacked’ – poor source material

We’ve covered my issues with David Kushner’s book Jacked in a previous post; the lack of depth, the poorly-woven conflict between the two sides – so much that readers could be forgiven for thinking there was none – and, most damningly, the big Rockstar-shaped hole in the story due to their refusal to participate.

So when the quality of storytelling is found lacking in book form, god knows how the BBC thought it would translate to a 90-minute TV movie.

You can’t doubt the acting credentials of the two leads; Bill Paxton has turned in some fine performances of late including a first-season stint on Agents of SHIELD; while Daniel Radcliffe won me over with his brilliant performances in A Young Doctor’s Notebook. They’re competently backed by a cast including Skins’ Joe Dempsie and Ian Keir Attard, playing fellow Rockstar employees Jamie King and Dan Houser.

I mean no offence when I say their work was only ‘competent’ but there were some absolutely massive issues with the plot, pacing and especially the dialogue, which meant that nobody was going to come out of this one well.

the gamechangers bbc two gta rockstar

Show, don’t tell

I’m no expert but I do fancy myself a bit of a scriptwriter and storyteller, and for me the First Rule of Storytelling is (we’ll skip the Fight Club joke here) ‘show, don’t tell’.

I appreciate that, given the limited time they had to flesh out the characters and focus on an ever-developing plot, that there wasn’t much time to establish personality and relationships before we got cracking with the multiple murders and terrible programming montages.

But when Radcliffe turns to Attard and says something like ‘you were always the smart one, little brother’, it absolutely reeks of poor setup. Anything would’ve worked better here to establish the Housers’ relationship. “Sorry, this letter’s addressed to my brother Sam; I’m Dan.” There you go BBC, you can have that one.

I’m feeling generous so we won’t dwell on that particular example, but if you’ll allow me a little bit of presumption then we’ll head straight into the egregious violation of exposition that is Jack Thompson’s brief dalliance with preamble.

He’s in the garden practicing his golf swing one-handed, and he’s talking on the phone to someone called Margaret. And this is pretty much what he tells her – I’m paraphrasing but check for yourself:

“I’d love to help you out but I’m sort of a ‘toxic’ lawyer these days. Yeah, nobody wants to deal with me because I got Howard Stern and the 2 Live Crew rap album banned for violating obscenity laws, and subsequently, nobody wants to be represented by a kooky moral campaigner.”

“Why do I do it? What can I say, cos I’m Batman. And god rose this asshole up to do good.”

The woman he’s talking to is called Margaret.

Stick with me here, because here’s the presumption: how the fuck has Jack’s mate, Margaret, EVER heard of 2 Live Crew? Was that particular group ever popular amongst a demographic containing people called Margaret?

Secondly, how is it remotely believable of an everyday phone conversation that Thompson can refer to himself three times, using three different titles? “Kooky moral campaigner”. “Batman.” “This asshole.”

(Tell you what, I’m going to try this tomorrow at work and see what happens. “Yeah, thanks for sending that email, god knows this douchebag could’ve done with it sooner. What can I say; everyone loves working with a diligent researcher. I’m basically The Flash.”)

And thirdly, during this phone call with a woman named Margaret who’s just trying to hire a lawyer, does she really ask him the question “why do you do it, Jack?” No, she probably says “that’s nice, dear, but I have to go – my medical malpractice case won’t make itself.”

I’ll assume that what the script tries to put over here is Thompson’s wavering credibility for making those moral stands, and that he’s only repeating what he’s heard, rather than what he knows to be true – yeah, I’m that guy – because otherwise none of this has any fucking relevance in a real life phone call to someone called Margaret who just wants to hire a lawyer.

You can have this for free as well, BBC – try just running a few newspaper headlines past us while we see Jack practicing his golf or something, instead of this contrived phone call.

More like The Channel-changers

If you’ve read Jacked or know about this case, then you know what happens here; Rockstar gets into bother over some Hot Coffee, Thompson gets himself disbarred for an overly aggressive pursuit of the scumbags who made the game, rather than the people who committed the violent crimes it allegedly directly caused, and life goes on with a renewed focus on regulating the naughty stuff in the entertainment industry.

But as I’ve said before, there’s precious little overlap – and precious little detail when it does – between the two parties. Everything’s relayed to each character by a different supporting character – Houser’s colleagues and Thompson’s family – and there’s even a subplot about Dempsie’s burning out on the job just so there can be genuine interactions and feelings between characters, instead of reactions to things which aren’t physically happening in the room we’re in.

The whole thing was like watching an episode of Law & Order – you know the bit where Jack McCoy’s about to prosecute based on the findings of a blood sample, but then the extra walks in and dramatically hands him a motion to dismiss? Watching The Gamechangers was like we’re following that extra about for an entire episode while all the good stuff happens elsewhere.

I must admit I was intrigued by a new take on the dawn of a new era in gaming, but not even the decent casting helped get this patchy story off the ground.

WWF – the story of Fake Diesel and Fake Razor Ramon

When Scott Hall and Kevin Nash left the WWF in early 1996, nobody knew the kind of impact the two men would have on the industry, and particularly on the Monday Night War.

In re-joining WCW and eventually teaming with with Hulk Hogan to form the NWO, the whole business brought a rapid audience resurgence, with millions of new viewers to both products.

But a few months on from that shocking development, the WWF’s personal response to Hall and Nash was fairly bloody weak – and sadly this evening I’ve seen it in all its trainwreck glory.

fake diesel glen jacobs kane

Having clearly learned nothing from the Undertaker vs Undertaker debacle at Summerslam 1994, this all began when good ol’ JR, Jim Ross, began teasing a major announcement on the WWF’s Monday Night Raw in an attempt at his own (short-lived) heel character development. One day in September 1996 he would brag that he had secured the services of Razor Ramon and Diesel, and would be bringing them back to the WWF. Fans were led to believe that this meant the return of Hall and Nash – but the reality was much worse.

The Return of Diesel and Razor

Back when more people wrestled under aliases than they did their real, or ‘shoot’ names, it may have been more feasible to replace them handily. So when JR presented his new recruits, two men emerged as the Razor Ramon and Diesel characters – greasy hair, toothpicks, black gloves, the lot. Fans were understandably disappointed that the names alone didn’t guarantee the talent that went with it.

And while it’s fair to say that Glen Jacobs, who had previously dragged Bret Hart down in his Isaac Yankem, DDS guise, was an improving talent, the same cannot be said for Rick Bognar, whose Razor Ramon impersonation and mannerisms were so far off the mark as to be offensive. This despite his own claims that WWF owner Vince McMahon ‘heard [he] did a great Razor Ramon’.

Tonight I watched the two of them pair up in a tag match against the then-tag champions, the British Bulldog and Owen Hart, from WWF In Your House: It’s Time.

How I wish I hadn’t.

To Be The Man…

It’s said that the clothes maketh the man. If that were true then the t-shirt I’m wearing right now would see me dubbed Best In The World. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

CM Punk best in the world

The two men may look the part, but their mannerisms are terrible – and again, I feel bad for Rick Bognar, but Vince was a liar when he said Bognar did a good impersonation.

(To be fair, the story also goes that when Scott Hall showed off his bad Tony Montana ‘Scarface’ impression for the first time, McMahon had no idea Hall had lifted it from elsewhere.)

Terrible. But at least he was giving it a go; Jacobs barely raised a gloved fist in the entire match.

And while Jacobs had a passable Nash-esque moveset at this time, judging by the match I watched, Bognar Ramon spent a good deal of the match either a) doing moves which Hall had never done before as Ramon (including what was, to be fair, an okay exploder suplex), or b) getting the basics completely wrong. (He couldn’t even ‘paintbrush’ the back of Owen’s head properly.)

The crowd reaction was fairly negative from the outset; it took Owen and the Bulldog, two cheap and cheating, down and dirty heels, to play the endangered babyfaces for there to have been any reaction at all. Hart was always so brilliant at taking the bumps, while Bulldog as the powerful hot tag worked really well – he’d been a face for about 80% of his WWF run to this point anyway, so the tactics were still fresh in his mind. This psychology confused me even more than the crap impersonators, but it was necessary just to keep the match ticking over. Interference from Stone Cold Steve Austin and a couple of luchadores certainly helped distract from the below-average work of ‘Diesel’ and ‘Razor’ as well.

Looking back

In 2015, I’m not impressed, but even the 1996 crowd felt somewhat cheated by this terrible cheap trick to get some press going back the WWF’s way. Basically, the feeling was that because they had created these gimmicks, it didn’t matter who filled them. And while you can maybe get away with more than one guy playing the role of Doink The Clown, or even Sin Cara (the former got worse with each incarnation, while the latter actually improved), their popularity was nowhere near on the level of Hall’s and Nash’s star power.

Kevin Nash may have had a bad run of it as WWF Champion in 1995, but that was a matter of the opponents he was pitted against and the way his matches were booked. When he was Shawn Michaels’ badass bodyguard, his performances demonstrated a very high quality and popularity, none more evidently than his run in the 1994 Royal Rumble, when he basically turned face with each louder reaction, such was his powerful performance.

As for Scott Hall, his entrances would more often than not get among the loudest reception of each show, and his in-ring talent was helped no end by the character he’d carefully crafted into a confident yet slightly dogged brawler. (Speaking of brawling, Hall’s punches were some of the best things to come out of early-to-mid 90s WWF – Bognar’s not so much.) A World Title run would’ve been brilliant for Hall, but for this and many other reasons (cough money cough) he took the decision to join WCW once his contract had expired.

When the two men helped turn the tide WCW’s way, the WWF’s arrogance in assuming their expendability would cost them dearly for at least another eighteen months – and their replacements would not fare well at all in these roles.

It turned out alright for Jacobs in the end; he would don a different outfit and re-debut further down the line, but for Bognar, who retired due to a neck injury in 1999, it was his highest point as a wrestler. Poor sod.

The Samsung Galaxy VR – best enjoyed while drunk

On Saturday night, at a friend’s stag do, I saw a glimpse of my future – but enough about whatever my best man has planned for me, because I also got to try out some VR tech.

We’d just called it quits on our poker game for the evening – which I was definitely winning – and decided to have a game of Wii bowling. While the others were setting up, my friend produced a Samsung Galaxy VR headset from the storage room and urged me to try it out.

I’d made my feelings clear about the ‘fad’ that was VR only a little bit incoherently earlier in the night, when asked if I fancied a go. I thought to myself, it’ll be fun, and it’ll certainly be impressive enough, but will it really be a mind-blowing time?

VR Troopers

Best stag do ever.

Since everyone went spare over the Oculus Rift – and the ability to walk around a virtual copy of Jerry Seinfeld’s flat from his sitcom – I’ve felt fairly cynical as to how stunning the experience can really be.

I’ve been burned before.

Nintendo Virtual Boy

Not that I ever owned one, but the 1990s were a heady time for video game commercials. Convinced that getting myself a Cyber Razor Cut would be awesome, and that playing an Amiga 500 would be the greatest gaming experience of all time (to be fair, the amazing song is to blame for that, too), I’m glad I never saw this advert for the Nintendo Virtual Boy at the time of release because it would’ve been the end of me.

The nerve. Honestly, the gall of Nintendo to have people thinking this would be anything other than a disaster. It lasted less than a year and, 20 years hence, remains Nintendo’s lowest ever selling console.



Predating that shambles of a console by two years, was BBC Manchester’s shambles of a 1993 gameshow which attempted to bring the possibilities of virtual reality to the masses. Naturally, a similarly ahead-looking presenter was needed, so in came Craig Charles – between filming series of Red Dwarf down the corridor – to welcome us ‘cybernauts’ to the virtual reality bonanza.

I was eight years old when this played on BBC2. Even at the age of eight, I could see just how bloody clunky it all looked; from the awkward poses of the ‘cyborgs’ controlled by players using the early 90s equivalent of a Dance Dance Revolution mat, to the puzzles that were thematically poles apart from the game’s concept – “welcome to the future, cyborgs. Now pick up this virtual ball and throw it at that virtual hoop”. Even at the age of eight, I could tell we had a long way to go.


The Lawnmower Man

Don’t even get me fucking started on The Lawnmower Man.


Samsung Galaxy VR

So, back to our evening of revelry last weekend. Engage.

Finding myself in an empty cinema I glanced up at my entertainment options, and chose a little VR trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron – coincidentally, one of only two films I’ve ever watched in 3D at the cinema.

And as I followed the path of Thor’s hammer and Cap’s shield across Avengers HQ, snapping pool cues in half and crushing robot heads – all in slow motion, naturally – I was stunned. The AR capabilities were fantastic, as I looked up and down and all around me to see what else was going on in this massive battle.

I also watched a music video by Squarepusher called ‘Stor Eiglass’ which has been published on YouTube 360, allowing you to get the same immersive experience I did, only by moving your mouse rather than your head.

And again, I thought this was absolutely stunning. It helps that I quite like Squarepusher anyway so the music didn’t detract from the experience, but the relatively inexpensive piece of kit that comes from combining some goggles with a smartphone managed to massively surpass my expectations.

I was absolutely blown away by the tech.

Confession: I was also pretty drunk, so there’s a good chance my eyes were already fairly goggly, but I’d recommend this experience to anybody, just to see how far VR has come since the days of Mario Tennis and Craig Charles’ Cyber Zone. And with Sony’s Playstation VR set to hit the shelves in 2016, we could finally be in for that all-encompassing, all-conquering VR experience that the likes of Craig Charles and Pierce bloody Brosnan couldn’t give us before.

Will Seth Rollins turn babyface at WWE Night of Champions?

Sadly enough, it would mean Sheamus cashes in his Money In The Bank briefcase.

When Seth Rollins left Summerslam last month with both the WWE World Heavyweight and United States titles, fans realised that he would be booked to defend both titles on the very next event; Night of Champions, which is one week away.

And with two titles on the line – against John Cena in a US Title rematch and a defence against The Icon, Sting, Rollins will have his work cut out for him to hold onto both.

Current word on Smark Street is that the World title match will actually go on before John Cena gets his big return match for the belt which, to be fair, he has added plenty of value to thanks to the Weekly Open Challenge on RAW. Not only that, but The Champ reportedly has plenty of US Title t-shirts ready to sell during next week’s episode.

When merch means more than the belt, and the US title on Cena means he’ll sell more shirts, what could it possibly mean for the World title?

seth rollins wrestlemania 31

I’m not big on fantasy booking – mainly because my ideal WWE and the actual WWE grow farther apart by the week – but forward-facing fans are soon expecting a Seth Rollins face turn, which would be amazing.

Rollins’ betraying his brothers in The Shield was a pretty big moment, and he’s obviously had some fantastic matches during his heel run, but not many of those have occurred while he’s been world champion. As he’s not currently setting the world on fire in either capacity – baddie or world champion – the time feels right to set Rollins back on the straight and narrow.

Step one: get the World belt off him.

How this happens, and assuming it does happen at Night of Champions – which would be a tremendous disappointment considering the event’s pretty low reputation – there are two ways.

WWE World Heavyweight Title match: Sting beats Seth Rollins

As the lone warrior looking to crush The Authority, Sting’s rampage has to date included the shocking debut at Survivor Series, as well as the destruction of Rollins’ bronze statue, which the newly double champion had made to celebrate his achievement at Summerslam. He heads to Night of Champions determined to end Rollins’ reign of terror.

As much as I respect the work of Sting, who had an absolutely stellar decade with WCW and not so much of another one with TNA, his one WWE match to date ended somewhat flatly with a loss against The Terminator Triple H, and I don’t see a clean win against Rollins happening all that convincingly.

The first step of a Seth Rollins face turn would have to involve an Authority screwjob, and for that to happen it also needs to be convincing enough. He needs to feel weakened and embarrassed by The Authority, which means that, sadly, we would need to have Sting ridiculed for taking the victory against a competitor in the prime of his life.

Triple H can definitely pull that off – “you got beat by him? I barely broke a sweat against him at Wrestlemania!” etc. (This despite the fact that it took all his mates in DX to help him get the win.)

We’ll get to what may potentially happen to Sting as WWE Champion shortly.


WWE World Heavyweight Title match: Seth Rollins retains against Sting

Assuming that Rollins competes earlier in the night for his US Title match against Cena, and whatever happens there, he’ll be Super Weakened from taking on Super Cena, which will make him just that bit more desperate to hold onto some gold against Sting. Whether he admirably pulls out a clean win (an early hint at turning face) or uses despicable tactics to retain (a show of force that he still holds sway around the WWE), let’s assume that he does hold on to the belt…

…until that twat with the stupid beard turns up with his Money In The Bank briefcase.

We all know that Triple H is big on Sheamus – after all, he’s the one that brought him in, and if you looked closely enough on that Wrestlemania entrance, you saw that Sheamus was identified as one of The Terminator’s ‘targets’ in his HUD – even before he’d returned from injury he was still enough of a deal to get on that graphic.

So it could be, that in a vulgar display of power at Night of Champions, that Sheamus absolutely murders Seth Rollins to take away the WWE World Heavyweight Title after cashing in his briefcase, and replaces Rollins as the wrestling face of The Authority.

If Sting does win that title match, and is suitably weakened from an all-out Rollins assault (again, face turn hints may apply), then Sheamus can just as easily wreck The Icon in seconds and take the title. This way, Triple H is again satisfied that the man railing against The Authority is taken care of.

Either way, the prospect of Sheamus becoming WWE Champion at Night of Champions?

No thanks. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but it could be a big step towards turning Seth Rollins from an average heel champion into a determined babyface challenger – and that  particular journey is something many fans will clamour for.

Writing and the art of poor self-discipline

I held off on publishing this for a few hours because I didn’t really want to put out such a negative assessment of my attitudes and aptitudes towards writing, when it’s obviously not something I feel all the time. Then I decided after another three hours at home spent not writing, to publish it anyway. Just remember, I hesitated on this one.

‘I could create / like it was stealing’ – Reuben, ‘Suffocation of the Soul’

With various writing projects on the go at any one time, I’m a victim of my own overly-active brain, juggling story ideas and fresh blog material. When it comes time to commit to paper or screen though, there’s ten things I’d rather be doing which are just avoidance tactics.

Ironically enough, it feels like what I’m doing here in writing a blog post about avoidance tactics is, in itself, an avoidance tactic.

writing self discipline

Poor self-discipline

You see, I have very poor self-discipline. I’m almost certain that it’s a perfectly normal trait for a self-confessed geek to have – a short attention span comes with the territory when on the hunt for the next shiny thing – but for someone who writes not only nine-to-five but in spades of my spare time as well it can’t be good.

My current problem is even more annoying – I’m trying to write a script and I just don’t have the patience to get it all down while my characters are furiously arguing over stuff in my head.

So when I fill up almost an entire lunch hour trying to scribble it all down, it feels immensely satisfying knowing that some of the process has been completed. With a notepad just about full to bursting, I’m ready to get home from work and start typing up – once I’ve had dinner with my lady and talked about our days, plus fitting in an episode of whatever programme we’re in deep with (Marvel’s Agent Carter was fantastic, since you asked), I should be ready to make a coffee and get cracking with the creative stuff.

So that’s what I try to do.

Eyes off the clock

But take last night as an example: knowing that I’ve got an evening to myself I get home fully intending to write up or just write some pages, but instead of hitting the home office I watch Wrestling With Shadows, a documentary about Bret Hart and the Montreal Screwjob filmed as it happened.

Knowing that I’ll have an hour and a half left of my evening before Zoë comes home from work after the film’s finished, I spend 20 minutes trying to make a video of me laughing scornfully at something Vince McMahon says during the film. (I rarely make videos. I think I really was stalling for time here.)

With an hour left, and seeing as my PS4’s already switched on – y’know, just for the sake of convenience – I load up Rocket League and promise myself I’ll just have one five-minute game.

Five games later, three of which I lost, I’m left unsatisfied with the gaming session and decide that now I’ll get that time back by writing.

Lessons learned

I type up what I scribbled during the day, and before I know it I’ve no time left to go from transcribing to actual writing. I failed to use my time wisely, and although I’m not about to regret the time spent relaxing earlier, I do curse a wasted opportunity to create.

But there’s the rub. Keeping a constant eye on the clock like I did last night doesn’t help at all; creating is hard enough without feeling the pressure of time.

I think that these two things might be the secret to self-discipline; ease off on the guilt and be confident that I will create without the need to time my progress.

Do you agree? What are your tips for writing self-discipline?

Rocket League: fun as hell but please don’t take it too seriously

My primary gamer confession, were I ever to feel guilt about such a thing, is that I very rarely play competitively. Not since the days of getting my face blown off by the blue shell in Mario Kart Wii have I ventured online or even against friends.

But before even realising I had the chance to practice offline, I took my first tentative steps into online gaming for years, by firing up Rocket League for Playstation 4 – and I’m hooked.

rocket league review


The gist of Rocket League is caught somewhere between ice hockey, football and Wipeout – lead your team to glory by blasting an oversized ball into the opposition’s goal using one of a range of tricked-out supercharged cars and vans. Defend your goal with your life before zooming out into the field, using gravity-defying flips and jumps to help set up your own attacks.

The gameplay is simplicity itself, though learning to master control of both your car and the ball is the real challenge – as is fending off attempts on goal by the opposition.

It never occurred to me that the game was set up for practice with and against bot opposition, including Exhibition and Season settings, the latter of which allows you to take control of an American-style league team aiming to make the playoffs and latterly the final, to win the glory.

Such is my inexperience with online gaming – nay, my newly-coined n00bosity – that I’d rarely played any games which allowed you to take the action to players around the world, but something about Rocket League made me want to make the jump before I’d even really got used to the playing experience.

And judging by the amount of empty lobbies I’ve found myself in this weekend after a game ends, a lot of people could easily tell.

That attitude of abandonment began to grate after a while, as a typical game put me in mind of my brace of appearances for my primary school football team – a flock of aimless children running after the ball, no matter what position up the field they were dragging themselves out from and leaving vulnerable.

Didn’t stop me from joining in chasing the ball all around the field, though – but it annoyed me immensely after a while to be smashed off the ball by my own team-mates. Without the benefit of team radio, I didn’t know if they were innocently ploughing through the field or actually trying to selfishly muscle me off the ball – a lot of the time from much worse positions such as facing the wrong way.

Assuming that nobody really was being that much of a dick in taking it seriously – but you never know – playing Rocket League has become one of my favourite recent gaming experiences. And hey, I’m actually pretty good at it, as the clumsily-edited PS4 share video below will attest.

A last-second equalising goal followed by an immediate overtime winner. I’ll take it.

Free with June’s batch of PS Plus games, Rocket League has gone a long way to justifying that monthly subscription for me. If you do own it yourself, just one tip: don’t take it too seriously. It really is just a game, but a hell of a lot of fun.

Is eSport a real sport?

I spent a very rainy Saturday listening to my favourite football team, Leeds United, securing a fourth league draw in a row to remain undefeated in the Championship this season. After going 1-0 down to a wonder strike by Sheffield Wednesday’s Marco Matias, Leeds shared the honours via an equaliser from new striker Chris Wood.

Later that day I watched the world’s top Counter Strike: Global Operative teams competing in the ESL One Cologne tournament. Teams like EnVyUs and Fnatic showed their stuff in front of a packed crowd, many of whom had travelled from far and wide to support their countrymen – Polish powerhouse Virtus Pro had an especially vocal contingent in the crowd.

At first glance the worlds of online and real-life sport are two very different pursuits; one a physical test of endurance, the other a more mental test of strategy. But from grassroots games to stadium-filling world tournaments, each has its own massive devoted following. As online gaming becomes more popular there are calls from its leading figures to recognise eSport as a legitimate sport, but how do the likes of League of Legends, DoTA and CS:GO compare with their real world counterparts?


While nobody on the eSports battlefield is in danger of breaking a limb or being knocked out – both of which are very real situations that could, and have, befallen sportsmen – the demands on a gamer are still plentiful.

However, being a successful eSport player takes a degree of concentration and reflexes that even the most cat-like goalkeeper could only dream of having in order to survive a game of Team Deathmatch, or to defend your territory from virtual terrorists. Staring at a screen for 16 hours a day can’t be great for your eyesight, either, and the amount of energy drinks you see them go through must be doing horrible things to their insides.

Okay, so maybe there’s no real comparison here – the physical demands placed on people who play on courts and pitches are more intense than those who ply their trade on the virtual front, but nonetheless there have been casualties in the world of eSports. League of Legends player Hai Lam had to retire from competitive gaming earlier this year due to a wrist injury from which he couldn’t recover his previous form, citing teammates’ loss of confidence in his abilities.



You’ve only to look at the daft amounts of money flying around the world of football to appreciate its popularity around the world – not only in the obscene amounts of money being paid in transfer fees but also in the cut-throat business deals taking place when buying the rights for TV coverage. From this season, UK broadcaster BT Sports will pay £299 million a year for the next three years to be the sole screener of UEFA Champions League and Europa League games – I’ve got to say, this is where money starts losing all meaning. All that money just to be allowed to show football games. It’s extremely shocking stuff.

But with the cost comes the potential for ratings – The Guardian reports that 14.6 million pairs of eyes in Britain were on the 2008 Champions League final, while on the world stage it gets ludicrous. 909 million people reportedly watched the 2010 World Cup final between the Netherlands and Spain – almost a billion.

But according to Super Data Research, eSports is no small fry. They estimate that “71 million people worldwide watch competitive gaming”, and that the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship was watched by more people than either the MLB World Series or Game 7 of the NBA Finals – two sports which, while some distance shorter in reach than the Super Bowl, can still command a loyal audience.



And while the games’ greatest exploits are still looked down upon by sports in general, ESPN was one of the first to acknowledge its mass appeal by airing live coverage of Heroes of the Dorm, the college finals of DOTA. One of the company’s radio presenters famously said as a result that he would retire if asked to cover such events, while the ESPN president even went so far as to say it isn’t a sport.

But as fans grow weary of the continued big-money plays made to keep them away from their favourite sports – BT Sport requires a monthly subscription to access – perhaps eSports can begin to take up some of the slack. And with a new generation of gamers rising through the ranks, maybe the door to eSports glory is even closer for some than the lure of the real-life football pitch.

Five For Friday: Scenic Views in Video Games

This week’s Five For Friday: virtual vistas, unspoiled plains and views to explore from the comfort of your own home.

Five For Friday geek culture views

I read an interesting article on the Guardian this week – a strong reaction to some British business type’s claim that all games are made by spotty nerds, lack “artistic flair” and won’t do the UK industry any favours. His generally being hugely mistaken aside, that middle bit for was an especially incorrect assumption. There are plenty of video games out there which pack all kinds of artistic flair – from iconic soundtracks to character and story developments that wouldn’t look out of place in one of those HBO dramas that the kids seem to love so much these days.

Nowhere in gaming is true art more immediately appreciated than the graphics, and while the best visuals are derived from moments of action and interaction, in some games there’s nothing like climbing up to the top of a hill and admiring the view. This week’s games chosen in Five For Friday possess just those moments; open-world games set on planets near and far which, even during the heat of the action, may cause you just to stop, tilt up on your controller and just…wooooah.

Fallout 3 – Outside Vault 101

Okay, so we’ll start with a location that doesn’t exactly inspire a visit to the travel agents any time soon. But once your character’s made their escape from the relatively safer confines of Vault 101 at the start of the game, the view that awaits them outside is very impactful in its own right.

fallout 3 vault 101

Look at that. Spooky, isn’t it? It’s just the beginning of a potentially horrifying adventure. Man I can’t wait for Fallout 4.


Mass Effect 2 – Ilium

The Mass Effect trilogy has more than its fair share of stunning vistas, especially when engaging in space combat. But one of the highlights for me comes from the second game when you visit Ilium to see what Liara’s up to. When you first enter the spaceport Nos Astra and start making your way through the market, the view out into the city is just amazing.

mass effect 2 ilium view

It’s one of the most striking sci-fi game views I think I’ve ever seen, just stunning, and it gives me a real thrill to imagine it happening somewhere out there.


Mirror’s Edge – the city skyline

In what’s already a fantastic game, the views were what really grabbed me the most in Mirror’s Edge, just the rush of getting out onto the rooftop and seeing this gorgeous blueness before you.

mirror's edge review

At the time, all games were about running through murky environs with your fellow soldiers or gang members to perpetrate whatever ‘gritty realism’ was involved in the story, but this rush of stunning colours was the perfect antidote. Hopefully the recently-announced follow up will be just as refreshing!


Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture – just about everywhere

This game was name-checked in that Guardian article as a token of that British artistic flair, and after finishing it myself earlier this week, I’ve got to agree – there’s so much of this interactive mystery that I just had to stop and stare at. The trails of light, the sound design and most of all, that beautiful Shropshire countryside – particularly at night, but showing a glimpse of that might just be a bit of a spoiler.

everybodys gone to the rapture

from PS Blog

For the purposes of this list, the best thing about Rapture is that I can’t even pick out one single view to call – most of the exterior is simply stunning to look at, and the interiors so well-detailed that estate agents should hire developers The Chinese Room to furnish their virtual show homes in future.


Minecraft – your own creation

To finish off, there’s nothing more creatively impressive than building your very own virtual view for the neighbours to get jealous of – and in the gaming phenomenon that is Minecraft this can very easily be done. But it, and games in general, can do so much more.

minecraft church

St Ben’s

The writer of that Guardian piece mentioned earlier, Keith Stuart, has written before of the benefits of Minecraft allowing his autistic son to have some much-needed order and control over what must be a very trying day-to-day life by playing god with these blessed bricks. It’s a very touching article and yet more evidence that not only does gaming deserve its artistic attributes but it can do so much more to help people, as evidenced by the fine work that the likes of Special Effect perform every day.

Been a while since I did one of these, hasn’t it! Don’t worry, I’ll soon forget again.

‘Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture’ – beautifully bleak

I’ve never played a game that’s as promising for the future of indie development on console as Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture.

everybodys gone to the rapture review

True, it’s because I haven’t actually played all that many indie games on console – I’ve had my Playstation 4 barely a month, and had shied away from downloading games or playing online on my rickety 360 in case it suddenly exploded.

But having traded in said (unexploded) 360 over the weekend for a selection of PS4 titles, I was ready to see what awaited me in the comparatively brave new world of non-triple As. And with the latest release from The Chinese Room all ready to go, I was very pleased to land on a veritable Plymouth Rock of the digital frontier.

As I walked ever deeper into the mystery of a quaint English village I found myself gripped by the storyline in a way I haven’t felt with a console game in a long time. In fact, not since the heady days of the Portal games have I felt such a strong affinity to storytelling as I did here.

In Rapture you’re tasked with exploring an English village in the 1980s, whose inhabitants have all upped and gone somewhere. As you open cottage doors and set out to explore the farmland, accompanied by supernatural visions of the events leading up to the apocalyptic event, it’s up to you to piece together what’s happened to everyone.

I don’t want to spoil anything here, but the stylised mix of ordinary and extraordinary you see in every frame of the game is absolutely glorious, with suitably spooky graphics and sound; the simple piano and strings music is especially a huge hauntingly beautiful highlight of the gameplay for me. Even if there weren’t such a brilliant story behind it, the graphical rendition of the scenery is fantastic and the sound design so well put together.

Although a fairly linear experience, the interaction with your surroundings has been very cleverly created, and it’s through the little touches like switching on a radio or reading a notice on the church board that you start piecing together the story, along with the visual and aural echoes of recent conversations and actions between the villagers.

The tension gently simmers away as the pieces of the jigsaw come together, before building up to some absolutely stunning sequences which link each chapter of the story – and a finale that honestly took my breath away. The whole game is beautiful yet bleak, and I enjoyed it so much.

One of the things that turned my head Sony’s way in this gaming generation is that, from the outset, they set out to win fans over by helping the next generation of indie developers connect with a new audience.

Games like Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture have absolutely repaid that faith and made me realise there’s more to console gaming than killing Nazis and driving a Batmobile – though there’s plenty of room for that too, as we’ll all find out over the coming weeks.

‘Halt And Catch Fire’ is great for drama, even better for geek culture

Since activating our free trial of Amazon Prime a month ago – mainly so I could buy a Playstation 4, thank you Prime Day – me and my fiancée have been keen to watch as much of the good stuff as possible through the Amazon Instant Video service before the trial ends.

So after rattling through the sole season of the criminally-cancelled Freaks and Geeks, we found a new programme from AMC – home of Mad Men, The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad yada yada yada – that hasn’t been given nearly the amount of love it deserves.

halt and catch fire review amc

Premiering last year, Halt And Catch Fire has just wrapped up its second season of airing on AMC before transitioning straight to streaming. Since even hearing of its existence only a week or so ago, we’ve enjoyed all of the show’s twenty episodes to date.

And personally I’d absolutely love to see another ten. Much like a Randy Orton finisher, Halt And Catch Fire has come from out of nowhere to captivate and entertain me with its brilliant mix of character-driven drama and fascinating contextual background.

Set during the 1980s, the programme begins with the story of its three main characters working on an exciting new project at Cardiff Electric. Joe Macmillan is the suave yet deeply troubled character who charms his way into a top job overseeing the production of one of the very first personal computers. With more than a hint of Spacey-esque smarm about him, Joe leads a team including recovering techaholic Gordon Clark and young hot prospect Cameron Howe into developing what would become the Cardiff Giant. The name refers to the tall tale of legend which acts as a great metaphor for their struggle both in its mythical promotion and actual behind-the-scenes deceptions.

The three characters struggle to build relationships and business acumen in their bid to out-IBM IBM, and the personal and professional heartache caused as a result. There’s a real friction between the three characters and whoever else they interact with, all of which is brilliantly plotted and performed, as we get a soft reset into season two, where supporting characters Donna Clark and John Bosworth are also brought to the fore for even more of the same great writing and acting.

What’s equally great about the programme is its heavy investment in context; the whole computing industry in its infancy is very well captured within the programme, borrowing liberally from real events. It doesn’t necessarily play out in order, nor is all of it necessarily accurate, but the painstaking degrees of realism throughout in costumes, music and design – right down to the last microchip or Talking Heads track – make it a real treat for computer geeks keen to learn about the world that was.

Highlight of the programme for me is Toby Huss who plays Bosworth – I found out only last night that he played the iconic role of Artie, The Strongest Man In The World during the 90s – whose tough-talking, wise-cracking nature belies a deep sense of loyalty to those around him.

If Halt And Catch Fire is available for streaming on your chosen service, I highly recommend you get it streaming on your TV – and cross your fingers for a third helping of 80s tech geekdom.