New Generation Project Podcast

The New Generation Project Podcast softens the blow of you ever having seen a WWF New Generation PPV; with humorous insight, amiable hosts and plenty of decent wrestling trivia.

Ask any wrestling fan when the dark days of the WWF were, and they’ll very likely spin you a yarn of the very dark days; when gimmicks were awful and the lack of roster depth was immense.

When Hulk Hogan left the WWF in 1993 having pretty much refused to ‘pass the torch’ to someone else (a feat he would repeat many times over), the company was in the bad position of having no heir to the throne. And with the company reeling from the steroid trial, the bad publicity heaped upon the WWF in the mid-90s was enough to see it fall down a hole both creatively and financially.

And of course, that’s when I happened across and started watching wrestling. And at the age of 8 I didn’t see all that much wrong with dentists, farmers and binmen all doubling up with a career inside the ring, but fortunately the guys from the New Generation Project Podcast have come to see me right.

new generation project podcast

Hosted by Stewart Brookes, Paul Scrivens and Adam Wykes, The New Generation Project Podcast sets out in each episode to “honour the heroes of Hulkamania and analyse the architects of Attitude” by examining the WWF pay-per-views between King of the Ring 1993 (Hulk Hogan’s final appearance in the 90s) and Wrestlemania XIV (Stone Cold Steve Austin’s first World title win).

The usual format has Stewart running down each match and angle within the show in question, while Paul and Adam chip in with their own thoughts, which often take the form of their specialist subjects: being a maths whiz, Paul grapples with the mathematical problems posed by the in-ring action and commentary (a recent one involved working out the circumference of a sumo wrestling ring) while Adam rates and reviews the beautiful 90s haircuts on display – and some of the ladies too.

The guys have just passed through the period I remember most clearly – between Wrestlemania X in 94 and In Your House 5, which took place in December 95. Of course that means we’ve had their thoughts on King of the Ring 1995; the infamous disaster of a show which saw a brave Savio Vega wrestle four times in one night and get all the way to the final, only to fall to the new King Mabel who wrestled just twice thanks to various screwy booking.

As a ten-year old I rallied behind brave Savio Vega; the plucky underdog. Now, having listened to the New Gen Podcast’s very insightful and very funny take on it, I’m stunned to have any good memories of it at all. It sounds diabolically bad, and I feel sorry for them for going through that torture in the name of entertainment.

(On the other hand, there are shows featuring Bret Hart; still one of my favourite ever wrestlers, and I’m still dumbstruck that they gave him such silly feuds when he should’ve been challenging for, or holding, the World title for a good long time; such was his talent in comparison to others who got more of the rub around this time.)

And entertaining it really is. Stewart’s in-depth research nicely plugs the gap between PPVs, ensuring we’re all up to date with the various angles played out on Monday Night Raw and Superstars (ah, Superstars…) while all three provide some great insights on hair, maths and more throughout. Their easy-going conversational style is something special, and it’s very much in keeping with the content: when something particularly bad or silly occurs in the show, you may as well just go with it right?

I’m a big fan of the episodes where they change the channel to see what’s happening down south in WCW – where Hogan and failed Hogan 2.0 Lex Luger are bedding in nicely to make WWF’s financial woes even stronger by throwing the company’s money around.

(It’s also been the place where the guys provided my standout moment of the show so far: introducing Bunkhouse Buck for a match, before one of the guys misheard and thought we were being treated to a ‘Bunkhouse Bob Monkhouse’ match. I want that on a shirt.)

So if you were as unlucky as me to have tuned into wrestling in precisely the period that represented a massive slump in the fortunes of its biggest supplier, you’ll feel better after listening to the New Generation Podcast. And you’ll stay for Scrivens’ karaoke. Superb stuff all around.

You can find the NGP Facebook page here. Or find them on Twitter at the slightly simpler @newgenpodcast, and on iTunes.

Microsoft buys Minecraft – part 3

In the final part of his examination of Mojang’s sale to Microsoft, Anton takes in the geek culture reaction.

Read part one here.

Read part two here.

Now that the business side of it is all discussed, I feel it is time to move on to talking about what may be the most important part of the whole equation.

People sometimes overreact. Hair-trigger geeks tend to overreact slightly more than average. I think that this is because they feel almost totally invested in the idea/show/film/comic/game/character/book, and have attached some part of themselves to it. If that changes, they change. They cannot possibly be the same person if this part of their life is different.

geek culture blog minecraft

Image by Anton Krasauskas – and it’s a doozy!

So when such-and-such gets killed off in whatever series of books, or whatsisface turns heel and powerbombs thingybob through a table, it has not only affected the story, it has actually affected their life. By becoming affiliated with Microsoft, Notch, Mojang and Minecraft have, to some people, ceased to exist in their true form and will forever more be tainted.

Granted, this doesn’t make any logical sense. Looking at it from this angle, it’s difficult to understand why anyone could get upset about anything like this. But the internet, as hard as we try to see it differently, is an illogical place. Rage motivated by hard-lined opinions will always look ridiculous to the outsider. But Minecraft is, understandably, just that important to some people.

I wonder whether there would have been the same volume of displeasure if Notch had left the company before the sale went ahead. Notch, for the last few years, has been an icon to many people. He has been the definitive archetype of the little guy; the underdog. He has surpassed anything that anyone could have expected from him, and through the whole thing he has stayed that humble independent game creator archetype.

But when something becomes big enough that it crosses language barriers, cultural barriers, age gaps and gender differences, there are inevitably going to be a lot of people who want to attach a name or a label to you. He has been called both a hack and a saviour countless times, usually in the same comments thread. To some he is the man who restarted the Indie Games movement and brought it out into the mainstream. To some he is a fraud who took an idea that someone else had and made it his own. But to none of these people is he a human male who made a game that was well liked and critically acclaimed.

And that appears to be the problem. For all of this vitriol and venom to make sense, Notch cannot possibly be just a man who made a game. Either he has had this plan in mind all along and was just stringing along the punters until he could sell out, or he has been tricked out of his beloved baby by the evil MegaCorporation who will destroy and devour everything good about the game they love.

At the root of it all you can find the main reason that internet rage exists: because people are scared about their toys being taken away from them. It sounds trite and oversimplified, but in any of the major trolling scandals of the last five years the basic argument has always been that my opinion means more and if you disagree then I will publish your details on the internet and order fifty pizzas to be delivered to your house, which is then followed by torrents of abuse. These things really do mean that much to some people. If Minecraft had no intrinsic value to someone who was playing it, they would not care so much. If they hadn’t poured weeks of their life into building a cathedral or a village with temples and pyramids then literally no one would care. But because it has become such a huge part of who they are, they feel the need to defend it. Otherwise those weeks and months of building a farm and amassing a huge collection of wolves would be rendered pointless.

To some people, it really does matter that much. Enough to write a two and a half thousand word essay on why it matters at all. And there are not many games that could do that. Gaming as a whole is such a broad subject because it encompasses all sorts of things, from the people who play games to concepts of level design and risk vs reward. But Minecraft is one of the few games that is almost a subject of its own. It is so many different things to so many different people. That is something that has not been achieved on such a scale in as long as I can remember. And as long as people continue to play it, it will survive.

Thanks so much to Anton Krasauskas for his take on the Mine-crosoft situation. You can find Anton on Twitter @ajkrasauskas

Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer reaction

Thoughts on the first, second and third viewings of the new Marvel Studios film trailer, coming May 2015.

You’ve watched the trailer already. Of course you have. I’ve watched it three times now (but to be fair I was taking notes for this article the last two times.)

So what did we make of the Age of Ultron trailer?

avengers age of ultron poster

Well first off, it looks brilliant; of course it does, it’s a) a Marvel Studios movie, and b) a film directed by Joss “Is Boss” Whedon. Naturally, May 2015 can’t come soon enough for a lot of us.

Because while it looks as outstanding as ever, it’s also laying down some very intriguing hints about the future of the MCU. Here are a few things that got me thinking.

 

“I’ve got no strings”

It’s a simple enough phrase popularised by a puppet some 70-odd years ago (in a nod to new parent company Disney) but the performance of the song heard throughout the trailer – eerie as all hell – might apply not only to Ultron’s becoming sentient but also to his serving no master. The Avengers are sworn to protect Earth at all costs, but Ultron has no such bounds.

Quick note here: I’m not a big James Spader fan – the most I’ve seen of him is his run as Bobby in The Office ­– but somewhere along his career he took an extremely sinister edge that’s made him perfect for the role of a very dangerous Marvel villain. I’m really looking forward to seeing what sort of “batshit crazy” he’ll bring to the table.

Civil War

It’s annoying, but even before we’ve seen AoU in its full-length format, we’re getting tasty morsels of information about more upcoming instalments of the MCU; namely that Captain America 3 could be the start of the Marvel Civil War which saw Tony Stark and Steve Rogers on opposing sides in the comics.

To get from Age of Ultron into a Civil War we’ll need definitive proof that what The Avengers have going for them isn’t working. The team barely survived the Battle of New York, and what with HYDRA making its presence known in The Winter Soldier and the first season of Agents of SHIELD, there could be further disruption ahead.

In the trailer, Stark appears to tell Fury and Black Widow that “it’s the end of the path I started us on”. And what with us also seeing Cap’s shield laying broken in half, perhaps it literally is the end for someone.

And then there’s Bucky, another Cap in the comics, who did a post-credits pop-up in The Winter Soldier…

Two new recruits

In the mid-credits scene of The Winter Soldier (it’s a scientific fact that cinema cleaners are now 10% less productive because people stay until the end), we saw Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch being held by a higher-up at HYDRA. Assuming even that they’re not keen on being caged up like that, we still don’t know where these new characters’ loyalties lie. While we assume they won’t be quick to join The Avengers, perhaps they play a big part in Ultron’s plans.

(We can also assume that their father Magneto won’t be joining in the fun.)

 

What did you make of the trailer? Give me a score of 1 to PSYCHED.

 

My hatred for the Hatred video game trailer

Destructive Creations creates something destructive…to my attention span.

“My genocide crusade begins here…” says the lead character of upcoming PC game Hatred, as he gears up with guns, grenades and a knife before opening his front door and unloading clips into his enemies.

Hatred video game Destructive Creations

That’s a fine way to kick off a game – your hero, surrounded, realises that the only way out is to blast his way out against the armed forces outside to complete his holy mission – but the armed forces aren’t armed. They’re not even forces. They’re innocent passers-by.

And that is just the beginning of a needlessly violent gameplay trailer which also appears to be the full extent of your objectives: kill and maim unarmed, innocent humans who do nothing but run from your (unnamed, not mysterious) character.

(WARNING: The trailer below contains loads and loads of senseless violence, including some up-close uses of knives and shotguns.)

 

Is it good? I can’t deny there’s a certain appeal to how it looks. I never watched much WCW but if these graphics were a wrestler, they’d be 1997 Sting with a baseball bat.

Is it art? Fuck, no – but a lot of games don’t get flattered with that label either and I still see them as valid and satisfying modes of storytelling, diversion and various other chin-stroking criteria.

So far, so offensive and completely tasteless; but according to Hatred developer Jarosław Zieliński from Destructive Creations, video games “used to be considered a rebellious medium”. In stating this, we hark back to the likes of Doom and Postal: two games which certainly got a lot of mainstream media attention for their content which was both heavily violent and all too vivid thanks to developing technology.

Games: a rebellious medium

While I would definitely consider games a rebellious medium due to the ways they got various governments all up in arms during the 1990s – I’m loath to mention that the Columbine killers were incidentally big fans and accomplished Doom level builders – the idea that Hatred is trying to jolt us out of some cutesy-cutesy groove that we’re supposedly all into these days is ridiculous, as Zieliński says games are “losing that [rebellious] factor and just trying to fit in the nice and sweet pop-culture.”

To go with that train of thought for a second. If Hatred was an industrial album recorded by Al Jourgensen, produced by Trent Reznor and played live by Pitchshifter, then it absolutely would prove a striking contrast to all that twee folksy crap we’re being subjected to in adverts lately. And while it would prove to be a hell of an album in itself, I don’t think it would have the same mass appeal that girls singing ukulele-led Joy Division covers seems to have lately.

And, much like the creative and commercial peak of industrial music – despite the level of talent on offer – a game this needlessly violent and nihilistically bleak really does belong back in the mid-1990s.

For a start, we’ve seen worse things at the cinema in the past ten years! The first Saw and Hostel films proved to me that there was a market for the bleak torture-porn genre – these were both released almost a decade ago now. A hundred million sequels, rip-offs and clones later and it’s only now that we’re seeing it start to bore off. The perpetrators of the horrible acts in those films were, for the most part, sick sadistic souls with narrative motive.

Even villains need a motive

And speaking of motives, we’ve also had much more valid demonstrations within video gaming itself, as well as some equally invalid. While I admit I’ve had fun needlessly shooting up the citizens of Liberty City during the Grand Theft Auto series, this only happened whenever I’d failed a mission, got bored or – very rarely – booted it up just to do it for fun and burn off some frustration, all safely within the confines of a self-reflexive, detached and tip-of-a-wink in-game environment.

(And while I admit I cannot possibly defend ‘No Russian’ in Call of Duty, nor do I want to – that game is morally near-bankrupt as it is without the senseless civilian violence mission.)

Zieliński and his fellow developers may well be bored of the ‘nice and sweet pop-culture’ that we’re currently in the midst of creating and being sold, but I would argue that the reason it’s going on in the first place is that we’ve already had enough of what he’s trying to sell us in spades since the mid-90s – and all carried off much more effectively too.

What he claims is his own reaction to the cutesy stuff of late I would argue is their actually missing the boat in the first place – when realistic, non-fantastic guts and gore were even more commonplace in the mainstream than what we’re trying to live through now.

Earlier this week in a post for Geekocracy I feared that I’ve become desensitised in my late twenties – but a big yawn to the controversy this game’s creators are trying to whip up surely proves it.

Hatred hates itself. It hates people. It hates you. Don’t fall for it.

The 1984 equivalent of John Romero’s Daikatana poster

Imagine Software’s about to make you their bitch…with Psyclapse and Bandersnatch.

When John Romero left id software in 1996, the world was his oyster. He’d co-created Doom and Quake, two pioneering video games, and was inundated with offers to continue his good work. Together with another ex-id employee, Tom Hall, he founded Ion Storm and set to work on what would eventually become Daikatana. As laid out in the excellent book Masters of Doom, the production process was brutal because of the pressure on Romero to deliver another game-changing…erm, game.

As Daikatana missed its first few release dates, Romero needed to keep up the hype, and managed to do so with this poster in 1997:

John Romero Daikatana poster bitch

Says it all, really: Romero’s unchecked ego splashed across all manner of gaming press in his own unique way. It certainly didn’t help that the game took three more years to finish, and was pretty bloody awful when it finally did.

But during my research into 1980s computer gaming history in the UK – with Grand Thieves and Tomb Raiders serving as an excellent starting point – I came across this poster from a company called Imagine Software.

Imagine Software Bandersnatch

Obviously there are some key differences between this subtle poster for the two forthcoming Imagine “Mega Games”, Psyclapse and Bandersnatch, and Romero’s own personal assurance that you will become subservient to his every whim once Daikatana was released, but the lofty claims are there nonetheless.

“The two most sensational, mind boggling games ever imagined,” it says. “Can you control your patience?” it asks, twice, slightly different words each time. I love this poster. It is both very British AND very 1980s. While a turn-of-the-millennium Ion Storm threatens you for your attention, these rather dorky-looking gents are coughing politely from a decade and a half before, asking gently if you wouldn’t mind hanging on a bit longer.

But the main thing these two rather boastful press ads have in common about how amazing their upcoming games are going to be is, well, they don’t show them to you.

And the reasons why are rather similar, too. Just as Romero put the cart, wheels, wood and nails before the horse, so too did Imagine Software, whose cunning release plans were foiled by the fact that they went out of business in July 1984 – owing among other sums, £50,000 in unpaid advertising bills ironically enough.

Imagine were aiming to sell these Mega Games at an astonishing price of nearly £40 – between four and eight times the average price of a computer game in 1984. Now that really is Mega. It would’ve been packaged with additional hardware so that the game would’ve been playable on a ZX Spectrum, such was its alleged potential, but that’s a pretty tough sell now let alone in the early 80s.

So there you have it: three games. Two posters of (relatively) outlandish hype. Two rather different outlooks on games production companies in big trouble and trying to keep things very much ‘on the boil’ as one of the Imagine top brass puts it in the TV documentary filmed during their collapse.

Which poster do you prefer?

Hulk Hogan and Creative Control

Examining the excessive use of Hulk Hogan’s creative control in WWF and WCW.

Hulk Hogan is a wrestling legend, no two ways about it. When he defeated The Iron Sheik for his first WWF Championship in 1984, plans were already in motion to make the charismatic Hogan the face of American wrestling – a plan which came to financial and cultural fruition with the first Wrestlemania in 1985.

For the rest of his career, the Hulkster used the fact that he’d single-handedly built Vince McMahon, Jr’s WWF empire to his own ends; helping friends get over at the expense of more talented competitors, even choosing between alternate title runs and extended breaks from wrestling to further his Hollywood career in a somewhat loose form of creative control.

But when Hogan signed for wrestling rivals WCW in 1994, he actually had a clause written into his (massive) contract that allowed him full creative control of his character. Hogan could choose when, where and how much he wrestled, whether he won or lost, and who to.

In having that control, Hogan was able to protect his image during his most relevant years, but as the market hotted up again during the mid-90s, fellow veterans were beginning to make way for the younger stars – except Hogan and a select few colleagues, all of which spelled trouble for WCW in the end.

Here are three times that Hulk Hogan’s uses of creative control rubbed fans and colleagues alike the wrong way.

1993 – Wrestlemania IX

Hoganblackeye

Hogan had already wrestled earlier in the night, teaming with his ‘old pal’ Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake in a match against Money, Inc. (Ted DiBiase and ‘The’ IRS) and losing by disqualification after Hogan used Brutus’ protective facemask as a weapon. But following the main event which saw Yokozuna cheating Bret Hart to become the new WWF Champion, Hogan hit the ring to defend his friend’s honour. Manager Mr Fuji, who threw salt in Hart’s eyes to get the win for his giant protégé, randomly offered out Hogan for a match then and there.

There’s a reason Cagesideseats.com ranked this match the second-worst Wrestlemania main event of all time (the worst wasn’t for the title and had an NFL player in it), as Hogan had had a word in Vince’s ear that Bret wasn’t the guy to carry the company through its (too numerous to mention) problems in 1993. The answer? Put the strap back on the Hulkster, brother.

His very first title defence was the loss to Yokozuna at King of the Ring 1993; it was also Hogan’s final WWF appearance for almost a decade. Bret had to content himself with winning the tournament itself, but wouldn’t get near the belt again for months.

Bash at the Beach 2000

Hulk Hogan creative control

Hogan signed for WCW in 1994, and won their World title in his very first match against Ric Flair, as you do. Hogan held the belt for fifteen months before dropping it to a pre-Big Show Paul Wight as The Giant in October 1995 – by disqualification, obviously – before taking an extended break.

When he returned to shock the wrestling world by forming the NWO with Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, he was once again indestructible – although this time the script called for it, rather than just how he was feeling that day. An account of the events at Starrcade 1997 – in which Hogan may or may not have influenced the result to make him look better – proves that Hogan was in business for himself, artificially extending a feud that had already been 18 months in the making and exposing the first chink in WCW’s hitherto impenetrable armour.

But in the year 2000, at what would be Hogan’s final WCW appearance, it was head writer Vince Russo who had had enough. After Hogan had decided (as you do) he fancied winning the World belt from Jeff Jarrett that night in order to get the most from his remaining contract, he and Russo planned to fake Jarrett’s laying down for Hogan. After Hogan convincingly told Russo to shove it and left, planning on a big return match down the line to clear up this apparent badly-booked mess, Russo – for realsies – came back to the ring and blasted Hogan for playing the dreaded creative control card when “he knew it was bullshit all along”.

 

2005/6 – Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton

In 2002 Hulk Hogan returned to WWE, winning another World title and doing the very occasional job to younger guys before deciding he wasn’t satisfied with the role he’d been placed in and making on-and-off appearances. He falls out with Vince McMahon over pay, telling McMahon he felt his driver was making the same money that he was on.

Two of Hogan’s biggest-profile matches in the mid-00s come against Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton; the latter, an upcoming star who’d become The Legend Killer; the former, a legend in his own right who just wanted to find out who was stronger.

By this time, Hogan was getting on in years – at 53 he was more than twice Orton’s age when they faced off at Summerslam 2006. But nonetheless, Hogan wanted to win the match cleanly, which he did against a former World Champion in Orton.

But it’s the match with Michaels that’s more interesting. Having never faced off before, it was being sold as something of a dream match. Michaels even agreed to turn heel just to make it happen. The idea was that both men would win a match each, with Hulk winning the first. Hogan agreed, and their match at Summerslam 2005 was…interesting.

Michaels bumped around cartoonishly for the aging Hogan, knowing it would make him look somewhat foolish in the way he was hitting big moves. There are points in the match too where Michaels just looks outright annoyed at having to carry Hulk Hogan throughout, losing his cool and stiffing Hogan with a slap in between Irish whips. Michaels agreed to lose clean in the centre of the ring, which Hogan duly obliged – and later called off any talk of a rematch, causing Michaels some understandable aggravation.

Even in the midst of the new era of wrestling, Hulk Hogan couldn’t be relied upon to make his youngers look the slightest bit competitive by losing, or even drawing in the big-profile matches. What’s even worse is what happened when he made his way over to TNA, but that’s a story for another time.

Microsoft buys Minecraft – Part 2

Will we lose the Minecraft modding community? And can Microsoft be trusted with a truly iconic franchise?

Following on from last week’s post, guest writer Anton discusses what Microsoft could feasibly do with their new titan of a gaming property – not to mention the company that made it. 

A major concern for those who play Minecraft on the PC is the future of third party mod support. There are entire sub communities that don’t even play Vanilla Minecraft anymore, choosing instead to spend their time with one of the countless mods that has popped up during the game’s lifespan.

Each of these mods takes things in their own weird direction, letting people choose what sort of Minecraft they want to play. There’s a Pokemon mod; there are mods that add countless new elements; enemies, creatures, weapons, tools, abilities, textures, resources and so on. There is one huge mod pack that lets players build huge mining and drilling facilities, allowing the player to automate the mining and processing of entire swathes of land. You name it, someone has probably spent a few dozen hours programming it and adding it to their own bespoke version of Minecraft.

For these people it is a game that lets them make the game they want to play. Like Steve Jackson’s Generic Universal Role Playing System (or GURPS for short) in the world of pen and paper RPGs, Minecraft for some is more like a toolset than a game. But to be able to get all this usability from the game requires that the players are allowed to modify and adjust the code, play around with the parameters and manipulate various other factors to their hearts’ content. Will Microsoft allow all this stuff to continue to happen? For now they probably will. But it would not be a shock to see an “Official” Mods section on their cash shop. And why would you buy a mod when someone can figure out how it was done and make that mod themselves for free?

(By the way, I am almost positive that there will be a cash shop at some point in the next few years.)

minecraft ship

image and building: Ruth Allen

The truth is that of course someone was going to buy Mojang. It was really only a matter of time until it got snapped up. It’s actually not hyperbolic to say that Minecraft and Mojang have changed everything about the landscape of current gen gaming. They introduced the concept of crowd funding to a mass audience, brought online gaming to a whole new generation and convinced parents around the world that games can encourage learning on a scale not considered before. Game companies are starting to experiment with different art styles as pixels and voxels come back into fashion. And now all of that has been claimed by Microsoft in one single purchase. Every single piece of it. It’s not just the game itself that has been bought. The entire world around the game now also belongs to Microsoft. The books that have just recently been released and spent most of the summer at the top of the children’s book charts are all now property of Microsoft. The Lego sets, the plushies, the action figures, the Minecraft Convention ‘Minecon’, all of it. Even the Steve heads.

There are those who say that there is absolutely nothing to worry about; that Microsoft has a history of making quality games. And I can agree that in the past there have been some great titles. Solitaire and Minesweeper are pretty good. The original version of Flight Simulator is one that I remember fondly but looking back on it I can’t actually remember why. And then there is Age of Empires, which was a respectable series in its day. But you only have to look at how long Age of Empires Online lasted to see what they are willing to do to even their most beloved of PC franchises. It was, like so many similar games these days, a glorified shakedown machine disguised as an old favourite. In terms of how badly managed it all was, it was matched only by EA’s latest shambles, the once beloved Dungeon Keeper. And then there is Games For Windows Live which has officially been dismantled, but it is easy to get nervous about what Microsoft might be planning when you look at the captive audience that they now have control of. It worries me that they won’t be able to help themselves and will shoehorn in some bloated social network overlay that connects you directly to the online capes and hats shop. And some sort of online Minecraft/Bing network.

I can’t do this anymore. I tried to remain as impartial and as fair as I could. But even I am a little bit dubious as to what Microsoft will do. There have already been confirmations that there will be a Pocket Edition of Minecraft specially designed for Windows Phone. I’m guessing that it will come bundled as Standard with all new copies of Windows – whatever number they are up to. The Mac, Linux, PS4, iOS and Android editions will probably stay exactly as they are now for the rest of time. There will be minimal free updates. There will be special Xbone tie-ins and Avatar items. There will be at least one film out in the next five years. Probably a TV show. All pigs in the game will start wearing I <3 Surface t-shirts. All glass textures will be replaced with the Windows logo. Cows will have cameras in their eyes so they can spy on you and send the information back to Microsoft HQ. Steve will be replaced with Bill Gates. The Nether will be filled with pixelated Macbooks and iPad, all of them on fire. All the tools will be monogrammed with little MS’s. And all the graphics will be changed so it looks like they were drawn in MSPaint.

Maybe that last one isn’t so bad.

…TO BE CONTINUED.

When will Daniel Bryan return to WWE action?

Will it be Yes or No for Daniel Bryan in 2014?

When Daniel Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Title at Wrestlemania XXX, fans and pundits alike called it one of the most memorable Wrestlemania moments for years.

He even managed to somewhat upstage the ending of The Streak, such was the passion felt by the fans who were ecstatic to see his final victory over the scheming Authority.

But when world champion Bryan announced just days later that he needed neck surgery, we faced a long wait to see when he would return.

With Bryan’s absence growing ever longer, can we expect to see him wrestle again in 2014?

Put bluntly, no. According to WrestlingInc.com Bryan is expected back at around the same time as fellow babyface Roman Reigns, who missed his scheduled bout at Night of Champions after undergoing surgery for a persistently painful hernia surgery the day before.

It seems that the current plan among WWE top brass is to have Reigns win the Royal Rumble 2015 and successfully challenge world champion Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 31. While it would be interesting to see Roman Reigns win the world title next spring, I must confess I’d rather see Bryan in that slot.

In the run up to Daniel Bryan defeating John Cena for the world title at Summerslam 2013, the man was over. He stayed over right the way up to Wrestlemania XXX – a very tough task to accomplish when the Authority plays out the meta-angle that he’s just not the man for the job.

The WWE has historically had a ‘type’ that the likes of Bryan and CM Punk just don’t fit into; huge, muscled guys like Batista, Lesnar and – yes – Roman Reigns.

Unlike Reigns, who is now the next pick for the world title by the creative team, Bryan earned his spot by sheer fan support, not to mention his phenomenal in-ring ability.

Reigns doesn’t have anywhere near the levels of fandom that Bryan enjoyed during his run to Wrestlemania glory, but perhaps he’ll get there somehow once he’s back in the New Year.

Until then, that top babyface spot is open, and there’s no question that Dean Ambrose is the man to step up. His feud with former teammate Seth Rollins is keeping the ratings up right now. It’s a shame that WWE seems to prefer Reigns to his fellow Shield guys, but I’m sure Rollins and Ambrose can help change opinion in the next few months before Reigns gets back.

As for Bryan, we can but hope that he’ll actually be in the 2015 Royal Rumble at the very least.

Microsoft buys Minecraft – Part 1

The Mine-crosoft Debacle rages on, as guest writer Anton Krasauskas gives his thoughts on Mojang’s purchase by Microsoft.

I wanted to give this article a little bit of breathing space before I wrote it. I felt as though this topic was far too big to simply dive into. I wanted to be in a position where I could plug myself in to the whole picture and come out with a sort of wordy collage that covers all the points I care about.

At the end of the day big companies buy up successful smaller companies all the time. When Microsoft bought up Rare, I wasn’t really that bothered. Even considering what they did to Banjo Kazooie. (Viva Pinata was alright I suppose. Conker was…let’s not get into that.) The big question that has been floating around my head this whole time is: why do I care so much about this particular game? What is it about Minecraft that has whipped up such feverish hate from all corners of the internet? Is it just the typical rabble rabble rabble that we’ve all come to expect? Perhaps. But if that’s true, why do I almost feel as though it’s actually justified?

mojang logo microsoft

I can’t remember the year that I bought my copy of the game. But I can remember that zombies still dropped feathers, there was no Nether, no saddles, no Endermen. It was a long time ago. There was one podcast that I was aware of and only a handful of people making videos on Youtube. That community is almost unrecognisable now, even just a few years on. It has grown exponentially month upon month to a point where there are channels and personalities that are making a living just from their Minecraft content alone. I never made any videos or put up building guides or anything like that, but there are people who started doing just that at around the same time as I bought my copy. And now those guys have changed all their Youtube money into pennies and are doing the best impression of Scrooge McDuck that they can. We felt like we were part of a thing that was going to be kind of big. Not like Super Mario big, but maybe STUN Runner big. Little did we know that evil men and women sitting in plush leather seats were plotting to steal our beloved game away from us whilst murdering puppies and then using the dead puppies to eat babies with.

Luckily for us all though, it just got sold to Microsoft instead, which was a big relief.

original Microsoft logo

I think that the main problem that people have is that it’s Microsoft that has bought Mojang. I can’t say for certain whether people would have been as upset if Sony had been the ones to make the offer, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. There seems to still be an idea in certain corners of the internet that Microsoft has no business being involved in gaming. People are desperately waiting for them to fail in some way, and take great pride in pointing out flaws and failures whenever they occur, but we are of course talking about a subculture of individuals that expend a significant amount of their total energy hating things for no other reason than because they can.

Some people were always going to be angry about the huge, evil, lumbering, monstrous corporate entity “Microsoft” purchasing tiny, little, super-friendly, indie startup “Mojang”. In a lot of people’s heads, Minecraft is their game as much as it is anyone else’s. They have been involved in the game since before it was Beta. And to take this choice out of their hands feels to them like they have been robbed. To sell their game (and therefore to sell them as players of the game) to Microsoft is tantamount to betrayal. There was an unspoken trust there that these people were still paying money to the single digit roster of staff working at a tiny little independent start-up company that was just finding its feet. They were giving their money to a cute, delicate newborn duck, and now this huge, faceless, clanking behemoth has stomped the duckling into the concrete and is laughing at each and every person who believed that this tiny little duckling might one day grow wings and fly away to join the bigger ducks in the sky.

But Mojang is a company. A very profitable, successful, lucrative company. And Microsoft is a bigger, more successful, more lucrative company. There is no little guy, just like there is no evil dickhead mob boss. There are just two very well off companies that decided to get together. It helped that Notch was looking around to sell for at least the last six months, but we’ll get into the personal element in a future discussion.

minecraft church

St Ben’s

minecraft church

St Ben’s by night

The main issues that Minecraft players have seem to be fairly obvious. They are worried that they will cease to be a community. The Xbox has been notoriously tarred as the only console with a player base made up of monosyllabic, pre-pubescent, racist, misogynist CoD players and maybe a handful of guys playing FIFA. That is not where they want to be positioned. The Minecraft community is incredibly close knit to say how large it is. And Microsoft has a reputation, possibly undeserved, for looking the other way when it comes to addressing the issues of player harassment and abuse. Players of a family inclusive game about building and creating probably don’t want to be associated with that crowd. I’m sure that there are some nine-year olds who will get home from school, flick on the Xbox, add a floor to their gigantic dinosaur mansion and then switch over to Ghosts so that they can shout “Faggots” as loud as they possibly can for an hour. The audiences are not incompatible. But I am also sure that there are some people who love CoD, but think that Minecraft is gay or boring or whatever, just like I love Minecraft but think that CoD is pointless and irritating, not least because of all of the abuse. Abusive toss rags are not Microsoft’s fault, I understand. But the reputation stands for a reason. And Microsoft has to take some part of that blame.

Follow Anton on Twitter @ajkrasauskas. Watch this space for Part Two of the Microsoft/Minecraft discussion.

Grand Thieves & Tomb Raiders book review

Round about the same time I watched Micro Men, I picked up a book called Grand Thieves and Tomb Raiders, which proved to be a compelling account of the story of British computer gaming from bedrooms to boardrooms.

Back in the mid-1970s when two chaps from Hornsea (East Coast, represent) were dabbling in the creation of the Multi-User Dungeon – the pre-precursor to what we now know as the MMO – home computing was just getting on its feet as the afore-mentioned Micro Men made their bid to corner the market. While Chris Curry grew frustrated at his inability to get into the living room from the classroom, Clive Sinclair was still pissing about with his C5 transport instead of taking advantage.

But both men benefited from the games created by a generation of coders who had emerged from their bedrooms with some very special programming skills, like the fun and addictive Dizzy series by the Oliver twins, or the mind-blowing possibilities of space travel created by David Braben and Ian Bell’s Elite.

Grand Thieves and Tomb Raiders book

Grand Thieves and Tomb Raiders tells the story of these men and women as they went from amateur status to running some of the UK’s most ambitious software companies throughout the 1980s and 1990s. As well as the successes of the likes of Codemasters, who made a lot of money by annoying Nintendo at one point, there are the failures of companies such as Imagine Software, whose strident over-ambition resulted in their shutdown – captured during the filming of a BBC documentary about the booming industry.

As the US took hold of the market by luring the best of British talent Stateside there were still some success stories to be written – the book’s eponymous featured games being just two of the Brits’ best from DMA and Core respectively.

What strikes me the most about reading this book is the reactions of the British public and press as they gaze upon these wondrous programmes with awe. I’m familiar with a good deal of the games covered during the late 80s and early 90s (he said, showing his age) and I would have had that same enthusiasm for the games myself. Shown these very same games, people just a couple of years younger than myself (he said snobbily) would’ve snorted with derision at the comparatively basic games being wowed over back then. But there was a massive leap round about the time of the SNES’ release, that jump to the Super FX chip which brought Starfox to our living rooms, and our jaws to the floor.

The guys who invented that chip? Yep. British. But you’d have to read the book to find out more of British video games’ fascinating history, which has great interviews with many of the industry’s major players, then and now.