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

from rocketleague.psyonix.com

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?

Physicality

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.

 

Coverage

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.

 

Snobbery?

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.

Channel 4’s Humans is philosophical and shouty – and I loved it

As the credits rolled on Episode One, Channel 4 knew they had a hit on their hands with Humans, which racked up their best ratings for primetime drama in 20 years. So, was this sci-fi programme worth all the hype?

Humans Channel 4 William Hurt

William Hurt as George (image: Channel 4)

Humans is a co-production between Channel 4 and the American network AMC, best known for their zombies, meth dealers, ad men and comic shop workers. Production across the Atlantic was meant to be supplied by XBox Entertainment, but they went kablooey last year so AMC stepped in.

The concept: since scientist David Elster cracked the artificial intelligence puzzle, the new must-have consumer item is a ‘Synth’ – a robotic humanoid that’s mostly used to serve. Over the course of eight episodes, the relationship between Synths and their human masters is explored in a wide range of different storylines, ranging from kitchen sink drama (one family’s adoption of the latest model) to conspiracy thriller (the search for sentience among a group of Synths and their pursuers), and weaving in a link to their creation through William Hurt’s character and his own clapped-out Synth.

You don’t get a lot of metaphysics in your prime-time TV any more, do you? I don’t expect to see any of it on tonight’s series opener of The Great British Bake-Off for example – mainly because I don’t expect to see any of that programme at all – but Humans delivers it in spades. Sci-fi at its best is a morality tale, no matter what the scale, and some of the discussions between, for example George Millican and Niska from the group of Synths, really do well in setting up the deeper issues about humans, robots and the limits of consciousness among other things that separate them. Though hardly ground-breaking it’s really a joy to watch.

Another thing I really enjoyed during the series was the overall performances by the cast. Though a couple of the regulars irked me slightly (particularly in the Hawkins household), I thought Katherine Parkinson was brilliant as Laura; initially confused and betrayed at being ostensibly replaced by Anita, she’s got some baggage of her own too.

I’d also single out the Millican household, with the relationship between Will Tudor as the obsolete and failing Odi, and William Hurt as Dr Millican being so well played and even heart-warming. That’s the irony, of course; having feelings for a robot that doesn’t have feelings. As Hurt – who I’m now even prepared to forgive for Lost in Space, that’s how good he was – tells the Niska character, Odi has kept George’s memories of his late wife alive, stored in his own synthetic memory where George’s has failed due to a stroke. That’s why George relies on Odi so much despite his own slide into decrepitude – a very Microserfs sentiment, if you’ve read that book.

In an ambitious programme like Humans there’s got to be a glitch, and sadly there are a couple of issues with plot and pace – scenes are occasionally rushed through to get to the next chunk of development, rather than allowed to sit and unfurl with generous exposition. The dialogue too is sometimes a little stilted, which wouldn’t be a problem with the Synths who are still missing plenty of the subtleties of conversation, but not with fully human family ‘banter’.

Aside from those little nitpicks though, Humans is a fantastic mix of domestic drama and conspiracy thriller brought together by gripping themes, great acting and a good old Sunday night session of philosophy. I’m very much looking forward to series two!

MCM Manchester Comic Con 2015

Don’t you hate it when you get a present and aren’t allowed to play with it? Well in the case of the tickets I got back in February as a birthday gift from colleagues, I wasn’t actually able to use them until the weekend just passed – and for me and my travelling companion it was well worth the wait.

In case I haven’t said it before, I bloody love Manchester. I went to university there and, despite the reservations I’d been brought up to have about the place (as a Leeds United fan), I was lucky to spend three years in that great city. I still go once a year for their Christmas Market which, I promise you, is a million times better than the Leeds one.

So with two of my loves coming together – Manchester and comics – I knew it would be a great weekend at Manchester Comic Con.

We spent the Friday walking around town and doing some shopping – plus we found a place that does bubble tea called I Come From Taiwan, it was delicious. At Fopp Records I picked up two My Bloody Valentine albums to satisfy the secret shoegaze fan inside me, (damn, secret’s out) and we had an awesome fish and chip dinner before retiring for the evening to our digs in Castlefield.

beetham tower manchester deansgate

This was the view from our room; the rather ugly Beetham Tower, whose rather ugly aerodynamic shape at the top means the wind blowing through it causes a low hum which can be heard for miles around. We heard it a lot.

Oh, and we were staying in room 316. Cue the incessant Steve Austin/room service impersonations.

stone cold steve austin 316

I don’t do well on Saturday mornings. Scratch that; I don’t do well most mornings, but planning an early wake-up after a full day’s walking around town didn’t have me raving to start the day. Multiple coffees and a big breakfast solved that problem, and just before 9am we headed out to Manchester Central, which was hosting the MCM Manchester Comic Con.

First things first; the amount of cosplayers there was incredible. Even as we joined the queue we were overwhelmed by the number of attendees showing up in their costumes, representing every nook and cranny of geek culture. It was really encouraging to see so many people expressing themselves so avidly – go take a look at any MCM Manchester-related hashtag right now for the evidence.

The line to get inside moved quite speedily, and before long we were cast into the huge convention hall with what had to be thousands of other attendees, even at that early hour. It was all quite overwhelming actually, and I really, REALLY don’t do well in crowds so was quite upset for quite some time.

To get away from it all, we crept into a panel being held by the guys from All The Anime, who were discussing upcoming releases and answering questions from the assembled audience. Most of the questions and answers being supplied sailed clean over my head, as I don’t watch much anime at all – certainly nothing current, my knowledge is limited to old Studio Ghibli and Akira – but I really dug their enthusiasm and easy-going nature as they answered questions and shared opinions on what’s happening in the wide world of anime.

Most of the day was spent checking out the merchandise on offer at the various stalls, and what a selection – everything from comics, video games and clothing to cosplay props, imported food and drink and even a few film-makers, like Redshirt Films who made the excellent Nights At The Round Table.

We even saw a live Robot Wars event – my goodness, that was fun. My lady was always a bit partial to the metal mayhem of a weekday evening on BBC2, and it was really cool to see it happen live. Only issue for me was that every one of the robots competing in the same round was a ‘flipper’ type – you know the sort I mean:

robot wars flippers

So there wasn’t any real harm done to the combatants – any time one got flipped over, they just re-flipped themselves back into action. Apart from that, it was a lot of fun to see.

Someone also recognised the Scrivens 3.14 t-shirt I was wearing on the day. That was a highlight.

In one of those who-are-you-and-what-have-you-done-with-Vincent moments, sadly I didn’t pick much up in the way of sweet merch from the con – although I did pick up a copy of The Everyday by Adam Cadwell, who has not only written a funny and touching autiobio anthology but was also a lovely bloke to chat to at the end of a long day.

I also got this t-shirt, because I had to.

adventure time finn t-shirt

 

And that’s yer lot. We had a bit of a mad dash to Piccadilly for the train home, but thanks to my ninja shortcut skills we were there in plenty of time. The con was a lot of fun, and Manchester is always lovely to me whenever I visit. It’s been emotional.

 

The Undertaker Returns At WWE Battleground

There were many reasons why I enjoyed being very tired at work today; normally if it’s just because I can’t sleep I’ll have a miserable day, but last night was the WWE Battleground pay-per-view so I didn’t mind the late bedtime.

I didn’t watch it all live, but thanks to the power of the WWE Network I was able to catch the last three matches tonight. And while it definitely had its positives – the Women’s Division is once again alive and well thanks to an NXT injection – there were a couple of things that felt off for me.

Lesnar vs Undertaker II at Summerslam 2015?

Firstly, the result of the main event. Brock Lesnar had manoeuvred his way into the WWE World Heavyweight Title match against Seth Rollins, and was once again looking like an absolute double-hard bastard who would slowly murder his opponent en route to another win. However, once Rollins had taken something like 13 suplexes and a couple of finishers, the three-count was rudely interrupted…by a gong and the lights going out.

Yes, The Undertaker has returned – but not to Wrestlemania.

undertaker brock lesnar summerslam 2015

When the lights came back up, there was no sign of Rollins – nor any further mention of him for the rest of the show in fact, as Taker sized up and double-Tombstoned The Beast Incarnate. The show ended with his ‘vintage’ (copyright, Michael ‘Broken Fucking Record’ Cole) pose on the stage, as Lesnar remained out cold in the ring.

So it looks like we’re heading for a rematch between the two big men; Taker wants to avenge his loss against the man who broke his Streak, while Lesnar will be quite happy for another opponent on which to continue his disciplined practice of chucking about in the ring.

First of all – do we really need this rematch? For a man who only wrestles once a year (unless they’re trying to get Network subscriptions up, lol), Lesnar has already decisively beaten Taker, to the tune of one Broken Streak. A rematch at Summerslam may not be the answer.

Secondly, was the return of The Phenom just a way to get Seth Rollins out of what was going to be a relatively simple…well, death…with the title around his waist? Having survived yet another match by the skin of his teeth – and again, with plenty of help – Rollins is starting to look less like the absolute dickhead heel he’s supposed to be. More than capable when forced but otherwise happy to cheat, Rollins is now starting to look very cowardly instead, and against lesser men than Lesnar (ie pretty much all other men) he’s in danger of repeating the feat. We’ll have to see who steps up to challenge him at Summerslam – my hope would be another match against Dean Ambrose but I can see him evening up the side against the Wyatts with Roman Reigns.

Can Kevin Owens recover from being Cena’d?

Just before that, and even more worryingly, another big Battleground casualty – Kevin Owens’ momentum. After beating John Cena in an absolutely fantastic match at Elimination Chamber, we all knew Cena was going to level the score at Money In The Bank. A third match, while necessary, was probably always going to go against Owens too, but the manner in which it happened was very disappointing.

john cena kevin owens summerslam 2015

Rather than a last-gasp victory from the jaws of defeat, or even from one of his random ‘nah, not selling any more mate’ decisions into the usual victory routine – culminating in hitting the Attitude Adjustment and getting the three – John Cena made Kevin Owens tap out to his STF submission hold.

It’s one thing to have three close-run matches, as Cena now has the 2-1 lead in the feud. But for the third to be concluded so emphatically is a huge blow to Owens. Of all the guys Cena has conquered in his admittedly fantastic US Title run so far, this one should’ve been portrayed a lot less convincingly if Owens is supposed to stay looking strong. Cena’s strongest critics have pointed to the bone-jarring halts in momentum suffered by Rusev and Bray Wyatt following big losses, and I have to agree with how depressing it’s been to see Rusev progress into some weird love triangle story with Lana and Dolph Ziggler.

John Cena is, without a doubt, one of the best WWE has. He’s a true professional and a very capable worker. But the fact remains that having a win over John Cena does nobody any good when he’s got two back over them – especially when one of them is so visibly, categorically decisive that it’ll take a hell of a lot to come back from. Can Owens do it?

 

Heroes of Geek Culture: Isaac Asimov

I’ve been watching the Channel 4 sci-fi series Humans, and aside from the whole kitchen sink drama/conspiracy thriller side of things, one of the matters which took me greatly by surprise is how well they’re doing the whole existential, philosophical side of things.

And when I heard one of the synths mention that their ‘Asimov lock’ prevents them from doing harm to humans, well, that was just a brilliant touch in honour of the sci-fi writer who helped bring the whole discussion to light.

Born in Soviet Russia somewhere around 1920, Isaac Asimov was one of the world’s best-known and most prolific science fiction writers, known to have had a hand in writing some 500 novels. Asimov was also a PhD-qualified biochemist, and a professor at the Boston University School of Medicine – though he was said to have taken a low-key role in order to focus on his writing.

isaac asimov bio geek culture

Truly a brilliant mind, Asimov was also a member of Mensa International, and he wrote many non-fiction titles alongside his staggering collection of novels, including many academic texts in wildly varying areas of science. He was something of a Shakespeare expert too.

Asimov was among the pioneers of the science fiction genre as we know it today, writing many extremely popular works about space travel, galactic diplomacy struggles and, as mentioned, the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence. Across many of his works, Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics come into play:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

These rules are absolutely an essential part of sci-fi canon these days, as the morality and ethics of artificial intelligence continue not only to form part of stories like Humans, but are starting to vest themselves in the artificial intelligence we continue to create. When you first heard about Siri, were you not a little…unsettled…about its development like I was?

I recently read Asimov’s very first novel, Pebble in the Sky, and became engrossed in the story of an Earth empire which has spread so far and wide across the galaxy, and become so sophisticated, that they’d assumed a snobby attitude towards their lowly ancestors and those who remained on our planet. It’s a great mix of diplomatic, chess-like strategies and all-out violence written in a style that, while somewhat dated, has all the greater impact on its story for it.

For his brilliant, inquisitive mind as well as the huge body of work that spans decades and has influenced so much of today’s science fiction (here I’d make a joke about it being the Foundation but it’s awful and I’m now annoyed at myself for thinking of it), Isaac Asimov is very much a hero of geek culture.

Happy Birthday, nWo! Hulk Hogan’s 1996 WCW Heel Turn

There are few moments in wrestling history that changed the way we look at the industry, but what happened on one summer evening at WCW’s 1996 Bash At The Beach is still talked about to this day, a full 19 years later.

WCW nWo hulk hogan heel turn

Let’s start with our mate Terry, aka Hulk Hogan, whose signing for WCW in 1994 opened the door for them to try and compete on the same national level as the WWF. As Ted Turner continued to burn through chequebooks like they were cheap lighters, World Championship Wrestling launched Monday Nitro directly opposite the WWF in the schedules. The following two years would see WCW reshape itself from the old-school territory style of booking into a lean, mean ratings machine for TNT, with Hogan flying the main event flag over a very capable roster of wrestlers.

As fans grew weary of Hogan’s incessant flag waving (and no-selling, and winning all the time), ‘booker man’ Kevin Sullivan had a plan to reinvent the Real American – turn him evil.

Of course, even the weariest wrestling fan could never have seen this coming, and Hogan himself was especially concerned about pulling the turn. After taking some time off from WCW programming (and his relentless schedule of winning matches), Hogan reappeared at the 1996 Bash At The Beach pay-per-view.

Rewind a few months to the sudden appearance of the former Razor Ramon, Scott Hall, on WCW television. Initially portrayed as an ‘Outsider’ of WCW (until they were forced to admit on live TV that he was not a WWF employee to avoid legal action), Hall would show up on episodes of Nitro to basically get in WCW guys’ faces and declare ‘war’ on their company. Joined shortly after by former WWF champion Kevin Nash, the two men would square up to half the roster on an especially gripping episode – leading WCW to begin to eclipse Monday Night Raw in the ratings, as the suspense began to mount over The Outsiders’ mystery ‘third man’.

The Hostile Takeover Match

Challenged by Eric Bischoff to a three-on-three tag match for all the marbles, Hall and Nash agreed – keeping their mystery partner’s identity a secret up until bell time – and beyond. Facing a loyal trio of Sting, Randy Savage and Lex Luger, Hall and Nash assured interviewer ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund that they wouldn’t need him just yet.

So when Luger left the match with an injury partway through the match, the odds were evened, as Hall and Nash – now officially billed as The Outsiders tag team – cheated their way to a stalemate against a strong WCW contingent.

And then, this happened…

Hulk Hogan, the man who’d paraded around in the red and yellow, telling youngsters to eat their vitamins and say their prayers, shocked the world with a legdrop on Randy Savage, revealing himself as the third member of what would be the nWo – the New World Order, or as he kept calling it in the admittedly pretty decent follow-up promo, New World Organisation.

For WCW, it was the break they needed, as the company began to really pull away from the WWF, and for Hogan, a career rejuvenation; it’s reported in The Death of WCW (still highly recommended) that Hogan was nearing the end of his WCW contract and, as far as a big-money renegotiation was concerned, wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on. Without his joining the nWo, Hogan would categorically have not been the reason business was picking up for WCW – and it’s even been reported elsewhere that, with such a big decision to be made and his career at a huge crossroads, he had only decided to be the confirmed third man minutes before going out to assault Savage – it could’ve been Sting!

This week marks 19 years since Hogan’s turn at Bash At The Beach, and it’s still remembered as one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history. Few heel turns have been pulled off more convincingly, and the fact that it came from the single most popular babyface of all time was what made it all the more jarring.