Saturday 29 May 2010


What links:
a) console games like 'Damnation', B.Sokal's 'Syberia' and 'Reasonance Of Fate'.
b) 'The Wild, Wild West' - both the tv series and the movie.
c) Writers like Jules Verne, H.G.Wells and Mary Shelley.

The easy answer is the possibility that without the influences of the writers none of those above would have existed.
Extraordinary worlds where flying dreadnoughts and T.A.R.D.I.S like submarines are totally acceptable and have influenced other writers like Michael Moorcock and Orson Scott Card.
It is like a sub-genre that embraces science fiction, fantasy and alternative histories set against the dark, industrial days of Victorian and Edwardian England. Even the wild west can be incorporated into this world - an alternative weird west. Maybe, even a 'Wild, Wild West'.
In the 1980's/1990's this type of fiction was given a name - steampunk - as most stories were set in the age of steam.
Nor is that far fetched as in 1923 a percentage of cars owned in the US were either steam driven or powered by electricty. In fact both types of car existed long before petrol driven vehicles came into being.
Steampunk has a wider leeway than most fiction - and a following amongst gamers.

In the current issue of Black Horse Extra (there is a link in the side panel) there is and article by Black Horse Western writer David Whitehead about the need to change the way of the west to appeal to new readers. Everything that he says sounds right and I cannot argue with him on that.

In a curious way the western is a kind of steampunk. Sounds daft - but steam trains and the ironclads of the American Civil War can be found in that sub-genre.

To some extent I do believe that if writers do want to catch the imagination of the young then the books that they want to read have to be written. Whether that is the book of the game or a brave new world - whether it is to give a new slant to sci-fi or the western - writers can change the game.

Wednesday 26 May 2010


What a week for games - 'Alan Wake' last Friday followed a week later by 'Red Dead Redemption', 'Split Second Velocity' and the latest instalment of 'Prince Of Persia' brought forward to tie in with the movies release.

Gaming was something that I came to via therapy to aid hand and eye co-ordination as well as to help me build up concentration. At the time we had a Play Station 1 and the selection of games left a lot to be desired. Wrestling games and shoot 'em ups - the type that didn't need a brain to operate. But, then I discovered 'Tomb Raider', 'Resident Evil' and 'Silent Hill' - games that did not rely on the gun but were loaded with puzzles that needed solving. Somehow, this became my home turf and by playing I found that I could read longer and watch tv programmes near enough almost all the way through.

The PS1 was replaced by the PS2 but I did not go to the PS3 because of all the delays in release and negative publicity. So it was the XBox 360 that replaced the PS2 as the main console.
The biggest criticism that I have is that with greater memory and storage space the game has deteriorated.
The last two entries into the 'Resident Evil' series have disappointed - the puzzle and story element have been sacrificed for a higher body count. Maybe, that is just the way of the world.
Fortunately, the formats for 'Tomb Raider' and 'Silent Hill' have a continuity. So, when games like 'Red Dead Redemption' or 'Alan Wake' come along I'm only too happy to add them to my collection - which is not very large.

Most games have an on-line link. The XBox 360 comes complete with a headset so that you can talk to other gamers all around the globe.

In a world where the movie industry has cottoned on to the fact that there is an audience out there many games have been made into films. 'Grand Theft Auto', 'Bloodrayne', 'Far Cry' Resident Evil', 'Silent Hill' , 'Tomb Raider' and the latest blockbuster 'Prince Of Persia'.
But where, some gamers ask, is the book of the game?

As I said there is a point to these posts and the next piece, I hope, will make it.

Tuesday 25 May 2010


BROKEN TRAILS is about to go off on a tangent with some stuff about gaming and I know that it is a subject that doesn't appeal to everybody - but there is a point and all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

Racing games were not my thing. I couldn't handle them at all despite all the hand and eye co ordination therapy. They were too fast for me.
That was until a couple of years ago when I attempted a game called 'Burnout Takedown'. Just one race on this game showed just how much my own concentration as well as hand and eye responses had grown over time. But more about that in another post.

This is probably the best motor racing game around at the moment. Even XBox 360 magazines rave about it with scores of 9 and 9.4 out of ten. But 'the best racing game ever'? Certainly, addictive for the first couple of seasons but then becomes repetitive.
The downside is the Leaderboards. If you want to find out how well you've done - don't bother. For example if the race is for the Lambourghini Murcielago LP 640 only why is the top ten either an Audi, Rossion Q1 or Porsche 997RS none of which are eligable for that race? A quibble, I know, but even the magazines can't answer that question.
Despite that the game is reasonably good.

NFS:Shift is Forza 3 with aggression. Win the race by any means possible - just smack the opposition out of the way.
After the disaster zone that was 'Pro-Street' I was wary about Need For Speed's shift to the racetrack.
Need For Speed had built up a rep with games like 'Carbon', 'Most Wanted' and 'Undercover' that were full of street racing as in the movie series 'The Fast And The Furious'.
Surprisingly, 'Shift' works and the gamer gets to do all those things that they would like to do on 'Forza 3'.

This is a game that goes extreme and coming from Disney Productions I could easily see a movie emerge.
Now this is billed for 7+ - I don't think so. Some of the tracks would be quite hard. Trying to race a track while a helicopter is firing missiles at your car - just one example.
Reviewer, Mike Channell of XBox 360 (the official XBox magazine) descibes the game as a combination of 'The Running Man' and BBC's 'Total Wipeout' - except that I don't recall four red balls; just the one big yellow wrecking ball.
I can see where Mike is coming from though I would have combined 'The Running Man' with Jason Statham's 'Death Race'.
Again quite addictive but the point of the game like winning cars and opening new tracks is lost when you realise that for 520 credits you can download the cars and tracks and unlock the lot. And this within hours of the launch of the game (21st May 2010).

All these games are available to play on-line.
Forza 3 seems to have a time zone problem - thankfully, I'm not the only one to notice this.
However, Split Second Velocity has a level playing field. So, spending 520 credits on the top cars is not going to help you win races. Being in front doesn't mean that that gamer is going to win. Nor does having the fastest car mean a win because you can still win if you have a lesser car. It all comes down to the game and how the gamer plays it.
Perhaps, this is where 'Split Second Velocity' comes into it's own - the unpredictability of other gamers. Real people rather than computer drawn cars where you know how the animated object is going to react.

Coming up: My introduction to gaming and the online community - and some interesting comments.

Saturday 22 May 2010


If anyone thought that Red Dead Redemption was going to be Grand Theft Auto with horses then they were way, way out.
Nor have the developers at Rockstar repeated the formula used with the original 'Red Dead Revolver'.
When I first saw the early stills and trailer I thought that the CGI cut scenes looked good. And cut scenes always come across that way and gameplay tends towards the cartoonish. With Red Dead Redemption this is not the case - the gameplay and the CGI work together producing great graphics.
Nor is this game of the usual shoot 'em up variety. No, the beauty lies in the detail. Simple things that add reality like hitching and un-hitching your horse. Sometimes you have to saddle the horse instead of just jumping on it as in other games. You have to draw the gun or rifle before you can use it and take time out to reload.
The story itself is in traditional mode.
When federal agents threaten his family, former outlaw John Marston is forced to pick up his guns again and hunt down his former friends.
Not so easy as John Marston confronts his former friend and gang leader Bill Williamson. Marston tries to reason but Williamson guns him down. However, he is rescued by local rancher Bonnie McFarlane who helps him to regain his strength. Bonnie has her own problems as her ranch has been targetted by rustlers.
Now play on......
The game came out today and some of the on-liners that I know have given the game the thumbs up.

Wednesday 19 May 2010


Hollywood scriptwriter and director Kilian Kerwin wrote a short story called 'Hang Cool Teddy Bear' set against the background of the war in Afghanistan. The hero of the story is badly wounded and the only hope of rescue is if he can reach a nearby ridge. Somehow he summons up both the courage and the strength to do it but on reaching the goal has no strength to cry out. After firing a shot in the air he collapses and, in episodic form, his life with a girl called Jenny flashes through his mind.
Taking this story as a basis Meatloaf has made an impressive musical interpretation.
From the moment that the explosive pounding percussion opens the first track 'Peace On Earth' you get caught up in the futility of war and a soldier's wish to just go home.
On this album Meatloaf is joined by a host of stars - Justin Hawkins (The Darkness) who, also, co-wrote two of the songs; Steve Vai and Brian May. Jack Black duets on 'Like A Rose' and there is also a welcome re-union with Patti Russo. The biggest surprise comes with Meatloaf's duet with Kara Dioguardi on 'If I Can't Have You' where the pianist is the actor Hugh Laurie.
All in all I found this album up there with 'Bat Out Of Hell' and I can see this as a great concept for a live show.
While the album can stand on it's own two feet it was good to read the source material which can be found on line.
An album to 'hang cool' with.

Monday 17 May 2010


In an age where war is real some would say that that there is no place for war stories in comics. So, it was good to find a book that put the history of the war story in comics into context.
The story goes back to 1855 with 'The Boy's Own Paper' and 'The Boys Of England' launched eleven years later. However, in 1879, Lord Shaftesbury was moved to comment that many of the stories in these and the penny dreadfuls of the time encouraged the growing street crime. The stories that emerged following those comments encouraged a turn towards the acts of heroism in war - most of the stories taking place on land and sea during the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars. Acts of derring do that encouraged young readers to join the Army and Navy of the time.
Many of the big names were to write these tales and included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, R.M.Ballantyne and G.A.Henty who was to edit 'The Union Jack' (1880).
With the advent of the Boer War more and more comics began to appear all with stirring tales.
For many years the comic stories came in prose form and the die had been set.
An interesting reproduction of a story from 'Chum' in 1913 carried a curious warning:
'NOTICE. - This story is not intended to stir up race hatred, but is written as a true picture of what would happen if a great Continental nation attacked our country." The story by Captain Frank Shaw titled 'The Swoop Of The Eagle' saw England at war with Germany almost a year before it became reality.
This book covers the history through to the demise of the comics in the 1990s with the death of 'Victor' and 'Eagle'.
But it brings back the heroes of our time. Biggles, Battler Britton, Rockfist Rogan, Braddock V.C., Paddy Payne, Sergeant Rayker, 'Sniper' Dennison and many, many more.
And the Deathless men of 'V For Vengeance'.
The adventures of 'Sniper' Dennison was one of my favourites. The writing was somewhat darker and the descriptions of combat very vivid. Through this book I discovered that the writer, Alan Hemus, actually trained as a sniper during the second world war.
The evolution from prose to picture stories are covered to the evolution to the 70s comics Warlord, Battle and Action comics.
Adam Riches with Tim Parker and Robert Frankland have put together a very informative book well illustrated with comic covers, with sections from both strips and prose.
The final chapter is a comic in itself with the complete reconstruction of a comic that covers the history of war comics - including a piece with the controversial Hellman.
For comic fans this is a must have.

Friday 14 May 2010


14th May 2010 - a day that will live in - well, something or other.
But it has been one hell of a long wait for this console game to hit the - well, the console.
I seem to recall this title going around back to about 2005. It never materialised.
Even the promised 2010 release seemed to be going backwards. First it was going to be April and then back to the 21st May but, my guess, is that with the release of 'Red Dead Redemption' on the same day it was rushed to a week earlier.
So was all the hype worth the wait?
I do believe so.
It looks good and feels good - and a good game for writers.
That's the plotline - a writer wakes up in a lonely cabin in the woods only to find that he is a character from one of his own books that he has yet to write.
Confused? Well, there is a lot of time-shifting that the player has to keep up with but there you go.
Billed as a psychological thriller this has undertones of Stephen King. Yes, there are hints of 'Bag Of Bones' (the opening is a clue) and 'The Dark Half'.
One does go along with the media's idea that this is one of those 'must have' games and will, no doubt, top the charts for weeks to come.
Apart from the standard edition there is a Limited Edition that comes with a host of goodies. A Bonus disc that shows how the game was made. A CD Soundtrack and a dashboard piece of wallpaper. Also, the book of the game that makes for interesting reading.
All this inside a book cover.
As you can guess I have the Limited Edition and I think that with all the extras it proved value for money.
Available only on the XBox 360.

One thing to add. Many games have good soundtracks - 'Silent Hill' and 'Red Dead Revolver' come to mind. A soundtrack album issued with the game would be a good idea.