Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Express Yourself: Being a Fashionista in the Gaming World

 This feature is also available at n-Europe, found here.

Self-expression is an inherent part of almost all video games. By simply being a medium where the audience can interact with the work, they're allowed to make an impact within the game. Even doing nothing at all is technically an expression.

But that viewpoint is pretty pretentious and nebulous. In a practical sense games have two ways most people consider outlets for expression - building environments and player customisation. There are deviations of course, but what you come across in mainstream titles will boil down to one of those two.

To be hyperbolic, building (or destroying) environments doesn't give me much joy. I know there are plenty of people who spend countless hours crafting the perfect urban environment in SimCity or constructing a golden, penis-shaped fortress in Minecraft, but it's not my thing.

What I can burn hours on is thorough character customisation - perfect for my egoistic nature. Most games are very mechanical about this (will you put points into attack, defence or custard pie resistance?), but the real draw is the fashionable side.

It's the perfect way of showing how painfully unique and stylish I am. I have an avid interest in fashion and subculture - though since the general demographic target for mainstream games  is not... shall we say 'particularly sartorial', games that let you choose your fashion choices stand out as special.

It's all well and good to have a robust character building system in a game, but if it's all impossible fantasy armour or tattered brown military gear then *snore* - let me wow crowds with sharp suits and bold patterns.

Monster Hunter butterfly suit
Which, coincidentally, had me all kinds of hyped for New Style Boutique earlier this year. I had much enjoyed the original DS game (to the raised eyebrows of almost all my male peers), and having my fashion tastes not only fully expressed but at the gameplay forefront seemed like a dream.
Funnily enough, it didn't fully meet up to my expectations.

New Style Boutique is a fun and well-produced game, don't get me wrong. But, in order to give something as subjective as fashion tastes win and lose states, the game has a hidden set of rules for  what works and what doesn't.

It's surprisingly restricted. For example, I personally hate wearing too many things from the same brand at once (it makes you look like a walking billboard). But because each brand in the game is dedicated to a single 'look', hardcore brand loyalty is the stairway to success.

I had to form an uneasy balance between experimentation and ticking all the invisible boxes the game required. This wasn't punk in the slightest, no matter how much Stage Dive-brand clothing I wore.
Where I found a far better style experience on the 3DS was, surprisingly, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Now, MH3U has more than its fair share of overly-bulky, ridiculous armour sets, but it's sprinkled with some real flair.

Every enemy you fight in the game can be turned into items to wear, and it takes a few kills before you have enough materials to make the full suit. This has the great side-effect of making you work hard for your fashion. When I first started playing, and found I could wear a suit and top hat made from butterfly wings, I was totally blown away.

But the bugs that the suit was made from were delicate, and shattered into dust against my weapon, denying me a carving opportunity. Working out how to reliably get the carves (the trick is to poison them) and gather all the parts took me hours. But the result was pure joy and a fabulous, lustrous sheen.

Even though the different armours are tied to mechanical benefits (each armour set gives a bunch of skill bonuses) crafting an outfit that both looks cool and gives skills you want is a test in lateral thinking.
Animal CrossingHowever, my customisation ideal is the ability to design clothes myself. It's not an impossible task (the Sims modding community has been doing it for years), but the Animal Crossing series makes it breathtakingly easy.

The simple, low-poly style of the game means making patterns is a painless process. Spending years of my teenage life doing (mediocre) pixel art as a hobby meant I could go to the Able Sisters tailoring shop and churn out clothing like a Primark sweatshop.

Animal Crossing New Leaf takes the extra step and allows design of clothes of three different styles - as well as making trousers and shoes separate items, so you can create an ensemble from top to toe.
July can't come fast enough. Look out for Nathan Blades Summer 2013 clothing range in an Animal Crossing town near you.

Hyper Japan 2013 report

Hyper Japan 2013 report News Item

This feature is also available at n-Europe, found here.

Nerd conventions aren't too common in the UK – at least not compared to the US. The biggest one, the MCM Media Expo, draws ridiculous numbers of nerds, thirsty for cosplay and overpriced merchandise.

As such, I was slightly wary of Hyper Japan. Technically, it's not a convention for nerdy interests, but because Japanese entertainment and culture has such a heavy overlap, I was expecting it to be a similar affair to MCM or London Film and Comic Con, but with superhero capes being replaced by the super kawaii.

But I was wrong – kinda. While there were a myriad ways to spend your money on authentic (and not-so-authentic) Japanese products, there were also panels on aspects of Japanese culture, music performances, and tea and sake tasting.

As for broadening my own cultural horizons, I found that I hate takoyaki (did you know they put mayonnaise directly into the batter? Disgusting), that hakama are super comfortable but not built for someone who's 6ft 5, and a cute purple bento box that will store my lunches for months to come.
There was also a very large section devoted to Nintendo's upcoming and latest releases, including a few things I wasn't expecting to see just yet.

Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies

After Ace Attorney Investigations 2 not being translated into English, the news that Dual Destinies was making it over here brings me great relief.

Ace Attorney Dual DestiniesThey've cranked things up for the 3DS – everything is now rendered in 3D, but the art direction of the originals is still intact, right down to the goofy freaking out animations when you expose a flaw in testimony.

As the name suggests, there are two stories afoot – in a direct continuation of Apollo Justice, both Apollo and Phoenix Wright stand in court to fight for the truth. The demo looked at both a court and an investigation scenario; neither of them differ much from the rest of the main Ace Attorney games, but there's a new feature added to court proceedings.

Phoenix's new assistant, Athena, is a behavioural psychologist, and carries some snazzy software what will give you readings of feelings from the witness on the stand. Some parts of the testimony might have an emotion you don't expect to see, and pointing them out is the way to progress.

Finding these inaccuracies is easier than the body-language reading in Apollo Justice, but it could still be employed in complex ways. Only time (or a play through of the Japanese version, which is already out) can tell.

Shin Megami Tensei IV

The SMT series has kind of a cult following (and most of the recent fans are of the Persona spinoff series), but Atlus have not been great at getting its instalments out to Europe.

Yet, there's a whole lot of RPG goodness heading our way on Nintendo formats. Including this game, four SMT titles are set to have an European release. Dollars-to-doughnuts most of them won't arrive here for some time, but SMTIV is bound to tide you over in the meantime.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
You play as a trainee Samurai – a member of the police force for a medieval kingdom with some really serious class divide issues. In order to keep the peace (and follow your directives), you're given an arm-mounted computer that will let you summon demons. A difficult adventure into dungeons, morality issues and gateways to post-apocalyptic Tokyo follows.

The battle system is very similar to other games in the SMT series (and if you're not familiar with that, Dragon Quest and Earthbound are close matches), and is quick to punish careless players. In the demo, there were fights with demons that could clear out my party in one turn if I didn't get the upper hand.

Fortunately, SMTIV will let you resume your game from where you died at the cost of some in-game cash or Play Coins. It's a feature a lot of other games in the series lacks, and comes personally as a great relief.

The Wonderful 101

It doesn't take long to identify a Clover Studios/Platinum game when you come across one. It might be a focus on grading your combat prowess, it might be the flying kick attack they seem to work into every game, and sometimes it's just the the hyper-passionate energy they put into making you feel like a powerful badass.

On in this case, up to 100 powerful badasses.

Wonderful 101The Wonderful 101 is partially a technique-heavy hack 'n' slash, partially an action puzzler. Playing as a superhero with the power of 'unity', you use it not so much in a 'power of friendship' way, but more of a 'chaining people together to make giant weapons' kind of way.

Tailed by an ever-lengthening crowd of people you find in the stages, you can suspend the game action to draw a shape on the Wii U Gamepad or with the right analogue stick. The shape you make will determine the weapon. A straight line for a sword, an L shape for a gun, an S shape for a whip and so on.

The longer you draw the line, the more people you use to make the weapon and the larger it gets. Joy is swinging a massive sword made from 50 people. Heaven is plunging it into a gelatinous space monster.

The character design and sense of humour reminds me heavily of Viewtiful Joe, and considering the superhero theme, I will be distraught if he doesn't cameo in some way. The battles, though chaotic, rely on a mastery of dodges and parries, just like Platinum's other works. Getting hit doesn't just mean damage, but scattering your amassed horde.

The demo only allowed for 10 minutes of play, but in that time I ran down a water slide trailing rainbows, cranked a Ferris Wheel into life with a giant fist, ripped the armour of a giant robot with a whip, and got swallowed whole by the aforesaid gelatinous space monster. Awesome.

Wii Karaoke U

It is exactly what it sounds like, though that's not a complete cause to write it off. Arguably, it was the most appropriate game to be demonstrated at the event! The Wii U Gamepad is great for queueing up songs on the fly, and the game boasts that thousands of songs will be available from the eShop.
There's an almost even mix between Japanese and Western songs, meaning I had the pleasure of seeing countless white girls butcher Japanese pop songs the lyrics of which they could barely pronounce.

I myself sung Beyonce's 'Ego' - an excellent (terrible) match for my incredibly bass-heavy singing voice. A refreshing change to the repeated requests for 'Hare Hare Yukai'. It was only one of two Beyonce songs offered though, which is a grave, grave error. 

Wii Karaoke U

A special note has to be made for the large Animal Crossing area that was set up, complete with a photo booth and fish catching competition (which almost immediately devolved into a Whale Shark-catching competition). For the tons of people going through their Street Pass data, there was a cushioned area complete with a bunch of charge points (and a profoundly irritating Emcee who's constant humming of the Luigi's Mansion theme made me want to lodge my 3DS in his trachea).

Really, it was the most ambitious Nintendo stall I've seen at a convention in a long time. They'll be holding a convention entirely by themselves soon, just you wait.

MCM Media Expo 2013 round up

 This feature is also available at n-Europe, found here.

The MCM Media Expo, while increasingly turning into an outlet for bad cosplay and overpriced merchandise every passing year, it's one of the better opportunities for members of the public to try out upcoming releases without paying through the nose.

Nintendo has a rather hefty stall every year, and this time around was no exception. Here's a quick round up of the new content that featured last weekend.

Rayman Legends (Wii U)
Rayman LegendsHaving seen severe delays, you would hope that Rayman Legends would be brimming with content and gleaming with polish. Well, it's impossible to judge content from the demo, but the game definitely feels weighty, retaining all the charm and animation quality of the prequel.

What's different for the Wi iU is the ability for the GamePad user to act as a helper, tapping on scenery to reveal hidden objects and stun enemies. It's definitely functional, but like the helper mode in the Super Mario Galaxy games, its inclusion is entirely incidental, and not a patch on running around the levels yourself.

Thankfully, the game still supports 4-player co-op, and now there's a new character - the axe-hefting Barbara. Considering most of the female characters in Rayman Origins were inside cages, this is a nice change.

Game and Wario (Wii U)
Game and Wario Arguably existing to fill a quota of a Wario Ware game on every Nintendo console, the Wario Ware series have been great for demonstrating how to use the hardware's quirks for interesting ideas.
As such, Game and Wario plays like a halfway house between the structured, controlled fun of Nintendo Land and the meta, inter-personal fun of Spin the Bottle.

The minigames on offer - now too robust to really be 'microgames' - balance using the technology of the GamePad (its tilt-sensor, its touch screen, that it's a screen other people can't see) with getting other people involved in a way that doesn't necessarily require hardware.

Of the games shown, 'Fruit' stands out as a Where's Wally style game where one player pretends to be a single character in a crowd of NPCs, stealing fruit without other players noticing.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (3DS)
Animal Crossing New LeafThe first public showing of the game in Europe, Animal Crossing New Leaf's release date crawls closer and closer.

The formula of the game definitely hasn't changed, but a graphical update, a torrent of new content to fill your house with, and countless tweaks for convenience make this version of AC smoother to play and set to get fans hooked all over again.

The added element of being the mayor of your town doesn't change to much of what you'll be doing day-to-day, but the ability to add in custom features and pass town altering 'laws' (the law that makes your villagers clean your town for you is going to be definitely useful) adds a new facet of game to throw your precious bells at.

Project X Zone (3DS)
Project X ZoneA spiritual sequel to the Japanese-only Namco X CapcomProject X Zone (pronounced "Cross Zone") takes iconic characters from the franchise histories of Sega, Namco, and Capcom and has them fight to save the say in a very flashy turn-based strategy game.

The demo, offered at the event is also available on the eShop right now, so you can already give it a whirl! The stage maps and basic rules aren't too complex, but the battle system is where the game stands out. Battles are executed manually, each attack hitting with different timing and heights. Winning battles requires timed attacks to juggle foes into oblivion.

As with previous games by Monolith Soft (They also did Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier on the DS), the sprite work is gloriously detailed and cleverly animated.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Wii U)
Desu ExOne of the handful of games demonstrated at the Nintendo booth that are ports of an existing titles (Resident Evil Revelations and The Cave were also available), I bring it up Deus Ex for the unique way it uses the GamePad.

While the game itself was unchanged from the 360/PS3 release (the dialogue and area layouts are all the same) all of the menu functionality has been moved to the touch screen.

So your standard inventory management is now touch-operated and a lot more intuitive. Better yet, the hacking minigame is also now on touch screen, and in dialogue sections where your aim is to persuade your conversation partner, you get a rudimentary psychological profile of the subject, and a visual indicator of how close you are to changing their mind.

Considering the game's cyberpunk aesthetic, the GamePad feels much more engaging, as if you're using the technology in real life. Here's hoping the Wi iU version of Watch_Dogs will incorporate similar ideas.

Serial Gaming: Fighting Games

This article can also be found on One Hit Pixel, here.

I’ve loved fighting games for a long time. I’ve never been great at them – most of the time I’m not even good at them – but they bring about such excitement and tension. The kind of hollering at the screen you can only manage when it’s about a toe-to-toe duel with larger than life attacks. I’m an ardent pacifist in real life, but in King of Fighters, I’ll stain my hands with your blood.

That said, until very recently, I didn’t quite appreciate how games within the genre have such important differences. At the moment I’m playing Persona 4 Arena, Skullgirls, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2; but I admit that I approach them all mentally in a rather similar fashion.

At their core, all fighting games (the good ones, anyway) follow some basic tenets: movement and spacing, the attack/block/throw strategic triangle, and even how the HUD should look. The other differences feel aesthetic, maybe even inconsequential.

Then I discovered Salty Bet.

Serial Gaming: Fighting Games
13:1 odds for Chun-Li
For the uninitiated, Salty Bet is a perpetually running stream of MUGEN, an open-source fighting game engine where users can create characters. Fighters from the history of the genre, popular or obscure, have been rendered in the engine, along with bizarre and imbalanced custom creations.

Characters are selected out of a roster of hundreds, and fight it out while controlled by AI. Viewers gamble on the results with play money, with the payouts depending on which way people have voted.
It’s a rather dystopian form of entertainment, but it very quickly becomes inexplicably compelling to watch. For fighting game enthusiasts, it’s a nostalgic mash-up of favourite characters, obscure series, and bizarre custom creations.

I witnessed a rather tense match between Clark Steel from King of Fighters (A burly military man with a penchant for wrestling) against Robo-Ky from Guilty Gear (A surprisingly sassy robot filled with missiles).

The ground-based combo heavy system of King of Fighters was an odd match against the high-speed aerial manoeuvres of Guilty Gear. It was a tense match, and not just because I went all-in on Robo-Ky. Sadly though, Clark won out.

When universes collide
In the same way that taking the Blue Falcon for a spin around Mario Circuit sounds like a fun idea, but logistically silly – Salty Bet makes it clear that the minutiae that sets games in a genre apart are differences worth respecting.

The problem is, crossovers between series are the dreams of obsessive neckbeards the world over. In the same way that superhero comic fans lust for a fight between say, Captain America and Superman, fighting game fans can’t turn down a fight between Ryu and Kyo Kusanagi.

Official crossovers of that nature do indeed exist, with Capcom vs SNK 2 and Street Fighter x Tekken being the most famous examples. However, in both games, the attempt to bring disparate fighting systems together was a tricky process.

CvS2 actually takes about 8 different fighting game series from the two publishers, and takes at least one mechanic from them all! A ‘groove’ type you select at the start of each battle determines what gameplay style you use. It was a good game (and the game where I first tried to learn how to play instead of just mashing buttons), but the complexity resulted in matches playing out similar to those bizarre 3D chess sets while simultaneously trying to land an aeroplane. That’s caught fire.

SFxT went a slightly different route to blend its host series. Making a 3D fighting (and largely projectile-free) system like Tekken work in a Street Fighter format is an obvious conundrum, but mostly the game uses entirely original mechanics, including the ‘Pandora Mode’ desperation move and the infamous Gem System. The resulting experience felt gimmicky and awkward. While the Gems provided handicaps for less skilled players, their use didn’t help said players understand the quirks of the game any better.

The Birth of New Series
Because CvS2 is so inaccessible, and SFxT was largely a hot mess, it’s difficult to call those crossover games a total success – but experiments like those titles have definitely formed the latest generation of fighting games.

Since we’re no longer in an era where Street Fighter is the genre baseline, new fighting games don’t need to intentionally come up with new mechanics to set themselves apart – we have a complex library of games systems, ripe for remixing into something new.

Skullgirls, which has recently become available on Steam, is a prime example. Although it doesn’t look like it on the surface, the game is packed to the brim with bits and pieces from other fighter series the developers had close to their hearts.

However, because it’s not overtly trying to mash different games together, the experience as a whole is very unified and smooth. It’s been described as the missing link between Marvel vs Capcom 2 and Guilty Gear, and I can definitely feel that when I play.

Yatagarasu is another indie fighter that only very recently completed a crowdsourced fundraiser to become a more robust, multi-platform release. Its lead developer was heavily involved with the development of several King of Fighters titles, but it aims to be something far beyond that. Most notably, it features an easy-to-use parry system (which most famously showed up in Street Fighter III) for some very technical battles.

As a final, kind of silly example, did you know that there’s a League of Legends fighting game in development? It’s fan made, but it’s been given the all-clear by Riot. Because they want it to be accessible to players who aren’t used the execution requirements of fighting games, they’re actually taking cues from Super Smash Bros. for how special moves work. I wait for more information about it with apprehensive curiosity.

Serial Gaming: Animal Crossing

 This feature can also be found on One Hit Pixel, here.

When I committed myself to writing a set of features on my opinions of gaming series, it looked like a cakewalk. But after some thought, I found it needed a more tentative approach. You see, I’d like to say that I am ardently opposed to ‘sequelitis’. In my mind, the greatest gaming achievements are rarely held by sequels (sales figures notwithstanding). Ideally, I would want to say that I don’t have a favourite series, followed by many words about the indie gaming scene.

Sadly, that’s not true at all. I’ll hold my hands up and say that there are a few series where I’ve played most, if not all of. Today, I’ll talk about one that’s not my absolute favourite, but one I’ve recently clocked as having some genius game design I didn’t appreciate way back when.

Serial Gaming: Animal Crossing
Animal Crossing is not a series I’ve followed from the start – my first foray was Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS – but every game since then I’ve sunk countless hours into.

In my high school years, Wild World had me completely enthralled with its miniature idealistic world. However, I wasn’t a genius authority on game design back then – I took the game experience entirely at face value. It’s difficult to give an honest answer as to why it clicked with me so well.

The best I can manage is a reference to the Skinner Box theory. Animal Crossing keeps you coming back every day with the prospect of something new – fossils that your museum might not have yet, another item of furniture for the themed set you’re collecting, or that fabled Coelacanth. To a kid raised on Pokémon Trading Cards, that kind of game design is like digital cocaine.

I befriended villagers to get their photo items. I expanded my house so I could better show off the rare furniture pieces I procured to my classmates who also played. What AI and design work that went on behind the scenes went unappreciated.

Serial Gaming: Animal Crossing
Years later, the Wii semi-sequel, Animal Crossing: City Folk came out. On paper, it was the kind of content expansion I could have ever wanted. By that time I was in sixth-form, older and more jaded about my gaming habits.

I no longer had a raw, completionist instinct. I could carry over my character from Wild World, but I wasn’t motivated to play every day any more. The game had more robust content, but I was looking for story-driven experiences in that time of my life. I still played, but I was failing to ‘get’ what Animal Crossing did best. Eventually I lost a couple of hours progress to an internet connection drop and I set the game aside for good.

So then, fast forward to this year. Animal Crossing: New Leaf had me excited, but I couldn’t have explained to you why. Just two or three days of play later, the pieces clicked into place, and it dawned on me what was so special about the series.

In no other game does the player’s creative input have such a direct payoff. Every choice made available – how you arrange your town, how you decorate your house, what you wear – can be shown to and enjoyed by other people. It’s been present across all of the games (even in the Gamecube and Japanese only Nintendo 64 games, where you are encouraged to have everyone in the household play), but New Leaf goes leaps and bounds into make both creating and sharing content as easy as possible.

The most salient example is with pattern designs. In all the games you could make designs for clothing or house furnishing. With New Leaf, not only are the uses for your patterns pretty broad, you can turn it into a QR code and share it with other players. I’ve been designing patterns of my own, and it’s the best feeling ever when some sends you a picture of them wearing something you’ve designed.

Serial Gaming: Animal Crossing
New Leaf‘s heavily pushed feature of being the mayor of your town feels like a gimmick at first glance, but it means that your town is now like your patterns – customisable, and can be shared with your friends. More so than the randomised town layout every player starts with, what kind of public works you build makes your town truly unique.

There are other games that run a theme of sharing customisations (It’s the only way I can fathom people playing Minecraft), but I’ve not found any others that makes the process so simple yet so immediately rewarding. You can bask in the satisfaction of your town not only looking good, but everyone else you know with the came can see for themselves how sweet it is.

Ah, but there’s another trick up the game’s sleeve. Even though creating content is hassle-free, it doesn’t give you all this customisation up front. For example, you can’t get the ability to share pattern QR codes until you properly befriend the hedgehog sisters that run the clothing store – which could take around 10 days from starting the game!

Getting new furniture is a slow process unless you talk to the other residents and help them with errands. Anyone who plays Animal Crossing knows to set aside 10 minutes every Saturday night to score some new bootleg songs from a guitar-playing dog (on a side note, never try to explain this to your friends unless you want to be labelled unhinged).

You find that when you’re engaging the game world so you can make creative and completion progress, you form a kinship with the characters you encounter. You don’t need to have a favourite town resident to be able to expand your house, but every player has one.

It was a side of the overall gameplay that I didn’t fully appreciate as a kid (I made maybe eight patterns in the two or three years I played Wild World). Animal Crossing each instalment of the series to further blur the lines of getting immersed in the game and letting you explore your creativity through the game, but the present results blow me away.

If there is to be a Wii U incarnation (and that’s rather likely), if they integrate the sharing of content to the Miiverse and allow cross-platform play with the 3DS, it would be all that easier to reach some stranger on the other side of the world with a little bit of my self-expression.

Oh, and as a side note, go read through Dave Irwin’s Animal Crossing: New Leaf diary if you haven’t already.

Media Matters: Peaceful days died. Let's Survive

This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Even with my busy schedule, I still try to squeeze in some gaming time. My current vice on Nintendo 3DS right now is Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked.

 It's actually something of an old game - it was originally released as just Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor in Japan and America back in 2009, but never saw a UK release. Overclocked is a re-release for the 3DS, but due to publishing issues, it took a whole two years between the Japanese release and ours, released on the March 29.

The game details an unlikely disaster scenario - a large section of Tokyo is suddenly cordoned off by the armed forces. The government say it's due to a poison gas leak, but the thousands trapped inside the danger zone know the truth – it’s an invasion of bloodthirsty demons. Knowing that death is constantly around the corner, they try to survive the lockdown for a week, assuming they don't find a way of escaping. The game's tagline says it all: "Peaceful days died. Let's Survive."

It's a story that's surprisingly easy to relate to. Not so much the demons (although the mythology nerd in me appreciates that), but in the character interaction. The main character is rather plain, but his friends and the other survivors he encounters each have their own concerns and different motivations for trying to escape... or stay.
It got me thinking: if I was in a similar disaster area, would I be able to survive? Lord knows how many fellow nerds made zombie survival plans in light of that now overplayed and overrated horror trope.

Devil Survivor offers little advice, but it definitely discusses the dangers. The electricity going out is one of the biggest threats. We of the Communication Age need electronics more than ever to stay functional. Some people get tetchy when they can't check Facebook at will - having no internet connection at all would destroy them. Most of the food would spoil, and failed traffic lights would cause more than a few accidents.

Fortunately, a lot of our technology is both portable and rechargeable. You may not have desktop access or a call signal, but there are countless handheld chargers out there, even DIY ones if you fancy yourself handy.
After that comes the rioting. In the game, once the public realise that they're being lied to about the poison gas leaks, things get tense - and any small argument could escalate into chaos. In real life, riots will break out the moment people realise they can break shop windows without getting caught.

I still remember the riots in 2011 – although not sparked by disaster, it still remains a great example of what people are capable of if given a little temptation and stirred into a frenzy.

In either case, large groups become a problem. The general consensus on surviving riots is simply to remain detached from it. The closer you are to the incident centre (and the more you're dressed like a rioter, or worse, a person in uniform) the more likely you are to get involved in the fray.

Taking a look at a different work of media for advice - The Walking Dead TV show has seen a lot of success for both being yet another thing with zombies in it, and also being legitimately good (which I admit slightly begrudgingly).

Its narrative focuses more on the relationship dynamics between the survivors more than the, uh, walking dead. It seems that their survival recommendations involve escaping the city entirely, which I doubt I could manage; I'm terrified of the countryside (and nature in general).

They also lack electricity, but have (somewhat intermittent) police radios to communicate. Tension between survivors is often laid on for drama's sake, but it 's clear that becoming a 'lone wolf' in the face of danger will most likely be fatal.

In reality, even though we encounter most of our experience with disaster in media, the survival advice they give is sometimes dangerously inaccurate. Some disaster movies are just plain ridiculous. Even with the presence of demons, Devil Survivor feels a lot more plausible than pretty much all of 2012.

So yes, in a disaster scenario, my media knowledge is probably just going to get me killed. Which is a shame - not because I intend to fight zombies or demons any time soon, but because North Korea's constant threats of nuclear missile strike make me feel I should be collecting tins of food and searching for underground shelters on online estate agent websites.

Luckily, there are countless paranoid people on the internet with detailed disaster survival instructions, from reasonable things like floods to this increasingly likely nuclear apocalypse.

Tech Talk: Seeing Sounds and the 'Art Game'

 This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Singing Ribbons is a new art installation by Matthew Maxwell for the iPhone generation. A series of paintings consisting of bold stripes of colour can be scanned by a special mobile app that converts each stripe into notes sung by a soprano.

Really, it's an awesome concept. On a basic level, it's a great form of interactive art. The works come alive with what you bring to the gallery, and the results leave with you. We are clearly far to prone to forgetfulness to simply remember the exhibit.

From a technological perspective, it takes the idea behind QR codes (Those 'square barcodes' that most smartphones these days can read), and explores it in a refreshing way. It's no surprise that Mr Maxwell works in software, but has an education in fine art.

Beyond that, I think it's an interesting demonstration of Synaesthesia, though that may not be intentional.

What's that? Synaesthesia is a mental condition that switches up the wiring in your brain when recalling emotions and senses. Normally when we see, for example, the colour green, our brains go through a subconscious process of acknowledging what colour it is, using the 'correct' part of the brain to do so.

For a 'synaesthete', they may instead start smelling fried bacon or hear the sound of a tuba, as their brain tries to use an area that's meant to process a different sense.

In practice, the most common form of synaesthesia are people feeling that letters and numbers have inherent colours. What's more, only 1 in 2000 are likely to be synaesthetes. But that's not as romantic or exciting to think about.

Drug use (I won't say which ones, though you could probably guess) is often known to induce synaesthesia, often a kind where sounds trigger colours, or touch triggers sounds. Unsurprisingly, this is a lot closer to artistic representations.

The bars that make up each piece in Singing Ribbons reflect the decorations on army generals. What would be a meaningless pattern of colours to a layperson has a set of understandable rules and meanings to someone in the know. Just like how a synaesthete could feel another meaning to a set of apparently arbitrary letters.

Singing Ribbons isn't the only example of interactive art, or in using technology as a medium. Across the history of video games, there's a host of titles that take the art appreciation experience to your living room.

Once described as 'art games', they cause many debates over if games are inherently art, or if only this genre of subversive and abstract titles qualify. Many have taken to describing them as 'un-games', though that's not always appropriate either.

Rez is the classic example. Released way back in 2002 for the Sega Dreamcast and Playstation 2 (and since re-released on Xbox Live), it is directed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi.

Across much of Mizuguchi's work, he has a personal fascination with sound design in games. He designed Rez as a representation of Synaesthesia, and in reference to the Bauhaus art of Wassily Kandinsky.

Even though it's a video game in a very traditional sense, enjoying it need not be about getting high scores. There's a mode that lets you just enjoy the game without fear of failure.

More recently, the present Indie scene has had a revival of games that are much closer to the idea of the 'un-game'. Dear Esther went from a free modification of an existing game in 2008 to a complete, priced title in February 2012. It lets you explore an abandoned, overcast island as a narrator explains the back story of the events that happened there in a vaguely obtuse and non-chronological fashion.

At the time, its total refusal to conform to standard perceptions of a 'game' caused a large stir among games journalists and even now I feel it's a far cry from a successful experiment, but it was a well-publicised step into a bigger interest in interactive artworks.

As such, Proteus works out to be a more palatable take on that kind of Art Game. Using intentionally low resolution graphics, hazy neon gradients, and a dynamic interactive soundtrack (filled with wavy extended synths and hushed clarinets), players can wander through the landscape as day turns to night and clouds roll overhead.

As developing video games becomes easier, and the underground movement for producing counter-culture and intellectual games builds steam, the discussion of what constitutes 'art' or a 'game' will rage on.

Meanwhile, Pippin Barr's Art Game, a game about producing art by playing a game within the game is the best take on the genre I've seen yet. Maybe the Tate Modern should have an Art Game exhibition this year.

Singing Ribbons will be available for viewings from 14-17 April at the Coningsby Gallery on Tottenham Street. For more information, check the gallery website.

Tech Talk: Tournament organisers scam clients with unauthorised money-making software

 This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

A hidden function in globally used anti-cheating software generated almost $4,000 for an e-sports company, statements revealed this week.

The E-Sports Entertainment Association (ESEA) distributed the program for users who would be competing in tournaments, but within the code was a function that uses computer processing power to earn a digital currency called Bitcoins.

Users noticed that their computers were running slower and electricity bills had increased, complaining on the ESEA website about the issue.

One of the website staff members, known as 'lpkane', issued an initial statement to the queries.
He mentioned that it was an idea between him and another staff member, 'jaguar', to implement the function as an April Fool’s joke.

He said: "Jaguar and I were talking about how cool it would be."

He went on to claim that they had disabled the mining functionality, after testing it on their own accounts for a few days. Then, a server error resulted in the 'joke' program being distributed to clients.

In lpkane's statement, he said that the program had been live for 48 hours and earned around two Bitcoins (roughly $280 at time of writing).

However, a more formal statement made by the ESEA owner, Craig Turnball, put the mining total at $3,713.50, occurring over two weeks since April 13th.

He says that he was aware of the initial testing phase of the mining functions, but gave no instruction to apply it to user accounts.

Mr Turnball said: "We are extremely disappointed and concerned by the unauthorized actions of this unauthorized individual."

The Bitcoin mining function has since been removed from the software and the value of the Bitcoins mined will be donated to the American Cancer Society, along with a donation of the same amount from ESEA themselves.

There has been no mention of whether lpkane or jaguar have been identified as the "unauthorised individual" or if any action is being taken against them.

Some Background on Bitcoins
Established in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoins are electronic cash designed to be transferred with no exchange rate between computers, and can be converted into legal tender. Although the currency is used globally, it is commonly compared to US dollars in value.

They are ‘cryptographic’, using a complex coding system for authenticity and to ensure the same Bitcoin isn’t spent twice. Due to their non-corporeal nature, the actual value of Bitcoins tends to fluctuate often.

Although the non-mediated system of Bitcoins allows for trading of goods and services with minimal intervention from banks, there is a lot of criticism about the currency’s stability and legality.
In its early stages, the non-traceable nature of Bitcoins allowed a website, Silk Road, to freely trade drugs and other contraband.

A man under the handle of ‘Killhamster’ runs a Bitcoin satire website, called Buttcoin. The site archives news about the currency and those that use it, highlighting dangerous or strange behaviour.
His documentation of various screen captures from online message boards and Twitter accounts is rather contentious among the Bitcoin community.

To generate Bitcoins, a computer does a series of complex equations, and upon completion, a central server rewards a number of Bitcoins.

Initially, users were awarded with 25 Bitcoins for every block of equations completed. As more Bitcoins enter the economy, the amount rewarded has decreased. The complexity of the equations is designed to be proportionate with the power of the computer.

In some cases the processes can cause damage to the machine, as the calculations can caused increased processor strain, and greatly increase electricity usage. Computers designed for playing video games have better processors than average.

Enthusiasts will create specifically designed machines for Bitcoin mining. Some are professionally built machines costing thousands of dollars; some are jury-rigged setups with multiple graphics cards and cooling fans.

Sloppy builds are a health hazard – in January a house fire broke out in Ottawa, Canada as a Bitcoin miner’s rig short circuited. The fire resulted in $300,000 in damages.

Avalon Asics are the present leaders in producing hardware with the sole purpose of mining. They will only accept Bitcoins as payment for their services.

Tech Talk: Xbox One

 This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

You probably already know this, but electronics are designed to have a lifespan. Apple tends to design their iPod so you'll own one for about a year before buying another. Gaming consoles work the same way, but a tad slower.

We're on to our 9th generation of home consoles: Nintendo's WiiU will be soon met with Sony's Playstation 4 this year, and this week we've had a conference from Microsoft, announcing their new console - the Xbox One.

Even though its presence was long awaited (you could argue it was guaranteed), the response was a great deal less positive than Microsoft were hoping. In fact, the conferenced managed to cause a large spike in stocks for Sony and Nintendo.

Now, I'm no business analyst, but my diagnosis is that there's been a hefty misunderstanding between what Microsoft thinks they should sell, and what their user base actually want.

The Xbox One (which I have seen amusingly referred to as Xbone, so I shall do the same) kind of resembles a mid-90s VCR, with an iPod black sheen.

To compare it to the Xbox 360, the Xbone has a 500GB hard drive and 8GB of RAM (compared to the 320GB storage and 512MB RAM of the 360), and is designed to have motion sensors and connectivity with tablets right from the word go.

So far, so sensible. The hardware's vital statistics bring it closer to the brunt that (incredibly expensive) Gaming PCs are capable of, but these are mere figures if they're not used for something important.

This is where I feel Microsoft slips up. When talking of the Xbone's special features, spokespeople at the conference focused on trying to pitch a 'multi-entertainment' product, with a lot of words dedicated to video streaming, voice commands and recording footage of games you're playing.

It's all rather superfluous. Most TV addicts already have access to Netflix, voice commands are the territory of couch potatoes, and the recording functions are suspiciously similar to what Sony announced for the Playstation 4 a few months ago.

The amount of time dedicated to actual games for the console was comparatively brief, and none of it was especially astounding. In fact, everything they announced was a sequel - FIFA 2014, Forza Motorsport 5, Call of Duty: Ghost.

Only one new franchise was announced - Quantum Break. The brief trailer reveals precious little, though it's the prettiest destruction of a bridge I've ever seen.

According to Remedy, who are developing the game, Quantum Break aims to meld TV shows and gaming experiences together, which honestly could go in some interesting directions - though it's way too early to get excited.

However, the things that concern me most weren't discussed in the conference at all. As with the 360, the Xbone won't let games developers self-publish.

Traditionally, games developers release their titles through a publisher (companies like EA, Activision and Konami are publishers), but in the present industry, there's a very popular trend of smaller development studios that can't afford a publisher can still release their games digitally.

With Microsoft forcing teams to use publishers to host their content, a thriving part of the games development industry is suddenly hamstrung.

Buying a new games console is actually a hefty investment - the basic hardware isn't cheap, so most are hesitant to make the purchase unless they know they are going to get enough hours of fun to make things worthwhile.

And unfortunately for Microsoft, being able to watch television and play Yet Another Football Game 2014 doesn't inspire me or my wallet with confidence.

But it's not too late - in the months leading up to the Xbone's release, they can still announce more interesting titles, lower the barrier of entry to smaller development companies, and realise that the main reason why people buy games consoles is to play games.

Media Matters: The 7 o'clock news with Shaquille O'Neal

 This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

The other day, I was in a conversation on the internet about the development of an indie video game. The main characters were to have voice actors, and it just so happened one of the cast was a black guy.

The number of people who suddenly yelled "He should be voiced by Samuel L. Jackson!" was overwhelming.

It made me wonder about the presence of black actors in major releases these days. Setting aside that the internet is filled with idiots, is Samuel L. Jackson the only option Hollywood has for 'the black guy'?
Well, no, I'm being hyperbolic - we also have Will Smith. If the role requires someone older, or a narrator, Morgan Freeman's usually the port of call.

There are others (no need to bring up each name of every rapper who's turned a hand to film, for example), but they're very rarely cut out for anything other than a comedy relief role.

If Hollywood needs a British black actor for whatever reason, they're stuck. Ocean's Twelve had to settle for Don Cheadle putting on a disgustingly poor Cockney accent.

That's not to say that there's a total dearth of black actors out there, it's just that they often don't seem to get the kind of high profile exposure that other actors of a similar (or even worse) skill level get.

And that's if the audience don't just dismiss the presence of black actors outright. If you remember back in 2011, Idris Elba had a solid role as Heimdall, in Thor. Naturally, the internet filled with complaints about a black character appearing in what they considered exclusively white mythology.

The Hunger Games had Cinna, a fashion designer played by Lenny Kravitz (who absolutely rocked the gold eyeshadow, by the way). As the book made no direct reference to Cinna's race, there were loads of complaints that they dared to put someone non-white in the role. In fact, there was a character that specifically was mentioned to be black in the text that got the same treatment.

It seems there's a general theme of scripts not giving scope for black characters, or an audience that's unaccepting of them. Though while believable, those are both entirely awful excuses.

But hey, what about ordinary television? TV presenters and show hosts aren't limited by a script to be white, so the demographic ratios should be better, right?

Well, according to Reggie Yates, 29, it's scary how few black faces there are on UK prime-time television.
Himself the only black host on Saturday night television (He hosts The Voice), he feels that not enough is done to accurately reflect the British population.

He told The Sun on the 16th that it was intimidating to be alone in a demographic.

“There’s more opportunity in America — and a bigger black audience," he said.

He's backed up by a comment from Lenny Henry, 54, after the Bafta TV awards last weekend.

A successful comedian in his own right, he said: "I’m working on things and trying to bring about change, but I can’t do it all on my own. We need to invest in these programmes, in rainbow casting, in all of the great black writers, producers and directors who make these programmes."

The point about there being a bigger pool of black TV personalities and actors in the US is a good one. Maybe the solution is to do use our favourable exchange rate, and import more diverse actors from overseas.

I can see it now. Donald Glover hosting CBBC, Lawrence Fishburne starring in endless Channel 4 gritty dramas, Shaquille O'Neal reading the news headlines on BBC Breakfast.

Why not go the whole hog and get me on the television? I would make an incredible game show presenter! Take Me Out would never be the same again.