I’m not even supposed to be here today…

Right about now, I should be on a Virgin Atlantic Airbus A340-600 departing London Heathrow Airport and landing around 11 hours later at Tokyo Narita Airport, Japan – but I’m not, I’m here in ‘jolly ol’ England sat in front of my pc with a massive – I mean seriously MASSIVE – case of the blues

Following the terrible events in the Tohuku region earlier in the year we had to make a very quick decision as to whether we would continue with our tour as planned or re-book for later in the year. With so much uncertainty at the time and not to mention the scaremongering in the media, and with very heavy hearts, we decided to postpone and re-book for later in the year.

I wanted to give some kudos to our excellent tour company Inside Japan http://www.insidejapantours.com/ that we used on our previous trip to Japan (and are using again this time) who have been so helpful and supportive during the difficult period immediately following the tsunami and have kept in constant touch with updates and advice ever since.

On the positive side I had possibly the worst haircut in the history of the world earlier in the week so at least I won’t have to share my embarrassing barnet with the unsuspecting Japanese public. It will give me more time to continue my Japanese language lessons (which I really need – Nihongo wa muzukashii desu), more time to plan all of the places that we want to visit, more time to research all the weird and wonderful Kit Kat flavours that we’ll be looking out for (such as ‘Bubblegum’ and ‘Cheese’ flavours! – there’s a whole blog to follow about that) and more time to save extra spending money

Everyone points out that at least I now have something to look forward to later in the year and they are, of course, correct – but today it feels like little consolation

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Seriously…3.0

Gears of War 3 Beta

I love Gears of War.

There. I said it. I’m an out-and-proud Gears of War fan.

For me Gears has surpassed Halo as my favourite franchise in this generation of gaming. Gears 1 and 2 sit atop my most played list on my ‘360voice’ (http://360voice.gamerdna.com/) with 137 and 119 days of play respectively

In my ‘career’ as an Xbox player, to date I have unlocked 2941 achievements from the very first “’Cluster Buster’ – 25 Total Combos” on the super-addictive Hexic HD for 5gs to the most recent “’Poisoned Ivy’ – Defeat the giant Titan Ivy plant” on Batman Arkham Asylum for 50gs

In all that time only one achievement stands out as memorable. Popping up on the afternoon of Sunday 22nd April 2007 ‘Seriously…’, the gold standard of bragging rights amongst Gears players

Gears of Warsimply asked for 10,000 total kills in versus ranked matches to unlock the 50gs Seriously… achievement. It took me the best part of five months of pretty solid play to get it. It was probably the first time I had deliberately set out to get an achievement but, fortunately for me, I loved Gears online so I actually enjoyed playing and gaining the achievement. It was a by product of a game I was thoroughly loving rather than a slog for some achievement points. There was a slightly competitive nature to being the first amongst my friends list to get Seriously and be the first to display the shiny new gamer picture that unlocked alongside it on my profile (and it’s still there today), so that added to the fun

Gears of War 2, I think unfortunately, went in a different direction with Seriously 2.0 requiring 100,000 kills. This time not restricted (thankfully) to online play, so your kills in campaign and the new horde mode kills counted towards your total. Even then, the seemingly best way to gain this huge amount of kills was to grind two levels of the campaign repetitively – Act 1, Chapter 4 (Tip of the Spear, The Big Push) or Act 5, Chapter 5 (Aftermath, Closure)
I quickly realised that 2.0 wasn’t a fun achievement and to get it, I wouldn’t be playing for the love of the game; I’d be grinding for an achievement. For me if it’s not fun and within the normal parameters of the game, then it’s not worth getting. (I currently sit on around 20,000 kills)
I know plenty of people managed to grind there way through this but reading about people spending a week replaying the same level over and over again…. No thanks, not for me. I wonder how many people have got to 100,000 kills without grinding?

Today, owners of the Bulletstorm Epic Edition will be able to get their grubby mitts on the Gears of War 3 Beta (on April 18th and then a week later on the 25th for those who get beta codes via pre-ordering Gears 3) – and the team over at the excellent XCN member website http://thisisxbox.com/ may have uncovered the achievement list for Gears of War 3

The full list can be found at the link below – be aware that although this list is not yet confirmed as legitimate, it does contain potential spoilers for the campaign mode

http://thisisxbox.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=934:gears-of-war-3-achievements-leaked&catid=35:news&Itemid=87#

Naturally, my eyes scanned the list and quickly found what I was looking for……’Seriously 3.0’ and the requirements are….

‘… do it all! Level 100, campaign on insane, earn every ribbon/medal, complete Horde/Beast on all 10 maps……’

For me, this looks more like it! Getting back to the making the achievement a by product of playing the game and only asking you to be a dedicated Gear!

Campaign on Insane is a must do for the full Gears experience. The ribbons and medals are yet to be revealed but a quick play of the Beta and you will see some of the ribbons on offer, so hopefully these shouldn’t be too painful

Horde modes returns will the addition of the excellent looking Beast mode and hopefully these will remain as enjoyable as before

In fact probably the most time consuming aspect will be reaching level 100 and assuming Epic continue to support Gears 3 in the way they have previously, will all of the special community events and XP weekend, this should be obtainable for most

To the Beta itself and in the Beta you’ll be able to play Team Deathmatch mode on four new maps (Thrashball, Checkout, Trenches, and Old Town); Capture the Leader and King of the Hill gameplay modes will be added later in the Beta period. Also, be sure to look out for a surprise event weekend that you, apparently, won’t want to miss!

As I’m sure you will be aware, unlocks are plentiful in the Beta and the known list is as follows:

Flaming Hammerburst – Complete one match by Sunday, April 24 to permanently unlock.
Flaming Lancer – Complete one match during the week of April 25 to permanently unlock.
Flaming Sawed-Off Shotgun – Complete one match during the week of May 2 to permanently unlock.
Flaming Gnasher Shotgun – Complete one match during the week of May 9 to permanently unlock.
Beta Tester Medal – Wear it proudly, Gear. – Complete one match in the Beta to permanently unlock.
Thrashball Cole — Unlock Thrashball Cole to play as Augustus Cole as he was before Emergence Day — a legendary Thrashball athlete known for his ferocious, flamboyant style – Complete 50 matches in any game type to unlock for the Beta period. To permanently unlock, complete 10 matches as Thrashball Cole during the Beta period.
Gold-Plated Retro Lancer — Before the chainsaw bayonet was deployed at the beginning of the Locust-Human War, the original Lancer assault rifle had a large fixed blade – Complete 90 matches in any game type to unlock for the Beta period. To permanently unlock, score 100 kills with the Gold-Plated Retro Lancer during the Beta period.

Full beta details can be found at http://forums.epicgames.com/showthread.php?t=767359

Below is some new Beta footage uploaded by Console Creatures (http://www.consolecreatures.com/) which shows game set up and a match on the Trenches map plus unlockables

The Gears of War Beta runs from 18th April (for Bulletstorm Epic Edition Owners) or 25th April (for pre-order Beta code holders) until May 15th

Gear of War 3 is released in the UK and US on 20th September 2011

Kokuhaku (Confessions ) – Review

Kokuhaku (Confessions) – Friday 4th March 2011 at the ICA, London

Synopsis

It’s the last day of term and teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) explains to her inattentive, unruly class that today will be her last day at the school. She explains her reason for leaving is the death of her 4 year old daughter, who drowned in the schools swimming pool earlier in the year in an apparent tragic accident.
She goes on to explain that she has since learnt that it wasn’t an accident; that her child was murdered and the murder was committed by two of the pupils in the very class in which she now stands.

Due to their age Yuko knows that these pupils, referred to as Student A and Student B, cannot be appropriately prosecuted so she has taken their punishment into her own hands. This is Yuko’s confession.

The film then follows the ‘confessions’ of those involved. Student B, now reclusive, shut in at home with a mother who is unwilling to accept that her child could be responsible for such an act. Student A, now vilified at school but defiant, unrepentant and desperately seeking the attention of the mother that abandoned him, and the one student, with a dark secret of her own, that that supports him.

Through these confessions, secrets are revealed, the truth is uncovered and Yuko’s revenge comes to a conclusion

Summary

It’s taken me quite a while to write my summary. In fact, this is my fourth attempt having completely discarded the previous three. The main problem being that Confessions is such an amazing film that I found that I could write nothing but gushing praise and just kept filling the page with superlative after superlative.

Every facet of Confessions borders on perfect. It’s visually stunning, coming from the team that brought you the brilliant and brightly coloured ‘Kamikaze Girls’, here the colours are muted and almost cold and clinical in comparison but each shot is so perfect, you could almost hang a frame around it. A slow-motion scene in the rain early in the film and another scene I won’t spoil near the conclusion are fantastically realised and vividly brought to life and are accompanied by a spot-on soundtrack, featuring the likes of Radiohead and Boris

The acting is flawless on all fronts from the detached, damaged teacher Yuko (Takako Matsu) to her over eager replacement (Masaki Okada) but the real credit here must go to the students, particularly Student A who plays the role of the quiet sociopath, brooding in the corner of the classroom in such an effortless manor as to be genuinely scary

Of course of all this would be nothing but window dressing if the story did not deliver and fortunately it really does. Japanese cinema can at times be almost impenetrable for a newcomer but Confessions, possibly due to its origins of being based on a novel by Kanae Minato, adopts a more familiar story telling structure and this makes it much more accessible.

Yet another stunning release from Third Window Films, Confessions is no ordinary revenge thriller and was understandably Japans entry to this years Oscars and is now on a limited cinema release. I urge you to see this film while you can

In the coming weeks it can be seen in London at:
The Prince Charles Cinema – March 15th, 18th, 23rd and 24th
The ICA – March 16th and 17th

Score: 9/10 – It’s not often I would even consider using the word ‘Masterpiece’ but Confessions really does deserve it. Dark, subversive and utterly gripping from start to finish.

More details of cinema's currently showing Confessions can be found on the Third Window Events page:

Third Window Events

Confessions is out on DVD & Blu-Ray on April 25th

Operation Flashpoint: Red River – Preview

Operation Flashpoint: Red River – Preview, held Wednesday 23rd February 2011
I was lucky enough to be invited along to an event previewing Codemasters upcoming FPS Operation Flashpoint: Red River, the follow-up to 2009’s Dragon Rising

Red River’s action takes place in Tajikistan (a country which sits ominously between Afghanistan and China), moving from the previous fictional Island of Skira, and so what better venue to hold this preview and give a flavour of the culture and flavour of the area than the Samarqand in Central London, a recently opened restaurant which specialises in Central Asian cuisine

My small group was whisked through the main dining area to one of the lavish private dining rooms at the back of the restaurant where 4 Xbox’s and TV’s are hooked up and ready to play

We were greeted by Sion Lenton, the games Creative Director, who gave us a guided tour of what to expect from the evening and were then given the opportunity to play through 3 of the 4 FTE’s (Fire Team Engagements) – the new Co-op game types which replace the player vs player multiplayer mode of Dragon Rising

First up is choosing what type of Marine you want to be (Hoo-rah), with four classes on offer. The Rifleman is your standard all-rounder grunt, the Scout has the sniping options, the Grenadier is your go-loud option and the Automatic Rifleman is the heavy weapons and suppression specialist. You will start out with a fairly standard set of weapons but gain XP through playing which can be used to unlock further weapons, attachments and abilities (one of my team mates also unlocked a related achievement for 5g – Weaponsmith)

Last Stand – is the first game type we get to play and is a kind of ‘horde’ mode with our team holding a position in a village atop a hill while being attacked by waves of enemies that’s sharpshooting skills and hunger to see you in a body bag increases with each wave

CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) – follows, and this is a ‘Black Hawk Down’ inspired mode where your team is tasked with finding and rescuing the Pilot and Co-Pilot, of a downed ‘chopper, destroying it and reaching extraction (the level we were shown was appropriately called ‘No One Gets Left Behind’). The maps are a standard layout but the placement of enemies, pilots and caches are random so no two games will be alike.

Combat Sweep – is next and in a level called ‘Counter Insurgency’ your mission is to clear out all insurgents on the level and destroy the 3 ammo caches hidden throughout the villages.

This final FTE that we, unfortunately didn’t get to play is Rolling Thunder, a fantastic sounding mode, inspired by Generation Kill where you lead a convoy of vehicles from point A to B, fighting off insurgent attacks on the way (the level highlighted was called Hells Highway) and looks set to test your leadership skills to the max

And then my all to brief slice of Red River was over

One thing that becomes clear very quickly is that the realism and tactical game play of Red River will really reward team players and severely punish any budding Rambo’s that dare to cross its path. Call of Duty style running-and-gunning will see you cut down in a hail of bullets in seconds and the enemy AI is smart enough to sit and watch a downed soldier and wait to pick off anyone who tries to come to their rescue, so even a rescue attempt needs to be a coordinated team effort

Weapons also feel realistic and weighty and lining up a shot actually takes some skill (and a little bit of getting used to), and when you get that kill shot – highlighted by your cross-hairs turning red (white for a wounding shot) – you feel like you’ve earned it

Operation Flashpoint: Red River is shaping up brilliantly and is looking very good ahead of its late April release date. Graphically it has improved again (sadly the quality of my pictures doesn’t really reflect that – note to self: buy better camera!) Everything looks very polished with realistic terrain, textures and vistas that seem to go on for miles and yet you have the sense that if you wanted, you could walk all they way to the mountains in the distance. Despite the obviously huge maps the draw distance is exceptional and was especially highlighted in the Last Stand mode where I could see tiny enemy soldiers hot-footing it between houses hundreds of meters away at the bottom of the hill

I really enjoyed all three FTE’s that we got to play, especially CSAR and I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on Rolling Thunder as well. If the single player campaign is equally enjoyable that Operation Flashpoint: Red River is looking like a must purchase

…and of course, no preview event is complete without a few awesome goodies to take away – is there anything more magnificent than a ‘I’m famous in Tajikistan’ t-shirt!!!

More game info can be found at: http://www.flashpointgame.com/

Finally, I’d like to give a big thanks to Xbox UK’s AceyBongos and the whole team at Codemasters, who were fantastically generous with their time, for the event

I Am Number Four – Review

‘I Am Number Four’ preview held at the BFI London IMAX – Friday 18th February 2011

*Warning – This review contains some spoilers*

Synopsis 

Three are dead. He is Number Four.

John Smith (Alex Pettyfer), is one of nine children of Lorien, sent to Earth to escape the ruthless Mogadorians that had laid waste to their home world and are now seeking out and killing the final 9 survivors. Three have been killed already. John is number four.  

After the death of the number Three, John and his guardian Henri (Timothy Olyphant) move to the small town of Paradise, Ohio to hide and start fresh. While here John makes new friends, new enemies, meets his first love, Sarah (Dianna Agron) and discovers his new ‘legacies’, extraordinary powers that he will need to survive when the Mogadorians eventually find him

Aided by his friend Sam and fellow survivor Number Six (Teresa Palmer), John must battle the Mogodorians, not only for his own survival but for the survival of Earth

Summary

As my wife put it, I Am Number Four is an old-fashioned film. Not is a bad, outdated way. I Am Number Four is reminiscent of some of the great event movies of the early eighties like Ghostbusters or Gremlins. A film that both adults and children can enjoy with a mix of action, romance and most surprisingly, in a time where film makers seem to think that blowing your budget on CGI makes great cinema (Skyline, I’m looking directly at you, you crazy nonsense of a film without an ending) it has an actual story

In fact it’s not until the last 20 minutes or so that the action (and effects) ramp up as John and Number 6’s powers come into play in an exciting, school levelling, highly kinetic battle with the Mogadorians

Comparisons to (the eye-gougingly painful) Twilight series are inevitable but here Pettyfer as John Smith, a brooding teen-with-a-secret is much more believable than sulky Edward Cullen and Glee’s Dianna Agron as social misfit Sarah is infinitely more likeable than perpetual gloom merchant Bella.

Of course, I Am Number Four isn’t without its faults or clichés. At one point (*spoiler* just before his inevitable death) Henri tells John “You don’t know how powerful you are..” Really? Ok, tell you what Henri, as we’re on the run from enemies that will stop at nothing to see us dead, so how about you tell me? This is no time to be enigmatic! Jeez!

The Mogadorians come across like moustache twirling cartoon villains at times and there are a few minor plot holes, plus a CGI sidekick that feels like it’s there for kid-appeal.

Despite this, I Am Number Four feels like the beginning of what could be an excellent series, with enough loose ends left dangling to leave you wanting more and to find out the fate of the remaining Lorien survivors

After the turgid Harry Potter stunk up the sci-fi/fantasy genre just before Christmas, I Am Number Four is a breath of fresh air but my concern is that it may be all to quickly forgotten once the upcoming glut of better know Superhero movies appear

Score 7/10 – An excellent school holiday movie for kids and adults alike that deserves your attention

‘I am Number Four’ is released on in the UK on Wednesday 23rd February 2011

 

Blog Envy

A post about ‘Blog Envy’

While looking through my favourite footballing forum on Sunday evening, I happened upon a thread entitled ‘Kelly Brook in the buff (full frontal NWS)’

Of course, knowing this particular site as well I as do and also Ms Brook’s apparent stubborn refusal to bare any thing more than her breasts (much to the recent chagrin of Hugh Heffners bank manager and to the heartbreak of thousands of teenage boys and older-and-should-know-better men) I, of course, expected to be ‘Barlow’ed

On this particular forum a ‘Barlow’ is the equivalent of being ‘Rick Rolled’ but instead of the musical stylings of Rick Astley and his ubiquitous 1987 number 1 hit, you will most likely see a picture or gif of Coronation Street’s legendary love lothario actor William Roach as ‘Ken Barlow’. Often, a thread will promise any number of wonders within, from naked celebrities to the exact location of the Arc of the Covenant but 99% of the time – Barlow – doh!, caught again, Classic Ken!

But no. Just this once, it was real. There on the page before my eyes, for the first time, a fully naked Kelly Brook.

Like Patrick Stewart in Extras, I could see everything

 

 

 

 

But hold on, Kelly Brook wasn’t the most interesting thing on this page. I noted that this was a WordPress blog just like mine (only much better looking) and then over on the right hand side of the page it carried the legend ‘Blog Visitors since November 27th 2010’…….

2,795,081

TWO – MILLION – SEVEN HUNDRED AND NINETY FIVE THOUSAND – AND EIGHTY ONE

Jesus H Christ on a very large bicycle. 2,795,081 visitors! Initially, I’ll admit it, I was a little upset – I mean, in my own scrappy way on my little blog I’m trying to write a few things that may inform, interest or (in a more unlikely scenario) even entertain whatever lost souls wander past my page and yet I can barely drag in a few hundred visitors. Meanwhile, the merest sniff of celebrity lady flesh brings in more viewers than Channel 5 could ever dream of – am I wasting my time?

Is the (virtual) pen no longer mightier than the (pork) sword?

So, feeling a little disheartened, I started to examine why I don’t get more hits

Is it the blog itself? Are the topics too random? (Games, Films and the occasional bit of Japanese). Is it the crude layout that I haven’t taken the time to improve? Is is the spelling and grammatical errors? Or worse, is the content that poor that no one is interested? (Yes, yes, yes and yes)

Is it me? I don’t really promote myself. Essentially, I’m kind of a private person. I rarely use Facebook and even then, my profile isnt public so only a few friends can see my rambling and, the frankly bloody hilarious, funny cat gifs

I much prefer Twitter and really enjoy reading the conversations, thoughts and ramblings of the 180ish people I follow; from family to friends, actors, musician, sportsmen, gamers, fellow ‘one a day’ers and other assorted randoms but I’m not outgoing enough to jump in and say ‘hi’ to people I don’t really know, so I don’t really generate many followers of my own (I believe 54 at the time of writing – although if you weed out the various fake accounts, maybe 40?)

Hmmmm

So like any mature thirty something, I did the only decent thing available to me. I sulked. I sulked for a good 24 hours in fact

And then yesterday, while starting a new post, I realised – hits didn’t matter. I remember why I started this blog in the first place. I did it for me. I did it because over the past few years life had caught up with me and the inevitabilities of work commitments and family had meant that I hadn’t had the time to do some of the things I used to enjoy doing – like writing

Up until last year I had spent most of my life working in the NHS. I was never really happy there and, let’s be honest, they don’t really promote creativity in their office drones. Last year I started working within the British film industry and am happier than I have ever been at work (just don’t tell my boss that) and being exposed to so many creative and passionate people has reignited something that for the longest time I had forgotten about and this blog was supposed to be about me taking my first baby steps to finding my creative side again

I never expected my tiny little blog to set the world alight. I’m just enjoying writing it. If anyone reads it, that’s a bonus. If anyone likes it, well, I’d be over the moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Ken!

Homefront (Xbox 360) – Preview

Homefront was played on Xbox 360, in single player mode at the SFX Weekender, on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th February 2011

I had a little bit of hands on time with the single player mode of Homefront last weekend and thought I’d share some thoughts and pictures of my experience and some of the set pieces that I came across (the picture quality isn’t great unfortunately as I was gaming with one hand and taking pictures with the other)

The level in the demo see’s your character fighting, alongside allies Conner and Rianna, through a battle devastated town, with wrecked cars and boarded up houses and stores

In the first area I came to, you are told to take cover as a small patrol and a tank passes by (in a genius move on my first try, I threw a grenade in amongst the patrol, killing at least 4 of them instantly – unfortunately, this really annoyed the tank and it took swift revenge for its fallen comrades) Once it passes you can sneak across the road behind it

After a quick skirmish around the wing and body of a crashed airliner you come to the first set piece, where you are pinned down by an APC but you can quickly flank it and in the building above (where you will have taken out a machine gun post in the preceding battle) you find a small stash of C4 which can be tossed from the window onto the APC below

One thing I noted was that ammunition seemed to be in shorter supply than similar genre games and I found myself looting weapons from corpses frequently and having to use my pistol on a good few occasions

After this you fight through some your way through some more houses and shops on your way to meet up with police officer Boone and at this point I unlocked an achievement ‘Chronicler’ for 10gs, for picking up a newspaper clipping, which you could read and gave you a bit more insight into some of the events around the game

Towards the end of my time with the Homefront demo, after meeting up with Boone, the town comes under heavy attack and it’s here that you are given control of the ‘Goliath Assault Vehicle’ – a machine gun and missile laden remotely targeted armoured assault vehicle – which you control with the use of targeting binoculars, designating enemy vehicles and troops for the Goliath to go after

First thoughts..

Homefront is a looking to be a very solid, if not unique, game and although there was still the vibe of Kaos Studios’ previous game, Frontlines: Fuel of War, Homefront really does feel like Kaos have taken a big step forward and are really trying to push Homefront as a serious challenger to the juggernaut that is Call of Duty – certainly, the demo level was reminiscent of COD in many ways.

Sadly there was no multiplayer available on the day, as this is the jewel in COD crown that keeps it at the number 1 spot and to which all fps developers must aspire, but early indications are that Kaos are trying to both improve on some of the current crop of games such as Battlefield, with larger scale vehicle combat, but to also innovate with the new AI ‘Battle Commander’ which is hoped will help bring emergent gameplay by tracking every player in the game, In one example, if one player on the opposing team is playing exceptionally well, the AI commander will make him a priority target for your team to hunt down and kill

Homefront is due for release on 18th March 2011 on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC