Sunday, 28 November 2010

HYPNOBOBS 10 - Pickman's Model



Join Mr Jim Moon once more by the fireside for some talk about ghouls, the original cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers, and a reading of HP Lovecraft's classic tale 'Pickman's Model'...

Direct download - HYPNOBOBS 10 - Pickman's Model

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   HYPNOBOBS is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.


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Monday, 22 November 2010

Dig For Victory - The Glory of MINECRAFT !



Back when video games were young and dinosaurs ruled the earth, I recall that one fine day an old chum came to visit. Having tethered his pteradon, he dashed up the drive way carrying a strange black box and demanded access to my television’s rear. Despite fearing that my idiot lantern was about to be molested, I let him have his way...

...And thankfully rather than being an early form of teledildonics, that black box of tricks turned out to be was the ill-fated Sega Saturn and what he had to show me was the father of the RTS genre, the original Command & Conquer which he memorably described as “like playing with Airfix toy soldiers again... But the best thing is you don’t have to do all that tedious tidying ‘em away afterwards!”. Needless to say I was very soon hooked again on video games, and the release of the sequel Red Alert was a major factor in buying my first proper PC, and so without that game you might not be here today reading this rambling introduction.

However aside from commanding miniature plastic armies, my favourite toy was Lego. These incredibly painful to stand on in bare feet building blocks* dominated my childhood – a Lego set was one of the earliest Christmas presents I remember, and the huge crate of bricks it eventually became was the last toy to be resigned to the darkness of the attic.

Now there have been many games over the years, including the original Command & Conquer, that have in some way recaptured the love of building stuff that Lego used to deliver. However despite the extensive world building offered by many titles down the years, none have quite completely captured the joys of those multi-coloured plastic bricks, even games bearing the Lego name. That is until the dawn of Minecraft

WARNING! Reading further may lead to you never getting a single damn thing done ever again!

No, seriously! This game is probably more addictive than crack, more dangerous than cake, and more reality warping than the true black meat (the flesh of giant aquatic Brazilian centipede)!

And I take no responsibility for loss of earnings, health issues, relationship break-downs, or any other resultant conditions or circumstances stemming from becoming a minerholic after reading this review...

So with that dire warning and ad hoc legally binding agreement in place, now read on...

To quote its maker, "Minecraft is a game about placing blocks while running away from skeletons. Or something like that”.

What? That’s not sold you already? Oh alright...

In my previous musings on video games, I remarked on my worries that as the hardware wars progress, with bigger and flashier consoles flooding the market on a regular basis, that little attention was being paid actual gameplay, and that the imagination and creativity of blokes hammering out code in bedrooms that spawned so many classic titles over the years was being lost in a fog of corporations and a mire of massive development teams. Indeed it would seem to appear that increasingly modern games are simply retreads of old titles in new and gaudier clothes; fifth hand ideas and concepts tarted up with graphics many times more advanced than their sources but often delivering a fraction of the gameplay of their grandfather titles.

However Minecraft is a glorious return to the days of independent development – it’s wonderfully imaginative, utterly immersive and serves up hours of fun. It’s the creation of just one guy - Markus Alexej Persson, or Notch as he is known to minecrafters the world over. It’s a sandbox game that has been released online - www.minecraft.net
- which you can play in your web browser, or if you buy it, download and play offline. And even though it’s not actually finished yet, already the game is becoming something of a phenomenon.

Minecraft comes in two flavours Classic and Alpha. Classic is available to play for free online and is an early incarnation of the game. It’s missing a lot of the features now in the current version Alpha, but it does give you a taste of what it’s all about, so do go and have a look for yourselves!

On your first look at the world of Minecraft Classic, if you’re not into retro-gaming you may well wonder what all the fuss is about as the graphics look somewhat primitive. But once you start wandering about a bit it all starts to make sense – it’s like rambling through a brand new world made from Lego; it’s colourful and slightly surreal as everything is made from blocks including the shining square sun but utterly charming.

You have an inventory of different blocks and items to build with. A left click with the mouse lets you dig by destroying blocks in the landscape and right clicking places a new block or item. Now although there are no enemies to fight or stuff to harvest and make, it is tremendous fun just messing about trying to build something. A simple pleasure to be sure, but after a few hours of arsing around attempting making a house and generally having a whale of a time, I was warming up the old credit card to get the full version Alpha.

Now Alpha, again the game randomly generates a world composed of blocks and you are free to explore, build and generally muck about to your hearts content. There are no missions, levels or any of that bobbins – you are completely free to do as you will. Of course, as the game’s title suggests, there are great caverns beneath the earth to discover and forgotten dungeons filled with goodies to loot and baddies to vanquish.

But unlike Classic, in this world you have to collect all the blocks you need, so you have to harvest wood, hunt animals, make tools, dig for ore and make all kinds of gadgets and items. However in Alpha the perpetual sunny afternoon of Classic is gone and there is a day and night cycle... And at night the monsters spawn; giant spiders and zombies that reckon you are tea, vicious skeletons that will turn you into a pin cushion with their deadly arrows, and the dreaded creepers which sidle up to you and explode, not only killing you but blowing up everything nearby.


"Sod off! I'm trying to build an aqueduct!"

When you die you respawn and there are no limits to the amount of lives you have. Now some might say that this effectively takes away any challenge, but believe me dying is to be avoided. You see, when you die you drop all the equipment and goodies you’ve gathered, which is a major pain when you’ve worked for ages to create some high quality armour and diamond tools and are loaded to the gills with precious materials. Usually most of it will be lying at the site of your death to pick up again but it is a major headache to reclaim it if that location happens to be far away from the fixed point where you always respawn and/or in an area crawling with monsters.

But while the assorted monsters provide the necessary degree of challenge for a good game, the real fun comes with the creativity. To begin with, a tremendous amount of imagination has gone into the game design, such as a very clever system of crafting different items by combining them in different patterns on a 3 x 3 grid in the inventory. And in terms of gameplay, it’s great fun to try out different combinations of things to and see what appears. But also the game really fires your own imagination – once you get your living arrangements sorted out, do you want to go exploring, delve into dungeons, start farming or perhaps build a giant statue of Homer Simpson?

The genius of Minecraft is that you can do all these things and more. It combines the best elements of RTS, god sims, first person shooters and RPGs but also manages to be a canvas for your creativity. And almost equally addictive as the game itself is looking online at what other people have created in their blocky Edens. YouTube is awash with videos of folk showing off their endeavours - for example, here's a fellow who is building a 1.1 scale replica of the New Gen Enterprise! Impressive stuff to be sure but this team project - a recreation of York Minister in Minecraft - is even more breath taking. Check out these shots - here's an exterior view and this is the choir and altar inside. However to see really see the full beauty of this epic Minecraft construction, check out this video that shows it's construction and tours the finished edifice. It is truly incredible what wonders you can create in this game!

One word of warning however, Minecraft comes with no instructions and you will need to regularly consult the Minepedia wiki to identify items you’ve found or things you’ve encountered. However I’m sure that eventually the game itself will incorporate a tutorial and tool tips. So then, when starting out I would recommend checking out this First Night Survival Guide.

Also if you want to see the game in action and gains some handy advice for how to play, I highly recommend watching SeaNanners' series of Minecraft videos on YouTube. Not only are they are wonderful introduction to how the game plays and a great source of tips, they are also highly entertaining, and often hilarious.


Dawn chez Moon

As I said earlier Minecraft still isn’t actually finished. However it is still fully playable, with the updates being tweaks and additional fun stuff. For example, a major update was released this Halloween which along with adding the ability to make jack-o-lanterns out of pumpkins, introduced a whole other dimension, the Nether to travel to via magic portals. This spooky realm is the Minecraft equivalent of Hell - full of new strange creatures and resources.

And if you do buy Alpha, all subsequent updates and upgrades are free. But as the game is still being developed, Minecraft is currently going for half price which is just under a tenner. Now this is an absolute bargain, but in all fairness, it will still be a steal at £20 when it’s finished.

Why? Well it’s simply the sheer amount of time you can lose playing this game – these days most big name games are often only delivering 20 or 30 hours of gaming before the story runs out. But with Minecraft, as it’s a sandbox game, the only end is when you’ve decided you’ve had enough, and oh boy do you get a lot of game time out of Minecraft - I’ve only had the purchase version for four days and already I’ve had well over 30 hours of gameplay out of it and I’m still just getting to grips with the basics of the game!

But aside from delivering the very best value for money, Minecraft is just an absolute joy to play. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that over the years increasingly mission and level based games often end up uncompleted in my hands for the simple reason that after a while the game just starts to become more a chore than a fun challenge. Let’s be honest, often in a shooter or RTS you end up wishing they’d just ditch the *ahem* story line, which seems to involve each progressive level becoming more of a massive pain in the arse, and just let you play with all the toys in the game world.

But Minecraft let’s you completely off the leash, with the great god Notch giving you a world of your very own and saying ‘Go ahead, play!”. You make your own story in this game, and whether it turns out be a tale of being the architect of wondrous castles, a farmer, a delver in the dim secrets being the earth’s crust, or even a landscape artist, it’s never anything less than complete fun.

Call me cynical but the bigger the games market becomes it seems the less game content we are being delivered - as games studios always have their eyes on flogging you an expansion pack or a revamped version the following year. Minecraft feels like a return to the simpler values of old – born of a desire to create a fun filled game that you can happily play with for weeks rather than just a handful of hours. And this desire to simply make an excellent game shines through in the myriad ways you can amuse yourself in a world of brightly coloured blocks.

In short, Minecraft is a real triumph of rewarding gameplay over flashy gimmicks, and proof that one man with imagination is still more than a match for bloatware titles made by vast development teams. It’s also a massive victory for independent development and distribution. But perhaps best of all Minecraft is a gigantic win for gamers everywhere.



*”Put your slippers on!!!” – my Mum, virtually every day as a nipper

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Best film trailer of the last few days; GREEN LANTERN, COWBOYS & ALIENS, YOUR HIGHNESS or RED RIDING HOOD? Why?

So asked FILM INTEL and here's our anwser!

Right then, GREEN LANTERN looks fun but we're really not sure about the suit - CGI aside not entirely sold on the dark green.

RED RIDING HOOD looks pretty but doesn't seem to have captured a proper medieval tone - all seems a bit music video! We suspect the words 'missed opportunity' may figure heavily in reviews...

YOUR HIGHNESS however looked far more like a proper ye olde fantasy world and contrast with the foul mouthed humour worked well. Yes we laughed alot and are looking forward to this one! And we sure we're not alone in that it brought memories flooding back of teenage D&D sessions.

Clear winner though had to be COWBOYS & ALIENS. Looks gorgeous and a lot more intriguing than the lazy sounding mash-up titles suggests. This could be the best genre hopping Western since VALLEY OF GWANGI!

Ask us anything

Sunday, 14 November 2010

HYPNOBOBS 09 - The Redsin Tower


Mr Jim Moon takes a look an underground horror flick from the infamous Toetag Pictures ... So ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats for a tour of The Redsin Tower...

Direct download - HYPNOBOBS 09 - The Redsin Tower

The interview mentioned in the 'cast can be found at here

HYPNOBOBS HOME DOMAIN - Full archive, RSS feed and other useful links

HYPNOBOBS on iTunes

HYPNOBOBS on STITCHER



   HYPNOBOBS is hosted by GeekPlanetOnline and is part of the ROGUE TWO Podcasting network.


CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Heh! Heh! Heh!



As Mr Moon has been poorly this week, here's a sketch inspired by The Creep, from the classic King & Romero anthology flick Creepshow, to be going on with until either a new 'cast or slab of rambling appears.

Abnormal service will be resumed shortly...

Monday, 8 November 2010

JASON IN SPAAAAAAAAACE!



There will be spoilers and there will be blood!

The days are long at the Famous Monsters Retirement Home, but it’s the evenings that stretch on forever as the assorted ghouls and creatures cluster around the TV, all harbouring in their rotten hearts the forlorn hope that some obscure channel may rerun of one of their movies in the dim watches of the night, and maybe, just maybe new fans will be created and one day, one glorious day, there will be enough demand for a return to the silver screen…

And Jason wasn’t happy. He’d been here for years, freaking years now; so long in fact that now the Old Boys, even that stuck up Count, who had been so hostile when he’d first washed up here were looking upon him with sympathetic eyes. And while he’d been delighted that his great rival, Krueger had wound up here too, the warm fuzzy glow of schadenfeude had long since paled, as now if was ever to escape this genteel hell it would be for their long promised, but never materialising Freddy Vs. Jason. Their fates were now bound together and furthermore they were both united in their anger that that Shatner faced goon Myers kept on getting released time and time again. It just wasn’t fair dammit, and there’s only so many times an undead psychopath can visit the Giant Radioactive Monster petting zoo…

Then after nearly nine years since the disastrous Jason Goes To Hell, the call at last came. There was a new script in the offing and much to his pointy fingered friend’s chagrin it wasn’t a treatment for their epic clash. A young writer called Todd Farmer had pitched a concept to New Line, a fresh film that would bring Jason back to the movie goers’ attention while Freddy Vs. Jason writhed on Development Hell…

Now hang on, had he heard this one before? Jason was sceptical and made sure he asked all the right questions this time… Would there be young scantily clad fools to slay? Yes? Ok, but did he actually get to do the slaying? Yes? Great! What? It’s set in space? Well as long as he wasn’t demoted to a demonic slug again, what the hell!

So then in 2002, just shy of a decade since his last taste of freedom, Jason X rocketed onto our screens. Well actually ‘rocketed’ is going a bit far – meandered onto them briefly and quickly off again is nearer the mark judging by the dismal box office takings. This movie saw the lowest takings of any of the Friday 13th series, just managing to claw a meagre couple of million in profits worldwide.

So what went wrong? Now the obvious answer is that the film was ghastly beyond belief, and it is true that Jason X was panned by the critics. However this is largely par for the course for a Friday 13th flick – indeed given the outsider status of horror films, a bad review from a mainstream critic is almost a badge of honour. However the movie wasn’t exactly keenly embraced by the Friday faithful.

Essentially before anyone had even seen Jason X, the film had three big hurdles in its path. Firstly the name – although the committed horror fans would know that this was the latest instalment of the Friday 13th series, New Line didn’t actually have the rights to that title and be able to label it clearly as “part 10”. There had been the same problem with the last movie but at least they got “The Final Friday” in the title. Now as we all know branding is important, and although they couldn’t use the franchise’s name I think a better title could have been found. The problem is that by 2002, an X in your title would not make the causal movie goer think of roman numeral but the recent box office smash X- Men (2000) or The X Files TV series. And with a poster design featuring a fairly unrecognisable Jason – seriously just look at him, he looks more like a lump of coal than sporting the iconic hockey mask - and looking very sci-fi flavoured you can understand why people may well have assumed that this was some knock-off cash-in rather than the latest adventures of Mrs Voorhees’ little boy.

Secondly I can quite understand that having suffered through the somewhat lacklustre Part VII – The New Blood, the appalling Jason Takes Manhattan and the misbegotten Jason Goes To Hell, even hardcore fans of the series were reluctant to spend their hard earned on a ticket for this movie; I imagine “I’ll catch it on cable or maybe rent it” was the battle cry of the all but the most committed fans. And if the last two flicks in the franchise hadn’t kicked all expectations into the gutter, our final third factor was guaranteed to plunge them into the sewers…

Basically setting the movie in the future was widely received as a sign that the movie would be awful and that it was time to unplug the life support systems on the series. Back in 1996, Hellraiser: Bloodline took the Pinhead and the Cenobites into the starry void, and this fourth entry was such a mess that Alan Smithee ended up directing and was the last film in the series to receive a theatrical release. Similarly a year later, the already gone straight to video series Leprechaun squeezed out a further helping of Oirish slashings by sending the wee fellow into space with the imaginatively titled Leprechaun 4: In Space. You see, in the world of horror, space isn’t the place where no can hear you scream, it’s where franchises go to die; a portent that all the ideas are exhausted and somehow pairing your villain up against spacemen and robots is going to get the creative juices flowing again… And if you really believe that, may I interest you in some magic beans?

So then with all this against the movie before a soul had seen a single frame, it’s hardly surprising the film fared so poorly. Now of course some would say that there is a fourth factor to consider; that Jason as a character had simply lost his appeal. However considering that little over a two years later Freddy Vs Jason made profits in the hundreds of millions, it’s clear there was still an big appetite for everyone’s favourite psychopathic slaphead.

Admittedly Freddy Vs Jason was a better flick but although Jason X is still something of a divider of fan opinion, it’s fair to say that his interstellar antics are a dramatic improvement on the previous few entries in the franchise. And weirdly enough, it appears Jason X plays very well to non Friday 13th fans – I’ve met numerous people who in general have no time for slasher films but thought this entry in the series was a hoot.

And I’d have to agree - Jason X is marvellously silly fun. While it never quite exploits the knowing ironic humour as well as Scream, or ever be held up against An American Werewolf in London or Shaun of the Dead in the bestest horror comedy ever stakes, this movie is very entertaining. It doesn’t quite capture the mix of horror and laughs that Part 6 – Jason Lives does but it comes very close.

The premise actually works quite well here – in the then future year 2008, Jason is captured, later cryogenically frozen and subsequently awoken in 2455 where he finds himself on board a starship bound for a distant Earth colony and surrounded by his favourite prey, teenagers! In this case, the teens are students who have been on field trip back to Mother Earth to salvage artefacts from the smoking ruins. However just ensure maximum mayhem there’s also a compliment of space marines and the ship’s cyborg to contend with.

Now although the plot plays exactly like every other Friday 13th i.e. Jason slaughters every one bar a couple of survivors, the fact that the action takes place on space ship does actually freshen up the format. As all the victims are actually crew members gives the cast more character and depth than usual, admittedly not a lot more, this is still a Friday 13th film after all, but they do have roles to fulfil and duties to perform which spares us the typical filler scenes of characters clowning around in the woods. And also as some of the crew are military types, we have characters who can fight back – and as we saw in Part 6, Jason seems all the more menacing when we see him taking down tough cases with guns as well as the usual screaming airheads.

Setting the majority of the movie on a ship in deep space also brings back a theme that has been mostly missing from the preceding two entries – isolation. As you may remember from the earlier entries this mammoth retrospective, original screen writer Victor Miller has always said that the key element in Friday 13th is that the characters are cut off from the rest of society. And Jason X plays this card rather well; rather than have our anti-hero just picking off the cast one by one, the plot gets great mileage out of the complications of having Jason Voorhees running amok on your ship and makes its characters smart enough to realise that the sensible thing is to try and contain him until they get to Earth 2. Plus the sci-fi setting introduces the opportunities for some original and fun kills, such as death by liquid nitrogen.

Now I do understand why this film leaves some fans cold, as sometimes the humour is very broad, with characters uttering blatant one-liners. However there are not quite enough of these gags throughout the running time to properly qualify as a horror comedy. Similarly although Jason X plays the irony card much like Scream did, and has a lot of fun with some of the clichés of modern science fiction, there isn’t really enough of it either.

And this is where Jason X falls down – the humour and irony stop it working as a straight horror film, but there’s not enough laughs to qualify as a spoof, nor enough post modern toying with the clichés to do for sci-fi horror/action what Scream did for slashers. It’s not just falling between two stools but three as it were.

However director James Isaacs and Todd Farmer’s script has the action solidly romping along none the less. OK it’s not a brilliant picture, but it works well enough; it’s undemanding fun and while it may be cheesy it is still competent despite the stumbling with the overall tone and the comedy not being quite smoothly integrated. As I remarked earlier it does go down well outside the Friday 13th faithfully, who largely aren’t upset by the inclusion of humour and are often surprised by what a good fun flick it is.

Of course for Jason fans, there is another divisive issue other than the humour – Uber Jason – which bring us nicely round to our customary look at how the character is handled. Now before we get to his cybernetic incarnation, let’s check the background continuity levels with our faithful tricorder…

Now this movie was specifically designed to not to mess up the end of Jason Goes To Hell which set up the then forthcoming Freddy Vs Jason. So then according to the plot, Jason was captured in 2008, and given the lack of any other evidence, Freddy Vs Jason takes place in the year it was made (2003). Hence logically Jason X chronologically actually occurs after the then still forthcoming clash of the slashers. However there is an interesting alternate interpretation…

Now when we discover the imprisoned Jason, scientists (including legendary director David Cronenberg in a cameo) are very keen to find out what makes him tick. However at no point do they ever mention that he is a walking corpse… Yes, you guessed it – we have yet another return to the old question of Is Jason Alive or Dead!

From what we see and hear on screen, the boffins only keep referring to his ability for rapid cellular regeneration – which would suggest that this Jason is in fact still alive. There’s no mention of demons slugs, or the general decay he’s been sporting for the latter half of the saga. There’s no sign of any post Part 8 toxic waste burns, the mask though battered is the right size again, but most importantly, Jason has hair again. And in addition to resprouting locks of sparse lank hair, also the tattered jumpsuit he’s been wearing has been replaced with a mountain man jacket and trouser combo.

So then you could read this movie as being an alternate sequel to Part 2. OK I know he got the famous mask in Part 3 but barring that the version we see in Jason X is most similar to his appearance in the first sequel. Certainly if we assume that this is a separate time line, branching off from either Part 2 or Part 3 it certainly would explain his Timex constitution (i.e. he takes a licking and still keeps ticking).

Of course this isn’t the only look he models for us in this film, as after a nanotech make-over he becomes Uber Jason. Now there some who love the new robo-slasher incarnation, and there are those that see his transformation as needlessly messing up an icon. And personally I tend to agree with the latter – the augmented Jason design is good enough but my big problem is that it’s has lost the iconic hockey mask, which strikes me as superfluous tinkering with his trademark look.

But if you take this entry in the series as an alternate timeline story - a What If…/ Elseworlds issue as it were - then we needn’t get too hot under the collar about this cyber redesign. It’s a one off stunt - – after all there were no sequels * – that works well in the film as a surprise twist in the last act. And let’s be honest here, New Line weren’t exactly planning on relaunching the series as a cyber-splatterpunk franchise, this flick was intended as another placeholder entry until they could get Freddy Vs Jason into the theatres.

And although ultimately Jason X failed to find much love at the box office, it did get the character back on track. Despite the shift of setting to deep space in the far future, the movie still delivers a better Jason than either of the previous outings, proving that if you stick with the essentials of the character you can place Jason anywhere and just turn him loose. Admittedly by this stage of the game, there isn’t a great deal of terror to be wrung from the character but Jason X does use our favourite slasher effectively.

While the inclusion of humour freshens up the somewhat stale same old scenario of killing off victims one by one, the movie is smart enough to know not to send up Jason himself. And although by now as a villain he’s too familiar to be terrifying, Jason can still be threatening – you might not be able to generate much fright from a figure that the audiences now love but if take him back to being an imposing physical presence and make him an unstoppable killing machine again – no satanic slugs or random ghostly teleporting – Jason can still conjure up the thrills.

So although Jason X may have failed to ignite the box office, undoubtedly this outing won him some brand new fans and in a small way perhaps did keep the legend alive. Certainly I feel that Jason X, while not hitting the heights of the best in the saga, is still highly entertaining; far better than a premise makes it sounds and definitely far better than a Part 10 of anything should be.

And surprisingly an even better film was yet to come…


* Although there were 5 books from Black Flame and two comics from Avatar Press that continued Uber Jason’s story.