Volunteering at Insomnia 62

This past weekend the Birmingham NEC saw gaming take over with the festival Insomnia 62 hitting town. Youtube personalities, Twitch streamers, tournaments, merch and everything you can think of descended on the venue to celebrate gaming culture. It was a sight to behold, and I was able to attend the last day of the event, volunteering to work at the Special Effect booth.

Special Effect is a charity that helps people with disabilities and mobility issues play games. Standard controllers for consoles and even PC are designed with players with full mobility and range of motion, but what happens when that goes away or you want to play games but haven’t ever been able to properly use a standard controller?

Enter Special Effect. They provide assessment and support for people with these issues, allowing them to come to their HQ in Oxfordshire to try out some of the custom controllers available, get advice on how to change settings in games and consoles and where to buy the kit required. They will also, if possible, allow you to borrow a controller setup to test at home and see how things go.

The booth at Insomnia 62 had two demo’s: a multiplayer Forza Motorsport 7 demo and a Kirby Star Allies demo. Forza used a controller setup that saw the left analogue stick mapped to two separate buttons, along with the left and right triggers for accelerate and brake/reverse. One player had the left stick buttons which were smaller, for use by those who found it better to use two fingers only, while the other player had large over sized buttons for the same thing so if they had issues with their fingers they could use the palm or the like for control.

It says a lot about my skill with racing games that I seemed to be better with these controllers than I was with a standard one, but...moving on. The demo’s I gave to people ranged from kids just wanting to play something to families checking out something different and wanting to beat each other. A lot of the adults found it really interesting that the controls could be remapped in such a way, and several said they ran youth groups/clubs and that it might be worth them looking into this more for some of the kids that attended.

The Kirby demo used an over sized joystick and large X/Y/A/B buttons. It was the most familiar setup, because it was just taking what was on the joy-con, splits it out into separate buttons and enlarging everything about four times. There is some comment in here about the size of the joy-con's in general, but it was a great way to play, and the separate buttons could be moved on the Velcro like board underneath so you can rearrange them for what is most comfortable.

It was really great to see such unique controllers at work. The charity does great work helping people figure out ways to play with their unique issues, with the custom controllers but also advice on which settings to change in the game. For example, the Forza demo had auto-braking enabled, so I quickly discovered that steering and keeping your finger on the accelerator was the key, and unless you crash the brake wasn’t really needed.

I had a great time helping out, and everyone who worked for Special Effect were lovely and really made the volunteers feel welcome. It was tiring being stood around all day, but I really enjoyed giving demo’s and letting people know about the work this incredible charity does. If you know anyone who has mobility issues and wants to get into games or has trouble with the games they do play, and are based in the UK, give them a call or email, they will be more than happy to help out.

Star Trek: Discovery is a Different Kind of Trek, and that's Ok.

*Major Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery to follow*

People often say that geeks fall into two camps: Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans. It is a flawed, sometimes derogatory statement, but in my experience at least, there is some truth to it. I remember a new team member coming in at my work and he said to me one day that he was ‘more like me’ I asked what he meant, and was told more Star Wars than Star Trek.

To be fair, this wasn’t wrong, I had always considered myself a Trek fan but the adventures of the Jedi just appealed that little bit more. This was due to lightsabers and the battle of good vs evil but ever since Star Trek: The Next Generation aired way back in 1990 and a ten year old me was mesmerized by the theme song, the adventures of the Enterprise held a special place in my heart.

I consider some of the best episodes of TNG as some of the best TV I have ever watched. The likes of ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise’, ‘The best of both Worlds 1 & 2’ and ‘The Survivors’ hold that title, and the the series overall has always appealed to the science nerd in me, especially since I given the gift of the Star Trek Technical Manual for a birthday present one year. I can still tell you how a warp core works. Can’t fix a real world car, but I can do that.

So I was very excited when a new Trek show was announced. Titled Discovery and set before the timeline splitting reboot, it looked cool, though the first teaser made the USS Discovery look more like the original series Klingon Bird of Preys, which was confusing to say the least, but I was willing to shake it off.

The series started airing just before Christmas, and showed one a week, old school style, so no binge watching here. The first few episodes quickly established something I wasn’t expecting: this isn’t Star Trek. Sure, it has the federation, Klingon's, warp drive, NCC designations for the ships, but it fundamentally wasn’t what I knew.

That is because of one thing: War. Discovery starts with the start of the Klingon-Federation war and goes from there. There is lots of action, ship battles and firefights and with the always awesome Michelle Yeoh as Discovery’s captain plenty of ass kicking, but that was never was the series, indeed the franchise, was really about.

Star Trek made a coherent universe exactly because it wasn’t just about fighting. The United Federation of Planets isn’t a military organisation, it is primarily about science and exploration. The episodes of the various shows run this gamut, where one might indeed be about a battle against the Romulans or another race, two more will be about some crazy science experiment gone wrong or a required diplomatic mission to get a new race into the federation.

It was these episodes that breathed life into the alpha quadrant and its myriad races, making the whole thing make sense. Well as much sense as an alien who is so in-tune with warp mechanics he can travel through them. Let's be honest at this point, a lot of the tales spun by Star Trek shows are massively dumb, but there is a sense is a fun at the heart of it all that few shows to this day make work. Partly, this is because they take everything so seriously but also because the cast traditionally just set out to have a great time together and that does subtly come through on screen.

Discovery, on the other hand, is War Trek through and through. Everything the crew of NCC-1031 do is done to further the battle against the Klingon empire and hopefully win the war and it feels like every episode has at least one battle in it, be that a hand phaser shoot out or a full ship fight.

As the series goes on, however, it starts to redeem itself. As the thing that makes Discovery unique is revealed and the spore drive and Mycelial Network start to become a core plot device, the science aspect of the show steps out of the shadows. Calculations are done, technology is talked about and all the cool science stuff that made earlier shows so awesome comes out to play.

This coupled with characters that have a genuine arc, evolving and developing over the course of the series and Discovery actually becomes a really good show. You are meant to connect and empathize with the central character, Michael Burnham, a girl orphaned by the Klingon's and raised by Sarek, our old friend Mr Spook’s father.

However, it is my opinion that the characters around her are far more interesting. Michael is the main character, and therefore is always destined to win and regain her honour, which was lost at the start of the show. Ensign Tilly is one of the shows best characters, a character who starts out nervous, capable but always questioning her own worth and making apologies for everything she does.

By the final episode, however, Ensign Tilly has been enrolled into the command training program, having saved a commanding officer, proven more than capable in a fight and thrust into the role of Starship captain when Discovery is trapped in an alternate dimension. It’s cool to see someone like this in a big budget show, someone who goes from nervous noob to capable officer.

The alien that becomes acting captain, Saru, is a Kelpien, a race who can easily detect danger. He goes from a first officer who is maybe over cautious, to someone who fights back against every instinct, even genetic adaptations of his species, to become a capable and liked captain.

Because of these characters, and the way everything works out over the course of the series, Discovery actually did become a great show. Is it my favorite Star Trek show? Hell no, TNG will always take that crown, well that is unless season 2 is exceptional. It is just a little too much action for what fans would traditionally think of as a Star Trek show, being more like one of the movies, especially after the reboot, but that isn’t a bad thing.

Discovery isn’t your typical Trek, but that doesn’t automatically make it terrible. Some of the episodes are legitimately great, equaling the highlights of earlier shows. The makers took the franchise in a different direction, but that direction had focus and a point. It won’t go down in history as a work of deep reverie and thought provoking art, but it will keep you entertained.

I had a friend who fell off Discovery after three episodes, and I hope this urges her to go back to it, as well as those who pass it off as ‘Star Trek’. If you didn’t like earlier shows, then you might find this new incarnation more bearable. If you are a Trek fan, don’t dismiss this, it is better than you might think.




 

Diary of a Geek Dad: Little Kingdom Wars

You know how some movies and TV shows really work because they have one character who is constantly poking fun at the whole thing? It’s like they are in the joke, and have been written, with a little help from the actor/voice actor, so that they almost know everything around them is completely made up. Kid’s shows are especially good at this as they often want to have something in there for the adults to enjoy.

In that regard, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is mightily successful, with every episode having at least one character who calls out the story for being stupid, or another character specifically. Despite my reservations, which I will get to in a bit, it works, especially because of one character in particular: Nanny Plum. Why? Well because she is Han Solo, and once you realize that, everything else clicks into place.

Everyone’s favorite smuggler is probably one of the most enduring characters of all time, let alone just the Star Wars franchise. Hell, he is even getting his own origin movie later this year in Solo: A Star Wars story, such is his appeal. The thing that made him this way,however, was the fact that he was in on the joke. Throughout all four Star Wars movies he appeared in, the character is poking the whole premise with stick going “You guys know this is stupid, right?”

He does things like run round corners on the Death Star set on killing all the bad guys, until he realizes there are more of them than he first thought and he just can’t do it. He charges around space in a ship that everyone thinks is a hunk of junk because well, it is, but Han loves that ship almost as much as he loves Leia, and ends up using it to help save the galaxy multiple times.

When discussing the force with a bona fide Jedi Knight, he says he has never seen anything to make him believe in any of that mumbo jumbo. He is swarve, dashing and more than a little dangerous. He shoots Greedo first (yes he does, get over it!), then pays the barman for the trouble. All these things contribute to making him one of the best characters ever put to film.

So how is Nanny Plum the same as the captain of the Millennium Falcon? Does she shoot bounty hunters? Maybe completes a entirely fictional run in what sounds like a unit of time but is actually a unit of distance? No, none of that. Nanny Plum simply points out that everything in the little kingdom is insanely dumb.

There are two races who live there: elves and fairies. Nanny Plum and Holly, one of the title characters, are fairies, while Ben is an elf. Already you can see not everything is normal, and as the title sequence informs you, it is a little kingdom, hidden among thorny brambles.  Strangely though, the elves have very advanced technology, including but not limited to: trucks, computers, helicopters and rockets. They even have their own version of the Thunderbird's.

Nanny Plum is therefore set. She isn’t even as subtle as Han, literally something will happen and she will just look at it and go “This is ridiculous!”. It constantly gets her into scrapes, but never does it fail to entertain. The best kids shows do this, they have something for the adults too, and the current epitome of this is the awesome Nanny.

It extends to not just point out the ridiculous so overtly though, there is an episode where Queen Thistle, Holly’s mum, goes out for the day, leaving her twin daughters in the care of their Dad, Holly, Ben and Nanny Plum. They tell her that she is the only one who can control the little girls, but she leaves anyway with instructions to let them play but not do magic. Nanny Plum can see what is coming however, and with a not so subtle “I have something very important to do…” slinks off the the kitchen, leaving the troublesome twosome in the care of King Thistle, Holly and Ben. It is kinda of hilarious, just seeing her basically go “Fuck no!” and run off.

The fun stops however, when the shows fundamental problem rears its head. Star Wars was never deemed racist, not really. There were comments about most of its cast, especially in the original trilogy, being white men but that's about it. Those comments are fair, but also a product of the time it was made. The movies made after definitely made a concerted effort to correct this, and I have never seen anything in the movies that would make me think otherwise.

Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom doesn’t do that. It throws casual racism about with wanton abandon. Is it downright offensive? Probably not, but that's not the point. This is a show aimed at young children, and the first two episodes I watched had both Nanny Plum and the Wise Old Elf decree that elves don’t do that or fairies can’t do this, with the emphasis on the race name just to make sure you as the viewer know that once race does things better than the other.

It’s the biggest knock against the show, and I couldn’t get past it for the longest time. Once I figured out the admittedly tenuous link to Star Wars, being the huge nerd that I am, I started to click with the show, but still that racism keeps coming back. It is in almost every episode in some form, and the way the dialogue is spoken by the voice actors really does border on ‘not cool’.  

I bring this up because my daughter is growing up an world with a sexist, racist idiot in control of the most powerful nation on the planet, and she is becoming more self aware with each passing day. I have to think about how I am going to teach her that this isn’t cool, and that it isn’t OK to be like that in the modern age, that society is trying to get better and be more inclusive of everyone. It doesn’t work perfectly by any stretch, but it is getting there.

It is the science fiction, games and geeks of the world that are leading the way on this. The recent outpouring of support for the #Metoo campaign from across the games industry show this change is starting. Sci-fi has long gone in for the Utopian future where racism and sexism have been all but abolished, and while yes, the Empire and First Order in Star Wars are xenophobic space Nazi's, the movies never really go deep on this, choosing instead to portray them as the all purpose ‘bad guys’.

As for games, well there is a recent movement to have them tackle more prominent issues in society at large. It doesn’t always work, but the desire is there and some of those games have been fantastic. There is still a prevalence of not thinking about it, but it's an industry that is still a) young and b) taking its first steps in this space.

As I navigate being a Dad in the modern world, a world at times even I don’t fully understand, I take heart in the fact that my fellow geeks are paving the way for this sea change, and hopefully my daughter will take notice that people like her Dad changed how the world thinks of different races, genders and sexuality. Maybe, as is my greatest wish, she will be someone who stands up and fights for this change, or she may just choose to treat everyone the same, either way she will be part of the movement.  

Also, once again, it is entirely possible I am overthinking things, interesting point though isn’t it?

WestYorkshireGamer's Games of the Year 2017

Well, 2017 has been quite a year hasn’t it? Despite everything going on with the world at large, what the debacle that is Brexit and the farce that is the US presidency to name but two, you would think that as a year, it pretty much sucks.

Strange then, that 2017 has been an exceptionally strong year in games, with two console launches (Xbox One X does count!) and some of the most impressive games of all time. Maybe the good really does have to come with the bad, who knows, but as gamers we are exceptionally lucky.

So here I present my top ten games of 2017. Now, quick disclaimer: not all of these came out in 2017, but I played them this year and got a lot out of them, whether that be a complete play through or just a newfound appreciation for what the game in question is doing. I hope you enjoy this list, and have a great christmas and happy new year!

 

10.Wolfenstein: The New Order

One of my earliest gaming memories is getting a copy of both DOOM and the original Wolfenstein on floppy disk from my uncle, and I played both to death. Ultimately I prefered DOOM, but Wolfenstein stayed with me too.

The New Order is a perfect example of a developer who took that original game and made it their own. Machine Games made a game in the franchise that exceeds all others. It plays great, has a surprisingly nuanced and heartfelt story (shock!) and has enough blood to refloat the titanic!

A sequel, The New Colossus, was released this year but I was unable to get the time to play it, though I am fully looking forward to digging into it in the new year.

 

9.Pokemon Go

So this might be a controversial one, because lets be honest here, there still isn’t much to the game. You can collect those adorable pocket monsters, and that is the main meat of the game. Niantic might have added raids and Pokemon from both Gen 2 and Gen 3, as well as those awesome Legendaries, but still, you walk about and collect.

Still though, it is a more satisfying experience than many give it credit for. The act of filling up the pokedex is surprisingly fulfilling, and by deciding that’s all I wanted to do I had a much better time with the game. More than that though, I have found that it’s social hooks are where it’s true strength lies.

Playing it when I hung out with my god son’s this year cemented the game as a bone fide social experience. We bonded over capturing pokemon and completing raids together, and while I was told on more than one occasion the CP level of my creatures sucked, I had a great time nonetheless.

 

8.Pyre

Certain developers have their own style. I am not talking about design philosophy here, I mean style. The now defunct Irrational Games’ style was for cool settings with deep story and at least tried to make you think, whether it always worked or not.

Supergiant Games have a style, though Pyre proves it isn’t what I first thought. Their first two games, Bastion and Transistor, showed this through top notch voice acting and awesome gameplay, but Pyre proves where it is actually at: Music and Writing.

Within five minutes of playing I could tell this was a Supergiant joint, not because of the way it played, but because of the audio cues, and the way the characters were written. There is a certain wit and playfulness at play, each character at times super serious before shifting into a quality one liner.

The music immediately conjures the developers previous games, while at the same time being its own thing. The fact that the mystical three on three basketball inspired sport that you play throughout is also awesome, surprisingly deep and full of tactics and intuitive is just a bonus. If you haven’t played a Supergiant game before, this is a perfect jumping in point, and once you have finished here pick up both Bastion and Transistor straight after.

 

7.Golf Story

Those who know me know that I don’t do sports. I can have a slight conversation around esports and Taekwondo, but all the ‘main’ sports I just don’t get. Football is eleven overpaid idiots kicking a ball around a field for ninety minutes and falling down every so often, for example.

However, I am not opposed to the odd sports game, and it has long been my opinion that golf is the perfect sport for a videogame. I remember playing golf games on my dads first PC, before Windows was even a thing, and having a surprisingly great time with it.

Golf Story is a modern take on those older games. It might look like a SNES game, but it has very modern underpinnings. It is an RPG where battles are tests of skill with a iron or putter than with a sword, and boss battles are actually tournaments on various courses.

The writing is surprisingly good, with a story revolving around a man who wants to honour his father's memory, and leaves his waning marriage to do so. There are funny moments to be had, it's a little absurd as all good RPG’s are, and the gameplay is very tight.

 

6.Subterfuge

If you have never heard of Subterfuge, you won’t be alone. I only came across it because of the folks over at Waypoint, who discussed it on a podcast. I asked some friends at work if they were up for a game, and as they say, the rest is history.

This is game as much about how well you know your friends as it is about the actual in app gameplay. Each player starts out with a few bases and a few drillers, your basic combatants. From there you have basically two options: expand or attack. All the players in the game are on the same map, and depending on game mode you have to either mine a certain amount of the games main resource, or control a set number of outposts.

The trick is that in order to do that, you have to forge alliances, but doing that with only certain players might piss off the others. Then again, it might prove to be rewarding, and the key is knowing how to socially engineer your victory. I suck at this. I won my first game because I quickly got to grips with how to actually attack, but after that, those that are more subversive than I am quickly started screwing me over.

You will get screwed over. All the time. But that is what is great about Subterfuge, it gives you a set of tools, and from there it really is up to you to win, if you don’t you just weren’t thinking about all the variables. It is awesome, if you have friends who are up for it, give this a try.

 

5.Tacoma

Fullbright Company has had exactly two games. You should play both. The first, Gone Home, was my game of the year at release, and while its follow up, Tacoma, didn’t grab me like that game did, it is still an awesome tale, told in a unique way.

Set aboard Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma, players use an AR interface to replay recorded footage of the crew, and figure out exactly what happened to them. It sounds rubbish on paper, but it is so compelling that each scene propels you to find the next, deciphering just what happened to the crew.  

As with Gone Home the writing is top notch, though I found this far less compelling, the setting actually taking away from the story. That said, I recognise a great game when I see one, and this is certainly a great game.

 

4.Destiny 2

I loved the original Destiny, flaws and all. So the sequel impressed me even more, packing more story and content into the main release than the original and its first two expansions couldn’t even match.

The gun play is as A grade as ever, this being Bungie, but the single player campaign is actually quite good for the sci-fi action movie it is, and the loot grind is always fun. It might be very derisive as a series, but Destiny 2 is one of the year’s best shooters, just as it predecessor was back in 2014.

 

3.Super Mario Odyssey

In a year where this was Nintendo’s only release, it would probably be at the top of many of these types of lists, possibly even my own. However, that isn’t the 2017 we live in, and while you can always rely on the house that Mario built to provide top notch platforming, this year simply isn’t the plumbers domain.

Having said that, Odyssey is an awesome game. It feels great to play, looks fantastic and has plenty of power moons to find. Finding them all means exploring the levels, and some of them are hidden in genuinely ingenious places, get one of those and you really do feel like your intelligence increased by +1.

Even before release, I figured Odyssey would prove to be at least one of the year's best platformers, knowing how Nintendo creates them, but it surpassed even my expectations. If you get a switch for Christmas and don’t get this with it, consider it your second essential buy after Zelda.

 

2.Horizon: Zero Dawn

I remember watching the first reveal of this,  the open field, the redhead main character sneaking through the undergrowth and of course, that giant robotic dinosaur. As far as cool sci-fi worlds go, this one was placed firmly on my radar.

Upon release, I was sucked into its world and didn’t want to leave. The open world was huge, you will always find something new around the next corner, be that a village, a mission or a new type of robotic creature.

Those creatures have awesome designs, each with their own behaviors but more over their own strengths and weaknesses, and you always feel that with the right tools you can overcome any threat. Battles are always satisfying, and I spent a silly amount of time just hunting packs of machines for the fun of it.

The story is really great too, and Aloy, as a main character, is surely to become one of the most popular, not only because she is a cool cosplay idea, but also because she goes on a genuine journey in this game. She doesn’t start out a badass, but the tale the game weaves makes her that way, and by the end she unlocks her true potential in the best way.

It looks awesome, plays great and tells a brilliant tale in a unique world. This more than earned a place on my list by looks alone, but with everything else it is a worthy second place on this list, and a must for all PS4 owners.

 

1.The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It is very simple: If you own a switch, you should own this. Breath of the Wild represents what a developer can do with their core franchises if they are given leave to do pretty much what they want. This can be a double edged sword of course, and too much of a departure could permanently kill the series.

Luckily Breath of the Wild isn’t that. In fact it is one of the greatest games ever made, hands down. It is arguably the best in the series, and that is due to the aforementioned departure from series norms. It is the most radically different Zelda in years, bringing with it a fresh take on the concept that works as well as just about any other, if not surpasses it.

The open world portrayed here presents you with something new to do every five minutes, from small challenges, to the puzzle shrines, to a new enemy to fight. Everything you need is open from the very beginning, and speedrunners have been able to complete it in thirty minutes, but I myself took nearly seventy hours, and that is the beauty of the game. You can do it in less time and just complete the story, but there is so much more to it than that.

The systems at play interact in ways that even the developers didn’t anticipate, and for months after release players are finding new ways to mess with world. The thing is, none of that are bugs, it's just those systems doing what they do, and it is awesome.

Breath of the wild represents not only the pinnacle of the series, but also the open world genre, Nintendo’s games and 2017 in gaming. It will go down in history for all of these reasons and more, and will be talked about for years to come.

It's Time I Talked about My Love of Power Rangers

Picture this: It is 1993, a twelve year old me has arrived half an hour early to his sister's house to watch the latest episode of The Simpsons as she was the one who had sky. I sit down and settle in, and I am greeted by the announcer saying it's time for a brand new show. The screen flashes, the guitars kick in and I given my first glimpse at what would become a lifelong obsession: The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers burned their way into my consciousness in a way few shows have before or since.

I remember immediately running round to my best friends house and when he opened the door being like “Did you see that show before The Simpsons!?” It had everything I loved: Martial Arts, superpowers, deep lore, giant robots and hot girls. I was twelve, so yeah that was becoming a thing.

I remember everyone was talking about it at school for months and years, some pretended it was stupid and funny due to the budget and acting level, which, if I am being entirely honest, is probably a fair thing to level at the show even now. For those who ‘got it’ though, it was a revelation, fueling imaginations and martial arts studio sign ups for years to come.

Fast forward nearly 25 years and Power Rangers is still going strong. There have been eighteen different ranger teams across twenty four seasons with quality raising and falling throughout it’s run. Still though, I keep coming back to series I missed, waiting for the new ones to hit Netflix and each time it's like I am visiting a long lost friend and we have just settled back into the same old routine without even thinking.

That's the thing about the rangers, the format is almost exactly the same season to season, the acting quality varies from ok to ‘makes soap opera actors look good’ levels and it is clearly a show designed to sell toys, but it is enduring. It promotes good vs evil in a way few shows do. Each ranger is righteous, embodying the ‘all-american hero’ and never wavering in their dedication to destroying the forces of evil, no matter the series. They might have blips in confidence, but they have overcome it a few minutes later and destroyed the threat.

It’s this that I like on the most base level, especially given the current world political climate. The Power Rangers represent something rare in the real world: the black and white of good vs evil. There is no shades of grey here, the monsters want to destroy the world and rule the universe with an iron fist, while the rangers must protect life, love and all that is righteous. Through strength, courage and teamwork they will always prevail, and what better message to send out in these dark times?

Getting into the nuances of the show though, I really love the lore of it all. Tapping into the morphing grid, a force like energy field that permeates the universe, allows the rangers to morph. Sure it’s a bit of a rip off at a point, but it is a cool concept. I love the fact that the suits mean they cannot really be harmed, and even when fighting not morphed they have enough skill to defeat the grunt level enemies they face.

That brings me onto another bit of lore I really like, the three rules of being a ranger: Never use your powers for personal gain, never escalate a battle unless forced to and never reveal your identity as no one must know your ranger. It is very cool as they are sensible but provide enough room to work around, and are easily understandable. These were laid down in the very first episode of Mighty Morphin, and every series since has followed them even if they don’t expressly re-hash them.

It’s everything I like on the this side of things, from what the rangers have to say to activate their powers to things like having to go into mysterious caves to retrieve ancient artifacts to grant new abilities, it’s all just cool to me, but the main thing I love is those giant robots, the Zords.

I was a Transformers fan long before I was a Rangers fan, so the fact that these six teenagers could call on colossal fighting machines that could merge into a bigger and even more badass robot was the coolest thing the show ever did. Each series had various zords the team could use, ranging from the original Dino-zords to cars, jets and even trains. When required they could merge, combining into the mighty Megazord, probably one of the most iconic robots ever created, at least the Mighty Morphin Megazord.

The zord transformation sequences always set my pulse racing, it was an escalation of the battle that resulted in such cool fights. To be fair, it got stupid, the city was wrecked every episode (literally entire skyscrapers were blown up!) and perfectly fine with little to no construction work the next, but it worked, providing a sense of scale that kids could get behind without having to deal with silly things like collateral damage.

My absolute favorite thing out of all the power rangers craziness though? The Green Ranger. The five episode arc of Mighty Morphin, Green with Evil, gets two awards: The award for cheesiest name of all time and the award for the greatest set of episodes across so many seasons of a single show.

The main big bad of the original show, Rita Repulsa, has a power coin that can turn someone into a power ranger. She chooses Tommy Oliver, the new kid in town, makes him evil and gives him the power coin, turning him into the Green Ranger. The other rangers have never faced a threat like this, here is someone who can enter their command centre, even their Megazord and attack them at their very core.

Of course they beat him, and when Tommy becomes good again, joining the full ranger team, it was iconic for both myself and big fans of the show. It is a moment that has yet to be beaten in the other series, and the shows creators know it, because Jason David Frank who plays Tommy keeps popping up in other later series, always as Tommy and on more occasions than not, the Green Ranger.

I will watch Power Rangers for as long as it keeps going, I already know that. Some of the series are absolutely stellar for what they are, with highlights being Jungle Fury, SPD, Light Speed Rescue and of course, Mighty Morphin. It’s a show that promotes the good in people, and that working together means we can overcome even world ending threats.

Over the years many criticisms have been leveled at it though. The level of violence, out of reality story lines, bad acting, the fact no one tries a diplomatic solution. To be fair, and as I have pointed out already, the acting can be really bad. Fan’s know and understand this, and I for one count it as part of the charm of the show, but some series it is bad even for Power Rangers. Megaforce and Super Megaforce have some of the worst acting of any series, coupled with poorly developed back stories for the main cast. Conversely, Jungle Fury had some of the best, so it really does swing to either side of the pendulum.

On to the subject of violence. Yes, the rangers provide a violent response to a violent and destructive enemy, but it's not like they haven’t tried to talk and not fight before. There was even a couple of episodes that it worked and the monster helped the rangers in the end, admittedly they are few and far between but still.

What people fail to understand is that the Power Rangers are a last line of defence. The only hope against creatures too powerful for conventional weapons and military forces, they don’t really want to fight, but they will protect the planet from the threat. Besides which, the monsters almost always show up with the intention to fight, and once someone’s mind is made up, it is very hard to change it.

Finding a diplomatic solution is nice but against the monsters depicted in the show, it just won’t work, plus it’s boring. One thing no one seems to level at the show is that is boring. The music, the explosions, the fighting, the weapons, everything pops off the screen with bright colours, flashes zings. You can almost smell the burning after a particularly large explosion, and it is cool as hell.

That's the thing about Power Rangers: it's so cool. Even nearly 25 years after its debut, it remains true to its roots, guitar heavy soundtracks mixed with martial arts, giant robots, laser weapons and explosions galore. Is it cheesy? It’s worse than a stilton factory. Is it stupid? Hell yes, five teenagers are the best hope to defeat an army of evil monsters, I mean come on!

Is it great in spite of this? Why yes, yes it is. Sit down, turn off your brain and watch a few episodes. You certainly won’t be bored, and might even come out of the experience a bit buzzed. I know I do every single time.

Prologue

“You cannot be serious!”

“I am perfectly serious”.

Xul’dan stared through the bemused expression on his comrades features. His reasoning was the height of cruel logic, and the best course of action.

“You want to eradicate an entire species on a wim?”

His detractor was Ya’das, a member of his small species that Xul’dan had always found somewhat pathetic. How could that fool not see the logic - the need - for this. It was fast becoming an infestation, a disease that must be purged before it takes over.

The species in question had developed faster than light capability and terraforming technologies far quicker than anyone on the council had predicted, and they had spread across a large sector of their home galaxy with a swiftness rarely displayed by mortal beings.

Xul’dan had watched this expansion, studied the minds and behaviour of many within its ranks, from the lowest of the low to highest of the high, and found them wanting. They were capable of such destruction, such cruelty, that to let them take over the universe would violate everything the council stood for.

“This is not a wim!” Xul’dan snapped. “These creatures must be stopped.They are not mammals, they do not form an equilibrium with their environment, they simply move to an area and multiply, over and over, until all resources are consumed. They are a virus, a very dangerous one, and we must be the cure.”

Ya’das stared at him. Though their species, to an outsider, all look identical, there are subtle differences. For all intents and purposes, Xul’dan and Ya’das could be clones, but they both knew the other's distinctive marks. Ya’das was younger, with a smaller and more oval shaped head. His large black eyes protruded a fraction more, and a fleck of grey curved around his iris’.His skin was a lighter grey than the rest of the council's, belying his age.

Xul’dan stared back, unflinching in his resolve to destroy this potentially disastrous encroachment. He curved the edges of his flat mouth into a sign of smug content.

“Deep down, Ya’das, you know what I want to do is the right path.”

His council brother snorted, extending a long grey finger.

“You have done this before, Xul’dan. This isn’t about any infestation, this is you wanting to display power, to prove that mercy is weak and subtle guidance a fool's errand. Just like with the Kulnaga”.

A ripple of discord floated from the other council members at the mention of the Kulnaga. Xul’dan’s eyes became smaller as he leaned forward and his voice became tinged with malice.

“You dare mention them, Ya’das? I did what was right, even if you are too foolish to see it. They were going to destroy everything this council had created, they brought ruin to everything. The Kulnaga deserved to die!”

“Nothing deserves total eradication!” Ya’das screamed back, slamming his hands on the hard light table the council sat around.

Xul’dan stood up, ready to bounce across the table and throttle the upstart where he stood. It would do no good of course, their species are immortal, omipotent, and total just twelve. Ya’das could hide anywhere in the universe for eternity the second a hand was placed on him.

“You are a naive fool. This species isn’t fit for a place in the universe we created. I want them gone”.

Ya’das sat back down, calmly, the anger gone.

“And the point is made. You see no real threat here, you, and you alone want to eradicate this civilisation. They maybe capable of great destruction, but they are also create beautiful, wonderful things. Their lives are worth keeping”.

A low chuckle stopped Xul’dan just as he was about to make a retort. Both of them scanned the table, quickly finding the source.

Xa’bash was known as the gambler of the council. He liked to make dangerous bets on the fate of creation, and much to vexing of the other members, made jokes.

“Brothers, I have a proposal.”

Xul’dan glared at him, and laughed, “A proposal Xa’bash? I think not. Outline your latest gamble and do so quickly”.

The gambler made a slight clicking sound, then rested his elbows on the table, allowing the sleeves of his dark orange robe slide down, revealing the dark grey skin that stretched over his skeleton.

“Very well. I propose a wager. Let's see who will win, in a battle for the fate of this species, the light or the dark”.

Xul’dan eyed the older being with a distrusting stare, but had to admit his wager showed promise. He did, however, know Xa’bash too well, there will be a twist, there is always a twist.

“Do not get me wrong my brothers, watching you two fight for all eternity, unable to kill each other, would prove to be paradise for me but let us have these creatures decide their own fate. Each of you select a champion, and let battle commence”.

Ya’das chuckled. This was absurd, but he could already tell that Xul’dan was going to agree, and that he was supremely confident of winning.

“What happens to the victor?” he asked.

“Depending on which side wins, different things,” Xa’bash looked down and the translucent table, a slight shimmer of purple marking its edges, “If the light wins, the champion will become this galaxy’s ultimate warrior, its protector in times of great need, and we know those times are heading its way.”

“And if I...I mean the dark wins?” Xul’dan asked, cursing himself for his err.

Xa’bash smiled and raised his head “If the dark wins, the galaxy will be plunged into a reign of terror the likes of which not even we have seen, with the champion as master of all they see”.

He knew he had them both. Xul’dan would want to prove that the species deserves destruction, while Ya’das would stop at nothing to save them from a fate he deemed unfair.

“I accept” they said in unison.

“Excellent” Xa’bash said as he leaned back into his seat, closing his eyes to concentrate.

An explosion of yellow light appeared above each council member, solidifying into twelve ornate swords. Each one shone like a star, radiating an air of hope and peace. The council didn’t stare at the blades above their own heads, like they knew the weapons were true and just. No, instead each member couldn’t pull away from the sword above Xul’dan’s smooth scalp.

It was as different from the others as night was to day. Where the others had bright silver blades, this was black from edge to edge. The hilt purple and crimson, adorned with skulls screaming in pain and spikes.

“What is this Xa’bash? Why is mine so different?”

Xa’bash smiled, “It’s simple really. You say that these creatures are too cruel, that they are capable of such destruction and pain that they don’t deserve the universe we have created for them. So I have created a sword to represent that side of them.”

Xul’dan tore his gaze away from the weapon hovering above his head, and stared at his council brother.

“This weapon is the physical embodiment of their darkness?”

“Yes, all that pain and suffering in one mighty blade”

Xul’dan eyed other swords, and understanding washed over him.There was always a twist with Xa’bash.

“You are once again playing a dangerous game Xa’bash! Hedging your bets and proving what side you are on!

“I take no sides brother,” Xa’bash said calmly, “but your own words have stated that this species is so brutal, so cruel and inherently evil that they deserve to be wiped from existence and never spoke of again. If that is true, then a sword that provides its user with all that power should be no match for eleven others that embody the exact opposite”.

Xul’dan bristled, his council brother had a point, and there was no way around it. The other members stared at him, waiting on a response, but he had nothing. Ya’das for his part, radiated smug confidence.

“Don’t look so confident my young brother,” Xul’dan hissed, “my champion maybe outnumbered but you will soon see just how brutal their kind is, and you will be begging your brothers to see them destroyed”.

“We shall see Xul’dan, we shall see..” Ya’das said quietly, but his thoughts turned to that very possibility. All he needs is one of the chosen eleven to defeat the living embodiment of death and destruction and save their species. He knew of the destruction Xul’dan cites, but he also sees the good, the beauty. The humans create art, music, books that few other species can even come close to matching, even more advanced civilisations. The good in them far outweighs the evil, but that evil is ever present. Hiding at the edge of the light, waiting for the perfect time to crawl in and consume them.

In a perfect universe, the odds are in his favour. One versus eleven, it shouldn’t even be a fair fight, but he knew all too well this isn’t a perfect universe. Xa’bash wouldn’t have come up with this wager if there was no sport in it for him, which means that the line separating victory and defeat will be small. Very small. All it takes is one to better, though, to represent all that good.

“Well then,” Xa’bash said, clapping his hands and leaning back in his seat “shall we begin?”

The others looked at him and gave the slightest nod. He smiled.

“Pick your champions brothers, pick your Galaxy Knights”.

Diary of a Geek Dad: In the Paw Garden

Welcome to the latest installment of Diary of a Geek Dad! It has been awhile hasn’t it? I apologize for that, it seems that time really is the most precious commodity in the universe, and no one has quite enough, let alone a guy with a full time job and a family.

Quick catch up: My daughter is doing brilliantly! Almost 2 years old now, talking, playing and generally running me and her mum ragged. Everyday it feels like there is something new, some new word - even little sentences that crop up. I had a real live conversation with her regarding the whereabouts of her mummy. Mummy was on the sofa, six feet from her. My daughter is blonde, that's the excuse.

We are at the point now where TV is a thing for her. We tried to limit as much as we can but no, she wants “Paw Patrol on there”. Which, to be honest, I am not bothered about. We have limited her to just two shows, Paw Patrol and In the Night Garden and that was a good shout, a few more months and we might expand her repertoire, but two is enough.

These shows are designed for young children. Both are filled with bright colours, slow easy talking, silliness and music. The part I am rapidly discovering, the bit that no one tells you as a new parent, is just how messed up these shows can be. At some point, they are completely fucked. Now, this might just be my adult brain ascribing way too much, but I have serious questions about those shows.

Paw Patrol, a show about Ryder and his team of six puppies who go out in transforming vehicles to rescue members of the fictional Adventure Bay community, should and is right up my street. However, on a practical level, what the fuck is going on in Adventure Bay???

This starts with Ryder, who is ten years old. Ten. Living by himself in a technically advanced watchtower called ‘The Lookout’ on the edge of town with six talking puppies for company. I mean, who the hell leaves their ten year old to live by himself?

That said, it is clear he is a child genius, as the show would indicate that he is the sole creator of all the technology used by the Paw Patrol, from the transforming dog houses to the look out, to Ryder’s own (admittedly super cool) transforming ATV. So maybe he emancipated from his parents and moved to Adventure Bay? I dunno, but social services should probably be involved.

Not that social services would really be a thing in that town, especially because its major is...lets say under qualified to be kind. Mayor Goodway is, quite frankly, thick. There is an episode she calls the Paw Patrol to fix the heel of her shoe...twice.This person has been elected into office and can’t dig out some glue to fix her own shoes? I question not only her competence for the role but also the sanity of the people that elected her, they are probably Trump supporters.

Moreover, all of the town’s civil service needs are met by the patrol. Police? Yep that would Chase. Fire? Marshall. Construction? Rubble...even recycling is handled by Rocky the recycling pup. How can a town survive when all of these needs are met by just six puppies? I am genuinely surprised a natural disaster hasn’t turned Adventure Bay into a wasteland.

Having said all of this, Paw Patrol is a cool show with a cool theme song - something that is sorely lacking in today’s cartoons, I mean just look at the cartoons of the 80’s for some genuinely great theme tunes, very little these days even comes close to the those giddy heights. 

As a father to a little girl, however, I do wish it would promote equality a bit more. There is only one main female member of the patrol, Skye. She has a jet pack which is cool, but the other female characters tend to be damsels in distress and require the patrols help. To be fair, there are just as many male characters that do this, I just want the patrol itself to be equal. Even when they gain Everest the other female pup, she isn't in every episode and it still makes for a male orientated team.

So let's move on to In the Night Garden, possibly the single most fucked up show ever made. Forget those that are about cannibals, swinging or the supernatural shenanigans of a bunch of hyper sexy vampires, this is the one that will really mess with your head.

In the Night Garden is about Iggle Piggle, a blue ‘doll’ that actually kinda looks like a sperm and starts with him going to sleep in a little boat on his way to the titular garden. This first little bit is the basis for my theory as to what this show actually represents.

I posit that Iggle Piggle is actually a sailor lost at sea in a lifeboat, and he is the only survivor of whatever catastrophe befell the larger vessel. Low on food and fresh water, miles from land, he slips into a fever dream as his body starts to succumb to the ravages of thirst and starvation. This dream lands him in the night garden, a place familiar yet so so strange.

In this place he meets Upsy Daisy, a bubbly girl who gives him big hugs and lots of kisses. Pretty sure this represents his current/possibly ex girl, who just wants to hold hands and kiss...bit frustrating for him to say the least.

Not only that but there is Makka Pakka, a rock loving creature who lives in a cave and likes to clean faces. This obvious invasion of personal space leaves me to only one conclusion...Makka Pakka is his special needs cousin. I suspect he is on the autism spectrum, edging towards the severe end.

The triple threat of the Tombliboos are his sisters triplets, who run riot and spend most of their time not wearing clothes and talking gibberish to each other. Then there is the Pontipines and  the Wattingers, two families of tiny people consisting of two parents and eight kids. Mr and Mrs Pontipine are shit parents, by the way, but all I can assume is that these represent schools of small fish he can see as he gazes into the watery abyss. The rest of the residents of the garden are just random bright colour hallucinations, apart from the Pinky Ponk, which represents the desperately slow search for him by air, one that will probably fail and result in a press conference saying all hands were lost.

This is just my theory of course. The biggest problem In the Night Garden is one of production, with consistency in its own world rules needing to be desperately revamped. The primary means of transport in this world is the Ninky Nonk, a crazed land train introduced with the phrase “Oh NO! It’s the Ninky Nonk!”. This thing speeds about the garden with, frankly, wanton disregard for it’s occupants safety or that of those just going for a stroll.

t is dangerous to go by Ninky Nonk and the thing should be destroyed for the safety of all, but the more pressing concern is that I am supposed to believe that something that can safely stow all residents of the garden, from the relatively tall Iggle Piggle and Upsy Daisy to the teeny tiny Pontipines and everything in between, is the same size when crossing a bridge as Iggle Piggle is by himself.

This is compounded in one episode where Iggle Piggle goes out to give the Ninky Nonk a hug, and it towers over him. But as it is travelling around the garden you can clearly tell it is about the size of a large R/C car. All I ask is that if you are going to make out like this vehicle has room for all heights, obey those rules and make it come across as big.

In the Night Garden has, thankfully, been almost fully replaced by Paw Patrol in our house, which is probably a good thing as I am sure at some point a nightmare caused by that show will end up waking us up at 1am and staying up for three hours. At least Ryder and co are fun, bubbly and promote good things like recycling and helping others, and it always fun to hear my daughter shout “CHASE!” as he launches off the slide to get into his vehicle.

It is also entirely possible I over think things, who knows.

Living with Imposter Syndrome

To the outside world, I am every bit the ‘normal’ person. I have a family, a job, friends. I eat, sleep and play. I do everything everyone else does and, to the outside world, I do so without any friction or conflict. But that world doesn’t see what goes on inside, the feelings of doubt, an almost self defining level of under confidence and ideas that are tossed away almost immediately while telling myself I am not good enough to be worthy of anything.

I have Imposter Syndrome, and here is my story.

Imposter Syndrome is a condition where:

“... a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence.

It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent, and smart person, that you are only imposing as such.”

*http://counseling.caltech.edu

It is not the quite the same as low self esteem, though that is, in my opinion, part of it. I.S is the feeling that you don’t even have the right to do or even think something. That you cannot possibly perform or create something because you clearly have no idea what to do, so rather than learn you dismiss the idea and move on.

This condition is normally associated with high achievers and successful individuals - game developers for example, and can be enhanced by family dynamics, such as being labeled ‘the smart one’ by your parents. This wasn’t the case with me, I wasn’t ever labeled the smart one. I haven’t ever been that.

Or have I? I haven’t ever identified as being smart, I haven’t heard any member of my family refer to me as ‘the smart one’ and have in fact felt the exact opposite, that I am in fact pretty dumb, and the life I have built for myself is more out of sheer luck that anything.

While researching this article, I discovered that this feeling of luck is actually part of my years long battle with I.S. People prone to it often state that they feel anything they achieve or create is more through luck than any kind of skill or intelligence, that without even trying they have fooled the universe and at some point they will be discovered, and everything will come crashing down around them.

It is the worse part of the experience, because that feeling never goes away. I always feel like I am going to be ‘found out’ for the fraud of a human that I am, and my world will come tumbling down around me. It gives rise to feeling like I am very bad at just being a person at times, with my geeky ways meaning most people cannot relate.

This also gives way to extreme procrastination. For example, I have had this article floating in my head for nearly 2 years, but up until now have always dismissed the idea. What right do I have to write about this? Everyone will say I am attention seeking. Everyone will think that I just need to get over it.

This is a bit of ignorance mixed with rational thought on their part. Imposter Syndrome is, at least on paper, a bit daft. I fully realize that it could be seen as an overreaction to something relatively simple, and that it should be pretty easy to get past it.

Except I can’t do that. Writing this is proving challenging. My heart is pounding in my chest, all I can think about is the rejection when I try to pitch it to a big gaming site it seems ripe for, and the comments I will get from my friends and family, the disappointed tone in their voices leading me to not follow dreams and ambitions because, clearly, I am talking out of my arse.

I hate being this way. I used to associate it with only creative types, so I avoided creating to get around the problem, which made things worse because I was constantly coming up with things to write about, game designs, movies which would be cool to see. The problem is my version was so bad that sometimes merely living proved problematic, I would be walking around thinking it is just luck that I have friends, a wife, a life worth living, one day they will find out and then I will be on the streets, with no one and nothing.

Not creating anything didn’t help, so I started to write reviews and articles on videogames, and while I am not the most well known name on the scene, and have had a couple of people I have worked with on gaming sites subtly (or not) suggest I wasn’t good enough for what they were trying to build. One even asked me if I was dyslexic. I get ahead of myself when writing, I admit, and have probably more than one mental health issue, but that isn’t one.

That last incident caused me to stop writing for a couple of years. Clearly if I was being asked that, without actually having it, then my writing was beyond terrible. It never occurred to me that maybe the people asking would rather assume I had a health problem than try to work with me to improve my writing.

Bear in mind that while I went to university, the course I did was in general computing, nothing resembling writing in any sense, apart from some coding. I had no english degree, just a ‘C’ in GCSE english. I had always liked to write, but had always been taught I needed a proper job. I never considered that I could write about games and technology and it be a valid career.

So I got that proper job, but the itch to write never went away. I wrote fan fic, original stories and the odd character bio, but I kept stopping and starting. The I.S. always taking me away from it, preventing it from being anything more than a hobby, and one that I kept feeling I shouldn’t be allowed to do.

These days, I am starting to work out ways to deal with my I.S. Some are indeed, just getting over it, but others take more mental effort than I care to admit, leaving me exhausted. I have finally written this, the white whale, and gotten it out there for people to see, relate to and hopefully help. My hope is that if others out there have a similarly extreme case they can read this, maybe even reach out, and we can help each other through it.

I also created my first game, after having that design rattle around in my head for over a decade, and I am proud of myself for doing it. The game itself, being objective, isn’t stunning by any stretch of the imagination, but by the end of my time designing and creating it I was so happy I had worked through my negative feelings that I was smiling for a couple of days.

Dealing with Impostor Syndrome is not an easy task. Some days it will wash over you and move on, just a lingering feeling in the back of your mind that can be easily rid. Others, it hits like a sledgehammer. Your heart pounds, mind racing with all the terrible ways what you are doing can go wrong and ruin your life. All you can see is the worst outcome, and, as the song goes, those are the days that never end.


If you need to, go to the doctors and ask for help and if you don’t want to, then do what you are thinking because all those people that inspire you? Yeah they probably felt the same way until they created the thing that sparks your imagination, and they might not have training or anything, they just might have ‘fallen into’ what they are doing and ended up loving it. You deserve to do something you love too.