Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Halloween special!

With Halloween just around the corner The Pixel Empire are devoting the next week and a bit to a Halloween special. Four reviews on the horror genre, one each by the four site contributors, will begin to be posted on the site over the course of the next few days. Until then why not check out our responses to five very simple questions on scary games.  

The Pixel Empire 

Or read the extended answers I provided for each question below (which Tom ruthlessly edited for The Pixel Empire)! 

Favourite scary game? 

Survival horror at it's best...

This is likely to change in the future as I’ve not had the pleasure to play Amnesia: The Dark Descent yet, which is supposed to be amazingly spine-chilling. Hopefully it will be on Steam’s forthcoming Christmas sale! Until then it’s got to be Resident Evil 2. Perfect pacing, atmosphere and scenario, the Racoon City Police Station is just as highly memorable now as George A. Romero’s shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead. And whilst some of the scares are fairly obvious horror clichés, there is still very little that can prepare your underwear for the murder of crows crashing through windows and pecking away at Leon’s nicely groomed hair. The low moans of zombies just round the corner, blinking huge hairy spiders in the sewers, a massive threat in the T-Virus and the spine-chilling notion that Racoon City has been completely desolated all add to the oppressive air of the game. It only gets better when you play the ‘what really happened’ scenarios and spend the whole time running away from the pre-Nemesis Nemesis’ that never ever stop, ever, until you are dead. They, like the Nemesis in Resident Evil 3, are utterly shit-inducing every time they appear on screen; no matter how much you blast away they just keep coming for you. Resident Evil 2 is a totally barnstorming survival horror. Turn up the volume, dim the lights and enjoy! 

Scariest creature/foe? 

Fucking spider! 

That fucking spider in Limbo. It’s animated far too well and moves far too quickly for my frayed nerves, making it utterly terrifying. That it out-sizes the tiny little protagonist by quite a way just makes it even more associated with squeaky bum time. Jump little boy, jump. Faster, the flipping spider is gaining. Arrgh, mis-timed jump. Splat! The little boy’s haunting, piercing eyes when you restart after breaking his tiny neck (the death animations are rather marvellous if slightly grim in Limbo) make you feel totally guilty, although his death rarely has anything to do with your platforming ineptitude. It’s that fucking spiders fault. 

Scariest scene moment? 

Seriously, avoid playing Heavy Rain if you are a Dad. It will give you nightmares. 

Ack. Dead Space almost topped this one after just missing out on favourite scary game and scariest creature (any of the Necromorph’s bar the Hive Mind which is just plain shit). But again it’s been piped to the post, this time by psychological murder mystery next-gen style point-and-click adventure Heavy Rain. And no, it’s not the torturously tense scenes of finger slicing, belly crawling on glass or executing drug dealers that will terrify your moral sense of well-being. It’s a simple sequence near the beginning where you lose your son in a shopping mall crowd, and no matter how hard you search you can never quite find him or get close enough to him through the mingling crowd until it’s too late. The scene, like most of the rest of the game (Maddison Page fighting off masked intruders in her apartment is a close second), is absolutely nerve-jangling beyond all belief and all the more terrifying because of it. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad, but I can’t think of anything worse than losing a child in a mass crowd of people. Scary, scary stuff. 

Are games scarier than ten years ago? 

No. Resident Evil and Silent Hill were at their peak at the turn of the century. I’d defy anyone to suggest that whilst games have become more stylish, those titles still hold their own against more modern horror games, particularly with regards to atmosphere. Dead Space, if anything, is from the exact same breed of survival horror that spawned both those titles, and still does not better them despite the awesome setting, scenes of mild peril and cack-inducing encounters with Necromorphs. Also, is there a modern equivalent for Pyramid Head? No. There isn’t. 

Where do you see horror games going in the future? 

Isaac Clarke, yesterday. Gutted to be going home as second best in three categories. 

Hopefully not the route that Dead Space 3 seems likely to travel; irritating AI co-op. It was an awful setup for Resident Evil 5, not just because the AI was truly terrible, but because it takes away from the pivotal factor that makes horror gaming successful. The player is, for the most part, on their lonesome. It’s their resourcefulness and courage in the face of seemingly oppressive odds that generates a truly marvellous horror atmosphere. When you’ve got some annoying cheese-eating dick-monkey constantly yapping on in your ear-hole in mundane fashion about nothing interesting whatsoever, it takes away from the atmosphere somewhat. No longer does every small noise as you creep along a corridor make your skin-crawl. Mostly because you can’t hear such things over inane chatter!

Instead, let’s pray that game designers keep an eye to what made the early Resident Evil’s and Silent Hill’s so impressive. An interactive adventure that was challenging, atmospheric and not for the faint hearted! If Dead Space was not so easy (far too many save points for its own good) it would be held in far higher regard than it already is. This is what we need in the future. Not Resident Evil 6. Alternatively, more games like Hard Rain. Like Japanese horror movies, the horror here is more psychological than gore-laden, and involves more aspects where you truly have to question your moral integrity. Perhaps there is little more challenging than that; perhaps that is the way forward. We don’t want scary games to become mindless schlock like the Saw franchise now, do we?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Stop this running madness!

On the 7 October I completed the Royal Park’s Half Marathon. Go me. And not just completed it; I smashed my personal best at this distance by three minutes. Which is not bad considering I’m four years older since my last half-marathon, trained less owing to work commitments and fatherhood responsibilities and drunk more beer during training than the previous time round. So, proof positive that beer contains magical properties beyond helping ugly people have sex since 1964.

Luckily, the mantras from semi-professional football managers of old constantly sounded encouragement between my ears during the run – “you’re only cheating yourself” I would constantly remind myself. And it seemingly worked. After a comfortable 10k (six miles) which whizzed by the last seven miles were painful and agonising. It didn’t help that the sun was shining brightly and there was nowhere to hide on the large expanse of Hyde Park that the last seven miles zig-zagged across. At one point, diving into the Serpentine appeared to be a refreshing idea given the lack of a comforting rain storm. But despite the nagging pain in the calves, the mantra kept me going, kept me ahead of the hour and fifty minute pacemaker and ensured I crossed the finishing line in one hour 45 minutes and 57 seconds.

The main difference between the MS tent at the Great North Run and the Royal Parks? No Wine Gums at the Royal Parks. Gah!

Of course, the other thing that kept me going was that I was raising money and awareness for the MS Society, as well as running in the memory of my Mum who suffered with the progressive form of the illness for 29 years. Given that I watched her slowly fall apart until there was nothing else left to fall off, stopping for a breather or even contemplating walking (unless I picked up an injury) would have been particularly poor form. Hopefully she would have been proud, especially the £700 currently raised by me and Callum (my co-runner who’s knee went wonky at the 10 mile mark but managed to finish despite the injury – good work bud). I’d like this to be a little more than at present so if you’re feeling generous and have not already done so, the justgiving webpage will remain up until the beginning of January. It’s for a very good cause and if everyone I knew just gave a quid, then the MS Society would have a shitload of quids:

Anyway, enough of this running madness! I’ve got sitting on my arse to do and games to play. Although I am starting to become fond of the washer-board six-pack that is starting to poke through the barrel; and the fact that I’m no longer out of breath after climbing stairs. I’m not doing a fucking marathon though. That’s crazy talk for crazy people…! 

Marathon? Even Dawson thinks that is a crazy idea...

Thursday, 20 September 2012


March 2011. That’s the last time I watched a film at the cinema. It was not even a night out. It was the local midday ‘baby’ cinema viewing of Hop. No balls to the wall action or inappropriate f-ing and blinding; just James Marsden fucking around as the Easter bunny whilst Russell Brand did voices! Apart from the ever delightful Penny from Big Bang Theory appearing as Marsden’s sister, I don’t actually recall much about it, which is a sure fire signal for defining mediocrity. So, the last time I properly went to the cinema was sometime in 2010, which was so long ago now I can’t even recall what it was I watched…

Kaley Cuoco - yum!

This wouldn’t have happened in 1999 when in the space of two weeks I saw things you wouldn’t have believed; the second coming being rightly trashed by the greatest sleeper hit ever is kind of what I imagine c-beams glittering on the shoulder of Orion and attack ships on fire by the Tanhauser Gate probably looks like. So where has it all gone wrong? Some delicate introspection is required to ascertain whether I have become a grumpy and reclusive cinemaphobe.

Taking a shit in George Lucas' cereal since 1999.
There is some tangible context to apply before coming to any pre-determined judgements. Clowny Jnr was born in January 2011; a point in time when I was immediately beset upon by hitherto unknown responsibility. Decision-making now followed a defined order – the boy before my own selfish wants and needs. Nappies and shit are flipping expensive, as is a night out at the cinema. Two tickets, popcorn, a possible meal beforehand and beers after to discuss the hidden depths of the latest Adam Sandler flick and you’ve pretty much spent the best part of £40 to sit though tedious wank like The Expendables (sadly, not every movie is Scott Pilgrim vs The World). That’s like 250 nappies. With such reasoning you can begin to see why cinema-going has fallen off the radar.

In addition, I’ve kind of moved out of my comfort zone. Essex to Surrey to be precise! Back in the homeland there is an entourage of like-minded individuals whom travel regularly to Festival Park in Bas Vegas to watch the latest cinema releases. And by latest I mean just that. There really must have been nothing else on the weekend Mission to Mars was released (I still haven’t forgiven you for that Wenty). Yet it did also provide the opportunity to sit through little known gems like Ravenous, The Limey and Syrianna as well. But I seem to be at a loss without having good company at the cinema. Frequenting the cinema on my own just seems weird, especially the mingling with poshos from Surrey. I never thought I’d ever have the need to say this, but it’s just not Basildon (shit, now you’re all going to think I yearn for The Sugar Hut) and, therefore, a little disorientating.

Just one of the very many good reasons to seek out The Limey.

Finally, it’s very rare an Amelie comes along (the middle ground between District 9 and Jane Eyre) to allow for the better half and I to agree on a cinema date together. She won’t come along simply to hold my hand and make it look like I’m not some weird and creepy thirtysomething who goes to the cinema on his own if she has to sit through Tucker and Dale vs Evil. Which I don’t even understand; Tucker and Dale vs Evil is freaking awesome!

So, I’m kind of at a loss as to what to do other than bide my time and wait for the DVD release. Just like I’m doing now for The Raid, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises and Judge Dredd. If there is one thing I’ve learnt as a father its patience and these relatively non-essential things can wait. But that doesn’t make it an easy thing to see through; especially watching others discuss movies whilst you’re on the outside looking in with no frame of reference, carefully navigating a route through potential spoilers to DVDville. It’s a bollock-aching agony. Particular when you recognise Scott Pilgrim is an arsehole, rather than a hipster, only to find a million monkeys have already noticed this beforehand and propagated the Internet to bursting point with such obvious insight, stealing my thunder.


Just like Willam in Mallrats, I can no longer see the sailboat. 

What the fuck is wrong with me?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Return of the Freeman

So, whilst we’re all still twiddling our thumbs and scratching our arses waiting for Valve to pull out their finger and deliver unto us the next instalment of the further adventures of Dr Gordon Freeman, it was announced earlier this week that Black Mesa would finally be released on 14 September. Well part of it anyway. It’s been eight years in the making and it’s still not actually finished. Even loyal followers of Valve seem unable to absolve themselves totally from the quantum peculiarity of Valve time (which the original resonance cascade may or may not be directly responsible for).

One day dammit, one day. 

Essentially a remake of Half-Life developed by around 40 modders using Valve’s Source engine, Black Mesa is the Half-Life community’s response to the barely noticeable and somewhat disappointing graphical changes to the original game when it was made available on Steam in 2004. But this is not just further graphical tweaks; Black Mesa is a fully realised remake. Supposedly it will divert little, if at all, from the main storyboard, but the more tedious parts of the original game have been streamlined and level maps increased in size to accommodate greater challenge. It has even been suggested that Valve’s marvellous AI routines have been tweaked and improved upon. If so, wowsers! As a bonus, Black Mesa makes Half-Life look just as crisp as Half-Life 2, if not better:

So, Black Mesa has the potential to be most excellent; although re-working a masterpiece means there is added pressure to deliver. Look at the remakes of most movie masterpieces, such as Psycho or the recent The Thing travesty. Oh dear. Then there’s the eight year wait which touches more upon Daikatana time, let alone Valve time. Let’s hope it’s just a perfection thing, rather than a ‘we’ve kind of ballsed it up’ thing. More worryingly, from the video sequence above, there seems to be a lot of swooping camera views. That means cut-scenes. One of the key reasons as to why Half-Life worked so well was that everything in game was witnessed from Gordon’s eye-view, absolving the need for an out of body experience and making the game more interactive as a result. Please, don’t let it be bloody cut-scenes.

'No to cut scenes'. Gordon Freeman, yesterday.

Anyway, enough of the pessimism! I’m sure it will all work out great in the end. Although Valve are not involved, there is enough Valve in the starting point for Black Mesa to rise above many a modern FPS. Despite only half a game (it ends in the Lambda complex around the point Gordon dimension jumps to the alien world Xen) there’s expected to be around 10 hours of gaming available, which means plenty of alien-arse kicking with the now iconic crow-bar. But the really awesome news is Black Mesa is being offered as a free download from the mod team’s main site. Bless them and their Tim Berners-Lee approach to sticking two fingers up at capitalism. Excited? I’ve just let out a little bit of wee…

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Retro City Rampage vs GTA V

GTA V is just around the corner. Big whoop! Sure the trailer and early screen-shots look flash, but it also remains abundantly sterile and soulless, a quagmire the franchise has found itself shoulder deep in since GTA 3. Cutting out all of the stupid fun and silliness of the original (including the mowing down of a line of Hare-Krishna for simple chuckles) the now serious high-minded nature of professional criminality and all of the mucky business that goes with it is just tedious bobbins. A bit like the endless fecking cut-scenes! Where’s fast, frantic and notoriously daft fun when you need it?

Skate or Die. 720 was better.

Well, luckily for us some Canadian dude called Brian Provinciano has been crafting an open-world action parody in the form of an 8-bit styled gaming extravaganza. Retro City Rampage, on the face of it, appears to be the GTA V we really want; pure hokum where blowing the shit out of anything is everything. APB, Paperboy and Cannon Fodder all seem to be thrown into the mix for good measure, providing a return to what made Grand Theft Auto really marvellous in the first place. Fast, smooth scrolling graphics (see the gameplay videos available) making for a break-neck pace as civilians are blown to smithereens, cars are jacked, high-scores are totted up and achievements earned – a nice modern touch to complement the retro gaudiness of the visuals.

Sure it looks somewhat garish, but this really could be the essence of the Commodore 64 showcased on modern systems, not just simple emulation. And obviously it’s retro enough to make me feel ever so slightly giddy. Brian has even slaved over the game for the last seven years to get it right, mimicking the individual programmers that frequented yesteryear before big gaming studios were the done thing. If Retro City Rampage does the business we could, therefore, be mentioning Brian in the same breath as Tony Crowther, Jeff Minter, Manfred Trenz, Sensible Software, Archer McLean and Geoff Crammond. Groovy company indeed!

 This could be based on any number of 8-bit titles. Inspired by Ikari Warriors

Anyway, a release date isn’t far off and at just under ten quid on the PC it at least reflects former prices for 8-bit gaming. You could even pre-order from the games' website now!

Seriously can’t wait. A review of Retro City Rampage (the real GTA V) will be available after release and once I’ve given it considerable playtime. Is anyone else creaming in their jeans with the anticipation of it all?

 Paperboy was actually a pretty rubbish game.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Blood of the Zombies – Fighting Fantasy returns

The joys of being a man-child are boundless, or so a recent foray into my Dad’s loft would indicate. All my cool stuff from when I was a child lies hidden away up there like a treasure trove just waiting for someone to dive in (think Scroodge McDuck and his money pit in the Duck Tales opening credits). Whilst my Action Force figures have been snapped in half by some unknown hand (except Snake Eyes of course, proving once and for all you don’t fuck with a ninja), the whole adventure of sneaking a peak through the gaps of a variety of cello-taped boxes made for some giddy excitement. There was my Amiga 600 and a horde of games just waiting to see the light of day again; an old Scaletrix track about the length of the A127; a worn Blood Bowl board which has reminded me that spending £50 for a brand new one is well worth it; some old Dark Horse ‘Aliens’ comics; and, most importantly, castle freaking LEGO!

I was also fortunate enough to find my old collection of Fighting Fantasy Books. Remember those? Adventures typically set in the far flung lands of Allansia where you were the hero, which meant frequent dice rolling and choosing your own path to complement the dizzying descriptions of despicable beasts and terrifying terrors. Of course, by frequent dice rolling I mean automatically setting your stamina to 24 and skill level to 12; and by choosing your own path I mean keeping hold of the previous page from which you’ve turned so you can quickly continue on the right path just in case moving that curious brick at the bottom of that wall results in instant death from sharp spiky things.


Still, despite their often linear method of progression, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson were rightly held aloft by young teens who did not know any better as geniuses for the fantasy universe they had created. Jackson in particular produced some of the more unique entries in the series. House of Hell was the first book that moved away from Allansia and instead took centre stage in the modern world. It was more survival horror than fantasy and remains the inspiration for my own book which owes a fair few nods in the direction of House of Hell. Still, it was no Creature of Havoc, probably the high-point in the whole fighting fantasy series. Playing a creature who cannot speak (you grunt throughout), the journey to finding your true nature is marvellous and the finale features a great unexpected reveal that will keep you smiling for days.

Zharradan Marr - total bastard! 

So the news that a new Fighting Fantasy book has just been released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the release ofThe Warlock of Firetop Mountain (the first Fighting Fantasy book in the series for those lacking an inner child) is very much welcome. Disappointingly, Jackson has not been involved so the more direct and less challenging approach of Livingstone is expected; however, Blood of the Zombies at least seems to bring the franchise bang up-to-date with modern geek sensibilities. World War Z showed that zombie literature can be dynamic and thoughtful-provoking (particularly where the zombie is used to exacerbate the ills of man being a bastard to fellow man), and whilst such an expectation is not warranted here the least Blood of the Zombies could provide the adventurer with is a combat system that revels in fighting off hordes of the unliving with baseball bats and golf clubs whilst trying to survive a zombie uprising at Ikea, Croydon. So what have we got? You wake chained up in a cell in a Romanian castle with some deranged mad doctor infecting people with zombie blood for chuckles. A little bit B-movie, a little bit cheesy. Ikea, Croydon would make for a far better scenario.

Still, it remains a new Fighting Fantasy book, and hopefully this is just the beginning of a few new titles appearing in the series. An Evil Dead 2 inspired effort would be marvellous, so get working on it Ian (or better yet, Steve). Until then, I’m going to venture over to Amazon and wallow in some fruitful nostalgia; even if the Blood of the Zombies plot does on the surface appear to be ever so shit…

Sunday, 22 July 2012

The Pixel Empire

The book is on the back burner again. Damn it. Currently distracted by video games and, more importantly, helping an online chum develop the content for his gaming website. This means I’m playing games more regularly at the moment and spending the commute to London Town writing about them, instead of the next chapter. It remains a winning situation though; two hobbies (gaming and writing) coming together and complementing each other perfectly. Quite the bonus!

The site I’m contributing too is called ‘The Pixel Empire’ and the focus is on reviewing retro-games, although the occasional recent release and everything in-between will also get the odd look in. You can visit The Pixel Empire here...

A little bit of 16-bit gaming awesomeness!
The site is less about what is on the horizon gaming wise - unless it’s a peculiarity like the recent release of Gun Lord on the Dreamcast (yes, the Dreamcast) - and more about harking back to the glory days spent in your bedroom, where we all waggled our joysticks whilst admiring Lara Croft’s pixels. In other words The Pixel Empire is the perfect excuse to mess around with emulation and re-live the likes of Speedball 2, Cannon Fodder, Turrican, Head Over Heels, Sensible Soccer and Zelda III: A Link to the Past in the body of a man-child. It’s also a purely selfish attempt at getting a more varied gaming diet to wean me off the addictiveness of Diablo 3…

Only idiots would think Head Over Heels is rubbish...

Alongside developing the main review database, occasional articles relating to retro-gaming will also feature – I’m currently working on a couple involving abandonware, gog.com, Manfred Trenz and investigating just why Modern Warfare 2 is comparable to a large pair of donkey bollocks – and we’re looking to make the site a little more interactive with a high-score table and frequent challenges being set for the readership. Lots of ideas and at the moment The Pixel Empire is coming along pretty well.

The whole thing is edited by a Welsh lad called Tom Clare, who is an expert gamer and reviewer, who I’ve randomly bumped into in cyberspace. He’s just as passionate about games and The Pixel Empire is his baby. I’m on board as a workshy lackey and am particularly grateful for the outlet to contribute my usual brand of gaming nonsense. Saying that, though, we are a bit short on X-Box know how. As in we’re both PS3 monkeys! So if anyone out there fancies themselves as a bit of a gamer who can string a couple of sentences together explaining just why Halo is so vastly overrated, then we’d like to hear from you. Simply contact Tom at the following link.

There's only one Zelda - and it's a Link to the Past!
More contributors are welcome to provide second opinions on games already reviewed, new reviews or interesting features. Knowledge of gaming history would be beneficial as well as a good written style. There’s no payment – although if you contribute some quality stuff Tom might give you a pat on the head and a biscuit – us minions just do this for the passion of gaming! So, even if you’re not interested in contributing, take a look at the site, tell us what you think, request reviews and participate in the forthcoming challenges. We look forward to sharing with you.

FIFA. Still does not match the genius of Sensible Soccer.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The irritability of the long distance runner

I now better appreciate the loneliness of the long distance runner. Going for a lengthy jog with just your internal monologue for company is one of the few precious moments of peace and quiet one is likely to get from the hectic chaos of modern life. Head down, switch off, think about how to start that Turrican review. Bliss!

The reason for this appreciation of the lonesome jogger follows my participation in the British 10k run last Sunday. Here, as one small human amoeba amongst many, the internal monologue suffers from way too much interference to enjoy said run, particular when it turns into a never-ending game of dodgems. The pre-race pack highlighted keep to the right if you were likely to pootle around the course like a well-fed buffalo, but obviously some people lack the ability to read. Or are just morons! Stopping to walk in the middle of the course forcing other runners into immediate action to avoid a collision is a little like that bit in Jedi when Lando recognises the Death Star shields are still up. Fucking annoying! Get out of the way you great galoot!

So, instead of a nice enjoyable run taking in the sites of central London, this 10k was more an exasperating affair of having to take constant action to avoid slower runners and walkers. Worst of all most of these drongos were wearing headphones (I still don’t understand why people do this – does it not play hell with your natural running movements and breathing?) minimising the chance they’ll be able to hear the herd of elephants behind them and skip politely out of the way. My elbows are bruised from all the near-misses. On two occasions my ankles were almost wrapped around the metal fences keeping the watching punters out. And between the 6k mark and 8k mark it absolutely chucked it down. I presume this is what hell is probably like.

Still, despite the frequent side-stepping and speeding up to get through tiny gaps before they were swallowed up by a mass of large sweaty bodies, I got round in 50 minutes 36 seconds and have raised just under £200 so far for Independent Age. Not bad for only two and half weeks training (that’s six runs starting with a three miler) after the missus signed me up for it. And the main perk is the little beer gut has receded slightly and I’m looking more buff than I have done since 2003. So I’m off out for a run tonight – come October this year there’s the possibility of a half marathon and running the gauntlet through another bunch of inconsiderate berks messing with my karma. The loneliness of the longest distance runner is certainly the calm before the storm…

Spot the goof!

I’m still looking for donations following the British 10k (my target was £350), so if you want to give a little to a worthy charity fighting the good fight for older people against a ruthless government of millionaire public school twonks that don’t give a shit, do it at the following link:


Thursday, 21 June 2012

The horror of mobile phones!

Mobile phones can be such a ball-ache. More so when you have a 17 month-old running loose around the household where everything is fair game. Current toy du jour is my wireless mouse; the little one finds the red light underneath endlessly fascinating as it jingles a merry dance in the palm of his hands. Luckily ‘mouse’ has survived the few impacts with the wooden floor it’s suffered of late, which means my Diablo 3 gaming has not suffered. The same cannot be said for my mobile phone though. A recent trip to Tuscany was its final undoing. Alas, carpet and wooden floors do not actually exist in Italy; stone flooring is what the Romans did for us! Inevitably the clumsy little one and his sausage-fingered chop-tubes got easily distracted by some other shit and said mobile was let go to do battle against gravity. It took an agonising eternity for the Nokia 6300 to swan-dive to its death. My mobile phone is now completely wonky.

Since losing in its fight with the stone slab, the mobile screen has been shrouded by a dark mist through which I can occasionally make out who is calling me. Texts are virtually unreadable. It just about works, but it’s like I’ve returned to the dark ages of technology in the 1990s. Having to answer a call without knowing who is on the other end of the line is a thoroughly uncomfortable near alien concept. Back in the day this was standard practice. When answering your parent’s home phone no one was blessed with a shiny LED screen informing you of the caller waiting at the other end of the line. How we previously survived without this vital information, I’m unable to fathom; especially when dodging choppers you didn’t really want to go out and play with.

 Anyone know what the hell this is?

It took my old Uni housemate to get me my first pay-as-you-go mobile (mostly because he couldn’t contact our landline in 2001 as the dial-up modem was constantly on for Diablo 2 multiplayer) and since then I’ve gradually warmed to the ‘anyone can contact you anywhere and at anytime’ concept that initially encroached on my own personal little bubble of disorganisation. But they are damn handy for when you’re car breaks down or when you get distracted by the pub and need to let the missus know you’re running late home. Jack Bauer would have been at a loss for tearing terrorists a new one without one. In fact for the short time that mobile phones have existed, the only thing they seem to have really ruined is the plausibility of horror movies. So, long story short, I need a new sodding phone; however, maybe now is the time to upgrade into the smart phone era.

 Scriptwriters big box of clichés #101 - No signal? No shit!

Previously, all I’ve needed is something pretty basic like the standard Nokia brick-like piece of crap that simply allows me to make and receive calls. Texting is an anathema to me owing to the size of the tiny fucking buttons made for children, slender handed women and fairies called Tinkerbell. And up until recently I’ve refused to join the I-Twat generation on basic principle of not wanting to turn into one of the pod people; a gurning, smug-looking, hipster twat. However, fatherhood changes your perspective on things slightly, especially when you realise the only time you really have to yourself throughout the week is the 25 minute commute to and from London. This is the perfect time to respond to ‘play by e-mail’, check the housing market, catch up with peeps on myFacetitter, moderate a popular film forum, book tickets for next season’s St Pauli adventure and do all those other things you no longer have time to do in life. A smart phone would make the hectic turmoil of reality a little less of a bollock-aching endurance test.

The problem is having only previously owned the basic Nokia brick-like piece of crap (and been pretty much happy with it’s awful hideousness), I’ve no idea what smart phones exist out there, which are the best of the bunch and whether they’re likely to come as part of a good mobile package (free minutes, texts, Internet, etc). My current contract has just finished, so I can get a free upgrade, but without knowing my HTC Galaxy from my Samsung DeLorean I could really do with some help on which smart phone to make my first smart phone. Can anyone help an otherwise clueless Phonephobe?

Pseudo-intellectual, artistic, 20-20 vision, latte-sipping, mac-using chopper...

Please note: An I-phone is not an option. I may be lowering my standards a little but I’m not joining that legion of twonks…

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Fahrenheit 451 review (in memory of Ray Bradbury)

Ray Bradbury. Legend!

Today is officially a sad day following this morning’s news that Ray Bradbury had died aged 91. It’s strange to think that as the writer of a vast array of short stories and novels across a range of genres I’ve only ever got round to reading Fahrenheit 451, perhaps Bradbury’s most well known and regarded book. It remains one of the best novels I’ve ever read; such a compelling and riveting story that also cleverly refrains from ramming any specifically endorsed ideology down your throat and is way more complex than the simple image of book-burning fire-fighters suggests is to be admired. Fahrenheit 451 is quite simply a classic piece of science fiction. Of course, I now have a back-log of catch up reading to undertake as penance (starting with ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’), but there remain many people out there that are still untouched by even Fahrenheit 451. So, in memory of Ray Bradbury, here’s my review of this sci-fi masterwork. Hopefully this will encourage many more of you to find out why this really is a sad day indeed. And hopefully I can take on Ray’s work ethic to finally crack on with my own novel and stop procrastinating on Diablo 3 – “If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Every day. Whether you feel like it or not. You can't write one book and stop. It's work, but the best kind of work”.

The Review

Fahrenheit 451 is often referred to in the same breath as Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World but not always with quite the same vicarious authority. It's generally seen as a lesser book to the insightful political theory of Orwell's mind and the fantastical satirical world of Huxley. But whereas both of these authors used futurism to create dystopia's that were conditioned more by the issues of the world around them at the time (communism, totalitarianism, war fatigue, etc.) Bradbury crafted a story with an astounding prescience that makes it as compelling a read today as it was when first published in 1953.

A quick, concise tale at only 192 pages it dives straight into its main concept - a futuristic world that seems to have gone completely insane. Firemen no longer put out fires, they start them. Yet Bradbury does away with any communist/fascist motifs littered within his contemporaries novels and instead creates a world much more terrifying and relevant to a western audience. Book burning certainly conjures up images of goose-stepping Nazis, but rather than occupy Fahrenheit 451 with themes of brutal oppression and censorship Bradbury settles for something much more at home - apathy.

Indeed, Montag's ignorance, along with that of the society he inhibits, is down to the masses allowing it to happen. They wanted the fun fairs, parlour walls and fast cars and simply allowed for the written word to be extricated away from them. By placing their own happiness first, the people of Montag's world are content with losing the ability to think for themselves. Lately in the modern world, the Internet, reality television (which the parlour walls superbly portray) and media manipulation represent the symptomatic dumbing down processes Bradbury is alluding to. These are mediums which western democracies use to keep their subjects unconsciously subordinate. By keeping the populace interested in things that really do not matter (like Jade Goody’s Martyrdom), they take their eye off the precious little things that are of real concern. The nuclear war that is hinted in the background of Montag's world is a wonderful parallel in this instance. Bradbury's tale also supposes that without the institution (or occupation) of reading, people are also more readily accepting of what is reported to them via the media. The lack of questioning and corroboration of information leads individuals to blindly take a range of irrelevant and unconnected factoids to be an inherent truth. Bradbury's chief concerns on the importance and value of books, therefore, still rings true today.

Definition of irony: the millions of people now buying the e-book version of Fahrenheit 451.

There is, of course, much more to Fahrenheit 451 than just its prescient context. Montag's meeting with Clarisse is no different to Neo waking up in The Matrix, and it's his new found powers (of thinking for himself in this case) that propel the story forward. Yet this journey is not a simple one. The love of his wife, Mildred, is at odds with this new notion of acquiring knowledge, especially as she is unprepared (and unwilling) to accept his new nature. Additionally, it's his fire chief, Captain Beatty, who holds the real key to Montag's eternal soul. Allowed to read a book, will the power of a few emotive words be enough to move Montag to ditch everything that he previously valued in life, or will he resort to his mentor's apathy and the knowledge he is destined to remain unhappy?

It's the cut and thrust of the 'will he, won't he' torment that makes for a tense and suspenseful thriller, which sits comfortably alongside Bradbury's more considered symposium of thought. Luckily this build-up gets the release it deserves as the book shifts gear in the last third, developing into a rip-roaring action-adventure. Compared to the likes of Orwell, it's a welcome relief that Fahrenheit 451 does not get too bogged down in any extensive political ideology. Instead, Bradbury's writing is vivacious throughout, covering relevant and interesting concepts in short shrift, but always with enough depth that few questions are left unanswered. Furthermore, the content runs its course in a swathe of memorable imagery, enjoyable prose and, even with only seven central roles, some wonderful characterisation - none more so than the description of the marvellous mechanical hound (okay, shit name, but it is a beast of exquisite description and verve).

That Fahrenheit 451 moves swiftly between genres without jarring the pleasure of the read is one of its uppermost qualities. That it is also thought-provoking, introspective and relevant today, as all good science-fiction should seek to be, makes it a highly recommended read. Forget about 1984 and Brave New World in this instant, as I'm pretty sure each and every one of us has suffered from a Guy Montag moment previously. Perhaps when we next feel disillusioned and disenfranchised with our place in the world, we'll happen upon a chance encounter with a copy of Fahrenheit 451 (our own Clarisse McClellan if you will). We can then beam with delight that we haven't squandered the pleasure of reading and have maintained our own cognition in the face of ever increasing apathy. Perhaps it will even give us the courage to rise up and do something with our own wretched lives. Fahrenheit 451 is Bradbury's masterwork and a splendid book in every sense. It’s also much better than 1984 and a Brave New World.

There, I said it...

Friday, 27 April 2012

FC St Pauli till I die...

There’s much to be said about German football, especially when tickets cost 11 Euros (nine quid) and you can take your beer out on to the terraces. Not to forget that even in lower professional leagues German players typically remain technically gifted exponents of the game. Even in a Bundesliga 2 clash, unless you’re the hapless half-wits of Hansa Rostock, spectators are expecting to get a decent game of football to watch whilst swigging away on their Astra. And if you happen to be at the Millerntor-Stadion in Hamburg, surrounded by the nicest bunch of friendly, charming anarchists in existence, the electric atmosphere generated (along with the occasional, necessary guitar riff from the tannoy) rivals that of nearly every Championship club and the tumbleweeds rolling around their ghost-town stadiums.

I guess what I’m trying to say is FC St Pauli was the place to be on Sunday. Not Anfield, where my brother was, watching Liverpool hit the woodwork again before being undone by the defensive calamity that is Glen Johnson. Firstly, in Marius Ebbers St Pauli have a player who hits the back of the net regularly (although saying that he did also miss two sitters). Deniz Naki had a turn of pace, ability on the ball and a penchant laziness that made him an instant hero, but it was Fin Bartels who lit up the match with some mazy solo dribbles down both wings that scared the Rostock fullbacks shitless and almost produced the greatest goal I’ve witnessed at a live match. Near enough gave my eyeballs a hard-on!

Naki. Hero.

Whilst St Pauli passed the ball around with tika-taka neatness and the odd occasional hoof their opponents, Hansa Rostock (second from bottom and looking very much relegated), were utterly woeful. They had the occasional chance yet their finishing was fucking terrible, systematic of a lack of self-belief and self-confidence. And in their right back (zwei und zwanzig) I doubt I’ve seen a more tragic performance by a professional footballer. His poor movement, positional sense or ability to read Naki’s raking diagonal balls made even Glen Johnson look like a competent defender. I’m sure he was pissed. One awful touch off the bottom of his studs that went straight out for a throw-in was followed by hoots of well deserved derision.

Who knows, perhaps he would have played better if the Rostock fans were allowed into or anywhere near the stadium (doubtful though) to cheer on such hopeless twonks. There’s a bit of history here, but the more left-wing liberal elements of St Pauli don’t quite get along with the right-wing neo-Nazi elements of Rostock. Not that the St Pauli fans would ban them; many of them were out on the Reeperbahn protesting against such oppression, even though they don’t like what some core aspects of the Rostock fans stand for. Censorship is pretty much against their principles. At least that’s what I think most of the banners going round the stadium were saying (damn my piss-poor German). It’s that kind of liberal ethos that you can’t help but admire about this football club. That and the skull and crossbones emblem of course!

Join us!

St Pauli ended up deserved 3-0 winners. The battle of opposing ideologies had been won by the liberal stand-point. The fans broke into a chorus of “You’ll never walk alone” which amusingly irked the three United supporters I was with (sadly though it’s due to the clubs connection with Celtic, not Liverpool). Zwei und zwanzig was given a bit more stick. Naki ran down to our end waving the club flag, before sprinting back to his teammates; more energy than he had probably showed all game. Hero! Here’s hoping that with two games of the season left they can obtain promotion. Back next season for FC St Pauli against Hamburg SV? You bet your freaking arse…  

A quick guide for getting tickets and surviving an FC St Pauli match: 
  • Order tickets from the clubs ticket office at the following e-mail address kartencenter@fcstpau​li.com. The staff are very helpful in explaining the process for the allocation of tickets and write in much better English than most of us are likely to compose with our bad German.   
  • Try to pick a match that is not against Hansa Rostock! Luckily once in Hamburg and frequenting the bars near the stadium, the locals informed us of the protest and/or riot that could occur with right-wing hooligans around the Reeperbahn area so that we could plan to take an alternative route to the ground on match day. Local intelligence rules.
  • Let locals in said cafes and bars know you are going to the match. They will buy you shots of Jager for coming all the way from wherever to support their team. This is just one other reason to love St Pauli. 
  • Join in once at the ground. Shouting at the referee that he needs to get his eyes tested for every decision given against St Pauli or bellowing ‘Zwei und Zwanzig ist schisse’ will get you a few chuckles and handshakes from the regular supporters. 
  • Most of all, enjoy and drink beer!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Diablo 3: Return of the workshy slacker...

Forget about Mass Effect 3 and the wanky ending everyone has been banging on about for the last couple of weeks; there are other third parts to a trilogy on the cusp of release that will show Bioware how not to fuck up a once loved franchise. I mean, some time in the future Valve will release Half-Life 3 and it will surely redefine the gaming experience as we know it. Actually, wouldn’t it be great if Half-Life 3 was released a week next Tuesday with no fanfare or advertising at all. You wake up one morning and it’s just there on Steam, waiting for you to eagerly download and continue Gordon Freeman’s escalation from theoretical physicist of some clout to the alien arse-kicking motherhumper we’ve come to love. Five years since Episode 2 is way too long a wait to experience anything as amazing as the strider/sticky bomb sequence that concludes the franchise thus far.

Wishful thinking...

So, whilst we wait until the end of eternity to hear any news about Gordon’s further adventures (anything Valve – just a note to confirm that it is being worked on will do), something else is required to make up for the bitter taste of disappointment that Mass Effect 3 has brought to the masses. Luckily enough, as Bioware floundered, Blizzard finally announced the release date for Diablo 3. Yay! May 15 is the day battle.net will be flooded with eager beavers waiting to tear the hordes of Diablo’s minions a new one with uniquely dropped weapons, carefully chosen skill trees and multiplayer mayhem.

Diablo 2 was the perfect tonic in yonder days of dial-up Internet and student idleness. It provided endless hours of monster-bashing and character building through a variety of levels that differed on each occasion you booted up the game; time much better spent than that studying malarkey. Before you knew it the best part of a week had passed to reach the heady heights of a level 77 Necro and your evening was about to be spent searching for a specialist bone wand with skill bonuses on a cow-run whilst chowing down on your tenth pot noodle of the week and slurping intently from yet another can of piss awful warm lager. Good times. It probably explains why I looked so gaunt and pasty white in my graduation photo, but that was the life of champions.

The wife already knows what to expect when I get my hands on Diablo 3 (sorry love), more so seeing as Blizzard have seemingly taken the ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken approach to the game’. Sure, it has different character classes (although the Demon Hunter appears to be a Bowazon/Assassin cross-breed), the skill tree appears to have been adapted and improved and weapon collection remains all important, but from the look of things it plays pretty much as you would expect Diablo to play (which is the key thing), just more snazzy to ensnare the current crop of conscientious students and turn them into a generation of workshy slackers. I really can’t wait.

Although the problem is I will have to wait. Release date 15 May. I fly out to Tuscany for a wedding on 17 May. Fucksticks. I’ll be at least 50 levels behind the group of monkeys I’ll be gaming with by the time I return home. It’s been a good few years waiting for Blizzard to announce Diablo 3s arrival whilst they iron out the bugs and gameplay so it can be released without needing an immediate patch (just like in the old days – release when it’s ready, not to meet some arbitrary release date with a half-broken product), which I’m immensely grateful for, but the actual release date remains an incredibly irritating bunch of arse. Fucking Fucksticks! I’ll come into it looking like a right Noob.

Anyway, the build up has started. This could be one of the best games of 2012. More details at the link below. Please Blizzard, don’t do a Bioware…


Thursday, 8 March 2012

Waterloo and Shitty Line

I’ve lived in and around London Town for almost 10 years now and can count the number of times I’ve travelled on the Waterloo and City Line on a single finger. It’s not for the want of trying though. It just seems every time I go to travel on this particular section of the London Underground there are signal failures. Yes, signal failures, which is kind of odd for what is essentially a shuttle between point A (Waterloo) and point B (Bank) with no other stops in-between. So how in the blue hell does the Waterloo and City line suffer from such frequent signal failures? Is it being run by a bunch of gibbons that hold up the journey regularly for simple chuckles? Well, going by the drivers take on things on Saturday (‘I’m still trying to find out what the problem is’ over-stated the joyless tit) there certainly seems to be a communication breakdown between the goofs on the ground and the clowns running the whole shebang. It’s like Pinky and Perky trying to have a conversation with Bill and Ben.

Speaking of other things that are pointless on London Underground, whoever decided that the inclusion of the Waterloo and City Line map needed to be posted all over the inside of the tube that goes from point A to point B needs a swift kick in the bollocks. Think of the trees you gormless twunts.

You've got to be fucking kidding me...

So after 10 minutes of nut scratching whilst waiting for the Waterloo and City line to kick into gear, Ichabod Bond (a real person who wishes to remain anonymous) and I decided to knock it on the head and get to Bank via the Jubilee Line and Northern Line. After all, we did have the Circle Line pub crawl to begin that morning. It was for my brother’s birthday (the freak was born on 29 February like all the other freaks) and the beer delay was not appreciated. This was my fourth Circle Line pub crawl and here’s what I learned from the experience:

  • The Cross Keys is the place where elephants go to die. If you’ve never seen a real alcoholic and would like to experience odour du bum in full blossom, this is the place to go. They do a mean breakfast though, so not all bad.
  • The pubs that used to sell Frulli beer no longer sell Frulli beer. I know Jean Claude Van Damme has much to answer for but that does not explain why the Circle Line has gone anti-Belgium.
  • Liverpool have been rubbish at taking penalties this season.
  • My brother has the organisational skills of a wombat. Is it really that difficult to check that the second pub of the event is open and not being refurbished until 12 March?
  • Nearly every pub on the line serves Amstel. Good times. The one pub that had Bishop’s Finger on tap had run out. Bad times.
  • Oyster Cards pay-out a maximum of a one-day travel card and then stop rinsing you of cash. Neat. Know that I did not.
  • Kopperberg is the only cider in existence that doesn’t taste like stale piss.
  • I may still have a student loan but I’m not in debt you bunch of monkeys.
  • I’m getting too old for this shit. Sunday’s hangover was a right pain to shift (it didn’t disperse till Monday).
  • If the Waterloo and City Line is run by a bunch of gibbons then the Circle and District Line is controlled by an equally eponymous bunch of simian twats. This is the fourth time I’ve been unable to make it the whole way round the Circle Line owing to the line being closed for some reason that probably has something to do with signal failures (I was drunk at Edgware Road at the time so cannot remember the lamentable excuse). London Underground? Bunch of cave dwelling troglodytes more like.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Tucker and Dale vs Evil - a review

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), two affable yet clueless hillbillies, are on holiday looking to do some fishing and drink some beers whilst patching up Tucker’s new vacation home (which looks eerily like the log cabin from The Evil Dead). But they’re not alone in the woods. Some frat-brats have also decided to pitch up a tent and party. One skinny dipping session later, where Tucker and Dale save one of the hapless college girls from drowning, turns into a simple misunderstanding where the remaining bunch of students presume their friend kidnapped and likely to suffer unspeakable evil at the hands of the duo. Fearing for their lives that Tucker and Dale will come after them next, the remaining frat-brats decide to strike first blood by harassing and hounding the care-free hillbillies for the rest of the night.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a welcome return to the horror ethos of old. Gone is the stale, tedious torture porn of the last decade, replaced by a homage to what once made the genre great; lots of gore, balanced by entertaining comedy moments and featuring an intelligent satirical streak that belies the lead duo’s relative stupidity. Unsurprisingly, the reversal of norms is what initially makes Tucker and Dale a compelling watch. Here the usual butt-fucking Brady bunch of backwards, inbred, deep-south archetypes are a warm, friendly duo that unfortunately look like they might be a couple of unpleasant psychos. The college gang are typical fresh-faced smart-asses, but with deep-rooted prejudices and at least one psycho nut-job amongst them. That the frat goofs seemingly accept everything observed at face value is where much of the initial farce derives; ‘hey, we’ve got your friend’ calls a friendly Dale once they’ve pulled her from out of the lake, only to be met with cries of terror.

 Would you trust this man?

With the set-up complete, the film just gets on with the lovingly crafted punch-lines; dispatching the incompetent students via hilarious accidental deaths that befit their mis-reading of situations. A sequence with a wood-chipper is not exactly unexpected but still reaches the echelons of horror-comedy genius (thanks mainly to Tudyk’s brilliant reaction). This is almost bettered by a chainsaw sequence involving Tucker and a horde of restless bees that will have you chuckling away like a gibbon. Proof that someone running at you screaming with a chainsaw in hand doesn’t necessarily mean they’re attempting to kill you. And any film that has the blonde bird with the massive norks splashed with gore in between the mayhem for simple chuckles is always onto a winner.


Tudyk and Labine, as needs be for the titular leads, are excellent throughout, providing Tucker and Dale with banter and warmth reminiscent of Val and Earl in Tremors. They’re incidental characteristic traits are delightful, from Tucker pouring beer onto his ever growing list of injuries for medicinal purposes to Dale’s photographic memory being of little use to his erstwhile social awkwardness. Most of the laughs are generated by the twosome, be it their own interpretation of the bizarre circumstances happening around them (‘suicide pact’) to their explanation with the local law enforcement about the host of dead bodies littered all over their property (‘Hidy ho officer, we’ve had a doozy of a day’). Without such an endearing partnership, Tucker and Dale would easily be a less engaging watch. The students are also much more spunky and memorable than the usual brand of college personas that you almost feel sorry for their ineptitude. Jesse Moss is particularly excellent as the slightly unhinged Chad who leads the mayhem against poor old T&D, whilst Katrina Bowden is rather plucky as the damsel in distress. 

 Tucker and Dale - they deserve a sequel...

Parodies are a tough concept to deliver, yet Tucker and Dale succeeds largely on the underplaying of the situation. It’s less nudge, nudge, wink, wink, look how clever we are (i.e. it’s not unpalatable shit like Scary Movie), instead opting for a more seamless transition into routine horror, but one that tells convention to ever so slightly do one (kind of like Bubba Ho-Tep). Sure, the plot loses its way in the last third – the appearance of an improbable newspaper cutting from 20 years previously positing a big revelation is incredibly hackneyed - and the ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ platitudes are as obvious as Wayne Rooney sporting new hair follicles. But at only 90 minutes long these do little to undermine the carnage and laugh riot that has already preceded. Tension, chainsaws, laughs and bucket-loads of gore, but not how you quite expect it, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a unique entry into the genre. It also happens to be rather wonderful.  

Overall – A rare gem of a movie. Tucker and Dale are cult characters in the making; sequel please! 

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Enter the Procrastinator

Back in August I highlighted how procrastination had affected my book writing endeavours for the last 10 years and made a promise to double the limp 6,000 word content by the end of 2011. All I can say is, damn Rocksteady, Bethesda and Naughty Dog. Damn them and their genius game-making skills to hell. November and December completely wiped out by the triple whammy of Batman: Arkham City, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Uncharted 3. Bastards.

So, I have once again followed the path of abject failure, placing ‘obtain more PS3 trophies’ at the forefront on my to-do list and the book writing on the back-burner. Okay, so I did manage an additional 4,000 words before I lost concentration and admired the pretty graphics instead. This is only 2,000 shy of said doubling, so could be viewed as not too bad an effort. Yet the current draft still remains 5,000 words shorter than my MA dissertation. Which was written in four months. Whilst spending huge amounts of time on Diablo 2. Tit.

Anyway, considering it’s going to take me another 20 years to produce a final draft, there’s no harm in sharing an excerpt. Let’s consider it a teaser trailer, albeit one for a story that will never fully see the light of day. If you like it let me know. Some encouragement that it’s not total bollocks might convince me to put the PS3 controller down more often and pull my finger out:    
   Bear turned to Jack and winked. ‘Get your arse out of here’.
   Jack continued to look on bemused as he went over to the mirror. First the man-eating wardrobe, now a talking teddy bear. By all accounts it had been a strange evening, one where he was glad to still have his wits about him let alone be alive. Yet alive he was and about to follow Sam and the others through a portal to another dimension of no concrete form or description with their escape route defended by little more than a child’s teddy. If it was not for the axe starting to pierce and splinter the study door or the shouting from the Wixard’s minions beyond Jack would have questioned his sanity further. As it was, with death on the line, his survival instinct kicked in and once again reassured him this was reality. Running away was the best course of action.
   He stopped just before he was about to throw himself through the mirror and looked back at Bear. A sword had appeared in Bear’s right hand and a shield in his left. Jack had no idea where Bear had found such weapons.
   ‘Don’t worry’ chirruped Bear as he strode towards the door, ‘I’ll have skull-fucked these fuckers by the time you return.’
   The study door capitulated at that point. The axe assault had done enough to create a sizeable hole in the door; the remainder was being kicked down by the boots of many to make enough room for the first marauding henchman to clamber through. The first that did so had little time to blink before Bear’s blade had ripped him diagonally in half from shoulder to hip. The man screamed as his innards quickly became his outards. Two more men rushed into the room wearing the same white robes with red trim as Bear’s first victim, only to be hosed down with blood gushing from the dying man’s traumatic wound. Both looked on somewhat confused at the little bear in front of them, sword and shield at the ready, not quite believing their eyes.
   ‘Welcome to the Megaverse’ declared Bear with a chortle.
   The last thing Jack saw as he stepped through the mirror and into the void was more of the Wixard’s disciples entering the room and Bear leaping onto the face of the closest henchman burying his blade deep into his eye socket. Bear was not wrong, Jack thought. He really was going to skull fuck them all.
And yes, this portion of the story has been influenced rather heavily by the wonderful drawing of that damn cuddly teddy bear protecting his bestie whilst he sleeps.