Category Archives: Journalism

The Phantom Pandemic or The New Hope?

All our lives have been impacted immensely in the past year by the effects of the Covid19 pandemic. And its impact has meant that we’ve had to look at new ways of living our lives, doing the things that we had taken for granted, and leaving us – perhaps – more time for reflection than ever before.

One of the things that I most enjoy doing is gaming, because it helps so much to be able to switch off from working at home and the general depressing nature of the news, by being able to immerse yourself within a fantasy environment and focus on achieving a goal. And most recently one of the games I’ve been playing is a title called ‘Star Wars Racer’ on Nintendo Switch.

Now, this game has a rather more complex history, having been first developed due to a sequence present in ‘Star Wars Episode 1; The Phantom Menace’ released in 1999 and was developed by LucasArts – the studio responsible for most of the official Star Wars output. The title was originally released in 1999 on Nintendo 64 and Game Boy, later having several launches through systems including PC, Dreamcast, Mac and even later, the Nintendo Switch, XBox One and PS4.

Ironically, the games re-release on Switch was delayed in part due to the pandemic, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that LucasArts wanted to release the game on a new generation of systems at all, considering it still holds the Guinness records for the best-selling sci-fi racing game of all time, having worldwide sales of 3.12 million above arguably more well-known franchises such as Wipeout and F Zero.

Many consider ‘The Phantom Menace’ film itself to be a mixed bag, yet even its harshest critics will have a soft spot for pod racing, the sequences within the film which allowed it to be (albeit partially) saved in comparison to it’s later sequels. For those unfamiliar, pod racing is a sort of galactic Formula One event, where creatures from across the galaxy partake in an extremely dangerous race. In the film, our main ‘hero’ Anakin Skywalker pilots his own pod racing craft – something that humans are not meant to be able to do, due to the complexity of working such machines – and manages to succeed in winning his race and securing his freedom from slavery.

In the film, Anakin was played by Jake Lloyd, who reprised his role for the video game. Born in Fort Collins, Colorado in 1989 he was chosen for the role of Anakin on the back of his role in ‘Jingle All the Way’ alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1996. He’d previously made his acting debut in four episodes of ER which were released in the same year. At the time Lloyd was only 6/7 and given he was born in March of 1989 is only separated from my younger brothers age by just 2 weeks. When our family went to see The Phantom Menace in 1999 at our local cinema, there many comparisons made between Lloyd and my sibling.

Although Star Wars helped Lloyd achieve global fame, like many child actors before him, he struggled with the idea of such responsibility and was impacted negatively by the films overwhelmingly harsh criticism from such loyal Star Wars fans. He appeared in the film ‘Madison’ in 2005 but this film itself had been delayed in post-production and so Lloyd had filmed his own involvement before his retirement from acting in 2001. In 2012, he announced he was writing a documentary and later spoke about how bullying at school had also impacted on him deciding to retire from acting entirely.

In 2015 police responded to allegations of an assault, where Lloyd was accused of assaulting his mother, who refused to press charges on the grounds Lloyd was suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia. Unfortunately, things went from bad to worse, and he was later incarcerated that same year when arrested for driving without a licence, giving the name Jake Broadbent to arresting officers. Police also engaged in a high speed chase after Lloyd initially refused arrest and was suspected of being under the influence of narcotics.

Failing to secure bail and held at a detention centre for over 10 months, Lloyd was eventually released and a statement in January 2020 released by his family says he has now been officially diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia and is doing much better, much closer to his family. Progress had been hampered by the death of his sister, Madison, and Lloyd’s diagnosis of further mental health issues which made the acceptance of his condition much more difficult.

Lloyd’s treatment from fans and the toxicity which exists within Star Wars culture towards what fans perceive as subpar performance is in no way unique but does severe as a powerful indicator to the price of fame. It reminds us that even when we feel someone may be untouchable and on the route to stardom and success, they are in fact as human and as fragile as everyone else.

During the pandemic I’ve been gaming, but also looking at stories like Lloyds, giving me time to research what happened to actors who had such impact on us – actors and performers who may no longer be in the public eye for one reason or another. It’s not always so negative, of course, but this story remains hopeful despite the depression. That we may all go through bad periods, and they may take time to heal, but ultimately, we will come out of this and we will be stronger for the experiences learned.

Stay Safe. Stay Strong.

Bowling For Soup/Simple Plan – 02 Academy, Newcastle 02 Academy, February 11th 2020

I wanted to give an idea of the progression of my pieces. The first review was published in NE Volume Magazine and the second was the version adapted and published in The Crack Magazine. Both reviews were published in March 2020 issues of the respective magazines.

Newcastle is hoping tonight in nostalgic Pop Punk delights. Not Ur Girlfriendz have an average age of between 13 and 15; their energy and confidence is inspiring and they win the affections of a sold out audience still entering the building by performing a cover of the Spice Girl’s ‘Wannabe’. Slam your body down and all that.

Montreal’s Simple Plan probably haven’t toured in the UK since 2005, but are anything but forgotten, their set features classics such as ‘Summer Paradise’ (minus Sean Paul) and reminds most of the female audience what it’s like to be 16 again. Headliners Bowling for Soup perform a delightful Greatest Hits set, featuring classics such as ‘Almost’, ‘Ohio’ and even ‘No Hablo Ingles’ – and they’re still watching wrestling, as their new track ‘Alexa Bliss’ goes down a storm. 26 year veterans, it’s a great performance from a seasoned band; more of the same please!

Here’s the same review, written for The Crack….

Newcastle is hoping tonight in nostalgic Pop Punk delights. Not Ur Girlfriendz have an average age of between 13 and 15; their energy and confidence is inspiring and they win the affections of a sold out audience still entering the building by performing a cover of the Spice Girl’s ‘Wannabe’. Vocalist Liv Hughes puts performers three times her age to shame with her enthusiasm and confidence. Slam your body down and all that.

Montreal’s Simple Plan probably haven’t toured in the UK since 2005, but are anything but forgotten, their set features classics such as ‘Summer Paradise’ (minus Sean Paul) and reminds most of the female audience what it’s like to be 16 again. No doubt they’ll be visiting English shores again and I suspect a large proportion of tonight’s attendees would also be present. Headliners Bowling for Soup perform a delightful Greatest Hits set, featuring classics such as ‘Almost’, ‘Ohio’ and even ‘No Hablo Ingles’. The band found themselves trapped in a lift at the venue before the show, but haven’t let it dampen their spirits, the atmosphere is electric and front man Jarrett’s original worn Texas guitar is a testament to their vintage.

It’s also a remarkable statement to the band just how many “singles” have become part and parcel of their audiences own experiences, and the crowd laps up every single moment, with a number of participatory speeches, including the BFS Comedy Jam! But despite the intervening years the band have kept true to their roots and their sound, and they’re still watching wrestling, as their latest track ‘Alexa Bliss’ goes down a storm. The song has already managed to produce 600,000 views on YouTube in just a few weeks – and those achievements are not to be ignored.

26 year veterans, it’s a great performance from a seasoned band; more of the same please!

Final Fantasy VII Remake (PS4)

For those wishing to read my 2012 article on the original Final Fantasy VII, including facts about that games development and what the franchise means to me, please feel free to check out the link http://waynegmadden.com/final-fantasy-vii-ps1

I also write this article in response to the article published by Metro on April 26th 2020 whose author said he felt Square Soft would regret having remade the game and started this project – https://metro.co.uk/2020/04/26/square-enix-going-regret-ever-starting-final-fantasy-7-remake-readers-feature-12607826/ – I believe this is completely wrong.

As already discussed in a previous article, there is no game which – for me – holds more nostalgia and delight, than that of Final Fantasy VII. Indeed, even in 2019, I was still downloading the XBox One port of the title and the Nintendo Switch port of the title; both to examine and criticise the engines of these systems whilst (believe it or not) still exploring the game on PS1 and through emulation on PSVita. You could say I’m a little obsessed.

A remake of the original game – released in 1997 on PlayStation – has actually been in discussion for almost as long the game itself. It was first decided that Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX would be remastered for the PlayStation 2 in the early 2000s. It was said the games would be sold separately and not really much more beside, though it was evident from the beginning that it was the 7th instalment fans were most eager to get their hands on.

In 2005 and then again, on the games 10th anniversary, in 2007; there was conformation that a reboot of the seventh instalment was being planned. However, other projects demanded precedence, and so Square were unable to comment further on when the games would see the light of day. Soon, in light of other developments and the PlayStation 3 – and even 4 – many simply forgot that the title had been promised, especially when other ports of the original on current generation consoles started to appear as a viable experience.

However, there were four people who never forgot. At a meeting between the four men most responsible for the game; producer and series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, director and co-writer Yoshinori Kitase, artist Yusuke Naora, character designer Tetsuya Nomura, and writer Kazushige Nojima – all agreed they’d reached “that age” and if waiting longer, it could potentially be the case they’d be too old to work on a reboot at all. This led to an understanding that it was now or never. The official announcement came in 2015. It was happening.

When you think of the scope of this project, similarities can be drawn with Guns N’ Roses ‘Chinese Democracy’ album, if only because the online community became so transfixed on it’s legendary and mythical appearance. In the same vein, many began to consider that the project might never be released, and since we live in an age where consumers are used to receiving something almost immediately after it’s announced – the idea of waiting for anything seems unrealistic. But FF7 wasn’t just any game, it was a title Sony had initially spent 1 Million Dollars promoting prior to launch in 1997. And whose original budget had exceeded 40 Million Dollars.

Additionally, whilst it might be able to count on the automatic support of a percentage of gamers, it was newer/younger players that the title also needed to capture, considering their wants and needs – people unfamiliar with the story, the nostalgia and the game play. This was, of course, just part of the reason for the Switch and XBox 1 ports, they allowed the current generation to capture as much of the PlayStation’s original magic as possible – whilst also lining pockets and using the market research data.

Rival games like Last of Us, God of War and Spider Man also played their roles; there was absolutely no point in Square – or Sony – releasing this game at a time when the majority of gamers might be interested in another similarly exclusive title. Like the original, this game needed to be centre of attention, though perhaps even more so – since there really was so much more to prove this time around. And there was twice as much pressure.

With Kingdom Hearts 3 another main focus for Square Soft, the studio couldn’t give full attention until Final Fantasy VII until this project was completed, leading to rumours that the project had been scrapped at some point in late 2017. These rumours were always denied, but it wasn’t until May 2019 that the first teaser trailer was announced – and again it wouldn’t be until June that any playable functionality was shown – but when this happened, it won several awards at E3 2019 including ‘Best Console Game’ before it had even been released.

Pushed back in January 2020, due to concerns over tweaking the titles already mammoth production, fans were treated to a playable demo. We played the games first chapter – within the Shinra reactor – as Cloud Strife teamed with Avalanche. There is no denying that the game looked incredible and those first moments were a chance to actually control the modern day Cloud for the first time. But would it still be enough to make sure that the game became the long awaited worthwhile success?

In it’s first three days, it shipped and sold over 3.5 million copies, fears were somewhat dissipated. In all, it had become one of the single biggest game launches for the PlayStation 4.

For those unaware, Final Fantasy VII takes place in the fictional city of Midgar, you play as Cloud Strife – a mercenary who takes a job with environmental terrorists Avalanche. Avalanche is led by Barrett Wallace and their mission is to help aid the planet, by stopping the use of Mako, a natural energy source harvested by the Shinra Electrical Corporation. Cloud is a former SOLIDER operative, who are the private guard of Shinra, and upon the request of childhood friend Tifa Lockheart decides to assist Avalanche on their plight. Cloud has his own demons, however, plagued by the death of another SOLIDER operative, named Sephiroth; known as one of the greatest warriors who has ever lived, he is struggling to come to terms with this and his own past.

The game’s original incarnation took you from Midgar to the world, literally traversing the games map across several continents. In this remake, you play about 10%-15% of the original title, and only perform the original Midgar missions, whilst at the same time expanding upon that initial story and going further into the details of the timeline. This gives for a rather unique perspective, allowing the player to focus on the initial missions (which they remember) but also including ‘Director’s Cut’ style components that the game simply wasn’t able to facilitate at the time, for a number of reasons.

Storytelling has also been altered, in some cases drastically, in order to atone to the wishes of both the online community and also the wishes of its creators. A great comparison for this would be Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, which effectively modernised and ‘reinvented’ the idea of Batman in a modern setting. By taking a more authentic approach to their franchise, Final Fantasy VII is a more believable story; and that might seem strange from a game that is effectively a classic JRPG; but it’s one which originally strove to break rules and boundaries on it’s initial release and looks to do the same here.

***Published as unfinished piece****

Full Motion Action

I’ve been a gamer for many years. Gaming is a huge passion of mine and has arguably taken up more time than any other hobby or pastime I’ve been engaged in. At any one time, I’ve owned at least two consoles, be that a portable device such as a PSVita or Nintendo DS; and a home console such as a PlayStation or an XBox.

Now, despite loving gaming so much, I’ve not really improved at it over the years. The old adage of practice makes perfect doesn’t really apply to gaming, as by the logic of that statement, I should have been champion several times over. As long as there have been games, gaming fans have been arguing over what their intention is, whether it’s to challenge us and mentally stimulate or whether it’s really designed for a relaxing and unwinding chance to escape the rigours of the day.

Gaming is now a trillion dollar industry. The Financial Times reports that as more people are forced to stay indoors particularly, during the last several months of lock down across the globe, the gaming industry has reaped the benefits. If possible, people are actually spending more time online, and investing more into digital currency then ever before. And there are games for every type of gamer; challenges, stimulants, simulators, relaxing games and even a virtual representation of a real hobby, sport or pastime. For me, one of the most interesting series of games has always been that which is focused around full motion video, or FMV, for short.

FMV is a narration tool used in gaming where actual video footage is employed, either partially or wholly, to direct the narrative. As technology initially advanced in the 90s, a series of titles was released across formats such as the Sega CD and Laserdisc to create “interactive movies” which were almost solely devised of actual video footage that the viewer could control. Choices were given in the same vein as original text adventure titles on the ZX Spectrum where a player would need to act in a specific way to either avoid death or dismay and ultimately end the game. Some games just employed this technology in “cut scenes” between actual gaming, with an example being the Wing Commander series for PlayStation and PC.

In this specific example (for the third game in the franchise) developers Origin Systems created huge set pieces and hired noted and respected actors such as Mark Hamill and Thomas F. Wilson. This footage rewarded the player for completing tasks by advancing the story narrative and also creating a rather compelling movie that remains interesting to watch; even to this day!

For this article I wanted to give you a run down of some of my favourite full motion video games ever made. Indeed, this list could use games from any point in history, as developers Wales Interactive are just one example who’ve convinced us FMV titles have not exactly been forgotten. Some of these titles you may be aware of, especially considering their modern day console re-releases on PlayStation and Switch; although other titles you may be so aware of, and it’s my hope that you’ll check them out where possible and maybe even give some YouTube footage a watch to remind yourself. That said, in all cases, nothing beats the original experience of playing these titles and learning of all the secrets within.

Black Mirror; Bandersnatch (2019)

OK, so right at the top of the list, I’m cheating. And I’m sorry about that. But I do need to give a moment to talk about Black Mirror’s phenomenal stand alone project ‘Bandersnatch’ which was – and I trust still will be for a while – exclusive to Netflix. Black Mirror is a programme co-created by Journalist Charlie Brooker. Brooker was born in 1971 (and that’s quite important) and began his career prominently coming to attention as a Video Games Journalist. Black Mirror itself is a “monster of the week” type format show which employs an isolated narrative in the style of the Twilight Zone. Though the themes can switch between fantasy, horror and romance etc. and a lot of Brooker’s own episodes tend to focus around the idea of gaming in some form.

Bandersnatch was released as its own separate piece entirely, exclusively to Netflix, in 2019. Set in 1987 it tells the story of Stefan Butler who gets the opportunity to write and design his own video game – Bandersnatch – for the company Tuckersoft. The story itself is intertwined with Stefan’s own traumatic past and the subject matter of Bandersnatch, which is based on fictional writer Jerome F. Davies (a Hunter S Thompson type character) and his own murder suicide. Bandersnatch the book, upon which Stefan is basing the game, is a choose your own adventure novel; with different paths and possibilities for the reader.

Equally, Bandersnatch itself (for the viewer, that’s us) is a choose your own adventure episode. At various points throughout the narrative we’ll be encouraged to choose one of two or three answers; dependent upon our choices, the narrative will play out accordingly. Of course, like a lot of choose your own adventure novels, the story will reach an untimely conclusion should you choose the wrong path – and Bandersnatch has more than a few places where the road can mislead you. While the episode itself is a phenomenal recreation of the time period and a very unique way of introducing this type of interactivity to those who wouldn’t normally engage in it, it’s not strictly speaking a video game. But I hope that you’ll forgive me nonetheless and check it out, as it’s easily the most accessible (readily available) instalment on this list.

The X Files Game (1998)

Released for Windows by Fox Interactive in 1998, The X Files Game was a title largely accessible by virtue of the fact that it was based on a popular television show, for which it had an established fan base. The title was later released on PlayStation in 1999, at which time I myself played it, and became intimately aware with its workings. Whilst the premise of the show was based around a division of the FBI which worked with paranormal or other unexplained phenomenon, the X Files game saw you play as the unknown Craig Wilmore, an agent working for the Seattle Field Office and investigating the unexplained disappearance of Mulder and Scully, the title characters from the show.

One of the main criticism of the game at the time, was that although Mulder and Scully both appear within a portion of the game, they are largely absent from our screens. Neither do you get to play as Mulder or Scully at any stage, although you do find yourselves interacting with such series regulars as Mitch Pileggi and The Lone Gunmen. An interesting fact at this point is that the Lone Gunmen series, which itself was short lived, was actually co-created by future Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. Regardless, the title does present a competent cast of actors, who naturally reflect off of each other and don’t appear to be either rigid or awkward like other similar titles.

The PlayStation instalment of the game is based across a whopping four discs whilst the Windows game was based across – wait for it – eight, as you play what is an extended interactive episode searching for the agents. What’s probably most incredible looking back is just how much work went into this title, with little Easter eggs I’m still finding today, scenes that were filmed which have no relation to the narrative but create new possibilities and paths for replay. The game was filmed on Digital Betacam tape with Sony cameras and captured using Power Macintosh’s running Adobe Premiere and Media 100. It cost $6 Million to create, one for each hour of footage shot for the game, and production took four years in total.

As indicated in the photo above, if you want to be as happy as Gillian Anderson, I’d strongly suggest playing this title on PlayStation with an official PlayStation Mouse. Alongside titles like ‘Riven’ and ‘Broken Sword’ it’s one of the few titles which work with the PlayStation Mouse but it’s well worth the additional expense. With a reboot of the X Files series having happened in the last few years I’ve been surprised not to see this game rebooted and remastered for a new audience.

Golden Nugget (1996)

Golden Nugget was developed by Abalone Entertainment and initially slated to be released for PlayStation in 1996, although it was subsequently developed by Virgin Interactive in 1997. The game itself is a gambling simulation and features several games of chance in a Las Vegas casino setting; something which has proved popular across every format imaginable pretty much since the invention of gaming. What’s unique about this particular title, however, is that it used simulated footage of the real life Golden Nugget casino and was blatantly a large advertisement for the premises.

The design and model of the flooring is identical to it’s “real life” counterpart and, to the keen eye among you, the game was released for PlayStation on two discs – something of a rarity for a gambling simulator. This is because the second disc contained the games story mode, including 45 minutes of footage featuring Batman actor Adam West in the title role. Certainly, praise needs to be given to developers for trying to find some way to make the game more appealing, and the inclusion of such an iconic actor in this way made for entertaining – albeit usually awkward – cut scenes. Of course, there’s not much interactivity in these scenes, but considering the game wasn’t released outside of North America it still remains something of a rarity today.

You may also remember Virgin Interactive as responsible – in part – for the original Resident Evil title, no doubt their contribution to include the full motion video material at the beginning of that game.

Night Trap (1992)

Being honest, I couldn’t have made this list without Night Trap, as it’s probably the most famous example of full motion video gaming in history. Recently, the title celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary with a re-release on PS4 and Switch and a physical format release from Limited Run Games in North America. Developed by Digital Pictures, it was actually recorded in 1987, and so was scheduled for release on the Sega CD in 1992. But the game’s initial destination was the Hasbro NEMO – a format so deep in development it was cancelled a mere month before launch. So the footage itself was kept and the game play redeveloped for Sega CD.

The story involves a group of teenagers spending a typical Friday sleepover at a cabin in the woods. The teenagers don’t realise that the cabins inhabitants, including two of their classmates, are actually vampires; and they’re being hunted as prize game. Of course, the teenagers have backup, since the awkwardly named SCAT are a bunch of marines straight out of Aliens and monitor the cabin to try and bring the family down. You play an unknown controller of the cameras, who monitors the various rooms looking for opportunities to aid your colleagues and also killing monsters using the strange – and conveniently placed – trap doors throughout. You’re also aided by one of the teenagers in the party, who happens to be an undercover agent.

Things can go two ways; you can spend so much time focusing on the cameras to trap the monsters that you’ll miss all the cheesy dialogue and action in the other rooms, or you can focus on the cheesy dialogue and completely ignore the impending nightmare that awaits. There are several different endings, depending on how many people you save and when, and the game definitely feels like a less advanced version of ‘Until Dawn’ – which proudly remains one of my favourite titles to this day. This game may also have been on your radar because of the controversy it gathered upon it’s original release, when in December 1993 a United States Senate committee criticised the game (along with Mortal Kombat) for being unnecessarily violent and “disgusting”. This led to criticisms from senators that the game was responsible for damaging America’s youth, the developers themselves responding that it was a clear indication the senator had not even played the game.

Late Shift (2017)

Released by Wales Interactive in 2017, and screened at the Raindance Film Festival among others, Late Shift is certainly example of a modern and 4K respectable looking interactive video game. As the title suggests it follows the character on an overnight shift for work, what should be a quiet night, but ultimately turns out involving him in a heist, kidnapping, murder and the Chinese Triads. Once again you choose the responses and, if you choose the right ones, you’ll make it through the game relatively intact. Then, depending upon which decisions you make in the final act will determine the outcome with eight possible endings to unlock.

The inclusion of “alternative/deleted scenes” and the different endings mean there is a real replay value in this title. Additionally, it looks beautiful, with the opening shots of London and the Tube giving the game a phenomenal starting point. The colour and saturation in this game are incredible and, compared to anything else on this list (with the possible exception of Bandersnatch) you’re unlikely to play a better looking game. For those of us who are used to FMV titles being analogue and having to fit all this data on the tiny PlayStation or PC discs – relatively tiny in comparison to the size of quality video footage – this is a game you need to play which moves this genre firmly into the 21st Century.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about moving these titles into the modern age is the deliberate urgency of the decision making; and when faced with a choice the player doesn’t have time to decide, they need to pick one or the other within seconds. This is also a practical response to advanced technology as well, since the response rate of the game play is a lot more seamless than it’s older compatriots. Whilst some noted the games continuity errors on review, I have to be honest, this isn’t something I was looking out for or something I noticed and I’ve probably played this game 20 times on several different formats. I am still unsure what Eurogamer meant by that myself.

When I originally began this list myself I had no idea how far the term interactive movie actually went and that there was an interactive film released in 1967 named ‘Kinoautomat’ and I encourage you to read the story of this film and why it was banned in Communist Czechoslovakia. It’s incredible just how far this rabbit whole goes and so, with that aside, the final entrant on my list…

Mad Dog McCree (1990)

Before Red Dead Redemption, there was Mad Dog McCree. Released for Arcades and LaserDisc in 1990, Mad Dog McCree is a Western in which you play as the silent unknown – a bit like A Few Dollars More – but that’s where the Clint Eastwood comparisons will end. Mad Dog and his gang have given the town of UFT a hard time, and they’re fed up. The player is unknown to the residents of UFT, but within seconds of his or her arrival, a pistol is jammed into their palm and they’re provided with permission — nay, strict orders — to murder any vaguely threatening humans they encounter with no fear of legal repercussions.

I first played this title in Arcades and it was a fantastically enjoyable light gun game; one which was made even more impressive at the time because it featured full motion video, allowing you to engage more as a player with the “advanced graphics” of real people. It was also helped massively by the set pieces and design of the stage, which helped production value too. Of course, it was also extremely comical – perhaps deliberately so – to reflect attention away from the fact that you’re murdering strangers left and right.

The game itself spawned several sequels but it’s the original, probably because of the nostalgia, which remains so near and dear to my heart. Should you ever get a chance to play this game (the most modern version I’m aware of was released for the Wii) then I’d highly recommend it.

And that’s my list, as always, I welcome your comments below…

Albums That Influenced You

Music is the great collaborator. Music brings us together, and chances are, even someone who has no opinion or interest in anything has some interest or opinion in at least one form of music. Think about it, how many people have you met for the first time, through University perhaps or in a new job, where to break the silence and learn more about them you might ask what type of music they enjoy, what sort of bands or artists they listen too and maybe who they’ve seen live?

More than any other pastime, however, music is something that it is so easy to get involved in. Now, whilst learning an instrument does possess challenge and skill, listening to music, purchasing and collecting records and albums, attending gigs and singing in the shower are all – in some ways – relatively inexpensive. And with the advent of high speed broadband and legal streaming services like Spotify and iTunes direct to your mobile device it’s now easier than ever to find virtually all the music you’ll ever want. And on top of that, you can expend far less effort than even 15 years ago in doing so.

I first started discovering music when I was 13. Of course, I was listening to music and specific artists before this, but it wasn’t until I was at that age that it had such impact on me, affecting the way I dressed, my career aspirations and even my political beliefs; between the ages of 13 and 18 I discovered artists and groups that have stayed with me until today as a result of their influence at this important time in my life. My younger brother played bass in a band, and that ended up affecting his music taste in a huge way, as he went on to play some live music in local venues. Personally, I worked in Radio, and so everything from choosing the music for my shows to learning about new artists and promotions had a huge impact on my life as well.

For this article I wanted to take a look inward, and talk about albums that have influenced me. But there’s nothing like a little friendly competition to get the thoughts moving. I mean, how horrible would it be if everyone looked the same and listened to the same album; so in that spirit of diversity and difference – as well my thoughts and ramblings – I would encourage you to comment by giving me YOUR thoughts on the albums and the music which helped shape and define the person you are right now.

Metallica – St Anger (2003)

Metallica were a huge influence on me. I actually got into the band indirectly from Queen, another one of the huge influences that will feature on this list. I ended up purchasing a video cassette of the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert from April 1992 where, following Freddie Mercury’s death, the surviving members of Queen staged a large benefit concert at Wembley Stadium. Several bands who performed during the first portion of the day – Metallica, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses most notably – would go to become some of my favourite artists of all time. And in truth, it’s unlikely I’d learned of them at the same time as I did if not for Queen and their appearance at that performance.

So when I started to get into Metallica properly, St Anger was the first album released with me being a fan – and for that reason it holds a huge place in my heart – as I can even remember taking the bus to town on that June day in order to buy a copy of the album. Many might expect me to say I hated the album, but considering my first live experience with the band would be just a few days later (as part of the ‘Madly in Anger World Tour 03’) and I’d already listened to practically everything Napster were giving away the Winter previously (!) there really was no denying that I just loved this album because it was new material from Metallica.

Thinking about it now, I can even remember my friend (the same one who I bought the album with) ringing me up one night – at a time when we’d first got mobile phones – to tell me that he’d seen the ‘St Anger’ video on Kerrang TV. Now, Kerrang TV was a subscription service, and you needed to phone in and request specific tracks that you wanted to listen too. Since Metallica’s new single was LITERALLY just being released, Kerrang had aired the video at the stroke of midnight before it was part of the rotation, and then every 20 minutes thereafter. The video itself was filmed at San Quentin Federal Penitentiary in California; and believe it or believe it not, myself and my family took an incredible vacation to California not long thereafter. Giving me another reason to love the nostalgia and the memory of the album a lot of people really seem to hate.

Green Day – American Idiot (2004)

By the time I saw Green Day on the American Idiot Tour (in January 2005) I’d already seen a few bands live. But this particular performance always holds a special place in my heart regarding live shows. For a start, and to this date, I’ve not seen Green Day live since – and the venue in which the gig was held (Dublin’s Point Depo) no longer exists. It was also the place where I’d seen my first ever concert, in 2003, and this album was exactly what I needed at the time.

It was actually my brother who’d been a Green Day fan for long before this, and he ended up detesting American Idiot save for one track, feeling the band had completely devalued their earlier sounds. I would soon come to find out that certain bands I love (such as Machine Head) would have a habit of taking the previous special appeal they had to fans in a time and place and repackaging and re marketing it for a new generation 10 years later. So, thanks to my brother and a friend of mine, I was slowly introduced to Green Day and encouraged to come to their performance.

Personally, I’d just recently started University, and my life itself was going through some pretty major changes. Looking back, I’d actually reflect and say American Idiot was released during one of the most turbulent and challenging periods of my entire life to date. It is perhaps the only album released during that period that I still look back on with fondness, and will occasionally belt out ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ with nostalgic glee to anyone deaf enough to listen. It’s definitely funny for me how this album really forced me beyond my skin and – in a sense – was me looking to accept a new group and a new form of music into my life; probably taking the Punk thing too much to heart as well, although stereotypically a few Summer’s late.

New Kids on the BlockYou Got It (The Right Stuff) (1988)

From the bands second album ‘Hangin’ Tough’ (released 1989) the earlier single – known commonly as ‘The Right Stuff’ – was released by NKOTB in 88. In that year I would have been 3, and its also the year my younger brother was born, so it’s extremely unlikely that I’d of heard the album or the single – and remembered it – at that time. However, I can tell you that I once asked my mother to obtain a copy of the album from her friend, if I gave her a blank cassette. It seemed like even a weird request to my mother at the time, but I got the album back – and it was definitely because of the love for this song.

I won’t lie, this was a long time ago, but I did want to make special mention because it did play some small part in my musical tastes and does hold a fondness to this day. It’s cheesy, it’s 80’s and it’s Pop – but actually it’s still a great tune. I’m just sorry I don’t have more information about my experiences with it.

Nobuo Uematsu – Music of Final Fantasy VII (1997)

I don’t listen to a lot of Classical Music. I appreciate it, and it’s use in film scores, but I can’t think that I am actively engaged in listening to such music. That being said, I absolutely couldn’t do this list and not include the music of a particular video game – which, by definition of it’s creation – is a classical piece. Final Fantasy VII was originally released for PlayStation in 1997 and I won’t go into a speech about the game on this article because there’s already at least two articles on that website to cover such things. Suffice to say, one of the huge reasons the game had such an impact on me was because of the music, and I can definitely remember this being the first time I cared so much about a game’s soundtrack.

To me, Uematsu’s soundtrack is essential to the game itself, bringing you deeper into the story, introducing you to the nature of the characters and creating tension or building hype without saying a single word. Much like Die Hard will use ‘Ode to Joy’ as Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber finally realises the vision of opening that safe, the music within this game brought you closer to it, and gave you a bigger context for it. Remember, this was at a time when Sony (already a leading music producer worldwide) had revolutionised gaming with the sound chip of the PlayStation – games like Wipeout and Grand Theft Auto, for example, took advantage of stereo quality sound to insert the music of known artists into video games. FFVII used it as a character; and that was a big deal, especially for an RPG (Role Playing Game) which meant you spent a lot of time with Cloud and his compatriots wandering valleys and hills in search of Sephiroth.

I have so many great memories of playing this game originally. I remember in particular going into town after school one Friday to collect the game from my favourite store, with a friend from school, and remarking on the bus back that it would probably take me the entire school holidays to finish it. If I have a particular favourite piece it’s either ‘Shinra Theme’ or ‘Those Chosen By The Planet’ but ‘Tifa’s Theme’ is also a big one for me. And a small special thanks to Uematsu for his work on re imaging the soundtrack for the 2020 remake which, once again, captures the beauty and the majesty of the game as I’d expect with incredible advanced technology.

Kid Rock – Cocky (2001)

I’d heard of Kid Rock after he sampled Metallica’s ‘Sad But True’ to rework the track into ‘American Bad Ass’ in 2000. It was largely due to my love of WWE (then WWF) and the use of that particular track for The Undertaker’s theme tune when the latter made his return in May 2000. Shortly thereafter, Rock covered ZZ Top’s ‘Legs’ for a WWE Compilation and also released ‘Cocky’ on Atlantic Records; which had several songs sampled by WWE, most notably the title track (which I’m almost positive was used as a PPV theme) and ‘Lonely Road of Faith’ which was used in a rather nostalgic video about wrestlers out on the road. ‘Cocky’ itself went on to become even bigger, thanks to ‘Picture’, a duet with Sheryl Crow.

Kid Rock also ended up becoming an inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame, as well as touring several highly successful albums to date. In 2004 I saw him live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and then again in 2008 I saw him open for Bon Jovi in Kildare, Ireland. So he is officially the only artist I’ve seen in my life – so far – on two different continents. And I’ve just realised typing that, it’s not true, as I also saw The Supersuckers in both Dublin and in Tower Records in Los Angeles at an in store performance. Either way, Kid Rock’s album influenced me greatly, and my appreciation of his music stays with me to this day, I’ve even a copy of ‘Live Trucker’ on Vinyl.

Guns N’ Roses – Live Era (1999)

I bought the album in Golden Discs on Grafton Street in Dublin. I didn’t have enough money for the album and the guy behind the counter let me off with a Euro, or a Pound, at the time. I didn’t have enough because I still needed to pay for my bus fare home and when I got home I sat and listened to the album from start to finish. It was my first Guns N’ Roses record and I later got it signed by Gilby Clarke, who toured and recorded with the band between 1991 and 1993. I wish I still had it but I foolishly sold it when I lived in Edinburgh in 2008.

This album, for all intensive purposes, was created to supplement contractual obligation and make the main members of the original Guns N’ Roses at the time (Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan) some quick cash. People have been critical of it’s production, and it’s value, but at the time of release – and certainly at the time I purchased it – this album was the nearest thing to a Greatest Hits and captured the band as I loved them most, live. I wouldn’t see those three men live together until 2017. People might not understand but before Spotify, and if you weren’t intending on downloading illegal music and creating your own compilation, an album like this really was the best way to hear this music.

On top of anything else, the album also contained a full colour booklet, featuring photographs and imagery which showed me pictures from previous tours. Despite this band having effectively fractured years before I could even comprehend their importance to my musical taste, they are one of the most important musical influences to me. Period. I’m still a member of the fan club to this day.

Queen – Innuendo (1991)

I could have put any Queen album on this list – with the possible exception of the ‘Cosmos Rocks’ and ‘Hot Space’ – and it would mean just the same. Innuendo doesn’t even feature my favourite Queen track of all time (that’s either ‘Save Me’ from ‘The Game’ or ‘It’s Late’ from ‘News of the World’) and the band itself, these musicians – and particularly it’s lead vocalist – have had the greatest influence on me. In essence, they are the perfect band in my eyes, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a fan of them. Fact.

This album I received on cassette, for Christmas, in 1995. No idea whatever happened to my cassettes from when I was younger but I used to have a special yellow box where I kept my favorite cassettes and they were virtually all Queen originals. A lot of my music at that time was blank copies etc.

Their influence and their music has been with me my entire life. And I can’t think of anything more to say because that sums up exactly how I feel. I’ve grown out of other bands, grown into bands, developed tastes, picked apart material here and there. There is nothing I can’t love (yes, even the albums mentioned at the start can be loved) about this bands output. They are flawless.

I’ve really enjoyed sharing this list with you, I’d love to hear from you guys too about what music ranks in your inspirations…..