Tag Archives: Featured

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.

From Bedrooms to Billions: The PlayStation Revolution (2020, Documentary)

Coming in at just under three hours, this documentary is an incredibly comprehensive look at the ground-breaking work the Playstation system did in helping to shape the current video game market.

Created by filmmakers Anthony and Nicola Caulfield, ‘The PlayStation Revolution’ is the third film in a series of hidden stories around gaming’s greatest accomplishments. And it wouldn’t be as comprehensive a history without the stories from the people who were there on the front line, with those contributing on camera including Hideo Kojima, Mark Cerny and Jim Ryan.

Whilst it might have been more accessible as a Netflix series, split into twenty-minute episodes for easier digestion by an unfamiliar audience, anyone with even a passing interest in Sony’s creation is bound to find this informative and engaging.

The History of Swear Words (Netflix, 2020, Documentary Series)

What better way is there to show the rumours of your death being exaggerated than by hosting a Netflix series.

Enigmatic leading man, Nicolas Cage, returns (beard accompanying) as host and highlight of this incredible Docuseries from Netflix.

Described as “an education you didn’t realise you needed”, it charts the history and development of several English “cuss words” to quote the man himself.

It’s light, it’s fun and it’s just what you need to let off some steam and start 2021 with a laugh.

Spread across six episodes, each coming in at a perfect 21 minutes, it features discussion and humour from linguistic experts and comedians such as Sarah Silverman and Nick Offerman.

But the highlight here is undoubtedly Cage who apparently filmed all his scenes required for this series in just a single day, thankfully proving he is still ready and willing to make National Treasure 3 when needed.

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****