Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Rooks vs The Seagulls

In honour of two of Sussex's fine football clubs, tonight I've compared beers representing Lewes FC (my club, the mighty Rooks) and Brighton & Hove Albion (the Seagulls).

Harveys is a sponsor of both clubs and with BHA's recent move to their new stadium at Falmer, has produced Albion Ale to be served in the stadium bar.

Last year was Lewes FC's 125th anniversary and Harveys produced a commemorative ale. I've drunk several bottles since it was released and tonight I finished my last one to celebrate our 4-0 victory over Wick in the Sussex Senior Cup.

So, how do the two beers shape up? The Albion Ale's label says that it is derived from Harveys Sussex Best and that's definitely evident. It comes across as a sweeter, less hoppy version of that classic brew. It's lower in alcohol (3.6% rather than 4.0%) but not noticeably thinner. Copper colour, little head. Sweet aroma, similar to Sussex Best without the hopping. Flavour is toffeeish. Clean finish, good weight for 3.6%. Overall, I think it's a drinkable beer and the low strength should be commended.

The Lewes FC 125th Anniversary Ale is considerably stronger at 4.7% but doesn't feel too heavy. It is a bright golden amber colour with a small diminishing white head. The nose has cloves, dusty hops and some toffeeish malt. The finish is quite sweet with a hint of oranges. It's quite lively fresh from the bottle but as it warms and settles it develops a pleasing honeyed feel.

So, who wins this East Sussex derby? It's a hard-fought affair but for me, the Rooks' beer is more complex and more satisfying. That said, I'd certainly recommend that any fans of the Tesco Carrier Bags (sorry, couldn't resist) use their Amex card to purchase a pint of Albion ahead of Carling, Budweiser or whatever industrial lager they are otherwise offered.

The very best of luck to both clubs this season and most of all, continued success to Harveys Brewery. Don't forget...

Brighton & Hove Albion FC: founded 1901.
Lewes FC: founded 1885.
Harveys of Lewes: founded 1790!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

GDC 2011 in some strange words

The Game Developers Conference (GDC), held in San Francisco in early March is the conference highlight of the year for a lot of people in the industry. I see quite a strange side of it, being cooped up in business meetings for nearly the entirety of the week. I've been going to the show since 2004 and have yet to attend a session. That doesn't mean that the show isn't a huge amount of fun. Meeting after meeting does wear you down but the excitement of never knowing quite what the next half hour will hold drives me on.

I'm also lucky to work in an industry that doesn't take itself too seriously and which is full of people with a somewhat warped sense of humour. In the course of this year's week in SF a number of interesting phrases were coined and I felt I should share them here.

"Money Fight" - what you do to amuse yourself when your product has brought in an absolutely sickening amount of cash. You grab bundles of banknotes and just hurl them at each other. Notch and the guys at Mojang probably have money fights most days of the week. Bill Gates undoubtedly has a subterranean money fight arena (think a Mayan ball game court with better floodlights) for his monthly match against Steve Jobs.

"Legally Binding Twix" - delicious bite-sized snack bar which, when eaten, irrevocably commits you to publishing the game of the person who provided it.

"Filipino Candy" - nice sweets from the Philippines. Usually fruity. Just *sounds* dodgy.

"Not the best selling rabbit" - they may look cute but Mindscape's Karotz are unlikely to outsell the current favourite rabbit.

"Small Penis Laptop" - a "gaming laptop" that's twice as big as a laptop should be, with coloured lights and large fans. The Toshiba Qosmio would be an example. Suggests that the owner may be overcompensating for something.

"Imperial Beef" - dish offered by the food vendors at Game Connection that sounds scary yet is so beguilingly named that I ended up trying it - partly as it reminded me of the 'Imperial Hot' meme. The food? A generous helping of tasty beef teriyaki.

"Trained in business. Bred to reject." - the tagline to the definitive action movie about videogame acquisitions managers. Which is sadly yet to be made.

"Accountancy Party" - at the superb Killscreen party, you played cool indie games on huge screens in a warehouse, cheered on by your drunken peers. Accountants have similar parties except they are reconciling Excel sheets to whoops of encouragement.

That's it for the words of the show. What else?

Best proper food of the week: a superb Beef Brisket with roast potatoes and brussel sprouts at Magnolia.

Best junk food of the week: I discovered a "Make your own frozen yoghurt sundae" place in the Westfield mall and made myself a concoction that included chocolate, vanilla and strawberry frozen yoghurt, whole blackberries, choc chips, sprinkles and a couple of sauces. It was amazing and cost less than $7.

Best drink of the week: Nearly everything on the list at the 21st Amendment Brewery. I bought the t-shirt. And a hat.

Best party: I didn't get to many but the Killscreen indie party was great. Danes know how to party. I had a laugh playing Jesus vs Dinosaurs and ended up drinking aquavit forfeits after losing a dance-off. For a Brit, there was also the novelty of drinking out of the iconic red cups, which we only see in American movies being used for beer pong. I was even briefly a hipster as I was drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon at a warehouse party. For shame.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Rectangles of the year 2010: Other things

Continuing my round-up of my favourite media that I consumed this year (little of which came out this year)...


Looking back, I didn't read much this year and bought very few books. However, I did read two sets of superb books, kindly lent by a friend. These were the Takeshi Kovacs books by Richard Morgan and the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercombie. If you like your characters hard and extremely nasty, I cannot recommend these highly enough. Best Served Cold, which is a standalone revenge story set in the same universe at the First Law books (and featuring some cameos) is also excellent.


I'd say that my "thing of the year" was Spotify, which has completely altered how I listen to music and got me listening to new (to me at least!) music again. I completely love it.

The album that I've found myself listening to again and again this year is The '59 Sound by The Gaslight Anthem.


I enjoyed Scott Pilgrim and Inception but I was really blown away by watching The Prestige on DVD. It's a clever and gripping film and certainly made think better of Christian Bale. David Bowie does a great little cameo as Nikolai Tesla too!

Rectangles of the year 2010: Games

Taking my cue from Ricky's excellent piece of terminology, here is a quick run-down of my favourite games of 2010.

Over the last month, I've spent well over a hundred hours playing Dragon Quest IX. It's the first DQ I've played but it seems to included got all the good things from JRPGs while eliminating nearly all the bad (ie it makes backtracking instant and you can avoid battles). Some of the side quests are based on random drops and can turn into grinds but that's a small complaint. It has vast additional content with random dungeons, new daily items via wi-fi, new quests weekly and co-op play. I get the feeling that I will end up playing it as much as I did Disgaea on PS2 (200+ hours).

Back at the beginning of the year, I posted about VVVVVV and I still consider it one of the best games I've played all year. It gave me one glorious night of platforming par excellence (and I usually hate platformers) and a soundtrack that I've listened to regularly since January.

Red Dead Redemption makes the list for letting me to feel like Clint in a classic western. Lots of great moments but even just riding round doing nothing is a pleasure. I haven't bought the DLC yet but everyone in my office who did buy it has loved it.

An honourable mention goes to Lara Croft & The Guardian of Light as I had a great time playing local co-op with a mate and then went back and 100%-ed it too. It alas also gets a nomination for "Most Botched Launch of the year" imho.

Likewise, an honourable mention to Bayonetta. Thanks to the easy mode, I was finally able to enjoy a game of this sort having never been able to get anywhere due to poor skills before. I got to play right through and kick a god into the sun for chrissakes! That's got to be worth something.

In the middle of the year I went through a phase of playing Mount & Blade: Warband obsessively. It ran like a dog on my old home PC but I was still playing for half a day at a time and taking save games back and forth to my work PC with a USB key. It's too structurally flawed for it to be one of my games of the year - I ended up giving up playing it in frustration at the confusing and broken strategic game. (If anyone out there knows how to successfully keep hold of a castle, I'd love to hear from you!)

However it's definite honourable mention. Leading a cavalry charge in M&B is a feeling that you don't get in any other game... you lure the enemy into a position where the terrain is in your favour, give the order, then build speed, drop your lance and break their infantry in front of you... then swap to a sabre or mace and start laying about you. It feels amazing and the very real risk of over-extending yourself, being cut off from your troops and having your horse hacked from under you in the mêlée gives every battle a tense edge. Taleworlds deserve a lot of credit for the game and for putting the nascent Turkish development scene on the map.

And finally, Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes gets an honourable mention for being nearly a perfect DS title and definitely the overlooked game of 2010 (2009 release in NA, 2010 in EU). Bursting with charm, a smooth difficulty curve, great mechanics, lovely art, it gets -1 Caspar point for having a missable sidequest (that I duly missed). However, I'm going to buy the XBLA version when it comes out so I can thrash people in online multiplayer.

(Sitting on the shelf expectantly: Mass Effect 2 (I dabbled a bit but need to get stuck in) and Nier (really interested in this due to what I've heard online).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Brought to you by the letter C and the numbers 6 and 4

Last spring I mentioned Don't Look Back, created by Terry Cavanagh. Well, there's good news as Terry's first commercial game, the interestingly titled VVVVVV, is now available.

It provided me with an excellent evening's entertainment - for less than the price of three pints and a bag of crisps (£9). Overall it's simple, coherent, lovingly presented (with nods to Dizzy and other C64-era classics) and difficulty-wise (with the exception of one blip) perfectedly pitched. For those with truly amazing platforming skills there are time trials and the challenge of completing the game with the minimum number of deaths. I took around 660 to complete the game but that was up to over 1100 by the time I'd bagged all twenty collectable trinkets. A couple of them will really test you and the "Veni, Vidi, Vici" series of rooms are already going down in gaming legend. Tough, but worth it for the elation you feel when you nail it.

Superb is too weak a word to describe the chiptune soundtrack, that is handily available here, Eurogamer have a more detailed (or just longer?) review here and there's a good interview with Terry here. One question remains - is the game named for the six crewmembers in the game, the look of the "www" in a URL or the ever-present rows of spikes that will be your doom so many, many times?

Things I learned from videogames #9

Contrary to what you might think, the ability to make conversation is not essential for a career in retail. A few stock phrases will get you through all customer service situations, leaving you free to concentrate on price gouging.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Prediction: There will be one major social gaming or casual MMO flameout in 2010

Generally, when someone says "This is not a bubble", it's usually a sign that there is a bubble. Social gaming companies are commanding huge valuations and social games and casual MMOs are showing huge user numbers. This is a mini dotcom boom waiting to happen. As the opportunities to make money out of thin air with a quick IPO increase, so do the incentives to inflate subscriber numbers and revenues. It would be great to be proved wrong on this one, but I've got a hunch that one of the prominent companies in these sectors will experience a major, probably even fatal, blip in 2010.

That's not to say that social gaming won't be a major sector of the industry going forward. I think it will - the Facebook and iPhone app have replaced Solitaire and Minesweeper as the five minute timewasters of a new generation of office workers. (More on the psychology of boredom here.)

Bonus prediction: EA will bring its brands such as The Sims and FIFA to Facebook via Playfish, but the wider community will be nonplussed. Even The Sims is not a large brand compared to the user numbers that the likes of Mafia Wars and Farmville can boast.