Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bad at Games VII – Brick by Boring Brick

Last entry of “Bad at Games” I proclaimed my love of Rock Band. Seriously, I still love Rock Band in all of its incarnations. The sheer gorgeousness of The Beatles: Rock Band has to be seen to be believed, and Green Day: Rock Band is a real blast. But there were dark times on the horizon, and the band split up – it happens to most bands, even the Beatles. I found myself going solo, and that’s when I had the revelation about my gaming.

I was bored.

While I love Rock Band, the DLC stopped, and playing solo (or even singing and playing guitar as two players) wasn’t enough. I returned to the games of the past, at least the newer incarnations, and found them all the same. I bought games second hand, and found the same old formula. It was like a classic D&D dungeon crawl.

For example, I loved Halo. But I still haven’t finished Halo 4. Partly because I’m rubbish, but partly because I became bored of the formulaic way they play – it’s the same with Call of Duty, and dozens of other FPSs. Go into a room, kill all the bad guys, move to the next room. Or maybe they’ll shake it up a bit, and it’ll be – go into a room, shoot all the baddies, throw a switch or find a key to open the door to the next room, more baddies will appear, kill them, open the door, rinse and repeat.

And there was something about the themes of the games too – kill, kill, kill, kill, kill. With Halo, at least, you were shooting aliens, but modern shooters are all about killing people. With the events in my real life I was finding myself valuing life a lot more.

My lovely wife tried to expand my gaming horizons, and knew of my love of all things Lego (especially as I played Lego Rock Band until everyone became sick of playing the Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” over and over again), and she bought me Lego Indiana Jones 2 one Christmas.

The fantastic and peaceful Lego Harry Potter
I enjoyed it, but found it a bit frustrating that I couldn’t do everything on every level, and when I’d completed the game it said 28% complete. I figured that was it, and I couldn’t be bothered doing the whole thing again to find bits I’d missed, so I gave up, and later traded it in…

It wasn’t until I’d discussed this with Alex, one of the Rockathon players, that I’d been approaching the Lego games in completely the wrong way. I’d bought Lego Harry Potter for my Potter-obsessed wife, and inspired by Alex’s advice put the game in knowing what to expect this time around.

The Lego Harry Potter games became a bit of an obsession. Every brick, every character, every secret, every possible part unlocked in a pair of fantastic games. 100%’d them both, and 1000G’d. I’d found gaming again. Mostly because of my love of Lego, and my love of Harry Potter (there’s a whole blog post there, coming soon – “How I learned to stop muggling and love Harry Potter”), the XBox had never seen so much activity.

While Debs was playing “serious” games like the new Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed, I was casting my little Lego patronus charm in Hogwarts.


That just about brings my videogaming history up to date. I’ve been lured back to the non-Lego games by the amazing powerhouse that is Grand Theft Auto V – with Rockstar once again proving they are the masters of storytelling and open world design, but it’s going to be a long time before I try another first person shooter, and even longer before I purchase a new generation console.

I mean, seriously, what is the point of a console that isn’t backwards compatible? All those Rock Band instruments, the DJ Hero turntable, and the downloadable content. All the games you love. Just cast aside for a better processor? Thanks, but no thanks.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


Sorry I haven’t written a blog post in a while, there has been a good reason that I’ll come to in a minute. However, it’s a bit of a special day today, and I couldn’t let the occasion go by without writing a little about the cause of all of these celebrations – Doctor Who.

The Doctor Who jigsaw that's
currently in my loft...
On the very day I’m writing this, it will have been exactly fifty years since the first episode of Doctor Who aired on BBC TV. Before you say anything, no I didn’t see it. I’m not that old. I just act like it sometimes… No, my first memory of Doctor Who is the legendary Jon Pertwee driving Bessie about. I can’t have been that old, but my mum was a bit of a Pertwee fan from his other roles, so I have a memory of her having it on TV and watching it on our old Rediffusion set, complete with the dial on the wall to change the channels. I had a jigsaw (which I still have) that appeared recently in the massive BBC publication – the Doctor Who Vault, and watched intermittently, but I don’t think I was old enough to actually take in what was happening or to follow a complete story.

Strangely enough, considering the amount of horror movies I watch now, I was never very good with scary stuff as a kid. I was a bit of a wuss. In fact, I could write a whole blog post about the traumas of a certain holiday in north Wales, in a little cottage next to a cemetery, where I could hear my parents watching The Omen after I’d gone to bed. But that’s a whole different story. Needless to say, when the classic and awesome Hinchcliffe and Holmes era of Doctor Who kicked in, with Tom Baker, I was too much of a wuss to watch. All it took was a shot of the decaying Master and that was enough for me. It wouldn’t be until much later that I started watching Doctor Who again.

There was a certain feeling of a televisual event in 1981. It was announced that Tom Baker was leaving Doctor Who, and it felt like everyone in the country was going to tune in for his final story, Logopolis. I was older, wiser, and less of a scaredy-cat, so like millions of others in the UK I tuned in. That was probably the moment I really discovered Doctor Who. Peter Davison’s first story, Castrovalva, really marked the start of me watching week after week to follow the story.

My copy of the old FASA Doctor Who RPG
Signed by Tom Baker.
Thanks to one of The Eight, my old roleplaying group from school, John introduced me to some of the classic stories I’d not seen. John has to be one of the biggest Who fans I’ve known (and I’ve known and encountered many) but he approached the series in a very appreciative way. He also was our Call of Cthulhu “Keeper” and ran a really good Who RPG game using the old FASA RPG. His experience of running Cthulhu, paired with his love of the Hinchcliffe and Holmes era lead to a particularly cool and creepy investigative game.

However my love of Doctor Who would falter a bit by 1986. For two glorious years my young and impressionable teenage eyes were mesmerised by a veritable vision called Perpugilliam Brown. When the lovely Peri left the Doctor’s side in the middle of Trial of a Time Lord, I was devastated. I’d grown up watching an awful lot of TV, so when they replaced Peri with Mel, I couldn’t get the image of Violet Elizabeth from Just William out of my head. I watched the first episode of Mel, and I just couldn’t face it. My beloved Peri was no longer on screen, the appeal had gone, and I stopped watching. (I should, however, point out that I have since watched many of the Mel episodes. Such is the fickle nature of youth!)

It wouldn’t be until two years later I’d try the series again. John had returned to the hometown during one of the holidays from University, and urged me to try watching Doctor Who. I think his exact words were, “You should watch it! The new companion is Ace and she keeps wanting to blow things up!” So I did. I tuned in to catch the final episode of Silver Nemesis, and I was back – watching every week until that fateful final episode of Survival.

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!"


Setting TARDIS controls to 1996, it had been a pretty quiet time for the Doctor, but the announcement of the TV Movie produced another sense of televisual event. It was something that simply had to be seen, though a lot had changed both with the Doctor and myself. No longer living at home, I’d moved nearly 200 miles to go to art college (now a University), and was living in a terraced house in the city with my future wife. I remember her initial reluctance to watch it, but I had a strange curiosity. Maybe it was a sense of nostalgia, the memory of sitting in my bedroom on Saturday evenings, with my bacon and chips (as we always had every Saturday) watching Doctor Who on my little portable TV while my parents watched something else in the living room.

Needless to say, we both enjoyed it. Sure, it had its flaws, but McGann was excellent, and it still is one of the best looking TARDIS console rooms ever in my opinion. But once again, for a while, Doctor Who had vanished, and things went quiet.


By the time the publicity started for the revival in 2005, life had progressed again. I was married and we were both working in Ottakar’s, possibly my favourite job to date. Looking after the SF / Fantasy section, I’d been given free reign to order in roleplaying games, and started to stock Big Finish CDs. With the announcement of Russell T. Davies’ revival of Doctor Who, you couldn’t help but get caught up in the wave of excitement. The shop already had a full sized replica Dalek, and for years I’d listened to kids asking their parents what it was.

Along with most of the country, we watched that first episode – “Rose”, introducing a new generation to the Doctor. Christopher Eccleston was fantastic, and RTD made the genius decision of following Rose, the companion, rather than the Doctor, giving the new generation of viewers a character they could empathise with, to experience the weird and the danger with, and to gradually get to know the Doctor – this changed Doctor, visibly haunted by unseen events from the Time War. We watched and enjoyed. By The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances it was obvious that the series was going to be huge, and by Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways I was completely hooked.

Nicola Bryant looking beautiful,
me looking like a freak.
Shortly after the demise of Ottakar’s, I found myself working in a shop where the old BBC shop used to be, in a store that was 70% dedicated to Doctor Who merchandise for the first year of its existence. While it was cool getting to sell Daleks and TARDIS models to kids who now couldn’t help but know what that Dalek was, the great thing about it was the signings. We played host to a number of actors from Doctor Who, with our grand store opening being celebrated with a visit from the legendary Tom Baker – and what a legend he is!

We’d hosted lots of signings, and through this I’ve managed to meet some fantastic actors from Doctor Who. And every single one of them were just amazing. Not just Tom Baker, but also Nicholas Courtney, Katy Manning, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Terry Molloy, Peter Purves, Kai Owen, Gareth David-Lloyd, Tom Price, Richard Franklin, Deborah Watling and of course, Nicola Bryant. All of them, lovely people who made the signing days incredible special for the customers and fans, and made them brilliant for the staff too.

I do have to apologise to Nicola Bryant though. The signing was fantastic, but I get the feeling that more than once during the day my sixteen year old self took over and I lost the ability to speak coherently and may have just burbled noises like someone who’d just had dental work. So, if you’re reading this Nicola, I’m sorry!


With the fiftieth anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor, I’m frantically making notes to make adjustments to character write ups for the limited edition of the Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space Roleplaying Game (a process that’ll probably involve multiple viewings – not exactly a hardship). But how I came to design the current incarnation of the Doctor Who roleplaying game is something for a future post.

I’ll finish by wishing everyone’s favourite Time Lord a very happy anniversary, and here’s to the next fifty years!!!