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A Day at Arcade Club!

This past weekend, I ended up in Bury of all places with some friends to spend the day at Arcade Club. I’d not heard of it before, but one of the friends used to live in the area and had discovered it a little while previous and suggested that we all go.

Arcade Club is stashed away on the top floor of Ela Mill, which is as you may guess from the name an old converted mill which also houses an escape room. We ran into one of the operators on our way in who was telling us that they’re planning to expand shortly onto another floor with a focus on LAN PC gaming. I believe the PCs have already been moved in preparation as there were none there, but that’s fine since they weren’t what I was there to play.

The great idea of Arcade Club is that all of the games are forever on free to play. You pay £10 to get in (or £5 for kids) and then you’re good to go for the whole day.

The entrance area has a couple of arcade cabinets, a sofa with a Nintendo 64 (running Goldeneye, naturally) and Xbox One setup and a small bar serving reasonably priced drinks (I had a beer that was £2, which I thought was perfectly acceptable) as well as some snacks and hot food.

When you pass through that into the main room, that’s where the fun begins. It’s a fairly large room, meaning there’s a lot of space for arcade cabinets and they certainly don’t disappoint in that regard. I’d guess at there being somewhere in the region of a hundred units in the room covering the whole spectrum of arcade gaming.

The first set of cabinets you get to contain a lot of classics primarily from the 80s. I spent some time here playing 1942, finished Golden Axe and tried out the original arcade Ninja Gaiden, which I don’t think I’d played before. After playing the first few levels of the original R-Type, I then found myself oddly obsessed with Pole Position, a game that’s older than me and that I’m not even sure I’d played before. Its been so long since I last played a game for the leaderboard but I was hooked at dragging my way up the day’s (or possibly more, I have no idea how often they reset the machines) scores. From my initial placing in the mid 40s and being unable to to qualify for the main race, I managed to get up to 11th and got as far as the first checkpoint on the race which I was pretty chuffed with.

There were a number of 4 player games available as well, including a couple of versions of Gauntlet, but one that we played all of was the infamous 90s X-Men game. Legend among fans for its dodgy dialogue and weird continuity it’s.. not really all that good, but I did find myself laughing quite a lot at Cyclops’ animation when kicking an enemy on the ground.

X-Men finished, we the turned our attention to the cabinet next to it, Smash TV. Still a lot of fun all these years later, if a little sluggish control wise by modern standards, but runs a bit too long and we decided to call it quits after the second boss. It’s semi-sequel Total Carnage was also present and plays a bit more fluidly.

By this point we’d ended up at the opposite end of the room to the entrance where most of the newer games and fighters were found. After being completely demolished at Street Fighter 2 and ridiculing the slow awfulness that is Virtua Fighter in 2017 and a few matches of Soul Calibur before seeing how far I could get through Ikaruga, a game that I’ve owned on several formats but never finished due to the extreme bullet hell.

There were also a great range of Star Wars games, with some of the original games from the 80s (I suck at the isometric Return of the Jedi) as well as a long time favourite of mine, Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. I always make the effort to play a level or two of Trilogy every time I’ve found it in an arcade since its release in the 90s and its definitely a cabinet I’d love to own.

We spent about five hours at Arcade Club in all and there were still a ton of games I didn’t get around to playing, but we had to get home for some vitally important beer drinking. A very enjoyable day though, and I’ll certainly be going again some day.

Games Backlog – 1993 Space Machine

The very next game on my Steam list ended up being the next game I played, last year’s 1993 Space Machine.

I’ve always been a fan of shoot ’em ups, playing many in arcades back in the 80’s and 90’s with the R-Type series being a particular favourite as I’m sure it is for many others. When I first saw 1993 Space Machine, I simply thought that it was designed to emulate the style of the classic games and didn’t realise that it had originally been designed for the Amiga before being abandoned close to completion and was only finished recently after the code was discovered in a box.

Judging by the interviews I’ve read it gathered quite a bit of interest back in the 90’s, and stood out among other similar games due to it’s four player mode which was much more of a rarity back then. This functionality has been preserved in the Steam release, though I’ve not had the opportunity to play it with anyone to see how well it works unfortunately.

The game starts giving you a selection of ships and additonal weapons, though these are very limited when you start out. Defeating enemies causes small shards to appear which give credits when collected and can then be used to upgrade or purchase new ships with different abilities and do the same for the additional weapon pods.

There are four main levels which can be replayed through the level select, and each level features an introductory stage with a boss at the end though sadly these can’t be revisited. While developing the Steam version the decision was made to give infinite lives, meaning that it’s not a terribly difficult game to actually finish as you can just keep going. I personally feel this was probably the right decision, classic arcade shoot ’em ups after all also had infinite lives as long as you were able to keep pumping coins into them. There’s also a hardcore mode that unlocks after you beat the first level that has a limit of three lives.

Each level ends in a boss with varying levels off difficulty, a couple killed me a bunch of times before I managed to get past them but I didn’t have any major problems. I also rather liked how the boss battles would have parts of the enemy ship be destroyed as you fight them, nicely illustrating the damage that you’re causing.

There are two secret levels hidden within the game, while I’ve managed to find one of them as it’s fairly well documented the second one is still eluding me and I’ll likely keep playing until I’ve found it.

If you’re only considering a single playthrough then it’s a little on the short side (the developer has said they wished they’d reused some of the art assets and made a couple of levels per planet instead of having everything new for each one) but there’s a decent amount of replay value for those who like to unlock everything such as achievements and ship upgrades. A few of the achievements are quite tricky and I managed to miss the one for dying 42 times in a single playthrough the first time around. Length aside though, it’s an enjoyable game and one I’m glad eventually saw the light of day.

Edit: Eventually found the second secret level thanks to some help in the Steam discussions (won’t spoil the secret here, but it’s easy enough to find if you wanted to since it’s hardly the busiest Steam forum) and it goes absolutely mental. Yikes.

Games Backlog – 140

Right, right, ‘regular’ updates. Ahem.

So, when I manage to tear myself away from World of Warcraft (lousy stupid addictive MMOs..) I’m wanting to work on trying to play some of the many, many games on my Steam and other accounts that I haven’t even fired up once. So, starting at the top of my library, I decided to play the first thing that caught my eye. I made it as far as the second game, 140

I suspect I acquired 140 through one of the many, many Humble Indie Bundles that I’ve picked up over the years. As each bundle typically has 8 or so games, I usually end up playing one or two and then the rest of the games just end up added to my library and gather digital dust.

140 is a deceptively simple little game. Like many other visually basic games, you have a single button which makes you jump and can move about. Your player sprite is a square that changes into a circle while moving, and a triangle while jumping. To progress through the levels, you need to pick up a number of small circles and return them to larger semi-circles on the floor (the game doesn’t use any terminology or indeed any language at all, so I have no idea if these things have names) which causes the colours to change and then alters the world around you to activate new puzzles.

As you progress, the puzzles become trickier and you’ll start to see blocks of static in various places. Contact with these, even just brushing up against them, brings instant death and sends you back to the last checkpoint. Towards the end you’ll be jumping over pits with blocks of static shifting all around you, I often got to an area and wondered how I’d manage to get past it leading to some nicely satisfying moments when I did.

This all happens to a constantly evolving soundtrack, with various things such as disappearing platforms timed to the beat. New level elements will appear with each colour change, and the movement of these then adds to the music. Somewhere towards the end of the first level it all just clicked for me and I was in the zone, doing everything to the beat.

Each level ends with a boss sequence, and these each have their own unique mechanics unlike the rest of the game. I was a little confused with the first boss at how different it was, but with each the game gives you a light tutorial without breaking the flow of gameplay to do so and they come together rather well.

After finishing all three levels you unlock the ability to play the next three which are basically the original levels in reverse but with a twist: there are no more checkpoints. This means that you need to finish the entire level in one go without dying, which is a rather daunting task considering how many times I died the first time around. While a younger me, with faster reflexes and tons more free time, would likely have taken the challenge and played the levels over and over until I was able to complete them, that’s sadly really not something I have the time for anymore and judging by the percentages on the Steam achievements, I’m far from the only one.

While short in terms of play time (unless you’re aiming to complete all the reverse levels that is, and hats off to you if you are) with a run of the three basic levels clocking in at about an hour, 140 is a fantastic little game. Games as experiences rather than lengthy titles seems to be all the rage these days, and 140 is certainly a memorable experience.

Transformers: The Definitive G1 Collection Issues 1-3 Review

When I was a kid, the first thing I remember really getting into was Transformers. I had quite a few of the toys, Ultra Magnus was my favourite (I was born in 1983 so by the time I was old enough to pay attention to the cartoon we were on Season 3) as well as a ton of the Marvel UK comics. For a good couple of years, everything was all Transformers buts you do when you’re young I eventually drifted off to other things (Ninja Turtles!) I came back to them during my university years, picking up a number of the Hasbro G1 reissues of the toys and reading all the comics again just in time for the ongoing Dreamwave series to start.

I’ve long considered picking up most of the Transformers comics in trade, particularly the newer IDW stuff, but never quite got around to it. And then a couple of weeks ago, I saw that Hachette Partworks are collecting everything in the ‘Definitive G1 Collection‘ and couldn’t resist checking it out. I normally avoid collections like this due to the way the material is collected, typically random storylines in no particular order such as Hachette’s Marvel collection or the new Eaglemoss Star Trek series, but this collection promises to collect everything in chronological order which is exactly the sort of thing I’m interested in.

The Transformers Definitive G1 Collection is a series of hardbacks that has a planned run covering all of the original Marvel material from the 80’s, as well as the Dreamwave series and the current ongoing IDW titles. Given the name, I’d assume that it won’t be collecting any material from other continuities, such as Dreamwave’s Armada/Energon series or the Animated or Movie continuity stuff from IDW. There are however some additional series that could potentially be included due to their links to G1 such as the Generation 2 or Regeneration continuations to the original Marvel run, or the few Beast Wars miniseries that have been released.

While the completed collection will be chronological, the first issue released is volume 6 in the series. I’d actually started writing this piece a few days ago and was going to cover just the first issue, but the second and third issues arrived on Saturday so I thought it would be worth expanding it a little to cover those. Issues 2 and 3 are volumes 36 and 16, respectively.

So, onto the books themselves. Each volume features a matching cover, meaning every one will look basically the same. This is fine from a continuity and appearance side of things, but unfortunately the covers themselves are pretty bland.

Using a fairly generic image of one Transformers character as the main image, the bottom at least contains some artwork from the issues inside. The character images aren’t specific to the volume at all really, while Megatron and Hot Rod do appear in the volumes that they’re pictured on neither match the character’s appearance in those stories, and by the time of The Primal Scream Optimus Prime has become a Powermaster instead of his classic design. This also means that we’re unlikely to have the classic cover from The New Order appear as a cover, sadly. I also would have preferred the era-appropriate title font for the series instead of the very dull modern one, but I’d assume that was Hasbro’s call.

The back of the books contain a brief synopsis of the issues contained within, issue numbers and the various legal stuffs. Like the front cover, aside from the text each volume is identical here. My main issue is the spines of the volumes. When completed the entire collection will display a single complete image which is fine, but the volumes carry very little to identify them. At the top of the spine is an Autobot logo and a volume number, but that’s it. No title or even anything to differentiate the Marvel run from the IDW meaning that when you’ve got 80 of these it will probably be a bit tricky to find a specific story. Being hardcovers without dust jackets they kind of remind me of the cheaper reprints of Dorling Kindersley reference books that WH Smith carry, but they’re quite sturdy and well bound.

Inside the books, they start with a brief introduction to the stories within. On the three volumes released so far these are all by Simon Furman which makes sense since he writes the majority of the material collected here as well as being a consulting editor on the project. I’d assume other writers and editors will introduce volumes down the line, particularly the Dreamwave and IDW stories that he wasn’t involved in.

One of the major selling points of the series is that it’s collecting the original 80s material as it was published in the UK for the first time. The weekly Marvel UK comic alternated between reprints of the US comic (split across two issues) and new material. Volume 6 contains the stories from issues #78-88 of the UK comic, as well as #21-23 from the US.

The UK issues make up the story Target: 2006, arguably the most well known of the UK stories. Featuring a time travelling Galvatron from between scenes in the movie, it marks the first time that Furman was able to break away from the constraints of fitting between the existing US stories. It’s a fairly decent story, but like many of the longer Marvel UK tales suffers from drastic changes in art throughout. There are a couple of issues drawn by the great Geoff Senior, with his distinctive blocky style such as the Galvatron and Ultra Magnus panel above that looks fantastic, but there are also some less than impressive panels such as this one from Will Simpson:

The US stories that follow are a three part story featuring Circuit Breaker that’s not terribly exciting but does introduce the Aerialbots to the comic. I thought at first that there was an issue with the printing in my volume as the blacks are quite inconsistent and there are a few places where there seems to be little definition on faces but after checking some scans of the original issues it looks like this was always the case. It seems a little odd, since the three issues credit the same art team the whole way through, and most of the pages are in the normal Marvel house style of the time. The US issues are presented in a standard collection style, with the cover before each issue. I understand that the IDW remasters of the original comics are being used for this collection, and this includes the Marvel logo being removed from the covers.

The covers to the UK issues are then collected at the end along with some additional material such as reprints few articles from the UK comic, discussion of the effect the release of the Transformers movie had on the comic and a profile of the Wreckers characters who featured in Target: 2006. I doubt any long time fans of the franchise will particularly learn much from the material, but it’s certainly nice to have context from the time to the comics collected in the volume though the original articles from the UK really haven’t aged very well in particular the in character review of the movie from Grimlock.

The second issue is volume 36, which covers the IDW storyline Stormbreaker, as well as several of the Spotlight character specific one shots that were released around the time. As with the Marvel comics, the IDW material is being collected chronologically so the Spotlights have been arranged around this. It’s likely that this collection will largely follow the IDW Transformers Collection hardbacks for it’s order, so I’d assume that this will be the third volume for the IDW continuity after Megatron Origin and Infiltration. I’m naturally much more familiar with the IDW books due to them being a lot more recent, and I reread these not all that long ago when the digital trades were on Humble Bundle.

Oddly, these issues aren’t printed like normal collections of American comics. The covers are all collected at the back, and while the spotlights each get an individual title page Stormbreaker just gets one with no gap between issues. It was fine from a reading perspective other than the typical reintroduction you get at the start of an issue, but felt like a really strange break from how comics (and even the older US comics from the previous issue) are normally presented.

The Spotlight issues all look quite nice and are fit to the page nicely despite these volumes being smaller in height than a standard American comic. The Stormbreaker issues though seem rather strange, and look to be set even smaller and since almost every page has a coloured background they end up with a black border all the way around the page instead of being set to the full height like the rest of the issues. It’s a very unusual way to print the pages, and I do hope that the rest of the IDW volumes will be a bit more consistent. Aside from being slightly distracting though, it doesn’t take anything away from the quality of the comic and Stormbreaker is still quite an enjoyable read.

The last issue currently out is volume 16, The Primal Scream. This collection contains issues published a couple of years later than the previous Marvel volume, and marks the beginning of Simon Furman’s run as the writer of the American comic after Bob Budiansky stepped down. Budiansky had written nearly every US Transformers comic up to this point, and according to Furman’s intro picked him as his replacement. This volume is also noteworthy for containing the first of the newly coloured UK strips, as some stories had begun being published in black and white at this point. Colourist John-Paul Bove, who worked on the IDW Regeneration One series, is providing the new colouring for this series and also writes about the colouring techniques used in comics now and back in the 80s for the additional content at the end of the book.

This book feels like a much more consistent read than Target: 2006, likely down to it all being written by Furman, and has a few plot points and characters appearing in both the US and UK issues. I personally found this volume more fun than volume 6, and there’s some enjoyable melodrama from Optimus Prime throughout while he tries to remember why he fights to save humanity from the Transformers’ war. While there are still many different artists throughout the issues there aren’t as many jarring shifts as in the previous volume, plus it brings the first Andy Wildman work of the collection and I’ve always enjoyed his issues.

The next volume out is another collection of the 80s comics, this one being volume 18. While I understand the non sequential publishing nature of the series, it does seem a little odd to do another volume that’s so close to the last but that skips six months. The collection is also going to feel a little too weighted to the 80s at this point, while there are significantly more IDW comics in total. Next after that will be the first Dreamwave War Within series, numbered at volume 28. The Dreamwave books are really my main sticking point with this series, though I do remember enjoying them at the time, as I don’t really want to be doing anything that could even potentially give Pat Lee any money these days but it’s only going to be a couple of volumes and presumably with Dreamwave having gone bust he won’t profit from it.

As a subscription service, you’re basically locked in to paying £20 a month to get two trades of comics, until you quit at least but given how the issues are due to be published you’ll leave gaps in the collection if you do. While that’s money that I wouldn’t necessarily have decided to spend on comics each month, it does make sense for someone who wants all of the Transformers comics anyway, which I do. My rough mental maths works out that this series will likely be the cheapest way to do so, while also getting material that’s not previously been collected and some bonus content as well. The trade of Target: 2006, for example has an RRP of £17.99, and doesn’t contain the Marvel US material. An average US comic trade (4-6 issues) like Stormbreaker would retail for about the same £9.99 asking price as these volumes, and wouldn’t have the Spotlight issues. While I’m a little concerned about the presentation of the IDW issues so far, there’s certainly nothing that affects the readability of the issues and the actual print quality is high.

What Games is Dan Playing in January?

Ah, January. New year, new games. I’m trying to start a few new games this month, as well as finish off some older ones that I already had on the go.

I’m currently working through Lego Dimensions with my stepson, guaranteed to destroy my bank balance forever. He’d previously been hooked on Disney Infinity, but after the series was ended I was looking for something else for him. The toys as games genre are a bit of a steep investment due to having to buy pricey toys to unlock in-game content but he’s enjoying it so far. For me, it’s just another Lego game with the additional complication of having to move the figures around the portal all the time. The range of characters and settings are pretty cool though, and hopefully we’ll one day see the Disney properties added. Plus, it has a Lego Sonic so that’s pretty great.

Fearing that the imminent replacement of the Wii U would mean a limited amount of updates for Lego Dimension we picked up a PlayStation 4 from a friend before Christmas and got that version. Which is great, because it means I can finally play the dozens of games I’ve built up on Plus over the years and have finally got around to picking up Star Wars Battlefront. I’d largely avoided it before new due to the lack of a single player campaign, which still bugs me, but also because I’d heard from a number of people that the PC player base was a bit lacking. Enjoying it quite a bit so far though, and it’s a very very pretty rendition of all the Star Wars locations and vehicles which definitely helps.

Over on the 3DS, I’m trying to get around to finishing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice. I started playing it not long after release, but I tend to play DS games on my breaks and lunches at work and as it got a bit hectic around Christmas I stopped playing for some reason. It doesn’t really do anything substantially new, but as with every past game in the series it’s good fun and with a great bunch of characters, plus I’m very happy that Maya is finally back for her first major canon appearance since Trials and Tribulations nearly a decade ago.

I also play a couple of co-op games with friends a few evenings a week. With my work group we’re currently between games and trying to work out what we’re starting next.. any suggestions? Meanwhile Dave and I have just finished Dying Light and it’s DLC and are thinking of playing through Sniper Elite v2 next, as neither of us have played through it before.

In the real world, away from any screens, our semi-regular board game group have just started SeaFall. It’s the first legacy game that I think any of the group have played, and certainly the first that I have. We’re having another session of it this weekend, so I expect to have a bit more to say about it then but it’s very enjoyable so far.

And of course, there’s World of Warcraft. After a six year absence I’ve been talked into coming back again for the recent Legion expansion. I’ve been back for a couple of months now, and have completed all the story content available for the expansion at the moment. I’m currently working on getting the Broken Isles faction reputations up to exalted, as well as increasing my gear to get to Mythic+ level for dungeons. Blizzard have certainly upped their game in terms of storytelling, which is particularly obvious as I’ve also started dabbling in the content I’d missed starting with Cataclysm.

Hello!

Hello there. I’m Dan, and welcome to my little corner of the Internet.

I’ve been writing online for the last couple of years for CCL Tech but thought it was well past time that I do something of my own. Due to the nature of the site, I only really wrote about computer related things, mostly reviews of games as well as a number of support and troubleshooting guides. I’ll probably construct some kind of archive of my CCL work at some point, since the author page doesn’t list everything I’ve written.

I don’t intend to really have much of a theme here and will probably write about anything and everything that comes to mind, from games to movies, comics, technology and anything else that catches my interest. I may also branch into some videos of various games and playthroughs since that’s what all the cool kids do at some point down the line.

One of my main goals for the year is to massively cut back on my games spending. I’ve amassed a fairly large Steam library due to sales, Humble Bundles and various freebies over the last 5 years and that’s not to mention the games I have on other services, consoles and handhelds. My plan is that from the time of writing to the end of the year that I’m only going to pick up the new Zelda, Mass Effect and Sonic Mania, and avoid any other new releases, Steam sales and Humble Bundles. I have PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live accounts already renewed up to the end of the year, so I’m still looking at a steady supply of new games there as well as keeping my WoW account active (at least for the time being, who knows I might burn out on it at some point?) but I do want to work on clearing out some older games in my backlog.

As you may be able to guess from the look of the site, I’m not really one for web design. I may spend some time sprucing it up at some point but for the time being I think this WordPress theme should suffice.

So, if you’ve somehow stumbled across me without being one of the few people who knows I’m writing (Hi Dave!) then hello, welcome and I hope you enjoy what I come up with!

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