Smells Like Shrink Wrap

Microsoft have announced their disc-less Xbox One S console, launching in a couple of weeks at an RRP (in the UK at least) of 20% less than the one with a disc drive. It appears to have upset a lot of people, who are, in some cases, inventing their own version of the truth to justify their anger at a product that no one is forcing them to buy. Here I’ll tackle a few of the common concerns that I’ve seen raised, with counter arguments in an attempt to balance things.

I would like to point out that I am no fanboy, I have no emotional attachment to the success of one brand or another, and indeed own/have owned every Xbox and PlayStation model, and everything Nintendo has released. So with that cleared up…

1. It’s too expensive – According to Xbox.com (a reasonable source for Xbox information I would posit) the UK RRP for the console will be £199. This sits against an RRP of £249 for the same console with a Blu-Ray drive. Which means they’re expecting £50 for the drive. That’s expensive. The RRP doesn’t necessarily reflect street price of course, and it’s likely both options are available for less money in the real world.

Some are quoting the second hand price of a One S and comparing it to the new price of this version. Wait until this one is available pre-owned, and you’ll have a fair, direct comparison. Others are playing g the RRP against the street price of the other – another indirect comparison.

Ultimately you’ll be able to buy an Xbox One S for a few quid more than a 3DS XL, which is pretty good.

2. A 1TB hard drive is way too small – It’s the same 1TB hard drive that’s in the standard Xbox One S, and will fit exactly the same number of games on it. All Discs on Xbox One (and PlayStation 4) must be fully installed to be played, and take up the same amount of space as the downloaded equivalent.

Additionally, you’re assuming that everyone who owns a console is a “gamer” who buys more games than they’ll ever find time to play. For many, a 1TB drive may well be impossible to fill. For the rest, USB drives are inexpensive (particularly compared to video games) and ultimately essential for larger collections, regardless of what’s inside the console.

One situation in which this may be a concern is in rural areas (thinking particularly of the USA) where internet is a luxury service (see point 4) – people there will be unable to delete and re-download their games as freely as those of us blessed with better internet. Those folk are still going to face difficulties with disc-based games that require multiple GigaBytes of patches, or online activation, and can overcome the concern with the same USB hard drive that we can all use.

3. If this is successful, the next Xbox won’t have a disc drive – I suspect it will. Whilst downloads represent over half of video game purchases, and have done for 5 years now, there is still a sizeable market for physical media. Whilst it’s falling, it’s not gone away to a point that new hardware won’t support it. That time will come. It’s inevitable. Between platform holders pushing for it and consumers embracing it, ultimately a form of digital content (more likely to be based on streaming than downloading) will become the norm in the next decade or two. It’s inevitable.

4. Some people have slow or limited internet – Some people don’t have electricity or clean drinking water. You’re not about to fix that concern, and the people you describe will find that this console is not for them. That’s ok, because they can buy the one with a disc drive. Or not. Free world and all that.

5. There’s a drive bay and eject button inside the case! – I hadn’t considered this until I saw it mentioned, and the subsequent outpouring of scorn, but now that I have it makes a lot of sense. The One S is a beautifully designed system and the disc-less version is a) the same console, without the disc drive and b) inside the same case, without the disc slot. I’d rather they didn’t spend money redesigning the internals of the case, to be passed on to the consumer, and I’m happy as a fan of design to see them maintain a constant look across the range.

6. PSP Go tried this and failed – Yes it did. A long, long time ago. Vita also “failed”, and that had a cartridge slot. A lot has changed in the world, with streaming media services such as Netflix and Spotify replacing physical media for a lot of people in those two arms of the entertainment industry. As much as “gamers” think otherwise, video games are ultimately fulfilling the same need as music and film, and the vast majority of the world’s people see them as just as disposable. According to chats with my local games shop, store credit vouchers and the like account for the majority of sales now, with physical media being secondary. This is fact, and is spreading, and will continue to spread.

Whilst it’s quite possible that this edition of Xbox One will fail – I’m certainly not about to say with conviction that it won’t – one thing I’ve noticed about Microsoft in this generation is their willingness to embrace change led by consumer habits. They led the charge in the previous generation to push people to accept downloading their games, and 14 years later we’re seeing a world with a whole generation of teenagers who grew up with that as their version of normal.

For every person who buys every collectors edition that comes out, pre-ordered for a day one purchase, who spends time every day on twitter to talk about games new and old, there are hundreds who play games who couldn’t give a shit about any of that. They’re the ones who keep the ball rolling (pun intended) for the FIFA series, who buy every Call of Duty game. Then a new sequel comes out, and they buy that and dispose of the previous one.

They’re the target market for this product. Not you obsessive sorts. Ultimately if you’re for some reason angry that a new, optional, version of a console is available, then it’s not been made for you. That goes double for those of you who “would never buy an Xbox anyway”.

7. The three games it comes with are on Game Pass – As are all Microsoft-published games, and a total of 200 games. So what. Stop clutching at straws to find a reason to hate this inconsequential object.

8. Xbox One SAD – Yeah… Xbox One S All-Digital…. someone dropped the ball on that one! At least it wasn’t called the Xbox One S Has 1 Terabyte, I suppose.

This wasn’t meant to be much more than a rant. I’m not particularly concerned either way about this New edition of the Xbox One. I’d definitely buy it and enjoy the £50 saving if my One S dies in the future. I am, however, somewhat triggered by a lot of what I’ve been reading on Twitter concerning it, and in particular the mental gymnastics that have been used to create reasons to hate an inanimate object that you could just, you know, not buy.

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My Guitars

The main thing people that know me know about me is that I play guitar. I have done so since I was about 13, buying my first guitar in 1994, from a school friend called Lloyd Davies. I ended up taking the instrument a lot more seriously than a lot of my peers. I wasn’t necessarily better at it than many of them, but I was into it in a different way, happy to lose whole afternoons and weeks to practicing my favourite songs. Here is a list of all the guitars I ever owned. Because.

Photos to follow later. You know what a guitar looks like, surely.

Encore Stratocaster – The first. After trying my hand at various instruments – violin, trumpet, and piano – I’d been uninspired. I enjoyed the act of making music, but not on these instruments. Then one day my grandad said something that changed everything. “Your dad was always upset that you didn’t follow him in playing guitar.” Well, at this time of my life I was still quite into trying to impress my father, who’d left when I was ten. The idea fermented over the following weeks as I pestered my mum for a guitar. She was adamant, for reasons I’ll never understand, that I should start with an acoustic guitar. No mum, I want to play rock music. At the time I was heavily into Guns n Roses, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Sepultura, and Blur and Oasis were taking a lot of my time, so I needed an electric guitar.

It just happened that my friend Lloyd was also selling his Strat, and to cut a long story short I bought it, for around £100. It came with a hard case and a tiny Marshall amp and set me on a path I still follow.

The guitar itself was, frankly, a piece of shit. Starter guitars in the 1990s were not what they are now. This one was immensely heavy, had terrible pickups, and was not a joy to play. But I didn’t know that at the time, as I hadn’t played another. To me it was a thing of beauty. I ended up replacing it (as we’ll see in a moment), and donated it to a guy who fixed guitars up to give them to disadvantaged kids.

Gibson SG – The only real Gibson I ever owned, my dad gave me his old SG (and a Venom amplifier) on my 16th birthday. The only condition, he said, was that if I ever didn’t want it any more I was to return it to him, not sell it. It was wonderful. Cherry red, like 80% of SGs, this was a beautiful guitar. Fitted with a DiMarzio pickup in the bridge position, with a coil split switch wired in, it sounded perfect and helped me to realise my rockstar dreams – in front of my bedroom mirror at least.

It saw use in several gigs, all my early ones, and always got remarks from people who’d talk to me afterwards. Then my dad took it back, and I never saw it again.

Encore Acoustic Before I’d realised the Strat by the same company was a dog, I bought an acoustic guitar of the same brand. It too was a dog. But it was nice to play along to Oasis’ softer songs on the correct type of guitar. I remember the thicker strings would rub against each other by the tuning posts, such that it was impossible to perfectly tune the thing. It also sounded pretty harsh. But still, I enjoyed it for a while.

Epiphone Les Paul – Before the SG was gone, I bought the first nice guitar of my own. A Limited Edition Epiphone Les Paul, bought (and made) in 2000, in trans amber finish. It became known as the lesbian for reasons that made a lot more sense then than now. It remains my favourite of all my guitars, playing and sounding fantastic. It’s heavy (as Les Pauls tend to be), but once you get used to carrying the weight it is a pure joy. The frets are now worn, and to replace them costs silly money in Amsterdam so I’ll wait until I can take it elsewhere. Even after nineteen years of heavy use they’re not so worn as to make the instrument unplayable – I have newer guitars in worse shape.

This is the last possession I would sell, should it come to that.

Epiphone SG Gothic – Let’s be plain – I bought this for the matte black finish. It was also fairly inexpensive, so when I spotted it during one of my many browsing visits to the local guitar shop I had to have it. Unfortunately once the honeymoon period was over I was left with a guitar that didn’t sound too good, and that I wasn’t able to set up to a standard that matched my Les Paul, so it had to go. I did play a couple of “acoustic” sets with it (I only had that awful Encore acoustic guitar, so I used this instead) and it served its purpose before I sold it.

Epiphone Explorer Korina – Another Epiphone that I noticed hanging in the guitar shop one day. Similar enough to James Hetfield’s guitar, I had to have it, and I still do. I bought this one in 2004, and it is hanging right now next to my Les Paul. It got a lot of use in the mid-2000s, then when a new job (with shift work) ruined any serious band prospects it went unused for most of a decade, as its shape makes it not the easiest to sit down and jam. I did use it for one band rehearsal when I joined a new band in 2015, but the way it hangs made it uncomfortable for my ageing back. It’s a shame, because it sounds great, looks great, just isn’t comfortable for me any more. Still, I won’t sell it. It’s special.

John’s Bass – I was given a bass by the singer of my first ever band. He didn’t want it any more – he had little interest in the effort of getting good at it – so he passed it on to me. I didn’t care about bass at the time, so I passed it on again. The body of the bass had been sanded to bare wood, with flecks of paint remaining – the reason he gave me was that it was used by GWAR, and had been covered in nails (and blood). Whether or not this is true… it’s a fun story. Maybe I once owned a bass from GWAR.

Ibanez Acoustic – The money that I got for the Gothic SG paid for a new acoustic, in 2004, made by Ibanez. I bought it because it was the most expensive one in the shop that I could afford (I think it cost £220). It’s by no means a bad guitar, and with its slim body its easy to play, sounds ok, feels good to play. But lately I’ve been trying to record some songs with it and the sound is a bit harsh and hard to tame in post-processing, so it will be sidelined for something new when I find myself some funds. One that will likely be passed to my son when he’s old enough, and assuming he shows any interest.

Ibanez Jet King II – Eventually I acknowledged that to continue recording my songs I’d need a bass. Using an octave effect to lower my guitar signal wasn’t cutting it, and I was getting better at recording, so I bought the real deal. Because I had no serious intent to use the bass for anything but the most basic additions to my recordings I bought the cheapest bass in the shop, which happened to be this one because it was part of a clearance sale that reduced it below the price of the cheap, shitty basses. Its quite a decent instrument really, with a strong sound and non-standard looks. I don’t play it now, because I have much better options, but it sits in my cupboard waiting for me to fancy another go on it.

Dean Mustaine VMNT – This one was a 30th birthday present from myself to myself. I just fancied it, so ordered one online. The first time I’d ever bought a guitar without playing several options in the shop, but it worked out well. Totally different to anything I’d owned (or played) before, this is a proper Metal machine, as you might expect. A Dave Mustaine signature model, it bears the Rust in Peace album art across its front. When I ordered it I received a call a couple of days later telling me it wasn’t actually in stock and would take a couple of weeks to arrive from the distributor. Well, I wasn’t impressed. It wouldn’t be with me in time for my birthday! Happily for me, the guy on the phone accepted my suggestion that they drop the price from £1200 to £800 (the price of the next model down, that was in stock). Bargain. I like to play Metallica songs on it, just to imagine the idiots on the internet losing their minds.

Epiphone G-400 – Finally deciding it was time to replace my long-lost Gibson SG, and having had a lot of success with Epiphone guitars (ignoring that Gothic), I bought a new SG model of theirs. It was something of a moving present, arriving a few weeks before we left the UK for Amsterdam. It was used for almost every one of the 45 weekly songs I recorded in 2015, and remains my go to for a quick play at home, due to its light weight, comfortable play, and great sound (now that I upgraded the pick-ups!) Playing it proves to me how far cheap, asian-made guitars have come in the last two decades.

Fender Precision – A few months after I moved to Amsterdam I found the nerve to put myself out there and seek a band. It was only a few days before Harry called and told me that he wanted to meet me to discuss his plans. The first rehearsal with him and his friends I played guitar (see my Epiphone Explorer above), but it was clear from the start that his bassist wasn’t playing the same things we were, so he was asked not to come back. Without a bassist, I said I’d give it a go. Of course I felt I wanted something a bit nicer than my Ibanez Jet King II, and so I went browsing for something better, and came home with a Fender Precision. What a beast! A pivotal moment; I came to realise that after a couple of decades of being a guitarist, I’d been missing out on the absolute blast of being a bassist! It quickly took over from guitar for me, and until I started to put together my album a few months ago, bass was the only thing I was interested in. I got pretty good at it too, pretty quickly, to the point that I have been headhunted twice since, which is kinda cool.

Epiphone EB-0 – So the two year itch… that’s on average how long I’ve gone without buying a new guitar, and sure enough it came along again a year or so ago while I was browsing an online guitar shop. I didn’t really need anything, though I figured it would be wise to have a solid backup to my Precision should anything happen to it during a gig (not that I’ve gigged here yet, the bands never get that far!) I saw an EB-0 (an SG-styled bass) for only €220, so went to the physical shop to try it out. Within 3 minutes I knew it was the right choice for me. Like the equivalent electric guitar, it is lightweight, feels great in my hands, has a nice sound, and is well-put-together. And like its equivalent guitar, it’s my go to bass at home due to the comfort in use. It’s also a short-scale bass, with the neck and fret spacing feeling a lot closer to a guitar, making it easier to swap between the two. More proof that cheap guitars today are really worth considering.

Jackson Concert Minion – Another bass, and the last one that I bought, last summer. This one was more for a laugh than anything. I didn’t expect anything serious from it. 3/4 scale, it’s super easy to play, but super hard at the same time as the strings are looser than they should be, and it doesn’t like to stay in tune. The small headstock also houses full-sized tuning pegs, which means that they hit each other during each turn! Still, a fun thing and it’s the only instrument I keep downstairs with a small amp for when I fancy a quick go. Not terrible, but not particularly good. I may look at Jackson though for my next serious bass, as the overall quality is more than decent.

Epiphone Hummingbird – I don’t own this yet, but I’m going to look at it tomorrow. My love for Epiphone is real, and so now I’m in the market for a decent acoustic guitar they are the obvious choice for something with a good price and excellent build quality. The reviews for this one are universally excellent, and whilst I tend to take user reviews with a handful of salt (especially when they all use the same tired words and phrases that don’t really mean anything), there’s one available in the local shop for me to test out, so that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow!

Thanks for reading. Mine is a modest collection by many standards, though it does equate to one guitar every 1.8 years of playing, which is maybe a few too many! But what I’m left with today is a solid collection of fantastic instruments that make me smile, and really that’s what’s important.

New Album!

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You may know I’m quite into my music – creating it as well as listening to it. I’ve been playing guitar for some 25 years and writing songs for most of that time. Finally I got the nerve to publish an album, which can be found on Various streaming services, with more on the way. I’m also awaiting approval from iTunes for those who prefer to pay once and “own” it.

It’s unashamedly punk, and half the songs tackle social issues as I see them. The others just bounce along happily, giving my angry side a rest.

THIS LINK will give you a list of all the options, updated as the album is approved on new ones, so whatever your platform of choice (Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play, Deezer and others), you will be able to have a listen.

And I’d very much appreciate it.

Thanks 😀

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: A Few That I Forgot To Mention And Now I Remembered Them, So I’m Mentioning Them Now

You may not have read my previous, recent, posts about some of my favourite albums through my life. If you haven’t, well done. You’re one of the cool kids. Here I will recount a few life favourites that I forgot to mention at the time. Each of these albums has a particular person from my past tied to the memories they evoke, one person per album, which in itself makes them kind of special.

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Pop Will Eat Itself: Dos Dedos Mis Amigos – Any of their albums really, they were one of my favourite bands for a few years in the mid-90s. But it’s Dos Dedos Mis Amigos that stands above them all. A new direction, supposedly influenced by Clint Mansell’s friendship with Trent Reznor (he provided backing vocals on NIN’s The Fragile), this saw a previously upbeat, generally happy, positive band move away from samples and towards a more industrial sound. Lyrical themes became darker. Everything about it is what I needed in my early teens. I’d heard of the band through friends, but not really heard them until Donkey Kong Country came out on Super Nintendo… it shipped with a CD called Go Ape! which a friend leant me. As far as compilations go that was a key one for shaping my musical listening for a while thereafter. Radiohead’s Creep was on there, and PWEI’s Everything’s Cool – still two of my favourite songs. The whole album is solid, telling tales of a dystopian nature. It deserves to be heard. Until I learned Spanish some 10 years later, I thought the name meant “We’re Dead My Friends”.

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The Wonder Stuff: Hup! – Around the same time as Dos Dedos, I was heavily into The Wonder Stuff. Someone gave me a copy of this on tape (such was the way back then), highlighted a few of his favourite tracks, and left me to fall in love with it. A greatest hits compilation, this has songs from across their career and highlights everything that was right with them. From crowd pleasers such as Dizzy (with Vic Reeves), to darker songs like On The Ropes, and my favourite, Unbearable, this works better as a full album than many singles collections. Every time I listen to this it takes me right back to playing Stunt Race FX (again on Super Nintendo) for which this was my chosen soundtrack.

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Ned’s Atomic Dustbin: 0.522 – When I stumbled upon this album in Strawberry Fields, the record shop on Rickmansworth High Street, it had a Strawberry Fields price label of £15.99 (CDs were really expensive in the first half of the 1990s). Next to it was a publishers label “Pay no more than £5.22 for this CD”. A minor argument ensued. I won. I went home with this great collection of songs. The band got their break by supporting The Wonder Stuff (who were from the same town) on tour, and this here is a compilation of B-Sides and rarities, including the rather excellent killyourremix, a remix of their most famous song Kill Your Television. Not their best album, but the one I’m most glad I picked up at the time. They also have two bassists, which is mental.

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Supergrass: I Should Coco – I haven’t heard this in years. I never really liked the direction the band took after this album, but as a debut this is superb. 70s stylings (my mum once said they reminded her of Supertramp, but that may have just been the name) in both their look and their sound, there’s a rawness in the recording that many bands in the 90s were erasing with shimmery production. Great songs help make this a classic.

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Suede: Coming Up – I was never a massive Suede fan, but I always enjoyed their songs when I heard them. I had a very close friend when I was 16, and I remember calling her once and we’d both picked up this album. We were both listening to it. We’d pressed play at the exact same time… I’ve always believed we’re all intrinsically linked, and this event served as proof enough. The song still pricks the hairs on the back of my neck. The band had made their name by this point, and the confidence that comes with that is apparent in the songs on offer here.

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Ash: 1977 – This is a strange one, in a way. I kind of don’t like it much. But I love it. I can’t explain exactly what I mean by that. There are some fantastic songs on here, especially the singles, but really I bought it primarily because the band shares my name..! I still have my leaver’s book from school, where a couple of the girls signed it to “Ash, The Boy From Mars”. These are the memories that make us. I have plenty of other bittersweet memories tied to this album, because everyone associated it with me.

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Feeder: Polythene – When I was 16 fell into my first serious relationship. Her dad was the minister of the local Baptist church and, perhaps inevitably, got called away for work. The family moved to Bristol and we were, at the time, in deep enough to give the long distance thing a go. It didn’t work out, but for a time I’d get the National Express bus from London Victoria on a Friday after School/work and head to Bristol – a two-and-a-half hour journey (plus the hour or to to get to Victoria in the first place). I spent a chunk of my earnings from my after-school job (that I’d inherited from her!) on a Sony CD Walkman. It didn’t even have any skip protection, and the batteries lasted roughly one way there, but it didn’t matter. I had a wallet of my favourite albums, and this was one that was always there. Even now I listen to it, and I remember that crazy guy that sat next to me on one trip, talking to me the whole way there while I had my earphones in listening to this album on repeat. 22 years ago.

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Stereophonics: Word Gets Around – I was torn between this album (their first) and its follow-up, Performance and Cocktails. Both are perfect albums, but this one wins on timing. I saw Stereophonics play in 1997, supporting Skunk Anansie, around the time this was released, and they were fantastic. I knew a couple of their songs from Kerrang! cover CDs, and between that and the gig it was enough to sell me on the band.

I’m going to stop there. I could go on, almost literally, forever writing about my favourite albums. It’s criminal that in recent years my main listening time has been spent in the car. While I wrote this I took the time to listen to a bit of each album, loud and on headphones, like I used to. That’s about as close as seems possible these days to revisit those carefree days when I could lie back on my bed with my latest album purchase and just be alone with the music. And therein lies the magic of an album. A song can bring together a large group of people to a shared emotional experience, but so few people listen to albums that they can become your own, with your own, private, associations.

Find me on Twitter @BitlandComic to discuss your favourite albums and what they mean to you.

Review: Bulletstorm Full Clip Edition (PlayStation 4)

2019 sees me trying to be more conscientious about my video gaming. For one I’m trying to throw less money as the hobby; money that is ultimately wasted on games I didn’t really want. Tied to this, I’m also trying to make the most of my subscriptions to Xbox Gold and PlayStation Plus and play the monthly games each service gives me. Finally, I’m making a concerted effort to play through each game I start. Unless I’m really finding one boring.

Bulletstorm is a fun game that came to PS+ a couple of months ago. A first person shooter combining Gears of War’s meathead puppets, Enslaved’s lush green, broken world and Project Gotham Racing’s kudos system, it works hard to carve out its own niche in a crowded genre. Very much a product of its time (releasing originally on Windows, Xbox 360 and PS3), its age is starting to show. Eight years is, after all, a long time in video games.

That said, the graphics are really quite nice, eschewing the popular grey/brown palettes of the time for a more colourful game world that sets itself apart. Shades of Gears of War and Unreal are apparent in character design – no surprise given that this game was developed by People Can Fly and Epic, who are responsible for those titles.

It’s a shame that you can’t explore further this into world, but you are funnelled along an almost completely linear path. Very seldom will you have a chance to stray from the path, perhaps ducking under an obstacle into a “hidden” room containing a collectible item, then back to the straight and narrow to continue your quest.

Enemies are a lot of fun to kill, and in several different ways. The primary method of dispatch is, naturally, shooting. The usual variety of weapons (or fun revisions of them) can be gathered and used to separate limbs and heads from their owners. Each weapon has an unlockable Charge Mode that has limited ammo and causes serious damage, in a way replacing the grenades that other similar games may give you.

The real fun, however, doesn’t come from the guns, but rather from your leash – a powerful item that throws out an energy whip to yank your foes towards you, or into a multitude of environmental items. Exposed rebar, spiked cacti, fan blades… there are a great many disasters awaiting your enemies as you leash them to their doom. Failing that, a good kick will send them, in slow motion, over the edge of a building, to plummet to the ground. Performing such stylish murders earns you points that can be spent at certain droppoints to upgrade the Charge Shot capabilities of each weapon, or to top up your ammo.

Two favourite weapons of mine are the Headhunter – a sniper rifle that grants you control over its bullets, chasing down enemies as they scramble away from the shot, and the Penetrator – a rail gun of sorts that fires drills that send enemies spinning through the air and can pin a line of them to a wall like a kebab. Charge Shots for both allow a certain amount of post-contact control to send the projectile onto the next enemy; in the case of the Headhunter it is especially satisfying to use the bullet to carry your target over to his friends before detonating the bullet like a remote bomb.

Each weapon has its own series of associated skill shots – rewarding the player with bonus skill points to spend later. These range from landing headshots, to taking down multiple enemies with one shot, onto one of my favourite gruesome deaths – Gag Reflex, which you score by taking out an assailant’s throat.

All in all what we have here is a stylish game with well-polished gunplay and some interesting bosses. These bosses are, typically, huge monsters with clear weak points, and take an awful lot of bullets to take down. The change of pace can be somewhat jarring, but the fights are great fun. Weak points can be exposed using the leash to rip away armour protecting them, or battered away with enough ammo. One particularly enjoyable fight sees you take control of a robot dinosaur that was previously stalking you, and taking down wave after wave of enemies, like your very own episode of Godzilla.

It’s not a particularly difficult game (at least on normal difficulty); as was becoming standard by then, you have no health bar or armour pickups – instead when you are close to death your HUD warns you to seek cover, where your health will automatically regenerate over a couple of seconds. Your basic weapon, an assault rifle, refills a portion of its ammo when emptied either at the end of a wave of enemies, or immediately during a boss fight, so you cannot run out of ammo at a critical moment.

Droppoints are plentiful, and ammo for most weapons cheap enough you’ll never be low in any case, but it’s fun to conserve ammo by using your leash and the sole of your boot to bring about the bad guys’ ends. You’ll also use droppoints to choose which three weapons you want to carry, assigned to Left, Up and Rught on the D-pad. You’d think this would add a layer of strategy, choosing the right weapon for an upcoming fight, but I have found myself playing almost exclusively with pistol, assault rifle and sniper rifle, and having no trouble progressing.

If you missed out on this game 8 years ago, or a few weeks ago on PS+, it’s still priced as a budget title, at around €40 on PlayStation and Xbox stores, cheaper in physical stores, and €10 on Steam. Even at €40 it’s a good price for a great game, but wait for a sale if you like, I’ve already got it. And I’m thoroughly enjoying it, despite having played it through previously, several years ago.

What Do You Want To Do When You Get Older?

I can’t be the only one who got into his late 30s before deciding it’s time to tackle this big question? To this point I’ve not known the answer. Instead of pursuing a vocation or a career, I’ve settled for a string of customer service jobs – in several areas of insurance and, most recently, on London Underground stations – and for the past 5 years I’ve been quite happily unemployed, a househusband and latterly a stay-at-home dad. Recently I’ve been thinking of this question, and considering several answers.

It may sound,in the surface, like a contradiction in terms, but I exist on this fine line lazy and hard-working. That is to say: when I have something in mind that I consider suitably important, or enjoyable, I am quite content to while away hours, days and weeks to perfecting it. But anything else, I’d rather not do. I played guitar for hours every day until I was happy with my skill level with the instrument (though in recent months I’ve been thinking I’d like to take it further now). When I work on a piece of art I can put tens of hours into making as good as it can be, to push myself to the limits of my talent.

For some years I’ve considered a career as an artist. Trying to tap into the tourist market of Amsterdam with my line-art cityscapes makes quite a lot of sense, as I’m sure there is a market for just such posters and postcards. I spend hours drawing the images, but then don’t put in the time and legwork to make it happen.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a comic, to follow 2014’s doomed Deathridge. The latter saw some small success when I self-published, with the majority of reviewers praising it, and a select few readers giving positive feedback always. But I lost heart with the few bad reviews – partly because I knew I could, and should, have done better. I rushed the comic to meet some imaginary, arbitrary deadline, just to push myself unnecessarily. It was stupid, and a shame that I let something so daft get in the way of making the comic perfect. So the new idea would have to be special, really push myself to breaking point with my drawing and writing. And if, after all that, it’s not good, then I know for sure that it’s not something I should pursue.

Both of the above artistic endeavours are still feasible. They can both be worked on in my spare time, using the iPad Pro I bought precisely because it would enable me to sit and draw wherever I am. But they’re just not clicking right now. I’m not in the right frame of mind to get stuck into either one.

Which leads, in a roundabout manner, to my latest self-improvement avenue.

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing and recording a new album. Really this idea came about a couple of years ago the last time I started a band, and we discussed a desire to record some songs. As is always the way, the band got nowhere and came to nothing, so once again I am thinking of recording all parts myself. Which is always fun. I learned a lot in 2015 when I wrote and recorded a song every week as that year’s creative project, and hope I can put that knowledge to use to record a better album than I did that year.

At the weekend I received a call from a guitarist, with whom I’d started my first band in Amsterdam, a little over 3 years ago. He told me he’s come to the realisation he’s getting older (52 this year), and only has one chance to do something with his music other than play alone in a room. He wants to get a band together, write some songs, and record them. So he has something to leave behind.

This final sentiment has been turning over in my head for some days. For my whole life I’ve not been too concerned about leaving anything behind. We’re here, then we’re not, and that’s ok. But not I have a young son, and everything looks different. I said yes to the band, naturally, as I crave to play with others again after a few months without it. It’s actually most of two years since I played in a room with a full band.

Thinking of recording this band-to-be, I realised I have much of the equipment required to mix the album myself, and save many many euros in the process, but of course it needs to be fantastically good, with a professional finish. I’m not at that standard, but I’m certain I could be.

So after that long, pointless message, I come to the point – I am considering a new career, that of Audio Engineer. I am reading up on it all, and at this point you must understand it is little more than a thought. Inspired by a story my wife told me a while back about a man who didn’t want to pay thousands to have his house renovated, he instead paid a few thousand to complete a course, became qualified, and did it himself. And now he runs his own company, getting paid to do it for other people.

I suppose my thinking is, simply, that with the right learning I can mix, perhaps also record, our band, and make the record myself, saving paying someone to do it for us. Then, maybe, the skills will be ingrained enough that I can make a bit of pocket money from it.

Sure, I know it’s not the kind of job that will grant me a sizeable income, but if I can turn it into something to be proud of then that will be nice.

When I imagine my son at school, being asked “what does your daddy do?”, I am sure I’d rather he say “he records bands and makes records” than “he plays PlayStation”.

RetroRam’s Favourite Albums: Early On

I thought I’d finish this series with a list of important albums from my very early years, albums released before or in the few years after my birth, that have stuck with me throughout. My parents’ music for the most part. Again, the criteria for this list is that these albums meant something at the time, and I still listen to and enjoy them to this day.

HighwayToHell

AC/DC: Highway to Hell – Some are quick to dismiss AC/DC, stating that “every album sounds the same”. Whilst this isn’t entirely accurate, they certainly play to their strengths, with a rock solid rhythm section fixed to a simple, but powerful, 4:4 groove. Even if you feel that way, there ought to be one album in your collection, and I was torn between this and it’s follow up, Back In Black. This album wins because… well I prefer it. This is the first of four that come from my stepdad’s record collection that I was allowed supervised access too from around age 14.

AbbeyRoad

The Beatles: Abbey Road – There are many Beatles albums that could have appeared here, but I went with my long-standing favourite. From the opening Come Together through Octopus’s Garden and on to George Harrison’s beautiful Here Comes The Sun, this is a divisive album, for reasons I don’t quite understand. It’s a far cry from their earlier rock n roll works, but shows their writing at some of its best, with something for everyone yet not sounding like it’s spread thin.

Remasters

Led Zeppelin: Remasters – Essentially a Greatest Hits package, there are so many classic songs spread across these two discs that it’s hard not to recommend. I inherited this one when my stepdad moved in and handed me all the duplicates between his and my mum’s collections, and I listened to it on repeat for weeks. The songs are laid out essentially in order of release, and so act as a journey through the band’s output. There are other compilations out there (Mothership is another strong one), and whilst this doesn’t replace the fact that you should listen to all of their albums, this as a stand-alone collection has it all.

Sabbath

Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath – Again, I could have chosen any of this band’s first five albums but I settled on the fifth out of simple preference. Plenty of fine songs on here, it’s the title track that stands out for me above all others and part of my early influence to learn to play guitar.

DarkSide

Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon – Once again there are a multitude of options for this band, so I went with the one that had the biggest impact in my younger years. This one is the start of my mum’s influence – she is a big fan of Pink Floyd, her favourite album being Meddle. If I had to pick a very favourite it would be Wish You Were Here, or for their older stuff the compilation Relics. Whatever you listen to, you can’t go much wrong. They produced many fine albums in their two decades.

MisplacedChildhood

Marillion: Misplaced Childhood – Another of my mum’s, this one is special on a few levels. For a start, that kid on the cover looks remarkably like I did as a child with his ginger bowl cut, but it’s also one of several Marillion albums my parents listened to when I was young. The first side of the record flows beautifully from song to song, including the massive hit Kayleigh, after which my sister (and quite a few other girls of 1986) was named. My best friend at school, Ben, is the nephew of their bassist, as fact that I found out later in life (after I met Ben funnily enough), which added to the mystique of the album for me. We used one of his amps at a gig.

InvisibleTouch

Genesis: Invisible Touch – Many fans may consider this a weak entry in Genesis’ library, but for me it’s the one I most remembered from childhood. It has several great songs, a great sound, and I still enjoy it from time to time today.

Breakfast

Supertramp: Breakfast In America – this one is a classic, one that many of today’s kids want to get hold of as soon as they get their first Crosley record ruiner. It’s for good reason – Supertramp had a unique sound, great songs, and don’t sound nearly as dated as a lot of bands from the time. Superb.

OutOfTheBlue

Electric Light Orchestra: Out of the Blue – Or the one with Mr Blue Sky on. Plenty to love here, a band not dissimilar to Supertramp, of their time but timeless. Mr Blue Sky was the subject of an exam I took during my Music GCSE, in which I had to break it down and describe its various sections. I passed with flying colours.

AceOfSpades

Motörhead: Ace of Spades – Released the year I was born, Motörhead we’re still quite relevant as I grew up. This album, despite the title track being probably their most recognised, is special because it was recorded in my home town of Rickmansworth, at Jackson Studios. I learned this on reading Mick Wall’s excellent biography of Metallica, Enter Night, in which he recounts Lars’ Ulrich’s story of travelling Europe following bands, and popping in to see Motörhead rehearsing there! Pretty cool for a small town outside London previously famous as a hub of the Grand Union Canal.

There you have a selection of music from around my birth year that remains relevant to me today. I hope you enjoyed it.