Thursday, 26 June 2014

Raising Pixels: the 'Aww-Lemmie-Look-After-It' Type Games I Used to Love

I don't really know how we got onto it, but last night my boyfriend and I spent a long time reminiscing about Tamagotchis. You know, those little egg-shaped keyrings with a little pixelated pet for you to look after all day, every day. I forgot about and killed many. But, unlike a few tanks of Sea Monkeys, these pets I could just re-hatch and start again. Ta-dah! It got me thinking about all the other similar games I used to love as a kid - maybe they're a precursor to my love of The Sims, which after all are just lots of little human pets.

Look at that cute little blob, bobbing up and down, ready to make you clean up it's virtual crap and beep at you until you feed him. If you happened to leave him at home for a day (I remember when my primary school banned them), then you'd come home to a little blob with angel wings, or a big cross. Way to make kids feel guilty. Lucky for me I must've been cute enough to get away with more than I should, because I remember quite clearly sending my Dad off to work with my Tamagotchi so that it wouldn't die. 

Pokemon Pikachu is the next thing I got thinking about. My Dad got me one when I was about six or seven, and I'm hoping I still have it tucked away in my loft somewhere. Pikachu was waaaaay less needy than your regular Tamagotchi. He got on with his own life really. There were little mini-games and gifts you could give him, but when he beeped it was really just so you could see what he was up to. Sleeping, eating or chilling in a bubble bath. The reason behind Pikachu's self-sufficient lifestyle though was because Pokemon Pikachu was really just a glorified pedometer. It'd measure your steps and convert the number to 'watts' which you could buy Pikachu gifts with, which would generally make him like you more, maybe do a little dance. A look on eBay tells me that an unopened one will set you back about $200. Even a broken one will cost you $25. That's half the reason I hope I find mine, but also kind of 'cos I want a go.

Taking it to the PC, some of my other virtual 'pets' as a kid were the Catz and Dogz Petz series from '95. Adopting some bug-eyed cats and dogs (and unexpectedly, a pig) was the only real premise, but I remember spending SO much time on this game. Feeding, grooming, playing, dressing up and breeding. I distinctly recall picking them up by their tails and flinging them across rooms too, but we won't say much about that. The name has since been sold off to Ubisoft, who make more realistic animals for the Wii in an Nintendogs kind of way (as well as a really creepy spin-off called Babyz), but nothing will quite beat the alien looking petz of PF Magic. One of my favourite things was the desktop feature, that let your petz run riot on your folders and files instead of a standard screensaver.

Finally, it gets a bit dragony. As part of the Quest for Camelot PC game you could raise a dragon from an egg 'til the day you logged on and he'd quite literally flown the nest, leaving you broken hearted with nothing but a postcard to say goodbye. This was a game I played over and over and over. You did everything for this baby, potty-training and teaching him to walk, teaching him guitar and spoon-feeding him cereal. You'd feed him hot sauce to teach him to breathe fire and play him records to help him fall asleep. I devoted a lot of hours of my childhood to this pretty repetitive game (and I really, really wish I still had it).

I've always been a sucker for look-after-this-thing type games. Tamagotchis, Quest for Camelot, Petz, Neopets, that god awful babysitting flash game that used to be on the Barbie website. I still kind of am now. Did you used to play games like this? I'd love to have a nerd session playing with any I missed as a kid.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Fresh Stab at Morrissey's 'Irish Blood, English Heart'

One of my favourite things about my Xbox 360 has always been the and Absolute Radio apps. Hooked up to my speakers at all times, on days like today where I'm packing up my life into boxes, it's nice to be able to shove on the radio without facing the absolute crap Radio 1 tends to throw out these days. Since the beginning of this year,'s 360 app was discontinued - a real shame as it's library feature gave me an awesome mix of 14-year-old-me guilty pleasures, stuff I genuinely love and a healthy sprinkling of musical soundtracks. So, today I'm giving in to Absolute Radio 00s (and I'm relishing in the ability to switch decades as soon as Kasabian or Razorlight make an appearance).

A few minutes after putting it on, about the third song that rolled over was Morrissey's Irish Blood, English Heart. A song I love, but probably haven't listened to properly until now. I've always been more of a The Smiths Morrissey fan, rather than his solo material. I think like a lot of people who prefer the 80s Moz sound, Viva Hate is my go to Morrissey album, although bonus track Ouija Board, Ouija Board from Bona Drag is another absolute gem to come out of Morrissey's solo career. Irish Blood, however is so straight talking, the music somewhat theatrical, and did strike a chord with me particularly considering the appalling turnout figures of the latest election. Disillusion with British politics, racism associated with the English flag. It makes sense to me, and just goes to show that not much has improved in British politics in the last decade.

It's funny this came to my attention today, as yesterday I was shown an Irish Blood, English Heart cover by Marmozets, a "math rock" (what?) band from Yorkshire. It's usually the kind of jumped up stuff I'm not too fond of, but maybe I'm a bit judgemental of any band that looks like they're regulars at Nottingham's hipster hub the Rescue Rooms. Aztec tees and denim shirts aside, this cover is actually really worth a listen. It doesn't shift from the original too much, but with Taylor Momsen-esque vocals and a switch from the theatrical to a more youthful, angry, raw sound, it ends up an awesome cover, bringing a politically charged song up to date. It blows off the dust and says "this is still a fucking problem".

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Playing Favourites: do main characters get shoved to the sidelines?

It seems to me that maybe landing the main character role in telly or film might actually be the bum deal - that is if fan's-favourite is what you're aiming for. If something on-screen is guided through the eyes of the main character, usually it's the people on the sidelines who you end up loving most.

I've thought about it before, but it popped into my head after binge-watching Orange Is the New Black season one during my university finals. One by one each of my housemates started to watch it too, and although I've binged and completed on season two already (four days, whoops), Piper Chapman isn't anyone I've spoken too's favourite. She gets considerably less screen time in season two, I'll give you that, the writers are clearly aiming to make it less Piper-centric and more about the lives of each woman who lives there. I can't remember where I read it exactly, but I'm sure it was announced that Daya was being written as more of a central character in season three, due out in 2015, which to be honest surprised me, as I thought that with her storyline that she was already since season one. Maybe Piper's back story is just less interesting than the other women, or her personality less likeable. It's a fierce competition for favourites in OITNB because with such a colourful cast of amazing, female characters, you feel quite spoilt for choice.

It's not just OITNB though, there's other things. Harry Potter is probably the most boring character in Harry Potter. Take it back a couple of thousand years (Classics grad, sorry), Aeneas is probably the most boring character in the Aeneid. In some programmes and films, and maybe in this case ancient epic poetry, main characters are just keys to seeing everyone else. It works well, really, the over-the-shoulder narrative which allows you to discover everything new in the same way as the central character does, be it magical chocolate frogs or how to make flip-flops out of maxi pads in prison. It's maybe just a curse of the narrative type, mind. I think most people find themselves less interesting than those around them, so by putting yourself in the shoes of a character, you look at them in the same way. It shows how much audiences appreciate depth to their entertainment - how could you fall in love with characters who weren't developed properly?

Interestingly I think Orphan Black achieves the same thing, despite all the other characters still being Tatiana Maslany. It sort of proves my point above, that by seeing life from Sarah's perspective, all the other clones become much more enticing. Alison Hendrix, the most badass gun-wielding soccer Mum there ever was particularly tops my list. Helena is a firm second, childlike and deranged, terrifying, yet somehow adorable. Despite Sarah being an anomaly, being wild child off the map, to me she becomes the least interesting character. Maybe because I put myself in her shoes, maybe because she's laid bare for us to see.

What do you think? Are your favourite characters often main characters?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Labyrinth on Etsy ⌛

I've loved The Labyrinth since I was a kid. I knew Bowie as Jareth first and when I was really little thought that his music career was a sad spin off from his failed film endeavours. This is all around the same time I thought Michael Jackson and Prince were the same person and my favourite cassette tape to listen to was Charlotte Church's debut Voice of an Angel though, so please, forgive me.

But even now in my twenties I love The Labyrinth more than almost every other film I've seen. It's sad then that there's a pitiful amount of merchandise for it; quite often it's extortionately rare 80s memorabilia or boring unisex shirt prints. I'm super jealous of my wonderful friend Katie, who managed to get pyjamas of The Fireys from Top Shop some time ago, there's a fair few cute shirts on TruffleShuffle too, and of course Forbidden Planet stocks a few mugs and the like, but the real goldmine is Etsy.

A quick search for The Labyrinth on Etsy and you'll find some beautiful labours of love I'd be dying to spend my cash on. It's cute, unique and honestly, some of it is bloody incredible. Here's a few of my favourites.

1. thecarboncrusader - Labyrinth Pencil Set

I genuinely absolutely LOVE these. I'm the sort to fall weak at the knees for a stationery sale, so this pencil set of Labyrinth quotes are right up my street. Take out "it's only forever" and you've got yourself some pretty nifty motivational pencils for exams too. The Pulp Fiction set is also bloody good.

2. Peludossa - Firey Plush

Peludossa's hand-stitched plushes are absolutely adorable, and this one with his big button eyes and crazy woollen hair is my favourite. A quick flick through her shop and it's hard to stop 'ahhhhh!'-ing out loud because there's so many fantastic characters in there. A gorgeously grumpy looking Ludo and furry Sir Didymus feature too, alongside characters from elsewhere - the Ewoks are particularly heart-warming and the Adventure Time Embroidery Hoop is awesome.

3. GreaserCreatures - Saint Jareth Prayer Candles

I don't think these candles need much explanation really. They are simply one of the best things I've seen, in general, ever, and I think know I need them in my life.

4. BleepBloopCostumes - Labyrinth Door Knockers

This shop offers replicas of the door knockers Sarah encounters whilst she's lost. They don't work as real door knockers but they do look absolutely fantastic and would make awesome display pieces. I really love merchandise which is just a subtle nod to the film, and these do that idea wonders.

5. Deconstructress - Labyrinth Costumes

Deconstructess' costumes are easily the most incredible Labyrinth finds around. Completely handmade, she has crafted these gorgeous, absolutely amazing costumes. Featured here is Ludo, of course, with detail most fancy dress costumes can only dream of. Even linked on her shop is the chance to purchase a whole family costume of the Labyrinth characters. I cannot get over how cute a little Jareth is.