Archive | May 2015

Jurassic Games We’d Love to See Happen

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 20th of May 2015

Jurassic Park might well be one of the most loved film franchises of all time, but when it comes to games it seems like 65 million years since we’ve seen something special. As the hype ramps up for Jurassic World, we have been splicing together the DNA of this decade’s best games and resurrecting some old favourites to put together a list of Jurassic games we’d love to see find a way (get it?) to our living rooms:

Jurassic Park: Escape from Isla Nublar 

A Jurassic game that channels the terrifying tension of Outlast and Amnesia would be an incredible entry to their games portfolio. Imagine a game with all the tension of that famous kitchen scene as you find yourself unarmed and completely terrified, with only your wit, guile and reflective kitchen cupboards to protect you from prehistoric predators on the hunt. InGen has gone into complete lockdown and it’s up to you to uncover the secrets of the park as you explore the laboratory, climbing the rafters above the visitor center and hiding wherever you can to avoid those ravenous raptors.

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Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis II 

2003’s Operation Genesis gave fans the power to create their own version of the iconic amusement park. In this Tycoon-style park management game the player was treated to an incredibly diverse builder interface, allowing you to alter the land, build your own enclosures, amenities and most importantly populate your park with your favourite dino-species. With the current power of next-gen consoles and cutting edge PCs skyrocketing it’s the perfect time to return to Isla Nublar to build your own Jurassic Park that’s grander than ever. Just imagine having the ability to design enormous attractions in glorious 1080p, build an aquatic enclosure to house Jurassic World’s Mosasaur or even breaking down the walls or even splice a new dinosaur hybrid of your own for onlookers to admire. Of course there is also much to be said for removing the walls to your T-Rex enclosure and watching her run riot…

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Naughty Dog Studios Presents Jurassic Park: The Lost World

Think about the most action-packed parts of Jurassic Park, there’s climbing, jumping and running away from nature’s most fearsome creations. The legendary cinematic gameplay that the Uncharted series has championed would be a perfect fit to bring this prehistoric adventure game to life. Picture your rugged adventurer leaping across cragged cliffs as a pack of hungry raptors are in pursuit below, waiting for you to fall as you navigate the island’s dangerously beautiful landscape. Not only would the action be top-tier but Naughty Dog Studios could bring the world of Jurassic Park to life, using their incredible detailed and lush environments and their ability to flesh out their characters so their stories truly stay with you. Imagine characters like Joel and Ellie from The Last of Us making their way through the prehistoric perils of Jurassic Park.

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Telltale Games Presents Jurassic World

This entry is kind of a cheat, as Telltale did in fact release an episodic Jurassic Park series back before their huge success with their The Walking Dead series. Reviews observe that the controls were clunky and the story was uninspired, and people were generally disappointed that the game didn’t measure up to its big screen inspiration. Today the story of Telltale Games has been turned on its head, the ground-breaking studio houses some of the best game writers and designers in the biz, consitently earning critical acclaim and an unmatched reputation for stellar storylines, engaging and intertwining character arcs and their uniquely refined and meaningful player choices and plot twists. Jurassic World would be the perfect opportunity for Telltale to resurrect their partnership with Jurassic Park and start over with Universal’s Jurassic reboot.

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LEGO Jurassic World

This one we don’t have to imagine, as through the power of Warner Bros’ Games and TT, those who grew up on a steady combination of these two mediums can finally combine them in a well-constructed explosion of nostalgia. The game will take players through all three original adventures as well as Jurassic World itself. The family friendly co-operative nature of TT games’ light-hearted romps through some of the world’s biggest franchises bring a sense of fun and charm that is hard not to warm up to, even in the face of 9-inch-long teeth. You can even create your own dinosaur made up of the game’s existing dinos; finally there is a way to give a T-Rex the proportionate arms it deserves. LEGO games always bring a keen sense of imagination when it comes to recreating iconic scenes from classic films, and we’re excited to see how this will work in the unique world of Jurassic Park. 

If the thought of seeing a LEGO Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) fills you with the same feeling of awe as it does for us, come experience it for yourself at MCM London Comic Con this weekend. If you have some ideas for a Jurassic Park game you’d love to see, let us know in the comments below.

LEGO Jurassic World will be released this June, and is available to play this weekend at MCM London Comic Con.

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Mortal Kombat X Review

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 18th of April 2015MKX_Kunglao_KotalKahn

In NetherRealm’s latest entry Mortal Kombat returns to your screen to slice, dice and entice players back into its uniquely gruesome brand of brawling. With every bone-crunching blow it’s easy to realise that this over-the-top arcade style fighting extravaganza is exactly what has been missing from the latest generation of consoles.

As the tenth instalment in the Mortal Kombat series there is a lot to build on and Mortal Kombat X does it well, using the now commonplace energy bar from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, Injustice’s interactive arenas and even the sprint bar from Mortal Kombat 4, longtime Kombatants will be met with a wave of nostalgia in an updated combat system. There is plenty here for existing fans but not so much that it feels inaccessible to new players. If this is your first Mortal Kombat experience it will be hard to be disappointed, and harder not to laugh maniacally when you perform your first fatality.

When it comes to returning characters, the game offers plenty of familiar faces to choose from, including classic Kombatants Scorpion and Sub-Zero as well as favourites from previous instalments like Kenshi. Not only does the game rely on past glories, but there are eight new characters introduced. Many of these characters have ties to previous MVP’s and some, like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs, mimic their parents’ fighting styles with some changes just subtle enough to warrant a new character. Kenshi’s son Takeda and Shaolin Archer Kung Jin on the other hand feel unique with their incredibly diverse set of attacks, including dual chain-whips, energy swords, bow-staffs and throwing knives. The new additions who aren’t taking their style from a previous fighter are something to be marvelled at. These newcomers come with a massive range of combat styles complimented by the game’s new variation options. Each character has three unique variations that allow fans to change-up their favourite fighter or simply explore the enormous number of fighting styles at their disposal.

In terms of combat the controls are responsive and the range of attacks should please even the most sadistic of gamers. The combos require rapid and precise execution and the fatalities even more so, but in the single player mode learning the ropes doesn’t feel punishing. Returning to the series are the graphic but often delightfully violent X-Ray special moves, area attacks and evasions and the block breaker option can turn the tide in your favour, making for a fast-paced, brutal, but ultimately rewarding experience. The fatalities are as gruesome as ever and are sure to bring about the usual feelings of shock, disgust and complete awe in true Mortal Kombat fashion.

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The story mode takes a leaf out of fellow Warner Bros game Injustice, creating a grand interlocking narrative featuring all of the playable characters. It does an excellent job of weaving together old characters and feuds and giving new fighters a place in their world. Cassie, Jacqui, Takeda and Kung Jin are placed as an elite team under the command of Johnny Cage and they are plunged into a world filled with menace, betrayal and magic. At times the plot itself seems a little sickly sweet for the limb-shattering action that Mortal Kombat is known for, with an emotional focus on parents Jax, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade’s family relationships and a budding romance between Jacqui and Takeda. Whilst these scenes can be at odds with the high level of violence, the inclusion of emotional themes widens the scope. Kung Jin’s discussion with Raiden about who his heart desires highlights Jin as the series’ first gay character, and this is nothing short of a definitive step forward for fighting games, and is an example to the gaming industry as a whole. All in all, the dialogue can be sharp-witted, the voice acting is solid and the cutscenes themselves are nothing short of stunning. The result is completely charming and whilst the skin and bones of the fantastical story are not easy to follow, it ends up feeling like a classic fantasy action movie with a heart (although one that might not stay in its chest for long).

The story is only just the beginning, as Mortal Kombat X boasts a wealth of online content from player vs player, survivor and king of the hill modes. In a world where split-screen gameplay is dwindling, fighting games remain a multiplayer-friendly experience, and there is nothing better than taking it to the sofa, battling it out with friends and gawping together at the hyper-violent finishers that you’ll fight to land on each other. Faction wars are also introduced to the mix. All players must join one of five factions and will earn points for their chosen allies in every fight, gaining faction-exclusive abilities, unique fatalities, and becoming able to fight in faction battles. Your faction’s world-ranking can be viewed in real time and also gives daily challenges that can boost your alliance’s status. The Living Tower feature also makes its debut, a set of three player vs computer tournaments that are refreshed hourly, daily and weekly and are set to provide a huge amount of additional content with the promise of rewards if you meet the challenging points targets. In these themed towers unique effects will be active, whether it’s randomly generating tornados to catch both Kombatants off-guard, or added effects like vampirism, there will be much to explore for persistent players.

Since Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance the Krypt has been a staple for the series, developing into a good old-fashioned treasure hunt in which players use their in-game coins to open coffins, corpses and the like to unlock goodies such as concept art, finishing moves and character skins. The exploration is made more interesting by the addition of item-controlled shortcuts and attacks by the areas beasts to invoke a real time event. The Krypt adds an element of light dungeon crawling to the game and offers an enjoyable way to take a break from tearing people apart.

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As much as there is to do in Mortal Kombat X, there is also plenty more that is available to purchase as DLC, something which the player is made aware of fairly often. In the character select screen the original Mortal Kombat boss Goro is included, but only as an available to buy icon. Whilst there are more intrusive ways to promote your DLC (I’m looking at you Assassins Creed Unity), it sours your experience when you run out of coins in the Krypt and must grind to find more or pay out in actual currency (£15.99) to unlock all of the game’s pricey Kontent. Skipping levels and easy fatalities are also purchasable options, allowing for simple ways to execute the most complex of death-inducing special moves, or simply the ability to skip an essential fight altogether. Whilst this is nothing new, it’s a shame to see features that punishes the less-skilled players through in-game purchases in a game that takes such a light-hearted approach to its hyper-violent, larger than life gameplay.

Whilst the in game purchases are a disappointing sign of AAA gaming, the rest of Mortal Kombat X offers a stunning action experience and an incredibly satisfying fighting game. It combines the levity of retro arcade fighters, the multiplayer couch-gaming of previous console generations and the sharpness of modern AAA titles to produce a truly special fighting game experience. With so much to accomplish throughout, a unique style in its storytelling, a gore-factor like no other and a multitude of fighting styles to choose from, the latest Mortal Kombat is the definitive all out brawler of its generation and an absolute joy to play.

Bloodborne Review

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 28th of March 2015The hunt is on

There are many mysteries to be uncovered in Bloodborne, FromSoftware’s unique action-RPG from veteran game director Hidetaka Miyazaki (Dark Souls, Demons’ Souls). But finding out how to put it down is not one of them. Set in a beautiful and densely detailed gothic nightmare, Bloodborne takes its daring players on a journey of discovery that will challenge, consume, immerse and captivate.

The game begins as you might expect, your intrepid hunter finding themselves thrust into a world full of terrifying creatures and wonderful secrets. Once you’ve created your character and chosen your origin, which determines your starting attributes, you’re ready to start exploring, dying, learning and repeating in the fashion that FromSoftware has championed for years. The first thing that’s impossible to ignore is just how stunning the world of Yharnam looks. From the sprawling buildings to the ornate graveyards the entire world could have been plucked from a gothic masterpiece.

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In terms of design Bloodborne is in a class of its own. The level design is nothing short of perfect; each area seamlessly folds over itself as hunters battle through the dangers Yharnam has to offer. Like its predecessorsBloodborne is intimidating at first, but once you sink a few hours into its perilous cobbled streets you get a feel for how to make progress, and from then on its impossible to stop searching for that next item, checkpoint or boss. Finding a shortcut that leads back to a lamp or a safe place gives a sense of relief, triumph and added determination to push forward. With each attempt you progress further through incredible sprawling environments learning trap locations, local enemy placement and attacks all whilst gaining blood echoes, which act as both experience and currency in the Hunter’s Dream. The Hunter’s Dream is the central hub of the game, offering a mysterious doll-woman who levels you up, a wizened hunter offering sage advice, a weapon upgrade station, messenger item shops, storage and gravestones that will warp you to one of the various lamp checkpoints placed sparingly across Yharnam’s enormously varied landscape.

The only gripe that comes with this style of play is that in order to travel from one lamp to another you must always go back to the Hunter’s Dream and then back to Yharnam, which initiates the game’s loading screen twice. It’s impressive such an enormous game only has so few loading screens, but they can take up to forty seconds to load. In such a richly detailed game it’s not a deal breaker, but staring at the ominous title of the game as opposed to Dark Souls’ varied and interesting item description screens can seem like a punishment after losing a boss fight a few times. When it comes to the bosses and enemies themselves, however, the inhabitants of Yharnam are so painstakingly detailed their terrifying presence gives an atmosphere unlike anything else. Whether it’s the fast and furious Cleric Beast, a vicious monstrosity that relentlessly attacks your hunter as you scrabble for breathing room, or the horrifying collection of bones and faces that make up ‘The One Reborn’, there is an incredible attention to detail that speaks volumes about the depth of this game visually and mechanically.

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This is echoed in terms of story as Bloodborne takes a ‘show but don’t tell’ approach. When traversing through the broken alleyways it’s up to you to find out what’s cursed this land. Item descriptions and the design of the enemies and environment can lead you to some conclusions, but ultimately the game is shrouded in mystery and all the better for it. There is a thrill in discovering the lore behind the incredible world in front of you by delving into it head first that engages the player from beginning to end. The game mechanics are largely the same, challenging you to figure out what items upgrade weapons, how to leave notes for other players and even how to use the multiplayer features. It all takes some time but nothing compares to those wonderful moments when it all clicks.

The combat system makes a bold change from the Souls games, removing shields from the fray and introducing firearms. This combined with the new health regain system, where hunters can gain health back from enemies a few seconds after being damaged, forces players to take a more offensive approach. The result is blisteringly fast strategic combat in which your goal is to hunt the beast before you become the hunted. In true FromSoftware fashion, players wishing to cling to the old ways of hiding behind your trusty shield will find themselves rightly punished. The new aggressive style of play gives a real sense of danger when battling the game’s sinister bosses; one slip up and you’re lunch for a deadly beastie or two (or seven if you run in head first).

In this absolutely enormous adventure it’s difficult to run out of things to do, whether it’s simply exploring until you run into a boss, searching for hidden pathways or scrapping your way through to a new area, you’ll be spoilt for activities in the main game. FromSoftware’s unique multiplayer experience gets an update too. By using up insight points and ringing bells players can call other players for aid, whilst their fellow hunters can help or hinder depending on which bell they ring. The system makes for a high-risk high-reward way to defeat bosses or get past difficult enemies, with hunters you’re inviting both types of players into your world. You can receive invaluable help or be thwarted before you even begin.

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The newest feature for Bloodborne is the ability to play through Chalice Dungeons. These procedurally generated multi-tiered dungeons can be accessed from the Hunter’s Dream with the right items and add an entirely new dimension to the game. With the option to tackle your Chalice Dungeons solo or with other players, hunters can delve deep into the underground facing new bosses, harrowing enemies and a number of traps and obstacles that will never be the same twice. These randomised dungeons can be shared between players if theirs has some particularly good loot, and MCM’s own labyrinth was nothing short of incredible. With a challenging variety of enemies and swinging blade traps and three bosses (one on each tier) to face it was exhilarating as you fight your way further into the depths in search of goodies.

Bloodborne really is something special. Unlike many modern RPGs that focus on huge amounts of similar content, (succeeding with only 23 weapons to choose from) Bloodborne places gameplay and immersion above all else to create a truly unique experience. You will die again and again, but because of its incredible design, depth and execution those who dare to soldier on will wonder at its darkest secrets.

Bloodborne is out now for the Playstation 4

Grand Theft Auto V: Taking Mayhem to the Next Generation

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 22nd of November 2014

13 months after the initial release of Grand Theft Auto V, which blew us away in our review, Rockstar have given violence and villainy enthusiasts the chance to return to sunny Los Santos in glorious 1080p for PS4 and Xbox One. The result is a beautifully polished version of an instant classic to next-gen that gives new players a definitive edition of the game whilst still offering veteran Santos sinners enough new content to sink their teeth into.

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The most notable new feature is of course the first person mode, a first for Grand Theft Auto that already feels like it belongs in the franchise. Completing a heist in first person drastically heightens the tension, whilst the gunfights place you at the centre of the action (shooting demonic clowns or evil alien spawn has never been so immersive). The most surprising delight of this new viewpoint is that you can truly experience just how detailed the world is that Rockstar have created. Whether that immense sense of detail is found whilst walking downtown and gazing into the shop fronts or simply gazing out at the city following a quad bike excursion up the Vinewood hills, this game is indisputably the most stunning iteration of a Grand Theft Auto title to date.

Additional content has been added, including a new murder mystery mission for Michael that unlocks a couple of noir-style filters for the game, for those who want to get their Hitchcock on. Players on the PlayStation 4 will experience some features exclusive to the Dualshock 4, such as intuitive swipe controls (including a swipe to throw grenade feature), an atmospheric red and blue flash from its light bar if you become wanted and the audio for your in game phone and the police scanners run through the controller’s speaker. These touches alone are not game changing, however they are indicators of what Rockstar have achieved, which is something far beyond a 1080p port of their past success.

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GTA Online returns in a big way, after the problematic start on last-gen consoles it’s incredible to see the full potential of the online mode from the offset. In the ambitious online mode your created character is let loose on Los Santos and there are hundreds of hours of fun in deathmatches, races, jobs and of course just running riot with friends or fellow miscreants online. Hours can be lost as players scrimp, save and steal to get that dream car, plane, boat or tank as you make your mark in Rockstar’s city of sin. The variation of every gameplay is growing with every update, yet heist missions are still unavailable in Grand Theft Auto Online at the time of writing this review. With a PC version coming in January heists are expected to enter into the fray soon, yet in the meantime tons of additional content in the form of clothes, vehicles and weapons are being released.

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Ultimately, Grand Theft Auto hits the next-gen with more than just a ripple, offering a variety of new features and another chance for gamers to experience the stellar storyline and the hilarious, absurd, sharply satirical, manic and beautiful world that Rockstar Games have created. The story still flourishes and remains one of the strongest and most entertaining in video game history. All of the devilish joys that are found in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions are back in force (I missed Trevor’s utterly insane rampages more than I knew was possible), and there really is a fresh new perspective to be found in the first person mode. If you are returning for a second time, get ready to be engrossed all over again, and if this is your first journey into Los Santos, prepare to be blown away. Sometimes literally.

Grand Theft Auto V is now available for PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360, with a PC release slated for the 27th of January 2015.

Interviewing ‘Tales of’ Series Producer Hideo Baba

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 3rd of November 2014

MCM Buzz managed to catch up with the producer of the Tales of series, the ever-wonderful Hideo Baba. Talking about what fans can expect from the latest Tales’ adventures, delve deeper below to discover more about the upcoming PS Vita release Tales of Hearts R and the game’s graphical overhaul, as well as the fluid battles in the brand new Tales of Zestiria.

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Me: What can fans of the Tales of series expect from Tales of Hearts R?

Baba: Every Tales game has a key theme in the storyline, and the theme in the Tales of Hearts is hearts. At the beginning of the storyline the Kohaku’s Heart is broken into pieces and the pieces fly all over the world. Kor Meteor decides to go on a journey to pick up all of the pieces to get Kohaku’s heart back. Whenever she reclaims a piece she receives an emotion and remembers what joy, or sadness, or fear is. I wanted to describe every emotion throughout this journey.

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Me: It’s an incredible concept, and the characters themselves are completely charming. How did you develop the character design from the Nintendo DS to the PS Vita?

Baba: In the Nintendo DS version there are 2D sprites, whenever a player plays this kind of game they have to imagine how these characters look because the information is really limited. When we created Tales of Hearts Rfor the PS Vita we recreated everything from scratch with 3D graphics, so the amount of information on the screen radically increased when compared with the 2D style. We paid attention to the characters movements and actions to show the characters emotions truly and clearly to the users.

Me: Tales of Zestiria marks 20 years of the Tales of series, and it’s been said that the gameplay style combines classic elements with brand new gameplay. How does the game celebrate its 20th anniversary?

Baba: Firstly, when it comes to the storyline, the characters and the real-time battle system, these are very traditional features that most Tales fans expect. Every time we create a brand new story and characters and improve the battle system, and this has become tradition in the Tales series. We also have some brand new features for Tales of Zestiria this year. The atmosphere of adventure is really important, and I really wanted to capture the sense of interaction in the previous adventures, so I introduced a vast map in Tales of Zestiria. In the previous games of the series, when the player encounters an enemy the loading screen appears and the player moves to the battlefield, but in Tales of Zestiria there is no loading screen and the player battles on exactly the same field.

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Me: How has the combat system changed since the previous games?

Baba: Every game in the Tales series has a linear motion battle system, this is a very fundamental feature. Tales of Zestiria has a new linear motion battle system which is the Fusionic chaining linear motion battle system. This allows players to infuse human and Tenzoku into one different character, changing their appearance, attack and weapons.

Me: Will Europe be able to experience the Japanese voice acting as we did with Tales of Symphonia Chronicles?

Baba: Tales of Hearts R will hit Europe with its original Japanese voice-overs. I understand there are many western users who want to have the original Japanese voice-overs in the western version of Tales of Zestiria. But there are a lot of issues we need to solve to use the original Japanese voiceovers in the western versions, but I really want to make it happen. I cannot make any promises, I can only try.

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Me: Could we see Tales of Zestiria come to PS4 in the future?

Baba: Our strategy when selecting a platform depends on which platform our users want to play these games on. More and more users are enjoying the Tales of series in the western world, but actually it is true that the Japanese market is the biggest for us. So in the same way as Tales of Xillia and Tales of Xillia 2 we recognise that most of the Japanese users want to play the new game with the PlayStation 3. But we understand that the transition to PlayStation 4, especially in the west, is quicker than we expected. Not for Tales of Zestiria, but in the future of the series, we need to consider games for the next generation consoles like PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. If the same amount of users in the west are enjoying the Tales of series and we receive so many requests about the next gen consoles it may be a big help when it comes to making it happen, so thank you for this coverage!

Tales of Hearts R came to PS Vita on the 14th of November and Tales of Zestiria is expected to be released in Europe for PlayStation 3 in Summer 2015.

The Wind Rises Review

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 10th of May 2014.

"All I wanted to do was make something beautiful"

This is it. Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises marks legendary animator, director and inspired storyteller Hayao Miyazaki’s final voyage, and what a voyage it is. This partly autobiographical tale reimagines the life of aeroplane designer Jiro Horikoshi, innovator of  some of the most iconic World War II fighter planes. It draws from Miyazaki’s own love of aircraft and the fantastically serene tone of Ghibli animations to produce a refined and visually astounding masterpiece. This could well be the last film of its kind.

The film follows Jiro from childhood to the heights of his success in aviation, taking on all of the themes that the world has come to expect from Miyazaki and studio Ghibli alike. From the value of kindness to the futility and destruction of war, life is shown to be complex but always beautiful. The story itself is bittersweet from start to finish, yet ultimately it is a celebration of all parts of life that urges you to be creative, determined and caring.

The animation itself is simply stunning, showcasing gorgeous watercolour landscapes, charming character designs and captivating flight scenes that boast vibrant colours and an incredible and classic style. Miyazaki’s direction shows a cinematic sensibility that is unmatched, not only in the world of animation, but in cinema as a whole. The Wind Rises masterfully captures the peaceful beauty of flying. Jiro’s ethereal mentor and Italian design pioneer Giovanni Caproni muses that “engineers turn dreams into reality”, and this is certainly true of Miyazaki and the endlessly talented Ghibli animators. The score is also truly astounding, bursting from peaceful silence into wave after wave of emotion throughout.

This plot itself excellently paced, taking the viewer through critical moments in Jiro’s life whilst keeping the wonderful fantasy of Ghibli’s previous features alive through gorgeous dream sequences and a sense of positivity, which creates a level of quiet maturity none of its predecessors can compete with. The characters are brilliantly fleshed out to the point that it becomes easy to forget they are animated. From Jiro’s cynical but loyal friend Honjo to the kind-hearted but comically irritable Kurokawa, every person Jiro encounters feels honest and proves to be memorable and inspiring in their own way. It is hard to forget the absurd but hauntingly aware figure of Castorp, a visitor to Japan who warns Jiro of the impending war. The adult complexity of the film is often found in the tension between innovation and destruction, from Jiro’s contribution to war as a result of his inspired pursuit of a profound dream.

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Whilst flight gives The Wind Rises a sense of scale and incredibly well crafted visual spectacle, the emotional aspect of the Wind Rises shines through Jiro’s understated but intimate relationship with the strong willed and compassionate Nahoko. Their story is inexhaustibly charming, and the direction their lives take together is both captivating and heartbreaking. In many ways their love reflects the film’s depiction of flight, as it is both beautiful and harmful, but Jiro’s inspired optimism shows how the wonder that is found in life is well worth the pain. Miyazaki’s own experience comes through here as much as in the environmentalist and pacifist tones that emerge throughout Jiro’s adventure.

The Wind Rises stands out as Miyazaki’s most personal picture. It confounds you with beauty, complexity, love and loss and dreams and heartbreak, all the while reminding you that life is a wonderful thing. This message is all the more important considering that this marks the last film directed by one of the great cinematic pioneers of the century. Despite the absence of any nature spirits, magical creatures or wicked witches, Miyazaki’s last outing as a director is inspired, magical storytelling at its absolute finest.

The Wind Rises soars into selected UK cinemas on the 9th of May.

Interviewing Infinite Crisis Lead Designer Ryan Bednar

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 28th of February 2014.Infinite Crisis Wonder Woman

With the announcement of their open beta launch and after a hands-on with the game MCM Buzz catches up with Ryan Bednar, Turbine’s lead designer. We talked about his break into the gaming industry, MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena) tactics and their upcoming DC Comics project Infinite Crisis.

Me: So you are the lead designer on Infinite Crisis, that’s exciting.

Ryan: It is pretty exciting!

Me: What inspired you to work in the videogames industry? Was it something you always wanted to do or something you just came across?

Ryan: So I went to university for Industrial Design, graduated in 2003, and I knew my entire life that I was always into videogames. And I remember the year before I graduated I was talking to my parents in my kitchen and I was kind of figuring out or trying to figure out what I wanted to do after college, and I decided out of the blue then and there I wanted to try and get into the games industry somehow. Really at the time there wasn’t really any clear road to actually making that happen at all. You didn’t have any friends who were like, “Oh, this is how I broke into the games industry,” ’cause everyone who wanted to do it was kind of scattered all around. So I moved to Boston, because there were a couple of industrial design firms up there. About a couple of months after I moved to Boston, Turbine posted an internship for Lord Of The Rings Online, the MMO they developed a while back. I applied for the internship, I got it, and I’ve been there ever since. I started out as an intern on Lord of the Rings Online, became a world builder, then a lead world builder, then a lead systems designer, then I moved over to this project as the lead designer.

Me: It’s got to be exciting working with all those incredibly different worlds. The Lord of the Rings universe to start is tremendous, and now you’ve got the DC Universe, the DC Multiverse even!

Ryan: We’ve had some great opportunities to work with the best IP (Intellectual Property) that are possibly out there. We’ve just been really fortunate in that regard.

Me: Have you always been a fan of DC comics? Was this something that you were excited to do?

Ryan: I would say that I’m a medium fan for DC Comics, and I say that knowing that a bunch of people on our team are superfans! My level of comics knowledge does not compete with theirs, but it takes a team to make a game and we have the people that are super-into the comics doing the back-stories, the writing and the character development side of things. My area of interest and expertise was on the competitive MOBA side of things, so we all collaborate together.

Me: How do you think the DC Universe translates to the MOBA genre?

Ryan: It’s perfect! When we were deciding to build a MOBA at Turbine we were looking to build on a new genre. MOBA seemed like a great thing for us to get into with the RPG background we have. The MMO’s translate really well into managing all the systems and advancements that you have, and that’s worked out really well for us. When we were acquired by Warner Brothers, the DC Comics IP was something we really wanted to build games with, and we saw that as the perfect marriage of genre and an IP. The main content of a MOBA is its characters, and DC has fantastic characters. If you add the concept of the multiverse in on top of that, then we have an opportunity to make our own characters. For people that are super into the comics this is the thing they’ve wanted to do for their entire lives, the fact that they can take a character like Green Lantern and get two versions of him, it’s been a ton of fun and everyone loves working on the project.

Me: It’s great the way that instead of the standard class systems this is implemented into different versions of the same superhero, it’s a smart way to do it.

Ryan: It’s really interesting that if you’re a Batman fan one of the great things about having this multiverse is that you have three Batman’s, and they all have a different skill set. So if you’re a Batman fan who likes to play a bruiser character, you play Batman Prime. If you like ranged attack characters like marksmen, Gaslight Batman’s your guy. If you like assassins, Nightmare Batman. You can really be a fan of the IP and still find a play style that suits you.

Me: One thing that’s noticeable is that this game is catered to fans.

Ryan: Yeah, because we’ve had all these different people working on the project, people that add the really tight competitive balance in the game, and people who are working on the voice and video that’s driving all the action between the characters. When Green Arrow ends up fighting against Batman they’ll say something as they are fighting, so when Batman gets low on health Green Arrow will have some line to say in response to Batman being on the other team or his health bar. There’s all these interactions; you might not be super familiar with all the characters that are in the game, but because they’re always talking to each other and about what their state of mind is in the game you get an insight into their backstory without having to read a book.

Me: Right, even in-game it definitely gives the characters personality. Now Turbine has been at the front of online gaming since the very start, you guys have been doing this since dial-up.

Ryan: (Laughs) Yup! Asheron’s Call has been around since Ultimate Online and Everquest, those were the big three that started everything MMO, eventually that genre evolved into what it is today. We saw MOBAs gaining the same kind of traction and [when] we really got the chance to play a bunch of them ourselves we realised that was something else we were very passionate about and I think that’s why we’re here, we were excited to make this for ourselves.

Me: And that’s part of why Turbine is so exciting, you guys are at the forefront and it gives you opportunities to build on what you have already done and tweak it.

Ryan: We have a lot of experience in managing online games and keeping them running and pushing out updates and figuring how to take a game that you’ve launched and evolve it over time, and that’s something that we’re really excited about in this game. We’re getting to the point where it’s in open beta, we don’t have a long list of features that we really really want to add to the game. There are no features that are notably absent from the game. Now we’re just polishing it up, and then we’re into the world of live content, that’s what we’ve been really good at for a long time and we’re excited to get there. We are kind of already there with the champion releases that we do, they’ve been steady for a long time now every three weeks, we are about releasing three of them at a time, we have a backlog of about 20 that are in development in different stages so that’s starting to get going and then there’s going to be even more content available afterwards.

Me: That’s what’s interesting about designing an online game, there’s not really a point where it stops.

Ryan: No, it just keeps going and going; Asheron’s call is still going! We have thousands of people that are still playing that game and are die hard fans. We’re just getting started with this one and we plan on keeping it going for a very long time.

Infinite Crisis Screen

Me: Do you feel like some of the features in the matches themselves put a slight spin on the MOBA genre?

Ryan: The big thing that we’re pushing for in this game is aggression. If there’s one constant that we’re trying to steer everything towards, we want to build a MOBA where it’s okay and incentivised for you to go fight the other players. We’re making a game where Batman faces off against the Joker, and you can make that game and have it be about Batman fighting tiny robots for 15 minutes and then he finally decides to fight the Joker, or it can be that Batman’s there and the Joker’s there and they have a lot of reasons to actually fight each other right out of the game. You can see that with the currency drops we’re doing, as the tiny robots fight each other, if you don’t last hit them they just drop their coins to the ground. You have to walk over there to pick them up, when you walk over there the other team can either spend their time attacking robots or they can start attacking you, and if they do you’re probably going to attack them back. It’s all there to drive that point of tension between two or four people in your lane to fighting for the resources that are available to you. In addition to that in standard MOBA’s, you can only buy items at your base, for us we wanted to give people the opportunity to get stronger whilst playing without having to recall and then walk all the way back. You can actually buy artefacts, which are the items in our game, at your turrets themselves. That gives someone the incentive to potentially be lower on health but not go all the way back to base, actually to stay out there and try to get stronger while also running the risk of getting ganged by others.

Me: It can be a numbers game that’s for sure, if you’re on your own and there’s five people around you, you’re done.

Ryan: Oh yeah!

Me: It is great when you’re in that group though.

Ryan: Yeah, when your team shows up and you get a couple of kills and just push forward and seeing how far you can get. That’s part of the cadence of a MOBA too, and I feel like that’s why they’re so popular, because the game starts off slow and less is happening because everyone is distributed pretty evenly, and there will be those stand-offs where people are fighting against each other, and then all of a sudden it evolves into play between two or three people fighting for objectives. One thing that is specific to our latest map Gotham Divided, there are objectives out in the jungle between lanes, and if you kill these creatures they give out beacons that a member of your team can pick up. What happens is they get a new skill that they can use that drops that beacon pretty much anywhere in the map. You’ll be top lane, someone from your bottom lane can pick up a health pack and drop it that you can pick up, and that might be enough to can swing the battle in your favour. We want to make sure that as people are getting those objectives there is a lot of opportunity for skillful play, that you’ve got this thing that you can use in a variety of different ways. 

Me: Are there any plans to bring social features voice communication to Infinite Crisis?

Ryan: Voice definitely helps, we don’t have any plans to integrate voice at the moment. MOBA communities can be kind of all over the place with these kind of features. So we are hesitant to investigate voice, but it’s something that we’ve done in the past and we could see in the future. Turbine has a lot of experience in developing social features. I think something like a Guild would be great to add to a MOBA, just to give you a social identity right out of the gate, it also gives you a great way to meet other people that will be supportive of you, there’s a lot of comradery there and I think there’s a great opportunity for us to have that. At the same time too we have a whole range of audiences, there are a bunch of people whose friends might want to play the game or people who are curious about this new genre, and a Guild-type atmosphere you could have players to help new players. Perhaps even implementing a game mode with less stress for new players, something like that that would be great.

Me: I guess with this being a DC Comics game, there will be a lot of people who may be new to the genre but fans of the universe?

Ryan: We have a lot of people who have checked out the game but never played a MOBA before because they like Batman or Superman, and they want to play the game. We want to make sure those guys have a fun time too.

Me: One last question, if you could have any superpower from the DC Universe, what would you choose and why?

Ryan: (Laughs) I’ll take Aquaman’s ability to talk to sea-life! I’m curious, who knows what could happen!

Infinite Crisis goes is out now on Steam.

Grand Theft Auto V Review

Originally Published by MCM Buzz on the 28th September 2013

The Devil is in the Detail.

Helicopter Chase

Welcome to Los Santos, where being bad has never felt so good. In Grand Theft Auto V, developers Rockstar North have created nothing short of a masterpiece, an engrossing, exciting, dizzying tale of friendship, atrocity and insanity that succeeds not only in providing opportunities for high-octane mayhem, but produces a layered storyline packed with blockbuster action, humour and tension centred around our lovable band of criminal misfits.

The game follows three criminals at different stages in their lives, a retired thief who struck a shady deal with the Bureau, Michael; a young, ambitious car-booster Franklin; and the mentally unstable crystal meth distributor and “entrepreneur” extraordinaire Trevor. The story sees the three thrust together, Trevor and Michael after a long separation and a job that went south for the two, and Franklin as a new kid on the block, looking to shadow some more experienced (but not wiser) members of the Los Santos crime underbelly. In a town filled with corrupt government agents, private militia, drug kingpins and every criminal in-between, the three try to make it and take it in a world where no one can be trusted and everyone’s a threat. The scope of GTAV is beyond cinematic blockbuster, this game is massive, in every sense of the word.

Let’s start with the first thing you notice when the game begins, acting on your most twisted and violent impulses has never looked more incredible. Every area in the game, from house interiors and smaller details to the mountains of Blaine County, is gloriously detailed and perfectly done, the lighting in the game gives a cinematic feel that is really brought home by the pain-staking effort placed in developing realistic faces and very human expressions. From the start the player can see Michael’s frustration, Franklin’s cocksure swagger and quick flickers of insanity behind Trevor’s eyes. The cinematic mode that can be activated whilst in a vehicle really demonstrates what Rockstar were trying to achieve, and they have succeeded in spades. If you’re in the middle of an elaborate heist, driving through busy streets or taking your chop for a walk, the game takes hold and catapults the player into the devilish world of Grand Theft Auto.

Grand Theft Auto 5

Aside from the missions, in true GTA style there is no shortage of things to keep you occupied, with randomly activated events, optional side missions gained from people you meet and even hobbies to adopt, this game keeps you busy between heists and story events, not to mention all those spontaneous killing sprees. The vehicle list grows ever larger with cars, bikes, lorries, quad bikes, off-road vehicles, planes, helicopters, jet skis, speedboats, ribs, pushbikes and even submarines in the vast setting of Los Santos and Blaine County. The world itself is of course huge, but the buildings are all so immensely detailed that the city has a much bigger impact than any of the previous games. As if the game wasn’t big enough, there is an online mode that will be released in the near future set before the events of the story mode.

Michael, Franklin and Trevor

The characters themselves are a central part of what makes this game great. Each character is associated with a different kind of crime. Whether it is Michael’s has-been bank robber, Franklin’s aspiring car booster or Trevor’s meth-cooking, weapons-smuggling anarchist, one of the great triumphs of the game is that players begin to change their gaming style depending on who they are controlling. Trevor is one of the most perverse but also entertaining characters to ever appear in a videogame, yet he quickly becomes a guilty pleasure as the game continues. As well as having their own in-game abilities their stories all have decent themes, and the quick-change system that has you jumping between characters is yet another part of the game’s control system that keeps everything flowing and fast-paced.

The controls are sharp and intuitive, which is important in a game with such varied modes of gameplay. Whether it’s shooting, scuba diving, playing golf or tennis, running a triathlon, playing the stock market, stealing a helicopter or manning a submarine, the game manages to seamlessly switch to a control system that is perfect for that particular activity, although bring some deep heat for your thumbs on any of the running activities. These immersive, accessible controls help to give Grand Theft Auto V something special, a feeling that anything can be done in this game.

Heist

The heist system is something to be admired, taking RPG-style tactics selection and applying it to the usually unadulterated mayhem makes it all the more engaging. If Michael makes the wrong choice or hires the wrong guy, you are going to pay for it. The stakes are higher, and the fact that each choice has an impact on the mission really adds tension to every single job. The game also has a replay mission function that not only allows players to retry missions and gain gold classification on each, but allows you to choose the alternative heist options to experience your other options. Sometimes the smartest way to go is going to be focused on stealth, but you can go back and get your fill of explosions the second time round. This mode is available at any time (outside of a mission) in the game, and is accessible from the start.

Rockstar North have taken Grand Theft Auto to the next level, but the mammoth scale, incredible style and complex storytelling are not the reason for its success. The incredible thing about this game is that it takes every great aspect in the free roaming parts of its predecessors and implements them in the narrative, enabling the player to unleash hell upon the unknowing citizens of Los Santos whilst adding weight to your most maniacal exploits through a focused and engaging story. The variety of the gameplay, the incredible detailing and the charismatic characters from our protagonists to the people we simply love to hate all make this game what it is.Grand Theft Auto V is the last instalment in the franchise on the current-gen consoles, and it is perhaps the most explosive send-off in videogame history. Simply put, this game is a perfectly crafted, enormously addictive one-stop-shop to all things violent, devious, deliciously immoral and outright insane.

Grand Theft Auto V is available now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, with an online mode launching on 1st October. 

Pokemon X and Pokemon Y Review

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 23rd of October 2013Official Xerneas Illustration

Pokémon is a rare franchise; few titles have had the steady, impossibly colossal impact on the role-playing, pop culture and entertainment industry that Game Freak’s flagship title has boasted for nearly ten years. The latest additions to the series, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y keep up the tradition, showcasing a completely engaging, engrossing and wonderfully charming experience. With a host of new features and some welcome changes in one of handheld gaming’s longest-running adventure series, the latest title builds on some of the most endearing adventure RPG’s to create something truly astonishing. Whether you are a super nerd when it comes to Pokémon or a complete newcomer to the games, this is an essential title for 3DS owners, and a reason for any Slowpokes without Nintendo’s handheld to buy one.

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The adventure begins once again for our ambitious would-be trainer in the Kalos region, a stylish and beautifully crafted 3D world that is overflowing with activities for aspiring trainers, breeders, collectors and even fashionistas as you set out on an adventure that will completely absorb players. Our budding trainer begins their tale in true Pokémon style; starting in a new town the ambitious young Pokéfan sets off on an adventure, makes some new friends, challenges the warped leader of baddies Team Flare and goes on to make history in the Pokémon League. The story is a familiar one, but as usual this does little harm to the experience, instead you are catapulted into a journey of discovery through a vibrant world with strange and wonderful creatures, and Pokémon X and Pokémon Y certainly is that. In saying this, however, there are some moments of real intrigue in this story; the tall old man is a beautiful and eerie addition to the plot, and X and Y is certainly one of the more action-packed Pokémon tales. That being said, the real merits still lie with building up and getting to know your team, catching new Pokémon and interacting with your friends.

As the first RPG Pokémon game for the next generation of handheld consoles it’s visually all fans ever hoped for. In Pokémon battles the sprites are animated and your Poképartner’s moves look incredible, whether it’s a Blastoise leaning in to shower an opponent with a hydro pump, or a Pikachu darting across the battlefield with its agility, each Pokémon’s attacks feel like they are coming from the creatures themselves as opposed to the forced movements of stiff sprites. For such a long running series with so much history, there really is something special about playing with your all-time favourite Pokémon as a three dimensional character. The towns are so impressive you might think twice before jetting off to the equally gorgeous mountains, caves and landscapes set out in between, the world creation is nothing short of marvellous.

Whilst the plot may stick to a tried and tested formula, there are many features that breathe new life into a previously rigid structure, the most obvious of these is Mega Evolution. In Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, certain Pokémon have the ability to mega-evolve into more powerful versions of themselves for a short time, changing form and turning the tide in a battle. The ability to mega-evolve gives both new and classic Pokémon the chance to become some of the strongest fighters in the game, as well as giving fans an interesting look at mega versions of favourites such as Charizard and Lucario. Charizard even has two mega-evolutions depending on the game version purchased. You can also customise your own clothes, add accessories and change your hair from a wide range of options, allowing gamers to express themselves through their character. On top of this, Sky and Horde battles have been introduced. Sky battles take place in mid-air and can only be carried out by Pokémon that can keep off the ground, and Horde battles take place when five weaker Pokémon attack the player all at once. Both are fun additions to the game that creatively vary the different ways for a trainer to battle. Another huge addition is Fairy Type, which provides an edge against Dragon types and challenges even the most experienced players to rethink type advantages.

A major difference in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y from previous titles is the larger number of characters you interact with throughout the game. Now your group of friends have their own interests in the world of Pokémon, and encourage you to explore different ways of playing. The characters seem more present in the story, and although most are not complicated people, it is no bad thing to have more than one companion on the journey ahead. One thing that the characters contribute to is the overall difficulty of the game. Many long time fans may be surprised at this, as it feels considerably easier at the start. There is no drawn out quest for Poké Balls, the first gym is quicker to beat, a friend offers healing in the forest and the story is regularly given direction through the supporting characters. The game itself feels more linear. For the old school fan, it needs getting used to, but after taking a step back these changes don’t always make the game less enjoyable, but gently remind you of the story whilst the player explores this new world. There are less new Pokémon too, with only 69 originals the game pays more attention to revisiting both classic and often under-appreciated Pokémon of previous generations. The result is an incredible balance, encountering both new and old favourites really highlights both the discovery of new friends and remembers old companions kindly.

One of the biggest draws that Pokémon has always possessed is the relationship between a gamer and their team, and Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are perhaps the best games in the entire series to show this. On top of the wonderfully created moving sprites and the perfectly balanced variety of old and new monsters, new featurePokémon Amie allows players to play with their Pokémon in a way they have never been able to before. The mode not only allows for a closer look at the stunning graphics, but is the perfect platform for strengthening a bond with a Pokémon in the game, as well as for the gamer themselves. The new feature also includes some mini-games that help to increase the happiness of your squad. The bond you have or how happy your Pokémon are has certain effects that make this a welcome addition for both serious trainers and affectionate adventurers.

Pokémon X and Pokémon Y has one other feature that really makes things easier for hardcore trainers and evens the playing field for newer or casual players, and that is Super Training. Like Pokémon Amie, Super Training takes the once difficult task of training specific stats for Pokémon, makes it more accessible and frankly, eliminates hours of fighting the same Pokémon over and over. Super Training introduces both active and passive features, where a player can increase a Pokémon’s particular stat by giving it the matching punching bag in the game, or play another mini-game in order to instantly boost a certain value. Though it may seem trivial, this is a real game changer, especially for online battles, allowing every player the chance to get the best out of their favourite Pokémon.

Another impressive development here is the significance of online play. With in-game access to the online features the process feels more fluid and with the improved wireless capabilities of the 3DS console the game can reach its full potential as both a global and local experience. For players who have missed a few generations, the online mode will be staggeringly impressive, as Pokémon X and Pokémon Y build on the improvements of each version making a vibrant community full of life and shared enthusiasm. Online exclusive Pokémon events such as the recent Torchic giveaway are also much easier to access, and players can battle and trade in dozens of ways almost instantly with few restrictions and against both friends and other players from across the world.

As the first central Pokémon games in their generation and dimension, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y had a lot to live up to, and largely they soar past expectations. Whilst keeping many of the greatest features in the previous games, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y take some important steps for the development of Pokémon games as a whole, and demonstrate incredible promise for the future. With a vibrant world to explore, memorable new Pokémon and positive enhancements in almost every aspect of the Pokémon title, the games’ greatest achievement has to be pushing new features whilst keeping the feeling of friendship, nostalgia and discovery, earning its rightful place in Pokémon’s own Hall of Fame.

Pokémon X and Pokémon Y are available now worldwide for Nintendo 3DS.

Interviewing Cyanide and Happiness Co-Creator Rob Denbleyker

Originally Published for MCM Buzz on the 26th of October 2013

It was early on the first day of MCM London Comic Con when crowds began to filter through the doors in a flurry of excitement, and we managed to catch Rob Denbleyker in his natural habitat, at the Cyanide & Happiness booth. As one of the terrifically twisted cartoonists for the wildly funny web comic, we were grateful that he jumped in between sketches for a quick chat.

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Me: So how did you get involved in Cyanide & Happiness, was it all planned out or did it just seem to happen?

Rob: There was no plan whatsoever, my friends and I all met online doing animations together and we decided that, after a while, comics were a lot easier to make. So we figured we could get more ideas out there if we started doing comics together instead of animations. So we started doing this daily comic in 2005 just for fun, just entertaining each other and about 200 people that were reading it. Over time that 200 became 2,000, 20,000 and it started growing until the point where Cyanide & Happiness just became our full time jobs in 2007. So we’ve been trying to stay at it as long as we can, because at this point we figure we can’t be hired. Our job prospects are kind of done (laughs).

Me: I think this would be alright on a CV.

Rob: I couldn’t see myself sending faxes.

Me: Is there anything that you have posted and thought “Should we have said that”?

Rob: We try to be funny before we’re offensive. If it is offensive so be it, but we never try to be offensive for the sake of antagonism. It’s kind of a side-effect because we have very few barriers, but most of the stuff that I do I’m proud of; I don’t put stuff up unless I am.

Me: Is this your first time at MCM London Comic Con?

Rob: I came here last year, and it was so crazy that I had to come back again.

Me: Is there anything you’re looking forward to, do you get a chance to leave and look around?

Rob: A little bit. Last year I met some of the Eddsworld guys, so I try to have drinks with them at least once when I’m here, but I always have a good time here and I always make new friends, especially in the comics community. It’s a really fun trip.

Me: It’s an amazing atmosphere here.

Rob: It’s great, it’s really casual. Especially after the show’s over and you can just wander round and get to know people, and strike up conversations with people whose work you admire.

Me: If you had to choose any of the Cyanide & Happiness members (Kris, Matt and Dave) to…

Rob: Murder?

Me: (laughs) Well I was going to say snog, marry or kill!

Rob: I would kill them all, marry myself and f*** the consequences.

Me: Good answer! Thanks, you’ve been great.

Rob: Thanks.

Rob can be found all weekend at the Cyanide & Happiness stall at MCM London Comic Con until the 27th of October, and for rib-tickling comic strips, video shorts and more be sure to visit explosm.net

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