Sunday, November 12, 2006

11th November 1918

As you likely know, it's that weekend again whereby we recall a certain date in history. Namely, 11th November 1918 - the armistice date which ended World War 1.

What can one say about this devastating conflict and the armistice that followed? From a strictly historical perspective, the armistice of 1918 did not bring about the lasting peace and stable world order that the 'peacemakers' and statesmen of that time envisaged. It would only be two decades before the outbreak of World War 2.

That is the sad truth that underlines World War 1. The other is that the tactics used on the western front clearly proved to be ineffective by both sides. From Germany's failure to secure a quick victory in the west to the series of failed 'offensives' and counter offensives that followed - defenses remained on top. It was only the tank and American pressure which finally ended it.

The result of this was an unfortunate loss of lives on the western front. To that, we dedicate this day of remembrance.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ryder Cup V Fifa World Cup

The Ryder Cup proved to be a great advert for Golf last week. It was even better for the European game with a triumph over the USA that will have the Eurocrats in raptures. But the display of sportsmanship from both sides was universally acclaimed.

In terms of popularity Golf is second to Football in terms of viewing figures. Although, it is difficult to see exactly why.

My last entry pretty much summed up the state of that game with the recent revelation of widespread bungs to coincide with other such violations, as found in the Italian game, have tarnished the reputation of Football.

Along with this, the dirty and unsporting play that was all too visible in the Fifa World Cup was in sharp contrast to what was on display in the Ryder Cup. Golf remains a game of integrity whereby for Football everything from bungs to match fixing has tarnished the sport.

Why is football more popular? Marketing more than anything else I suspect; and also perhaps because it is slightly cheaper to play. But Football could take a leaf out of Golf's books when it comes to sporting play.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Time to call it a day?

It is true that this blog has been going since October 2005, almost a year. But when I first started it, I was merely experimenting more than anything else. I wanted to try the blogging medium and so I began with this blog.

Hence the reason I have kept it fairly diverse. Focusing not on any particular subject but merely keeping the blog going with enlightening entries on various subject matter. As events happened I responded, such as when Sven was dismissed or the finale of Highbury, ANZAC day or Remembrance Sunday. As such, I see this blog more as a journal and re-titled it to Matthew On... to reflect this.

And then they came to read it. The audience began posting and whoosh, the experiment had took off!

But as mentioned, this blog was only originally set up only for experimental purposes and has since grown into a sizeable archive. There is enough content now here to split this blog with. Alas, doing so would spell the end for this little corner of the blogging community and the beginning of another.

So readers, I ask you, is it time to call it a day with this blog? Or is there a widespread clamor for it to live on?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Best of this Blog

I have been writing this blog since October 2005 now. Since then, it has built up in content and now has a sizable archive of entries. So to save you a shuffle through the archives; I have decided to link you to what I feel are the best entries contained within this blog. They are:

Remembrance Sunday
An explanation on the causes & build up of World War 1.
The Greatest Video Games ever!
My personal top 10 and a few links to other sites raising the question.
Why Play Video Games?
An entry on the software industry and the growth of emulators.
Simply the Best
An entry on the most successful games console.
Highbury Farewell
A brief farewell to a famous stadium.
World Cup Hosts
A record of World Cup hosts in World cups.
The Trident Submarine
The only bit on politics you will find in an otherwise politically free zone.

These are my particular favourite entries. Some are maybe a little long (like Remembrance Sunday) while others are much shorter. Simply the Best hasn't been seen much so you might want to have a read of it. Anyway, have a good look!

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sunshine and Torquay

Well readers, I haven't updated the blog recently due to being on holiday in Torquay. And of course, the holiday season has been accompanied by the usual Summer sunshine.

To begin with, Torquay was a good place. Well located in Devonshire you can go up to Exeter, down to Paignton and Dartmouth or west towards Dartmoor and Plymouth.

But alas, why would you wish to leave Torquay? Okay, with the exception of Torre Abbey (which is currently closed) it doesn't have much in the way of castles or manor houses. But the Gardens are wonderful, the beach offers a good stretch of sand and on top of that you have an ancient cave, a model village, a museum, leisure complex, boat trips etc etc. Something to cater for most tastes it seems.

And what of the summer sunshine? Global warming they say, or something along those lines. Temperatures are rising!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Former England Manager

As I'm sure you know, the World Cup is over and Sven is history. Not everybody has been pleased by England's performance in this World Cup, and he has had his critics. But really, just how good or bad an England manager has he been?

Taking into account competitive games, there were only 3 defeats to Brazil, France and N Ireland. The other 6 were friendlies that were never taken too seriously. England qualified for all 3 international tournaments and reached the qtr-finals respectably.

This shows remarkable consistency that has eluded past England mangers such as Robson. And even Ramsey failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.

But no, we are told that three qtr-finals isn't good enough for such a team of highly talented players. For such a highly paid manager.

Overpaid he may of been, but there are only 3 managers who have ever done any better. Ramsey with his World Cup win, Robson with his World Cup 4th place and Venebles with his Euro 96 semi-final.

With such things put into perspective, irrespective of the fact that England just missed the heights, he must be recognized as one of the better and certainly the most consistent of England managers.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Man in the Middle

Who is the man in the middle? Why, the referee of course! Indeed, love them or loathe them they are an important part of the game.

Which is why it saddens me that they do not receive much credit. Indeed, if they make mistakes then those are well documented but if they don't -well nothing is heard of it.

Okay, so the World Cup has had some poor refereeing moments. But in the France-Spain game the referee was spot on with both the first two goals. The first WAS a penalty with the Spain player on the ball pushed from behind. The second was also a perfectly valid goal as although one French player was off-side he was not involved with play. But, do we hear much of this good refereeing? No of course we don't.

So, give these guys a break. They do needs some assitance, from players and from other officials also. Technology of some sort would also be useful but alas yet to be embraced.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Trident Submarine

I don't usually use this blog for political discussion. HOWEVER, exceptions can always be made and a recent BBC article ( on Mr Brown's apparent support for renewing Britain's nuclear deterrent, The Trident class submarine, for the cost of a mere 10-25 billion does not please.

25 billion, think of all the wonderful things you could do with that eh. I mean seriously, health, education, commerce - usually the important stuff - would all benefit handsomely from that sort of investment. But no, 25 billion is deemed better spent on a submarine & nuclear deterrent that existed as a counterbalance to the USSR during the Cold War.

Well, haven't these fellows heard yet? The Cold War is over and the USSR no longer exists! Forget about the ban the bomb jargon, it is all rather outdated rhetoric from a by gone age. Nuclear weapons should have been completely disarmed a while ago.

Incidentally, I am due a visit to a submarine museum soon where I shall see the old World War 2 submarine, the HMS Alliance, in dock. That's where the Trident should be lying in the not too distant future.

(above) Protestors make a good point

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Wii

Too much football on at the moment. Anyway, stumbled across Nintendo's latest console offering in a magazine recently. Curiously titled the Wii.

The Wii, what an interesting name to give to Nintendo's supposedly revolutionary new console. I understand that this is not supposed to be an acronym of some kind or other but just pronounced "We."

So the console is called 'We', or 'The We'. What a name eh? Supposedly, Nintendo were concerned that the increasing complexity of video games meant that they were no longer bringing families together like they used to. So, they go and create a console that will once more provide family entertainment and title it Wii (We) to represent its more inclusive nature.

Still, doesn't seem to be the most trendy name in the world. Why not the NR (Nintendo Revolution)? Or, perhaps the NN (New Nintendo)? Acronyms often make for better reference.

Aside from the name, the console will provide a revolutionary new controller along with the customary enhanced graphics. Zelda and Mario titles will provide the usual games impetus. So, if you've got £100-200 to spare you may want to take a look at 'The We'.

Monday, June 05, 2006

World Cup Hosts

So, the Fifa World Cup is upon us once more. The 2006 World Cup, to be held in Germany, should provide us with a good tournament & a good run from the home team. For, despite the pessimism surrounding the current German team, a brief examination of the performances of previous World Cup hosts illustrates that playing at home usually pays dividends:

Host Nation Performances

2002 Korea - Semi-finalists
1998 France - Winners
1994 USA - 2nd round
1990 Italy - 3rd place - play-off
1986 Mexico - Qtr finalists
1982 Spain - 2nd round
1978 Argentina - Winners
1974 West Germany - Winners
1970 Mexico - Qtr-finalists
1966 England - Winners
1962 Chile - 3rd place - play off
1958 Sweden - Runners up
1954 Switzerland - 2nd round
1950 Brazil - Runners up
1938 France - Qtr - finals
1934 Italy - Winners
1930 Uraguay - Winners

As you can see, the host nation has won the World Cup on six occasions. While of the non-winners, six of them have been best ever performances by that particular nation at a World Cup. Even the 1938 & 94 efforts by France and the USA were their best at the time. Never has the host nation failed to go beyond the first stage of the World Cup.

The only slight exceptions here are Brazil in 1950, Spain in 1982 and Italy in 1990. Brazil have won the World Cup 5 times so finishing second at home was disappointing for them. Italy, also having won the World Cup 3 times were one of the favorites to win Italia 90. While Spain have reached the Qtr-finals on a few occasions so to finish in the second round in Spain wasn't their best performance.

Despite these three exceptions, all the evidence suggests that it most definitely does pay to play at home. Even if this German team isn't the best they have ever had, a run to the semi-finals surely has to be some sort of expectation.

(above) West Germany win 1974 World Cup

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Champions League Final

What a shame, what a terrible terrible shame. Barcelona 2 - Arsenal 1 rang the full time score on an interesting final in Paris.

A night to remember perhaps only for those of Barca origins. But somehow I don't believe the other half will be forgetting things in a hurry either.

For, they started so brightly with some nice passing and movement & then a great early opportunity well saved. On the 17th minute however, the world caved in as Lehman made a terrible mistake by committing a foul outside of his box. A few seconds later and the ball was in the back of the net.

Now, the referee had blown the whistle on play to stop just before. That is why the goal was not given. Was he too hasty? Should he have played the advantage? Most importantly, should the keeper have been sent off?

Well, the answer to the last question might be yes. However, it was hasty to blow and it would have been better to let play continue and give the advantage. A yellow card would not have been entirely inappropriate and the match could have continued with 11 V 11 albeit with Arsenal probably 1-0 down (assuming Barcelona would have scored from the advantage being played).

How much better that would have been for the game. As it was, Arsenal were up against Europe's best team with 10 men for 73 minutes. This ensured an uneven final for the remainder of the time, with Barca having most possession and Arsenal playing on the counter attack.

The second (winning) goal has also been called into question. It was very very marginal - difficult to call. Not a clear off-side but not a clear on-side either.

But they must face it, it was the opportunities they missed which cost them most dear. Not the referee, though certainly he did not help.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Highbury Farewell

Yesterday saw the final match at Highbury (Arsenal's former home ground). An exciting 4-2 win over Wigan that assured Champions League football for them next season.

Might I just briefly use this entry to salute what has been a great venue for English football. Hosting some memorable games, unique atmosphere and a fantastic playing surface. A great stadium.

It will now soon be demolished to make way for new developments. Arsenal football club, meanwhile, will move to the 60,000 capacity New Emirates stadium. Highbury, RIP.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Champions League

The Champions League final has been confirmed. Barca booked their place into the final with a 1-0 aggregate win over Milan while Arsenal did so in similarly (if not more so) unconvincing fashion against Villarreal (who?).

Thank goodness for their goalkeeper, otherwise it might be quite a different story now. Villarreal, playing in a ground that would not have been out of place in the English first division, looked a rather good team. They kept possession well and showed some good movement. What they didn't show was good finishing as they wasted numerous chances.

Alas, Arsenal make history in becoming the first London club to reach the European Cup final. Really, this is rather suprising given the size of London & the number of clubs it has. But can they go one step better and win it?

Barcelona are having a good season. They are top of their domestic league and could do a league and European Cup double. Not easy opponents by any means and I am in no doubt they will be the favorites to win it.

But, being underdog might suit the London club. They were underdog against Real Madrid and Juventus too. Didn't do much harm there. And when they went into the semi-finals more fancied they struggled.

So good luck to them. They may need it, but hopefully they will produce a better performance than against Villarreal.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006


This is a little late, as ANZAC day was yesterday. However, better late than never as they say.

If you don't know, ANZAC stands for the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and is held to remember the efforts of these soldiers during World War 1. And in particular, the Gallipoli campaign.

The Gallipoli campaign proved to be a most unsuccessful military offensive which resulted in many casualties for ANZAC troops (est 10-000 dead). It is a poignant day of remembrance for the lives lost here rather than a celebration or glorification of war.

So, lest we forget the efforts of the ANZAC troops to both your respective countries and the British Empire.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mario 64 again...

Haven't been able to up-date the blog recently. In the meantime, I stumbled across this rather impressive little video of a fellow completing Mario 64 in 16 minutes. See for yourself at:

He does admittedly cheat a little (by making use of glitches) but all those moves he pulls off without error is still very impressive.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Mario 64

Readers may recall an entry I made on the greatest video games ever made. There, Mario 64 made more appearances in the compiled lists than any other. With a Nintendo 64 emulator installed on the PC, I felt it a great opportunity to sample it and see for myself.

Firstly, the emulation was accurate. Save for a few pop-ups, it was just like Mario 64 running on the N64 (The screenshot below is taken from the PC emulation). Although, the playability was admittedly slightly effected from using the keyboard controls as opposed to the analogue stick it was designed for.

It's now 10 years since the game was first released. And while the graphics must have certainly been revolutionary at the time, they aren't that special by modern standards. Though, the 3D environments still look quite good.

But alas, even using the keyboard controls this game was great fun to play. Exploration through the 15 3D worlds, combining so well with the game controls as to make it very playable. And no doubt even better with the analogue stick it was designed for.

What I also liked was the greater freedom it gave to players. No need to play through the entirety of one course in order to progress to another. Instead players could jump in to one course, grab a few stars and then jump into another and collect a few more there. Moving backwards and forwards through the courses in order to progress through the game.

The game offers a reasonable challenge. Although, collecting the 70 stars necessary in order to defeat Bowser wasn't that hard as you can play through and focus on collecting the more simple stars to reach. But certainly, finding all 120 stars and game secrets presents a real challenge that will take you a while to achieve.

So, is this the greatest video game? There is no doubting the quality of the title. When it was released, it started the 3D platformer and set the standard which to this day hasn't been eclipsed. It was the first of its kind, and that sort of innovation is what makes the classic games.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Scorched 3D

Well, for readers of this blog I have a little treat. I stumbled across this revamp of an old, but classic, DOS game (DOS version screenshot immediately below) available for download: Scorched 3D.

It involves war-games between units, the firing of a large array of arsenal until one of the units loses all its energy and is thus destroyed. The game has been completely revamped with a new 3D graphics engine but retains its basic play and concept. It also has multi-play and on-line play, which is great fun.

You can download the full game from CNET at:

Have fun!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A New Focus

It has been said, by one of the posters here, that this blog needs more focus. And perhaps that analysis is not entirely faulty.

The blog's title is, originally enough, my blog. Now, while that seemed okay to start with I feel it now needs a change. It will be changed to: Matthew on...

Matthew on The Gameboy, Matthew on The Best of the Web, Matthew on The Champions League, Matthew on etc etc. Is that not enough focus for this blog?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Simply the Best

You may recall I wrote an entry, not too long ago, regarding the most notable console flops in game industry history. All failures for various reasons, but what is the most successful games console ever released?

Take a wild guess. The NES perhaps? The Playstation maybe? How about the Atari 2600? These were all successful consoles. But none are THE most successful console ever released.

No, if you must know the answer, that accolade goes to the humble Gameboy. Yes, that's right, the Gameboy is the most successful video games console ever made having shifted an estimated 120 million units world-wide and still going to this day.

You may be surprised by this. For the Gameboy, technically, is one of the least advanced consoles there is. It has only a very limited colour pallet, restricts players to a very small screen and boasts sound that can just about manage reasonable audio.

So, why so successful then? Well it's small, cheap, durable and has a large widely recognized library of games. Most notably Tetris, which is believed to be the greatest video game ever released by some enthusiasts.

As a portable, it held a special appeal. A simple sit down and play anywhere, no need for cables or TV's. This enduring appeal has extended the Gameboy's life longer than any other console. All consoles have a limited life-span, so they say. But the Gameboy seems to defy this rule.

Of course, it had other portable rivals. Like the technically superior Atari Lynx and Sega GameGear. Both of which offered 'colour' displays. However these were a little larger, more bulky, more expensive, more demanding on batteries, a little slower, and lacked the Gameboy's extensive library of games. They came, tried for a short period, but then died away. Unable to make up for their short-comings.

The Gameboy, for all its lack, has dominated its domain like no other console. It is a classic example of the old cliche, "gameplay, not graphics." If ever proof were needed of the validity of that claim, the Gameboy is it.

Technically advanced consoles, aren't always successful. Often, the high price that they demand is off putting. Like, for example, the Neo-Geo when it was released. And, technical superiority counts for nothing if they don't have the quality games that make good use of their capabilities.

The N64 might have had better hardware than the Playstation, but it finished a distant second. The golden rules of value and choice belonged to the Playstation, even if it was slightly technically inferior. In much the same way as the Gameboy.

No doubt, Sony had taken more note of the reasons for the Gameboy's success than its creators, Nintendo. So let's hear it for the Gameboy, the most successful games console ever made - and one which proves that technology isn't everything.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Best of the Web

I have been using the web for about 7-8 years. Always, you are on the look out for good sites. But, which are the best?

The Web is huge. Predominantly, it is made up of unofficial personal websites created by enthusiasts using some sort of web publishing software. These websites can be good (some are), but due to the fact that amateurs are largely behind them are often poorly designed, under-construction and containing outdated content.

So, the majority of the web-sites on the Internet are crap then? Well you have to say, yes! There is a whole load of uploaded crap that is sitting on the internet in a jumbled mess. Eventually, it gets deleted or removed.

Mostly, money for clicks has seen the Internet degenerate into a "Click this link" frenzy. Adverts can be seen on almost every page.

So, getting aside that. What are the best sites on the Internet?

Website awards exist to recognise outstanding websites. However, these are largely for the ameteur domain and are numerous to say the least.

So, the answer lies with those sites that have a permanent presence on the Internet and a huge number of users. These are the official sites, the sites created by large organizations with a large number of resources thrown at them, designed and maintained by professional web-designers. A typical example would be Yahoo.

Yahoo, undoubtedly is one of the biggest on the Internet. Few can match it for depth of content. My feelings are however, that it falls a little short on the design front.

What else? How about CNN? Content personified with multimedia to boot. Great, but let us face it, it is largely a news site.

CNET has been sited as one of the best. It is one of the best sites for downloads certainly. Also it is up to speed with the latest technology. But what else?

E-bay has proven very successful. On-line auctioning at its best. It has attracted a large number of users. Excellence perhaps, but only serves auctioneers.

No, the best web site on the Internet surely has to be one that would have something on it for everybody. Is there such a site? Well yes there is/are.

ISPs try and do it with their web-portals. However for me, nothing beats the BBC site. This site has the depth of content to rival Yahoo and co, but also presented making use of the Internet's more advanced multimedia features. I believe it is the best web-site on the Internet. See for yourself if you don't believe me:

I challenge you to find a better site.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Champions League Round-up

Well, time for some thought and reflection on the now completed 2nd round. And I have to say that I was right! My cynicism surrounding the first-leg results entirely justified as Chelsea, Liverpool and Rangers were all eliminated from the competition.

Firstly, the defending champions Liverpool. The 1-0 away defeat proved immaterial as they also lost 2-0 at Anfield. 3-0 and the end of their Euro glory.

Rangers had a costly 2-2 draw at Ibrox. They secured a respectable 1-1 draw in Spain but this was not enough to overcome the 2 away goals conceded.

Finally, Chelsea. Though they did well to draw 1-1 at the Nou Camp they needed a second goal to level the tie. 3-2 to Barcelona.

All of which leaves Arsenal. Real Madrid proved they weren't an entirely spent force and gave Arsenal a good game. However, they were able to hold out and secure a 0-0 draw which was enough to see them through to the qtr-finals 1-0 on aggregate.

I must admit, I am pessimistic as to their chances of winning the Champions League. However, should they avoid Barcelona or AC-Milan, I would fancy them to make it through to the semi-finals against any of the other remaining teams.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Console Flops

If you ever thought the video games industry was a force for good, providing quality entertainment to the masses, you may want to think again. Sure, we all know about the NES, Super NES, Gameboy, Playstation, N64 and Playstation 2. But, did you know that there is perhaps a much longer line of crummy consoles that never quite made the grade? You may have never heard of them, so I present to you the biggest console flops ever:

Virtual Boy (Nintendo)

This was intended to fill the gap between the Super Nes and delayed N64. It was a rather unique console in that it came with a headset you put your eyes in, and presented games in 3d. However, the 3d environments were limited to red and black colours only. See below.

Nintendo tried with this one, bringing out a number of titles and market campaigns. However, the console never took off and held little appeal.

To make matters worse, the few who were foolish enough to buy it complained about eyestrain. Nintendo eventually gave up and focused on SNES games until the N64 was released.

Verdict: Nintendo at their worst.

Jaguar (Atari)

Ah, this was supposed to mark the comeback of Atari as a major force within the games industry. The console boasted that it was a 64 bit machine, however this was later open to question as most of the titles looked fairly cruddy graphically.

The console did manage a few good titles such as Tempest 2000 and Alien V Predator. But these were few and far between with the majority proving naff and un-playable. With the release of the Playstation and Saturn Atari eventually pulled the plug on it in 1996.

Verdict: Atari RIP.

Atari 5200 (Atari)

Another Atari console, released in 1981. This was the successor to the highly successful Atari 2600, but was to be the prelude to the games market crash.

It proved to be badly designed with a very poor joystick. The console also suffered from software incompatibility with the Atari 2600. The biggest problem however was competing with Colecovision's (main console rival) head start.

The crash in the industry in 1983 killed this one off, along with the Colecovision. It would take a mustached plumber to repair the damage.

Verdict: Beginning of the end for Atari.

Amstrad GX400 (Amstrad)

This console was released in 1990 and was Amstrad's short-lived attempt to enter the market. It proved to be a commercial flop and one of the least successful consoles ever made.

Why was this? Well, largely due to the fact that the console was based on 8-bit technology and was almost immediately superseded by the 16-bit Megadrive and later Super Nes. There was little available software with titles being released months late or cancelled entirely.

In all, 40 games were released for the console. It was only manufactured for a matter of months before it was discontinued.

Verdict: It was voted 'Worst system of the month' by readers of a popular UK magazine. Maybe it was even more than that...

Amiga CD32 (Commodore)

This was a 32bit CD Rom based console. It did have a few notable titles but unfortunately the console is widely regarded as unsuccessful ( a flop).

One reason for this is the lack of original software that was brought out on the console. Most games were simply re-runs of the old A1200 titles.

What became of Commodore after this ill-fated console? They filed for Chapter 11 (bankruptcy) just a year after its release.

Verdict: Commodore, where are you?

Apple Pippin (Apple)

Ever heard of this one? It was touted as a cheap computer, in reality it was commonly identified as an expensive games console. It was licensed to third-parties and the only third party one released, the Bandai Pippen, entered a market already dominated by N64, Playstation and Saturn.

Ultimately it was a late entry into the 3d generation of consoles and was underpowered both as a games console and personal computer. Bandai's version only had a relatively limited release in the US and Japan and died quickly. Below is an image of the Apple Pippen.

Verdict: Erm, ever heard of this console?

Well, have you read enough? Or do you need more convincing? There are other less notable flops than these such as the Dreamcast, Neo-geo, 3DO etc. However, I really haven't the time to write about them all. Just remember these consoles when playing your Playstation or whatever. They are the worst 'consoles' you are ever likely to see.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Pancake Day

Often forgotten is the fact that this is a Christian festival, celebrated the day before the 40-day lent period. The lent period, being the long fast before the easter season.

But who cares about that? Yummy pancakes are usually the main attraction; and Shrove Tuesday (pancake day) gives Christians the opportunity to indulge themselves beforehand.

Most commonly, they are lemon and sugar coated. However there is a wide variety of variations on this with the Americans often adding chocolate, syrup and the like. Enjoy your pancakes!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Champions League round-up.

An entertaining week of Champions League football has come to a close. And, let's cut a long story short - with one exception it has not been a great week for British clubs.

Firstly, you've got Rangers being held at home 2-2 by Villarreal. And, it could have been worse had they not pulled of a late recovery to equalize in the last few minutes. Though they aren't quite out, the 2 away goals and home advantage obviously make the Spanish favorites to go through.

And then you have England's finest, Liverpool, being defeated 1-0 away to
Benfica. Not a disastrous result, but not a good result either. Lack of an away goal could prove costly to Liverpool in the second-leg.

But the worst result of the week comes courtesy of the mighty Chelsea. Mighty in the Premiership perhaps, but not against Barcelona where they came unstuck being beaten 2-1 at Stamford Bridge. Okay, so they were unlucky to have a player sent off early which made it very difficult for them against a dangerous Barcelona team. But the 2-1 defeat leaves them in the weakest position of all British clubs.

All that is left to savor therefore, is Arsenal's historic 1-0 win in Madrid. A first for any British club. In sharp contrast to their Premiership form, they produced a commanding performance that merited perhaps more goals. As things stand, you can't write off Real completely.

Still, hats off to them for giving one reason to be cheerful in an otherwise disappointing showing from Britain's finest. Rule Britannia hey? Well maybe not this week.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Why buy Video Games?

I don't know, I think compiling my top 10 has rekindled my interest in video games. So much so that I actually went and pursued a snes emulator for the PC.

Needless to say, ZSNES is the best snes emulator and once downloaded I had an endless library of old SNES games available to download in a matter of seconds. Starting with Chrono Trigger, Secret of Manor and then Final Fantasy 3. Within a matter of minutes three of the best RPG's ever made had been restored by the ZSNES emulator - all pretty much identical to the console counterparts albeit with different controls. And better still, the hundreds of downloads available were all FREE.

The number of emulators available on the Internet now is very large. N64, Playstation and Saturn emulators are the most recent and can run on the more high powered PC's. After ZSNES, I tried an N64 emulator on the PC to see how the N64 games would come off. The PC was capable of running the most recent PC games, so I figured it should be able to manage N64 stuff.

Project 64 was the emulator of choice. Once downloaded, I needed a title to draw comparison with. Zelda - Ocarina of Time, was the game of choice. The download for this was naturally a little longer than the SNES Roms, running into a couple of minutes. Once downloaded and extracted the moment of truth had arrived.

I loaded the emulator and then began the game. The horse began to gallop and the gentle music began. Ocarina of Time was now running on the PC and seemed no different from the N64. With the game began, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the PC had no problems reproducing the 3d environments. The only thing I had noted was that textures weren't quite as detailed but this was only very slight. Overall, it was nearly a perfect coversion, with no slow-downs.

A conversion of Goldeneye, however was less impressive. Almost immediately it was apparent that the textures were less detailed. Although the 3d environments were reproduced well enough, pop-ups occurred and the faster-paced action of the game meant it was prone to slow downs. Sure, the game was playable but was a little short of a perfect conversion.

All in all though, the PC did a reasonable enough job at reproducing most N64 titles. Overcoming the few disadvantages of some of the graphical handling and controls you have yourself a library of hundreds of N64 titles available for nothing.

When the SNES was at its peak, games would go for (wait for it) up to £60. That is correct, £60 for a video game! The average price was around £30-40 with the more sought after games like Donkey Kong Country hitting the price peaks when newly released. Needless to say, an enquiry was later launched into Nintendo's pricing policies for this and they were found guilty of over-pricing there SNES titles in the UK. So, they were duly reduced to more like £20-30.

It made me wonder though, why bother buying these games when they are newly released and at their most expensive? Why not wait for the titles to become old so that they will be available cheaper or, better still, for nothing at all on a PC emulator. Granted you will still need a PC to run emulators, but the savings will surely add up in the long run.

The latest technology and games will always be expensive. And, many of the old games are often seen as better. So save yourself the money and download a few emulators to play the best games of all for nothing.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Video Games aren't so Bad

Video games have often been criticised for various reasons. Most notably on content and value. But are they really that bad?

Firstly, on the area of content. Games such as Mortal Combat and Doom have been slated for containing gore and encouraging violence. Inevitably as games have become increasingly realistic the games industry caved in and accepted the need for age ratings to give an indication of content. However, little evidence actually exists that proves the games do indeed make people more violent.

Secondly, video games have been criticised for putting people off reading and lacking in educational value. However, more recent studies carried out suggest that computer games can actually provide for academic simulation. As this BBC article explains:

Simulator games like Theme Park and SimCity can indeed develop strategic planning skills along with other elements such as problem solving. For example it is easy to see how games such as Theme Park, which is close to being a business simulator, can develop business skills. Firstly, you have to decide what to spend money on and the best ways to make your park profitable. Secondly, then decide on best park layout etc. Added to this the need to make other strategic decisions such as stock ordering, staff negotiations etc and you can see how the game can develop skills.

Another thing not mentioned is the fact that some video games are text based, especially RPG's (Role Playing Games). That is, they contain a large amount of text within them that the player has to read to follow the plot. Good examples are the Final Fantasy series whereby there is a significant amount of text based character interaction. It is in many ways, just like reading an interactive story. So the suggestion that video games stop people from reading seems somewhat untrue.

Other studies have shed light on how video games can improve sight skills. Again an article from the BBC:

To quote:

"Although video game playing may seem to be rather mindless, it is capable of radically altering visual attentional processing."

Action games therefore, such as Half-Life which require more running around and avoiding the badies also have more value than originally believed. In light of such evidence it would seem that the general public might need to review its perception of video games created largely by the poor publicity surrounding some more violent games. Certainly other activities are desirable, but the playing of video games is not nearly so terrible.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Greatest Video Games Ever!

This is a very subjective subject. Many attempts have been made to list the top 100 and best 10 video games of all time. But of course, when put to players it all comes down to personal preference. Fans of RPG's may put a large number of RPG's in their top 10's. Action game fans may do the same and so on. So I present to you the 10 best video games I have ever played, bearing in mind that I doubt I have even played 1% of all the titles available. Most of my gaming experience is from the 16bit era though I have played quite a few more recent titles along with 8 bit games.

10.) Command & Conquer - Red Alert (PC)

A snazzy title, sequel to the original Command & Conquer which started a new era for strategy games. Enables you to take control of either the Allied or Soviet forces and takes you through two quite compelling stories (with great video motioning sequences) from the two different perspectives as they they fight each other in a major war for control over Europe.

Essentially, the game gives you control over a wide variety of military units (tanks, helicopters, ships etc) that can be built as you collect more resources (either ore or gemstone). In the multi-player game, the battles are decided by which player is the first to completely remove the other player's military bases. Similar to Dune in some respects but with a compelling soundtrack and playability I rank it the 10th best game I have ever played.

9.) Championship Manager 3 (PC)

Not an amazing game graphically or sound wise although the match sound effects are quite good. So what makes this game good?

Well, essentially when it was released it really gave the Championship manager series a shake up with its huge array of player and team data providing a challenging and realistic management simulator. The number of options available really provides you with the challenges real coaches face.

With a wide variety of national leagues and teams to play with, from the super rich clubs challenging at the top to the super poor clubs struggling for survival, this game has infinite replayability value. Added to this the playability value and this must be regarded as a classic in the series.

8.) Super Mario Kart (SNES)

Nintendo come up with some very original concepts and undoubtedly this was one of the most original. Putting 8 Mario characters in racing karts and having them race over a wide variety of tracks (with numerous obstacles) in racing tournaments proved to a stroke of magic.

Furthermore, the game also comes with a legendary battle mode whereby the 8 drivers can fight each other with a variety of weapons in one-on-one combat also proved to be a very innovative addition. The game is tremendous fun and also makes good use of the consoles mode 7 capabilities. Undoubtedly a Nintendo classic.

7.) Super Mario World (SNES)

The SNES version of Super Mario World is the best Mario game I have played (excluding the 64 version which I haven't played). The game introduces the character of Yoshi for the first time and also enables Mario to fly with the cape. These additions, along with the wonderfully crafted worlds, hidden levels and bonuses really make this a special game.

The game also has some very nice graphics for a 16 bit console game and some catchy music. This, along with the gameplay make it one of the best games I have ever played.

6.) Civilization 2 (PC)

I could just say the Civilization series but pick me to choose one and I would have to go for the second. I haven't played the most recent addition and the 3rd I feel has some flaws.

The whole concept of the Civilization catches the imagination a bit, and Civilization 2 takes the gameplay from the original and enhances it with considerably better graphics and sound along with new game units and concepts.

Few games give you the number of options that this does. Wage war, trade, develop relations with other civilizations or build up your civilization's economy and infrastructure with city improvements and settlers. These are just some of the choices you have to manipulate your way through the game to a successful conclusion. Undoubtedly a great game.

5.) Final Fantasy VI (SNES)

A rare gem. Set new standards for RPG's and has one of the most compelling story lines for a game - ever. This combined with super music and graphical effects make it one of the greatest games I have ever played.

A very difficult and long journey, you set out with just the one character but eventually this grows to a huge team of characters you use to develop and fight with to bring the game to a conclusion. Only problem with it is that the ending sequence is cut short due to a glitch in imported versions!

4.) Tetris (Gameboy)

Probably the most widely played game of all time and regarded by many to be the greatest game. Curious really, for this is not a game which boasts incredible graphics or sounds. It is simplicity that counts and the concept of organizing a load of falling blocks into a straight wall in order to clock up a high score has proven to be arguably one of the finest in gaming history. Coupled with the most portable system (the Gameboy) and this is perhaps the most playable game ever made. No puzzle game has surpassed it nor do I suspect ever will.

3.) Zelda - Ocarina of Time (N64)

Regarded by many to be the greatest game ever. And with its fully fledged 3D world and storyline to boot it's not difficult to see why. Some games amaze you, and this is one of them. Might of been higher if I had actually played it right through to completion rather than up to the Shadow Temple.

2.) Zelda - a Link to the Past (SNES)

So, if Ocarina of Time is so good why is this better? Well firstly I have actually played this through to completion. Secondly, I thought the story line and game were a bit more dramatic than the aforementioned. Thirdly, I noted quite a few of the ideas from this game were taken through to Ocarina of Time. Fourthly, you also have some special boots in this game that let you run quickly - not something Ocarina had ;-)

1.) Half-Life (PC)

So, this gets first place. Not universally acclaimed as the best ever perhaps but my favorite personally. My first experience of this game came with a relatively low spec PC which meant that it ran slow and was in inferior graphics mode.

A few years later, however, and on a high end machine with fast gameplay I really appreciated what a masterpiece this was. Great story line that keeps you gripped throughout, coupled with really scary graphical effects and sound create a game that you feel you just have to play through until fully completed. From fighting marines, to dodging helicopters this game gives you a real experience!

(above) Are you not amazed by this?

Transformed the genre and still holds up today in comparison to more recent titles like its sequel and Halo. The greatest game I have ever played.

So, those are my personal favorites. But, is it possible to ascertain exactly which is the greatest game with a general consensus? A good page I found which kept many top 10 lists tries to do this:

Overall, essentially the best game is Mario 64 as it makes most appearances on the lists. Though Tetris is very close with one less and two of my favorites a Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time also up there. Half Life makes a few appearances but 2nd is the highest it manages on any of the lists. Broken down mathematically,with 10 points for first and 1 for 10, and you have interesting conclusions:

1.) Mario 64
2.) Tetris
3.) Ocarina of Time
4.) Link to the Past
5.) Super Metroid
6.) Super Mario Bros
7.) Goldeneye 007
8.) Doom
9.) Final Fantasy VII
10.) Super Mario Bros 3

So, again Mario 64 is JUST ahead of Tetris as the greatest game ever made. Whichever way you look at it there is obviously a consensus that Mario 64, Tetris and the two Zeldas are the top 4 games ever made (no Half-Life though!).

(above) The greatest game ever made - must go and play it!

Other obvious conclusions that can be drawn are the large number of PC games that make it in. Interestingly, it is some way ahead of the consoles on the tables. The Super Nes also proves its worth, an under-rated console.

Also evident is that Nintendo games make by far the most appearances on the lists. Proving that they are the world's greatest games publisher.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Bye Bye Sven

Hot on the heels from my last piece, 'Eriksson in hot water again,' we have a further installment to the Eriksson saga. Or should I say, final instalment. For the FA have officially announced that he will leave the England job after the 2006 World Cup.

Firstly, credit must go to the FA for resolving this. Had they not done so, then the media speculation surrounding his future would have inevitably dogged England's World Cup preparations. But what of Sven?

Well one can only say this will be his last chance to achieve glory with England, and should he do so permanently silence his critics for the rest of history. So indeed, this is not an opportunity he should miss.

Far too often under his management it has been a story of almost, but not quite. England have shown glimpses, but not quite hit the giddy heights. With a team of very capable players and a good enough draw, Eriksson knows that England will be expected to reach at least the last eight of the tournament.

But, to win it he will need to get the absolute best out of his players. Something he wasn't quite able to do at the last European Championship or World Cup. For that is the job of every coach, to get the best from the players they have at their disposal. And winning the World Cup is the best England can do.

Prove your worth Mr Erikkson, the time has come to deliver. Good luck!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Eriksson in Hot Water Again

You have to hand it to him, Eriksson has a habit of undermining his England management career with events off the pitch. And true to form, 5 months ahead of the World Cup he has now leaked sensative opinions to an undercover reporter. But for those who follow the England team on a regular basis, this sort of uneasy build up to big tournaments is not something which is new.

After all, in 1990 Bobby Robson had a similar sort of uneasy media relationship in the build up to Italia 90. And this did not seem to have too much of a negative effect on the team's performances with England reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup only to be defeated on penalties by Germany.

In the build up to Euro 96 there was the Hong Kong business. Again however, this did not appear to have an adverse effect on the team's performances with England reaching the semi-finals once more.

And once again, in 1998 there was disruption to the preparations with Glenn Hoddle publishing material on the team's preparations. How much of an effect this had on his relationship with the players is open to debate with the team being knocked out in the 2nd round on penalties to Argentina.

Incidentally, Robson and Venables had already announced before the tournaments that they would be standing down once they were over. Glenn Hoddle continued in the job but it became increasingly difficult as the team's performances began to deteriorate and further public relation problems persisted. He lasted 3 more competative games before he resigned.

So, it cannot be said we've not been here before. Eriksson can take heart from the fact that an uneasy relationship with the media is something that many if not all England managers before him have had.

One has to wonder about the position of the media. Surely they cannot wish to see England perform badly in these tournaments; yet they seem to have an unerring habit of stering things up in the build up to the major tournaments.